Real heroes have no audience


The loss of ecosystems and species in India is incremental. We are used to small losses, whereas natural resources disappear bit by bit. What can we do about it? Where are the heroes that will save us from this state of affairs?

The movies got us to think that the heroes are good looking, fair, intelligent, tough and accompanied by gorgeous women. The Mahabharata or the Greek Mythology have a different view: a hero is a person who strives after excellence as a duty towards himself or herself. He or she has no spectator.

Recently, I witnessed a quantum of progress in Pondicherry. In this city, migratory waterfowl, i.e. birds flying in from the north to winter in the lakes in and around Pondicherry, are trapped, hunted and illegally sold in the market place for large sums of money. This has been going on for years and we all thought nothing could be done about it. Dr. K. Muthamizh Selvan, of the Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Pondicherry University, started recording facts and took pictures of the hunted displays at risk to himself. Somehow, the governmental authorities, including the highest in the territory, geared up and took action. The markets were raided, the culprits, both poachers and their customers arrested and fined. Right now, the public will think twice before purchasing and eating endangered birds and this winter the migratory species will find a little respite in this region.

This is what a real hero is: lonely, terrified, and doubtful. But he or she first takes a stand and this literally saves the world. Heroes have no spectator, but may have witnesses. Sometimes.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud

Elephant corridors of the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve


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 ( on elephant (or any other species) corridors.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud

Cancer in conservation


In a 1985 classical paper, the scientist Michael Soulé defined conservation biology comparing it to medicine: “Its relation to biology, particularly ecology, is analogous to that of surgery to physiology…”

A year ago, I participated in a conference where a climate change expert proposed to manage a tiger reserve within the limits of an intermediate scenario of climate change. When he was asked why he would not consider the worse climate change scenario instead, he retorted that in this case, the effect would be so dramatic that no management option was possible. Our apathetical assembly continued with this explanation to elaborate plans that will not work. We were then comparable to a group of doctors treating a patient for flu, discarding the strong possibility of cancer under the pretext that in this case, they would be incompetent.

Such ethical approach would be torn to pieces in medicine because every day, scientists and doctors dedicate their lives to save other people’s lives, whatever the cost to their own comfort and theories. Patients and judges would not tolerate such defeating approach either: the precautionary principle would cry for other specialists’ opinion and action.

The reason for our questionable behavior was that our scientific gathering was simply not up to the mark. To the Indian citizen, who pay taxes to improve science, we were nothing else but a burden.

The truth is that most endangered species (tigers, elephants in particular) are severely stressed. Our conservation successes, if any, are tiny variations in population numbers. Even if populations doubled, these species would still be on the verge of extinction. When humanity’s madness will strike back in the form of severe climatic events, we will lose species because some experts remained lazy.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud

Three ways you can promote wildlife conservation

Green, of course

Green, of course

You are living in Chennai, Bangalore, New Delhi, passionate about wildlife, but have no technical knowledge about it. The question you may ask yourself is: “what can I do to help with conservation of biodiversity?” Let us start with a general statement valid for all of us anywhere in the world and then go to the three points.

Biodiversity and particularly wildlife, suffers from too many people consuming too much. Therefore what you can do very practically is: have less children and be very specific about any purchase. We are bombarded with ca. 5000 advertisements per day (in the street, on the computer and on TV) saying we can do what we want all day long, 365 days a year. It is good to remember this has adverse consequences.

Point 1: respect the rules when you visit a protected area. The Forest Department (FD) says: limit your speed, don’t horn, don’t take pictures (unless you have permission), don’t get out of your vehicle. Just do that. Most people drive too fast and kill animals. On weekends, the jungle looks like a suburb. If we simply behaved, then even a crowd would seem inconspicuous. Now, you might think: “why is this picture rule?” I must say I don’t know. I guess the FD does this to avoid having traffic jams on the jungle roads. If you are not happy with this rule, then you should write to the FD. They may be able to organize authorized parking spaces along the forest roads. They may be able to open some safe trekking routes. You should be part of the solution.

