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On an ecological trip...

One fine morning, Captain Satish Sharma, promising officer and dedicated career-man, hung up his military boots, his guns, his Indian army uniform, and turned a complete civilian.

For, you see, he was madly in love. With conservation... wildlife conservation, to be precise. And though he loved the army, the call of the wild was too powerful to resist.

He had to quit, and he did.

That was in 1990. Seven years down, he is even more in love than before. Now, it is more vivid, more detailed, more authentic -- nonstop work in the field has coloured it and added those minute, discerning details which he was unaware of when he started.

Captain Sharma's work is different from the other NGOs in the field: his is a self-financing venture to generate funds to educate people on ecological conservation.

In Haryana's Ambala, he has launched a unit which, under the name 'ecosense souvenirs,' produces attractive paperweights, doorknobs, bottle-openers, letter boxes, jewellery, t-shirts, envelopes and such likes. All the products are sold through nature clubs, associations and NGOs throughout the country.

''The money generated through the project is for conservation education and research,'' he says, "During the last two decades much has been said about the need to create awareness. Yet, the consequence of environmental imbalances are unfortunately not as widely disseminated as desired, partly due to lack of dedicated education, training and research."

The wildlife enthusiast's idea of education is simple -- it should not be an imposition on people. ''The message has to be interesting," he says, "It should make people want to listen to you..."

In short, they should be educated without their knowing they are being educated.

The ecosense souvenirs support lectures in schools, colleges and public places, production and distribution of literature books, video films, stickers and posters. Further, it also organises environment-oriented competitions amongst children like painting, quiz and essay writing.

Also, the project creates job opportunities for people, especially tribals in and around wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.

Though the response to his range of products has been pretty good, the ex-army man is sad about one thing: the cold shoulder and freezing looks with which government-run bodies and institutions greet his efforts. "Even reputed international groups working in the same field have turned down my requests for help," he says.

The ecosense had recently put up a snake cell in Chandigarh. ''Educating people about the reptiles is really an uphill task," Captain Sharma says, "It is a difficult task to argue a case for the snakes, to teach them that snake venom is actually being used to save lives."

Now, Captain Sharma is proposing to undertake another campaign -- of reducing the use of paper.

''The answer to environmental degradation is not recycling," he says, "but generating less trash."

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