World Wildlife Week: Conservation Through Art—Niharika Rajput’s Miniature Paper Models Help Conserve Biodiversity | The Weather Channel – Articles from The Weather Channel


Whether it’s their vivid colors, intricate textures, feather structure or facial expressions, birds have always fascinated us with their beauty and diversity. Reproducing such colors and textures by building paper models can seem almost impossible; corn Niharika Rajput (Where @paperchirrups, as it is popularly known on Instagram) has mastered this art of creating realistic bird models with just paper! Not only does she pursue this art as a hobby, but she has gone further to use her talent to help with wildlife conservation.

Today and in our time, the field of wildlife conservation is much more diverse than just research. Niharika believes that art is a great way to raise awareness about conservation and reach a wider audience from various sections of society. She tells how the sculpture improved her knowledge of biodiversity and encouraged her to take initiatives to conserve wildlife.

When did you start sculpting the beautiful bird models and what inspired you to create them?

Scarlet Minivets Model

(Niharika Rajput)

Since my father was from the Defense Department, we had to travel often and live in areas surrounded by greenery and forests. As a child, I was very observant and enjoyed staying outdoors, chasing fireflies or observing how spiders weave their webs. I also remember being mesmerized by the vibrant colors of the white-throated kingfisher when I first spotted the bird. Eventually we moved to Delhi, which is a concrete jungle. So, although I kind of lost my connection to nature, it just felt right to combine art and wildlife while making my career choice. I started an internship in an organization in Delhi called People Tree. There I built everything from lamps and jewelry to miniature epoxy bird models. I couldn’t really identify the bird species at the time, but the project encouraged me to research them.

But I was still not satisfied with my work and decided to take a vacation in Himachal Pradesh with my family. There’s a distinct moment on this trip that turned things around completely. A large flock of red-billed magpies caught my eye and I was mesmerized by the colors of their plumage. I wanted to replicate every minor detail, and that’s when I really decided to pursue this art form.

Please tell us about the early years; what was the hardest part? What was your first choice of material?

barn owl in the making

(Niharika Rajput)

Mastering the bird’s basic body structure, including facial features, talons, feathers, etc., and understanding what material would be best suited to give it a realistic look, was a challenge. I first experimented with paper mache clay, wire mesh and epoxy. But fixing paper as the ideal material to reproduce the structures took time.

Also, previously I just used a single cutout for the wing and added the details using paint. But to make them look more natural, I’ve now cut out each feather individually so the layers add another dimension to the structure.

Could you explain to us the process of sculpting these models? How do you make them look so realistic?

Model of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird sucking nectar from a flower

(Niharika Rajput)

I have to start by reading a lot about the bird to understand its basic anatomy, the color of its plumage, and the posture I want it to be in. Once I have everything mapped out in my head, I sketch out the basic body shape. I then construct the bird’s body frame, which is made of paper and galvanized wire. Then I focus on the bird’s facial expressions and building features like beak, eyes, etc. Getting to the feathers is the longest part of the process, but I have tremendous patience. Finally, I start painting the bird, and making it look natural is a play of light and shadow. It is quite a tedious process and sometimes even takes a few months if the part is large.

How do you think your work has helped raise awareness of bird conservation?

Workshop led by Niharika in Ladakh

(Niharika Rajput)

I lead the Art for Conservation initiative and have collaborated with several research organizations across India to educate local communities about conservation. My first project was in Ladakh, where I worked with several private and public schools in villages and towns. It wasn’t just a bird building activity with paper and yarn. My goal was to introduce them to local bird diversity by taking them birdwatching with experts and teaching them how to use field guides and the eBird portal. I also organized the first bird festival in Ladakh in collaboration with the forest department, Ladakh Arts & Media organization and Dara Shikoh foundation. We have had painters, sculptors, animators, musicians and theater artists from all over the world to create works inspired by the diversity of birds in Ladakh. Then we also invited expert biologists to give presentations. My next goal is to build a nature interpretation center in Ladakh, but we will need funds.

In the Northeast, I worked with the Nature Conservation Foundation on their hornbill conservation project. The tribes of Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland have a ritual of hunting hornbills for their feathers which they use to make head coverings. So I had to create the hornbills’ tail feathers out of fabric and paper, and convince them to replace the real feathers with artificial ones so people would eventually stop hunting. Then I also collaborated with Wildlife Trust India to create elephant models for the Gaja Yatra and raise awareness about elephant corridors in India.

Conservation efforts are never enough. There is always something you can continue to do in the field of conservation, not just through research, but through the merging of various fields.

What do you think are the main threats facing birds today? Does a particular bird species need urgent attention?

(Niharika Rajput)

Miniature model of tufted coquette

(Niharika Rajput)

Rapid urbanization and concretization create significant disturbance to bird habitats. The architecture we see in urban cities is generally not sustainable and does not support bird nesting sites. Then there are problems such as uncontrolled tourism, which hinder their breeding. Habitat degradation and ever-increasing populations of pigeons and crows create competition for even small urban birds like sparrows and eastern white-eyes. But the bird that really needs attention is the critically endangered great Indian bustard due to their dwindling numbers. They often suffer from problems like electrocution, hunting and the degradation of grasslands. With less than 150 individuals remaining in India, urgent attention must be paid to the conservation of their pocket populations.

On an individual level, what small steps can we take to protect the birds in our environment?

Above all, become observant and aware of the different birds around you. Once you know what kind of diversity you can expect in your area, read up on their feeding, perching, and nesting habits to understand what types of plants they prefer. Suppose no seed eaters visit your garden, then simply hanging up birdhouses and placing grain in the feeders may not benefit them.

Additionally, by participating in different citizen science initiatives like bird counts, you can help researchers collect data for long-term monitoring and conservation. You should always keep helpline numbers handy so that if you spot an injured bird, you can contact them immediately.

For more on Niharika’s incredible work, check it out instagram.


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