Sudha Ramen, a 2013 batch forest officer has many accolades to her name. A biomedical engineer who has worked at WIPRO, Ramen developed an app called Treepedia that won her the Dr Kalam Innovation in Governance Award in 2019 . During her tenure she has also launched many digital initiatives that have made visits to the Chennai zoo, now an institutional member in the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, a fun and memorable affair.
The Optimist got the opportunity to interact with this dynamic young officer to understand how technology can be effectively harnessed in conservation efforts.
Making of an IFS officer
While working at Wipro, Sudha Ramen got the opportunity to pursue her childhood ambition of being a doctor by appearing for NEET. When she could not make it she made the conscious choice to appear for the Civil Service examination and aced it in her first attempt. “I had always been interested in science and environment since childhood. So I chose to appear for the Forest Service,” Sudha Ramen said.
“My kid was only one and a half years old at that time. I had to leave him and come to Chennai to prepare. Being a woman with a kid I had responsibilities towards my family on one hand and I was fulfilling my aspiration on the other. It needed tremendous emotional strength and determination to clear it in my first attempt itself,” she shared.
Participatory approach in conservation activities
The pandemic has brought to the fore the importance of conserving biodiversity. Deforestation and illegal wildlife trading provoked by human greed has led to the spread of many zoonotic diseases in the past, be it Ebola or Swine Flu.
Ramen said, “After witnessing the repercussions of the damage we have done to nature, people are coming forward to participate in conservation efforts and are quite sensitive these days. People living in urban areas need to focus on how to tune our modern lifestyle with an eco-friendly approach.”
“I have found that people living in the vicinity of forests have always been supportive and worked in tandem with all forest officials. India is one of the leading countries that have a system of Joint Forest Management which enables us to build confidence in people and be part of our conservation drives,” she added.
Zoos adapting to the new normal
Owing to the social distancing norms on account of the pandemic many zoological parks across India have shut down their doors to the public. However, efforts of forest officers like Sudha Ramen, who was the Deputy Director of the Chennai zoo during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, have enabled zoos to improvise and come up with new solutions.
“Our goal was, if people are not allowed to come to zoos, the zoos should be able to reach the people,” Ramen said. “The zoo had the facility of live streaming even before the lockdown. We promoted that in a big way. We emphasized on every individual species every day. Many virtual visitors poured in. We received an overwhelming response from various corners of India and from different parts of the world as well,” the erstwhile Deputy Director enthused.
Vandalur Zoo has also come up with the unique Animal Adoption program. People can adopt animals for as low as 100 rupees per day. This engages visitors and enables them to contribute in their own little way towards conservation of wildlife. “It also helped us balance the revenue loss we incurred due to the lockdown,” Sudha Ramen said.
The Chennai Zoo conducts the Zoo Ambassador Program in summer involving students studying above sixth standard during vacation. The zoo authorities educate them about different species of animals, their habitats and their role in maintaining ecological balance. The aim is to make them ambassadors of the zoo so that they can spread the message of conservation to their friends and parents.
“This time, to avert the risk of infection, we conducted the program virtually. Thereby we got the advantage to expand our reach beyond the local schoolchildren and include several others from different parts of the world. We got around 1500 participants,” said Sudha Ramen IFS. The Chennai Zoo also conducted many virtual events for children like painting, essay writing during the lockdown.
Sudha Ramen had also initiated the Vandalur Zoo mobile app which was the first such initiative launched in India. Visitors can avoid queuing up and instead buy tickets through the app. It also features a navigation map. “Some visitors might be interested in watching only certain animals. So this feature helps them do so. They can also click on animal information to learn about them during their visit,” Ramen informed.
“Zoos all over the world have come up with innovative ways to engage with the public. We need to find new avenues to educate people, engage with them and express our conservation efforts,” Sudha Ramen IFS reiterated.
“My senior officers had been very supportive of my ideas, especially Mr. Yuvaraj IFS and Mr Yogesh Singh IFS, who had been the Directors of Vandalur Zoo during my tenure. My efforts were successful due to the team effort of all other senior officers in the Tamil Nadu Forest Department and that of Central Zoo Authority along with all my colleagues at the Vandalur zoo,” she acknowledged.
Yuvaraj IFS is presently the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and the Head of Department of Tamil Nadu Forest Department, while Yogesh Singh IFS is presently the Field Director of Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve.
“My work experience with Wipro gave me exposure to various technologies. I realized that the Forest Department has technical expertise in remote sensing, mapping and surveying but it lagged in reaching out to people. Their conservation efforts were not popular enough. So I came up with the idea of Treepedia,” Ramen notified.
The Treepedia mobile app was launched in 2018 to help farmers with the most appropriate plantation techniques. “Though the idea was mine I am grateful to Tamil Nadu government for their immense support,” she mentioned.
Talking about what triggered the idea, Sudha Ramen said, “In Tamil Nadu many species of trees exist, but people do not know about their availability. This app helps them with the right information, encourages them to plant native trees and thereby reduce exotic variants. Around 150 native tree species have been classified in this app,” Ramen shared.
Also, if a user is aware about different trees he can directly navigate and click on the specific tree and get the necessary information. People can know when and how the sapling needs to be planted, what other crops one can plant along with it, the common diseases associated with the tree, and from which year onwards one can expect returns and so on. The trees are also classified based on the location and the prevalent climatic condition which helps farmers. Moreover, the app also features a calculator which will help the farmer to understand how many saplings he needs to procure from the nursery based on the area of his land. For timber, the app calculates how many trees should be planted based on a formula on the volume of timber needed. Many educational tutorials are also featured on the app.
Inspiration for aspirants
Sudha Ramen IFS has been motivating students and civil service aspirants for more than seven years now. Here are some interesting suggestions for those preparing for the UPSC exam –
“Go for it only if you are interested and not due to any pressure. The first attempt is the best attempt. Do not buy many books out of panic and read everything under the sun. NCERTs and foundational textbooks are sufficient. Build our own strategy for preparation and ensure a proper environment for studying. Devoting two hours for current affairs is compulsory. Practice writing answers daily and try to have an innovative approach. Do not read from phones, instead make handwritten notes. In the present pandemic situation, it is tough for all. Remember that the doctors, police officers and other frontline workers are on their line of duty. So try to control your emotions and be perseverant.”