Mahseer School to protect ‘School of Mahseers’: Nurturing a conservation ethic in children of Baagi village, Nayar River Valley, Uttarakhand, India

Dr. Saurabh Dewan

The endangered, golden mahseer (Tor putitora) or the ‘tiger of river’ is a keystone species inhabiting the upper Ganges ecosystem, with its lifecycle intricately connected to the river. Adults undertake a migratory journey, every monsoon to reach an upstream tributary, Nayar which is among the last unobstructed, critical mahseer breeding grounds. Fish traversing through the shallow stretches of Nayar are an easy catch for the inhabitants of village Baagi located on Ganga-Nayar confluence. CLP supported project (2017-19) help us document the species’ distorted population structure due to indiscriminate fishing using dynamite, poison, and even electrocution. We realised that behavior change is an arduous process in this community owing to their various socio-economic interest. In about 65 households, and estimated population around 300, over 80% children are school dropout, with two third of them engaged in illicit fishing practices. Currently, 24, 20 and 14 children are respectively, enrolled in government aided primary, intermediate and play group school in Baagi and Kinsur (nearby) village. We envision to develop the two schools as ‘Mahseer Schools’ to nourish a education culture and curricula that would connect children to this fish, nurture a conservation ethic, and build pride to inspire them to be its protector.

The overall goal is to eventually restore natural population structure and dynamics of golden mahseer in Ganga-Nayar River system. Alternative avocations scoped under CLP project and now supported through local government are beginning to show transformative results. This project would gradually cement the role of young generation towards long-term conservation goals.