Restoring community ties to Indian nature may be key to its preservation

Wildlife scientist Sakshi Rana helps community conservation efforts in India’s largest river basin, using skills she has learned working with communities and wildlife in the western foothills of the mountain range Himalayan.

Rana is currently a PhD student working as a project fellow for an Indian government-funded project on the conservation of the Ganges basin, its aquatic biodiversity and ecosystem services, using her experience in community conservation.

She says her current work is informed by her previous experience at Kalesar National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary (KNPWLS), a rainforest 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 landscape largely dominated by man and rapidly developing.

Rana says there are about 31 villages located within 2 km from the boundary of KNPWLS, but since it is an underdeveloped area due to low literacy rate and lack of educational opportunities. employment, many people still depend on the forest ecosystem of KNPWLS.

“I found that people living near the PA primarily value these forests as a source of firewood and fodder, while some also value them for a sense of place and identity,” she says. . “People recognize the contribution of these forests to their material, environmental and physical well-being.”

However, says Rana, there is a growing lack of a sense of ownership and stewardship as many view protected areas as state-owned and it is the duty of the state forest department to manage and conserve these forests.

“And with each new generation, as their aspirations and way of life change, their connection to these forests is also lost or weakened,” she says.

Although she was born and raised in New Delhi, the Indian capital, Rana belongs to the rongpa community in the Niti-Mana valley located in the trans-Himalayan region of Uttarakhand, where life is closely linked to nature.

“The scientific community and policy makers are finally realizing the crucial role Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) play in nature conservation, many of whom inhabit countries in the Global South,” she says, “Due to the widespread colonial model of nature conservation, for so long these same IPLCs were considered enemies of nature…but now their knowledge and contribution as stewards is recognized globally.”

Despite the challenges, Rana sees a role for government policy that benefits communities and nature.

“I am very optimistic that the results of my study will help me formulate recommendations for inclusive conservation and management strategies for the protected area that focus on building nature-people relationships,” she says.

back to nature

Rana says her research journey has been “a bit whimsical and fortuitous”, but very much connected to nature.

“As a child, I spent a good part of my summer holidays in the rural mountains, whether in my native paternal and maternal villages or with members of my family,” she says, “I think my strong bond with nature was innate in me, which later pushed me towards a career in conservation.”

Rana was originally intended for chemical research, but changed her mind after completing her undergraduate studies.

“After completing my bachelor’s degree in polymer science at the University of Delhi, I realized that I didn’t see myself confined to a lab and surrounded by chemicals,” she says, “I loved being in nature. and doing science, so I decided to focus my career on nature conservation.”

Rana was also part of a year-long fellowship co-hosted by WWF-India and Microsoft that brought together young people who wanted to do something for urban biodiversity in New Delhi using art and science.

“An experience during the Fellowship made me realize that to achieve positive results I need to look on a larger scale, at a socio-ecological scale, because the interaction between nature and people is an important determinant for decide our conservation strategies and their,” she says, “Since then, I have worked on understanding the nature-human relationship to foster stewardship and collective action for nature conservation. ”

Samuel Oluwanisola Adeyanju, a Nigerian forestry researcher, is another researcher from the Global South who studies the connection between nature and man.

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