In nature’s lap, studying can be a ‘wild’ experience at IIFM Bhopal

The water reservoir at IIFM, Bhopal

The Indian institute of Forest Management (IIFM) Bhopal, offers much more to its students than just the privilege of studying in the country’s only college giving a forest management degree. The students here take management lessons ‘directly’ from nature – either by way of weekly treks and excursions in the forests or just by the number of wild animals and creepy crawlies that are seen in the campus as a daily occurrence. Captain Anil Khare, professor and chairman of the Student & Alumni Affairs Council (SAAC) at IIFM explains: “Direct interactions with nature has bettered relations between our students. I believe that students need to enjoy what they are studying. At IIFM, students learn the basics not only through classroom education but also through direct exposure to wildlife and nature. Our research over the years have prove that such experiences help students get a deeper understanding of their subjects, said Khare.

After the treks, students share any unusual experiences with professors. Sometimes, elaborate discussions about the adventures also take place between students and professors. Students narrate what they saw and learnt from the trek and professors in turn connect their learning to management principles. Thus, the outdoors serve as open-air classrooms for IIFM students.

Located 20 kms away from the old Bhopal city, IIFM is built on a sprawling 80-hectare campus, with a forest cover of 56 per cent of the land area. The Ratapaani sanctuary is located at a distance of 30 kms from the institute and the vegetation and topography in between the sanctuary and IIFM provides good camouflage to wild animals. There is also a Vanvihar Zoo/National park 3 kms from the college campus.

The location of the college helps students to know more about nature and get practical knowledge about forest management. The entire batch of 156 have become used to the appearance of snakes in their hotel rooms/classrooms or even a jackal and leopard loitering in their campus. Each encounter adds to the long list of experiences that the batch later share with their juniors.

Our campus has a variety of snakes. In addition to vipers and pythons, sometimes a cobra can also be spotted. Once a huge python had rolled itself around the trunk of a tree right outside the girls hostel to shed its skin. It was scary but at the same time interesting. Making sure not to disturb the snake, we made a circle around the tree and observed it staring back at us,” said Priyanka Batra of the 2010 PGDFM batch.

If snakes can make their way into the campus, why not the big cat. Pulak Kumar, a final year student said, In May-June 2011, we had our first encounter with the leopard. Ratapaani sanctuary has a breed of leopards. Wild cats generally define a 25-30 km radius of territory, where they do not allow any other carnivore to poach into. A leopard had made IIFM campus a part of its territory and is spotted taking rounds of the campus by both students and the faculty.

Treks and hikes organised in and around the college campus on a weekly basis help students gain practical knowledge. We learn the basics about everything through the activities that occur beyond our classroom. These activities supplement our theory classes and in addition to being a lot of fun, they help us prepare better for forest management and development, said Pulak.

Zeeshan Hassan, a regular night trekker said, Night treks and hikes in the forest area are a tradition that all of us follow. There is a cook-out zone in the forest area, which is just a 15-minute walk from the hostels. Almost on every weekend, we dine out there.

He added that the students are completely in charge of the treks and hikes. “We have to keep a number of things in mind including how to deal with local wildlife and being aware of our surroundings. We learn forest survival measures, one of them being beating a stick on the ground to distract snakes and basic knowledge about dangerous plants. The campus also has a small nursery where the students grow plants before they are shifted to the actual plantation area, said Zeeshan.

Reading about the dangers of fire in a forest and experiencing it first-hand are very different. We carry a 5-litre can of water whenever we go for a bonfire in the forest area. The easy availability of inflammable material in the forest makes us realise the danger that an open fire has to the forest and importance of being very careful in such a situation, Zeeshan added.

Bird watching is also a very frequent activity for nature lovers at the campus. We have a nature club, which holds bird watching trips on a regular basis. Some of the species that have been sighted include Shikra, Magpie Robin, Drongo, Peafowl, Pheasants, Jungle Babblers and Grey Hornbill, said Akshat Nagar, a final year student and a bird watching enthusiast.

The campus also has a number of dogs who are regular company for night hikers and trekkers. Zeeshan said that the first time a group of his batch mates had gone for a trek, they got lost. However, they were accompanied by the campus dogs who guided them back. In fact, students have also adopted a few wild dogs. Pinka is one of our most beloved dogs. Having injured one of its legs, Pinka was nursed back to health by one of our seniors, Sonali Swain who is a veterinary doctor. Since then Pinka is like a family member, said Pulak.

He added that Pinka even has a Facebook page dedicated to him. It goes by the profile name of Pinka IIFM waala and has 157 friends, including students from the current batch and also seniors. Somehow the birth date of Pinka got listed as December 16 and a number of people left him a ‘Happy Birthday’ message. He said that in addition to Pinka, the campus currently boasts of three dogs and 15 puppies.

Located on a hillock, IIFM has two cave sites, one each on the western and north-eastern side of the campus. A 20-minute walk away from the hostels, these caves are a frequent hang-out spot for the students. The caves offer a 360-degree view of the campus. One of the caves also has paintings from some prehistoric era, Rohit Singh, a final year student said.

CP Kala, assistant professor and admission-in-charge said, The authorities are aware of student activities beyond the regular college routine. We give them full freedom to participate in all activities because in a course like forest management, interaction with wildlife and nature is extremely important for a ground level.

Last but not the least. The water reservoir in the campus is the tallest structure of the area and replicates the India Gate. “It is a steep climb to the top and the area looks beautiful from there,” Omkar Patange of the PGDFM senior batch said.

Now this is a perfect example of studying with fun!