Conservation Scientist Sanjay Gubbi has been working relentlessly in saving the tiger corridors in Karnataka. Winner of the Whitley Award known as the Green Oscars speaks about the nitty gritty of wildlife conservation
Tell us about your early days and influences.
During my school days I was in the boy scouts which encouraged and provided opportunities to spend time outdoors. I was very fond of camping, cycling, and other activities. This attraction to the outdoors continues till date. Later, I was introduced to bird-watching and that got me interested in wildlife.
Tumkur provided great opportunities to explore rocky outcrops, scrub, deciduous forests, and other fascinating habitats, which also led to my interest in large mammals. The opportunity to walk in forests including protected areas instilled a strong connection, understanding, and passion for wildlife and their habitats.
What inspired you to become a conservation scientist?
Wildlife themselves are a great inspiration. However, I was deeply interested in working on issues that help save them than merely studying wildlife.
What is the current project that you are working on? What is the scenario of wildlife conservation in India?
Currently, I work on conservation of leopards and tigers in Karnataka that involves scientific research, working with communities, supporting policy initiatives, capacity building, conservation outreach activities, and others. We have recently set up the Holematthi Nature Information Centre that helps educate communities, school children, college students who live on the edges of Cauvery and MM Hills Wildlife Sanctuaries, tourists and a host of other visitors.
India was one of the countries that were at the forefront of saving wildlife. It brought back many species from the brink of extinction including the Asiatic lion, tiger, snow leopard, and several others. But I cannot say the same for today and for the future hereafter; the world of wildlife today is entirely different. There are too many who want to make quick money and those who want to facilitate that, and a government that’s allowing infrastructure development and exploitation far too casually. But natural resources are finite and will vanish quickly. We need to plan intelligently; there will be no opportunity to correct mistakes in the natural world. Species are irreplaceable and if we don’t course-correct soon, we’re headed for disaster. Unfortunately, we are moving backward in our attitude towards nature.
‘Save Tigers’ is a notion and a campaign being recognised by several environmentalists. Can you please elaborate about the actual scenario?
Unfortunately mere sloganeering will not make positive changes for tigers or any other wildlife. The efforts of the forest department, political leaders who are interested in bringing changes for wildlife, conservation organizations, and policymakers are all important. We need to work with a gamut of stakeholders to bring about changes. It would include local communities, media personnel in addition to the stakeholders mentioned above. My recent book ‘Second Nature: Saving Tiger Landscapes in the Twenty-First Century’ has an elaborate detail of how conservation works in our country. The natural world does not belong to us; we are mere custodians of it. It belongs to our future generations and we need to return it safely to them, or in a better state.
What are the challenges you faced while pursuing your career as a nature scientist?
It’s a very enjoyable profession as I never consider it as a job. It is my life in addition to my family. However, like in all other fields, we do face challenges. Finding committed and dedicated people to work in the team is a real challenge. Raising funds is another challenge one faces when working on wildlife conservation.
At times other researchers, who work on similar species or in the same landscape we work in, could be a bit of an obstacle. But, we work around it.
What is the role of a conservation scientist?
I collect scientific data on certain wildlife species which are analyzed and presented in a format that policy makers, bureaucrats, media and common people can understand. I work with communities, forest department, political leaders, media and others to reduce the threat of fragmentation, degradation, and loss of wildlife habitats particularly those of leopards, tigers and elephants. I also write articles, books to disseminate the message of wildlife conservation to reach a wider audience, proposals to raise money for our work and also write reports about the work we do.
Species are irreplaceable and if we don’t course-correct soon, we’re headed for disaster