Dr. Aparajita Datta – Wild Shades Of Grey
Dr. Aparajita Datta is a scientist with the Nature Conservation Foundation. Since 1995, she has been involved in research and conservation in Arunachal Pradesh with a primary focus on hornbills. Her main interests include plant-animal interaction in rainforests, understanding anthropogenic effects on wildlife, and engaging with tribal communities for conservation.
It was late afternoon and the tiger was calling repeatedly. We sat behind a sal tree near where my guide Imam predicted it would come out. And within a few minutes, it did. Only 20 m. from us, it turned to walk in our direction. I was holding my breath. It was then that the other guide got scared and coughed loudly. The tiger took one startled look at us and vanished with a leap. I was disappointed at this sudden ending to a magical moment in this lovely forest in Lansdowne division, Uttarakhand, but I was thankful too.
We are in a biodiversity crisis. Yet, India remains a mega-diversity country where significant populations of large, and often dangerous, wildlife species survive. There exists a remarkable tolerance among our rural communities towards wild animals, despite the danger to property and even to their own lives that they often face from wildlife. This is due to a remarkable spirit of co-existence.
Yet, our national focus remains on Protected Areas as the only viable strongholds for wildlife. They are necessary, but we must try to understand better to what extent it is possible for wildlife to persist alongside local communities in our wild spaces, and be willing to experiment with alternate conservation models.
“Doing” conservation today is often about managing conflict – this has conventionally been depicted as parks vs. people or wildlife vs. people. But it really is people vs. people. These conflicts arise from different needs, world-views, approaches and interest groups.
How to reconcile this conflict to ensure nature conservation is the biggest challenge we face. I have often battled with many dilemmas. For me, the real world of conservation is full of shades of grey. I have learnt that reconciliation is sometimes not possible given the rigidity of approaches to how conservation must be done. However, I believe that conservation must be fair, equitable and morally defensible. Coercive, top-down conservation efforts may achieve goals over the short-term, but often backfire over the longer term. We must be sensitive to the human dimensions of conservation, often affecting the more marginalised. Conserving nature should be as much about winning hearts and minds, and about conserving people’s relationships with nature.
First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXV No. 6, June 2015.