In another one of many firsts, Indiaâ€™s first Conservation Education Walkway focusing on wildlife conservation with special emphasis on Bear protection has been established in Agra, Uttar Pradesh at the Bear Rescue and Rehabilitation Facility by Wildlife SOS. The mandate of the walkway is to create awareness about the ecological importance of sloth bears which are an endangered species in India as well as other wildlife around us that is severely threatened by rampant habitat destruction, deforestation and resultant man animal conflict occurring around us.
The unique Conservation Education walkway made by Wildlife SOS using environment friendly bamboo, stone and solar energy to power interactive signage will aim at creating awareness in school children, in order to prepare our future generations to behave responsibly and in an environment friendly manner towards our forests and wildlife.
The Agra Bear Rehabilitation and Conservation Facility established in 1999 by NGO Wildlife SOS in collaboration with Uttar Pradesh Forest Department is the first and largest bear rehabilitation center in the world for sloth bears! The center was setup with an objective to support bear conservation by ending the illegal and barbaric practice of Dancing Bears in India. Following the example of the Agra Bear Center, Wildlife SOS collaborated with state Forest Departments of Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal to set up similar but smaller centers in Bangalore, Bhopal and Purulia where 600 rescued bears have been rehabilitated.
The Agra Bear Rescue Facility is run by Wildlife SOS with support from International Animal Rescue UK and Free the Bears Australia. Wildlife SOS also runs an Anti Poaching Unit called FORESTWATCH that targets wildlife criminals through networking with informers and using surveillance techniques. Over 60 bear cubs have been rescued through anti poaching operations from across India. The Wildlife SOS Anti poaching unit is supported by One Voice Association France, Hauser Bears UK and HSI, Australia.
The Conservation Education Walkway at the Agra Bear Rescue & Rehabilitation Facility (ABRF) is an ambitious education project and conceived as an one thousand five hundred feet long Nature education and interpretation facility that draws attention to bear poaching as well as other threats and conservation challenges facing sloth bears in India. The unique walkway is rich with educational signage, and ends in an elevated platform, installed on thirteen feet high stone pillars, at the tree line, so that bear behavior can be observed from the education walkway, without the bears being disturbed.
The Conservation Education walkway also highlights the eight species of bears found in the world with their geographic distribution and also mentions the other endangered wildlife present in Uttar Pradesh forests.
Deputy Conservator of Forests, Chambal â€“ Sujoy Bannerjee, IFS said â€œThis conservation education walkway is a very valuable educational tool to sensitize our people about bear conservation in India. Wildlife SOSâ€™s contribution to establish the Agra Bear Rescue Facility brought an end to the illegal practice of bear dancing for which sloth bear cubs were poached in U.P. and other states. The U.P.Forest Department requested Wildlife SOS to establish an Education Facility in the Agra Bear Rehabilitation Centre that could play a vital role in conservation education and growth of public awareness.â€
Geeta Seshamani, Co founder and Secretary of Wildlife SOS, said â€œWildlife SOS has been working since 1995 on the issue of sloth bear conservation in India. Sloth bears are endangered and protected by law under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. Our efforts to rehabilitate the Kalandar community who were using sloth bears for their livelihoods were successful as we assisted them with alternative livelihoods. Over 600 bears were rescued and housed at the Agra Bear Center and other centers. This is a unique conservation effort which recognized the need to take care of both, the community and wildlife.â€
Wildlife SOS Chairperson, Kartick Satyanarayan said â€œOur efforts to protect and conserve sloth bears in the wild, combines tackling the poaching of bears for gall bladder used for Chinese Traditional Medicine and also poaching of bear cubs for use as Dancing Bears by the Kalandar community as well as in Bear Baiting in Pakistan. Our efforts have been successful thanks to the support and cooperation of the U.P Forest Department and Police. Our efforts to create awareness today about this unique conservation story has just begun, with this attempt at creating an education center, but we still require a great deal of infrastructure and development to make it a richer, interactive, educational experience, which goes beyond the issue of bears to larger issues of conservation of forests and ecosystems. The process we are happy to say has started today.â€
Divisional Director, Social Forestry Division, Uttar Pradesh Forest Dept, Mr N K Janoo, IFS said â€œThis innovative education facility is a very progressive move forward to educate the public which is the purpose for the establishment of centers like the Agra Bear Rescue Facility which are aimed at protection and conservation of wildlife in India.
The Conservation Education Walkway has ambitious plans and will be collaborating with various international organizations for designing of educational material, interactive puzzles about bear conservation for school children. Various international Bear Educational Facilities and conservation centers across the world such as the Free the Bears Center for Sun Bears in Cambodia and Laos, Sun Bear Education Facility in Indonesia, Bear Conservation Organizations – Alertis and Rhenen Zoo in Netherlands, Cologne Zoo in Germany as well as other facilities across the world will be requested to assist Wildlife SOS with the gradual phased development of the Conservation Education Walkway over the next few years.
The Conservation Education Walkway inaugurated by Mr. Mahendra Aridaman Singh, Honâ€™ble Transport Minister of the U.P.Government on 15th January 2013 will host schools with the aim of educating school children about bear conservation.