Ep#6 Heart of Conservation Podcast Show notes (edited).
Lalitha Krishnan: You’re listening to Heart of Conservation podcast Episode #6. I’m your host Lalitha Krishnan bringing you stories from the wild. Stay tuned for exciting interviews and inspiring stories that keep you connected to our natural world.
Lalitha Krishnan: I’m speaking to Suniti Bhushan Datta a consultant wildlife biologist, mountain/ wilderness-skills instructor, and nature educator, from Dehra Dun. He is my go-to person for identifying birds and bugs of Landour. Suniti is an avid endurance cyclist who gets up at 4:00 am and often rides the 30 k Doon–Landour stretch with school kids in tow. Lest I forget, he has authored a best-selling book on the birding sites around the Doon Valley He is a qualified Wilderness First Responder and has diverse interests ranging from mountaineering, photography astronomy to aviation.
Lalitha Krishnan: Hey Suniti. Welcome to Heart of conservation podcast.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: Thank you
Lalitha Krishnan: You have so many skills sets and interests Suniti but I see the threads connecting them to conservation. Let’s first talk about how and why you took to conservation and your passion for Elephants and big cats.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: My interest in wildlife actually started with birds when I was about four or five years old. My mother actually gave me her old copy of Salim Ali- 2nd edition 1944-the book of Indian birds. Until then birds for me were- growing up in a bin Calcutta what basically– sparrows and pigeons. And I remember very very clearly, even now, sitting on the window in my sister’s room with the bird book open in the first really colourful bird I saw was the Coppersmith Barbet. The bird was nothing like I had ever seen even in a zoo. It was green and red and yellow and it was really close, it was about 8 to 9 feet from the window. And that is what probably started getting me interested in birds. My mother and my elder sister were bird watchers even then. I actually got interested in birds that way I think and the bird-interest has persisted since. The thing is from looking at birds it became looking at the trees that the bird was sitting on. I got interested in the trees and then I got Interested in the butterflies that were sitting on the trees and the flowers and other animals along the way. My sister once took me to a fair Where WWF had a few snakes that they were letting people handle. I got to handle a red sand boa– I still remember –I must have been 6 years old–So I got interested in reptiles along the way. That’s how my interest grew. I basically started with bird watching and I still say I am a bird watcher. I never studied bird And I don’t want to study birds… it’s an interest. When I go into a forest even though I am working with elephants Or any other thing birds are something I can fall back on When I really want to switch off and look at something else.
So yes basically I am a bird watcher and wildlife biologist, and a naturalist I guess.
Lalitha Krishnan: Yes, that’s interesting and of course everything is connected. I know of your interest in elephants and you studied elephant, right? This is something that is close to my heart and it bothers me. When I keep hearing of elephant deaths by speeding trains…the whole picture of injured elephants..the whole heard being traumatized, being dispersed and just bearing the wrath of villagers after that. We see such horrific pictures in the media. And it seems like the whole herd is massively impacted when an elephant dies. Especially if it’s the matriarch.
I want to know why are elephant being killed by trains so frequently In our country? It seems like more and more incidents are reported. I know that In Africa they’re using innovative methods like putting bee-pheromones into a sock to keep elephants away. What are we doing wrong? How can we prevent more elephant disasters?
