Saturday 25 August 2018

Ecology Class with a difference - 4: Walk through a real forest

Another absolutely fantastic Ecology Class with the Pitchandikulum Forest Consultants.

This time the class was a walk through the Guindy National Park (GNP) one of the few urban National Parks in India.  We were very fortunate to be led by Mr. Bhaskar of the GNP itself.  

The walk started with Mahesh and Krishnaveni outlining all the rules and regulations - no noise, no littering, no plucking, no frightening animals, walk in a group etc. These rules are really important for children to understand and follow from a young age to develop concern and respect for nature.

We talked about the direct and indirect signs of animals. The children volunteered different indirect signs - a feather, a nest, etc.  We also discussed the difference between in situ and ex situ conservation.  The park, Mahesh, pointed out was a in situ conservation zone.

Mr. Bhaskar gave a small talk to the children. "There are 4 different trails in the park - 2 for the deer, one for anteaters and one for jackals." he said.  He mentioned how the forest officers and assistants walk through the park, maintain water holes (which have been manually constructed), track animal populations etc. He talked about the research work conducted by the park.  He hoped that many of the young children will eventually take up Conservation as a career.

The first thing spotted was a large termite hill. Mahesh explained how termites build the anthills and why they make so many holes.  Next to the hill was a large tamarind tree. Krishnaveni asked the children to identify the tree, which some did.

Just as we set off, we saw a blackbuck staring at us down the road. It quickly bounded away as the children's excited chatter reached his ears.

Walking down the Blackbuck trail, a child suddenly spotted hoof marks - an indirect sign of an animal.

Another child found scat. Mahesh identified it as a palm civet's scat.

Mr. Bhaskar found a stick insect crossing the road. The children were delighted to see this insect and how it ponderously made its way across the road.

The children spotted many anthills and termite hills. They saw nests in trees. Butterflies abounded.  While Krishnaveni pointed out the different kinds of plants, especially indigenous ones, Mahesh talked about the evidences of animals.  One curious sight were holes dug into the ground. "Probably a jackal" said Mahesh. Krishnaveni picked up different seed pods and identified them. 

We finally reached a beautiful pasture with swaying grass. "This is the place that blackbucks come to graze and run" explained Mr. Bhaskar.  
A child found a small waterhole in a corner.  As they looked closer, they spotted a tiny star tortoise struggling to climb out of the water.  Mr. Bhaskar identified it as a 2 month old baby. The children were simply delighted to see this creature in the wild at close quarters.

On the walk back, we took a different trail and spotted many curiosities.

Broom grass with an abandoned ant nest, which had been taken over by a spider and then again abandoned. We could still see the remains of a butterfly entwined in the web.

A lime tree had several leaves sewn together by weaver ants. We marvelled at this animal's skill.  

The high point was finding jackal scat on the road. Close examination showed bits of fur on the scat. "It probably ate a squirrel" explained Mahesh.  

The walk was absolutely incredible.

After a short snack break, we entered the Snake Park to attend a talk by Dr. S.R. Ganesh, Dy. Director & Research Scientist. Dr. Ganesh told the children about the multitude of snake species in India. He specially dwelt on the Big Four - and how their venom affects the human body. He talked about the process of making antidotes.

While the children were all ready to continue the class for the next 4 hours, we teachers decided to come back and do the rest of the park in the next class.  

A big thank you to the Forest Warden Madam for giving permission for the walk, to Mr. Bhaskar for taking out his valuable time to interact with the children and to Dr. Ganesh for giving a very enlightening talk.

A big shout out as usual to Krishnaveni, Maya, Mahesh & Radhika for organising this wonderful class. 

Truly the kids are getting an unparalleled environmental experience.

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