I sit back today and wonder, “How is it that wildlife conservation struggles for funding while projects supporting stray, homeless animals get so much attention? Is it not life too?” I felt outraged initially. Now, I have accepted it as a way of life. As a struggle that I will face throughout my career… But the question still troubles me – “Why?”
A colleague couldn’t have expressed it better – “Wildlife science is not entertainment.” You could cry yourself hoarse trying to convince your family and friends (who are notoriously impossible to get around) that the quality of life of humans would degenerate quickly in the absence of birds, animals, reptiles, frogs, forests, coral reefs, wetlands and what have you. But more often than not, you get categorized as the ‘freak’ that lives in the jungle and studies ‘all those animals that I would rather not have around.’ “Why are you doing social work when there are much better avenues for you to showcase your skills?” is a common refrain. “She/He could get a green card but the fool wants to live in the malaria-infested jungles of India,” is probably what people we have known all our lives think of us. And when it comes to donating money, almost every issue takes precedence over wildlife protection.
The works of the researcher who slogs all his life, produces the most revolutionary piece of science, and gets much applause in the scientific community, might never reach the common public. The media sometimes relegate it to the inner pages. But more often than not, the populace is largely unaware of the issue, of the significance of the unceasing efforts of conservationists working for the environment.
So how can things change? I recollect another conversation with a colleague who interjected, “Conservation Biology is the synthesis of possibly every field and skill on this planet in an attempt to protect our natural heritage.” Yes. We need you. The ‘common’ man with ‘common’ skills. We need entrepreneurs to initiate alternate sustainable livelihoods projects, marketing professionals to promote the importance of wildlife conservation, salesmen to sell our ideas to the larger public, engineers to design technology to understand animal movement and behavior, social scientists to engage local communities in conservation efforts, medical teams to provide proper treatment to individuals in cases of accidental animal attacks, investigators to investigate wildlife crime, managers to devise adaptive management techniques, journalists to spread the message far and wide, artists to popularize the environmental movement, teachers to germinate seeds of nature conservation in younger generations, finance graduates to establish clever funding schemes towards greater conservation efforts, and finally, scientists to ensure that scientific process isn’t violated.
This is also what Nagaland needs. The common man. You may feel that your job/career lacks the potential to make a difference. You are wrong. Conservation, especially in the Indian scenario, requires active collaborations with the most regular of people who are willing to volunteer a part of their lives into the cause. For many of us, wildlife hunting might seem to be an alien concept, but it is a stark reality for Nagaland’s wildlife and for the indigenous communities that depend upon this tradition. Only that tradition is being replaced with over-exploitation. Spears with guns. Subsistence with commerce. How does it affect hunting? How sustainable is hunting? How severed is the web holding the ecological communities together? And what does erosion of a significant tradition imply for the social dynamics and history of indigenous peoples in the state? I hope to navigate the labyrinth of emotions, traditions, economics, relations to find a satisfactory answer. It might be the classic case of the untrod path beckoning the traveler along it – and the traveler could not do it without you.