click hide image

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Ramblings on iron and steel

In the last few weeks I have stumbled on various little bits during Wikipedia edits that I thought were worthy of airing! One of them was a re-realization of the boon and the curse of iron and steel. It starts with something I heard a few years ago by economist Sashi Sivramkrishna and others who were following the trail of Buchanan Hamilton in Mysore (listen to the talk here) and they were apparently impressed by the impact of iron production particularly on the destruction of forests in southern India. And last week I found a Wikipedia entry that someone from Parangipettai had written as a draft and which had been left languishing. I went and ensured that it got moved from a draft version to a mainspace entry - it was on the Porto Novo Iron Works, one of the first large-scale iron smelting enterprises in India. The venture, started by a J.M. Heath, did not last long, one of the big factors being the lack of coal for smelting, and he had to make do with charcoal. In a few years, he ran out of charcoal, after depleting the forests of several districts nearby, and the factory had to move to the west coast near Calicut (Beypore). The first director general of forests Dietrich Brandis also noted the role of iron smelting in deforestation. 

Now to Josiah Heath, who is a real character and it is quite a surprise to see that the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography does not even have an entry for him, and there appears to be no available photograph of him (at least online). Heath sent out skins of various animals to the Zoological Society of London and there is a species of bat named after him. More interestingly it seem the fishing cat was described based on a specimen that he sent from India - which it would appear from all likelihood to have come from the Parangipettai region - more likely Pichavaram (wonder if the species still exists there). He also collected a specimen of a Eurasian Griffon Vulture from the same region. Heath apparently was impressed by traditional ukku (better known as Wootz steel) steel-making near Salem where he was initially posted and he seems to have discovered an important factor which he patented. It involved the use of carbon and manganese and he made money initially by distributing packets of his mixture - and later made the mistake of giving its composition. The steel makers of Sheffield, England quickly started using his technique and decided not to pay him any royalty - and he died in poverty. Of course today we could ask whether he actually stole the idea from traditional Indian blacksmiths and whether it could have been patented at all in the first place or of the numerous other injustices involved in all of this. 

Herr Meves
In another Wikipedia-related iron-connection, I found a little-known ornithologist who now has a Wikipedia entry (Wilhelm Meves). Meves was a German pharmacist turned ornithologist - and he decided to treat the brown feathers of lammergeiers with hydrochloric acid and tested them for iron and found that the colour was largely due to iron oxide. He found that this coating was on the outer surface and that the inside of the feathers was largely iron free. He suggested that the birds were bathing in iron-rich waters. Meves worked in Stockholm and mostly wrote in German but some of his findings made their way into the Ibis in English - thanks to John Wolley. And it seems both T.C. Jerdon and A.O. Hume were careful readers of Meves' works. Jerdon was aware of the bleating sound of snipes being produced by air-flow induced vibrations of the outermost tail feather. And Hume even repeated Meves' chemical analysis on his lammergeier specimens from Shimla and confirmed the presence of iron. Hume however noted that neither he nor any of his "intelligent native sportsmen" had ever seen a lammergeier bathe in water and suggested that the red staining may be derived from the blood of dead animals. Hume's original text (emphasis mine):

In the Ibis for 1862, it is mentioned that Herr Meves had, by a simple chemical test, ascertained the red colouring in this bird’s feathers, as also the rustiness observable at times in the feathers of the common Crane, (Grus Cinerea) to be due to a superficial deposit of oxide of iron ; as also, that the colouring matter on the eggs, arose from the same cause. Herr Meves suggested, that the stain on the feathers might be owing to the birds bathing in water containing iron in solution; but my belief is, that the Lammergeyer is a very dirty bird, (it swarms with vermin to such a degree, that cats and the like will seldom touch it when dead,) and never washes! I have been watching this bird, off and on, for the last twenty years, and I have never yet seen it bathe ; nor have I ever yet met with any one, amongst the numerous intelligent native sportsmen whom I have had to do with in the Himalayahs, who has witnessed such an operation. Certainly iron does enter into the composition of the colouring matter of the feathers, (I have tested it myself) as also into the red colouring on Neophron’s and kite’s eggs, but my idea is, that in both cases the iron is derived from the blood, and not from any ferruginous streams. Many birds, notably the grey goose and the common teal, very often have the feathers of the lower parts strongly tinged with rusty, and here too an oxide of iron enters into the composition of the colouring matter. How it gets there, is a question well worthy of investigation.

Anyway, it seems that India's large iron-deposits have a habit of lying in regions rich in biodiversity and ethnic diversity often on ancient tribal lands. It is little wonder that the steel industry barons are involved in disempowering tribal peoples or paying governments to water down environmental laws. I was truly surprised by the amount of work from around the world on related topics.

Someday I ought to visit Parangipettai and Pichavaram!  

PS (June 2024): Apparently the idea of sustainable forestry is associated with a German term  Nachhaltigkeit - a concept introduced by a mine inspector named Hans Carl von Carlowitz who wrote a book called Sylvicultura oeconomica in 1713. It was based on fears that deforestation for agriculture would destroy the mining industry! And he was likely influenced by John Evelyn who wrote Sylva in 1662.

Monday, March 18, 2024

An old fishing trip


Tranquebar, the Danish version of Tharangambadi had long been on my list of places to visit. So many species from India have the scientific epithet of tranquebaricus, all because of the Danish settlement from where specimens were carted off to Europe to be given binomial names. So on a visit to the place in December 2022 I checked out some of the big names including Christoph Samuel John who I had been researching both for his Wikipedia entry and for a little chapter on fishes that has recently been published by McGill University Press (see here). I was rather disappointed to see that C.S. John's grave had either no markings or was possibly damaged a long time ago.


John collaborated with the German fish specialist Marcus Bloch in Berlin, sending him fishes in spirit by the ship load. His notes on the difficulties with finding containers, arrack, and corks is worth examining! Remarkably many of his specimens are still held at the Natural History Museum in Berlin. Bloch named some fishes after John (including the genus Johnius) and it would appear that John had a native artist draw some specimens. Unfortunately there appears to be no trace of any original drawings by Indians in the archives of the museum in Berlin.

