Restoring Community Links To India’s Nature May Be Key To Preserving It
Sakshi Rana at the Hathnikund Barrage, Haryana, India
Wildlife scientist Sakshi Rana is helping community-based conservation efforts in India’s biggest river basin, using the skills she learned working with communities and wildlife in the western foothills of the Himalayan mountain range.
Rana is currently a PhD scholar working as a Project Fellow for an Indian government funded project on conservation of the Ganga River Basin, its aquatic biodiversity and ecosystem services, using her experience in community-based conservation.
She says that her current work is informed by her earlier experience at the Kalesar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary (KNPWLS), a tropical forest home to mammals like leopard, Ghoral, Barking deer, Sambar and Chital, as well as reptiles like Python, King Cobra and Monitor lizards, which is surrounded by a largely human-dominated, rapidly developing landscape.
Rana says that there are some 31 villages are situated within 2 km from KNPWLS’s boundary, but due to this being an underdeveloped area due to low literacy rate and lack of employment opportunities, many people are still dependent on the forest ecosystem of KNPWLS.
“I found that the people living near the PA mostly value these forests as source of firewood and fodder while some also value them for the sense of place and identity,” she says, “People do recognize the contribution of these forests to their material, environmental and physical well-being.”
However, Rana says, there is an increasing lack of a sense of ownership and stewardship as many consider protected areas to belong to the state and it is the duty of the state forest department to manage and conserve these forests.
“And with every new generation, as their aspirations and lifestyle are changing, their connection with these forests are also getting lost or weaker,” she says.
Despite being born and raised in India’s capital of New Delhi, Rana belongs to the indigenous Rongpa community of Niti-Mana Valley located in the trans-Himalayan region of Uttarakhand, where life is closely interlinked with nature.
“Scientific community and policy-makers are now finally taking cognizance of the crucial role that indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLC) play in nature conservation, many of whom inhabit Global South,” she says, “Due to the wide-spread colonial model of nature conservation, for so long these very IPLCs were seen as enemies of nature… but now their knowledge and contribution as stewards is being recognized globally.”
Despite the challenges, Rana sees a role for government policy that benefits communities and nature.
“I am very optimistic that the results from my study will help me to form recommendation for an inclusive conservation and management strategies for the protected area that focus on building nature-people relationship,” she says.
Sakshi Rana conducting an awareness workshop with local community at Kalesar Village, Haryana, India … [+]
Back to Nature
Rana says her journey in research has been “a little whimsical and serendipitous,” but very much connected to nature.
“As a kid, I spent a fair number of my summer vacations in the rural mountains whether at my native paternal and maternal villages or with my relatives,” she says, “I think my strong connection with nature was innately in me, which later pushed me towards a career in conservation.”
Rana was originally destined for chemical research, but had a change of heart after completing her undergraduate studies.
“After finishing my Bachelors in Polymer Science from University of Delhi, I realized that I could not see myself restricted to a lab and being surrounded by chemicals,” she says, “I enjoyed being in the nature and doing science, so I decided to shift my career towards nature conservation.”
Rana was also part of a year-long fellowship co-organized by WWF-India and Microsoft which brought together young people who wanted to do something for Urban Biodiversity in New Delhi using art and science.
“One experience during the fellowship made me realize that for positive outcomes, I need to look at a bigger scale, at a social-ecological scale because the interaction between nature and people is an important determinant in deciding our conservation strategies and how successful they will be,” she say, “Since then I have been working on understanding nature-human relationship to foster stewardship and collective action for nature conservation.”
Kalesar National Park and Kalesar Wildlife Sanctuary in India hosts a good population of common … [+] leopard, and is also an important bird area.
Another Global South researcher looking at the link between nature and people is Nigerian forestry researcher Samuel Oluwanisola Adeyanju.
Adeyanju grew up a two hour drive from the Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove, a remnant of old-growth forest regarded as the home of a fertility goddess — now he is helping to preserve the precious biodiversity found there.
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