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Copyright © 2003 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance.

The following is the established format for referencing this article:
Pandey, P. D. 2003. Child participation for conservation of species and ecosystems. Conservation Ecology 7(1): r2. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol7/iss1/resp2/

Response to Folke, C., and L. Gunderson. 2002. "A kaleidoscope of change"

Child Participation for Conservation of Species and Ecosystems

Pushp Deep Pandey

Innovative Science Group

Published: February 21, 2003

If we assume that children have an innate desire to be near plants and animals, then it would follow that innovative strategies for the conservation of species and ecosystems would benefit from child participation. Accordingly, it seems to me that conservationists worldwide are more likely to succeed in their noble efforts if they implement innovative programs that involve working with children. By doing so, they will also nurture the spirit of innovation in the conservationists of the future. For this reason, I would like to suggest that child participation in conservation should be seriously considered as a way of making the "kaleidoscope of change" (Folke and Gunderson 2002) more beautiful.

Children have an inherent desire to run after butterflies, love beautiful birds and wild places, and want to make friends with elephants and tigers. Parents know all too well how easily a child can persuade them to spend money on an aquarium teeming with a variety of fish. Dogs, cats, and parrots are all-time favorites. Children enjoy dragonfly pond restoration programs (Primack 2000), are fascinated by large animals in zoos (Ward et al. 1998), and prefer to play in yards full of flowers and butterflies (Uhl 1998). Children also learn by being in the company of nature. According to Young (2002), the sustainable use of natural resources " ... requires an intimate knowledge of biological and physical realities ... it is children and their acquisition of that knowledge who make subsistence possible over generations." However, the amount of knowledge a child possesses depends entirely on the way in which he or she is brought up. For example, the knowledge bases of children living in Indian villages and those living in London are obviously going to be quite different. Even in India, the average 10-year-old living in a village knows the local names of hundreds of birds, plants, insects, scorpions, and other creatures, whereas children raised in Delhi find it hard to name even a few.

Child participation in conservation can help children grow into environmentally friendly adults. In his biophilia hypothesis, Wilson (1984) predicts that humans have an innate desire to know and be with nature and life forms. This in turn provides a basic philosophical grounding for the conservation of species and ecosystems. A study of 109 schoolchildren in the UK conducted by Balmford et al. (2002) found that, although the children loved animals, they were forced to settle for synthetic species such as Pokémon because they rarely got a chance to see the real thing. The authors argue that young children have a remarkable capacity for learning about creatures, whether natural or man-made, as indicated by the fact that, at the age of 8 yr, the schoolchildren studied were able to identify nearly 80% of a sample of 150 Pokémon "species." Furthermore, " ... it appears that conservationists are doing less well than the creators of Pokémon at inspiring interest in their subjects ... " because, as Balmford et al. have shown, " ... during their primary school years, children apparently learn far more about Pokémon than about their native wildlife and enter secondary school being able to name less than 50% of common wildlife types."

Cultivating the spirit of innovation in children can bring true development (Pandey 2002). The idea that children can bring about a revolution in conservation is consistently being ignored by modern society (Paul and Serpell 1993, Rivas and Owens 1999). However, to learn effectively, children need wild places (Nabhan and Trimble 1994). The challenge is to make our doorsteps and our backyards appealing and vibrant so that children can play and learn to make society truly alive (Uhl 1998). Why, then, should we limit ourselves to the "gardenification of wildland nature" (Janzen 1998)? Why not also bring about the "wildification" of our own backyards? Perhaps they amount to the same thing, but the problem is how to go about it.

We can begin by understanding and strengthening the knowledge networks to which a child or student belongs. Although several authors have suggested methods for promoting scientific and conservation education among children (see Kontos 2001, O'Grady and Morse 2001, Afzal 2002, Balmford et al. 2002), their suggestions do not take into account the knowledge networks and friendship circles that already exist among children. Various nodes of knowledge networks include friends, teachers, parents, newspapers, television, and books; all of these must be considered. We need many innovative programmes such as conservation learning over the Internet (Voinov 2002) and from the newspaper (Vuorisalo 2001), the Science One Programme (Benbasat and Gass 2002), and roaming in the wilderness (Lertzman 2002).

Clearly, child participation for the conservation of beautiful species and wonderful ecosystems is a must. However, we should not forget that all species in their natural habitats are beautiful and all protected ecosystems are wonderful.


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I am grateful to my teachers. I would particularly like to thank the Resilience Alliance for a wonderful idea called Conservation Ecology that gives everyone free access to high-quality research.


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Folke, C., and L. Gunderson. 2002. A kaleidoscope of change. Conservation Ecology 6(1): 19. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol6/iss1/art19.

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Voinov, A. 2002. Teaching and learning ecological modeling over the web: a collaborative approach. Conservation Ecology 6(1): 10. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol6/iss1/art10.

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Wilson, E. O. 1984. Biophilia. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

Young, K. R. 2002. Minding the children: knowledge transfer and the future of sustainable agriculture. Conservation Biology 16:855-856.

Address of Correspondent:
Pushp Deep Pandey
Innovative Science Group
Sharda Vidya Mandir
Bhadbhada Road
Bhopal, India 462003
Phone: 91-755-2763490

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