We are again publishing the interview of Mihir Godbole, the founder and trustee of the pune based NGO- The Grasslands Trust. But this time in English. Though boneypahare.com is a Bengali webzine, but as we think the messages on this topic are important and very relevant as well as there were few requests to publish it for broader section of people, we are re-publishing it in English. This interview was taken by the editor of boneypahare.com Dr. Sumanta Bhattacharya.
Boneypahare: What do you think about the importance of grasslands in the Indian context?
Mihir: The grasslands are as important as the forests. They are the clean sources of water and air for us. Millions of cattle and the people who herd them are dependent on these grasslands for their livelihood. Regardless of the amazing biodiversity of the wildlife it supports. Some of the key species like great Indian bustard, lesser florican and many more will vanish forever if grasslands are not protected.
Boneypahare: Though your organization started in 2019, you guys are working on this for many years. Tell something about the interesting history of your work. How did it start initially?
Mihir: We have been working in this landscape since 2008-09. Mihir Godbole, founder of the trust, visited Nannaj Sanctuary near Solpaur for a survey when I came across the habitat and some of its unique residents. When looking at maps we realised that a similar type of landscape extends till outskirts Pune. When we started visiting these places, we realised how rich they were in biodiversity. The national parks and celebrated species like tigers get a lot of attention, but conservation of lesser known species and habitats gets hampered this idea of starting conservation of habitat and its key stone species the wolf was conceptualized.
Boneypahare: You people are now active in grasslands around Pune. Do you have any future plans to extend your activities in other parts of the country?
Mihir: Absolutely. Any moment/activity is not effective until like-minded people are gathered and don’t limit it locally. We shall be looking for potential collaborators who can take the same activity to other states.
Boneypahare: Which are the other important grassland sites in India?
Mihir: The dry arid regions of Rajasthan, Gujrat, Maharashtra, Karnataka support excellent open savanna grasslands / scrub forests
Boneypahare: How is the Wildlife Institute of India helping you in this matter?
Mihir: Wildlife institute of India conducted two very important surveys on Indian grey wolves recently in which The grasslands trust team took part. One was a howling survey in which wolf howls were recorded and analysed as it is believed that the howl of every wolf is unique and their population can be estimated based on that. In the second project 8 GPS collars were put on Indian grey wolves for the first time in the different parts of Maharashtra. This project will reveal vital data about wolves that will help them in their long term conservation.
Boneypahare: Have you noticed any significant positive ecological changes in the area you are engaged now after starting your projects there?
Mihir: Our NGO is just two years old. Most of the projects we have undertaken will bear the results in the long term but there is a significant change in the attitude of local people we are dealing with who live in the vicinity of wildlife. Earlier these species were very much neglected and the people who lived around them never thought these animals had any significance but because of the awareness sessions people have become more vigilant about the wildlife around them.
Boneypahare: How are the local stakeholders reacting to your activities? Are they sensitive enough about the facts? Is there any change in the thought process of local authority and government departments on so called wastelands?
Mihir: Local stakeholders are very much positive and supportive, in fact many of the activities that we conduct are mainly supported by them in many ways, right from giving innovative ideas to logistical support.
The Forest department in recent times has been very supportive and there are many projects we are doing in collaboration. We are also training the forest department ground level staff for better tracking of animals and creating systems with which they can report wildlife sightings. Recently a very fruitful workshop was conducted by the PCCF Maharashtra for creating awareness within the staff and not to treat them as wastelands and do plantations.
Boneypahare: Plantation of trees is also important. But grasslands are not the right place for that. What do you think about other options for afforestation projects?
Mihir: Habitats don’t need active plantations, they just need protection. In many cases well minded wrongly channelled efforts of restoration/ afforestation lead to more damage to the ecosystem than helping it.
Boneypahare: How can this issue be managed in other parts of the country? What is your message to the activists and environmentalists in other parts of India?
Mihir: Don’t just focus on big and famous national parks and celebrated wildlife species like tigers and elephants. Explore your own backyard, more species survive outside protected areas. Take efforts towards their conservation because if you don’t, no one else will, for the lack of knowledge and we will lose a priceless part of our country’s natural history.
Boneypahare: How is the prospect of ecotourism in the grasslands? Do you have any such projects around Pune?
Mihir: Regulated tourism can definitely benefit the wildlife of the region. when locals of the landscape feel a sense of pride in protecting the wildlife around them. If supplementary income can be generated because of wildlife that can support their traditional occupations like agriculture and animal herding, it will also give them a cause to save wildlife, even if it's causing problems in some cases like livestock killing.
Currently we are working with the forest department to set a system for the visitors that will encourage visitors but will also ensure that the locals benefit from it.
Boneypahare: What is the future plan of actions of The Grassland Project?
Mihir: It will be decided in the course of the time depending on the outcome of the current projects.
Chinkaras play important role in Saswad grassland ecosystem. Source: The grasslands trust.