Do tell us about yourself, where you are from, and your work
I am Lansothung Lotha, from the mountainous state of Nagaland. Growing up, I developed an interest in many things, but natural history was one that fascinated me the most. In pursuit of my interest, I studied Forestry for my bachelor as well as master degrees, with a focus on wildlife conservation. This gave me a wonderful opportunity to work with Nature Conservation Foundation and also led me to my very exciting career as a Forest Ranger with the Nagaland Forest Department.
Currently I am posted in Wokha district where the spectacular Amur Falcons stopover every year enroute their epic migration from Siberia and Northern China to southern Africa.
Are you a birder? What about bird watching excites you?
I am keen about birding and I try to go out as often as I can. Going for birding, there’s always something new that you get to acquire. It may be a lifer, or a new behaviour, a new record, or just some spontaneous moments of natural history that remain etched in your memory. Observing a pair of Oriental-pied Hornbills engaged in courtship feeding has been one of the most beautiful and educational moments for me. The best part about birding, though, is when you get to share the information from your birding sessions with the local communities and help them connect.
When and how did you get interested in bird/nature education?
I conducted my first ever nature education program in a small fringe village back in 2013 while I was studying hornbills for my masters in Intanki National Park, Nagaland. The impact that this program had on the students made me realize how much more effective research can be when clubbed with outreach programs in achieving conservation targets. Ever since, nature education programs have always remained an integral part of my work.
What do you hope to achieve through your education work?
The most important goal for me through these education programs is to try and help children garner interest and connect with nature. I also hope that through these efforts, children will gain more knowledge about the biodiversity around them.
Why do you believe it is important for children to learn about birds or connect with nature?
Children are the most important stakeholders when it comes to biological resources. Someone rightly said that whatever natural resources we are using now, we are borrowing from the next generation. When I conduct these education programs, I always remind myself that besides trying to help children connect with birds or nature, it is also my responsibility to let them know that this rich biodiversity we have now is theirs; and also for them to protect and conserve for the future generations. And to achieve this, birds have been one of the easiest ways to connect children with nature.
What tools or resources have helped you in teaching about birds?
Photography has been a very important tool for me to reach some of my conservation targets. It has always helped me instantly connect with the communities I work with. These are – of course – photographs of the flora and fauna I get to capture while I roam their surroundings. Showing them up close what they have in their forests helps quickly develop a bond and gives me the opportunity to talk about conservation.
It has also proven to be especially useful for me while conducting “Classroom Birding”, an activity where I use the images of birds from the area and take the students on a virtual birding tour with more additional species information. Classroom Birding was tried for the first time in 2019 and has since been an important tool for me.
Thanks to EarlyBird, I’ve also started using “Talking Birds” now and this has been very effective and efficient. The interactive feature along with the very informative details for each species has been a game changer and always brings a big smile on the face of the children. What a brilliant way to connect them to nature!
Have you encountered a significant challenge as a bird/nature educator, how did you overcome it?
There are certainly various challenges as a nature educator. In Nagaland, like most other parts of Northeast India, nature education is still very new to many. Nevertheless, this also provides a very good opportunity for me to talk about what we are losing very rapidly. Hornbills have immense cultural significance for the tribes in Nagaland and the drastic decline in their population across the state, sadly, has been a very powerful example in helping children and adults alike understand the gravity of the situation during the education programs.
Also, children being of different age groups and with different experiences and needs, every school or village I visit is unique and special in their own way. Some places children are very receptive, some places a little less interested. But as an educator, the goal remains the same and preparing different materials for different age groups and for different locations have been fruitful.
Currently, there are also limited materials that I can use for the Northeast, especially Nagaland. However, there are plans to come up with some Nagaland-specific materials and I’m hoping that once that comes to fruition, it will help fill some existing gaps and further the nature education efforts here.
In teaching kids about birds/nature, can you recall any insightful instance that shaped your perspective?
One of the most memorable experiences has to be with the community in Fakim village- perhaps one of the remotest villages in the country, bordering Myanmar. I had photographed some birds while birding there and, in the evening, as I was showing them the images from my camera, a little crowd had quickly gathered behind me. I got to show more images and talk to them about conservation. That for me was the epitome of the education efforts. You can have nature education absolutely anywhere and anytime.
Have you noticed any changes in your learners after they received exposure to birds and nature-based learning?
Seeing how the confidence of children grows by the end of an education session is always very fulfilling. I strongly believe that when children are confident and comfortable to talk about their flora and fauna, they will not only be better connected with nature but also more importantly, be in a better position to understand the need to conserve and protect their biodiversity.
Still, there’s much to be done and it remains a long-term effort till we start seeing the actual results of these education efforts.
What message would you have for your fellow educators, or somebody starting out in their nature education journey?
As an educator, it is always encouraging and motivating to know how so many people across the country are also involved in nature education, and with similar vision. Reading updates of fellow educators and learning about your effort makes me realize this big team that we are all part of.
For those of you who are just starting, thank you for not only understanding the need for nature education, but more importantly for acting on it. What works for you may not work for me, and what works for me may not work for you – but there’s always something to learn and try. I hope to continue learning new ideas from all of you. Cheers!