Suniti Bhushan Datta: It’s a bit of a complex problem. Because in some cases elephant populations are growing or have remained the same. The forests that they occupy are not really growing or in fact, are shrinking in many places. Not only that but the water resources that elephants are very dependent on are becoming fewer and far between. So the elephants actually have to travel between places to get to actually water and food sources. Unfortunately, these railway lines have come up bang in the middle of their migratory paths which have existed for hundreds of years if not for thousands of years. What happens is that earlier, maybe, a hundred years ago, you had very few trains, maybe you had two or three trains day. But as India’s population has grown and people need to travel more the number of trains has actually gone up. You have new locomotives that run at a speed So when the elephants actually track crossing the tracks, they don’t actually have time to get off the track. And therefore they get hit by the train. Usually, what happens you might have a baby that is stuck on the tracks and the rest of the herd will try and help it and several elephants will get killed. So even if the forest department knew there were elephants, getting them off the tracks would be a big job
There are options of mitigation and they have worked in parts of the country. For example in Uttarakhand yes, It’s actually, what I would say is a prime example of how things can actually work. In Uttarakhand, initially the forest department used to patrol the tracks but there was no connect between the forest department and the Railways. So even if the forest department knew there were elephants, getting them off the track would become a big job and ultimately the elephants would die. Somebody actually suddenly got the idea that why not connect the railways with this whole initiative and actually talked to the Railways. There was a lot of public pressure because, along with the track between Dehradun and Haridwar, elephant were dying every month.
Lalitha Krishnan: Oh no that’s large for large number than I imagined.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: So what happened was the first department and the railways, set up an elephant railway patrolling force. They used to patrol all day and all night. And every time they would see an elephant crossing they would signal the two stations on either side using the Railways wireless network. The station master would stop the train. Once the elephants had crossed over, the guards would give the all clear and the trains would be let through. Which actually worked in a great way in Uttarakhand. The patrolling team got an award for it from the WTI- Wildlife Trust of India so they were very motivated.
Lalitha Krishnan: Sorry but when was this?
Suniti Bhushan Datta: I can’t remember exactly when it was started but it was around 2004-2005. Since when we have only had one or two elephant deaths by railway accidents on this track. The thing is if only departments get together, work together and communicate there are workable solutions. It’s a huge challenge. You have to Railways and you have a forest department trying to work together which is amazing…that they actually did this. Elephant deaths dropped by a huge margin on this stretch.
Now what’s happening in north Bengal and other places is that exactly the same thing is happening. You have railway tracks going through elephant ranges and elephants are getting knocked down in Bihar and Assam. Now why the forest departments in those states- in Bengal and Bihar and Assam- are not getting together and replicating this is probably there is no motivation to do it. Here there was actually a lot of public pressure And the forest department, you know, thought ahead about these things whereas in these places they need the political will and motivation to do this. It will work. It worked over here there is there is no reason why reason they can’t mitigate deaths in those stretches.
Lalitha Krishnan: Could we talk about elephants vocalization? Their low-frequency rumbles and roars and why they ‘re so much like us. Quoting from this book ‘Beyond Words, what animals think and feel by Carl Safina, “Their brains are similar to ours, they make the same hormones involved in human emotions- and that’s evidence” that they grieve and feel joy just like us. They even see to be able to communicate with whales. At least I think I read that in the book.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: Elephants are amazingly vocal. They not only communicate in the audible spectrum – but audible to the human spectrum of noise but they also have low-frequency sounds. This is between 5 to 7 Hertz. Humans hear between 20 to 20000 Hertz. This is an extremely low frequency. How this was actually found was there was this woman called Katy Payne who was actually a musician. She was at Portland zoo in Oregon and she was actually recording sounds of something else. She realized that when the elephants were being fed, she was picking up some sort of a rumble on her microphone. She had a very sensitive microphone. That’s how the story goes at least. She did an experiment where she actually placed the microphone close to the elephant enclosure when they were being fed. She actually found that these elephants were emanating some sort of rumbles. That’s how she got interested and she’s probably the first one and others have studied this since. But she was probably the first person who studied low-frequency communication in elephants.
The thing is low-frequency sounds tend to travel huge distances in the atmosphere. Elephants in Africa especially take to communicate-herds tend to communicate with each other- so they’ll communicate dangers for example. Or sources of food. Males and females will communicate and with herds and vice-versa. Actually, it’s a well-studied phenomenon in Africa, not so much in India, yet. Now there are people who have sort of deciphered a very basic language that elephants use. There are rumble patterns that actually denote danger. Or a source of food. Or happiness or joy. Elephants are very complex creatures and can communicate their emotions to each other. Not only audibly but in low-frequency sounds.
And they are amazingly similar to whales for example who have on their forehead, a hollow organ- which in whales is filled with oil- but in elephants, basically, it’s like the sinus cavity in humans. That actually acts like a sort of amplifier. If you actually stand next to an elephant who is rumbling, sometimes, you can’t actually hear the sound but you can feel it….sometimes in your chest.
Lalitha Krishnan: Have you felt it?
Suniti Bhushan Datta: I have felt it a few times.
Lalitha Krishnan: Oh you are so lucky.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: But you need to be really close to the elephant to be able to feel this. There are certain frequencies that some humans can feel. But it’s interesting how they communicate this way.
Lalitha Krishnan: I hope that we can explore that more in time.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: Yes.
Lalitha Krishnan: Suniti, you are among the lucky few who have worked underJohn Wakefield or Papa John, the famous conservationist and naturalist, who introduced the concept of eco-tourism, I think, in Karnataka. Could you tell me about your time with him? Do you remember anything special? Any special moments?
Suniti Bhushan Datta: Col. John Wakefield or as everyone knew him, Papa John…I actually met him in 2003 when I was at a bit loss and (wondering) what to do with myself. And he offered me a lodge in the Kabini River Lodge in Karnataka in Nagarhole National Park.
Lalitha Krishnan: My favourite place.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: Yes, it’s a beautiful area. The whole idea was I go and work there for a year, get some experience and then do my Masters in Wildlife sciences. The thing is that Papa John had this magnetic persona so I actually ended up staying there much longer than I wanted to. But what was special about Papa John was he was, how do I put it, an old style of a naturalist. He liked observing, he had field skills and he had seen wildlife in India, which, unfortunately, generations today have lost. He had actually walked through all the forests in this part of the world – what you call GoriChila which is basically today Rajaji Tiger Park in Landsdowne division. Even though he did shoot tigers and leopards in that area, his knowledge of wildlife in this area is just amazing. And his field skills… he is actually one of the first people who taught me–little things–like how to suppress a sneeze for example, which is interesting. He had amazing stories. One of the stories he told me is about meeting somebody walking down a path in Corbett or what is today Corbett, and having a conversation with him and later finding out that it was Jim Corbett himself.
Lalitha Krishnan: You’re serious.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: Yes, He’d met Jim Corbett and later when he joined the army–he was in the jungle warfare school in Chhindwara —Jim Corbett actually taught them jungle warfare and field craft. It’s amazing. I haven’t actually met anybody else who has met Jim Corbett and actually trained under Corbett.
Lalitha Krishnan: What a privilege.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: He had also met people like F W Champion and he described FW Champion as making this amazing camera trap photographs–I’m talking of the late 1920s and early 30s—where he would use bits of magnesium in his camera flash to get photographs. It was such a precision thing. And, because he was using photographic plates, it had to be done at night. Papa had a special relationship with the elephants and I think that’s how I got my interest in elephants. Papa came to Kabini in the early 80s.
Lalitha Krishnan: Where did he come from?
Suniti Bhushan Datta: He actually worked in Tiger Tops in Nepal. The word ecotourism didn’t exist in India. Wildlife tourism was a very fledgling thing in India when he came here. He brought a brand of tourism to India, which did not exist at that time. It was luxury tourism but it was responsible for tourism. He kept it small. He didn’t want more than a certain number of rooms. He resisted. Eventually, Kabini wasn’t doing too well so the government took it over. The government, of course, wanted air conditioners and TVs in the rooms and a swimming pool. Papa John resisted this to a great extent. He didn’t believe in mass tourism. He wanted very, very small areas – when I was working there, we had, I think, six jeeps and one van and two boats that we used. Kabini is now a different ball game. They have lots of people going in.
Lalitha Krishnan: So now do they have a lot more jeeps and boats?
Suniti Bhushan Datta: They have more jeeps a greater number of rooms.
