Community Awareness at the Ramleelas; the Corbett Vulture Campaign spreads the message, by Piers Griffith-Jones

Hanuman and Ram
Hanuman and Ram

Ram Leelas are one of the most celebrated festivals in the Hindu religion. The format is for every town and village to hold their own Ram Leelas re-enacting the Ramayana – the story of Rama – over 10 consecutive days, telling each “chapter” of the story on the different days.

The general overview of the Ramayana is that after Rama, Lakshman and Sita are exiled into the forest Sita is kidnapped by the king of Lanka, Ravana. With the help of the monkey army led by Hanuman and also some vultures who have seen Ravana taking Sita, Rama and Lakshman begin their epic voyage to rescue Sita and for Rama to gain his rightful place as the king of Kosala.

The Ramayana is a very animalistic story – there are various animals that are important to not only the Indian culture and Hindu religion but also crucial to the survival of the Indian wildlife and nature. For example there is the vulture that, after being mortally wounded trying to rescue Sita from Ravana, the king of Lanka, which informs Rama and Lakshman that Sita has been kidnapped. Also Rama is cursed after Rama’s father kills a Sarus Crane (the tallest flying bird) at the beginning of the story – and it is due to this curse that eventually Rama’s step-mother gets Rama exiled for fourteen years and gives the story reason to happen. There is also the golden deer that Sita wants Rama to kill which then leads to Lakshman leaving Sita by their hut and eventually being enticed out of the magic circle and getting kidnapped by the demon-king of Lanka.

Vanishing Vultures being Screened

Vanishing Vultures being Screened

Even in the small villages the Ram Leelas are made to be as impressive as possible. There are hundreds of people attending in the small villages and even more in the bigger towns; each Ram Leela is full of singing, dancing, music and general festivities.  Throughout the evening there are pauses in proceedings in between acts. These are primarily for changing the costumes, the background and also giving the people a little rest to get some food etc. Normally these intervals last between 20-30mins. It is these intervals that give Mahseer Conservancy the perfect opportunity to raise awareness to the local people and farmers about the critical decline of the vulture population throughout the whole of India.

The Ram Leelas are also used to raise awareness by Mahseer Conservancy as there are hundreds of people all in one place looking at the stage – where, of course, there was, during the intervals, a projector screen placed in full view. The plan was for the “V-team” to go to the Ram Leelas and during the intervals to put on a short film promoting awareness as to why the vultures are dying out at such an alarming rate and also showing how they, the people, could prevent the extinction of a creature that is vital to the eco-system.

Sanjay appeals for vultures

Sanjay appeals for vultures

After the film was shown there was a short speech made to emphasize the most important parts of the feature and also awareness leaflets were handed out en-masse to as many people as possible in the audience.

Distributing Pamphelets

Distributing Pamphelets

Although it’s impossible to measure the success of the campaign using numbers and figures it is possible to show how much people cared about it; the Ramayana and therefore Ram Leelas are big Hindu festivals and no-one objected to the film depicting dead cows and even the skinning of the cow carcasses which is quite amazing as it showed that even the more religious Hindus were prepared to look at pictures of to them, sacred, cows dead and dying in the name of vulture conservation. Not to mention the amount of press coverage that the campaign got – making it on to both local and nation television, and also getting into the newspapers.

Simple Message for an Important Issue

Simple Message for an Important Issue

Audience watching Vulture awareness programme

Audience watching Vulture awareness programme

Hopefully, and with the help of this type of awareness rising, in the near future we will be able to see vultures circling in the sky once again.



2 Responses to “Community Awareness at the Ramleelas; the Corbett Vulture Campaign spreads the message, by Piers Griffith-Jones”

  1. Vikram Jit Singh says:

    It is with a lot of happiness that i read about your work in the field of vulture conservation. The efforts made by your group to reach out to people through use of popular culture was innovative. Also, the monitoring of vulture colonies and ideas like vulture restaurants are very positive work.

    Regards,

    Vikram Jit Singh
    The Times of india
    Chandigarh.

  2. Rishad Naorojis says:

    I have gone through your vulture links and am happy to note that quite a lot of baseline work has been initiated. I think monitoring of resident colonies is of prime importance. Even around colonies (roosting and/or breeding) there will be some percentage of vultures that would be flying, others which would be perched and some away foraging. Therefore, the best time to count vultures at colonies would be early morning before the thermals activate them to forage or late evening when they are at the roost. Ideally at such sites, two to three observers would be able to do more accurate counts as they could take different sections of the colony. This would ensure that there is no overlap in counting and that all vultures in a particular colony are accurately accounted for. In the last many years I have not now seen any Eurasian Griffon (anyways I now feel the few seen were probably vagrants), and therefore this species should not now be even mentioned in the vulture check list in or around the vicinity of the Park.

    Indian White-backed vultures were very common in the Park when I first started my studies in 1990. The species composition of vultures in the area has also changed. Today one sees many more Egyptian Vultures that one did in the 1990s while Indian White-backed is now very rare and so is the Slender-billed Vulture Gyps tenuirostris (I would suggest you now use all the latest changed scientific names from my or Pamela’s book). The Slender-billed Vulture should be the prime target for surveys (as it is the rarest) followed by the now extremely rare Indian White-backed Vulture, Egyptian Vulture (whose numbers seem to have increased over the years) and Himalayan Griffon which are as numerous as ever. Earlier very few Himalayan Griffon were to be seen inside the Park, but in some areas such as Ringora in the Park, there could be as many as 25 to 50 or even more. I have also noticed this in Halduparao. Earlier limited numbers of Cinereous Vultures were seen in the Park, but today at Ringora alone one can see as many as 20 or even more. The Red-headed Vulture does not appear to have been affected by Diclofenac.

    As you are monitoring the vultures outside the Park, I would suggest please get hold of Manoj Sharma to do counts of vultures within the Park mainly around Dhikala including Ringora and Fulay chaur. Over the years we will then have an idea whether wintering populations of Himalayan Griffon (which is only seen in Winter) and of other vulture species are stable or not. The rarest, of course, is the Slender-billed Vulture whose breeding success if at all needs to be monitored. Besides monitoring of colonies, if a vulture restaurant could be created around a Slender-billed colony, it would have a great positive impact on the population. Of course you will have to make sure that carcasses supplied are Diclofenac free. Get some industrial house to sponsor this and give due publicity.

    I would also suggest publicizing the plight of vultures especially Slender-billed and White-backed outside the Park to the surrounding villages and inhabitants of Ramnagar. An anti- Diclofenac campaign could be started, but the problem is that the alternative, Meloxicam, is for the villager, substantially more expensive. This needs to be looked into. These are my thoughts for the moment.

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