Anand Pendharkar: Nature of an app

Jun 12, 2016, 06:29 IST | Anand Pendharkar

Why you should let technology join you on your next nature excursio

I believe that human evolution is measured by the kind of technology used, and its function. Even today, we encounter Stone Age practices and usage of primitive equipment in our modern-day society — be it catapults, mortar and pestles or forks and knives.

Oddly, their means and purpose vary drastically from the primordial one of finding food via hunting and gathering. Today, most communities have shifted from hunting wild meat and most of the gathering takes place in malls or online shopping sites.

There is also an increase in empathy and concern for our Earth's environment and for the survival of various creatures. This extension of altruism, to include our wild and feral neighbours, has now swept urbanites.

Winter Visitor Waders sighted on the rocks near Bhuigaon Beach
Winter Visitor Waders sighted on the rocks near Bhuigaon Beach

Last week we saw hundreds of NGOs mark World Environment Day (WED) with activities to save our environment, while couch-activists posted scathing messages on social media. But an evolved urbanite finds every possible mechanism to multiply the outcome of even their smallest actions. It's obvious that this 'Butterfly Effect' cannot be achieved without use of modern technology or social media.

With the rise in mobile users, apps have become a useful medium to create awareness and educate masses about nature. In most cases, the pictorial, audio and video representations provide the amazement factor necessary to keep users hooked onto a specific app. Recently, I attended the launch of Vasai Birds, Maharashtra's first bird application and India's first region-specific app.

The I Love Birds app
The I Love Birds app

An initiative led by two local birders from Vasai, Kuldeep Chaudhari and Amol Lopes, the application showcases avifauna documented in the region since 2009. Besides 250 bird species, the team has also recorded nearly 50 butterfly species, a few mammals and reptiles. The Vasai Birds app intends to create awareness about urban biodiversity among beginners and amateur birders.

Along with Vasai Birds, I refer a bunch of nature apps. The list includes Indian Birds, Indian Snakes, Frog Find, I Love butterflies, iButterflies, iTrees and iBirds. Most of them work well offline, so are great to use on the field. They provide details such local names, conservation status, habitat, host/food plants, life cycle, distributional range and threats, besides high quality images and/or sounds that are updated regularly. Some global apps such as e-Bird or Indian Biodiversity Portal also enable a user to drop GPS pins to their sightings, leading to detailed seasonal, regional and migration pattern maps, along with checklists and photo-authentication.

Thus these apps can be used to initiate locals into conservation events such as Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) or engage them in citizen science projects documenting local wildlife. Sadly every good thing has a flipside, as some unethical photographers, tourists and poachers playback bird/animal calls from apps, causing stress and even death of the very creatures they are created to conserve.

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