The New Jerusalem Church with
the monogram of the Danish King Frederik IV

Another collector who worked in this colonial Danish region was a man with the impressive name of Dagobert Karl de Daldorff. Daldorff died somewhere in Calcutta, I doubt anyone has found much about his life there... Interestingly Fabricius named a dragonfly species collected by Daldorff as Tholymis tillarga - people looking at the etymology of "Tillarga" have apparently drawn a blank - given its abdomen colour I wonder if it is from Thilak - thilaka - somehow Latinized as tillarga

Here is a comment from Endersby and Fliedner (2015) :

The genus Tholymis seems to be an amalgam of parts of other genus names. The species name was capitalised and, at the time of its naming, the practice of capitalising proper nouns used as species names was still in vogue, so Tillarga was probably the name of a place or possibly a person. No amount of searching has revealed its origin -

Tholymis tillarga - photo by Rison Thumboor

Useful sources

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

S. C. Mitra on "natural history as an intellectual recreation"

I have not written much here recently due to a variety of preoccupations. There is also some futility in writing given the wealth of content that already exists and hardly gets read. In recent years, the Calcutta University library has done a great job in digitizing some rare old periodicals. One of them is the Calcutta Review which provides incredible insights into the past. I suspect that few people actually have examined the contents carefully enough. One of the pieces I recently came across is by Sarat Chundra Mitra about whom I have written earlier. He wrote extensively in the Quarterly Journal of the Mythic Society (and I happened to visit the Mythic Society recently thanks to P. L. Uday Kumar).

I have decided to place Mitra's 1890 text in its entirety here just to increase its visibility. It was written just seven years after the founding of the Bombay Natural History Society. I was especially drawn to his expression "intellectual recreation" which continues to be particularly elusive even with the explosive growth of wildlife tourism in India driven by a particularly mindless use of the camera by owners who do not seem to be interested beyond pictorial aspects of their subjects.

Mitra, Sarat Chundra (1890). "The pursuit of natural history among the natives of India". Calcutta Review. 181: 159–176.

Natural History[1] pursuits, as intellectual recreations, have never been popular amongst the people of India, whether of past or of modern times. If we search the ancient literature of India, whether of the Hindus or of the Mahomedans, we come across abundant evidence to show that the ancient Indians never attained to any degree of proficiency in either zoology or botany. That the people of ancient India did not take any interest in the varied fauna and the rich flora of this country, or study, or prosecute researches into them, is shown by the extreme paucity of the works in their literature treating of the animals or the vegetable productions peculiar to the country. There are, no doubt, one or two works treating of the animal kingdom in the Sanscrit language; but, strictly speaking, they belong rather to the domain of veterinary science than to that of zoology proper, for they deal more with the proper treatment, training and nurture of the elephant and the horse, than with their classification, their nomenclature, or their habits and habitats. These works, which are so few in number that they can be counted on the fingers of one hand, still exist only in the form of MSS., and there is considerable doubt as to their having been written in ancient times. Accepting them as of ancient origin, they may be said to constitute the sole zoological literature of the ancient Hindus.

So far as the general literature of the Hindus is concerned, there are references, no doubt, to the mammals and the birds known to the ancient Indians in their principal prose works and poems, but they are few in number. All the zoological descriptions of the ancient Indians are of fabulous creatures, of animals of gigantic dimensions and prodigious strength, of which no living representatives exist at the present day. The Airavata elephant, described by them, might have been the prototype of the Elephas ganesa whose fossil remains were discovered by Drs. Falconer and Cautley in the Sivalik Hills, and have been described by them in their great work on the "Fauna Sivalikensis"; and the gigantic tortoise, which is stated by the Hindu geographers to bear, Atlas-like, on its back, the whole world, might have been the progenitor of the Testudo Colossochelys, whose remains were also discovered in the same region by, those accomplished palaeontologists, and. have been described by them in the work just mentioned. The thousand-hooded Vasuki serpent, described in ancient Sanscrit literature, has its living prototypes in the Pythons (Python Molurus) and in the Hamadryads (Ophiophagus Hamadryas); and the Garuda must have had representatives, within the memory of living men, in the wilds of New Zealand, in the bird known as Dinornis, whose remains have been discovered and described by Professor Owen. Last year, a writer in the "Indian Evangelical Review" attempted to identify the Garuda of the ancient Indians with an eagle (Aquila sp.) found in the Deccan. These are the fabulous creatures to which frequent allusions are made in the ancient literature of the Hindus. On the other hand, Sanscrit poets like Kalidasa, Bharavi, Magha, Bhavabhuti and others, make frequent allusions to some mammals and birds which can very certainly be identified with living species of animals. The Krishnasara of these poets must either be the Antilope Cervicapra or the Gazella Bennettii of modern zoologists, and the mriga or rishya described by them must be identical with the spotted deer (Cervus axis), or the many-antlered Cervus Duvaucelli which frequents forest tracts and swampy regions. The ornithology of the Sanscrit poets includes the following birds : Suka, parrot (Palaeornis cynocephalus); bakula, heron (Ardeola leucoptera or Herodias Alba); marala, swan (Cygnus olor); Chakravaka (Caccabis chukor); kokila, cuckoo (Cuculus Indica); rajhansa, goose (Tadorna rutila), The fishes described by the Sanscrit writers are mostly identical with species living at the present (jay, though the nakua described by them may either have been the Leviathan mentioned in the Bible, or the whale of modern naturalists. The entomological researches of the ancient Indians were confined to the bee, which insect has been described ad nauseam in their works. The Persian and the Urdu literatures, which are, in the main, the literatures of the Indian Mahomedans, contain, so far as my knowledge goes, no works dealing either with zoology or with botany. The stock-subject of Persian ornithological descriptions is the bulbul, which is as great a favorite with the Persian poets as the nightingale is with the English bards. Professor V. Ball has told us in his "Jungle Life in India," how he came across a book in Lucknow, which purported to be an Urdu work on zoology, but which, on perusal, turned out to be a natural history of fabulous animals.

The botanical knowledge of the ancient Indians was far more considerable than their knowledge of zoology, and among their literature we find some works which treat of botanical subjects. Strictly speaking, however, these partake more of the nature of works on medical botany than on botany in general, for they treat of the diagnoses of plants required for medicinal purposes in the Ayurveda of the Hindus.