Lalitha Krishnan: At least they didn’t build that swimming pool.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: Yeah, not yet at least. Papa (John) brought a different brand of tourism. It was responsible tourism but it was ecotourism as it should be. He had naturalists who he trained. Many naturalists in India, including me, started their careers with Papa John learning from him, listening to his stories. He introduced me to elephants. He would sort of tell me about the elephants in Kabini. I am very sure some of the elephants, some of the tuskers certainly recognized him because they probably saw him when he first came to India in the early 80s. They must have been young…a year or two old. A lot of the elephants that were around when I was there must have seen him when they were calves. He’s seen them actually grow up. He used to tell us stories about the elephants, about elephant behavior—a lot of anecdotal evidence. He was an amazing man. He could observe things and long before we became scientists. That’s why I say that I had the privilege of being a naturalist first and then becoming a scientist. That’s complete because of Papa (John). I am a naturalist because of Papa John.
Lalitha Krishnan: Lucky. So, who is today’s Papa John for the young wannabe naturalist?
Suniti Bhushan Datta: In India, I don’t really think there is anybody like Papa John in terms of knowledge, field experience because that generation of naturalists is gone. Probably Dr. Johnsingh whom I met a few times…and he’s spoken to us at the Wildlife Institute but I didn’t have the privilege of working under him. But again, Dr. Johnsingh is a naturalist. He is a naturalist. He is a scientist but his field knowledge…his ability to recognize a bird call, to be even able to stifle a sneeze…
Lalitha Krishnan: Are you going to demonstrate that?
Suniti Bhushan Datta: (Laughing)
Lalitha Krishnan: That’s a useful skill to have wherever you are not just in a forest.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: It’s a useful skill. Both he and Papa John had a very different technique for doing it. Papa John’s technique was to put your finger on your nose and push your nose up. That’s his. That worked a lot. Dr. Johnsingh used to change it into an animal noise. He used to make it into a sambar alarm call or a monkey or langur calling. But that’s the thing is that Dr. Johnsingh again is that old style of a naturalist who recognized animal calls. He could mimic animals. I don’t know anybody else who could be able to interpret noises, calls of the jungles and track animals like Dr. John Singh and Papa John for that matter. We are losing that breed of people.
Lalitha Krishnan: They’re a class apart.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: They’re a class apart. Now we’ve got cutting-edge science like genetics and all the various tools and technologies that we use. Those core skills that make up a naturalist—people are losing those natural history skills—to be able to mimic birds, to be able to recognise bird calls, to be able to recognize plants and their interaction with insects and birds and other animals of the forest …and to be able to interpret that to the common man in plain and simple language. We are losing these skills.
Lalitha Krishnan: Nobody seems to have the time to do that anymore.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: Yeah, In India, apart from Dr. John Singh, I don’t know too many people who can actually do that. One of my heroes is Sir Richard Attenborough. He sort of epitomizes what it is to be a naturalist and to be able to interpret scientific facts and scientific concepts into plain language.
Lalitha Krishnan: That’s what’s most required. To bridge that gap or otherwise, who knows what you’re talking about.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: Yeah, and to be able to interpret that in such a way that not only do you make it easy to understand but also make it interesting. Because science can be very dry for the common man. So to actually make it interesting and make it relevant in today’s world is a skill that is very, very valuable.
Lalitha Krishnan: That is interesting and clearly, they influenced you. Suniti are there any books you recommend?
Suniti Bhushan Datta: Yes, There are many many books actually. Probably what influenced what I am doing today as a nature interpreter and working with children is this book that I happened to come across while I was browsing books on Amazon. It is this book called the Last Child in the Woods by a person called Richard Louv and that actually struck a chord with me because it talks about children losing out on the wilderness. Children growing up in an urban background sometimes don’t know the plants around them. They don’t know birds, they don’t know animals…
Lalitha Krishnan: I have a question here.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: Yes?
