nature/wildlife films

Power of Video to change/motivate? Read this real life story

Posted by Susan Sharma on July 09, 2006

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"Ela Bhatt was totally sold on the idea.

With support from the United Nations Development Programme and USAID, she managed to bring the Martha Stewart team to Ahmedabad. Twenty women from SEWA were given an intensive three-week training. They were all women from the unorganised sector who were unfamiliar even with basic electrical stuff, let alone digital technology. There was Leelaben, the vegetable vendor, Shubhadraben, the bidi-roller, Taraben, the incense-stick-maker…

Leelaben recalls: “I was dying every day and living every day. As a vegetable vendor I used to sit in Manek Chowk market with two baskets of vegetables. But the police always abused us, displacing us whenever they wished to.” For Shubhadra, the bidi-roller, protesting against unjustified wages or insufficient security measures in the workplace was difficult before she learnt how to record her demands. It’s been a long journey since 1984.

For the poor illiterate women of SEWA, Video Sewa has become a tool for change. What began as a sensitisation programme has turned into a mechanism for protest and marshalling public opinion. From simply depicting poor women’s concerns, it has become a canvas for information-dissemination, awareness-building and policy advocacy.

But for the users of this technology, there’s no jargon-spewing. The day Leelaben understood the hidden powers of the video she knew immediately what she had to do. Neelam Dave, coordinator Video SEWA, joined SEWA in 1981. She was among the first group of 20 members to be trained. Although Neelam was a trained photographer she was not exposed to the digital media and she found the training immensely useful. Explaining the effectiveness of video as a communications tool, Neelam says: “Video footage can make the authorities sit up. Leelaben and Shubhadraben both recorded the deplorable conditions of vegetable vendors and bidi-rollers. Armed with the footage, we visited the Ahmedabad civic authorities that responded faster than ever before.”

On a different occasion, the bidi workers of Anand district united to agitate against their employer who had illegally sacked them from their jobs. They had no testimony to back them up, but they had recorded their experiences, which were used as evidence in the Supreme Court, resulting in a favourable judgment and compensation for the women. Neelamben explains that this is not an isolated incident. “We went to Lucknow some years ago, to organise women doing chikankari embroidery. After the core training programme was over we screened some footage of a rally we had shot in Ahmedabad. The footage related to the demands of readymade garment workers for minimum wages. The Lucknowi women were enthused. They immediately decided to organise a similar rally in Lucknow. Such is the power of video,” says Neelamben.

With over 100 films completed, Video SEWA is now a movement. Somewhere down the line it became more than just a protest tool. It is also a space to discuss and negotiate macro issues like food security, water and sanitation, labour rights and women’s rights."

Nilosree Biswas (Nilosree Biswas is a journalist and filmmaker based in Ahmedabad) InfoChange News & Features, April 2006


Tribal Bill-How it will affect our forests

Exploiting natural resources for development

Posted by Susan Sharma on July 08, 2006

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What is your opinion on the concept of reclaiming land for tribals?

Ans: That would be very important all over India. One of the problems that tribals are facing is that their land is not regularised and the government finds it very easy to throw them out if say something like minerals are found. In Orissa, parts of which were princely states, no proper surveys were done and no land given. The Orissa government also did not bother to regularise the land after independence. In a place called Kashipur, the tribals were cultivating land, considered it their own. A lot of bauxite was found, a Norwegian company came in, and the government just threw them out.

Tribals have not had proper land deeds and so on, and this must be changed. They want their right to land and this must be changed all over

Well-known historian and writer Ramachandra Guha

on the website:



Climate change and Global Warming

Siachen Science Park

Posted by Susan Sharma on July 07, 2006

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Troop withdrawal from Siachen is still to be resolved but Indian and Pakistani scientists have begun pushing for a geosciences lab to study the glacier and eventually convert it into a science park.

With them are scientists from the US and Canada. Separate meetings are being held in Islamabad and Dehra Dun to develop a suitable work plan for researching the high Karakoram ranges in what is being referred to as the "Siachen Science Laboratory."

What has given impetus to the initiative, according to geologist John H Shroder of the University of Nebraska, is the October 8, 2005, earthquake in Kashmir. "It was a message from the gods that India and Pakistan need to have urgent cross-border dialogue,'' he said. The little-understood Himalayas are rapidly changing due to human intervention. The still provide sustenance for over a billion-plus south Asians by ensuring fresh water and energy security. But there are dangers -- retreating glaciers, rivers changing course, dams triggering earthquakes -- and geo-scientific research is vital.

Already, the initiative has faced roadblocks. A joint "Science for Peace" international conference, funded by the US National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research of the US Navy, was to be held in Islamabad in May. Over 100 researchers from the US, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Italy, Afghanistan, Germany, and China were to attend. But at the last minute, Pakistan withdrew official recognition for the event.

Undeterred, the key organisers of the event, the University of Nebraska, Omaha, organised separate meetings, one of Pakistani scientists in Islamabad, and one of Indians in Dehra Dun early this week. Together, they have tried to formulate a "collaborative research agenda for Indo-Pak scientific activities in the western Himalayas."