The ancient Indian writers on the Ayurveda, namely Charaka, Susruta and others, have given lists4 of medicinal plants, together with their diagnoses, and these may be said to constitute the only botanical literature of the Indians In one respect, these works resemble the works of the older European herbalists, such as Ray, Gesner, Tournefort, &c. Sir William Jones contributed to the "Asiatic Researches" an article on the plants known to the ancient Indians, and the late lamented Dr. Udoy Chand Dutt also wrote a work on the same subject The favorite plants of the Sanscrit poets are the padma, lotos (Nelumbium Speciosum) the kadamba (Nauclea kadamba} the bakula (Mimusops Elengi,) the kadali, plantain (Musa sp.) the devadruma which seems to be identical with the cheer pine of the Himalayas (Pinus Longifolia), and others. On the other hand, the favorite plant of the Persian poets is the gul, or the rose, "the glory of April and May," just as the daisy, "the wee crimson-tipped flower" is the favorite flower of the British poets.

The science of geology dates only from the year 1790, in which Werner propounded to his pupils at Freiburg, his doctrine of 'formations' of the earth. It was, in the same year that William Smith, an English surveyor, published a 'Tabular View of the British Strata,' containing an account of the secondary formations of England, together with their peculiar organic remains. Being a new science, which owes its origin entirely to European savants, this third branch of natural history was unknown to the ancient Indians.

Thus, from an analysis of the foregoing, it will be evident that— (1) Zoology and botany proper were unknown to the ancient Indians; (2) veterinary zoology and medical botany were, to a certain extent, known to them; (3) their knowledge of medical botany was greater than their knowledge of zoology.

So much for the knowledge of Natural History possessed by the ancient Indians. I will now show that the natives of India at the present day, like their forefathers, show a marked want of proficiency in their knowledge of zoology, botany and geology, and I will attempt to trace out the causes from which this deficiency in Natural Sciences proceeds—a deficiency the more to be regretted, that the natives of India have distinguished themselves in every branch of literature and science except Natural History. There are Indians who have distinguished themselves in law, medicine, and engineering. There are Indians who have betaken themselves to the study of the physical and the chemical sciences, though they have not distinguished themselves by any brilliant discoveries or original researches therein. There are Indians who are distinguishing themselves by their original researches in mathematics. But it is to be deeply regretted that there is not a single native of India who has achieved any distinction by any original researches into, or discovery in, Natural History, or, at least, who has devoted himself to the study of zoology and botany.

There are, at least, two Bengalis in the Geological Survey of India, who have devoted themselves to the study of geology and mineralogy and they seem to have achieved some sort of distinction by these studies, for they have been elected Fellows of the Geological Society of London and have contributed papers to the Memoirs of the Geological Survey of India. There is one Bengali gentleman, connected with the Economic and the Art Departments of the Indian Museum in Calcutta, who takes great interest in economic botany, and has been elected a Fellow of the Linnaean Society of London.[2] The late lamented Raja Rajendra Mullick was an ardent lover of animals, and had been a elected a C. M. Z. S (corresponding member of the Zoological Society of London), in recognition of his bountiful contributions of Indian mammals and birds to the Zoological Gardens in Regent’s Park. But no native of India has as yet, studied scientifically the varied fauna and the rich flora of India. Foreigners alone have done so, and the credit of naming, classifying and describing the animals and plants peculiar to the Indian fauna and flora respectively, belongs to European naturalists. It is by European naturalists only that new species of both vertebrates and invertebrates are being discovered every year, and added to the recorded fauna of India; and the researches of European botanists into the Vegetable Kingdom in India have been the means of discovering many plants altogether new to science. All the more credit is due to them for this, owing to the disadvantages under which they labour in the pursuit of these studies. The first of these disadvantages is that, being strangers in a strange land, they are imperfectly acquainted with the country, and with the peculiar haunts of different animals, and the localities where particular species of plants abound. The second disadvantage under which European naturalists and botanists labour, is the climate of this country, which is very trying to their constitutions. Many European naturalists have had their health permanently shattered by prosecuting natural history researches in unhealthy regions. The third disadvantage is that Europeans, ave not the same facilities for observing the habits and habitats of animals and becoming acquainted with the habitats and the properties of plants as the children of the soil.

We are filled with feelings of admiration when we read of the enthusiasm and the love of Science which prompt European naturalists to brave the dangers of unexplored countries, simply for the purpose of studying their zoology, botany and geology. Look at a Stolickza making zoological collections in the wilds of Yarkand and in the Deserts of Kutch; or a Hume collecting birds in the dense, unhealthy forests of the Nicobar and the Andamans; or an Anderson exploring the trackless jungles of Yunan, in Upper Burmah, for natural history specimens. Our feelings border on mute astonishment when we find a Sulpiz Kurz exploring the forests of Burmah for its forest flora, or a Haeckel coming from Germany to India for the purpose of studying its fauna and flora.

Notwithstanding the above-mentioned disadvantages, the zoology of India has been scientifically studied and drawn up, and it is to the genius and the labours of such well- known Indian Zoologists as Hodgson, Blyth, Cantor, Mc’Lelland, Jerdon, Anderson, W. T. Blanford and others, that we are indebted for all this. Since the publication of Jerdon’s "Mammals and Birds of India" and Gunther’s "Reptiles" nearly half a century ago, many species of vertebrates, altogether new to science, have been added to the recorded fauna of this country through the labours of the naturalists above- mentioned, and it is in order to include these discoveries in the body of the Zoological literature of India, that the splendid series of works on "The Fauna of India " are being issued under the editorship of Dr. W. T. Blanford and the auspices of the Secretary of State for India. In the same manner,  Hooker's "Flora of British India" includes all the discoveries in the botany of India which have been made since the publication of Roxburgh’s "Flora Indica; " and King, Clarke, Hooker and others are doing for Indian botany what Blanford, Anderson and others are doing for Indian zoology at the present day. But still, in spite of these discoveries, there are many divisions of the fauna and the flora of this country which have yet to be explored and worked.out, and I do not know that there is a more intellectual and interesting recreation than that offered by these studies for my countrymen to devote themselves to.

