Founder and president of Natural History Trust,
Author of eight Tamil books on wildlife,
Editor of Kattuir magazine.
According to Mohamed Ali, “Science is taught in schools always with an eye on marks. There is no connect with every day life. Many students define Nature from what they read in their text books. We took the students outdoors.”
At his home in Mettupalayam, over endless cups of chaai and some tasty home-made biscuits served by his wife, it is enriching to listen to Mohammed Ali. He quit his job with the postal department in 1980s and turned a full-time conservationist from then on. “Mettupalayam, the place I live is surrounded by forests and wildlife. And, I started exploring,” he smiles.
Once, he brought a skink (aranai or long lizard) to a classroom. At another time, it was a scorpion, which he carried in a match box. “I let the scorpion climb on my hand to indicate that it stings only when it senses trouble when your hand moves. Black scorpions, considered the most poisonous, never initiate the attack. I share such information with students,” he says.
He has plenty to say about lizards. “They are harmless. In our own backyard, we have the bark gecko (marapalli), house gecko (house lizard) and blue-tailed skinks. The garden lizard (veli onaan) is an insectivore and keeps the garden clean. Such lizards, including udumbu (monitor lizard), and snakes, are vital to a garden’s ecosystem. They keep the pests out, including the mosquitoes. But we spray chemicals and chase them away,” he says. Superstitions are a deterrent too. “When an Indian Pipistrelle (fruit bat) enters homes, it is considered a bad omen. But, the truth is that it keeps the garden and house free of small pests.”
NHT camps with school children have been highly successful. But they lack support from the government. “There is no funding. We invest our money and run it. We have 20 active members, totally dedicated to the cause. In Tamil Nadu, we have about 500 members now.”
Mohammed Ali, who has just completed a two-day awareness camp for SHGs in Trichy, says it is easier to convey the message to those at the grassroots. “We talk at clubs, meet parents, NGOs, LIC agents and tell them to cut down on water usage, use less oil on their hair, less shampoo…everything helps in environment conservation.” He then adds with a straight face, “Instead of long tresses women should opt for shorter haircuts.”
The conservationist is irked by exaggerated accounts of wildlife. “Encounters in the wild are normal,” he says and shares an incident at Gir National Park. “Our group spotted a male lion 60 ft away from the car. After we took 10 steps forward, the lion woke up. Then, it gave a warning roar and stayed right there for 30 minutes. A simple experience like this is turned into a dramatic account.”
He gives another example. “At Thengumarhada, we camped in the forest to identify a tiger which was feared to be a man-eater. As it turned out, the tiger was in pain as a porcupine spine had pierced its foot. That was the reason it was growling. And a writer would probably describe this incident and title it ‘Killer on the prowl!’”. The misrepresentation extends to elephants and bears too, says Mohammed Ali. Elephants are the most misunderstood mammals, he says regretfully. “It never stamps a living being as often reported. It just chases you out of its way, and maybe attacks with its tusk. Man-bear encounters are described as karadiyudun thotta vaaliban katti purandu sandai. It is so misleading. But at our meetings we make it a point to give the real picture.”
Mohammed Ali has authored eight books on Nature. His book Iyarkaiyin Seidhigalum Sindhaiyumpacks 1,500 news items, facts and figures about Nature, and has been acknowledged by some as one of the best compilations in a regional language. It is considered an as an Encyclopaedia on Nature.
One of his books is dedicated to ornithologist Salim Ali, whose life story inspires him. “I so yearned to own a gun like him in my younger days,” he recollects. “Salim Ali shot a yellow-throated sparrow, and took it to his father to identify it. His father sent him to BNHS. A European curator, opened the doors of the museum (home to 1000s of stuffed birds) to the young Salim Ali. And, he went on to become one of the greatest ornithologists ever.”
Natural History Trust is a voluntary, non-profit, conservation organization working to promote conservation of wild habitats. Wildlife conservation through conservation education and Propagating scientific ideas as basis for conservation. Conservation education by publishing natural history and conservation literature in Tamil. Conservation education for under-privileged people.
Kattuir – a journal on natural history and conservation in Tamil. Facts and thoughts: a beginner’s encyclopedia in Tamil. Wild animals – a series of books in Tamil. Conservation education for people living in and around crucial elephant and tiger habitats in southern India. Conservation hot topics: periodical discussions/meetings. We appreciate your valuable contribution to continue our service for wildlife conservation.
Source : The Hindu.com, naturalhistorytrust.org