Category: forests


By Sriya Narayanan

Once a sparkling village bustling with biodiversity and economic activity, Nenmeli in Kanchipuram, Tamil Nadu, had watched its green cover fade over the years.

The village lands deteriorated over time

A grueling water scarcity issue followed. Young residents were forced to migrate to cities to look for work and the elderly stayed behind. Over time, the hill and the land near the village became barren. “What was a hundred acres came down to two or three acres,” says Dr Sudhakar, Director, CPR Environmental Education Centre.

Dr Sudhakar with folk art

Dr Sudhakar, who has been coordinating efforts to restore groves such as these since 1993, explains that many villages in South India have a tradition of demarcating specific forests as divine, particularly those attached to temple land, in order to safeguard the wildlife and trees, while also ensuring the ecological balance of the area. “In fear and favor of God,” he says, adding that the religious attachment is far more than mere symbolism, but a way to protect a precious ecosystem by tying it into practices that eventually become a way of life.

Over many years, Mr. R. Selvapandian of CPREEC (now retired) directly managed the work on the sacred groves, spending many months or years on each site, overseeing all aspects of the restoration from start to finish.

Mr. Selvapandian and Dr. Nanditha Krishna

Restoring the forests

In general, when CPREEC restores sacred forests, (they have so far restored 53 sacred groves), they rely on accounts from the village elders to be able to replant exactly the same trees that were there previously. However, in the case of Nenmeli, there was no living memory of the very ancient forest and the tradition of worship from the past. The degradation of the forest that had taken place over time had left a barren, lifeless hillside, surrounded by acres of land that had also deteriorated. The village leaders asked CPREEC to restore the ancient land, as closely they could, to what must have been there in the past, so that it could once again be a place of great beauty, peace, and spiritual connection.

A protective deity

It is common for villages to have a ‘kaaval deivam’ (Tamil for protective deity) that safeguards the village, and conduct annual festivals to worship and celebrate the deity. The village people feel enormous respect for their sacred groves. In reality, taking care of these groves is also an act of self-preservation, for there is a ripple effect in the way it sustains human well-being.

Seeking recovery

When villagers from Nenmeli approached CPREEC’s Sacred Grove Restoration Project in 1995, they were looking to inject new life into the land that had become barren and give it a fighting chance at recovery. Dr Sudhakar and his team took on the responsibility and followed a standard process that involves carefully planned planting projects and a three-year maintenance program after which the management of the restored land is handed back to the villagers.

Trees of Nenmeli

He differentiates CPREEC’s planting efforts from similarly well-intentioned, but misguided attempts where corporate organizations might plant saplings without adequate thought to their future caretaking or the suitability of those species to the area. The Sacred Grove Restoration Project, in contrast, takes care to aim for and achieve a 90% survival rate for the newly planted vegetation, bringing it to a point where it is self-sufficient.

The whole village is involved

Another important feature of the Project is the wholehearted and spirited contribution of the village’s residents to the restoration. The locals were instrumental, for instance, in cultivating a flourishing herbal garden while the entire village community took avid interest in CPREEC’s extensive training program. “We raised awareness on soil conservation and the water table and took these educational materials to schools and colleges as well,” says Dr Sudhakar. He upholds Nenmeli as a model eco-village and reveals that the concerted effort included walling the hillock in the center of the grove in the form of check dams and trenches to prevent soil erosion and desilting the two water-tanks attached to it.

He’s delighted to describe how the well in the area soon saw more than eight feet of water during even the driest of summers and how an erstwhile four acres soon blossomed into 25 acres. His favorite observation, however, pertains to the wildlife that silently and eagerly crept back into the now-replenished grove. “Porcupines, snakes, hares, and rabbits… oh, and as many as 39 varieties of birds!” he says of the result.

Once considered eccentric

He recalls how he and his ilk were considered eccentric back in the late eighties when they started sounding the warning signs about environmental disasters and how it took several decades for the restoration movement to finally gain force. With the guidance of CPREEC co-founder Dr. Nanditha Krishna, his team soldiered on, determined to give back to Mother Earth in exchange for everything she had provided us. “It was a mission, so one does not give up. We’ve come full circle,” he says, referring to how students as young as 18 are taking an interest in environmental protection today and how there’s a significant demand for conservation efforts.

He also speaks of how the government allows the Project to develop the land and provides funding for its maintenance. “The amount spent is more than worthwhile, given its priceless benefits to society,” he says, elaborating that the carbon sequestering properties of these trees is of particular importance.

Despite having worked on these projects for over three decades, Dr Sudhakar is untiring in his efforts, drawing inspiration from Nature itself. He marvels at its ability to come back to life from apparent extinction and take care of itself – and all of us – simply by being given the space and time to exist undisturbed. Meanwhile, Nenmeli’s Sacred Grove Restoration Project is now a success story that inspires many others to dream of the same possibility for their own hometowns, and a living, breathing reminder, that when we put our minds to it, life as we once knew it, can begin all over again.

Photos:

Top photo: Dr. Sudhakar / The restored sacred grove of Nenmeli

Second photo: Sharon St Joan / Dr Sudhakar, holding a sculpted bird, the artwork of island young people

Third photo: Sharon St Joan / Mr. Selvapandian and Dr. Nanditha Krishna

Fourth photo: Dr. Sudhakar / The planted trees of Nenmeli, now around thirty years old

****

© Forest Voices of India, 2022

How to help

CPREEC’s (CPR Environmental Education Centre) work helps restore the natural beauty and health of India’s ancient forests, while guiding young people toward careers that benefit both their own future and the world of nature.

You can help! Click on the donate button, above and to the right.

Thank you so much!

EarthJustice News Release Conservationists today hailed a new scientific study that identifies an ambitious network of protected areas, with wolf and beaver restoration as a centerpiece, as a sound strategy for restoring native ecosystems and wildlife diversity on western public lands. The benefits of this proposal would contribute significantly to stream restoration and help mitigate […]

Conservationists hail scientists’ western rewilding blueprint as “a major call to action” to the Biden administration —

Forests, such as this one in Indonesia, do lmore than just store carbon. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock It may sound obvious, but until now it was not quantified: The world’s forests do more than just store carbon, new research finds New data suggests forests help keep the Earth at least half of a degree cooler, protecting us […]

How Do We Love Thee, Forests, Let Us Count The Ways — Organikos

War and Peace

Buchenwald Forest
Photo – Nasenbar (Diskusson)

It is not actually possible, on this morning in March, when our television screens are filled with the suffering and death of people, including children, old people, ill and disabled people, as well as their dogs and cats – when we watch apartment buildings going up in flames, shattered by bombs and artillery fire – to ignore all this and write about the charming days of spring. War is not charming.

So, we will write instead about courage and kindness.

No one doubts the immense courage of the Ukrainian people – their self-sacrifice and their heroism. We can all see the women and children who endure days and nights of hardship – and we see the kindness of the people in neighboring countries who lend a hand, providing a bowl of hot soup and then opening their houses to strangers.

What is not always so visible is the courage of Ukrainian men – young and old – who return to devastated towns and cities to fight, to resist – not knowing if they will survive or if they will ever see their wives and their children again. They enter an abyss of danger.

We are all aware of the heartbreak of this situation. Some wars are worse and unkinder than others. However, human history, including recent history, is filled with wars – also with disasters – incomprehensible suffering for which no one can be blamed.

Heroes too

History is also filled with heroes – with those who sacrifice their own comfort, well-being, and their own lives – for others or for their country. We don’t know the names of most of those heroes – and all too often when wars happen in far-away places – or many centuries ago – or among people who may look different from us, or whose culture is not similar to ours – people with whom we feel no immediate connection – then we may not be open to feeling quite the same level of compassion.

We have trouble sometimes relating to other human beings who are different from ourselves – but how much more trouble do we have seeing, noticing, and being aware of those who are not human?

Animals can be heroes too. Not everyone accepts this concept, but a surprising number of people do.

Animals, plants, and the entire world of nature display both courage and kindness. These are not just human traits. What about the dog who, instead of running out of the burning house, runs further into the house to wake up his person and save the whole family?

What about the mother duck who, at risk to her own life, makes sure that each of her baby ducklings has gotten safely across the road?

What about the tall bristlecone pine tree who stands on the mountain side, in a swirling snowstorm, in bitter cold – until the spring. Is he or she not brave? Yet, one can hear the reactions of some who are thinking….. “that thought about a tree is just a step too far – and maybe a little silly.”

Countless nations and cultures

On the other hand, whole nations and cultures of people – many countless generations over eons past have seen the entire world of nature as living and alive. Most, if not all, of the earlier cultures of the earth have attributed personhood to mountains and rivers, to the oceans, to the animals — in countless stories, songs, and dances. Even modern legislative bodies – in India and New Zealand, for example, have recognized the sacred, living essence of rivers and mountains? Are they all wrong?

Perhaps not. Perhaps the earth herself and all her children are alive and conscious, as well as beautiful, graceful, and majestic. Perhaps we ourselves, as children of the modern world, need to regain at least some of this ancient perspective, this ancient wisdom, and perhaps when we do, we will be aware of a closer bond and kinship with all that lives – the animals, the plants, the rivers – all creatures and all human beings. Perhaps then we may be more aware of the kinship of all life – and more in touch with the great peace within – within our own souls, within the living worlds and beings of nature — within our fellow human beings. And perhaps then we can move on – in greater strength and kindness, and with greater awareness of the life and beauty of the universe – the universe who teaches us so much.

****

At the core of Forest Voices of India is the vision of the earth and all her beings as an ancient web of life – including people, animals, and plants – who are all part of nature. May we get back in touch with these ancient concepts – to re-discover, to protect, and strengthen the earth, which is our world. May there be peace on earth.

To stay in touch and read more about these concepts, please sign up for our newsletter. Look in the upper right corner of this page. Thank you!

May 2022 bring blessings for the earth! Happiness, peace, protection, and well-being for all the trees and plants, for the mountains, the oceans, the rivers, the forests, the deserts, and all wild lands. May all wild creatures be blessed and free in the wild – and all animals everywhere be safe, protected, and happy. May all the peoples of the earth be blessed and touched with a spirit of kindness. May ancient traditions be once again revered and respected, honoring the Earth and all Her children!

Forest Voices of India

Recently, in Bangalore, in south India, the police rescued an Indian chameleon who was being kept as a pet. Like other wild animals, Indian chameleons are protected by the Wildlife Protection Act of India, and it’s illegal to keep them as pets. They are meant to lead their natural lives free in the wild.

The chameleon was brought to the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre (WRRC), where Dr. Roopa Satish, the licensed wildlife rehabilitator there, examined her. She weighed 60 grams. She was rehydrated, placed under observation, and given insects to eat, which are her natural diet. Often, in captivity, chameleons are fed inappropriate food which can cause digestive upsets.

Very shy creatures, chameleons belong in the wild where they can live among wild plants and rocks and find plenty of places to hide so that they feel comfortable and secure.
Being around people and having little cover causes them great stress and, sadly, they often don’t survive being in captivity. People who don’t really intend to harm them, often don’t understand their natural shyness and their need for a quiet life in the wild.

Fascinating reptiles, chameleons have many distinct features like a flattened body shape, and a prehensile tail, which means that they can grasp and hold objects with their tail. Like other lizards, they have a long tongue that can dart out to catch insects from a distance. They walk with a swaying movement. Some of their toes point forwards and some backwards so they can hold on to tree branches. Each of their eyes can move independently, giving them depth of vision, which comes in handy when catching insects. And, of course, the color of their skin changes, sometimes to match their background, sometimes to reflect other circumstances or to send a signal.

Thanks to the expert care and dedication of Dr. Roopa and the caregivers at WRRC, the chameleon did very well.

Dr. Roopa writes, “After 48 hours of observation, the chameleon was active and ate the insects so she was released inside a protected forest on a tree branch where she slowly but surely held the branch and moved into the foliage and disappeared from our vision due to excellent camouflage.”

Our best wishes to the chameleon for a long and happy life, roaming freely in the forest.

The more we can all respect nature and appreciate and value the lives of wild animals, the happier and healthier life on our planet will be.

Photo: the WRRC

Kangaroo wouldn’t pose for a photo, so this is another bonnet macaque.
Shantanu Kuveskar, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

First, Kangaroo isn’t really a kangaroo (because this is India, not Australia). Actually, he is a bonnet macaque, a monkey, who weighs seven and a half pounds (3.39 kilos). On November 3 of last year, he had an accident. Some very kind people rescued him and he was transported from a southern suburb of Bangalore to the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre. Monkeys, of course, climb to get from place to place, and he had been swinging along on the electric wires over the main road in order to get across it when he was electrocuted.

For any birds or animals, electrocutions tend to be really serious, and his prognosis for survival was indeed grave. For three months, he received lots of treatments and then had to have three of his limbs amputated. (The photo is of a different bonnet macaque, not Kangaroo.)

Amazingly, he was a cheerful monkey through everything. He recovered and nothing seemed to dampen his spirits.

When he was moved into the large monkey enclosure which had special platforms for easy movement, he was with other young, orphaned monkeys. Dr. Roopa writes that “Kangaroo immediately took charge of them all, in spite of his handicaps, and he could be seen, grooming them, playing, and enjoying their company.”

With just one leg, he used his tail to help him balance, and he hopped with great ease just like a kangaroo, hence his name. With his handicaps, he wouldn’t be able to be released and the plan was for him to live permanently at the center. Being a clever monkey, Kangaroo made his own plans. He watched and observed the routine at the center, and one day, while the keeper was in the enclosure doing cleaning, he managed to slip right past him and out the door.

Of course, he wasn’t going far. Now he still lives at the center, but he’s free to move anywhere and can be found hopping from tree to tree, having the time of his life, just as if he had all four limbs.

He gets a delicious dinner – a plate of his favorite food like shelled ground nuts, banana, cucumber, corn, sweet potato, pomegranate, carrots, and beans is placed up on the roof for him, which he polishes off. He has a good friend and companion now – another resident monkey, Taatha, which means grandfather, who is there for lifetime care and is also free to move about the center.

Thanks to Dr. Roopa’s expertise and the good efforts of his caregivers, Kangaroo is strong and feels well.

Despite all he has gone through, he is an amazing monkey, with an indomitable spirit. He’s made new friends and has done very well for himself – now living out his life in a great place – with no electric wires, no cars, or pollution – just an idyllic, beautiful green forest, with people to feed him.

Under the leadership of Dr. Nanditha Krishna, the CPREEC (C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Environmental Education Centre) in Chennai, India, has restored 53 sacred groves, over the past thirty years – bringing back the original flora and fauna and restoring these small forests with the same species of plants and animals which always lived there in the past, providing once again beautiful tranquil lands which the people living nearby had treasured in the past. Each village in India once had a sacred grove. Now, the village people themselves maintain and care for these restored sacred forests and the abundant wildlife that live there.

These ancient sacred groves represent one of the amazing traditions of India, which has traditionally valued and preserved the life and the beauty of the natural world.

Dr. Nanditha Krishna is an environmentalist, art historian and well-known author of over twenty-five books about the art, culture, and the natural world of India. Among these are Hinduism and Nature, Sacred Animals of India, and Sacred Plants of India.

Listening to this short video, you will be transported to the city of Chennai where you will be among the tall, peaceful trees of the CPREEC and CPRA Foundation centers, yet not far from the busy city life of nearby streets.