There is far greater glory in achieving conquests over Nature, and inducing her to give up her secrets, than in wasting the national energies in empty political agitation. There is ample field in this direction for the exercise of their intellect; and should my countrymen take to these studies, I am sure their researches will at no distant date result in the discoveries of specimens hitherto unrecorded and altogether new to science. The invertebrates of India, for instance, excepting the Rhophalocerous and the Heterocerous Lepidoptera are not well known. Many orders of Indian insects, such as Hymenoptera, Diptera, Neuroptera, &c., are so imperfectly understood, that if anybody were to study them carefully, he would be in a position to add many new species to science. The work of determining, classifying and naming the insect pests of India, which commit so much havoc on crops, and whose depredations result in so much loss both to agriculturists and to the Indian Exchequer, is at present engaging the attention of Indian naturalists, and has been taken up in right earnest by the authorities of the Indian Museum in Calcutta, who have appointed Mr. E. C. Cotes as the man for this work. The labors of this latter gentleman have been productive of much good fruit, which has been embodied in a number of pamphlets, treating of the habits and the lifehistory of insects most destructive to agricultural produce, and published under the authority of the Trustees of the Museum. But this work is being accomplished almost single-handed, and what is needed for the successful and speedy investigation of the subject is, that there should be a greater number of workers in the field than there are at present, who will collect specimens of insect-pests, determine their life-history, and draw up named lists of them.

No one. can be more useful in this field of investigation than native naturalists, for their opportunities of studying these pests in their native haunts are far greater than those of European naturalists with their scanty leisure and with their pressure of official duties.

It follows as a corollary to this, that the task of determining and protecting the insectivorous birds of India should receive the same amount of attention from Indian naturalists as that of determining and destroying insect-pests. Much has been done in this direction in Australia; and the birds peculiar to the Avifauna of that country which have been found to be destructive to insect pests, have been scientifically studied. Lists of them have been drawn up, and colored illustrations of them, with descriptive letter-press, have been published by the School-Boards of Australia and distributed among Australian schools and colleges. But Indian birds destructive to insect-life are not much understood, and hence there is a great necessity for determining which species are insectivorous and which are not. In this field of investigation, too, there is need of a much larger number of workers than are available at present. Here is a wide field for the prosecution of researches into Natural History by native naturalists. It is little less than a standing reproach to my countrymen that they should not turn to account their ample leisure and their splendid opportunities by exploring the imperfectly-known byepaths of Indian zoology and botany. Mr. E. T. Atkinson, CS. in delivering his annual address before the Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1887, observed : "Still very much remains to be done towards studying the Indian Rhynchota, and I believe there are amongst us men to whom the work would be congenial, and who- would spare no pains to make it good. I would now call on such, whether members of our society or not, to take up even a section of the orders untouched, and to aid us by preparing lists, collecting specimens and noting the habits and life-history of the species. I should, be glad to see our Native members take more interest in Natural Science, and thus wipe away the reproach that, perhaps, with the exception of the late Babu Harimohun Mukerji, and one gentleman in Bombay, there is not a single native of India, known outside its limits, for proficiency in either botany or zoology." The late Bishop Caldwell, who was a well-known scholar of the Dravidian languages of India, in addressing the graduates at the Convocation of the Madras University in 1878, observed that he had noticed with great pleasure, the fact that the natives of Bengal and Bombay (alluding to Dr. R Mitra, Rev. K. M. Banerji, Pratapa Chunder Ghosha, Pran Nath Saraswati, Gour Das Bysack and others of Calcutta, and to Dr. Bhau Daji, Prof. R. G. Bhandarkar and Mr. Justice Kashinath T. Telang of Bombay) had taken to the study of Indian literature and antiquities; but he regretted to observe that there was no native of India who had devoted himself to the study of the Natural History of India, of its rich fauna and  flora. He went on to say that, should the natives of India betake themselves to these studies, the domain of natural science would be greatly widened, and the means of wresting her secrets from Nature rendered easier, considering that the facilities for studying them enjoyed by the natives are far greater than those of Europeans.

It affords me great pleasure to note that our fellow-countrymen of Bombay are applying themselves more and more to the study of the Natural History of India, for I find that the Natural History Society of Bombay, which was founded in 1883, counts among its members many native gentlemen of that Presidency,

This Society, which has for its main object the promotion of the pursuit of zoology, botany and geology, in ail their branches, is doing much towards the diffusion of the knowledge of these sciences among the people of that part of India. The late Dr. Atmaram Pandurang, who occupied the Chair of Botany in the Grant Medical College at Bombay, was a botanist of some repute, though he was not distinguished for any remarkable discovery in the science. Another native Of Bombay—a Mahrathi gentleman, I believe,—Dr. K. P. Kirtikar is also well-known for his love of botanical pursuits, for I find that he lately contributed a paper on the "Folklore of Indian plants" to the "Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society" which, "though not botanical, is of interest as containing tales and legends connected with many of our best known trees and plants."

From the above facts it will be evident that the natives on the Western side of India are applying themselves more and more to the study of Natural History, especially to that of botany, but my follow-countrymen on this side of India are as apathetic as ever as regards these pursuits, whether as a branch of liberal education or as an interesting recreation.

There are chairs of two of the most important branches of Natural History, viz. one of Botany and another of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy, in connection with the Medical College of Calcutta, and they are occupied by two naturalists of great repute in India. Lectures on these sciences are regularly delivered to the students of the college in question, and occasionally practical demonstrations are also held by them. But, curiously enough, in spite of these opportunities of instruction, there is not a single native gentleman, either in the Subordinate Medical Service of this Presidency, or in the ranks of the independent medical practitioners, who has any reputation for proficiency in either botany or zoology. There have been native members of the Asiatic Society of Bengal since the year 1832, some of whom have contributed many papers of great merit on Oriental literature and antiquities to its Journal. But, strange to say, not a single paper on any one of the three principal branches of Natural History, written by a native of India, can be found in either its Journal or its Proceedings. Nothing could afford a more striking proof of the apathy of my countrymen towards these pursuits as means of intellectual recreation, than the fact that, though there is a lecturership on geology connected with the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, there is none either on zoology or botany. The cause of this is not far to seek, for the authorities of the institution, finding these two latter branches of science in great disfavour with the native students, have wisely excluded them from the curriculum of studies.

The curriculum of studies prescribed by the University of Calcutta for both the B. A. and M. A. Examinations includes zoology, botany and geology. There are graduates of the University who have taken their degrees in these sciences. There are lecturerships on botany in connection with the Hooghly, the Krishnanagore, the Patna and some other district colleges in the Bengal Presidency, but post of these are filled by native Professors who pretend to teach botany to B. A. and M. A. students, but whose knowledge of the science is confined to its theoretical part, and who, instead of delivering lectures embodying original researches, simply read over the textbooks, and thereby encourage the students to devote themselves to "cramming." It is with the aid of this latter process, by which they learn, by rote, their text-books, that B. A. candidates manage to pass their examination with honors in botany and zoology, and the M.A. candidates to graduate themselves as Masters of Arts in Natural Sciences. But the men who thus succeed in taking degrees in Natural History, take up these sciences simply because it is easier to take degrees in them than in other sciences. Their object is simply to pass their examination and not to continue their studies after they leave the college with a view to promoting scientific research. Hence the men who receive instruction in natural sciences in the different district colleges of Bengal, are devoid of that spirit of devotion to science, of that spirit of scientific research, which are of the very essence of scientific training, and which are the distinguishing characteristics of European naturalists.

