Of Fossils, Fungi and Fostering a New Generation of Conservationists | WWF India

On the slightly overcast morning of Sunday, 5 August, the staff of WWF-India’s Mahasrashtra State Office (MSO), along with SG and CEO Mr. Ravi Singh, embarked on a nature trail in the lush green environs of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP).

Sanjay Gandhi National Park, also known as the Borivali National Park is a one-of-its-kind expanse of mixed deciduous forest – extending over a hundred square kilometers – right in the middle of India’s busiest and most developed metropolis. The hilly area of the park, considered an extension of the Western Ghats is rich in habitats including forests, scrub as well as mangrove encrusted marshes which harbor a wealth of biodiversity. The monsoons are perhaps the best time to visit the park, when the rocky stream beds are gushing and the vegetation is a resplendent hue of green. This is also the breeding period for most species of animals as food during this time is in plenty.

Our Sunday morning began with a walk along the Silonda Trail. The Silonda trail, which is roughly 3.5 km long, is bordered on both sides with patches of dense deciduous forests with intermittent patches of evergreen vegetation and open grasslands.The walk was led by Dr. Parvish Pandya, Vice Principal at Bhavan’s College, who is an avid nature enthusiast and expert in the biodiversity and habitat of SGNP. During the trail, the participants learnt about the various plant species and their beneficial properties, glimpsed a wide variety of insect and arachnid species and attempted to identify the many mellifluous bird calls. While we came across a diverse assortment of both plant and animal life, the spiders and mushrooms were dominant in attendance.

Mr. Singh – who was a regular visitor at the park many years ago – guided the participants through a trail on the hilly tract alongside the road towards the Kanheri caves. Here, he pointed out specimens of petrified trees embedded in the dark façade of igneous rock. Geological records indicate that over 65 million years ago, this region saw a huge volcanic eruption leading to the formation of the northern portion of the Western Ghats as well as the Deccan Traps – a vast bed of basalt rock that covers parts of central India. Thus, the fossilised remains of the trees we observed peaking out of the black basalt were in fact remnants of the forests that covered these hills and were subsequently buried in lava from volcanic activity more than 60 million years ago! The mind reels, not just over this astounding piece of history we have right here in our backyard, but also over the fact that not many more people know about this!

From the site of the amazing archeological relics, we moved towards the banks of the Tulsi Lake where we breathed in the tranquility that such vast and pristine water bodies tend to exude, spotted a young mugger and were regaled with anecdotes by Mr. Singh as he pointed out old haunts and told us stories about times spent in these parts, some alone and some in the company of the revered ornithologist, Humayun Abdulali!

Our day culminated at the Conservation Education Centre (CEC) of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), which is located close to the south gate of the national park. This 13 ha wooded area is contiguous with the park, with thick forest cover, intercepting streams and small waterfalls and houses a curious ant hill shaped building where BNHS conducts environment awareness and nature programmes for the general public. We were warmly welcomed by Dr. Raju Kasambe, Asst. Director – Education, CEC, a premier expert on birds and butterflies, who was kind enough to arrange our visit to the centre. Dr. Kasambe took us through the beautiful Butterfly Garden, calling our attention to the many butterfly species, their associative food and nectar plants and also showing us three species of forest geckoes.

Mr. Singh also interacted with a gathering of young students enrolled in the Post Graduation course of Biodiversity and Wildlife Conservation at Bhavan’s college. He spoke of changing trends in both attitudes and technology for conservation and how it is positive to see how conservation – although still not a mainstream subject – is becoming far more welcomed as a vocation than it was a few years back. He spoke of the importance of being out in the field, experiencing nature first hand as well as making it a point to take pen to paper and chronicling the experiences. He asserted the importance of creating a thriving network amongst conservationalists and organisations such as WWF-India, BNHS and others working in this sphere, for achieving the goal of holistic preservation of our environment – bringing to mind WWF’s celebrated aphorism ‘Together Possible’. While the talk was targeted at the young students, Mr. Singh’s words struck a chord with all those present, especially the WWF-India staff, re-affirming our belief and conviction towards fighting the good fight.

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