Following the 2017 drought, when many elephants died in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, there was attempts to reassure the public regarding this particular situation (https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/wildlife-and-biodiversity/elephants-in-drought-hit-karnataka-tamil-nadu-die-to-hunger-thirst-57661).
Indeed, we have just published an article based on thousands of observations in India and Nepal. With the lead author Dr. Rajapandian Kanagaraj an alumni of the Wildlife Institute of India, and currently at the National Museum of Natural Sciences at Madrid, Spain, this paper shows that global warming will destroy half of the elephant habitat in India. A first modelling technique detected the relationship between environment and elephant range. Then a second set of models proposed range changes under different climate change scenarios.
The results show that by the end of the century, 42% of the present elephant range will be lost because of global warming and land use changes. The temperature increase will affect the vegetation to provoke irreversible ecological damages and make ecosystems unusable by elephants. With impacts of this magnitude, we would also be wise to accelerate adaptation of farming practices because crop and animal production will certainly be badly affected as well.
The view of “business-as-usual” with wildlife – and our world – is an attitude of the past. We enter a period where all efforts possible to protect and mitigate global warming must be made.
Plant conservation is driven by local protection and science. We have published a paper in the New Phytologist (soon to be available), on the organization of plant conduits (called xylem). Understanding the anatomy and physiology of plants has plenty of uses, including predicting reaction to global warming and species success in ecological restoration.
Astonishingly, the maximum xylem size (Dmax) of each organ showed similar scaling with plant size and consistent widening from leaf mid-vein via stem to main root across species, independently of growth form, relative growth rate and leaf habit. We also found strong coordination of Dmax with average leaf area and of stem xylem area with whole-plant leaf area. It appears that seedlings of ecologically wide-ranging woody species converge in their allometric scaling of conduit diameters within and across plant organs. These relationships will contribute to modeling of water transport in woody vegetation that accounts for the whole life history from the trees’ regeneration phase to adulthood.
In other words, something as simple as vessel size in plants (measured in standardized conditions), tells a lot about the tree species ecology and allows comparisons among species, that can be used in a variety of applications including conservation action and restoration.
We have recently published a scientific paper (here) on rare tree species in the Western Ghats of India with colleagues belonging to different institutions.
In general, rarity is of interest to conservation biologists because rare species tend to be at greater risk of extinction than common species. The Western Ghats rain forests have a high proportion of endemic trees (around 64% of evergreen trees ≥10 cm girth at breast height), found only in this biogeographic region. Therefore rare species that are endemic are doubly vulnerable. We estimated that around 48% of 514 species were rare, of which 28 endemics were found in only one site. Rare species had narrower ecological amplitudes, being restricted to particular regions such as the southern Western Ghats and montane forests. Rare species with broader geographical distributions tended to be both wide ranging and locally sparse and narrow ranging and locally dense, and some from single species families could be relictual. Rare species were more likely to be threatened, although 39% have not been evaluated by IUCN. Rarity and endemism increased with increasing family size, indicating that the Western Ghats wet forests are both a cradle of new species (which are rare) and a museum of disappearing species (which are also rare). These forests have been the source of major crops (mango, jackfruit, pepper, cardamon) and should be properly protected because of their unique evolutionary history and biodiversity.
Psychologists know this, I believe: if you are angry at something, your response to situations coming your way is likely to be violent. The term ‘conflict’ puts us in a violent disposition.
We have just published a paper (here) on the appropriateness of the term ‘conflict’ (as in Human-elephant conflict) in wildlife management. Our view is that ‘conflict’ should be used sparingly and not generally to describe any type of negative interaction, as it is today. It is nothing more than a dangerous buzzword.
Before the emergence of this term, neutral concepts were used in ecology, such as ‘competition’, ‘predation’, ‘consumption’, ‘damages’, etc. Science, in general, avoided anthropocentric terminology that suggested intentions to animals. In the case of a conflict, adversaries agree at least on the issue of fighting. But a lion attacks because he is hungry, otherwise, it sleeps. It does not strategically target humans to harm their interests.
The term ‘interest’ takes us a long way from our fundamental relationship to nature, to the market economy. When we perceive that our interests are at stake, we end up in the same emotional state than if our very life was at stake. The Western ideas of exacerbated competition, black and white views, and profit has created a Homo sapiens that calculates potential benefits constantly. Protecting our interests has become part of our lives, at home, at work, purchasing vegetables, and on the world scene. It is natural for us to have defense industries that could destroy the planet several times. It even seems rational.
Not only is the term ‘conflict’ vague, it also comes from our violent culture, loaded with extremely negative connotations. It provokes instinctive responses of defense even if no physical attack is to be feared.
In spite of these dangerous attributes, ‘conflict’ is satisfying to populist decision-makers because it offers easy short-cuts to please voters. Whenever people complain about animals, pre-packaged hard solutions are available: culling, translocating, fencing, isolating, ultimately, driving species to extinction. What works better than a seemingly decisive action in favor of people? If we forget that most of the time, conservation biologists had called for action decades before a situation developed, we could delude ourselves in believing that someone cares, at last. What is actually implemented is a bad policy that comes too late. Similarly, as far as climate change is concerned, one day, most politicians will call for serious action – that is when hundreds of millions of people will already have fallen victim to immense suffering. Hell is paved with good intentions of the laissez-faire philosophy.
The best experts on conflict are soldiers and we militarize conservation without their opinion. Not all decision-makers have read Sun Tzu’s Art of War, unfortunately. There, it is explained that the greatest skill for a general is to win a war without even fighting. I wish we end-up having policies to win without fighting in wildlife management and I hope this paper will point to the existing problem.
Till then, I consider that the term ‘conflict’ endangers further the already threatened wildlife and should be avoided like… conflicts.
