Plenary Abstracts

Trans disciplinary approaches in socio-ecological research

Abstract: Recently, research and policy agendas are attempting to integrate knowledge generated from multiple contexts in order to ensure more representative problematization, analysis and identification of solutions. Such knowledge comes either from mainstream “western science” approaches or through other epistemological approaches that are considered traditional / indigenous. It is noteworthy that such knowledge integration has always been common among activities led on the ground by local communities, civil society organizations and certain research communities engaged in ‘action research’.

Since 2012, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem services (IPBES) has mandated that all its assessments will integrate knowledge from contemporary modern science and from traditional/ indigenous sciences. This echoes a re-orientation amongst several researchers and implementing agencies that mainstream research and policy setting should be aligned with practitioner priorities and contexts to enable achieving solutions that can be considered ecologically sustainable and equitable.

The talk will focus on some of the ongoing efforts at arriving at such trans disciplinary solutions to trigger reflections on adapting such methodologies in conservation research.

Climate Change V. Land-use Change: A case for Open Earth Economies Inspired by the Poromboke”

Abstract: Land-use change, not climate change, has been the most significant driver of ecological collapse. The latter, however, is overtaking in significance. Modern economy is premised on the need to dig, drill, pave and enclose land as the only way to derive value from spaces. The dominant worldview is of a paved earth economy that views open, unbuilt spaces as useless and underutilised. A “Paved Earth” economy on a global scale is at odds with survival of life and humanity on the planet. To tackle the ecological crisis, the global community would need revalourise open, unbuilt spaces, and learn from the medieval Tamil agrarian land use concept of the Poromboke. There is a need to refashion our societies as Open Earth economies, that value and protect open, unbuilt spaces as infrastructures of survival and resilience, even while deriving value from such spaces without killing the goose that lays the proverbial golden egg.

The need for ‘Human Rigour’ in Wildlife Conservation Study and the Danger of  Losing Social Sustainability.

Enclosure, displacement, and the destabilization of social relationships are negative impacts on human and biodiversity equilibria all over the world. However, they have become the norm in conservation, particularly in the global south. Most practitioners find themselves unable to adequately handle the human dimensions of the conservation challenges they are addressing. The root of this problem is in our training as conservation biologists, which implicitly and explicitly demonizes local populations. This is because the way we study and practice conservation originated in colonialism and was never designed to accommodate our people. In my lecture, I will share experiences from my studies, and work in areas of ecology and policy to advise students on the dangers of weak human dimensions in their work, and how they can improve the ‘human rigour’of their projects to ensure sustainable outcomes.

Voices in the Wilderness: Conservation in today’s India

Abstract: India has some of the strongest wildlife conservation laws globally, and a rich cultural tradition that revers all forms of life which has helped protect wild animals. Megafauna like tigers, elephants, bears and leopards survive in one of the densest populations in the world, even as many countries have wiped out predators from their landscapes.

India is changing. Fast. It is one of the world’s fastest growing economies (6-7% annually) with ambitions for a double-digit GDP. It’s rapidly urbanising with a burgeoning middle-class and 600 million young people, a market that multinationals across the globe seek to capture. The country is transforming rapidly-economically, politically, culturally.  India will soon have the world’s largest population, is extremely climate-vulnerable and is witnessing increasing internal conflict.

How does one save wildlife in this complex, changing landscape will be the core question I will seek to address. I will discuss my experiences as a conservation journalist, an advocacy practitioner including my years in the National Board for Wildlife to demonstrate how stories, and advocacy, can help save our wildlife, and also, how successes in conservation can be ephemeral.

Drawing from these, I will talk about the road ahead for conserving wildlife in a country, and a society, in flux.

Conserving Large Carnivores in India: Role of Science


Large space requirements, low densities, conflict with human interests and illegal demand for body parts, make large carnivores vulnerable to extinctions. Conserving viable populations in small Protected Areas (PA’s, average size ~239km2) having varied intensity of human use and surrounded by a matrix of high human density is extremely challenging. Herein, I review contribution of research from long-term studies on lions, tigers and wolves towards the assessment of status, demography, population viability, habitat connectivity, conservation genetics and human-carnivore conflict in formulating policy and management strategies.

Due to their small size, only a few PA’s can harbor viable populations. Sharing space with humans is an essential and unavoidable conservation strategy for most large carnivores. Securing source populations, low density occupancy within sink habitats, corridor connectivity between populations are essential for metapopulation structure and the only strategy that ensures long-term persistence of carnivore populations. Conflict is inevitable when carnivores share space with people, understanding and managing this conflict within site specific social and economic context is essential.

Country scale assessment of tigers, co-predators and prey has made it possible to keep the pulse of site-specific status and direct management efforts. Conservation Genetics has helped identify ancient, unique and divergent genepools for targeted investments. Incentivized, voluntary relocation of humans from within core areas of tiger reserves has created inviolate space for wildlife (over 35,000 km2). Mapping of habitat corridors has allowed for informed EIA’s for development projects, delineation of ecosensitive zones for PA’s and ensured wildlife friendly norms for infrastructure development.  Wildlife science has played a pivotal role in shaping conservation policy and management strategies in modern India. Policy and management based on science has resulted in recovery of some large carnivores and highlighted strategies that need to be implemented for some others.


A Case Study from the Tubbataha Reefs

The ocean covers 70% of the Earth.  It feed us, regulates our climate, and generates most of the oxygen we breathe.  It is one of the most threatened ecosystems in our planet.Overfishing, pollution, coastal development, and climate change among others, threaten its health.  Marine protected areas (MPAs) are one of the most effective tools for maintaining the health of the ocean and halting degradation.    The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park was established in 1988 as a no-take zone to protect coral reefs and marine wildlife.  It is the largest MPA comprising nearly 50% of all protected waters in the Philippines.  But inadequate public consultation marred relationships with stakeholders.  Confidence-building exercises, mainly dialogues and keeping promises, help bridge the divide.  Lines of communication are open and rule-making is participatory. But as fisheries dwindles elsewhere, the threat of illegal fishing remains.  Vigilant enforcement and an engaging public outreach program is maintained.  Science is kept robust to measure the efficacy of management strategies. Building reef resilience is pursued to mitigate against climate change.  Finally, isolated for two months, away from family and friends, marine park rangers man their solitary outpost in the middle of the sea.  Morale is kept high by providing effective communication and other equipment in the field, timely rotations at the end of tours of duty, and building capacity to manage.  Protecting the ocean is not about managing fish.  It is about managing resource use and expectations, and truly caring about the welfare of people.