The people who share space and resources with wildlife are among the poorest and most disempowered in our country. Conservation efforts today are focused almost entirely on securing wildlife habitats and policing forest boundaries, but they ignore the costs the mere presence of wildlife places on human communities nearby. If we do nothing to reduce the burdens conservation places on them, or at least to share in their costs, we will only ensure that the cultural space they make for wildlife is lost. And that loss is bound to leave us immeasurably poorer, both ecologically and culturally.
That final para from an essay in the Times of India simply states an inescapable conclusion from the history of wildlife conservation in India; a conclusion that nevertheless continues to evade many a conservation biologist in the country (even discounting the old-school wildlifers), not to mention bureaucrats and politicians who actually have the power to implement conservation policies.
Do read the entire essay, penned by my good friends MD Madhusudan and Pavithra Sankaran of the Nature Conservation Foundation, a conservation research NGO that the former founded while in graduate school over a decade ago, and that is now one of the leading conservation research organizations in the tropics.
And if you do visit the NCF site, or know people there, you might also join me in congratulating another NCF scientist, Aparajita Datta, who has just been recognized by National Geographic as one of the Emerging Explorers of 2010! She too plays an important part in understanding, saving, and creating cultures of coexistence in difficult parts of the country.
I don't know what sort of reaction this article has generated among the average reader back in India - but just knowing that there is a vibrant group of young biologists building a new culture of human-nature coexistence (reconciliation ecology, if you will) in India gives me hope that not all is lost. That is, if people pause enough to listen to them and absorb the message.