Premsagar G Mestri was awarded the 'Prakashache Bet' award by the Terre Policy Centre. Its president Vinita Apte presented the award to Mestri for his contribution to conservation of vultures, an endangered species. Terre Policy Centre started this monthly initiative to bring small contributions in the limelight.
Mestri has worked for vultures for 19 years. He spoke to Snehal Mutha about his efforts.
Q: What is the reason for taking up the mission of conserving the vulture?
In 1997, we oraganised a conference 'Konkan Pakshi Mitra', where I got to know about endangered birds. In 2000, we conducted a survey during which we found there were 8-9 vultures left in the area surveyed by us. That is how I undertook the conservation of vultures.
Q: What efforts did you take for the conservation of vultures?
Almost the entire population of vultures was endangered. Non-availability of food was a major reason. Due to the 'Clean Village' drive in Mhasala taluka, carcasses of animals were buried and there was no food for vultures. Also, deforestation forced vultures to leave their nests.
We started a few conservation programmes, including the Habitat Conservation programme to save vultures from starvation. Feeding grounds were developed. When dead animals were not available, we bought meat and fed them.
Another major project was Conservation and Restoration of Sacred Forest (Devrais). We monitored the trees on which they built nests. We initiated programmes such as Endangered Species Conservation, Wetland and Mangroves Conservation, Rehabilitation of Vultures at places such as Mahad, Mhasala, Shrivardhan, Mangaon in Raigad district. These programmes were successful. The number of vultures and nests has increased. In 1999, there were 18 to 22 vultures. Now there are over 250 vultures in Mhasala taluka.
Q: How were villagers made a part of this mission?
We organised meetings in villages, held gram sabhas to create awareness about the conservation project. We roped in traffic police. They alerted us about any animal dying in accidents so we could use them as food for the vultures. We started the 'Gaav Jodwa Abhiyan', in which villagers spread the word. We organised awareness campaigns at schools and colleges.
Q: What is your future course of action?
In February next year, we will inaugurate the Vulture Conservation and Study Centre. In October, we are opening a Biodiversity Research and Study Centre. Students, who have done masters in environmental studies, will be trained in the conservation project. We will provide them practical training. It will also be a way to generate revenue for conservation of vultures.
Q: Have you received other awards for your work?
My work was appreciated and I received many awards. The most prestigious one was Kirloskar Vasundhara Puraskar for species conservation. I got the Pethacha Raja Mahad Gaurav, the Tarang Award, the 'Mahad Bhushan' award and many more. I was invited for international conferences. Thailand Flyway Foundation and the Philippines Eagle Foundation were among organisations which invited me.
Q: What message would you like to give to the youth?
I have been working for conservation of nature. Now, it is time for the young generation to take initiative. Instead of going to cities, they should come to rural areas for environment protection.