Inside the NIC: How an interactive awareness centre is transforming local perceptions of wildlife

From firewood to bushmeat, people have depended on forests for eons. But with dwindling wildlife populations, our partners at Nature Conservation Foundation/Holématthi Nature Foundation (NCF/HNF) knew that they could help minimise the effects of human activities on wildlife habitats, by taking conservation education to the people who could actively drive coexistence.  

The Holématthi Nature Information Centre (NIC) was established in 2018 as an awareness centre, tailored to engage forest-fringe communities through vivid, interactive educational materials.

As of 2024, the centre has hosted over 14,000 visitors, most of whom have been local students.   


Forest-fringe communities are key stakeholders for conservation 

Along the fringes of the Malai Mahadeshwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Karnataka, India, lie clusters of villages, inhabited by people who live off their land and the forest around them. They don’t seek wildlife out for thrills or photographs on vacation. In fact, their lives depend on staying out of sight of wildlife when they venture into the forest in search for necessities.  

Human-wildlife conflict is inevitable when sharing landscapes, especially with large herbivores. From terror to injuries – this conflict can leave deep and lasting scars on people.  

For communities living at the fringes of the forest, wildlife incites fear. No matter who you are, it would be unimaginably difficult to support the conservation of that which is frightening.  

But this is exactly where the NIC comes in.  

Engaged children foster transformation in communities 

We already know that art can power conservation, and you can read all about it in our blog here. 

But a 2019 study shows that children have an important role to play in driving change within their communities, especially when it comes to perceptions, attitudes, and eventually, behaviour. Knowledge transfer from children to parents is most likely to happen when the content is novel, exciting and interactive. These key features drive children to run back to their families, filled to the brim with stories that they absolutely must share. And parents, intrigued by the excitement are more likely to listen. 

Novel and interactive material is quite literally built into the NIC, from the leaves of local trees carved into the red oxide floors, to the entertaining life size cutouts of leopards, tigers, and sloth bears.  

But the NIC goes a step further. Indoors, a rich diorama of the local wildlife welcomes visitors, as do silhouettes and models of birds, and bats. Every square inch of wall space has been used in intriguing ways, inviting visitors to touch, move, and read – all the content at the NIC is available in Kannada, the local language. These efforts are paying off. 

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“We already see a wonderful response from children who say that they want to change their patterns of eating wild meat. They also want to change their families’ behaviour and attitudes towards wildlife,” says Dr Sanjay Gubbi, Programme Head at the HNF.  

But it isn’t just a space for students. The centre is also a space for adults, forest, police, fire, and emergency officials, who are engaged in capacity-building and other workshops by the HNF team. In the years since its establishment, the NIC takes pride of place among the community, who are delighted to have access to quality education that honours their lived experiences.  

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