I will now attempt to trace some of the causes to which this deficiency of the natives of India in Natural History, and their utter indifference to the study of these sciences are due.

The first and the most important of these causes is that the natives of India are altogether wanting in that faculty of observation which is necessary for the study of Natural History. This faculty is like a pair of spectacles through ‘which we look up, as it were, to Nature and to Nature’s God. The habit of observation is the only means by which we can attain to mastery over the Natural sciences, and the more it is developed and matured, the more it reveals to us things novel and curious in Nature which formerly escaped our notice.

There are the gay-winged insects, the "birds with painted wings," the wayside flowers, with the colors of the rainbow blended in them, and many other objects of beauty in Indian landscapes which delight the heart of a European, but possess no charm for the Indians. No native, for instance, ever pauses to watch the habits of a particular bird or insect, or to examine the structure of a particular flower. They are not imbued with that feeling of pleasure which "the meanest flower that blows" excites in the minds of many Europeans. No native of India feels any interest in these objects of Nature, except so far as they are subservient to his daily uses. But, in justice to my countrymen, it must be said that they are not to blame for this deficiency in the faculty of observation, for something must be lacking; in their mental constitution to make them so apathetic as regards Natural History pursuits. The faculty of observation is awakened in Europeans at a very early age. From their very boyhood, they begin to make collections of butterflies, moths, beetles, shells, and the like; and European children will go to the most inaccessible places to collect rare flowers and ferns. In Darjeeling, European boys will climb the most inaccessible hills for the purpose of collecting ’natural history specimens. The true cause of this love of European children for natural history pursuits is, that they imbibe it from their parents. The majority of Europeans in India, as Elsewhere, are in some sort field-naturalists—lovers of plants and flowers and birds and butterflies. Thus it is that the faculty of observation is often awakened in them in their earliest years; and the home commonly becomes to them what the lecture-room occasionally becomes to natives when pretty well advanced in life. But the contrary is the case with my fellow-countrymen. As few of them take any interest in Natural History pursuits, their children also imbibe their indifference for these pursuits. The poorest of Europeans keep a few flowering shrubs in their houses, but even the richest of natives seldom have a single vestige of greenery in their homes. Consequently, native children' find nothing in the shape of Natural History specimens in their homes to kindle in them that love of animals and plants which is at the root of the study of Natural History. The second cause of the deficiency is, that the predilections of the natives of India are for sciences the study of which requires no active exercise, as, for instance, the chemical and the physical sciences. My countrymen are fond of the pursuit of these sciences, simply because they demand for their study little of that physical exertion which is absolutely necessary for the pursuit of Natural History. The successful prosecution of the latter requires, as a preliminary condition, that animals shall be studied either in their native haunts, or by means of stuffed specimens preserved in museums with the aid of the taxidermist’s art, or from living collections in zoological gardens; that the life history and the morphology of plants shall be studied either in their places of growth, or in the hortus siccus, or herbarium, of a botanical garden; that the geologist, armed with hammer and chisel, shall delve down into the depths of the earth before he can examine the stratification of the earth’s crust, or the organic remains of extinct animals embedded therein. It follows that for the successful prosecution of these pursuits the naturalist must be prepared to lead an outdoor life. The field-naturalist who ransacks the country for Natural History specimens, shooting animals, and collecting plants and fossils and minerals, for the purposes of preserving and mounting them, must be possessed of active habits, without which he will be unable to attain his object. The laboratory naturalist must also be possessed, to a certain extent, of the same activity; for, even in the recesses of the laboratory, skilful manipulation is necessary for the purpose of dissecting specimens and examining the structures of minute organisms. But the majority of my educated countrymen are most inactive in their habits, and lack the iron constitution necessary for the wear and tear incident to the prosecution of Natural History researches in wild tracts of country. Hence largely the deficiency of the natives of India in zoology botany, and geology, and their utter apathy for these pursuits.

There is a third reason why the natives of India are not proficient in zoology. They are possessed of humane sentiments which render them unwilling to inflict pain on animate. But for the successful study of zoology, it is absolutely necessary that the structures of animal organisms should be examined in all their details, and this cannot be done unless the animals be killed. If you wish to study the morphology of a bird, or a butterfly, you must either capture it or kill it. If you wish to study zoology, or that branch of ornithology which treats of the nidifying habits of birds, you must collect the nests and leave the young to perish. But all these processes, as a matter of course, involve the infliction of pain, to which my countrymen are most averse. Moreover, the successful study of zoology requires, as a preliminary condition, that there should be good zoological collections, the making of which necessarily involves the destruction of animal life.

It is partly these humane sentiments towards the lower animals that have prevented my countrymen from betaking themselves to their study. It is precisely these sentiments which made Sir William Jones averse to the study of zoology. In his Tenth Anniversary Discourse, delivered by him in 1793, before the Asiatic Society of Bengal and embodied in the Asiatic Researches, Vol., IV. he gave utterance to them, with his characteristic eloquence, in the following touching and noble words: "Could the figure, instincts, and qualities be ascertained either on the plan of Buffon, or on that of Linnaeus, without giving pain to the object of our examination, few studies would afford us more solid instruction, or more exquisite delight; but I never could learn by what right, nor conceive with what feeling, a naturalist can occasion the misery of an innocent bird, and leave its young, perhaps, to perish in a cold nest, because it has gay plumage, and has never been delineated, or deprive even a butterfly of its natural enjoyment, because it has the misfortune to be rare or beautiful." Further, Professor Huxley, in his essay on "The Crayfish : being an Introduction to the Study of Zoology, " has said that the study of the practical side Of zoology involves much dirty work, for the internal organs of animals cannot be advantageously studied unless they are dissected so as to expose the parts. For this reason, also, Sir William Jones was averse to the study of the branch of Natural History in question. This aversion to the process of cutting open and disembowelling animals for the purpose of studying their internal structure, led him to the pursuit of botany, which he calls "the loveliest and most copious division in the Science of Nature " To this dirty work of dissection, which is necessary for the purposes of the study of zoology, and to which all natives, except students of medicine, are averse, much of their neglect of this branch of National History is due.

