In the winter of 2010, I worked as a volunteer naturalist in the River Tern Lodge run by Jungle Lodges & Resorts. Every day, I would accompany guests on a safari into the Bhadra Tiger Reserve, either by boat on the backwaters of River Bhadra or by jeep into the forest. If the guests were seasoned wildlifers, all I had to do on these safaris was spot animals and birds for them to observe and photograph. But, more often than not, the guests would have limited knowledge of flora and fauna; they just loved being out in the wild, away from the bustling cities. 

To get them interested in learning how to spot and ID the flora and fauna around them, I figured out a simple trick. Right at the beginning of the safari, I made sure to show them certain birds that would usually be seen around the area – a White-breasted Kingfisher, or a Brahminy Kite, or a Black Kite. All of them easily recognisable, and very familiar to most city folk. It worked very well. They would find a connect with the surroundings, feel more confident and cheerfully start spotting more birds on the way. 

There is a reason this is very important. Once there is a certain amount of curiosity about the names of birds and animals and trees and insects and spiders and reptiles and pretty much everything around us, a bond is formed. This bond ensures that the interest lives on, even after a trip to the forest ends. Once they are back in the city, they head out to parks, lakes and their own backyards and continue to observe wildlife. They tell more people about what they saw. Once they know the names of the life forms they are watching, they begin to care. And then they want to know more. Once they know more, they understand issues and threats. That’s when they want to conserve and protect. Now, that makes all the difference. 

I am not alone in this mission. Pretty much every single one of you reading this note has been doing the very same thing for many years or decades even. Or, at the least, has felt the same way about spreading awareness on nature. In the last few years, thanks to the increasing popularity of nature and wildlife photography, there has been a huge spike in the number of people who are actively observing wildlife and recording natural history behaviour; in the form of photographs, videos and writing. Scientists and wildlife biologists have been using newer aids for visual documentation to support their research, like camera traps and infrared videos. With the sole purpose of uniting all this knowledge, experience, science, writing, photographs, videos and passion, JLR Explore was formed, five years ago. 

I vividly remember that warm April day in 2013, when a bunch of us filed into a boardroom at the JLR office to brainstorm ideas on how to create, curate and sustain a web platform that celebrates the natural history of Karnataka. About 5 months later, the site went up, hesitantly at first and with a spurt of goodwill and cheers from the community, went on to become a comforting presence on the web. 

Over the years, we built a large, strong network of contributors who always came back to us every time they had some new work to publish. We consciously sourced articles that put the focus on species that are known less and understood even less – planthoppers, ratels, arboreal earthworms, lacewings, honey-badgers, torrent toads, civets, silk moths, blue buttons, flying lizards, fig wasps, orchids, dung beetles and more. Strange, unique, enchanting and beautiful stories filled up our pages and I’d like to think that Explore went on to become the go-to handy resource for Karnataka’s natural history. 

I’ve had the good fortune of being a part of the website from hour one, and what an amazing journey it has been! A huge thank you to VMR for coming up with the idea of the site itself, and for being there, always. Karthik is the driving force behind the site. He keeps the team together and is the main reason why we are able to source good stories for the site. Every conversation with him leads to a fact, which leads to an observation, which then leads to a story. Raji meticulously manages our idea vault – a colour-coded excel sheet that tells us what to do next. We have late-night comma debates and title discussions, often with hilarious outcomes.

Explore has become such an integral part of my work in the last five years, that I cannot imagine a life without it. Here’s to five more!