I was invited to discuss with 5th standard children at Hebron, Ooty, about the elephant corridors of the Masinagudi-Sigur Region. I was surprised by this choice, but many children live in and around Ooty and are familiar with the difficult issue of maintaining passages for elephants. Their teacher asked them to define an action plan and my role was to help them understand some of the technical issues. The class was curious about the identification of corridors, which is done with field data, maps and whatever relevant document put together in a geographic information system (GIS). We also watched our video Maximus (link here) in order to help them realize that a corridor’s width depends on human activity. Whenever humans are discreet, corridors can be narrow, whenever humans are causing disturbance, corridors must be wide so that animals can move around. After a week or so later, I was requested to rate their action plan. I was not disappointed.
All the children had concluded something like: “elephants are harassed, the Government should remove anyone in the way of the animals, punish encroachment, night safaris, flashing wildlife, etc.” At first, I was surprised and smiled of the innocence borne by these statements. But I could not find anything wrong with them. The children proposed solutions that targeted people who mostly, are in the wrong. So what should adults be doing? Should we teach children to compromise and continue to destroy a world that will soon belong to them, or should we learn from them? The truth is that many scientists are concerned that if we continue to damage our biosphere the way we do, humanity will face enormous problems. These problems have the potential to ruin our civilization. It is strange that children sense potential solutions when we, adults, cannot. My only explanation for this amazing state-of-affairs is that greed and compromise haven’t destroyed their power of reason yet. And actually, when you think about it, we humans show very little reason in the way we manage our planet.
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.
We recently participated in a scientific article published in the prestigious journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the USA” (www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1714977115). 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.
We have been busy with house repairs this year. Fifty years of weathering and termites (and elephants) have had an impact. Now we are as good as new. Elephants have seen and approved the repairs. Their way of doing so may be questionable. Repaired, the Trust will continue to be a place of peace for wildlife.
For years, we have seen enormous destruction of forests in the Sigur Range, a prime elephant and tiger habitat – by name. But the forest is gone. Not just the forest, the soil as well. Elephants are starving and we learned that hundreds of cows have died of starvation. The ultimate cause of this catastrophe is a poverty alleviation program that encouraged the distribution of goats and sheep to poor people.
Let us say at this juncture that we are not against poverty alleviation programs. On the contrary, we encourage policies that help people out of difficulties. But two questions must be asked about any poverty alleviation program: (i) is it effective and (ii) are there hidden consequences?
About the effectiveness of this poverty alleviation program, it is difficult for us to speak, not being social-scientists. The only knowledge we possess is rather general. Firstly, it is unanimously acknowledged that poverty is reduced primarily through quality education. Secondly, very small enterprises are usually sustained by “nurseries” where people are taught how to become self-sufficient and can manage their small “business” properly. There is no indication that the present program has had any such precaution introduced.
The “hidden” cost of this program in our region is plain obvious. In a few years the forest has vanished. The Forest Survey of India cannot fail to detect the deforestation with remote sensing technology. How such rapid degradation is possible?
Goats and sheep eat leaves. These small animals can easily detoxify tree fodder. As we have wild herbivores and a large number of cows, there is very little to eat on the ground. In these circumstances, the goat herder must provide tree fodder. Consequently, the entire day, the herders will cut branches, take fire wood and eventually, lay traps for wildlife. After a few years of such treatment, a forest that produces little wood and fodder will start to collapse. Trees become rarer and do not reproduce. Since there is no dead wood, the soil become less fertile. It losses its capacity to retain water. Some areas have already become semi-desert. What will be the consequences?
Since we are talking about prime protected forests, wildlife is starving. Elephants for example, do not have grass any more, nor tree fodder, because the tree branches on which they could rely upon have vanished. The recent wave of mortality in cows was due to the drought and now, to starvation. Cows do not eat tree fodder and are at complete disadvantage against goats who also eat grass. Cows end up eating plastic bags dropped by tourists and die by the dozen. One of the undetected cost is therefore the collapse of the cow dung and milk production. By helping some people, the project has made other people poorer…
If this trend continues, the forest will entirely disappear together with the soil. Only a few invasive species will resist. Then, goat herders will themselves suffer from the ecological conditions because herd size will have to be reduced. The poverty alleviation program will turn out to be an unsustainable failure. The ecological cost of this program can probably be counted in millions of dollars and one wonders whether it would not be better to simply distribute this money directly to people instead of causing so much environmental damage and imagining an economic transition happening. What could be done?
It is important to remember that the law itself says that there should not be goat herding in the vicinity of tiger reserves or in elephant corridors. Goat herders should be helped to find alternatives to their present destructive occupation. There are plenty of solutions available. The reserve forests could be used to produce medicinal plants in an extensive manner – among others. By contributing to ecosystem restoration (there were plenty of native medicinal plants in this region), we could rapidly be in the position of generating income sustainably. This kind of possibility, should be taken seriously before irreparable damages are committed. But the question is: does anyone care about protected areas? And finally, because this is the real question: does anyone care about the effectiveness of poverty alleviation programs?
A week after the Electricity Board released water in the Sigur River, the Critically Endangered vulture Gyps bengalensis started perching on a large Terminalia. If the river flows, the Terminalia and the vultures will be preserved. If it does not flow, the Terminalia and the vultures will disappear.
We give names to elephants*. Titi was Bommie’s little calf. I thought he may make it this year, but yesterday (15 Feb. 17), Bommie came with Bunta, without the small one. He is dead. What caused his death?
His death was caused by the lack of water and food. Put simply, wood is cut, harvested and removed till the last branch. Cows overgraze the grass layer, and then goats and sheep eat all tree regeneration and foliage cut by the goat herders. There are no small trees (as we have on the Trust’s property), that could provide some food to baby elephants (they need fodder additionally to their mother’s milk). So they have nothing to eat.
With the worse drought on record in Tamil Nadu, we are facing a potential wave of elephant mortality that population models do not predict. Experts work with fancy mathematics that never take into consideration “unforeseen” events. If it could be expected, it could be modeled. And they go around saying there are too many elephants. But unfortunately, as Nassim Taleb explains in his book “the Black Swann”, the trouble is, we never know how ignorant we are. So when exceptional events happen in an over-exploited world, it can seriously affect the remaining elephant populations. We may encounter a black swan but hope some rain will prove us wrong.
