Grant Recipients Conference, India 2017
Aim of this conference was to provide a common platform for the RSG grantees from India to meet at one place and share and learn from each other’s’ conservation experiences. It also provided an opportunity for the grantees to interact with the officials from the forest department, which is the nodal agency for wildlife and forest management in India, and learn on ground conservation challenges and opportunities from them. The conference was attended by 32 Rufford grantees working across India. In addition to Rufford grantees we had 20 officials and researchers working with Rajasthan Forest Department. The grant recipients presented their work as oral presentations or as posters. We also introduced a new session where grantees presented their work as short video documentaries and lead a panel discussion.
Dr. Ravinder Singh Bhalla (Sr. Doctoral Fellow, FERAL) welcomed all the participants and the representatives of the Rajasthan Forest Department and The Rufford Foundation. He emphasised on the role played by the RSG in the careers of young researchers and the importance of RSG conference.
Apart from presentations from grant recipients, the conference included talks by Dr. G. V. Reddy, Chief Wildlife Warden, Rajasthan Forest Department, Mr. Valmik Thapar, Ranthambhore Foundation, New Delhi, Dr. Jagdish Krishnaswamy, Convenor and Senior Fellow, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bengaluru, and Dr. Meena Venkataraman, Carnivore Conservation and Research, Mumbai.
Dr. G. V. Reddy (FD, Rajasthan) spoke about Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve and scientific study of tigers in Rajasthan. He emphasized on the need to consider Ranthambhore as a natural heritage and conserving our rich heritage rather than just tigers. In his talk while explaining the tiger ecology, he spoke about the history of tiger reintroduction and a need for scientific studies for carrying out reintroduction programs. He stressed upon need for balancing the local needs and conservation needs. He pointed out the adverse effects of unregulated ecotourism on conservation and local people. This talk highlighted the three dimensions of conservation – Ecological, Social and Economic dimensions.
Mr. Valmik Thapar (Ranthambhore Foundation) told the story of the 40 years that he has spent with Ranthambhore’s wild tigers. He narrated a mesmerising history of Ranthambhore’s wild tigers which has seen many ups and downs. He spoke about the efforts of Fateh Sigh in conserving tigers in the early years from 1976 to 1989.
Through the conservation efforts by Fateh Singh, Thapar and the forest department, the park had transformed dramatically with tiger numbers increased from 15 in 1976 to 50 in 1989. However, the crisis years for Ranthambhore started from 1989 and lasted for nearly 20 years until 2008. While there were efforts to reduce dependency on forests by local people by creating alternate livelihood opportunities by Ranthambhore Foundation and the forest department, the tigers were being poached inside the park which was not noticed until 2005, where Ranthambhore had lost half of its tigers, while the neighbouring tiger reserve, Sariska, had lost all its tigers. Ranthambhore suffered further due to the ill-planned translocation of tigers from Ranthambhore to Sariska by forest department. With the efforts from government of Rajasthan and India, the Ranthambhore was able to fight the crisis and now it has more than 60 tigers with high revenue being created by tiger tourism. Ranthambhore foundation and other non-governmental organisations worked in hands with the government while mitigating the crisis of poaching. His talk highlighted the role of non-government organisations in decision making for conserving wildlife in India.
Dr. Jagdish Krishnaswamy (ATREE) in his talk entitled “Water for Nature: Emerging challenges” discussed the challenges that we will be facing under a climate change scenario. He stressed on the effect of varying rainfall conditions on freshwater systems and a need to understanding the relationship between carbon, temperature and water. In particular he spoke about effect of water stress in plants, riparian ecosystems and loss of unique moisture regimes that exist in the tropical forests of India. He also pointed out the need for scientific studies to define ecological flow regimes at local levels while developing water related policies. He warned about the new demands on water that would exacerbate water stress on ecosystems and landscapes.
Dr. Meena Venkataraman (Carnivore Conservation and Research) delivered a talk entitled “The life and times of the Asiatic lion of the Gir forest” where she discussed about her study on Asiatic lions that was initiated and supported by RSGF. Since 2010, Meena has been studying local people’s tolerance and attitude towards lions and their conservation in the Greater Gir Landscape (GGL). She stressed on the importance of the continued positive outlook and involvement of local people in the shifting focus of conservation management efforts and continued survival of lions in the landscape. She spoke about the unique features of lion’s behavior and ecology and highlighted the resilient adaptations and survival of lions in GGL. She discussed the carnivore conservation problems faced worldwide using Asiatic lions in the Greater Gir landscape as case-study and presented the nature of human-lion interaction, management approaches to resolve conflict and local attitudes.
Presentations by grant recipients
We had 30 presentations by the Rufford grantees, 14 oral presentations, 11 speed talks and poster presentations, and 5 video presentations.
The work of grantees mainly highlighted the important role that The Rufford Foundation has played in its support of conservation projects in India. This third Rufford India conference was restricted to the Rufford grantees who received grants between 2013 and 2016; however, the conference had representations from early career conservationists to conservationists who have received booster grants. The studies ranged from obtaining baseline data on population status, biodiversity assessments and behaviour/ecological studies to awareness, education and outreach programs.
A large number of participants were early career researchers whom RSGF had supported to achieve their goals. Suman Jumani, a conservation researcher, while studying the impact of small hydropower projects on ecology of river systems and socioeconomic status of local people, produced a documentary that aims to highlight the environmental and social consequences that can arise from the unregulated growth of SHPs, and provide compelling evidence to promote suitable policy-level changes. Similarly, Nitya Prakash Mohanty who initiated a study on invasive spotted deer in the islands of Andaman with the support from RSG provides evidence and the impetus for conservation of endemic reptiles in small tropical islands by mitigating the impacts of invasive spotted deer. His documentary titled 'Spots of Concern' encapsulates the findings of his study and is meant to bring to light the need of invasive species management in the Andaman archipelago.
RSGF supported K. Supriya in pursuing her interest in understanding the interactions between ants and song birds at different elevational gradients in the eastern Himalayas. Upma Manral’s work assesses the resource available for local communities at an elevational gradient and she suggests a need for undertaking multipurpose tree species planting under an agro-forestry system in the Himalayas to reduce dependency on natural resources and to conserve forests. Aritra Kshettry studied the spatial and temporal trends in the human-elephant conflicts in the northern West Bengal region. He found a high correlation between alcoholism and human casualties. His study indicates that most of the incidences of human casualties may be avoided by adopting better crop protection methods and by making people aware of the best behavioural practices when sharing space with elephants. The work of Nishant Srinivasaiah highlights the interstate boundary issues that enhance the human-elephant conflicts in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu states in India. This RSGF supported project aims at collecting and incorporating the basic information on spatio-temporal patterns of elephant distribution, and the dynamics of human-elephant interactions in conflict management plans. Prakash Chandra Mardaraj discussed mitigation strategies to reduce the human-sloth bear conflict and stressed on the need for implementation these measures to reduce conflict. Niyati Patel presented her work on mapping crop depredation hotspots in Gujarat. Her study provides information to aid managers in identifying potential conflict hotspots which could help focus allocation of conservation efforts and funds directed at conflict prevention and mitigation. Nikunj Jambu shared his experiences on working with communities for conservation of birds. Imran Patel shared the results of landscape connectivity and habitat use analysis for the Kanha-Pench forest corridor. He found a high correlation between structural and functional connectivity. His work suggests the immediate need to develop effective mitigation strategies to limit impacts of fragmentation, and prioritize areas to conserve habitat bottlenecks. The impacts of warming on the high elevation grasslands in the Himalayas was presented by Dharmendra Lamsal through his experimental plots.
Diti Mookherjee presented her ‘Green Rhinos’ program with school students of West Bengal. Under this program, school children were led through transformational leadership training that allows them to take action to protect and enhance their natural heritage. So far the program has created 3500 Green Rhinos, and this is an example of how RSGF has helped train a future generation of conservationists in India.
Tarun Nair shared his experiences from Communication, Education and Public Awareness (CEPA) campaign that he undertook for Gharial conservation Betwa, Ken, Tons, Son and Gandak river systems. Through street plays, puppet shows organised in association with local theatre he was able to reach out to a large number of audience, around 15,000 people, from riverside communities, school students, government officials and local conservation groups. His work reflected on what strategies worked locally and what have not worked, and is an example of locally developed approaches to biodiversity management. Dhaval Patel presented his work with conservation of crocodiles living in the village/community ponds. His organization has been involved with creating awareness through education in local people. They also initiated a citizen science program “Charotar Crocodile Count”, which involves people from various walks of life to contribute to crocodile conservation. This has generated a good response in terms of awareness among the urbanites. Shankar Datt presented his work on biodiversity conservation through community participation. With the RSGF support he developed five Participatory Comprehensive Village Biodiversity Conservation Plans and helped in creating awareness on conservation of biodiversity among local people. Documentary by Subhransu Bhusan Swain highlights the importance of public-private-community partnership for conservation of elephant corridors and habitats. He suggests that such a partnership can help in achieving long term conservation of elephants and their habitats.
RSGF has been supportive in developing innovative approaches for wildlife conservation. Sanjoy Deb showed the design and implementation of a low-cost ‘Automated Roadkill Prevention’ (ARP) system that has been developed with the support from RSGF. He informed that ARP system will be deployed on a National Highway in Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve, India soon and this will be first of its kind to be implemented in India which will lead the way to reduce “Roadkill”.
