30 years of wildlife research
Under the leadership of Dr. K. Ullas Karanth, CWS has conducted path-breaking research on the ecology and population dynamics of tigers, leopards, elephants and other Indian large mammals. Our tiger project which originated in Nagarahole (and grew to several parks across India) is the world’s longest running big cat project in the world- with over 800 individual tigers identified. CWS has been a leader in the fields of radio-telemetry, advanced field survey methods, animal population modelling and estimation. Our contributions to wildlife science include methodology for safe capture and immobilisation of wild tigers and leopards, occupancy sampling, development of innovative models and protocols for matching stripe/spot patterns, and genetic identification of individual tigers and bio-geographic taxonomy of tigers – many of which have been adopted as standard practice by scientists across the world.
CWS research has carved out a unique niche for itself globally, combining rigorous field-based research with innovative methods to produce over 70 peer-reviewed scientific publications on tigers (40% of all peer-reviewed scientific papers published) and more than 150 papers on wildlife conservation and ecology. CWS has collaborated and shared its expertise with many wildlife research and conservation projects in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Russia, Thailand, as well as to African and Latin American countries.
wildlife outside Protected areas
India’s wildlife persists in protected areas that cover 5% of land and in tracts of land outside these areas. Of particular interest are human-modified agricultural landscapes and agroforestry areas (coffee, rubber, areca etc.) which harbour a diversity of birds, mammals, amphibians and other ecologically sensitive species, especially in the tropics. CWS Scientist Dr. Krithi K. Karanth in collaboration with Dr. Paul Robbins and Dr. Ashwini Chhatre implemented an extensive research project on coffee-rubber-areca farms across 30,000 sq. km in the Western Ghats. This interdisciplinary research project established that shade-grown coffee supports 204 bird species, including 79 forest-dependent species with not many differences between arabica and robusta! This landscape-level study found that sustainable farming practices (restricting pesticides and minimising artificial fertilisers while retaining tree cover) could offer substantial benefits to birds. Similar benefits were found for amphibians, butterflies, mammals and trees. We will continue to build on socio-ecological research to understand how wildlife can persist in anthropogenic landscapes across India.
Rapid expansion of transport networks and other infrastructure to meet development needs is occurring throughout the world. This expansion potentially severs connectivity across landscapes and disrupts gene flow for wide ranging endangered species. In India, roads, rail, and other infrastructure are fundamental for economic development. Yet, these linear features sever connectivity between protected areas. Protected areas in India are often too small to support viable populations of wide-ranging species, such as elephants and tigers. Connectivity is crucial for the genetic viability of these species. Supported by the Science for Nature and People Partnership, Dr’s Krithi Karanth, Ruth Defries and Ullas Karanth lead a project that will help decision-makers plan for infrastructure development while maintaining connectivity of the landscape. The projects lens extends specifically to landscapes critical for conservation in India: central India and the Western Ghats. Both of these landscapes are facing severe development pressures from road, rail, dams, energy infrastructure, human settlements and mining projects. An advisory group comprised of high-level, key national and state-level decision makers from the relevant sectors, including highway, mining, and energy sectors, and conservation scientists are collaborating with a working group to carry out analyses of options for maintaining connectivity based on experiences in India and internationally, including costs and effectiveness of different strategies. By using scientific evidence to identify major challenges for wildlife connectivity across India, it will produce open access data layers, analysis and a conservation film to be shared with decision makers and the public. Project insights and results will provide a pathway for decision-making in other landscapes throughout India and elsewhere.
human wildlife interactions
Twenty years ago, CWS scientists embarked on a journey to understand human-wildlife interactions, particularly conflict. We have conducted research in eighteen states and more than twenty sites in the country. These studies examined the type of interactions, species involved, underlying drivers of conflict, mitigation techniques adopted to protect crops, properties and lives, impacts of translocating wildlife, conflict compensation policy and payments, and perceptions of different stakeholders such as the local communities, protected area management, and the media. These widespread interactions have resulted in an exchange of knowledge, changing perceptions and attitudes towards conflict and policy changes towards conflict-prone species such as leopards, tigers and elephants. These multidisciplinary efforts have produced 27 peer-reviewed publications since 2002. Insights from these studies have resulted in developing projects like Wild Seve (LINK), that has assisted >10,300 families file for compensation by reducing transaction costs and lowering bureaucratic hurdles. Having worked in multiple landscapes with various agencies and people across the country, CWS scientists are working on identifying multidisciplinary approaches to promote human-wildlife coexistence and allow wildlife to persist amidst a billion people.