Boot Camps that Build Citizen Science Volunteers

3 weeks, 6 days ago 0
Posted in: Blog

Learning can never be as much fun and adventurous as when you volunteer with WCS-India. Our legion of Citizen Science volunteers is proof of that.

On the Walk

‘Boot-camps’ often see few participants return back with the same vigour as they did the first time. But at WCS-India’s boot camps, rigorous though they are, the numbers keep swelling as newcomers join the ranks of veteran volunteers. Together, they form the citizen science force, engaged in wildlife conservation.

The ‘boot-camps’ as referred to jocularly by the participants, require participants to brave difficult terrain, live with very basic facilities while engaging in rigorous scientific exercises. Few are deterred and most leave with an increased appreciation for forests and wildlife, fond memories and a promise to return back.

In a tradition going back to more than two decades, WCS-India has been inviting volunteers from diverse fields to take part in its field projects. These volunteers get basic training in wildlife science and conservation during the surveys and monitoring projects they participate in. They learn to identify animals, map land use, conduct household socio-economic, conflict, tourism and biodiversity surveys. Above all, the experience helps nurture an appreciation and understanding of wildlife and wild spaces.

More than 4000 amateur naturalists, wildlife enthusiasts, photographers, teachers, journalists and lawyers have benefitted from the volunteering activities and many have gone on to become scientists, conservationists and fierce defenders of wildlife.

Experiences

One of our early volunteers, Rohit S Rao, a businessman by profession, has been volunteering with our line transect camps for the last 23 years! He recalls, “Being in the wilderness and watching wildlife had always been a dream for me since I was a little boy. So when I learned of the opportunity to volunteer for WCS line transect camp way back in 1995, I jumped at it. This camp turned out to be one of the greatest experiences of my life, where I observed wildlife at close quarters and walked in the forests of Nagarahole National Park. I interacted with experts in the field of wildlife science and conservation, also met so many like-minded people. After this camp, I got hooked.” Rao has been working on conservation initiatives in Kudremukh National Park and has been the Managing Trustee of the Kudremukh Wildlife Foundation.

Gimme more! That is what the volunteers ask for.

Coffee planter D V Girish was a teenager when he first travelled to Nagarahole on borrowed money to walk line transects of WCS. Three decades on, he still walks transects every year, inspiring and mentoring young enthusiasts. Girish went on to found a local wildlife group in Chikmagalur, Wildcat C which today has over hundred members. With his army of wildlife followers, Girish has fought to safeguard the Chikmagalur landscape from mines, dams, mega-tourism schemes, micro-hydel and windmill projects. He played a key role in the successful resettlement of 457 households out of Bhadra Tiger Reserve in 2002, working along with the DFO Yatish Kumar and deputy commissioner Gopalakrishne Gowda.

As evident, the citizen science programme has helped boost environmental awareness and generated public support for conservation. It has also led to more direct impacts on conservation by influencing professional career shifts among many committed volunteers, who have become full-time conservationists and wildlife scientists.

Another volunteer, Akash Patil went on to start his own organisation Planet Earth Foundation. He recalls his experiences of walking the forests of Central India and the Western Ghats with WCS-India. “As a beginner in wildlife studies, volunteering with WCS India was a wonderful experience. I learned about scientific field work, time management and the importance of teamwork while participating in Occupancy surveys in Central India’s Kanha-Pench forests and line transects in the Western Ghats. Walking the line transects in Nagarahole especially was a unique experience, I will never forget the sight of herds of deer freely grazing through the grasslands (also called hadloos). I encourage our members to volunteer for WCS-India’s field projects as well.”

Time for a breather.

For Ashwin Gurusrikar, who began as a ‘happy trekker’ the line transects and surveys were the journey to becoming a ‘knowledgeable volunteer’. Today he plays a big role in the wildlife organisation Vanodaya, based in the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary. “Seeing the forest from within and experiencing it up close was the biggest motivation to protect it. Our constant interactions with seniors who took time and pride in mentoring us showed us the right directions in protecting wildlife… the foundation laid during transects and the interactions we had with seniors.. helped us take on issues that plague our forests and wildlife and defend them against these dangers.”

Mandar Pawgi joined WCS-India as a volunteer for camera trap surveys in 2002 in Maharashtra. He recalls his experience, “Volunteering with WCS-India is something of a dream come true for every growing naturalist. The fruitful & healthy discussions on different wildlife science/conservation issues amongst seniors and co-volunteers, very challenging situations, on and off the field, and most importantly, learning cutting edge science and to build his/her capacity to save wildlife are the biggest advantages I found volunteering especially on line transects with WCS-India.”

Of friendships built during transects, he adds, “These friendships of like-minded researchers/conservationists having vast talent and diverse experience across the country can contribute meaningfully to wildlife conservation by means of sharing knowledge and experiences for building future research work or conservation strategies.”

Recent Opportunities

Volunteers interested in participating in field work to collect scientific data and those interested in office-based work are regularly involved in WCS-India projects.

During the last field season in 2018, volunteers were involved in camera trap surveys at Amarabad Tiger Reserve in Telangana, Nagarjuna-Srisailam Tiger Reserve and Gundlabrahmeswaram Wildlife Sanctuary in Andhra Pradesh and during Line-Transect surveys at Amarabad TR, Telangana and Wayanad WLS, Kerala. There were also a few volunteers who participated in the occupancy surveys at Nagaland and the surveys carried out by in North Karnataka for wolves, hyenas, jackals and foxes. In all, about 45 volunteers participated in various field surveys during the last field season.

Apart from field-based volunteers who typically participate for short durations of about 1-2 weeks, WCS-India also has had three volunteers (a 12th class student, a 2nd year BSc student and a 3rd year Law student) who worked in the Bangalore office for a period of one month each during June-July 2018 and another one worked for 3 weeks in June 2017. These office-based volunteers worked on the processing of image data from camera trap surveys of tigers in forest areas, which included tagging species identities in camera trap images, the creation of trap operation indicator files for continuous-time spatial capture-recapture analyses. A volunteer at Hyderabad also helped in coordinating the deployment volunteers for the surveys in AP/Telangana for about three months.

Besides carrying out the assigned work, volunteers get an opportunity to interact with our staff on a regular basis on topics of their interest. The field-based volunteers usually need to be trained in the field protocols, use of field equipment like GPS, compass, range finder that is required for field surveys. Volunteering also provides a great opportunity to learn field skills like walking in the forests, identification of animal signs and field navigation. Office-based volunteers are also made to read and understand the underlying theory and concepts of the method used to collect field data that they are involved in processing.

Requirements

For volunteering in the WCS-India office, all you need is a willingness to learn. For field-based activities, volunteers must be fit in body and mind, and be able to stay alert through the transects/surveys that will see you walk for two hours or so through wild, rugged landscapes.

If you are interested in volunteering, watch out on our website under ‘Opportunities’ where we call for volunteers.

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