The fourth cause of the deficiency is that no special training in these sciences is imparted to students in our schools and colleges. It has already been shown that, though lectures on botany arc given in some of our District Colleges to students who have taken up that science, for either their B. A. or M. A. examination, they are delivered by incompetent men, who know very little of its scientific principles. These lecturers hold no practical demonstrations for dissecting plants, in order to display their internal structure and their minute organisation, nor do they make excursions with their students into the surrounding country for the purpose of botanizing. The case is very different with European lecturers. Dr. George Watt, while he was the lecturer on botany in the Krishnanagore College, and Dr. Gregg, while he filled the same office in Hughly, not only held practical demonstrations in botany, but, accompanied by their students, made botanizing excursions into the neighbouring fields in order to teach them the practical side of the science.

There is no lecturership of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy in any of the colleges in Bengal, except the Medical College, Calcutta, and these, though they are open to both medical and lay students, are in one sense inaccessible to the latter, for they can be attended by outsiders only on payment of fees, at the rate of so many lectures for so many rupees. Recently, however, a class for teaching geology has been opened in the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, and lectures on that science are delivered by P. N. Bose, Esq., B. Sc. F. G. S., Assistant Superintendent of the Geological Survey of India. These are only isolated attempts at imparting instruction in Natural History, whereas what is urgently needed is, that it should be systematically taught in our schools and colleges, and that lectures should be delivered on it regularly.

I have now come to the last part (though not the least in importance) of my subject. I would venture to suggest some remedies which, if adopted, are calculated to encourage the study of Natural History amongst my fellow-countrymen, and will, in the end, lead them to devote themselves more and more to Natural History pursuits.

The first remedy is the teaching of the elementary principles of zoology, botany, and geology in the lower forms of our schools. The second remedy which I will venture to suggest, is the publication of elementary Bengali works on these sciences, suited to the understanding of young children, under the auspices of the Director of Public Instruction.

Though a few works on zoology and botany exist in the Bengali language, as for instance the Prani Vrittanta or Descriptive Zoology, and the Udbhida Bidya, or Science of Botany, arid another work on botany written in Bengali by Dr. George Watt, there are no Bengali works on geology proper. The few books on zoology and botany that exist in the Bengali language are taught only in the Calcutta Normal School and other institutions which prepare candidates for the Minor and the Vernacular Scholarship Examinations, these two sciences . being included in the curriculum of studies prescribed for them. But the number of Higher Class English Schools teaching up to the Entrance Standard, is greater than that of the Middle Class Vernacular Schools. Now it is absolutely necessary that the teaching of the elementary principles of these sciences should be made compulsory in the tower forms of our Schools.

The study of zoology has been popularized in England only by the publication of elementary works on the science by the Rev. J. G. Wood. It is to the publication of "a series of cheap entertaining handbooks, as novel in design as they are unpretending in their titles, and which abound in both scientific and practical knowledge, most felicitously conveyed that the credit of having made the pursuit of Natural History popular recreation among English boys and girls is mainly due. It was through the noble efforts of the late Professor Henslow that classes in botany were formed in the village-schools of England, and that the study of this science was thereby popularized in that country. It is highly probable, therefore, that if the study of these pursuits be made compulsory in the lower classes of our schools, our boys will become more and more imbued with a taste for them. They should not be taught in the same way as the dry-as-dust details of history or geography are taught The lessons should be made as interesting as possible by being illustrated with specimens and drawings. In the case of botany, they should be illustrated by the exhibition of dried or living specimens of plants; and their structures, and economic uses should be impressed on the students. In the case of zoology, care should be taken to make the lessons interesting by the showing of colored drawings of animals,, such as those contained in the "Plates Illustrative of Natural History" published by Messrs W. and R. Chambers of Edinburgh, and by the relation of anecdotes illustrative of their habits. So, in teaching geology, minerals and fossils should be shown and their properties explained. In this way, and in this way alone, can the study of Natural History be popularized in India.

The third remedy which I would propose, is that teachers should make excursions to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Howrah, to the Calcutta Zoological Gardens at Alipore, and to the Indian Museum. The dry lessons taught at school may be made much more impressive and instructive if the young learners are brought face to face with the very animals and plants, descriptions of which they have read in their text-books. This plan of making excursions to places of scientific interest for the purposes of intellectual recreation, was first adopted by the Institution for Physical Training which was established at Sealdah about twelve years ago, but which no longer exists. The teachers accompanied the students and explained to them the habits of a particular animal, the properties of a particular plant or mineral. The same plan, I am glad to find, is being gradually adopted by many of the schools and colleges of Calcutta. The usefulness of the Calcutta Zoological gardens as a factor in the education of the  masses in the principles of zoology, will be evident from the following extract from the Report of the Honorary Committee for the Management of the Gardens for 1888-89 : "A large number of students and teachers from various schools and colleges of Calcutta and its suburbs have, as usual, been admitted free of charge. The Committee have much satisfaction in reporting that the usefulness of the Zoological Gardens as an adjunct to sound nursery education is being recognised by Bengali authors. In Ma o Chhela (Mother and Son), a Bengali book on nursery education, a chapter has been devoted by the author to a discussion on the instincts and habits of animals as they may be studied in the course of a visit to the garden, with a view to stimulating the faculty of observation in the youthful mind. This is very encouraging. In order to afford facilities to intelligent visitors for identifying birds where large numbers of them are exhibited together, the Committee have adopted the plant of putting up colored pictorial representations with the name written underneath each species" In the Zoological Society’s gardens in the Regent's Park, London, there is a lecture-hall where lectures on zoological subjects are from time to time delivered, and these have been republished in the shape of two volumes of "Zoological Sketches" with illustrations by Wolf. In the same way the educational influence of the Calcutta Zoological Gardens might be greatly enhanced if the plan of delivering popular lectures on zoology, illustrated by specimens living in the gardens, were adopted. The inhabitants of this country evince the greatest amount of interest in zoological collections from the sight-seer’s point of view, but their ignorance of the habits of animals is very great. Hence I am sure, the delivery of these lectures would be one of the best methods for imparting to them a more accurate knowledge of the fauna of this and other countries. Most other nations have, from the remotest antiquity, evinced great interest in animals, and have shown a passion for making zoological collections. The Emperor Darius and Queen Berenice must have had menageries, for otherwise the former could not have cast the prophet Daniel into a lion's den, and the latter could not have accomplished the difficult feat of taming the  monarch of the forest.’ The ancient Romans, too, had zoological collections, though they kept them, not for the purpose of studying their habits, but of those cruel exhibitions— the fights of wild beasts with one another, or with the gladiators, who "were butchered to make a Roman holiday." Formerly a zoological collection was kept in the Tower of London, and the lions were its great attraction. The travelling menageries of former times, as for instance, Wombwell’s and Astley’s were the only collections from which the "masses" in England derived their knowledge of strange and curious animals. But since the foundation of the Zoological Society of London in 1826, or thereabouts, by Sir Humphrey Davy and Sir Stafford Raffles, and the opening of its magnificent gardens and menagerie in Regent’s Park, the English public have been familiarised with the forms of exotic animals. Collections of wild animals have been kept in Paris since the middle of the seventeenth century, in the Jardin du Roi; and these collections were further enriched in 1794 by the transfer thereto of the royal menageries of Versailles and Rainey. In these collections originated the famous and fine assortment of ferae naturae now kept in the "Jardin des Plantes." Buffon, Cuvier, Geoffrey St. Hilaire and Milne-Edwards have been the presiding geniuses of these collections, and the science of modern zoology owes its origin to them and to their work in connection with them. In Berlin, the "Thier-garten" is rich in the number and variety of its specimens of the animal world.

