The Wildlife Warrior
Cara at Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary
Cara Tejpal, a 29-year-old wildlife conservationist and writer with the Sanctuary Nature Foundation talks about the Mud on Boots Project which empowers grassroots conservationists across Indiaâ€¦
Tell us about your association with the Sanctuary Nature Foundation?
It goes back toclose to two decades, since I was 11 years old. At the time Sanctuary's Kids for Tigers programme was reaching out to over one million individuals in India with a message of protecting our wildlife, and I was one of those kids.
I began my career at 17 by volunteering and interning with different wildlife rescue and rehabilitation organisations in both India and abroad, learning how to handle and nurture animals in distress. Later, as the need for long-term solutions became more clear to me, I drifted towards campaigns, policy, journalism and project management - all of which currently are a part of my job profile at Sanctuary, where, I also head a unique initiative called the Mud on Boots Project.
Tell us more about it?
The Mud on Boots Project empowers grassroots conservationists across India via a grant and capacity building support that is given over a two year period. This project has helped me create a massive network of grassroots conservationists, working at the very frontlines of wildlife conservation efforts.
Manoj Gogoi, rescues a Barn owl from Shivsagar, it had a defect in the wings and was kept for 39days before being released in Kaziranga
And you are currently running a crowdfunding campaign to raise funds for the same?
The current campaign was launched to support a few of the wildlife rescue organisations within this network which are doing incredible work but lack the exposure and support that larger organisations receive. These are organisations that do not have social media managers and PR teams, HR departments and fundraising experts, and so are never made relevant in the mainstream. In a way, the campaign is also a tribute to my own roots in this field and an acknowledge of the power of goodwill and good work.
The crowdfunding campaign seeks to raise funds to buy equipment for three under-resourced wildlife rescues in India and Sanctuary's Mud on Boots Project.
Click here to read about more and to contribute!
When did you realise that you must do something for wildlife and environment?
I'm asked this question quite often, but there was never one turning point in my life as such. I have adored animals and Nature since I was a toddler and grew up in a house full of animals, with parents who encouraged my passion. Wildlife conservation is very difficult and emotionally taxing work, but my many sublime experiences in places of awe-inspiring natural beauty keep my fire alive. I've watched olive Ridley turtles hatch out of their shells in Odisha, endemic sangai deer prance across their disappearing phumdi habitat in Manipur, black bears gorging on acorns in Kashmir, Gangetic dolphins surfacing in Uttar Pradesh and so much more... each of these moments is a realisation that I am linked to every living being on the planet.
What is the biggest challenge for a wildlife conservationist?
The science is clear, humanity is having a devastating impact on the living planet with a recent WWF report stating that the size of vertebrate populations has declined by 60 per cent on average between 1970 and 2014. We also now know that we're impacting climate change like never before, and dealing with its consequences. We have all the information and many solutions at hand, the challenge now is to represent it in a comprehensible fashion and inspire people to engage with the problem. Here is where conservation optimism is important. People need to see that they can make a difference, that they have the power to impact real change, that there is hope. If we only project the miseries of mass extinctions and climate change, there will be no motivation to address it. I truly believe that the best way to educate the current generation is to use the technologies at hand - social media, films, webinars - to deliver clear scientific messages and calls to action, along with success stories. Which is not to say we gloss over the problems, but that we offer solutions too.
In what way do you think tourism affects wildlife?
Tourism is a double-edged sword. On one hand it can be a fantastic incentive to protect wilderness areas and grow local economies. On the other hand, when it is unregulated and motivated only by commerce and self-interest, it can be beyond ugly. Let me give you two examples - In April 2019 in the famous Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve, a wildlife tourist and his guide were found pelting a sleeping tiger with stones, just to get an action shot. This is ugly and disrespectful tourism. The truth is bad tourism can alter the natural behaviour of animals, deplete natural resources and disenfranchise local communities.
Now, a golden, homegrown example, in Goa a conservation enterprise called Terra Conscious is working with local fishing communities to curate wonderful dolphin-watching experiences that meet international standards for nature-based tourism. It's a holistic model that benefits the dolphins, the community and the tourist.
With a booming wildlife tourism sector, it's crucial that each of us that partakes in the joys of the natural world make an effort to ensure it is not at the cost of either animals or human communities. Until such a time as eco-tourism guidelines and rules are implemented by the government, travellers need to take responsibility for their behaviour. There are more than enough resources available online that can teach you to be an ethical wildlife tourist.