The two-bedroom flat at Chennai in Tamil Nadu is strewn with banners, placards, badges and slogans reading ‘Save our elephants and rhinos’, ‘Kill the ivory trade, not the elephants’.
Gearing up for the ‘Global March for Elephants, Rhinos and Tigers’ scheduled for the year-end, Shrilekha Venkateswar, 32, and Ramakrishna Dhanasekaran, 32, both founders of The Wild Walk—an organisation that promotes wildlife literacy and conservation in India—say this year it’s going to be bigger.
“Over 120 cities across the globe will organise marches to promote the cause. And The Wild Walk will spearhead the event in Chennai. It’s a peaceful demonstration and we will have people from all walks of life joining us,” Shrilekha explains. This year, only Hyderabad and Chennai are representing India. Shrilekha is excited to organise this march for the third year. She says she expects over 1,000 participants.
“During previous two years, we held the march at the Marina beach in Chennai. This year the location is yet to be decided. Apart from the march, we plan to do activities to sensitise people on wildlife and responsible tourism,” she says.
Growing up in a home that involved in conversations and activities related to wildlife conservation, Shrilekha realised that she wanted to live and work around nature.
When I was seven, I would return from jungle trips and share stories with my classmates at school. It was quite unfortunate that I never had an audience except my family,” says Shrilekha, who believes that wildlife literacy is the only way to inspire others to sustain the habitat. Finding a career in digital marketing, she took every opportunity to conduct wildlife literacy camps at schools and for corporate teams.
Educating children is crucial; we believe that helping them understand nature and act responsibly is a life skill by itself,” explains her partner-husband-film maker Ramakrishna. “Officially launched in 2013, The Wild Walk has always been a people’s movement. It aims at involving the common man in conservation activities—whether it is filling a tank with water for wild elephants to drink, cleaning a part of jungle in Mudhumalai, or sharing stories with children.”
Their focus has always been to spread the knowledge on wildlife and they feel it is important to tell people the truth and its consequences.
We’ve been working on wildlife literacy programmes with 15 schools in Chennai for the past one year. One of the key initiatives we run is Sanctuary Asia’s ‘Kids for Tigers’ campaign. Over the years, I’ve found that children are naturally interested in wildlife; when we present the real scenario before them, they feel responsible and want to change their behaviour to protect the environment,” says Shrilekha.
Ramakrishna stresses that one need not be a conservationist or an organisation to protect the wildlife and everyone can do their bit. “When tourists visit a jungle, they take out their mobile phones and click pictures.
They do not understand that their gesture upsets the wildlife. If you do visit a jungle, just sit and appreciate its beauty. There has been an increase in wildlife photographers, which is great, but it is important that they behave ethically and not disturb the natural habitat of animals,” he says.
Shrilekha, who does the field activity of conducting rallies and workshops in schools and offices, says, “Ramakrishna takes care of the documentation and makes short films, which we host on our website and blog. These help people take action.”
The duo echoes that nature will evolve with or without human beings. If not for human beings, some other predator will take over and continue the chain of life. “What motivates us to continue this journey is the sparkle in the eyes of the children. They absorb the information, and want to act upon it,” says Shrilekha.
Her husband feels that speeches are great, but it is high time we stopped blaming the government for the state of affairs and rolled up our sleeves to give back to the nature.