Plenary Speakers : SCCS-BNG 2018

Pilai Poonswad

EJ Milner Gulland

Sudhir Chella Rajan

Prithviraj Fernando

Ashish Kothari

Anita Varghese


Morning Sessions : Technical Plenaries

[For registered participants only]


She has an M.Sc. in Microbiology from Mahidol University and a Ph.D. in Avian Ecology from Osaka City University, Japan. Her field of expertise is Avian Parasitology and Avian Biology and Ecology. She begun her study of hornbills in Khao Yai National Park in 1978 and founded the Thailand Hornbill Project (THP) in 1979. She also founded the Hornbill Research Foundation in 1993. She is the representative of Thailand in the International Ornithologists’ Union. She has retired from her work as Professor of Biology at the Department of Microbiology, Faculty of Science, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand.
She conducted ground-breaking research on the breeding biology of hornbills, including their nesting behaviour, nest characteristics, nest plaster materials, food and feeding, and breeding success, with further studies continuing on home range, nutrients, influence of availability of suitable nest cavities and dispersal mainly at three long-term sites i.e. Khao Yai National Park (moist evergreen forest), Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary (mixed deciduous forest) and Budo-Sungai Padi National Park (tropical rain forest). Since 1994, she has worked with (and continues to this day) local communities to conserve hornbills by turning them from poachers into hornbill nest protectors and she received the 2006 Rolex Award for Enterprise from Rolex SA, Switzerland for her work there. Lately she has received numerous honors and awards for her scientific work and contribution to conservation including the Dushi Mala Medal for Great Eminence in Science from His Majesty King Bhumibol in 2007, the highest national award.

Technical Plenary Talk : The value and importance of long-term research and engagement for the conservation of hornbills
27 Sep (Thu), 9:20 am - 10:20 am
ABSTRACT : Long-term research is essential for a more comprehensive and accurate knowledge of wild species and nature. The Thailand Hornbill Project (THP) established in 1978 is running till now. For four decades, we have been working to understand breeding biology and ecology of all 13 species of hornbills which can be found in three research sites in Thailand. Our study areas in Khao Yai National Park, Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary and Budo-Sungai Padi National Park cover a total of about 800 km sq. We began by addressing important basic questions such as: When do hornbillsbreed? What are the predominant nest tree species? What is their diet composition and which are the important food? What are threats to hornbills? and so forth. At present, we continue to study breeding ecology, nest trees, feeding ecology, flocking and roosting, home range and habitat use, phenology and fruit abundance, population census, and population genetics. Due to our long-term research and continued engagement at multiple sites, we can implement successful management of nest cavities, a limiting factor which directly affects hornbill populations. Such management facilitates and enhances breeding attempts. For instance, at Khao Yai, 55% of Great Hornbills’ chicks fledged from cavities that we repaired and modified. Our tracking of hornbills using a satellite-based GPS system, has yielded significant findings of the seasonal wide-ranging movements of species like the Plain-pouched Hornbill. With comprehensive and accurate knowledge and understanding of hornbill biology, we were able to eventually establish collaborations with local communities at Budo-Sungai Padi National Park in 1994. This community-based conservation has now become a model for conservation work in Thailand and beyond which we call the BUDO Model. Since 1994, 653 chicks of hornbills across six species have fledged successfully. 85 villagers from villages around the Budo Mountain have worked with THP since the research project started there, 48 of them are still actively assisting THP. We also collaborate with private sector and government agencies, including Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, Border Patrol Police, universities and NGOs. The goal of this long-term research is to gather data, produce and disseminate knowledge about hornbills and their important role in forest regeneration and ultimately conserve hornbills and their forest habitat in a sustainable way.



EJ is Tasso Leventis Professor of Biodiversity at the University of Oxford. Previously she was Professor of Conservation Science at Imperial College London, and she has also held lectureships in Resource Economics and Mathematical Ecology. Her PhD, at Imperial College London, was on the wildlife trade, with a focus on ivory, rhino horn and saiga antelopes. Her research group is the Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science, which has a wide range of research projects within conservation science. These include developing and applying methods for understanding, predicting, and influencing human behaviour in the context of local resource use in developing countries. Her team also works on the illegal trade in wildlife and on designing, monitoring and evaluating conservation interventions in order to improve their effectiveness. She aims to ensure that all the research in her group is addressing issues identified by practitioners, and is carried out collaboratively with end-users.

Technical Plenary Talk : 25 years of saiga antelope conservation, through good times and bad
29 Sep (Sat), 9:00 am - 10:00 am 
ABSTRACT : Conservation is a long game, which requires patience and an adaptive approach both in research and in practice, if you want to make a difference. In this talk I illustrate this point with reference to the species I have worked on since 1990, during which time I have witnessed political and economic upheaval in the species' range states, and its populations have gone through a rollercoaster ride of massive poaching, recovery, devastating disease and faced a range of other threats. I chart my involvement in studying the ecological and social issues that affect this species, and in practical conservation action at the local and international levels, including my failures as well as successes. I hope thereby to illustrate how conservation science works in the real world, and inspire you to keep going whether times are good or bad.



