| Nick and Kylee in town. Picture by Pabitra Das
From the cool climes, rocky terrain and sandy beaches of the serene Canadian town of Bellebille to the sweltering heat and sapping humidity of April Calcutta, is quite an arduous expedition. But, for 40-year-old Nick January, an urban mapper, environmentalist and primate conservation expert rolled into one, it’s more of a pilgrimage than an ordeal.
“We are actually here on our honeymoon,” Nick declares, smiling at wife Kylee Wishart, hours after landing in the city from Toronto via Bangkok. One soon learns that is only half the story. While Kylee will busy herself working with orphans at the Missionaries of Charity — not quite an uncommon pursuit for westerners in Mother Teresa town — Nick has pressing urban planning and wildlife conservation issues on his agenda.
In town on the invitation of animal-welfare NGO People For Animals (PFA), Nick will spend the few weeks of his stay trying to build bridges with local people, helping them deal with increasing instances of man-animal conflict, besides sensitising school kids on Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots programme. Currently engaged in GIS mapping of the city of Bellebille, commissioned by the local authorities in Canada, Nick is also open to dialogue with Calcutta’s civic planners on twinning possibilities.
But before setting out on his ‘mission reach-out’, the strapping Canadian, on his first visit to Calcutta, is keen to get oriented with the issues on the ground. Accordingly, a meeting has been scheduled at the office of the principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife & biodiversity), in Aranya Bhavan, on Friday.
The chief conservator of forests, North Bengal, and all the forest conservators of the state, in town to attend a two-day conference, will attend the informal orientation drill. “We hope, by sharing with us his experiences in wildlife conservation in west and central Africa, Nick can provide us with valuable inputs in our efforts to help villagers deal with the problem of infiltration of wild elephants,” observes PFA managing trustee Debasis Chakrabarti.
“Even though such problems exist all over the world, the solutions must be local,” stresses the Canadian crusader. Chakrabarti agrees. “Solution, rather than confrontation is the key to mitigation of the elephant depredation problem,” he says. The NGO has suggested a few simple measures like planting trees and shrubs which elephants like, well within the forest area so that they don’t need to venture out, helping them quench their thirst by rainwater-harvesting projects within the forest area, etc.
Nick, an active volunteer with the Jane Goodall Institute, also plans to go to Calcutta schools and initiate children into the Roots & Shoots programme. “I have a Powerpoint presentation explaining the basic tenets of the programme — care and concern for the environment, for animals and for the local community,” he explains.
Kylee is also keen to join her husband in this grassroots sensitisation mission. “Ethical treatment of animals is very important to me, and whenever I find time out from my Missionaries of Charity activities, I want to join Nick with the schoolchildren.” The duo hopes this early exposure to the Roots & Shoots project can open up “a new vista” for the kids.