Topping the agenda are:

• Assessing seismic hazards

• Studying the impact of climate change on Himalayan ice

• Document glacial changes

The earthquake was a wake-up call, for it came as a surprise that the Muzaffarabad faultline turned out to be active, says Shroder. Researchers don't want to be caught napping and hope to install a dense network of seismic stations across the mountains to understand earthquake risks.

The advice to the scientists from Shroder, who has researched the Karakoram for some 40 years, was not to get disheartened by the unique logistical hardships of the region. "Just keep pushing the edges, and little by little good science can be done. There can't be a better natural earth science laboratory than the high Himalayas," he told the Dehra Dun meeting.

 Concurring with him is Baldev R. Arora, director of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehra Dun. He says enough blood has been shed, and now the time has come for "the science for peace initiative to take off" for the good of all Himalayan neighbours.

 Report from Indian Express, 4th July 2006



Can evolution run backwards?

Posted by Susan Sharma on July 06, 2006

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Can two species that have evolved from one species collapse into one once again? In other words, can evolution run backwards?

Two fledgling species can become different enough genetically so that they can no longer hybridize effectively. But, if the barriers to gene flow come down too soon the two may hybridize and merge again. A recent issue of New Scientist ( 20 May 2006) describes two studies that point to such a possibility. One study relates to two finch ( a small seed-eating songbird) species on the Santa Cruz island ( off the coast of California )-one with large bills and one with small bills-but rarely medium sized ones. This feature reflects two populations specializing in eating two different sizes of seeds. This was in 1960. Four decades later the researchers found that only birds living in sparsely settled parts of the island still showed two different bill sizes. Near the island's only town, birds with middle-sized bills had become more common! The earlier two distinct groups had collapsed into one! What could be the reason for the change? The researchers attribute this to the fact that people are providing bird feeders filled with rice and hence it is no longer a disadvantage to have an intermediate beak! Apparently everybody can eat this rice! Is the impact of human beings on environment forcing evolution into reverse?

Another study relates to Homo Sapiens-human beings. It is really asking who we are and where we came from! True, humans did not evolve from modern apes, but humans and modern apes shared a common ancestor, a species that no longer exists. In other words, we are cousins. Evolution is not a ladder. it is a branching bush. because we shared a recent common ancestorwith chimpanzees and gorillas, we have many anatomical, genetic, biochemical, and even behaviuoral similarities with the African great apes. We are less similar to the Asian apes -orangutans and gibbons- and even less similar to monkeys, because we shared common ancestors with these groups in the more distant past. In this study, genomes of humans, chimps and gorillas were compared using a "molecular clock" to estimate how long ago the three groups diverged. The further back two species diverged, the more differences would have accumulated between their genome sequences. The study suggests that the two lineages split over 6.3 million years ago. But later both the species re-hybridized in a "reverse speciation" event! Complete speciation between humans nad chimpanzees took place less than 6.3 million years. Natural selection then favoured those hybrid individuals whose chromosomes carried fewest of the genes that lower fertility! Evolution just selected what worked! May be, hybridization between the two fledgling species might have provided traits that saved our ancestors from extinction! The growing genomic information should bring us closer to the understanding of the key steps in evolution-the origin of species. Surely every bit of bio-diversity is invaluable. We never know which one would trigger the next innovation. 

Excerpts from article by Dr.V.B.Kamble at


Climate change and Global Warming

Evolution and Climate change

Posted by Susan Sharma on July 06, 2006

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How is it possible for one species to give rise to more than one subsequent species?

One process by which this can occur is through the dividion of a population into two or more smaller populations by a geographical barrier. If the environments of the respective populations differ, different traits will be selected for in each, and the evolution of these populations will follow different courses. As the two groups become isolated from each other, they would stop sharing genes, and eventually genetic differences would increase until members of the groups can no longer interbreed. At this point, they have become separate species and the speciation is complete. Through time, these two species might give rise to new species, and so on through millenia.

 Another process that may give rise to speciation is climate change. When climate changes, species try to follow the climate they are adapted for. Hence they move around the landscape to stay in the same climate space. When they do that, some populations that are left behind might get isolated enough to spur morphological (physical) or genetic changes. One may get a species or population trapped in a region where climate is changing, which would induce a selective force to make them change or become extinct.

 Excerpts from article by Dr.V.B.Kamble



Tribal Bill-How it will affect our forests

Tribal Bill 2006

Posted by Susan Sharma on July 04, 2006

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The tribal bill provides communities right to protect and manage any "community forest resource" that they have been traditionally conserving and to impose penalties on anyone violating rules.

Sariska was the only reserve with people's participation in the conservation of the tiger. Investigations have revealed that the Bawariya tribes residing within the reserve supported the poachers in Sariska. In Ranthambore, it is well known that the Mogia tribe has been involved in hunting for generations.

Similar knowledge exists for all our national parks and reserves which need to be collated and put to use while formulating the final bill.


