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India with JDB – 7

Conservation in a Privately Held Landscape With only a few exceptions, most conservation activities focused on protecting ecosystems (as opposed to species) that happen in India happen with the government declaring protected areas and removing the people from the land. This approach is modeled on how National Parks are created in Western countries, an idea that began when the Republican President Ulysses S. Grant signed the legislation creating Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in 1872.  A notable and frequent consequence of the national government intervening in creating parks is that it displaces people from land that their family and ancestors may have lived on and worked for generations. The Indian government usually, but not always, […]

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India with JDB – 6

A Most Welcome Kindness Just after I had tucked in to read for a bit before sleep, I got a Whatsapp message from Akshay saying “Dr. James we are coming to (your) hotel in 15 min to discuss something…is it okay?” Thankfully I didn’t say what I was thinking, and instead said yes, please come over for a quick chat. We had a particularly productive session that morning, and they were working on several documents that were to be delivered the next day, so I assumed that was what they wanted to discuss. This group of pretty wonderful young conservation scientists has schedules that are shifted to the nocturnal and […]

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India with JDB – 5

Respect Helps Reduce Deforestation I have rarely seen as quiet and respectful a community gathering as tonight. The Applied Environmental Research Foundation and I visited a small rural tribal community of indigenous people (collectively referred to as Adivasi) in the foothills of the Western Ghats, with an aim to encourage them to adopt the use of a fuel-efficient bio-stove. This stove, called a MyForest stove, is so fuel efficient that it may reduce wood consumption by half! As we sat on the meticulously cleaned marble floor of the Dattatreya Temple, sweating in the high heat and humidity, the two community conservationists from AERF made their pitch. Over 80 people from […]

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India with JDB – 4

Indian Conservation Scientists are (Becoming) Rock Stars Often, you come into a situation expecting something, and after being there for a while, it turns out you were right, but not-right at the same time. The last week and a half that I have been working with the conservation researchers at the Applied Environmental Research Foundation in India has been like this. I have been right, and not-right, at the same time. For the last few months, I have been meeting with several Indian conservation organizations, faculty and deans of several universities, several dozen Masters level students, and have done much reading of Indian scientific articles. The goal of all this […]

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India with JDB – 3

Conservation in The Western Ghats – a Globally Important Biodiversity Hotspot Finally, my flu seems to be clearing, and just in time. I will need a clear head, as we will start grappling in earnest with helping to build scientific and theoretical capacity among young conservationists in India! Whew! I thought that I would be incapacitated by this stupid illness, but it does not seem likely to hinder my effectiveness here. If it does, it will only slightly. I have relocated to a small town in Ratnagiri District on the ocean side of the Northern Western Ghats a few days ago. The almost 6 hour drive here from Pune was […]

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India with JDB – 2

What does it mean to Build Capacity? India is an assault on the senses. Almost everything that I am familiar with in my wide travels are more intense here: the spicing on the food, the chaos of the driving, the intensity of the smells, the kindness and generosity of the people, the beauty of the women’s saris, the peace to be found in the temples, the omnipresent squalor, and last, the overwhelming heat and the humidity. This is the fourth time that I have been lucky enough to come here for conservation work, but each time, it takes some time to reacclimatize. I find it important when you are in such a different setting to occasionally sit back […]

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India with JDB – 1

Incredible India and the Western Ghats Well, here we go again! I am away from our beloved facility at The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens on another lengthy trip, this time to Incredible India for a six-week partnership working with the Applied Environmental Research Foundation (AERF). The goal of our Fulbright Program sponsored project is to help improve the conservation capacity among practitioners in this wonderful country to conserve biodiversity in an imperiled landscape here. The Fulbright Program was started by US Senator J. William Fulbright in 1946 in an effort to provide soft diplomacy with the rest of the world. The Fulbright Program aims to increase mutual understanding between […]

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Helping Rhinos with JDB – 5

My Dinner With The Chief. A day ago, I had one of the highlights of my professional career, something that I have long read about in African adventure books: I had dinner and a game drive with an African Chief and his Royal Family. And, more importantly, it was a transformative experience in what has been a massively transformative work trip to South Africa. Meeting the Chief and the many similar experiences, do not come about commonly and certainly not easily. I feel this came about because of our success in two core hallmarks of successful community based conservation: cultural respect and collaboration. For too long, conservation and community work […]

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Helping Rhinos with JDB – 4

The Communities Have Spoken Well, we have really done it now! We’ve been here in South Africa for four weeks, working non-stop, and I am really happy to say we are done! All told, we have completed 151 individual interviews about the social impact of the Black Mambas Anti-Poaching Unit program – and we have even entered nearly all of them into the data sheet. Well okay, not completely completed. We are done with most of the data collection that we need to do, with only a handful of the remaining interviews that we will do early next week with those few people who have been on vacation. Embarrassingly, I […]

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Helping Rhinos with JDB – 3

Buy a Bag, Empower a Woman, Change a Community, Save Species Today The Living Desert made possible a small but important change that furthers conservation, just by buying some extremely artistic batik bags! I’m not one that is quick to tears, but I definitely welled up a bit today! Okay, more than a bit. We do conservation in many ways at The Living Desert. However, an important aspect of conservation that is frequently overlooked among the public is the importance of stimulating sustainable livelihoods for local communities, near to where wildlife thrives. In my experience, conservation cannot exist where poverty thrives. When you are extremely poor, you are challenged to […]

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