From the above it will be clearly seen that  the educational influence of these collections in the instruction of the "masses " in the principles of Natural History is very great The Calcutta Botanical Gardens at Seebpore, on the other side of the river, is less popular as a place of recreation than the Alipore Gardens, The reason of this is that the former is situated at a great distance from Calcutta, and is very inconvenient of access. On the other hand, the Indian Museum is very popular as a place of recreation, not only with the educated portion of the native community, but also with the lower classes. It is a well-known practice among Bengalee school boys to pay a visit to the Indian Museum, the Calcutta Zoological Gardens, or the Calcutta Botanical Gardens, on the day on which their schools break up for some long vacation. As most of these boys are from the lower forms of our schools, and as such, are ignorant of the history of the vertebrates and invertebrates, and the plants and other specimens exhibited in the Zoological, Botanical and Geological collections of these institutions, a visit to them means only idly wandering through the galleries and the conservatories, without the least scientific interest in the collections being awakened in their minds. If, however, some person were appointed by the Trustees of the Indian Museum to enlighten the native visitors as to the habits of the various animals exhibited there, the history and the economic uses of the various kinds of rocks and minerals in the geological and the mineralogical galleries, and the forms of animal life in pre-historic ages, as illustrated in the palaeontological galleries of the Museum, a visit to the institution would not only be a recreation, but at the same time, be fraught with instruction to them.

In the same way I would suggest the publication of cheap guide-books to the Natural History collections in the Calcutta Zoological Gardens, the Calcutta Botanical Gardens and the Indian Museum, written in popular Bengalee; and I am sure they would not only command a ready sale amongst our school boys, but serve greatly to increase the educational value of these institutions.

The fourth remedy I would suggest is the establishment of a professorship of Natural History in connection with the University of Calcutta, in view of the fact that the three principal branches of Natural History, namely zoology, botany and geology, are included in the curriculum of studies prescribed by that body for the B. A. and the M. A. examinations. As the University of Calcutta is, like the University of London, an examining body, the Presidency College, Calcutta, represents its teaching counterpart, just as the University College in London is that of the latter. Therefore it would be highly advisable to found a chair of Natural History in connection with the Calcutta Presidency College. Should this suggestion be acted upon, many B. A. and M. A. students would take up either zoology; or botany or geology; for, hitherto, want of proper facilities for the study of these sciences has been a great bar to their being extensively selected as branches of the study for the examinations for the higher degrees of the Calcutta University, which in one respect resemble the Natural Sciences Tripos of the Cambridge University. It is mainly for this reason that the number of alumni of the Calcutta University who have graduated in natural sciences is so small; and the few that there are, have succeeded in passing in these subjects either by attending  the lectures on zoology or comparative anatomy at the Calcutta Medical College, on the payment of a heavy fee, or by attending the lectures on botany at the District Colleges of the Bengal Presidency.

As biology is included in the curriculum of studies prescribed for the first B. Sc. and the second B. Sc. examinations of the Bombay University, there is a chair in biology in connection with the Elphinstone College of that city. All the universities of Great Britain and Ireland and on the Continent of Europe have endowed chairs of Natural History for imparting instruction in these sciences, and for promoting and encouraging their study. Of the three universities in the three sister presidencies of India, those of Madras and Calcutta only are without chairs of these sciences, and it is my firm conviction that should such chairs be endowed, and should prizes in the shape of appointments in the public service, as subordinate curators in the museums and the botanical gardens throughout India, be offered, a great encouragement would be given to the youths of India to devote themselves to the pursuit of Natural History. It is also my firm belief that if these suggestions were acted on, thousands of Indian students would flock to the lecture-room of the Natural History Professor, and devote themselves in right earnest to the study of these sciences. Apart from the emoluments which would accrue to my countrymen from a pursuit of these studies, in the shape of Government service, another important benefit would result. They would be enabled to do great good in a practical way to their country. The study of the practical side of zoology would enable them—(1) to encourage the acclimatization and domestication of various exotic birds and animals; (2) to improve the indigenous breeds of cattle and farm-stock in the country, especially as the local breeds of the former are fast becoming degenerated; (3) to foster the increase and improvement in the supply of fresh-water and saltwater fishes, which constitute the principal animal food of the natives of India. If they devoted themselves to the study of botany, they would be in a position—(1) to introduce exotic plants, flowers, and fruits into India; (2) to improve the indigenous vegetable products; (3) to develop the vegetable resources of the country, and to introduce new industries. If they studied geology, they would be able—(1) to exploit the mines of India; and (2) to develop the mineral resources, and foster the mining industries, of the country. Besides these benefits, which the study and the pursuit of Natural History would enable the natives of India to render to their country, its study would facilitate and promote scientific investigation regarding the fauna and the flora of India, and enable them to wipe away the reproach that the natives of India are deficient in the knowledge of Natural History.

Sarat Chundra Mitra, m.a., b.l.