Interlinking of Rivers

Kolkatta "NO" to interlinking of rivers

Posted by Susan Sharma on July 03, 2006

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"There has been a proposal from the Centre to interlink the Teesta, Sankosh and Manas rivers in North Bengal and link it with the Ganga. The objective is to ensure a good supply of water to Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan," said Subhash Naskar, state minister for water resources and irrigation.

However, the state government has decided to oppose the proposed interlinking of the three rivers on two grounds.

First, West Bengal will be deprived of the necessary and adequate water supply for irrigation if the interlinking project materialises.

"This will inevitably jeopardise the agricultural production of the state," said Naskar.

Moreover, the state government apprehends that the proposed interlinking could lead to the destruction of the elephant corridors near the forest areas in North Bengal.

"A number of factors have come into play. Environmental blunders could be a possibility but what one first needs to look at is who the project will serve, how it will be undertaken and whether it is feasible at all," said VK Yadav, Deputy Chief Wildlife Warden, West Bengal.


Sustainable Travel?

Posted by Susan Sharma on July 02, 2006

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It seems that travel related activities account for about 1/3 of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. In many cases one round trip flight emits more carbon than your automobile does in a year!

Eliminating the damage we do to the planet through travel related activities would be a huge victory in the battle against global warming. To this end, "Natural Habitat Adventures" have announced an innovative new partnership with MyClimate™, a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting global warming through the support of alternative energy projects around the world.

The benefits of this new partnership are simple: When you travel with Natural Habitat Adventures you can actually neutralize the impact of harmful greenhouse gasses that were emitted as a result of your trip.

Here’s how it works. MyClimate™ calculates the emissions from your flight and your Natural Habitat Adventures expedition (primarily from other forms of transportation on your trip). These emissions can be neutralized through the purchase of a MyClimate™ ticket, typically only $10-$50. The MyClimate™ ticket represents an amount of carbon “offsets” purchased from climate friendly projects around the world. The money goes to a local community or businesses in a developing country to help fund more environmentally friendly development options.

For example: let’s say that your flight emits 1.4 tons of CO2, and your MyClimate™ ticket costs $20 (you only pay $10 and Natural Habitat Adventures pays $10). Through MyClimate™ that $20 might be invested in solar ovens in Africa, which will reduce the need to import diesel fuel that would emit the equivalent amount of carbon emissions as your flight.



Tribal Bill-How it will affect our forests

Research Paper-South Africa

Posted by Susan Sharma on June 30, 2006

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Research Paper dated 17 Feb 2005 by School of Biological and Conservation Sciences, South Africa

New forest policies in South Africa seek to reconcile conservation and development objectives by devolving some responsibilty for forest management from the state to local communities. Community participation in forest management aims to protect forest-based subsistence livelihoods by incorporating the interests of resource users, while simultaneously diffusing threats to biodiversity by managing resource use.

To date, participatory forest management (PFM) has had mixed success in South Africa because the transfer of rights to users has not accompanied changes in policy. A questionnaire survey of 60 households (43%) revealed the attitudes of users toward current management and conservation options for iGxalingenwa forest. Users chose participatory forest management (52%) over community (25%) or state-dominated forest management (2%) structures.

User choice was motivated by the desire to secure rights of access to, and ensure equitable benefit from, a dwindling resource base, rather than the conservation of these resources to sustain future yields. Users were unwilling to reduce resource use and compromise usufruct rights to achieve conservation goals, even to improve the availability of the resource stock.

Current user needs compromise biodiversity conservation goals, and users regard state conservation practices as protectionist and obstructing their rights of access to resources. While the National Forest Act of 1998 seek to conserve resources by limiting access to them and is based on principles of sustainable use, it is nevertheless perceived to offer few incentives to users to participate in forest management and conservation.

Ideally, an institutional and legal framework that allocates user rights and managerial responsibilities to households is required, but clearlysuitable alternatives to forest produce are also vital for successful management. Greater trust between the provincial parks authority and users is needed, but is complicated by weak traditional leadership and poor community representation.

Ultimately, users preferred PFM because, while recognising that harvest rates are unsustainable, user dependence upon forest resources and weak traditional leadership means they can protect usufruct rights only by participation. Changes to any of these factors may create demands for a new management system. PFM allows the greatest flexibility for responding to changes in demands as well as the environment.

While there is no implementation blueprint that suits every situation, the researchers feel that participatory management of iGxalingenwa forest is the preferred management institution.

However, its success will depend on an improvement on the levels of trust between stakeholders, particularly between users and forest owners(the State). Recognition of community property and access rights is an important prerequisite for participation by users in forest management.

 ( John Robertson and Michael J. Lawes ( 2005), Environmental Conservation 32(1) 64-75)

Tribal Bill-How it will affect our forests

Conservation in Africa

Posted by Susan Sharma on June 28, 2006

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Community based conservation projects in Africa have contributed to decreases in poaching. Increase in wildlife game reserves and direct benefits from trophy hunting have promoted a utalitarian, economic approach to conservation at the expense of scientific, ethical and aeasthetic considerations.
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