Sudhir Chella Rajan teaches at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at IIT Madras. His interests are primarily at the interface of political theory and the environment; in particular, on the new challenges that enter politics within democratic societies in the face of composite social and environmental encounters. Dr Rajan has worked on emergent policy dilemmas in automobile pollution regulation in California, the politics of power sector reform in developing countries, conflicts in relation to energy access and climate change policy, the patterns of social change needed in transport in the United States for fair climate policy, ethical approaches to addressing climate change and sea level rise, new interpretations of the resource curse in resource-rich developing countries, changes to the periurban landscape in South India and the shifting meanings of corruption in environmental and everyday discourse. He has authored or co-authored over 30 peer-reviewed publications, over 30 technical reports, and 2 books. He is currently writing a manuscript on the ‘big’ history of corruption in India under contract with Harvard University Press.

Technical Plenary Talk : Roads are scars… and we may yet make something of that
30 Sep (Sun), 9:00 am - 10:00 am 
ABSTRACT : Roads are scars on the surface of the earth. But they are only a special case of land intensification. Part of what I wish to demonstrate in this talk is that the transport problem cannot be seen to be different from what geographers generally term urbanisation. But I also want to emphasise that urbanisation, especially that which takes place well beyond city limits, can take multiple routes. I propose that conservation specialists need not feel like apostates if they were to try to accommodate these changes in meaningful ways.
This talk is divided in to three parts. First, I scan the scholarly literature on transport and biodiversity, a domain in which I have done no primary research. Second, I draw general lessons from a field that I have dabbled in, namely urbanisation and transport. Third, I describe an emerging phenomenon in many parts of the world, peri-urbanisation or extended urbanisation, the formation of city-like features far from the official borders of cities. This type of land intensification has gained in prominence with three technologies: widespread energy access, roads (cars in particular), and the internet.
The thoughtless expansion of the periurban is a severe threat to global biodiversity, climate, livelihoods and to living decent lives with each other. It is possible, however, and I am only following a long tradition of sustainability thinkers and practitioners to proclaim this, to change the terms of periurban expansion. I outline a few of these possibilities, but also the challenges we might face in exploring them.


Evening Sessions : Popular Plenaries 

[Open to public]



‘Pruthu’ qualified as a medical doctor from the North Colombo Medical College, but decided not to practice medicine but to pursue a career in conservation biology. Subsequently he obtained a M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from the University of Oregon. The title of his PhD thesis was ‘Genetics, Ecology and Conservation of the Asian Elephant’. He pioneered genetic analysis of Asian elephants using their dung and radio tracking of elephants in Sri Lanka. Upon completion of his Ph.D. in 1999, he joined Columbia University New York, where he conducted research on Asian elephants and Javan rhinos. His work resulted in the recognition that Borneo elephants were indigenous and not introduced to Borneo.
In 2004, he returned to Sri Lanka and set up the Centre for Conservation and Research of which he is the Chairman. The focus of CCR has been on conducting research and conversion of findings to policy and management to better mitigate the human-elephant conflict and conserve elephants. He has conducted field work on elephants and human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Borneo, Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar. Dr. Fernando has been a member of the Asian Elephant Specialist Group since 2000. He is also a Research Associate of the Smithsonian Institution USA and has received the Whitley Award for Nature Conservation and Sri Lanka Presidential Awards
for Scientific excellence.

Popular Open Plenary : Human-elephant conflict mitigation: wrong tools in the wrong hands?
27 Sep (Thu), 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
ABSTRACT : Human-elephant conflict (HEC) occurs mainly due to crop raiding by elephants. Crops are a vastly superior resource than natural fodder. Elephants mostly raid crops by choice rather than necessity and elephant biology and reproductive strategy makes crops highly attractive to male elephants. Agricultural expansion in areas with elephants leads to wider spread and intensification of conflict. Most traditional methods of crop protection are confrontational, leading to increased aggression by elephants and an arms race of escalating conflict. HEC mitigation by conservation agencies is largely based on restricting elephants to protected areas, but in many landscapes the majority of elephants occur outside protected areas. HEC mitigation by conservation agencies has been based on translocation, drives and barriers. While capture and domestication has been advocated as a HEC mitigation measure, reduction in elephant numbers does not necessarily reduce conflict. Elimination of elephants from a landscape by capture is seldom achievable and elimination by culling is not acceptable in the Asian context. Elimination is also undesirable from an elephant conservation perspective. In spite of great effort by conservation agencies over many decades, HEC continues to escalate across Asian elephant range. The geographic and temporal scale of HEC makes its mitigation by conservation agencies an unachievable goal. Effective HEC mitigation requires a paradigm change, with acceptance of human-elephant co-existence, people suffering from HEC and agencies tasked with people’s welfare taking the lead in HEC mitigation through non-confrontational crop protection.



