Kerala’s veteran environmentalist Nibha Namboodiri’s journey as an activist is filled with several milestones. As a child who grew up with no restrictions on dreaming, Nibha’s unrelenting love and commitment to nature and animals make her one of the most emphatic conservationist voices from Kerala.
Nibha’s tryst with nature and conservation began right after she finished college and entered her first job with an NGO in Coimbatore. The NGO was organizing a workshop to sensitize participants to the plight of elephants. There was a training program to teach the work of a mahout. Nibha was entrusted with the charge of documenting the proceedings of the workshop in English, Hindi and Malayalam. She felt she could do justice to the job only if she learned the mahoutry first hand. Thus began her journey into the fascinating lives of elephants.
The next two years she practiced the art of elephant training in Kerala with forest department’s female elephant Sunita and her mahout Ponnappan. Occasionally, she got to witness the wild and dangerous side of the giant animals. The experience added nuance to her understanding and empathy for them.
It was a rewarding two years. The only blot from the period was her unpleasant encounter with the media, including BBC, when they wrongly called her the first ‘female mahout’, which she never claimed to be.
Nibha is the spokesperson for Elephant Federation. When Forest Department captured the wild elephant called Kalloor Komban in Betheri, Wayanad, Nibha got into a fierce battle to free the elephant. Forest officials trapped the tusker after residents complained that it was raiding crops in the area. Nibha approached Kerala High Court to release the animal but the court did not rule in favor of her.
Nibha believes that as long as man meddles with the ecosystem of animals, in this case, the elephant corridors of Western Ghat which is used by the elephants to migrate or cross between habitats, the conflict between man and the animals would continue to grow.
She has been working in the past one year for ‘Puzha Kootayma’, a people’s initiative to save and restore Thoothapuzha, a river in Palakkad district, one of the main tributaries of Bharathapuzha, Kerala’s second longest river.
Nibha was successful in stopping people from clearing the greenery on the banks of the river. The group took a survey of the river otter population and fish population in the area. They ran programs to raise awareness regarding the conservation of indigenous fish and bird population. The catchment area was parched as there was not enough water flow into the river. All the awareness campaigns for the restoration of the river and its natural ecosystem were met with apathy. That’s when Nibha figured that the only way to increase the flow was to revive the small streams that bring water to the main river. The group launched a cleaning campaign to clear the waste from Kakkathodu, one of the hand tributary starting at Kottakkunnu. The Kootayma started a WhatsApp group named ‘Puzha’ to exchange information. ‘Puzha Kootayma’ has members from all political parties.
From river to farmlands
Nibha soon realized that the streams and hand tributaries dried up because the agricultural land around the area was unused and barren. She held negotiations with Municipality officials and farmers to restart farming in the land around the river. ‘Puzha Kutayma’ members chose the eight acres of barren farmland spread on both sides of Ottapalam road to begin organic rice farming.
Nibha says the ideal time for farming is before summer. She and her friends in the Kootayma are determined to bring back the indigenous river and agricultural civilization inextricably connected to Thoothapuzha River. They intend to extend their river restoration efforts to Kunthipuzha River, another tributary of Bharathapuzha, which flows through ecologically sensitive Silent Valley, the national park at the core of Nilgiri International Biosphere Reserve, to Pallipuram.
Nibha worked at 'Uravu' as a coordinator to promote and popularise the use of bamboo products. She is married to K.M. Suresh Namboodiri of Pathirikunnathu Mana in Mundakkottukurussi. They have a daughter Arabhi, plus one student at Chalavara Higher Secondary School. A zoology post-graduate, Nibha is pursuing Ph.D. on the ecosystems of snakes. Nibha is the daughter of Madhavan Namboodiri and Uma Namboodiri of Kodeeri Mana in Tirur, Malappuram district.