There are often many obstacles for scientists when gauging wildlife decline and forest loss, and one of the most difficult is civil conflict, like the situation in the Similipal Tiger Reserve in India. But a new study in mongabay.com’s open access journal Tropical Conservation Science (TCS) finds that local communities may be used to gauge forest loss and wildlife decline for baseline data when conflicts or other obstacle prevent long-term research and monitoring.
Located in the Eastern Ghats of India, Similipal Tiger Reserve covers an area of about 2,750 square kilometres with about 61 villages along the periphery, supporting a population of nearly half a million. The area has been the centre of civil conflict for years with insurgents heavily affecting long-term research and monitoring of wildlife and forest cover including the destruction of infrastructure and shootings of forest staff and domesticated elephants.
When difficulties such as these happen, research much adapt. In their study of the Similipal Tiger Reserve, scientists have found that community surveys may aid in compiling data on forest loss and wildlife decline, noting that indigenous people who live in the wilderness possess detailed knowledge of their surroundings, including the extent of forest deterioration.
Male and Female Bengal tigers. Photo by Paul Mannix.
“The objective of the survey was to gain an understanding of the people’s perception of wildlife decline and forest loss over a 20-year period, from 1988-89 to 2007-2008, which covers the pre-insurgency and insurgency phase,” the scientists write.
The survey was conducted between 2007-2008 and was voluntarily based. Overall, 217 men and women from 16 different villages participated in a questionnaire-based survey.
In the survey, individuals were asked several questions ranging from their normal everyday practices (do they hunt, fish, etc) to their perceptions of their present and their past.
The purposes of these surveys were threefold. Firstly, the scientists wanted to determine the participants’ everyday practices. Secondly, perceptions of years gone by aids current perceptions; those who have lived for a significant amount of time will be theoretically better able to gauge what changes have occurred in their forests. And finally, participants were questioned about their views on conservations and its effects on their livelihoods. The final question is not only a good indicator of local perceptions of conservation in general, it also is an indicator of bias.
The results of local perceptions of wildlife and forests were unsurprising: “the majority of people agreed with the statement that the tiger, the elephant and large trees had disappeared over a 20-year period,” record the scientists.
However, the results of their perceptions toward conservation were quite extraordinary: 53% supported conservation due to heritage, 42% were ambivalent, while very few did not trust conservation efforts.
What this means is, positive or negative perceptions on conservation made no difference in participants’ answers regarding wildlife decline or forest loss. Therefore, local communities, who are acutely aware of the disappearance of wildlife and forest loss, may provide useful baseline data in areas where long-term research and monitoring may not be available.
“…Concerted efforts need to be made to involve the local communities in conservation, in partnership with protected area management and civil society in order to reverse wildlife decline and forest loss in Similipal,” the scientists conclude.
CITATION: Sasmita Sahoo, Jean-Philippe Puyravaud and Priya Davidar. 2013. Local knowledge suggests significant wildlife decline and forest loss in insurgent affected Similipal Tiger Reserve, India. Tropical Conservation Science Vol. 6(21):230-240. Available online: www.tropicalconservationscience.org
Prince Charles: take the war to the poachers
(05/22/2013) Prince Charles has warned that criminal gangs are turning to animal poaching, an unprecedented slaughter of species that can only be stopped by waging war on the perpetrators, in the latest of a series of increasingly outspoken speeches about the environment. Addressing a conference of conservationists at St James’s Palace in London, the Prince of Wales announced a meeting of heads of state to take place this autumn in London under government auspices to combat what he described as an emerging, militarized crisis.
Chinese government creating secret demand for tiger trade alleges NGO (warning: graphic images)
(02/26/2013) The number of tigers being captive bred in China for consumption exceed those surviving in the wild—across 13 countries—by over a third, according to a new report by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). The report, Hidden in Plain Sight, alleges that while the Chinese government has been taking a tough stance on tiger conservation abroad, at home it has been secretly creating demand for the internationally-banned trade. Few animals in the world have garnered as much conservation attention at the tiger (Panthera tigirs), including an international summit in 2010 that raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the vanishing wild cats.
Tigers gobble up 49 percent of India’s wildlife conservation funds, more imperiled species get nothing
(02/12/2013) Nearly half of India’s wildlife budget goes to one species: the tiger, reports a recent article in Live Mint. India has devoted around $63 million to wildlife conservation for 2013-2013, of which Project Tiger receives $31 million. The Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) is currently listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List; however India is also home to 132 species currently considered Critically Endangered, the highest rating before extinction.
Animal picture of the day: the world’s biggest cat
(02/07/2013) The Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica), also known as the Siberian tiger, is the world’s biggest cat. An adult male weighs on average about 390 pounds (176 kilograms). The largest yet recorded weighed 460 pounds (207 kilograms), although there are reports of considerably larger animals in the past.