Founder-member of Indian environmental group Kalpavriksh, Ashish has taught at the Indian Institute of Public Administration, coordinated India’s National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan process, served on Greenpeace International and India Boards, helped initiate the global ICCA Consortium, and chaired an IUCN network dealing with protected areas and communities. Ashish has (co)authored or (co)edited over 30 books, and helps coordinate the Vikalp Sangam and Radical Ecological Democracy processes in search of alternative well-being pathways to globalized development. His latest books are Churning the Earth: Making of Global India (with Aseem Shrivastava), Alternative Futures: India Unshackled (ed., with KJ Joy); and his forthcoming book - Pluriverse: A Post-Development Dictionary.

Popular Open Plenary : Thinking out of the Conservation and Development Boxes 
29 Sep (Sat), 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
ABSTRACT : Wildlife and biodiversity conservation thinking and practice have begun to see a paradigm shift in the last few years, across the world. Seeing humans as part of conservation landscapes, or conversely, conservation as part of biocultural landscapes; and considering human rights and community knowledge as part of conservation approaches, are part of this shift. Such approaches are however still nascent in India and many other countries where colonial and neo-colonial approaches remain dominant, as witnessed for instance in the continued exclusionary strategies used in official protected area governance.
The continued conflict between mainstream conservation approaches and the livelihoods of people living in areas targeted for such conservation, is considerably exacerbated by the currently dominant model of economic ‘development’. This model treats nature as a resource for exploitation in ways that can speed up GDP-based growth, and people directly dependent on it as ‘backward’ who need to be ‘developed’ and brought into the mainstream (primarily as labour that can be exploited). Such neo-liberal approaches are destructive of both nature and of nature-dependent communities.
Swimming against these dominant trends are a growing number of alternative initiatives, from agroecology to community-based ecosystem management to direct democracy and localised economies, from struggles for gender and class and caste equality to alternative education, health and livelihood strategies. In this presentation I will argue that such alternative approaches to human well-being have to be embraced by conservationists, while human rights advocates have to embrace the basics of conservation, if we are to move out of the current situation of human-environment conflict, biodiversity decline, and socio-economic inequities. This will be illustrated with examples from across India, and elsewhere in the world, that show such alternative approaches to be eminently possible … and indeed, imperative if we are to make peace with the earth and each other.




Dr. Anita Varghese, is Deputy Director at Keystone Foundation. She holds a Bachelor’s in Zoology (Bombay University), Masters in Ecology (Pondicherry University) and a Doctorate in Botany (University of Hawaii). Her long term work looks at the factors that mediate the relationship between people and nature, specifically how the goals of conservation and development can be harmonized. Her interests are in plant conservation specifically on sustainable use, non timber forest products, long term population dynamics of harvested species, traditional ecological knowledge, invasive plants, cycads, and forest trees. She co-ordinates the field courses and research program, while anchoring the Field Ecology Center at Hasanur, Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve where indigenous people are trained in 'Barefoot ecology' - a program that combines scientific methods and traditional knowledge to better understand changes that are taking place in the forests. She is part of the team that runs the  Nilgiris Field Learning Center - a collaborative program of Keystone Foundation and Cornell University, where indigenous youth and undergraduate students from Cornell go through a semester of academics and field research that brings theory and practice, academic and experiential learning into a classroom in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve. She is a member of the Plant Conservation Sub Committee of the IUCN, Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group steering committee (CEESP/SSC- IUCN) and Cycad specialist group (SSC/IUCN). She is a founding member of the Nilgiri Natural History Society (established 2010).

Popular Open Plenary : Rediscovering traditional ecological knowledge through Barefoot Ecology
30 Sep (Sun), 6:00 pm - 7:00 pm
ABSTRACT : Traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) is associated with indigenous or adivasi groups for whom landscapes are repositories of history, home of ancestors, sacred in memory – sources of knowledge, practise and belief. It is in these lived landscapes that we seek to do conservation. Yet when we embark on the long road to conservation we seem to miss the trails of those who have lived along that road.
Indigenous knowledge or TEK may hold some of the answers that conservation challenges seek to address. Indigenous ways of managing the forest, land and water has sustainability science built into it and has played a crucial role in maintaining and enhancing the quality of the ecosystem. Over the past several years we have tried to look at the conservation values within indigenous knowledge and how this can be integrated within scientific approaches to conservation. Barefoot Ecologists of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve are indigenous people who have been trained in scientific methods and combine this with their indigenous knowledge to monitor the health of their landscape. Through barefoot ecological methods, many indigenous youth, have rediscovered their TEK.
Conservation requires many role players - the need to expand the canvas to make room for a diversity of approaches has been voiced by several experts. Through citizen science, ecotourism, conservation education and other related initiatives, we have gone all out to include non-experts on to this canvas. We need to make space and assign roles for indigenous views on conservation and in the process understand the crucial factors that keep TEK responsive and dynamic. For too long the discussions on TEK have revolved around its loss, erosion and need for protection and it is time for change.