My career as a rifle shooter has led me to various corners of the world and allowed me to soak up different experiences.

For a few years now my Walther/Bleiker (guns) and Nikon (camera) has been used in equal measure to shoot different targets. The later also has led me to some immensely gratifying experiences.

Before the Commonwealth Games 2018 preparations take centre stage, I made a quick trip to the Kanha tiger reserve to lend a hand in the conservation work, and also to fuel my passion for wildlife photography.

This was my 3rd visit to Kanha but one of the unique ones, I have to say. And that is not just because of the wildlife I saw but the efforts of the Kanha authorities in preserving the eco-system. And I did my little bit by helping the forest authorities to conduct the Tiger census. It is quite an experience to see the amount of hard work and expertise that goes into the process.

Kanha is the only tiger reserve to have an official mascot called Bhoorsingh the Barasingha. 'Bhoor' means tawny or golden and 'Singh' means antler. This is to preserve the swamp deer as the spirit of the reserve and to save it from possible extinction. That spirit has transcended to a lovely project called Kanha Bhoor Singh Public School which is run without any support from the Government. It was a dream project of Assistant Director SK Khare, The support for this school comes from NGOs and private individuals. A.nd I was lucky to see it first hand, courtesy my very warm host Dr Sanjay Kumar Shukla, the director of the park.

Smiling and radiant faces here bowled me over with their greetings on my maiden visit, not in their mother tongue but the language that mostly connects us all- English. These 3-6-year-old kids at the Public School are the new generation of conservationists. Their parents work at the Tiger reserve and they are educated in this public school. They are taught to take care of the animals and their habitat through unique learning aids of music, stories, poetry and each teacher comes here armed with an MBA degree.

The school is one of the most colourful settings inside the forest. The kids from in and around the Mukki village come here. Despite their little exposure back home, this school prepares them to take on the world. Learning here is fun and practical. I was mighty surprised with my interaction with these toddlers. Little did I expect them to refer to the animals by their English names, unlike what their parents teach them at home. They seem to be happy and organically blended in here. The park authorities this year have appealed to the Govt for affiliation up to class five.

As someone who is a firm believer in the balance of nature and preserving the mother earth, I see this school as a unique initiative to create a generation who will be aware of the bounties they have around them and have the knowledge to look after. The conservationist is very happy to know that the future of Kanha is in safe hands because of the visionaries and the wise men who do the daily grind to preserve the wild.
By Gagan Narang