BCS Director Simon Weale writes about the BCS Safari trips across India 2023
In the 1989 radio series ‘Last chance to see’, the late science fiction writer Douglas Adams visited conservation projects designed to save a number of species around the world from potential extinction including the Kakapo – a flightless parrot from New Zealand – the Northern White Rhino and the Yangtze River Dolphin – Flightless parrots? River dolphins? Who knew?
I have always had a love for the natural world so the title of the series had a powerful effect on me, and sadly the latter two species are now thought to be functionally extinct. I am not sure why I derive so much joy and satisfaction from witnessing the everyday beauty that nature provides, but I feel grateful that I do and I think this was shaped by the joy of visits in my childhood to the London Zoo and the Natural History Museum and rock-pooling in Selsey Bill. This hasn’t turned into any obsessional need to tick off the number of species seen, but it just means if I go someplace new, I find out in advance what I might be able to see. I also unashamedly try to pass this interest to anyone and everyone in the hope they will enjoy the same response. As such our children have been forced to ‘enjoy’ many natural spectacles including watching hobbies catching maybugs, scouring reedbeds for elusive bitterns and lifting corrugated iron to find snakes and other reptiles. Despite my best efforts, the only time I feel they have given the topic their full attention was in January when a male leopard appeared unexpectedly and induced stunned silence as it walked casually past our jeep whilst we were on safari in Rajasthan.
This Easter, it will therefore come as no surprise that I decided that every boy at BCS should go on safari – not in the same place, but in the National Parks across India. Like Oz, the diversity of India is such that you can expect to see ‘Lions and tigers and bears’, and I hoped that by visiting places such as Ranthambore, the Gir Forest and Jim Corbett Park we would ‘light a few fires’ amongst the boys to engage them in saving these treasures for future generations. PM Modi had the same idea gatecrashing Class VII’s visit to Bandipur.
I found myself with the Class X boys in the beautiful North Eastern state of Assam where the focal point of our visit was the wonderful Kaziranga National Park. I worried if we would see its most famous resident, the Asian one-horned rhino, but thanks to the brilliant ongoing conservation efforts there we saw at least thirty along with herds of elephants and extraordinary birdlife. And elsewhere, India delivered with our boys getting magical glimpses of wild tigers and Gir Forest lions. I am not sure if Douglas was looking out for me from his celestial writing desk, but I got to have my own special moment as I sat on the roof of a ferry one warm sunny evening in Guwahati. As we crossed the Brahmaputra river there was suddenly a breach in the water next to the boat and a rare Gangetic river dolphin rode a wave, rolled over and disappeared back into the depths. River dolphins? Who knew?