THE head of one of India’s leading environmental and animal conservation charities is working with Britain to better protect some of the rarest animals on the planet.
Dhaval Patel is the founder of the Voluntary Nature Conservancy (VNC), also known as Vidyanagar Nature Club, which organises nature education camps and outdoor activities for hundreds of thousands of children in India.
Patel, 44, was in Britain last month to visit the Rufford Foundation and meet Professor Williams Scott from the University of Bath, the president of the UK’s National Environment Association, to exchange data and also arrange future partnerships.
“I came here to see their best practices and see how they are doing it,” Patel told Eastern Eye. “Now we are planning to have a collaboration of knowledge sharing, exchanging our notes and strategies.”
The charity recently received a £5,000 grant from the Rufford Foundation, which funds conservation projects around the world.
“They are our first foreign donors. They are funding a lot of work all over the world, especially in the developing world,” said Patel.
VNC, which has around 50 volunteers, is working to help with the conservation of trees and rehabilitation of urban wildlife. The charity, which was set up in 1988, also works to protect rare animals such as the whale shark, vulture, crocodile, and the Indian wolf.
“We are collecting data on the Indian wolf because no one thinks India has wolves. Everybody is targeting tigers in India, but we also have wolves which is significant, because they have not been changed genetically in the last 300,000 years.
“All other wolves in the world have been crossbred at one time or another with dogs, which are descendants of the wolf. So they are not pure-blooded. Indian wolves are pure-blooded and we may lose them if we don’t take action.
“We are also documenting spiders. With the use of pesticides, we are losing spiders. If we want to use pesticides, we must [find a way to] save our spiders.”
Patel’s passion for the environment started when he went on a trip to the Himalayas at the age of 12.
He said: “I love animals and nature in general. We had a lot of pets. We thought of animals as our colleagues and not as pets.”
When Patel was 17, he decided to create a group to promote awareness about wildlife and nature among young school children.
“In those days, there was nothing being done to create awareness about the environ-ment. For me it was just a hobby we wanted to share with others. Bird watching, going on cycling trips, visiting the countryside.
“Documentation of spiders, documentation of wolves, conversations about crocodiles – the environment can never be taught in the classroom. It has to be done outdoors.”
According to a World Health Organization’s (WHO) report on health and environment released in May, 13 of the world’s 20 most populated cities are in India, compared to just three in China.
Air pollution causes eight million deaths every year in India, which is about 30 per cent of the total deaths globally due to air pollution,.
“The higher middle class are getting prosperous and have more spending power so cars are getting prioritised,” Patel told Eastern Eye.
“Urban development is prioritised at any cost. There are vehicles which are old and being used by the poor. They don’t have proper pollution control measures which is a reason for increasing pollution.”
Patel was dismayed that Indian prime minister Narendra Modi is proposing to spend $12.6 billion (£8bn) on road building, with $16bn (£10.4bn) more on the railways.
“He is sanctioning many infrastructure without the green clearance. So many roads will cross into the tiger sanctuaries, tiger reserve areas, all over India. Right now whatever we have is under danger again,” Patel said.
He added that he was pleased the government had pledged to create more toilets to help stop the spread of diseases, but warned them to stop flushing the sewage into the river Ganges, currently one of the top 10 polluted rivers in the world.
“Almost all the cities on the Ganga are pumping their sewage into the river without any treatment. It has to be recycled or purified to an extent where people can bathe in it. Right now everything goes untreated into the river. That is the big contributor [to pollution in the river].”
He added: “Our economic stability depends on ecological stability. We have to understand that if our ecology is stable then our economy will be stable. We can’t go on wasting our resources, we need to see what we can use wisely and help ourselves.”
Go to http://www.vncindia.org/ for details.