Footnote of original author [1]: The term 'Natural History' is used throughout this essay in its popular acceptation, as inclusive of the three sister natural sciences—Zoology, Botany and Geology.

My footnote [2]: I think this refers to T. N. Mukarji

Friday, August 18, 2023

The Hon. F. J. Shore

Frederick John Shore is not a name familiar to those interested in Indian birds. A pioneer bird observer and artist, his omission is rather unfortunate. He is apparently still remembered in Dehra Dun by the well that he had constructed there and for being among the "Three Fredericks" associated with Mussoorie (the other two being Frederick Wilson and Frederick Young). The Himalayan flameback (Dinopium shorii) is named after him, his type specimen was exhibited at a Zoological Society of London meeting by his brother. John Gould commented on him in the Birds of Asia:

F. J. Shore was the son of a governor-general of Bengal, John Shore, who took some interest in natural history, particularly botany. He supported the botanist William Roxburgh enough to earn himself a honorific genus Shorea. Frederick also joined the East India Company's Bengal civil service and began to work in India. He seems to have had very independent and outspoken opinions during his work. He was very critical of Company policies and of British attitudes towards Indians. He once adopted local dress while attending the court and received a government order against it. A later commentator, Douglas Dewar, declared that Shore's comments needed to be taken with a pinch of salt.

An 1820 portrait of F.J. Shore

Shore was involved in suppressing a revolt by gurjars in Saharanpur. According to the magistrate of Saharanpur, Rivers Grindall (who would later become the father in law of A.O. Hume!), the gurjars, nearly 800 of whom had assembled,  had sworn by goddess Kali that they would get rid of the rule by foreigners. Grindall wrote urgently seeking military support. It would appear that every white man in the region with a pistol was invited to join - including the naturalist J. F. Royle and an army engineer named Henry De Bude. The main force however consisted of gurkhas under the command of Frederick Young. In the ensuing bloodbath, 200 people were killed, Shore received two deep cuts on his torso. Young's biography written from oral records by his daughter claims that there was an arrow in Shore's neck that had just missed his jugular. Shore apparently recovered from the wounds but his health remained bad and he died at the age of 37 in Calcutta. A British history has a sketch of Shore fighting with a gurjar and Young saving him by shooting the assailant.

Now for what Gould wrote, about Shore's notes and illustrations. It appears that Casey Wood got hold of a bunch of the paintings and notes that Shore made in 1928. They are quite spectacular in that they capture the pose in nature very accurately in many cases. But evidently the set that has been so kindly shared by the McGill University library lacks the illustrations of the male and female painted spurfowl mentioned by Gould. In one plate Shore refers to "Volume 4", so clearly there are other books with illustrations that are unknown at least to online researchers. Shore clearly was a very careful observer, noting the colour of the mouth, anatomical features like the structure of the tongue and native names. He notes the calls of birds and in some cases documents them with musical notation - a first in India surely. He also tries to follow the color standards defined the watercolor company Ackermann that he presumably used. In transcribing native place and bird names he uses the scheme of John Gilchrist.

Notes on a little brown dove with call notation

Casey Wood noted: One of the most valuable manuscripts in the Blacker Library is an unpublished Appendix (in three volumes) to Latham’s Birds, 1821-8, with 195 original water-colors of Indian avifauna by F. J. Shore. Most of these are not to be found in the 1821-8 edition, or if they do appear, the coloring is probably incorrect. This fact is pointed out by the artist-editor who states that almost every picture in his collection is painted ad naturam so that unaltered plumage is depicted. Copious notes accompany each drawing. A more complete review of this historical series of drawings will be found in the appended Catalogue.

Here is a sampling of Shore's works (a few are added here).

Refers to volume 4

So where is Volume 4 of his book which presumably contains the illustrations that Gould refers to? ZSL? NHM? (Have checked the online catalogues and found nothing)

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Outdoor learning - forests as educational infrastructure

I recently wondered about the use of forests as educational spaces. When I was in school, the WWF with its attractive panda logo was quite popular. One of their innovations at that time had been a project called the Nature Clubs of India which used a federated model of clubs in schools and zonal centers branches. The branch in Bangalore was run by just a few persons. It included M. K. Srinath who made visits to schools with a few bags of snakes and gave talks on them to school-children. Another person was K. A. Bhojashetty, a remarkable gentleman who had recently retired after having served in the first batch of Indian Forest Service from Independent India. A friend and colleague of his, S. Subbarayalu, who also passed away recently mentioned how he was noted for his regal manners and nicknamed as "Bhojaraja". Bhojashetty passed away recently at the age of 99 (and S. Subbarayalu in June 2023). One of the WWF education officers was my friend S. Karthikeyan who continues to be a involved in outdoors education to this day. I was introduced as early teen into this very intense and lasting experience of what then appeared like "true wilderness" in the wilds of Bandipur. The Bandipur reserve had two dormitories set up for batches of students to stay and our four-day experience was guided by several volunteers. That model of education, with infrastructure support from the forest department, probably went extinct shortly after and it seems like a terrible pity that it did. The Nature Clubs of India experiment was perhaps, in hindsight, an exceptionally successful exercise which produced a number of outdoor educators who are still active. It probably deserves a detailed study if ever someone is interested in the history of outdoor education in India.
K.A. Bhojashetty and others, 2014

I was wondering about the thought process behind construction of the dormitories in Bandipur, clearly someone was more enlightened in the immediate-post-independence period and had decided that education was a key activity for the forest department. Surprisingly there seems to have been little written or known about the people behind this now dead philosophy. The accommodation in most forests in Karnataka today would appear to be today used primarily by party-goers producing noise and garbage and having political connections.
As I looked at some other material, I was surprised by the how widely these concepts have been adopted  -  Naturbørnehavens in Denmark, I was recently pointed to similar outdoors natural history education exercises in the former Soviet Union led by a remarkable man named P. A. Manteuffel ("uncle petya" to the youth). And then I found that the Germans had ideas like Waldkindergartens. The US effort seems to have had people like Harold C. Bryant (check this book).
Today, forest departments in India are actively involved in keeping away most people out of their land holdings or provide stay options for an older and wealthier audience. In any case there is no official policy that declares forests as learning spaces or actively encourages its use. Perhaps only to be expected.

Some of the most successful and influential zoology, botany, and ecology teachers in Indian universities have made use of outdoor excursions as part of their teaching method.
See also this article on forest schools. I recently wrote also on a related theme in a teaching magazine - Teacher Plus.