Lalitha Krishnan: Is it important to know the plant? Isn’t it OK to just enjoy the plant?
Suniti Bhushan Datta: It’s as simple as this. If you love something, you want to know more about it.
Lalitha Krishnan: True.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: The more you know about it the more you appreciate it and enjoy it.
Lalitha Krishnan: But as a child, when you see something you like, it’s a different world. You sort of lose yourself.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: One part is that. As a child, I liked trees; I liked animals. I grew up with dogs. I didn’t know much about them but I like being around them because I found a certain peace being in nature, which nothing else, even today, matches. But I feel, over the years, my curiosity as a child and now, my curiosity as a naturalist and a scientist transcended into looking up the animal or a plant in a field guide. And, knowing more about it. And, not just knowing more about it in terms of how is it useful to humans? I want to know what butterflies use that plant or what animals feed on that plant. How does that plant help…
Lalitha Krishnan: But that happened as an adult, right?
Suniti Bhushan Datta: Not just that. Even as a child. Even growing up, there were very few (guides)—apart from the bird guides— WWF had a very few, sketchy guides on plants and such so that’s how I grew. I have this sort of almost a fetish for collecting field guides because I think that more and more people are able to identify things and be able birds tell apart and tell plants and insects and butterflies apart. I think the more people appreciate nature and appreciate the role that that these things play in nature…and that’s my thing. Children today don’t know how important, and especially in urban environments—they don’t know how important plants are. They have this vague idea that yes, plants produce oxygen and that they are important to us. Plants play such a huge role in sustaining birds, sustaining butterflies, sustaining whole ecosystems.
Very recently, there was an article, I think, in the Huffington post called—I can’t find the name of the article—but they called it ‘Plant blindness’. It’s a very new phenomenon where children and adults for that matter can actually walk around and let alone know the names of the plant but they don’t notice there are plants around. That’s a sad thing. Sad, that we are losing things that we don’t even see and don’t even have any empathy for.
Lalitha Krishnan: They’ll probably notice the Mac Donalds or KFC.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: They’ll notice the Mac Donalds but they won’t notice the peepal tree growing just outside Mac Donalds. Which is sad.
Lalitha Krishnan: Suniti, I have your book, Birding in the Doon Valley right here on my bookshelf. I think I have two copies. It’s a wonderful reference source with lovely photographs. Would you like to tell us how you came about writing this book?
Suniti Bhushan Datta: So, I was actually doing these workshops for the Tibetan schools.
Lalitha Krishnan: Here?
Suniti Bhushan Datta: All over. Here in Dehradun. They were basically nature interpretation and ecological awareness workshops. The person who was running these was this guy from Winterline nature trust. He and I got talking one day and he randomly asked me…he said, “How would you like to write a book about birds in this area – Dehradun? I said, “I don’t know whether I would get enough material for a book” And I did tell him that in my maths class in school I had actually written a chapter about the birds around Doon School. I was bored in math class, I used to sit at the back.
Lalitha Krishnan: I was wondering how it was connected.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: I still have that math exercise book somewhere around with the sketchy article at the back. So he said, “OK you have a chapter about (birds of) the Doon school How about writing chapters about the rest of Dehradun?” So I told him, “I don’t know if I have enough material to write a book. I don’t know if there are that many birds in Dehradun.” He asked me, “how many bird species do you think there are off the top of your head?” I said, “I probably got about 350 species”. He said, “Why don’t you start listing them?” So that’s what I started doing. I looked up my own checklist, I looked up papers, I asked my professors at the Wildlife Institute and I compiled this checklist that chalked out around 504 species.
Lalitha Krishnan: What year was this, sorry?
Suniti Bhushan Datta: This was 2010. The numbers have gone up. I think there are 511 species that we know that exist in Dehradun. When I talk about Dehradun, I’m talking about Mussoorie, Landour, Rajaji National Park, Asan Barrage…so greater Dehradun. So, that’s how it started. I said, “OK we have 500 birds, now I need to look at all the places I can talk about. I started doing surveys. I was on a bicycle, I just took a GPS and I visited places.
