Sunday, May 9, 2010

Leopards test the Wildlife Institute of India's commitment to conservation amid humans!

This rather overwrought article (click on the image/link for a readable e-paper version) points to an interesting problem facing my alma mater in the Himalayan foothills: what to do about a leopard (or several) that have made the WII campus part of their home range over some years, but may be becoming a bit too frequent for some people's comfort? Its an interesting conundrum for an institution whose raison d'etre revolves around figuring out ways for wildlife (especially of the charismatic megafaunal variety) to coexist amid India's thriving human population. While it is interesting to read about the internal debate within WII, I'm disappointed that the report doesn't really address the potential impacts of whatever decision WII makes on ordinary people living around campus - despite the pictures of one such person! For in India the conflict is often sharper between advocates of wildlife conservation and people living in and around wildlife habitats than between wildlife and people! So I'm curious about that aspect of this scenario, and whether the administration of WII is responding to concerns about the leopards potentially threatening children not only on campus but off it too.

And I also wonder if there might not be a technological solution to this - or at least an opportunity to experiment with one. How about putting radio-collars (perhaps GPS enabled) on the cats and setting up an array of receivers across campus so their whereabouts can be monitored whenever on campus? One could take this a step further and link the automated monitoring to a real-time alert system that can tell people (perhaps via SMS on their mobile phones) when and where a leopard is on campus. Would make life easier for the parents if they can pull their kids inside whenever the cats appear, no? All while gathering interesting data on the behavior of the animals in such inhabited areas! Surely the WII has the expertise to do this, and someone is already be on this experimental path?



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