ENTRUSTING THE FUTURE To youngsters to protect the wild around them
STARTING YOUNG Children are the hope to save the wildlife around them
Filmmakers Rita Banerji and Shilpi Sharma go beyond their film, The
Wild Meat Trail, to bring awareness in children of north-east India on
The camera trails all sorts of creatures being sold in
the bustling market in a remote village in Nagaland, North East India.
There are limp but colourful exotic birds being heaped on the ground,
being plied for meat. There’s a chained slow loris too on sale. Prices
are being called, negotiated. A woman selling wild birds says she makes
Rs. 15,000 a month selling wild meat compared to selling vegetables off
which she makes Rs. 3,000. This, in one of the world’s biodiversity
The Wild Meat Trail, a film by
Delhi-based Rita Banerji and Shilpi Sharma of Dusty Foot Productions
delves into this wilderness of north east India, where, she says, “The
maximum wildlife we saw was in the markets, not in the forests. We never
heard birds in the forest.”
Rita has been filming
in NE India since 2002, tracing a pair of orphaned bear cubs that were
being rehabilitated into the wild, which led her to the hunting
practices in the area. “We have this false notion that traditional
hunting is fine, and illegal wildlife trade is the problem…” she said,
showing her film, and speaking on ‘Visual media in conservation’ at the
recently held WCY2014 conference in Bangalore. Organised by Wildlife
Conservation and You, the conference looked at various aspects of
conservation, including the impact that wildlife films can have in
aiding conservation. Rita has been a wildlife/environment filmmaker for
over 15 years now. This film won them a Green Oscar in 2010.
and Shilpi spent more than seven years in the region trying to
understand what hunting in the NE was all about, in its current cultural
and economic context. “It’s not all black and white. Wild meat hunting
and consumption is an integral part of the life of communities in the
north east of India. Open wild meat markets exist in different towns and
cities across the states. The remoteness of some of these regions means
that they don’t even know about the Wildlife Act. Most young boys hunt
for leisure or because they are expected to. People in the cities ‘have
to’ eat this meat as part of festivals,” says Rita.
hunters had knowledge of wildlife, but the younger ones were only
driven by money. ‘Why should we stop?’ was the question always raised.
But they were willing to, if they were given livelihood, and leisure
alternatives. Discussions with community members, village elders, and
traditional hunters were held. It was obvious children had to be made
future protectors of wild animals around them. “Collaboration is the
key, and engaging the community is the only way to bring about change,”
says Rita. Together they decided to create a training manual for
educating children, and help teachers guide children into the world of
nature. A clipping of the film brought in funding for Dusty Foot to
complete the film, and then some, to start a wildlife education
programme in the region called Under The Canopy.
India it’s difficult to talk of wildlife in isolation. It’s also about
people. I was drawn to this relationship. Making just a natural history
film was impossible. I would have felt empty to just leave it at
filmmaking, having spent so much time there,” says Rita.
came the Hoolock Gibbon Eco Club in Chizami village in Nagaland. The
Club, a collaboration between NEN (North East Network), Dusty Foot, and
Go Wild Workshops, started in 2010 with about 20 children aged 10 to 14;
each year 20 students have joined in. Children learn about their
environment through interactive classroom activities, photography,
writing, and field-based learning.
Also, if you are a
member, the condition is that you can’t eat wild meat! Two boys from
Chizami, Alo and Peter, are training as trainers so that they can
continue the programme over the years.
the kids didn’t look at a frog as a frog, but as food!” says Rita. The
Club has already managed to generate valuable documentation of birds,
butterflies, and moths from the area. Through the efforts of NEN and the
Eco Club there has been a dialogue on ‘ban on hunting’ amongst the
parents, the village council, and the forest department. The hope is
that these children will one day be able to influence decisions on
conservation in the village.
Rita talks passionately about how films can change the world, making an example of Shores of Silence – Whale Sharks in India,
Mike Pandey’s film on which she too worked, and won the Green Oscar in
Wildscreen 2000, went on to put the whale shark in the Wildlife
Protection Act of India; its hunting got banned. “Wildlife films have an
outreach and education component embedded in them. You can choose to do
a film, or go beyond it,” concludes Rita.