Lalitha Krishnan: By yourself?
Suniti Bhushan Datta: On my own. I drove around, I cycled around and I had my GPS switched on and I started documenting trails and what birds I saw on the trails down to chaiwallas where one could stop and have a cup of chai. That’s actually how the book came about. I ended up with 15 sites around Dehradun and because we were catering to a larger audience, I also documented the route from Delhi to Dehradun along the canal. What you could see along the canal. That came up to16 sites. I had my co-author, Nikil Devasar who was kind enough to give us photographs of the birds. That’s how we put the book together.
Lalitha Krishnan: So how long did it take you doing all of this?
Suniti Bhushan Datta: Oh, the idea came up in 2009 and the book was finished in 2012. So, about three years. But there was a lot of back work that went into the book because I have been bird watching in this area since I was 10 years old and so I looked up my checklists from earlier. I had notes from earlier so that also went into the book. So yeah, it was pretty much a long-term project.
Lalitha Krishnan: That’s why you’re my go-to-person for bird identification.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: I’m not the best person…
Lalitha Krishnan: You’re better than me and you’re the best I know.
Lalitha Krishnan: Suniti, you cycle alone and you cycle a lot. How do you connect cycling to conservation?
Suniti Bhushan Datta: I have two takes on that. Cycling for me is a way of getting to places. It’s faster than walking but it’s also silent. You can actually go cycling and not make a noise. Motorcycles make a noise. In a car, you’re sort of in an enclosed environment so you’re not connecting. But on a bicycle you’re feeling the wind, you can smell things, you can hear things. I realized this when I initially started cycling around 2012. Cycling for me was a form of exercise. I had no real connection…I didn’t really connect it with conservation or natural history and such. I used to cycle when I was a child going to Rajaji National Park…I have tiger pug marks on my cycle. Initially, when I started cycling, I realized I was hearing a lot of birds…actually seeing a lot of birds. I was visiting places where sometimes my car would not go. I had gone on mountain bike tracks… And I thought this is a fantastic way of getting children to come out of their comfort zone- their classrooms or their homes, get exercise and also be visiting these amazing areas. I recently did a cycling camp for children We went into areas where I have people asking me,-when they saw the photographs-people were asking me “Wow, where is this in India?” This is just 12 k outside of Dehradun. Amazing birdlife, amazing butterflies in all these areas which you can visit by bicycle.
Lalitha Krishnan: That’s great.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: It’s just a connection between doing some exercise, getting places and accessing these places by bicycle and getting children to use their bicycles to get to these areas. That’s my connection with cycling.
Lalitha Krishnan: Did the kids you took out enjoy the trip?
Suniti Bhushan Datta: Oh, very much. They didn’t want to leave.
Lalitha Krishnan: I can imagine. It’s always so good to explore what’s around you first instead of taking a plane to some corner of the country. I always feel we have Jaberkhet and so much here – so much around us that we don’t know enough of.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: During my Masters, I made this decision to continue working in Dehradun and not go back to Nagarhole. In fact, when I joined my Masters, my plan was to do my desiccation in Nagarhole because I know the area, I know the elephants there. But then, I realized that in the valley that I grew up in –in Dehradun—there are elephants here, there is amazing bird life and because Dehradun became the capital, we are losing all of this. I said, “If I can’t save nature around my own backyard what’s the point of me going somewhere else?” These are forests, these are nature trails around the valley which basically made me a naturalist. I think I’m still trying to give back to my home as it were.
Lalitha Krishnan: Well, I’m very glad you’re here.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: Thanks.
Lalitha Krishnan: The trick is to get outdoors. That being said I do 75% of my bird watching from my porch. But then again, I live in Landour. What do you think are the possibilities of the much talked about Himalayan quail existing?