The role of RSGF has been crucial in supporting work on species and ecosystems that are traditionally difficult to fundraise for. The work by Ashish Thomas on endangered Indian purple frog helped in identifying threats to this species and prioritizing areas for conservation of this frog. His work also involved awareness and capacity building of local communities to engage them in conservation of this frog. RSGF supported Ashok Verma in studying the status of harriers, and understanding the challenges and opportunities for conservation of harriers in Rajasthan. The work by Pramod Kumar Yadav provided an overview of economics of harvesting Caterpillar fungus and the dependency of local communities on harvesting of this fungus in the Himalayas. Mayuresh Ganagal presented an interesting work on temporal fishing closures for protecting an aggregating population of squaretail groupers in the Lakshadweep archipelago. His work highlights the failure of such a closure implemented without an understanding of the complex life history and mating systems in long-lived benthic fish. He suggests a need for additional efforts to regulate off-spawning harvests to prevent declines or extinction of such species. Sachin Vijay Chorge discussed the study on the highly neglected group of animals, beetles. His study provided a baseline data on diversity and abundance of Scarabaeid beetles in the state of Maharashtra. He also discussed the economic benefits of these beetles to local farmers and their importance in the ecosystem.
Some of the RSGF supported studies contributed towards generating important biodiversity information for the landscape. Abhishek Jamalabad presented his study on complex interactions between fisheries and cetacean communities in the west coast of India. He documented a direct conflict between cetaceans and the coastal fishery. During his study he had documented 23 sightings of cetaceans otherwise not reported from this region and thus the findings also serve as a baseline for further cetacean research and conservation in these coastal region. Karan Gopalbhai Rana studied the status of threatened and endemic species of Angiosperms in the state of Maharashtra. He discussed about the In-situ and Ex-situ sites that have been identified for the conservation of endemic and threatened Angiosperms in Gujarat. Girish Punjabi presented his work on use of occupancy surveys in population estimation of large wild ungulates in Tillari region of Maharashtra. He also assessed the impact of hunting on ungulate population and suggested a need to involve local community for a better management of wild ungulates. Iravatee Majgaonkar presented her work on assessing the distribution of three large carnivores outside protected areas in the state of Maharashtra. She found that large carnivores like leopard, wolf and hyena were present in more than 50% of the areas that were dominated by humans. Her work establishes the importance of areas outside the protected areas in conserving the population of large carnivores. Anirudh Vasava’s work on mapping wolf distribution showed a drastic decline on wolf population in the Kutch area of Gujarat. He used large-scale interview surveys for rapid assessment of wolf conservation status. Ranjitsinh Devkar presented his works in assessing Microchiropteran diversity in Gujarath, where he reported 16 species of bats. The educational film by him provides glimpses of natural heritage and provides information on different species of bat and handling and conservation of bats.
Suman Jumani and Nitya Prakash Mohanty led a panel discussion on the theme: “Threats to Biodiversity”, which mainly addressed two threats – minihydel projects and invasive species which are often not considered while developing conservation action plans. Dr. Jagdish Krishnaswamy and Mr. Y. K. Sahu were the other panel members in this session. Suman highlighted the issue of minihydel projects that are mushrooming in the Western Ghats and Himalayas in her documentary and stressed on the need for policy level amendments for monitoring and regulation of such hydel projects. Adding to the views presented by Suman, Dr. Krishnaswamy suggested the need for ecological understanding and maintenance of minimal ecological flow regimes for dams and hydel projects. Mr. Sahu pointed out the inevitability of such projects to meet the demands of a growing human population and a need for rational thinking while allocating areas for such projects. Nitya showed the documentary on the effects of invasive deer species on the vegetation and lizard species in the Andaman Islands, and he discussed the methods to mitigate threats by invasive to the biodiversity of islands. Dr. Krishnaswamy and Mr. Sahu presented their views on invasive plants in the mainland India and gave examples of a few invasive species like Prosopis, which has become a threat to biodiversity in many places whereas in a few places has become a major source of economy to the rural people.
Subhransu Bhusan Swain, Nishant Srinivasaiah and Dr. G. V. Reddy were part of the panel discussing the theme: “Human-wildlife conflict”. Nishant spoke about the concept of structural and functional corridors and the importance of maintaining connectivity to reduce the conflict. The panel also emphasized on understanding individual animal behaviours for addressing the conflict issues. Subransu discussed about mitigation measures and their success and failures in avoiding conflict in different landscapes.
Ranjitsinh Devkar, Aditya Roy, Ashok Verma and Tarun Nair were in the panel that discussed the theme: “Species recovery”. Aditya presented documentary video which outlines the threats to critically endangered vultures in India and discussed about the initiatives undertaken for the recovery of this species. Tarun spoke about crocodile and gharial species recovery plans that were implemented in India.
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