Meeting Yeti In Delhi
A volunteer at the student-driven Young Ecologists Talk and Interact Conference 2016, Reetika Maheshwary presents a concise overview of the event for Sanctuary readers.
Photo: YETI 2016.
As volunteers assisting the team to organize the conference, my classmates and I were up and ready at 7.30 am, on a cold, January morning in Delhi. With temperatures dipping to eight degrees Celsius (although it felt like minus ten degrees!), we thought we may actually meet the ‘abominable snowman’ – that is apart from meeting the many students, presenters and professionals attending the conference. This year, YETI (Young Ecologists Talk and Interact) was held at Amity University, Noida, and the location allowed students from across the country to attend the conference, network and present their work in the fields of ecology, evolution and behavior. The idea of conducting this year’s event in the National Capital Region was to bring together the several colleges and organizations that are working in these fields in relative isolation.
There are three things in particular about this conference that struck a chord with me. First, and this is probably the best part, YETI is a conference organized by students for students. Launched in August 2008, a group of students initiated this event to bring together fellow researchers in the field of ecology and other disciplines to improve networking and shared learning. As one of the core team members mentioned, it breaks the hierarchy - putting beginners in touch with those who have been working in their respective fields for a much longer time. Unlike a typical conference or a classroom, the informal attitudes of those attending, presenting and organizing this event made the environment an easy-going and comfortable one. It was nice to know that despite their numerous years of experience, the resource persons were humble and open to the ideas of students like myself - making it easy to approach them. It was a rare opportunity where students had a chance to interact with well-known researchers in the field over tea or lunch rather than in a classroom or a laboratory!
Secondly, this conference brought together students of all ages. They say that as long as you have something to learn, you are a student – and learning is essentially a lifelong experience. Some of the youngest members of the conference included BSc. students who have already started interesting research in the field. On the other hand, the older members were doctorates, having accomplished tremendous amounts of work. YETI acted as a common platform for all age groups, where everyone was a student and had something to learn from the other. At YETI, students gained access to information on current scenarios in the broad field of ecology. Apart from this, they also got a chance to interact, learn, share ideas and get inspired by other students, peers as well as professionals attending the conference.
Third, and one of the most interesting observations was that the students attending this conference were not only from the field of ecology or wildlife conservation but also from various other fields such as Architecture and Information Technology. It was a pleasant surprise to learn that the scope of this field is not restricted to researchers of ecology and evolution. As this field is progressing at an ever-increasing rate, having an interdisciplinary approach is important. YETI was the ideal arena for students to craft ideas together that could one day help in conserving natural India.
Held over a period of four days, the conference encompassed various talks by professionals such as Mr. Vivek Menon, Mr. R. Suresh Kumar, Dr. H. N. Kumara, Dr. Ravi Chellam, Dr. Amal Kar, amongst others. These talks were inspirational and gave an overall perspective of the abundant accomplishments in the realm of conservation and research in India. Apart from this, there were students’ talks on themes such as diversity and distribution, large mammals and social dimensions, environmental science and conservation, and ecology and evolution. It was a wonderful opportunity for researchers to be recognized for their contributions to the field as well as share their ideas with others.
Photo: YETI 2016.
Several concurrent workshops held daily divided the students into smaller groups to gain insight on various subjects such as conservation genetics, marine wildlife, how to make a research design, basic techniques for sampling birds, herpetofauna, biotelemetry, animal behavior, and so much more. Poster sessions held at the venue also gave presenters a chance to interact with students personally.
Apart from this, some of the sessions I enjoyed the most were the panel discussions on forester-researcher relationships and ethics in ecological research. Some of the panelists included Dr. Jagdish Kishwan, Mr. Samir Sinha, Dr. K. Ramesh, Prof. B.C. Choudhury, Dr. Suhel Quader, who are experts in their field. Students not only had a chance to understand these pressing issues but were able to express their views and doubts on these topics to the panelists.
The panel discussion on forester-researcher relationships especially caught my attention because it’s one of the concerns that needs to be addressed immediately. While foresters play a key role in implementing management schemes in Protected Areas, researchers contribute by collecting and analyzing critical data required to build these schemes. Both these fields go hand in hand. The problem in the Indian scenario is that this relationship is not yet established entirely. The panelists stressed that both sides needed to work at developing a mutually beneficial relationship to increase efficiency in their work.
It was interesting to know there was much research directed towards wildlife in urban areas. I must mention two presentations that inspired me to know more on the subject. ‘A machine learning based tool for identifying mono-syllabic birds from their call’ by Bhavin Chandarana, IIT Madras, mentioned an initiative of students called ‘Avipulse’. It is remarkable that their team is making efforts to study and understand the ecology of birds and is now working towards creating an App with which people can identify birds from their calls. The other presentation was by Vallari Sheel on the ‘Analysis of turtle and tortoise seizures in India and Bangladesh’.
Her presentation was an eye opener to the various wildlife crime routes and key regions in India involved in the same.
Overall, it was motivating to meet people from different backgrounds working together for the same cause. Even though I have attended a few other conferences, YETI was different in the sense that it was in fact a classroom of more than 260 people (students and professionals alike). Being part of an all student team gave it a personal touch and it will definitely be worth attending again in the years to come.
Author: Reetika Maheshwary.