Suniti Bhushan Datta: Well, I’ve been into that area many many times, around Benog (Tibba). The last two places where it was seen was in Nainital.
Lalitha Krishnan: Nainital and here.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: And in Mussoorie. In Benog. The thing is that the Nainital site, the Sher Ka Danda site, has become completely urbanized. There is no habitat worthy of the Himalayan quail left. It’s completely urbanized. Benog? There still is a chance. I haven’t met anybody recently but there are people who say that they have seen it. Seeing it is one thing but getting evidence is another thing.
Lalitha Krishnan: How long back was that?
Suniti Bhushan Datta: Even as recently as 7-8 years ago.
Lalitha Krishnan: Really?
Suniti Bhushan Datta: Yeah. It’s difficult to tell. The thing is nobody has seen the Himalayan quail since 1876. Nobody alive today has actually seen one so we don’t know whether what they saw was a mountain quail or any other quail in that area. Also, the area mountain quails live in are steep grassy slopes which are difficult to access for humans. I spoke to a forest officer who is retired now. He came up with a very good idea of using dogs to flush the area…. Dogs can go into the area and you flush them and then you can actually see them.
Lalitha Krishnan: That seems cruel no?
Suniti Bhushan Datta: Not really. If you have gun dogs that are trained not to kill the prey but to just flush them, that’s one way of looking for them. Honestly, if you ask me, given the habitat and the kind of habitat loss we are having, I don’t think they exist anymore.
Lalitha Krishnan: And if they exist, let them be.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: Yes, let them be. Also, the thing is that when they did exist in the 1800s they didn’t exist in very large numbers so the likelihood of them surviving unseen by so many birdwatchers until now is unlikely.
Lalitha Krishnan: I like the mystery about them. It’s nice to have a little mystery.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: Yes.
Lalitha Krishnan: This is what I ask all my guests. Could you share a word or a scientific term that you like or you think is significant?
Suniti Bhushan Datta: If I may, there are two words…
Lalitha Krishnan: Please do.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: …that have played a major role in my life. One is this is called ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ which is I heard about 10 years ago. That has influenced a lot of what I do today. Basically working with children and getting them aware of nature, aware, of their surroundings, aware of their environment.
But recently, as I mentioned earlier, I became aware of this term ‘Plant Blindness’ and that actually struck a chord with me. Even when I am walking like just now when I was walking from the Hanifl Centre to your house, I was very aware of the fact that there were certain plants that were blooming- which are still blooming after the monsoon.
Lalitha Krishnan: There are a lot of wildflowers now.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: Yes, a lot of wildflowers. The oak trees were getting new set of leaves and the ferns were going brown. The concept of plant blindness seems sad to me. That somebody can walk down a street even a city avenue street and not notice the trees or not know anything about the trees. Yeah, that struck a chord with me. I think it plays into the whole nature deficit disorder, which is also affecting adults. I know certain adults who have no clue. They live in cities…I mean two trees put together for them is a forest. Many of them are not aware of how nature affects us. Or how nature is good for our health. In many ways, a lot of mental illnesses in children are because of this nature deficit disorder because they are not exposed to greenery, they are not exposed to fresh air…the sheer peace of a forest.
Lalitha Krishnan: Fresh air is becoming harder and harder to come by.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: Yes it’s harder and harder to get. So, these are two terms that really struck a chord with me. One of them like I said very, very recently.
Lalitha Krishnan: Yeah, that’s a new one for me.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: It’s totally new. I didn’t realize it existed.
Lalitha Krishnan: It’s a good word but a sad word.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: It is a very sad word.
Lalitha Krishnan: Thank you Suniti Bhushan for joining me on Heart of Conservation Podcast and sharing your thoughts with us. It’s been fun, to say the least.
Suniti Bhushan Datta: My pleasure.
Lalitha Krishnan:. I hope you’re enjoying the conversations about conservation. Stay tuned for news, views, and updates from the world of conservation.
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Birdsong by hillside residents
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