In the meantime, we will miss Titi.
*If you find it is not objective to name elephants, read two paragraphs below and see what is worse: empathy or over-confident science.
Every year in the Sigur Region, the Forest Department provides water to wildlife during the dry season. In collaboration with this effort, we also provide water – every day of the year.
In general, we have only a few elephants and other animals coming. Right now, we have approximately 20 elephants per night, not mentioning the cheetal, the sambar, the sloth bear, leopard, birds, etc. As a result our open well got exhausted.
The reason we face this hardship is because this year is the worst drought on record in Tamil Nadu. Moreover, because of political uncertainty, the Forest Department does not have the possibility to provide as much water as it is used to.
We approached the Forest Department and the DFO gave us the green light to help. The Forest Guards and Rangers will deliver water to different water holes in the vicinity.
We will provide 6 tanks of 2,000 liters to the Forest Department every week. Additionally, we will purchase the same quantity. A water tanker costs Rs 500. Till the first rains, we will need approximately Rs40,000.
If you are willing to contribute:
- Very important: we can receive only donations from India.
- Our bank details: Sigur Nature Trust, Indian Bank, Masinagudi, Branch ID 00218, IFSC Code: IDIB000M018 [IDIB triple zero M zero 18], Account 564501164.
- Inform us by mail (email@example.com) if you make a transfer.
- We will follow donations every day and will inform about donations on our Facebook page. All donations will be used exclusively for the purpose of delivering water.
Once you contribute:
- We and the Forest Department personnel, thank you in the name of some ungrateful elephants.
- If you give Rs3,000, we will send you our book Giant Hearts (worth Rs1,000), within India.
- If you give Rs10,000, you can stay at the Trust (once the rain starts) 2 days AND get Giant Hearts. This is a unique opportunity but please contact us if you are interested because we have strict guidelines (maximum two persons, no children, relative silence, no wandering…).
Thanks in advance.
The Sigur Nature Trust recently sponsored and participated to the meeting on “Future of Nilgiri Mountains” organized by Mr. Venugopal, coordinator of the Save Nilgiris Campaign (SNC). This event, held in Ooty on 3rd February 2017, gathered a small but dedicated audience. Remarkably, the journalists present at this event made a very good job at reporting what was discussed. The article in the Hindu can be found here:
The essence of what we propose for the future of the Nilgiris is based upon a general observation on the local economy and our experience in landscape ecology.
When you want to develop an NGO, a product, a company, a town, a region or a country, you need an idea of what is “marketable” and focus on it. All other issues, whatever their importance, will be settled as long as there is a strong focus on what matters most. Since tourism is the largest industry in the world, and since the region is unique for its biodiversity, it makes sense to promote tourism in the Nilgiris as the top economic priority. Moreover, like it or not, tourism will grow exponentially in India and the Nilgiris will be flooded by visitors. But if not properly organized, tourism kills its market by over-exploiting it, and the present trends on water deficiency, soil, erosion, land degradation and wildlife loss, shows that this is exactly what is happening now.
In parallel, the Sigur Nature Trust and several other NGOs and research organizations, are working on landscape level analysis of wildlife dynamics. As of today, a fair amount of knowledge exists on where wildlife is found and what are its requirement to survive forever. As an example, we recently published a scientific article in Animal Conservation (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/acv.12314/abstract), that automatically “calculated” the elephant corridors locations and the core areas for the elephants. This information can help to decide what to do where, without interfering with the biology of the elephant. The same approach can be utilized for the tiger or any other species of plant or animal.
Merging a clear development direction with good knowledge of the resource base (biodiversity, water, soil, space, etc.) dynamics, can be a major boost to the region. For example, large theme parks can be installed on the outskirts of the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve, providing a sense of wildlife “adventure” without even touching the sensitive ecosystems. Smaller facilities can be allowed to exist in towns or the countryside, with a tourism dedicated to nature, culture and discovery. In the sensitive areas, only a relatively small number of tourists can be accepted in the form of ecotourism. If quality is the common denominator of these different forms of tourism, all other activities, including plantations, agriculture, small industries, will also increase their standards and the region could effectively become an island of sustainable development.
Such a scheme cannot be “parachuted” on the population from above. All communities in the Nilgiris must see the interest, which is basically higher income for the bulk of the population. Plus, this sort of scheme promotes democratic functioning, information sharing, quality at all levels (health, education, waste management, resource management, etc.), and proper governance.
To engage in this kind of vision, there is no other way than to discuss about it, be involved, participate and then impose it.
The Sigur Nature Trust with other partner organizations recently published a paper (doi:10.1111/acv.12314) identifying corridors in the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve.
Till now, elephant corridors were located by experts. There were several problems with this. Firstly, experts can’t go everywhere in a given region and secondly, they tend to choose corridors on the basis of their own experience.
Landscape ecology (ecology at the scale of a landscape), does not have these problems. Corridor evaluation is done automatically over an entire region. Large areas are covered in their entirety and there is no choice by anyone over where the corridors are detected.
If you observed maps with expert corridors, you would see a few corridors spread and sometimes it was be difficult to understand how they would work. It was the equivalent of describing blood circulation with some arteries here and some veins there. Landscape analysis on the contrary gives a full view of the entire system. Corridors form a network in and out of protected areas.
This kind of study is very important because it shows that a species’ life is not only individuals but also how these individuals CAN move to feed and reproduce. If corridors are not maintained or restored, small populations become separated and the chance of extinction is higher.
Please do not hesitate to ask information or advice (firstname.lastname@example.org) on elephant (or any other species) corridors.
We recently published a paper in Gajah (here) that suggests that an elephant may have changed his behavior after being fed by humans. In general, wild elephants that are habituated to be fed become a permanent nuisance. But left alone, this particular elephant slowly went back to his old feeding habits. Actually, more recent observations apparently confirm our conclusions. Rivaldo, the elephant in question, when not fed, tends to avoid villages.
This is rather good news: this indicates that if we humans are willing to stop encouraging elephants for any reasons (tourism, “friendly” behavior), some elephants may simply stop being problematic. This is why it is very important to respect the law regarding feeding animals.
We recently wrote a paper in Oryx1 showing that a model proposed to cull elephants was flawed and should be discarded. This model was used to justify culling, giving it a sort of scientific imprimatur: “it is okay to cull the Asian elephant – theoretical biology says so.” Whatever. When we distributed our Oryx paper, some of our colleagues warned: “we must speak the same voice”, meaning: you publish what you like, but the correct attitude of (serious conservationists) is to be easy on culling in order to satisfy the public. Of course, we have no intention to change our tune which is: “let us manage the environment properly.”
Little did we know that at approximately the same time, a paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society2, said that culling DECREASES tolerance towards wildlife. The lesson is: gather information and make your own opinion.
The superb picture of wolves (culled in North America) was from Science3, where the Royal Society paper is also mentioned.
1Jean Philippe Puyravaud, Priya Davidar, Rajeev K. Srivastava and Belinda Wright. Modelling harvest of Asian elephants Elephas maximus on the basis of faulty assumptions promotes inappropriate management solutions. Oryx, available on CJO2016. doi:10.1017/S003060531600003X.
A year ago, the Forest Department came to treat young Cesar, a wild juvenile male elephant. The elephant had a splinter of wood in his left hind foot and might have died of septicemia. He was immobilized with the help of two kumkis, treated and given antibiotics. We did not see Cesar anymore, maybe because he remembered the shock of being captured and avoided the surroundings. To our great surprise and pleasure, we saw Cesar again with other elephants. He has entirely recovered and challenges elephants that are still too big for him. Rescuing this elephant mobilized a big team and was expensive. However, as long as the sex ratio is biased in favor of females, it is worth investing in treating males whose life is endangered by superficial wounds.
We observed a spotted deer (Axis axis) with a plastic sheet around its leg. The sheet cut the skin and the poor animal is probably dead by now. The horrendous plastic waste pollution in the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve is a catastrophe. The article was published in the IndiaWilds Newsletter May 16, by the talented photographer and conservationist Sabyasashi Patra. You can get the article here:
Rivaldo might be captured as I write this blog.
If you know about our website, you are familiar with Rivaldo. To know even more about his recent story, have a look at this paper to be published in Gajah. It tells it all: when there is no will to implement law on conservation, elephants are the victims. The consequence might be one bull less for the elephant population.
But this elephant is not the problem. The problem is people feeding him with no action taken in years.
Sigur, 1 April 2016, breaking news.
Elephants and other animals roam the jungle uselessly. Ecotourists are bored without internet connection. In order to bridge the gap for productivity, the Sigur Nature Trust is proud to announce a new product: the tattoo advertisement for wildlife (TAW).
This great technique can help your company to boost its image. It is also a fantastic avenue for corporate social responsibility. Specialists are unanimously enthusiastic:
An elephant expert, said: “it is a win-win solution for private-wildlife conservation partnership, as the money could be used to build comfortable research stations inside reserves.”
A former IUCN high ranking official now working for the food industry said, under the cover of anonymity: “the rarer the advertising species, the higher the return on interest. The last individual of any species would be a fantastic medium for promotion of conservation: what a great idea!”
Mr. John Smith (not his real name), with experience in conflicts, said: “elephants and other wildlife have suffered enough from the hand of humans. A little more pain should be fine.”
The answering machine of the UNESCO head of Biosphere Reserve worldwide also approved the idea: “A Biosphere Reserve will always be a Biosphere Reserve, whatever.”
The concurrence of so many experts is the guaranty you can use this technology to build a better world for the generations to come.
Contact us to consult our catalogue.
It is an immense honor to announce that E. R. C. Davidar, the founder of the Sigur Nature Trust, has joined eminent foresters and conservationists in the Hall of Fame of the Tamil Nadu Forest Department.The inauguration of the Hall of Fame was organized on the 31st January 2016, in the Panagal Building and inaugurated by Thiru M. S. M. Anandan, the Minister of Environment and Forests, Government of Tamil Nadu, Thiru Hans Raj Verma, I.A.S, Principal Secretary to the Government, Dr. Krishna Kumar, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and HOD, and Dr. V. K. Melkani, PCCF and Chief Wildlife Warden.
The Tamil Nadu Forest Department has opened a Hall of Fame at its headquarters in Chennai, where photographs and works of legendary forest officers and conservationists have been displayed.The team identified 20 officers and five well-known conservationists.
E.R.C. Davidar is remembered in particular, for undertaking the first survey of the Nilgiri tahr over its entire range, conducting the first study in India on elephant corridors and taking an active part in the protection of the Nilgiris.
Dr. Priya Davidar, Managing Trustee of the Sigur Nature Trust, participated to the inauguration. Following the example set by her father, she recalled that it is imperative to preserve wildlife if our civilization is to survive. In this effort, the involvement of society is crucial, as acknowledged by the Hall of Fame where distinguished foresters are in the company of dedicated citizens.
Times of India has dedicated an article to this event:
I usually complain about Mr. Peter Davidar taking photographs. Little did I know he was with his camera when we were witnessing the incident of a baby elephant killed. Here are his photographs – I won’t complain any more.
On 21 Sept. 15, we saw a dead baby elephant on the Mysore – Gudalur highway at 4:30 pm inside the Bandipur Tiger Reserve, 2 – 3 km before the border with Tamil Nadu. Minutes earlier, we saw a Karnataka State Corporation bus rushing at an insane speed. No other car coming in the opposite direction had any sign of collision with a large animal. We were the first to inform the border check post of the Karnataka Forest Department and immediately after us, the driver of a tanker provided the same information in our presence, of a dead baby elephant. Half an hour later, we were informed that no such incident had happened (the hit and run accident with a baby elephant). A day later we “heard” there was a hit and run case at the same time on 21st September which killed a baby elephant but the Karnataka Forest Department claims it was in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. What is the real story? Are there any other witnesses?
As the readers of the Hindu know, (http://m.thehindu.com/news/cities/Coimbatore/friendly-jumbo-injured-again/article7631100.ece) Rivaldo, the emblematic elephant of the Sigur Range, Nilgiris, has been attacked by another tusker and hurt. For ten days, the Forest Department staff including the Thepakaddu veterinary doctor and the Singara Range Officer supervised the treatment operation at the Sigur Nature Trust premises. The operation was non-traumatic for the elephant because he was not captured as Rivaldo has already been treated in the Sigur Nature Trust premises, he was easily brought back by a Forest Guard who regularly looks after him. Antibiotics and nutrients were delivered in fruits. Since Rivaldo is very docile, the wounds could be sprayed with various medicines, in a relatively safe environment.
The treatment was effective and Rivaldo’s wounds regressed. However, treatments without capture present the inconvenience that wounds cannot be cleaned directly and sutured. The healing is slower and the Forest Department staff and all Rivaldo’s friends will follow him up till the wounds are healed.
Treating an elephant is a remarkable operation involving approximately 15 staff members for ten days, plus the cost of medicine and food to maintain the elephant focused without stressing him. Some guards need to be very close to the elephant, feeding him by hand. Other personnel, including the veterinary doctor take enormous (but controlled) risks approaching the elephant on the side. These operations require expertise and are relatively dangerous for the public, as the elephant remains free of its movement.
All wild elephants cannot be treated because in principle, they are supposed to survive in natural conditions provided by protected areas, where they sometimes meet with accidents, infections, predators etc. and die of natural death. But as tuskers have been heavily poached, it is good management practice to treat the easier cases. Moreover, some animals, like Rivaldo, become emblematic – the symbol of humanity’s love towards elephants. In a world where Asian elephant are endangered according to the IUCN, it is comforting to see dedicated attention extended towards elephants.
During the whole operation, Rivaldo has been calm and gentle. He is a real foody and no one knows for sure if he understood why he was treated with jackfruits, sugarcane and other candy-like food. But all witness to this operation can testify that Rivaldo was delighted of the attention he received, slowly closing his eyes when his favorite guard petted him. At the end of each day, he had his five minutes of absolute peace with humanity and it was beautiful to see.
Our desire here is to inform, without being sensational (hence the absence of names, except that of Rivaldo) and without attempting to express any expert opinion. We were host of this operation, our opinion cannot be that of a professional veterinary doctor. However, we want to pay homage to the Forest Department staff who was present for 10 continuous days, during the week ends or festivals. Without their dedication, Rivaldo may not have survived. We are grateful for their effort.
It is now two years that I live almost continuously in the jungle surrounded by elephants. Little by little, I rediscover for myself what must have been the tribal’s knowledge. Therefore, I am not the first on the elephants’ continent, far from it. I even remember seeing on TV Indonesian villagers allowing elephants to “use” their village land during migration. However, experience is different from knowledge. It provides a sense of closeness, a bond.
In the book we recently edited –Giant Hearts, Priya Davidar and I tell an experience we had. To make it short, I went in the middle of an elephant herd to give water to the elephants. As I am better experienced with the elephant body language, I know what to do and how not to disturb them. The elephants observed me and came to drink when the tank was full and we thought it was pure grace. But it was not. It was normal behavior. Elephants are not as aggressive as we think they are and this is how I rediscovered it for myself.
Before leaving Cheetal Walk for a short while, I had to go to the well where a young bull, I was not acquainted with, was standing at nightfall. I decided to go in the full view of the elephant who was 20 to 30 m from the well. However, I walked slowly, deliberately, talking softly to the elephant, making sure he could see me. I always observed him, never went straight at him and I had decided to stop and return to the house at the slightest hint of discomfort. He could charge or run away. But looking at me, he continued to feed, scratched the soil with his tusks, dusted himself. I did my work and I slowly came back to the house, all the time watching the elephant. He did not budge, did not bother.
I was seriously puzzled by this experience that happened on 12 August 2015, World Elephant Day, because it went against what I knew about elephants. My earlier encounter with the herd was exceptional, I thought. I reasoned that the herd or some individuals had a purpose for letting me approach. They may have seen other persons providing water. But here, there was no purpose. The elephant was at peace with me because I approached the right way and did not go beyond his level of comfort, which varies with circumstances. Females with young would have far lower thresholds of tolerance.
With this encounter, I now tend to believe that the aggressiveness we see in elephants is mostly a response to our aggressiveness. We need to change.
Even though we belong to this narrow field of conservation biology, we have an eye on other sciences, including physics. Not a very knowledgeable eye though, don’t ask for explanations. Our vision is sufficient however to know that when facts falsify theories, revolutions happen. This is exactly what happened to Suchitra Sebastian (the serious scientist of the family), condensed matter physicist at the University of Cambridge. She and her colleagues have discovered that samarium hexaboride behaves both as a conductor and an insulator in a way that is still unexplained by theory. This was the first time ever such an explosive news about the properties of matter occurs so closely to us, prompting us to share the joy of this discovery.
We recently published a paper (link above) on elephant mortality to analyze the causes of elephant mortality in some reserves of the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve. Poaching has decreased although it remains a threat, but others such as disease, accidents and “unknown” causes of death are on the rise. The “unknown” cause of death is the second highest after poaching over thirty years and is increasing. Why is that so? All causes of death may not be identifiable when carcasses are highly decomposed. But then, if detection is becoming better, missing the cause of death because of decomposition should decrease. Because of this paradox all efforts should be made to identify better the cause of death and if impossible (in case of advanced decomposition), it should be mentioned in the databases. Plastics, that are so widespread in the reserves, could be an increasing cause of mortality by intestinal blockage and nothing is seriously done to address this pollution. However tedious it may be, some dissection and/or collection of samples should be performed, because “unknown” should not become equivalent to “concealed“. Moreover, database maintenance could easily be improved and made available to the public.
Nous avons récemment publié un article (lien ci-dessus) analysant les causes de la mortalité chez les éléphants dans des réserves de la Réserve de Biosphère des Nilgiris. Nous montrons que le braconnage a baissé, bien que restant une menace, alors que d’autres, tels que les maladies, accidents et causes ‘inconnues’ augmentent. Les causes ‘inconnues’ sont les plus importantes après le braconnage sur environ trente ans et cette catégorie augmente en importance. Pourquoi ? Toutes les causes de mortalité ne peuvent pas être identifiées en cas de décomposition avancée. Mais si la détection s’améliore, le fait de ne pas reconnaître la cause de la mort devrait diminuer. A cause de ce paradoxe, il faut faire au mieux pour identifier la cause et si impossible (en cas de décomposition), le noter dans la base de données. Les plastiques, tellement répandus dans les réserves, peuvent augmenter la mortalité en provoquant des blocages intestinaux, mais rien de sérieux n’est fait pour adresser cette pollution. Aussi difficile que cela puisse être, il faudrait faire quelques dissections et/ou collecter des échantillons, car ‘inconnu’ ne devrait pas devenir synonyme de ‘caché’. De plus, la maintenance de la base de données pourrait aisément être améliorée et disponible pour le public.
We are very happy to announce that our book on elephants is now published. In this book, renown scientists and authors take you to the world of elephants. Meeting elephants needs more kindness that you would imagine, this book can show you how to go.
Giant Hearts is available at Amazon (here Amazon India): http://www.amazon.in/Giant-Hearts-Travels-World-Elephants/dp/8129136996/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1434879149&sr=8-1&keywords=Giant+Hearts+travels+in+the+world+of+elephants
Nous sommes très heureux d’annoncer la publication de notre livre sur les éléphants. Dans ce volume, des scientifiques et des auteurs de renom vous emmènent dans le monde des éléphants. Rencontrer les éléphants requiert plus de gentillesse que vous pourriez imaginer et ce livre peut vous montrer comment se faire des amis chez les géants. Nous espérons une traduction fançaise… Ce livre est diponible en anglais sur Amazon.
This is with great joy and relief that we can announce that the Forest Department came to treat the young Cesar (≈15 years). The immobilization was an epic story because the lantana thickets were difficult to penetrate. All the personnel was fantastic, assisted by two superb Forest Department elephants (kumkis). The courageous veterinary doctor removed a piece of wood from the elephant’s foot, injected antibiotics and pain-killer. We now hope Cesar will recover fully and roam the jungle to become its emperor. It is not always possible to treat wild elephants, but whenever possible it should be done as long as the population sex ratio is heavily biased towards females. We thank the dedicated personnel of the Forest Department for this operation very neatly conducted.
C’est avec beaucoup de joie et de soulagement que nous pouvons annoncer que le Departement des Forêts a organisé les soins du jeune César (≈ 15 ans). L’immobilisation fut épique car les bosquets de Lantana forment une végétation dense. Tout le personnel a été fantastique, avec la participation de deux superbes éléphants domestiques (kumkis). The courageux vétérinaire a retiré un morceau de bois de son pied, a injecté des antibiotiques et anti douleurs. Nous espérons maintenant que César va entièrement guérir et parcourir la jungle pour devenir son empereur. Il n’est pas toujours possible de traiter les éléphants sauvages, mais lorsque c’est possible, il faut le faire tant que le sexe ratio penche en faveur des femelles. Nous remercions le personnel du Département des Forêts pour cette opération conduite à la perfection.
On Wednesday morning (10 June 15), we discovered that a young tusker (we call him Cesar) was limping in the bamboo thickets across the Sigur River. He could not use his left hind leg. We called the Forest Department and fairly rapidly, a team of foresters came to observe the elephant. No photograph could be taken because it was already dark when the elephant was seen again.
The next day, rangers and forester came again to locate and observe the elephant. A guard could see him and concluded his leg was infected.
The next day, more foresters came to take pictures to send to the veterinary doctor in Coimbatore.
The next day, more foresters came to take pictures.
Today, Sunday, we went to take more pictures of the elephants, his hind leg is definitely infected.
Every day since Wednesday guards and foresters risked their lives to do their work. And we are still waiting for a decision.
Mercredi matin (10 juin 15), nous avons découvert qu’un jeune éléphant mâle (que nous appelons César), boitait dans les bambous au-delà de la rivière Sigur. Il ne pouvait pas s’appuyer sur sa jambe arrière gauche. Nous avons appelé le Département des Forêts et rapidement, une équipe de forestiers arriva pour observer l’éléphant. Aucune photo n’a pu être prise car il faisant assez sombre quand l’éléphant a été localisé à nouveau.
Le lendemain, les forestiers sont venus à nouveau localiser et observer l’éléphant. Un garde a constaté que sa jambe était infectée.
Le lendemain, encore plus de forestiers sont venus prendre des photos pour les envoyer au vétérinaire à Coimbatore.
Le lendemain, des forestiers sont venus prendre des photos.
Aujourd’hui, dimanche, nous sommes allés prendre encore des photos et la jambe de l’éléphant est certainement bien enflée.
Chaque jour depuis mercredi, des forestiers risquent leur vie et font leur travail. Et pourtant, nous attendons encore une décision.
We have the pleasure to announce the publication of another high profile paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America: “An estimate of the number of tropical tree species.” This paper (see the PNAS website after mid-June 2015) results from an international collaboration of ecologists and was put together by our colleague Ferry Slik of the University of Brunei at Darusallam. Why such a paper? Well, we don’t know yet the number of tree species on Earth. This is a shame (governments are mostly not interested), because we are losing species at a huge rate. At the same rate provoked by the meteorite that destroyed the Dinosaurs. Humans are the cause of a major mass extinction. Is it important for our daily life? No, so far, so good: everything is good before an accident.
Nous avons le plaisir d’annoncer la publication d’un article dans la revue prestigieuse Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America: ‘Estimation du nombre d’espèces d’arbres tropicaux’. Cet article (voir le site PNAS à la mi-juin 2015) résulte d’une collaboration internationale entre écologistes et a été écrit par notre collègue Ferry Slik de l’Université de Brunei à Darusallam. Pourquoi un tel article ? Eh bien figurez-vous qu’on connait encore mal le nombre d’espèces d’arbres à l’échelle de la Terre. C’est une honte (les gouvernements ne sont que symboliquement intéressés), car nous perdons des espèces à un taux élevé. Aussi élevé que celui provoqué par la météorite qui a détruit les Dinosaures. L’humanité est responsable d’une extinction de masse. Est-ce important dans notre vie de tous les jours ? Non, il ne faut pas se plaindre : tout va bien avant un accident.
Wild brinjal plants were very much a part of the Cheetal Walk neighborhood. These small prickly shrubs with round green fruits streaked with white, sprouted up after the rains. The tribals cooked and ate the fruits, and we tried them out as well. However, the significance of the wild brinjal (Solanum insanum), which is a close relative of cultivated brinjal (Solanum melongena) became apparent only a few years ago when my friend Allison Snow, a Professor at Ohio State University, who evaluates risk assessment for genetically modified crops, asked me to collaborate on a study to assess potential for hybridization between wild and cultivated brinjal. The proposal to introduce Bt brinjal in India was being advocated as a solution to counter pest attack. India is one of the countries cited as a centre of origin of the brinjal and therefore we would need to assess whether the transgene could potentially spread to wild populations. We found that wild brinjal and cultivated brinjal co-occur in many places and share pollinators thereby increasing the likelihood of inter-specific hybridization, and hybrids produce viable offspring (http://www.amjbot.org/content/102/1/129.full.pdf+html). The close genetic affinity between cultivars and nearby wild/weedy brinjal at some locations indicates that gene flow is likely to have occurred between them via pollination, seed dispersal, and/or shared ancestry (http://www.amjbot.org/content/102/1/140.full.pdf+html). We concluded that if transgenic Bt brinjal were to be introduced, it could compromise efforts to maintain wild germplasm that is “GM-free”.
L’aubergine sauvage fait partie de Cheetal Walk. Ces petits arbrisseaux épineux à fruits ronds rayés de blanc germent après les pluies. Les tribaux cuisinent ces fruits que nous avons aussi essayé. L’importance de cette aubergine sauvage (Solanum insanum), proche parente de l’aubergine cultivée (Solanum melongena) est devenue apparente lors de la visite de mon amie Allison Snow, Professeur à l’Université d’Etat de l’Ohio, qui évalue les risques environnementaux associés aux plantes génétiquement modifiées et m’a demandé de participer à une étude pour mesurer le potentiel d’hybridisation entre la variété sauvage et la variété cultivée. L’introduction de l’aubergine modifiée en Inde est proposée comme solution contre les attaques d’insectes. L’Inde est aussi l’un des pays centre d’origine de l’aubergine et en conséquences, il est important de vérifier s’il n’y a pas de risque de transmettre les gènes modifiés aux populations sauvages. Nous avons montré que les aubergines sauvages et cultivées se trouvaient ensemble en de nombreux endroits, partageaient des polinisateurs qui augmentent les possibilités d’hybridisation interspécifique et nous avons aussi montré que les hybrides produisent des descendants viables ((http://www.amjbot.org/content/102/1/129.full.pdf+html). La proche parenté entre cultivars et plantes sauvages et la proximité indique que l’échange de gènes est possible (http://www.amjbot.org/content/102/1/140.full.pdf+html). Si l’aubergine modifiée est introduite, elle pourrait empêcher la conservation de l’aubergine sauvage.
In April 2015 Priya Davidar (Trustee) was at Zürich for the Annual Meeting of the Society for Tropical Ecology (GTOE) to present a paper titled: The Asian elephant (Elephas maximus L.) in southern India: a local success is not a licence to kill. This is a follow up of the two studies by Dr. Raman Sukumar (Sukumar, 1998; Chelliah, Bukka and Sukumar, 2013) on the population dynamics model that was used to calculate population structure, the number of poached elephants. He also says that the model would make culling possible in the sense that the consequence on population structure would be known. Our paper on the contrary concludes that with available data, the model does not give reliable outcomes. Moreover, culling an endangered species? Were all other solutions examined?
En avril 2015, Priya Davidar (Trustee) était à Zürich pour la Réunion annuelle de la Society for Tropical Ecology (GTOE) afin de présenter un artile: l’éléphant d’Asie (Elephas maximus L.) en Inde du sud: un succès local ne donne pas le permis de tuer. C’est une réponse à deux études entreprises par le Dr. Raman Sukumar (Sukumar, 1998; Chelliah, Bukka et Sukumar, 2013) sur un modèle de dynamique des populations utilisé pour calculer la structure de population et le nombre d’éléphants braconnés. Il affirme aussi que ce modèle permet l’élimination d’éléphants problématiques en ce sens que le modèle peut calculer l’effet de la mort des éléphants sur la structure de la population. Notre article au contraire montre qu’avec les données disponibles, le modèle n’est pas précis. De plus, tuer des éléphants en danger ? Est-ce que toutes les autres solutions ont été examinées ?
Chelliah, Karpagam, Harshvardhan Bukka, and Raman Sukumar. 2013. “Modeling Harvest Rates and Numbers from Age and Sex Ratios: A Demonstration for Elephant Populations.” Biological Conservation 165 (September): 54–61. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2013.05.008.
Sukumar, Raman, Uma Ramakrishnan, and J A Santosh. 1998. “Impact of Poaching on an Asian Elephant Population in Periyar, Southern India: A Model of Demography and Tusk Harvest.” Animal Conservation 1: 281–291.
A team of the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) (https://www.ncbs.res.in/) is establishing one-ha plot in the Sigur Nature Trust’s premises to study tree productivity. Tree productivity is an important aspect of the carbon dynamics in the continuum plant-soil-atmosphere. As carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, such studies feed climatic models with useful data. Moreover, this is probably the first such study in the Sigur Region and we are proud to have facilitated it. This is an example of how NGOs can contribute to fundamental research on the environment.
Une équipe du National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) a établi une parcelle d’un hectare sur le terrain du Sigur Nature Trust pour étudier la productivité des arbres. La productivité arborée est un aspect important de la dynamique du carbone dans le continuum plante-sol-atmosphère. Comme le dioxyde de carbone est un gaz à effet de serre, ce genre d’étude produit des données utiles qui entrent dans les modèles climatiques. De plus, c’est probablement la première fois qu’une telle étude a lieu dans la région de Sigur et nous sommes fiers de la soutenir. C’est un exemple de la manière dont les ONG peuvent contribuer à la recherche fondamentale sur l’environnement.
For those interested in conservation science, Corey Bradshaw maintains a very active blog. He is a professor and teaches ecological modelling.
Frankham et al. 2014. Biological Conservation, 170, 56–63.This analysis indicates that the genetically effective population size of 50 breeding adults is not adequate to reduce the effects of inbreeding depression, and the numbers required are more than 100 individuals to prevent inbreeding depression over five generations in the wild. The minimum numbers for retaining evolutionary potential for fitness should be more than 1000 breeding adults rather than the 500 that has been postulated. The authors state that this genetic information requires that population viability analysis should be suitably revised to be more effective in conservation of endangered species. This paper is of vital importance for the conservation of our large mammals such as the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) and the Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) that are severely affected by habitat loss and poaching in the subcontinent.
Li et al. 2014. Conservation Biology 28, 87-94.The snow leopard (Panthera uncia), and endangered species, is found in mountainous areas in 12 Central Asian countries. It is threatened by poaching, lack of prey and habitat degradation. A study in the Sanjiangyuan region of the Tibetan plateau investigated the role of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in snow leopard conservation. Results show that 46% of monasteries were located in snow leopard habitat and 90% were within 5 km of snow leopard habitat. Therefore the 336 monasteries in this region could potentially protect 8342 km2 of snow leopard habitat through social norms and active patrols. Local herders who through their religious beliefs against killing animals could play an important role in snow leopard conservation. If this can be extended to monasteries in other Tibetan Buddhist regions, about 80% of the global range of snow leopards could be better protected.
Stankowich et al. 2014. Evolution doi 10.1111/evo.12356 (2014).Small predatory mammals in the order Carnivora are often subject to high rates of predation. A global scale analysis indicates that their adaption against predation comes under two categories: small carnivores that tend to be solitary, with warning coloration (i. e. skunks) and armed with foul smelling anal sprays, or social such as the mongooses and highly vigilant. Species with noxious sprays such as skunks tend to be nocturnal and are often preyed upon by mammals, whereas the social species such as mongooses tend to be diurnal, highly vigilant and are preyed upon by birds of prey.
If you want to be told about worldwide issues on conservation, we recommend you the ALERT website. It was put together by the famous conservation biologist Bill Laurance joined by a team of eminent and active scientists. The website is:
Davidar, one of the founders of the Sigur Nature Trust died recently. Mark’s closeness with animals was not his only contribution to wildlife conservation. Most importantly he cared about the Sigur Nature Trust, a place of unique importance because it allows the passage of wildlife on private land in between two villages, near the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve. The Sigur Nature Trust was founded by E.R.C. Davidar and his children, Priya, Mark and Peter. For more than 20 years Mark made sure that animals could cross and not be hampered by much human presence.
After he worked with Rom Whittaker at the Snake Park in Chennai, Mark established a small guest house in the family premises. One of Mark’s friends said he was like a dictator: he would not allow telephone, torches, noise. People had to obey strict rules to enjoy the marvels of nature from the safety of the veranda. It was an exceptional vantage point of view for education, a sort of real-life interpretation center.
The experiment Mark developed over more than two decades is of particular significance. The Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve where the Trust is located, is of central standing to the conservation network of southern India. It harbors one of the largest population of Asian elephant in the world and a lot of tigers as well. We can only hope that this region of exceptional beauty and biological wealth will develop into a flagship of outstanding environmental management in Asia.
To mitigate the human – wildlife conflict, we need a multitude of novel and bold experiments. Take Mark’s modest guest house for example. It can be an inspiration for the entire eco-tourism industry because it was a model on how not to disturb wildlife and still enjoy it.
Mark demonstrated we can live at peace with wildlife. We, as a family, share this vision. We will pursue the mission where Mark left it, as well as we can. The Sigur Nature Trust is a living experiment destined to create a vision for the future, based on a peaceful and knowledgeable interaction with nature. All of Mark friends can rest assured that “Mark’s place” will remain as it is. The elephants will continue to be at home. And our most fervent wish is that other people get inspired by what he has achieved and helped the Trust to achieve. For this, we are immensely grateful.
Davidar, the former Managing Trustee of the Sigur Nature Trust, ran a small guest house, Jungle Trails on the property’s land. The guest house was closed, when Mark fell ill, for several reasons. Firstly, we do not have expertise with tourism and safety issues are important when the public is concerned. Secondly, as the Forest Department was treating a wounded elephant and so we were requested to have as few people as possible in the premises in order to avoid further habituation to humans. We gladly complied with this request and the property is now closed to the public.
Right now we are trying to set-up the Trust’s procedures, website, establish research projects. This is the program for the following year and we hope to put more pictures, more videos, more news, etc.