1 Tahrcountry Musings: The Future of Conservation

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Future of Conservation

Trading charges have become routine in the conservation scenario of India. This is very evident in the recent reactions to Gadgil report and the Kasthurirangan report. Government also keeps shifting priorities and the efforts sometimes look whimsical in nature. Look at Gadgil report. Sure, it had its plus and minus points but it had this inherent corrective mechanism, under consultation clauses, incorporated in the report. This phase was never highlighted and presented before the populace by the Government. They chose the soft option of appointing another committee when the accusations and allegations came in a barrage. What was the need of wasting the tax payers’ money in this futile exercise? It is high time we took a pragmatic view of conservation instead of being burdened by past prejudices and beliefs.

The chief grouse of those nescient in the nuances of conservation is that Conservation emphasizes protection of biodiversity without paying attention to human welfare. Conservation biologists and wildlife managers have long held the view that if they can convince and get the support of people, right decisions will be made automatically under the triage they proffer for protected areas. This was all right in a situation where there was not much pressure from burgeoning population. Against the scenario of leapfrogging population and a world of millions of people demanding water, food and energy, protected areas are not going to be the panacea for the ills afflicting conservation. The designs for conservation have to be part and parcel of large, resilient ecosystems on a landscape level. How do we go about needs of breaking new grounds and reshaping long held views on conservation? The path certainly is not strewn with roses. What we need is not a reactive mode of conservation and ipso facto, should not be crisis-driven.  It should be based on perceptions and beliefs of the people that keep changing with times. Our efforts should not be one-shot efforts. It should be representative of the entire constituency (not just the vocal lobby groups). The power of belief systems and self-reinforcing social groups has to be taken in to reckoning. We may need to draft in social scientists and integrate lessons from behavioral psychology, to better understand how people change their mindset. Attempts have to focus on engineering changes rather than build barricades.  Even though conservation should take peoples apprehensions in to decision making it should not be seen as a means of increasing human well-being.
Human dimensions in wildlife research (HDWR) have not got the kind of importance it deserves in our scheme of things in India. HDWR is defined as that research which "focuses on the public's knowledge levels, expectations, attitudes and activities concerning wildlife resources and associated habitats. HDWR research looks in to the public attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge towards conservation. After identifying weaknesses in knowledge, relationships between certain beliefs and attitudes can be put under the scanner. It then becomes easy to address specific weaknesses in knowledge that are most likely to impinge on attitude. Just as the wildlife biologist assesses whether a wildlife population is increasing, decreasing, or remaining the same through a longitudinal study, HDWR research can identify, document and analyse attitudes and beliefs of the local people as wildlife populations’ increase or decrease.  Regular assessment of public attitudes, beliefs, knowledge, issues, and concerns will certainly help managers understand the effect of their actions. An effort like this would have certainly helped to avert tragedies like the one we had witnessed in Wayand. Such longitudinal HDWR research should become an integral part of of our conservation measures. As I had mentioned in one of my recent papers on Nilgiri tahr, public should be involved at the normative stage of planning (what ought to be done), strategic stage (what could be done), and the operational stage (what will be done).
Trying to thrust reports and implement it on hapless populace will not work in the years to come. Conservation has come to a cross road. This is the ripe time to forge new strategies and take level headed decisions. Science-based conservation with peoples’ participation along with poverty alleviation looks like a winning combination, but it takes lot of effort and dedication to get the right mix.


Anonymous said...

Good one Mohanji

Raju TR said...

very pertinent, Mohan