Point 2: don’t patronize activities and places that do not respect wildlife. Never go on an unauthorized jeep safari. Try not to go to hotels or restaurants that have no sense of environment management. Such hotels usually are within wildlife corridors, have barriers, bonfires, do not regulate noise or light pollution, and have no waste management policy. Now, again this is limiting: where to find the right places and what to do during a visit? I have no proper answer but with minimum efforts, you will find out. In some regions, the FD is not organized. Again, be part of the solution: write to the FD to complain (politely), to propose, to suggest and sometimes to congratulate. Without your adult contribution and involvement, nothing will move.

Point 3: get involved. You may not have much time, but you can join an organization, read, write, and suggest to the different administrations. You can also write to people like us, this is why I put our email at the bottom of this post. There are hundreds of organizations who can help. Some are serious, they can be found, just test the waters…

To conclude, there is a great effort to involve local communities in forest management. Who says you are not a local? It is also your forest. Take care of it.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud


Myths and reality over forests


If you are a chain smoker, heavy drinker, eating only junk food, no exercise, then your health is comparable to that of todays protected ecosystems. Ecologists and conservationists are like those foolish doctors who advise a drastic change in lifestyle for improvement in health. But no action is taken before it is too late. If you believe everything is good in nature, change your attitude: here is the view, I bet, most biologists will share1.

Myth: forests are huge areas protected for the questionable benefit of the conservation of nature.

Reality: 6.5% of the Indian Territory are wildlife reserves, the rest of the forests are production forests, hence meant to produce resources for the industry. Most of the wildlife reserves actually suffer from severe exploitation: overgrazing by cattle, wood harvesting, illegal hunting, illegal trade and export of material. If cattle were prevented from grazing in wildlife reserves, as the dung collection feeds organic agriculture, it is possible that it could induce the collapse of organic agriculture in some regions.

Myth: redistribution of reserved forest land to tribal people helps alleviate poverty.

Reality: it may in some cases. Tribal people need to be compensated when their land has been taken over. However, the land given to tribal households is often sold or leased to investors. Once the land is privatized, the new owner can do whatever he/she wants with it. Significant portions are immediately purchased at very low cost by wealthy persons who vociferously support the redistribution of forest land, having only their economic interest at heart.

Myth: allowing harvest helps the poor.

Reality: the poor rarely harvest for subsistence. Harvested forest products most of the time enter the market, for the more significant benefit of wealthier people. Wood collection for example, is hardly exclusively for the household but for buyers such as restaurants and resorts who therefore illegally acquire heavily subsidized energy.

Myth: natural ecosystems are nature at its best.

Reality: most of the forests are heavily degraded and pristine forests are extremely rare and isolated. Most of the forests seen from the window of a car, from a resort or during a trek have suffered or are suffering huge degradation in the form of harvest, cattle grazing, tourism, fragmentation by road, water pollution and waste. Most forests near villages do not have tree saplings, indicative of lack of forest regeneration. They are invaded by alien plants such as Lantana and Parthenium. Domestic animals such as dogs spread diseases to other carnivores (hyena, jackals, etc.), and livestock such as cattle to wild ungulates.

Conclusion: nature is in a really bad state, our health, economy, enjoyment rest on it. It is not as if we had two planets. Our personal responsibility is to understand what is at stake for us and our children, and act in the right direction. Now.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud

1The September 2016 IUCN Congress highlighted both good and bad news for the global environment. Although conservation efforts can save species, the number of imperiled species and habitats is growing daily. Many ecosystems are being eroded and stripped of their most iconic species.

Can a wild elephant change its interaction patterns with humans?

Rivaldo is a symbol

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.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud

Culling promotes poaching


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.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud

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.



Cesar is back and well




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.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud

Wasting life

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: