This young couple is helping create a wildlife-friendly India

Shrilekha and Ramakrishna
Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us- astrophysicist Carl Sagan had said in his legendary speech about Earth. The husband-wife duo, Shrilekha Venkateswar and Ramakrishna Dhanasekaran are trying to protect that tiny dot through their initiative The Wild Walk, a wildlife conservation project. The underlying philosophy of the initiative is to break the illusion that man was created to rule nature, and also to create awareness about the importance of conserving wildlife and nature. The Wild Walk is trying to bridge the ever widening gap between man and nature that has been created by the numerous unsustainable activities of mankind. Juggling their full-time jobs, the co-founders are trying, through their various projects, to instill among the younger generation a sense of responsibility, love, and passion for the wildlife. The couple also wants everyone to understand the repercussions that would arise by disrespecting and abusing nature and wildlife. 

The organisation had officially started in 2011, but for Shrilekha it started a long time ago. “I think I have always been doing what The Wild Walk does now. I had not given it a name, that’s all,”she says. Her greatest inspiration has been her father, who was a conservationist himself. “I used to accompany him everywhere.  He was very keen on transforming wildlife novices to conservationists. He used to write a lot of articles and educate people about various species and conservation strategies. Since I was exposed to such an environment right from my childhood, the whole process came very organically to me. It was only in the year 2011, that I decided to give a name to it,”says Shrilekha. 

Creating awareness: 

The activities undertaken by The Wild Walk include creating awareness through the online medium and actively pursue exercises that give tangible results on the ground. “We keep the website active by bringing both Indian and global conservationists into the limelight. We write detailed articles  about them hoping to inspire other people - that there are a set of citizens from across the world who are selfless and are acting with a larger perspective,” says the 33-year-old.

“We are also advocating Ethical Wildlife Photography. It is indeed a sad state that wildlife is getting abused by several wildlife photographers. With DSLRs becoming affordable, wildlife has become a ‘fancy destination’. Everyone wants to get a shot of a chasing elephant with their ears in the front! This leads to a huge conflict. Therefore we aim to educate people to shoot ethically and to also spread the word wherever possible. If we do find a species that has not been ethically photographed, we write to the photographer and educate them,” she points out.

The Wild Walk in association with Sanctuary Asia (the finest Wildlife magazine for decades now) also conducts Kids For Tigers campaign.“We do feel an urgent need to educate school children and have a structured program for both class and field level for the school children, offered at no cost to the school. This is happening across 15 schools in Chennai,” explains Shrilekha.

Recently, they started working closely with the local people and wildlife enthusiasts of Arittapatti village near Madurai, that is becoming home to some of the great raptors of the world. “Again this is a big initiative that involves a lot of people’s efforts and time and that’s what makes conservation all the more crucial,” she adds.

Catching them young:

Shrilekha points out that ever widening disconnect between man and nature cries out for a wildlife conservation strategy. “For centuries, man and wild have lived together in harmony but a gap has been formed and has been widening for many years now. This gap is not harmful to nature, whatsoever but only to us. Remember, nature existed 22,500 times longer than us! Nature doesn't need people, people need nature and if we have to exist, one has to stay closer to nature. People need not go to the forest to protect wildlife. Conservation can start from home, with your own surroundings and it is far more effective,” says this Business Development professional.  

Another reason for the couple to start The Wild Walk was to get the younger generation interested in the subject of conservation. “Only 30% of the children show interest in this subject. The rest are into academics or show interest in some other line. Being oblivious to nature and wildlife is surely not advisable and one can’t really blame the children for it,” she says.

“Parents have to educate children about wildlife, especially Indian wildlife. Undoubtedly, we have one of the finest habitats in the world. Holidays to wildlife destination under the concept of ‘Responsible Tourism’ is something that parents should initiate. A child growing closer to nature would lead a far more holistic life than a child growing in the urban area,” she adds. 

Interestingly, Shrilekha points out, that children show eagerness to learn more about wildlife once they are introduced to it. “Children have understood the intensity of the situation and are ready to take up the responsibility of caring for nature and wildlife conservation,” she says.

Shrilekha stresses upon the need for a more wildlife friendly education system to create more awareness. “Bring more wildlife education into the system. Getting a conservationist or two to be an associate with the school all the time - acts as a very important resource,” adds the Chennai resident.

She further adds, “Start vegetable and herb garden at school and make children take care of it. Introduce recycling systems at schools and empower children to take care of it. Take real life example of a wildlife issue and keep updating them of the recent happenings. Spend more time in the field - go for nature walks."

“Make them to appreciate nature and wild with their bare eyes and develop their ability to take field notes. The world looks bigger and brighter if you are not a wildfire photographer. Lastly, and this is something that is painful to me to say, tourists abuse wildlife with their unreal expectations. They expect to see tigers and elephants in their first visit to the forest. Everyone should know that sighting wildlife is a matter of luck. When you are in their territory, you don't just expect them to show up as if you have paid a fee! A forest is not just about the wild animals. It is about every small creature including the flora and fauna that make the forest so surreal. Don't go with these expectations, and definitely, don’t pass on your disappointment to your kids. Sends a very bad signal to the child," she points out.

Going forward:

The Wild Walk is planning to initiate an in-depth study on the raptor birds at Arittapatti going forward. “Along with the local conservationists and support from the village heads, we are aiding conservation moment as well. We are also looking at making a series of short films on the conservation activities initiated by schools in Chennai. This, we hope, reaches other schools for inspiration,” she says.

Shrilekha adds that The Wild Walk is not an NGO that banks on public money. “We self-sustain it, which makes it all the more important that we work to put in the money into The Wild Walk. Both Ram and I do multiple things besides The Wild Walk. While Ram focuses on films, I am a Business and Content Development person. My core competency lies in Digital marketing,” she adds.

This passionate conservationist adds, “I was slightly concerned if our voice alone would be heard but look at us now! The Wild Walk, according to me, is people’s moment and we happened to initiate it, that's all. My husband comes with his expertise of filmmaking and program structuring and I take care of the Operations and Execution of educational programs in schools. My mother supports us in the whole process and a whole new dimension to it. And, the visionary behind the whole initiative is my father. He was and continues to be my inspiration."    

Learn about The Wild Walk.

- Gayatri Nair 
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