Human wildlife conflict: a perpetual state of emergency

Buffer zone of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. The state of emergency: the reserve is already overgrazed by domestic cattle.

A paper (;jsessionid=3DF215276B3C5DAEDB135ED3C6C99422.f03t01) recently published in Conservation Biology caught me by its title: “The perpetual state of emergency that sacrifices protected areas in a changing climate”. The paper says that some protected areas in the USA will be used to alleviate farmers’ problems due to climate change. The question one might ask is: “why can’t farmers find new places in order to make a living?” But of course, there is nowhere else to go.

We have the same kind of resource-related problem near the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve. People get killed by large wildlife because animals such as the elephant, the gaur (Indian bison) enter human settlements. By and large the cohabitation is peaceful, but accidents happen. Here, the question is: “why don’t we kill the problematic animals?” The answer is because the Asian elephant is an endangered species and the gaur a vulnerable species. In other words, the survival of both species is in jeopardy. Again, the “resource” (the animals we are talking about), have become rare, too rare to attempt something drastic with them.

In 1960 when the world human population was 3 billion, scientists were already warning of the potential catastrophic outcomes of over population – the transformation of the biosphere into a wasteland. In the 1960s, it was still possible to target “problematic” animals, even to allow hunting (the British already had a heavy hand on “pests” in India though). This possibility has now vanished. As a civilization, we haven’t avoided this nightmare where margin for solutions are narrow or nonexistent. At present, all solutions are “tough calls”. Or we lose a precious human life or a job, or the last individuals of threatened species or some ecosystem. We will “lose” as long as our population does not go down, and it may be too late for our children to recover a decent biosphere.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud

Plastic pollution in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve

Mr. Rohan Premkumar, journalist for the Hindu, was kind enough to ask our opinion about plastic pollution in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. Here is the article:

It must be noted that ITC (the Indian Tobacco Company) in Ooty has a huge facility where they store plastics. The plastic wastes are then sorted, cut into small pieces and added to tar to build roads!

Here at the Sigur Nature Trust, whatever plastic is used is sorted, washed, reused and if not reused, all efforts are made to bring CLEAN to ITC. Best would be to use no plastic but, when you shop, sugar, eggs, rice, etc. are stored in plastics. It could certainly be reduced.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud

Forests of the world

Classification of the tropical forests of the world

We recently participated in a scientific article published in the prestigious journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the USA” ( The paper entitled ‘a phylogenetic classification of the world’s tropical forests’ was about the classification or relatedness of trees in the tropical forests of the world. For most of us, a forest is a sum of trees, like say, a plantation. In reality, forests are very complex and have different species composition in different parts of the world. Forests of Asia are different in tree species composition than the forests of South-America. Trees may belong to different genera and different families. For example, the mango tree, Mangifera indica, a native of the Indian subcontinent, belongs to the Anacardiaceae family and the eucalyptus (from Australia), belong to the Myrtaceae family. Looking at many forest plots and the species they harbor, it is possible to detect differences in forest species composition. Our paper shows that the world’s tropical forests can be divided into five major floristic regions (Indo-Pacific, Subtropical, African, American, and Dry forests) and not the traditional neo- versus paleotropical forest division (America vs Africa-Asia). Why should it be so?

Because of the movement of continents at the surface of the earth, a huge continent, Gondwana, split into south-America, Africa in the west and Australia, Antartica, India in the east. The timing of the split of continents tends to explain how closely related trees are globally. In general, the closer trees are in space, the closer they tend to be genetically. The split of Gondwana and not just the formation of the Atlantic Ocean explains vegetation patterns. This is an amazing finding that shows again how important the unique geology of the earth is, for vegetation.

To obtain these results, the main author, Dr. Ferry Slik of the University of Brunei, put together a large database contributed by approximately 150 scientists. The dataset originally included 439 locations containing 925,009 individual trees! Such large networks are more and more frequent in ecological research and help analyze information no individual or laboratory could gather otherwise. It is unfortunate that in spite of all the efforts to know better the biosphere, we continue its destruction at an ever accelerating rate. This may not be wise because the biosphere is our only habitable world.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud