Keeping wildlife at the forefront of discussion: an interview with Conservation India

Conservation India
Amur caught in a net

Conserving India’s wildlife is an immense task and one which Conservation India (CI) is fully committed to tackling.

Author RESET , 03.27.13

Conserving India’s wildlife is an immense task and one which Conservation India (CI) is fully committed to tackling. Conservation India is an online platform where information about conservation news, best practices, key issues, current initiatives, visual material, guides and toolkits, as well as a space for the conservationist community to exchange ideas, is all supported.

The aim of Conservation India is to not only to further inform citizens concerned about conservation in India, but to actively engage them with it. They believe that in order to design effective management strategies and recovery schemes, knowledge-driven actions are required. CI makes information about practices which are supported by the scientific domain readily available for all.

The site, launched in January of 2012, by Shekar Dattatri, an award-winning conservation filmmaker and Ramki Sreenivasan, a technology entrepreneur and wildlife photographer, was the first of its kind to solely focus on conservation initiatives. Ramki and Shekar strongly believed that there are barriers in society that prevent more people from getting involved in wildlife conservation and decided it was high time to address it.

CI characterizes itself as a “technology for social change project”, and one that is engaged in addressing gaps and barriers to public participation in contributing to social causes, specifically wildlife. The “info gap” is when interested and concerned citizens are not aware they can become involved in conservation, whereas the “action gap” describes the gap of when citizens are informed but do not know how to get involved. A further gap is that the best practices in conservation are not readily available to the public.

Employing technology is central to CI’s strategy to address conservation issues. By pooling numerous kinds of media and distributing these cost-effectively and instantaneously over the internet, CI is able create a tremendous reach, even in a developing country like India. In little over a year, over 150,000 Indian users have been attracted to the website, 10,000 of which are regular users.

RESET spoke with Co-founder Ramki Sreenivasan about Conservation India, here is what he shared with us:

Why is wildlife conservation such an important social cause?

There are several reasons. There is no denying the fact that India’s wildlife and forests are unique, harboring several species of charismatic megafauna like elephants, tigers, lions and rhinos.  But the threats of modern day India and its racy development are several and huge. However, it is imperative to understand, now more than ever, that loss of primary forests leads to massive consequences in water shortage, climate change, food scarcity and other such grave social issues. At an emotional level, it would be a tragic loss and a shame to lose charismatic species like the tiger which occupies a crucial place in all aspects of Indian life, culture and religion.

There is definitely appeal for wildlife causes but this interest has remained romantic and a lot of people really don’t understand the true issues [as] popular TV channels and other media stay away from [them], hence the need to have a neutral platform highlighting the true picture of India’s wildlife conservation problems and efforts.

Pench Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh

On the CI website it is stated that the organization offers tools to manage campaigns aimed at wildlife and nature conservation, can you give examples of how CI does this?

What we mean by tools is essentially targeted information needed for citizens to act on any conservation issue or violation of the wildlife law. So, we have under our “Toolkit” section, “How to file an RTI query” (Right To Information -where the government is duty-bound to answer citizens queries on its work). We also have write-ups on “Legal framework for Wildlife Conservation in India”, which helps the public understand the various laws that protect our wildlife and hence be able to take recourse to the courts in cases of violations; on “How to identify violations in a Protected Area”; on “How to make a wildlife film”, for those who want to use the power of images; on “How to write a conservation article” for those with a flair for writing; on “How to run a successful conservation campaign”, for those who want to garner support in their conservation efforts. And many such interesting yet extremely important topics.

What have been some of the campaigns CI has been involved with?

Our Amur Falcon campaign has by far been the most popular one and has helped the issue become noticed not only by the Indian government but also various international organizations. We are already making preparations to ensure no killing of Amur falcons happens this year onwards.

Our first campaign was to gather support from the public to ask the government to stop the Indian Coast Guard from building a RADAR installation and a diesel power generation station on Narcondom, a tiny, fragile island in the Andaman and Nicobar, and is home to about 300 Narcondam hornbills, a species that is found nowhere else in the world. We are happy to announce that the Government of India rejected the India Coast Guard’s proposal.

All our campaigns have been very successful in driving awareness and specific action for the causes.

CI has described itself as an organization that is interested in carrying out rational and practical conservation action without theoretical debate. Can you clarify what you mean by theoretical debate in this instance?

Conservation is an ongoing war. Tactical short-term battles may be won, but the war is never over. It is about delivering results under tough conditions. While conservation is a passionate topic for many, our propensity to intellectualize and endlessly debate issues can be a dangerous and counterproductive impediment in saving the precious little that is left, especially in India. It’s time for conservationists to realize that we are all on the same side of the table independent of minor differences.

How does an online platform such as CI, which advocates social change, reach and engage a targeted audience?

CI initially sent out its launch announcements to the very well networked wildlife photographers, birdwatchers and nature enthusiast communities in India. We had already roped in experts to disseminate the right information on various Conservation issues and topics. We spoke to the wildlife scientist community including research assistants and students. Local media also helped us be known to the public by taking up our campaign issues. Now with Facebook features in CI, we notice that viral networking is getting us more and more traffic by the day.

What is the future for CI and how, if, do you think you are affecting attitudes towards conservation in India?

We are just a year old and there has been an overwhelming response. We have been able to put a lot of meaningful content in front of users and users have given us feedback to generate more. We like the feedback loop – it shows there is some utility in what we do. Response and contributions from volunteers have been phenomenal; [it] helps us scale up the concept at very low cost.

For the immediate future CI will soon launch its local language pilot to ensure more participation and better accessibility. We also plan to conduct offline conservation workshops to enable on the ground conservation work.

For the long term, we would like CI to become the platform to garner support and voice for wildlife in India. We want CI to be able to enable and empower the public to not just understand or report any violation of the country’s wildlife law but also to act towards getting the justice it deserves. We want to create wildlife activists and ambassadors. We are aware of the fact that it is long way to go but we are confident about getting there thanks to the learning [outcomes] of the past year.


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