RGS Lecture: Recovering Wild Tigers in a Crowded Asia11:27:00
On Monday Night I went to the Royal Geographical Society in London for dinner and a lecture by Dr Ullas Karanth, about tiger conservation in Asia. I had a wonderful time, learnt a lot, and met some amazing people.
Dr Karanth pioneered the use of GPS collars on tigers in Asia, and using camera traps as a means of identifying individuals. He knew that tracking tigers was never going to give a clear population estimate, without identifying individuals by their stripes. He has had an incredible life and conservation career. I found him really inspiring as a researcher who works in the field, and not a lab/or at desk, but really on the ground with the tigers.
He spoke about how important predators are to ecosystems, and a healthy predator population indicates a healthy ecosystem. It's simple; for predators to survive and maintain a healthy population, everything else that sustains them must be doing well too. That is why areas with a high prey-density sustained a greater population of tigers, even if they were smaller in area compared to others. The home ranges of tigers are smaller in areas with lots of prey. That's why in India tigers have managed to do well. Protected areas are often small and fragmented, but the tigers have plenty of food.
Dr Karanth has had an incredible career, but was incredibly modest. He's published over 100 papers along with several books. He said that the work he has done in the field is much more important than the number of publications. Anyone can write a book, but not anyway can go out day and night collecting tiger scat, camera traps, following GPS collars for days and not see a single tiger. It's not an easy job, but his passion was obvious to anyone paying attention. I was very impressed, and honoured to hear him speak.
He mentioned human/wildlife conflicts, including relocating rural communities away from protected areas. A member of the audience tried to claim the rural people didn't want this. Dr Karanth dealt with this very well. He has met and spoken to the people who moved, and knows how they felt which was happy to move, and it was what they wanted. He simply said that person should speak to the communities themselves. He also of course mentioned poaching, which happens with Tigers for their bones, much like with lions, for traditional medicines in the far east. However, tiger numbers are on the rise (touch wood) and the work of people like him is really benefitting the species.
How much money you spend on tiger conservation is not the measure of success. The number of tigers is.
This is me paraphrasing what he said as I do not remember the exact quote, but the message is the same. This is the part of the talk that stuck with me the most. Of course, money aids conservation in a way many things can't. Of course, all research projects and conservation endeavours need some money injected into them. But, throwing money at a problem doesn't make it go away.
This is important to remember when you donate to NGOs involved in conservation. Make sure you know exactly where your money is going, and what it's for.
Overall, I really enjoyed my evening at the RGS. I got to meet Dr Ullas Karanth after the talk at the dinner, along with several other people I was honoured to be sat alongside. It was a great evening, and I think might become a more regular thing for me.
I am desperate to go to India and see tigers for myself. My parents went last year (still a bit bitter I wasn't invited) and had such a good time they're already discussing several other trips.
Disclaimer: Pictures not mine:
Top: Source: WCS; who Dr Karanth has worked with in Tiger Conservation