The problem of wildlife conservation
Wild species currently face great challenges as natural habitats shrink, invasive species proliferate, extractive use drives populations into decline and the global climate alters to an alarming degree. Many wild species already cling precariously to existence; some may already be condemned to eventual extinction because of their small populations and habitats. The reasons for conserving biodiversity are diverse, as are the solutions required to prevent and reverse their decline. These solutions require new and creative thinking and action, and this is being increasingly recognized within the broad fields of wildlife ecology and conservation.
New approaches to conservation
Dr. Ravi Sankaran exemplified this approach to conservation. More than two decades ago, he combined the collection of baseline field data on threatened species with the close involvement of local people in species conservation and management. With pastoralists in Gujarat, he initiated a florican monitoring scheme; with nest collectors in the Andaman Islands, he organised nest protection and managed nest harvesting of the Edible-nest Swiftlet; and he worked with local communities in Nagaland to set up community conservation areas.
This kind of thinking is increasingly recognised as being crucial to the future of wildlife ecology and conservation in India. We now recognise that conservationists must understand how to generate important information on how species and ecosystems work, what threats climate change poses to biodiversity, what the consequences of biodiversity loss are to human societies, and how species conservation can be effectively balanced with livelihoods of people. At the same time, we must think creatively about how this information can be used to directly inform conservation policy and action. Finally, we must carry out on-ground conservation initiatives if ideas are to be implemented.
Fellowships for young conservationists
The Ravi Sankaran Fellowship Program has several aims. One is to build capacity by facilitating the training of students in reputed international universities and institutions. This strategy is based on the recognition that a wide exposure to wildlife science and to conservation models from other parts of the world is needed to infuse Indian conservation with new ideas and approaches for greatest effectiveness. Such exposure includes, but is not limited to, work done towards an academic degree, which is why the Fellowship is offered for both Masters degrees and practical internships. An additional goal of the Fellowship is to provide small amounts of funding for the initial phases of new and perhaps controversial or risky work in conservation. This is based on the success of other small-grants programs, like the Rufford Small Grants, in kick-starting the work of large numbers of young, dynamic, and creative conservationists.