MYSURU: The year was 1992, and the nation was in the midst of a socio-economic churn that was to alter its destiny irreversibly. Mysuru was, then, still a calm, peaceful city with citizens content to take walks to reach their workplaces and enjoy leisure that appeared to be available in surplus – and the Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens, more popularly known as Mysuru Zoo, was one of the favorite haunts where idleness dissolved in the cries of animals and the chirping of birds. In 1992, Mysuru Zoo celebrated its centenary and to commemorate the occasion, the zoo started the Youth Club, with an aim to cultivate conservation among youngsters and schoolchildren.
The seeds of a conservation effort sown more than a quarter of a century ago have now spawned a whole generation of activists, with many erstwhile members of the club today having been named ambassadors for a whole range of activities and campaigns launched by the zoo.
Since its inception, the club has made concerted efforts to groom conservationists, and so far, 1,500 of them have, in a way, graduated from this informal institution. Each year, the club ropes in experts and zoo officials, who impart lessons on wildlife conservation and protecting natural habitats to children and adolescents. Each batch consists of 60 schoolchildren, all of whom are freshers. The classes are held every Sunday between 10.30am and 1.30pm, and the club also organised practical sessions wherein students are taken to forests, lakes and other wildlife habitats to familiarise them with nature.
The effort has paid off as many of the teens who have been associated with the Youth Club have become ambassadors of conservation while others are contributing to conservation by enlisting the support of their parents. The zoo’s adoption of animals is also a big hit which is getting revenue for the zoo and also helping the society to understand conservation.
The members of the 26th batch of the zoo’s Youth Club were taken to Bandipur Tiger Reserve, Nagarahole, Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, Karanji Lake and Animal Rehabilitation Centre, Koorgalli as part of the practical sessions.
The executive director of Mysuru Zoo Ajit Kulkarni told TOI, “Members of the Youth Club have become ambassadors of conservation. They act as conduits between society and zoo. It is a snowball effect, these young wildlife enthusiasts help reach out to large sections of society. Conserving the environment cannot be achieved by a single department; we need the participation of youngsters. We are very happy that one brigade of conservationists is busy working towards this.”
S Varshini, a student of class VII at St Thomas Central School, is perhaps one of the shining examples of what the Youth Club can help achieve – she can name and identify 250 species of birds, and is an avid reader about butterflies and insects. What is more, Varshini, along with 50 of her friends, is using social media to create awareness about preserving endangered species and the dangers of plastic. “I have learned more about wildlife and conservation because of the Youth Club. Experts who have come and spoken to us have really inspired me. I want to join the Indian Forest Services when I grow up,” she told TOI.
Prashanth, 13, a student of Arivu School said that he had thoroughly enjoyed his visits to the zoo’s rehabilitation center at Koorgalli, where he was able to take a close look at leopards and tigers. “I tell my parents about what I learn at the club, and they are very happy to see how I have grown,” said Prashanth.
Adoption of zoo animals is another conservation initiative that has helped the zoo bolster its efforts to save endangered species, and generated revenue.
‘Large community of conservationists in the city’
At the valedictory of the 26th batch of Youth Club on Sunday, chief guest deputy commissioner Abhiram G Sankar opined that Mysuru boasted the second largest community of wildlife activists in the state after Bengaluru. “Environmentalists and campaigners for cleanliness too are high in number here. Due credit must be given to the activities of the Youth Club in promoting conservation,” Sankar said.