Ph.D. student, Duke University
Location: Parks in India's Western Ghats
Research: Carnivore Diversity, Persistence and Conservation in India's Western Ghats
Species/Topic: Indian wolf, wild dog, jackal, Bengal fox, leopard, tiger, Malabar civet, hyaena, small clawed otter, smooth coated otter, nilgiri marten and sloth bear
|Parks in India's Western Ghats (WG) have a long history of human settlement and represent the only natural habitat available to many carnivores. Park protection and carnivore conservation efforts cannot be enhanced in the absence of fundamental information about species presence, extinction estimates and evaluating threats that exist in species habitats. This project will collect presence-absence information for 12 carnivores (listed on IUCN Global Red List) by combining field and social surveys with historical research to estimate extinction probabilities for carnivore species in WG reserves. Accounting for effects of reserve size, human population density, land use intensity and human attitudes on species persistence will help develop effective conservation strategies.
Project Report: November 2006
The general objective of this project was to identify critical habitats and initiate conservation efforts for carnivores in the Western Ghats (WG), and specifically, to estimate extinction probabilities and develop conservation plans for 12 carnivores in WG by:
- Examining current and historic presence of carnivores in WG reserves
The first phase of this project required collecting historical data for multiple species in the Western Ghats. This was important as it determined exact locations for species historic occurrence. This documentation and mapping of species historic distribution provided the background to determining original range of these species in India. Historical data were collected from several museums and library collections, taxidermy firms, district gazetteers and hunting books in India, U.S and Europe. I was able to access ca.150 of the 300 hunting books written by the British officers and Indian royalty from 1850 -1950. The current database includes more than 21,000 records for over 100 species of carnivores, ungulates and primates in British India. Of these, there are >5,000 records for the Western Ghats alone. Current species presence or absence in different locations was determined in multiple ways. I interviewed and conducted mapping exercises with >100 individuals familiar with wildlife species distribution and members of local NGOs, scientists, forestry and wildlife departments. These interviews and mapping exercises with experts provided data on species current status (presence/absence) and data are being compiled into a database.
- Evaluating threats and human influences on carnivore extinction
Landscape and park level data has been collected from topographic maps, satellite imagery and maps developed by organizations. These organizations include the Survey of India, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment, Wildlife Institute of India, Forest Research Institute and Foundation for Ecological Research and Learning. The Census 2001 database provided the most recent human population density baselines. Organizations such as the Wildlife Conservation Society, Bombay Natural History Society, Indian Institute of Science, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Wildlife Institute of India and World Wildlife Fund periodically conduct field surveys (transects, camera traps, field visits). I established contacts in these organizations and was able to access to their resources. Major habitat threats in the region are being compiled for this region. The data collected will allow us to focus on reserves in the Ghats and we have additional data for other reserves in India. Occupancy modeling approaches developed by collaborators at USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (Maryland) will be used to estimate extinction probabilities and asses the impacts of the threats on species viability and long-term survival prospects in these reserves.
- Identifying critical reserves for carnivore conservation action and initiating long term monitoring efforts
Data entry will be completed by December 2006. The project will generate historic and current range maps for selected species both inside and outside reserves in the Western Ghats. Center for Wildlife Studies has several long term monitoring initiatives in the region. The project outputs (maps and occupancy estimates) will help to identify critical reserves, other areas important for carnivores and strengthen conservation activities in the region. Estimating extinction probabilities and determining current threats for carnivores will establish much needed baseline information to aid establishment of long term monitoring efforts in these reserves. We were also able to collect data for other reserves in India and expect that projects overall contribution to enhance conservation efforts in and beyond Western Ghats.
- Collaborating with local park staff, residents and NGOs and disseminating information through conservation workshops
Maps, the database and information from this project will be shared with the Centre for Wildlife Studies and other local NGOs in the region that have worked in several reserves and actively pursued conservation research, training and education activites in many Indian reserves. In conjunction with Center for Widlife Studies' ongoing conservation education workshops and onground-conservation initiatives, the resulting publications and maps will be disseminated to local people and park staff. Research staff and field teams that participated in data collection were from the region. The project will produce range maps with information on each species, human-wildlife conflicts and threats that exist in various reserves. The database and manuscripts for publication will aid longer-term research and conservation efforts in the region. Handbooks with basic information will be developed and distributed among local communities and relevant park officials.
The project required extensive interactions with all the major local regional NGOs, local government as well as key scientists and forestry-wildlife departments in the selected reserves. The grant has strengthened the local conservation initiatives in the region and helped create a database that can be widely used. All of the collaborators and participants are Indian citizens and transfer knowledge that has been gained with people who are active in the Indian conservation community. The project has identified new sources and people who are particularly knowledgeable about certain species and regions.
During collection of the historic records, I was able to meet one of India's oldest and most prominent taxidermists - Mr. Jubert Van Ingen. His family ran a taxidermy firm in India for most of the 20th century. This firm was one of the largest and well-respected taxidermy firms to which clients from Asia and Africa sent their trophies to be mounted and stuffed. I was able to look through many of his registers that list species shot and locations where animals were shot in India. The registers represent 80-90 year period when trophy hunting was most prevalent in India and nobody has had the opportunity to look through them prior to this. The historical database complied using these taxidermy records and other sources will be the first of its kind and will establish original extent and historic ranges for these species. The current database will also give accurate estimates that currently do not exist and will help focus conservation efforts in critical reserves as well as other unprotected areas where species are still found.