CHENNAI: It is where all budding bird watchers begin their journey,” says Rohith Srinivasan, a 17-year-old bird watcher, who has been observing the 191 migratory birds that nest at Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary, for the past ten years. The sanctuary, which is Asia’s oldest, is a hotspot for migratory birds. “The sanctuary has allowed us to spot so many rare bird species in their habitats. Vedanthangal is the reason I am fascinated by them,” he adds.
Yet, if all goes according to the State Board for Wildlife’s will, Rohith and his ilk might just see the last of nature’s bounties in their state. In an unexpected development in early June, the Board filed a proposal with the National Board of Wildlife to demarcate 40 per cent of the sanctuary for commercial use. This, environmental activists say, will have a huge bearing on the existing biodversity, since the eco-sensitive zone (ESZ), which acts as a buffer between human and animal settlements, will then be reduced to two km from the original five km. The three-km radius that runs around the protected area is expected to be used for infrastructure and other commercial projects, thus affecting the population of migratory birds. Voices from across the state and country have been making the right noise to stop this massacre. And contributing to this large cause are little humans from Chennai, wielding the brush, to start an art campaign.
Painting a change
“In my painting, a grey heron sits in its nest, watching a human baby hatch from a bird egg. In my opinion, that representation signifies that birds also have feelings like human beings. The emotion we show towards birds, should be the same as what we show to babies,” says Dhavedha Darshini N, a 14-year-old who is part of the campaign. Concerned about the potential rise in pollution in the aftermath of resizing the ESZ, Dhavedha worries for aquatic life in the Vedanthangal lake. “Pollutants will find their way into the lake. Because of contaminated water, the fish that the birds are feeding on will pass on the pollutants. Eventually, they get mixed in our food because bird droppings are a great fertiliser for crops.
The pollutants infect the farmlands and our health, which is what we are trying to avoid,” she explains.Dhavedha is busy walking the talk, encouraging her friends to create art about the disastrous ecological consequences. Deanna Michael, a classmate, is one of them. “I have lived in my current home in Chennai for the past six years. When we moved in, there were many farmlands around my area. I used to see all kinds of birds almost every day. As the years went by, the farmlands were replaced by buildings and other constructions. Because of the rise in pollution, the birds have now stopped coming to the area. Vedanthangal has been protected by the local farmers for over 250 years.
It is currently under threat by encroachers. I saw a similar campaign in Assam to save the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary. And that’s where I drew my inspiration from. Due to the pandemic, we cannot go to the sanctuary and protest, so my friends and I drew pictures to show our solidarity,” she shares.
The campaign is slowly making waves on social media platforms, with more children from the city voicing their concerns. Some have also opted for alternative methods to fuel the campaign. Like N Mahati. A self-proclaimed naturalist, she makes it a point to stay updated about the environmental status of the city. “I have been involved in studying and conserving the environment in our city for the past seven years. I have signed many petitions to save Vedanthangal and protest against the unfair demarcation of the ESZ. Although I haven’t drawn anything for this campaign, I am doing everything I can to share and promote the work of others. People should know what is happening to the natural habitats, and take responsibility to protect them,” says Mahati, who recently completed class 12.
Heart to art
Spearheaded and regulated by Sara Mohan from The Ecology Project and Yuvan M, a naturalist affiliated with the Madras Literary Society, the campaign has seen over 30 participants since its launch on July 12. “Many of the kids who contributed have visited the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary. They have seen the kind of birds that migrate there. Many others were excited when we took them to the sanctuary in February. They hadn’t seen so many birds in one place, before. We told them about the demarcation of the sanctuary and how farmers around have been protesting the move. Most kids showed interest and wanted to help. An art campaign was the best way we could think of to give them that platform,” says Sara.The two have conducted workshops regularly for kids. They took this art campaign to the children in their apartments. From there, word of mouth has gotten them this far. With new artwork being created every day, the voice of next-gen cannot be ignored for long.
Children of any age can send their artwork to firstname.lastname@example.org.