On Conservation and Climate – Part 2

From October 15-18, I attended the Student Conference on Conservation Science (SCCS) in Bangalore. It was an amazing introduction to conservation in India. I learned how conservation ideals rooted in history, religion, and culture have been around much longer than policy. I learned about current issues in conservation, such as the effects of freshwater noise pollution on the Ganges river dolphin and the highly lucrative illegal sand mining wars. I met students from across India, researching India’s diverse ecosystems, species, and communities.

I was proud to represent the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (MCBT), my AIF Fellowship host organization, along with my colleagues Laurynn and Peter. We were able to meet and learn about a whole host of other organizations as well, from the Dakshin Foundation to the Wildlife Trust of India to Current Conservation. I was amazed by the work they were doing across India and how they approached it. Many of these organizations cared about immersing themselves in the local communities. Through this, they were able to come up with creative and localized solutions that didn’t compromise development for conservation.

Croc Bank display table.
Croc Bank info table at SCCS Bangalore 2019. Photo by Laurynn D’souza.

 

In talking to people from my host organization, I’ve learned that there are many organizations doing meaningful work, but the problems they’re tackling are huge. Issues like lack of education, high levels of poverty, and high population make it even more difficult to address conservation. While environmental regulation may be in place, it is not regarded as the most effective or well-enforced. SCCS was conservation for people who already care about conservation. It was a good introduction, but in no way the whole story. I am still curious about conservation from a larger perspective and I look forward to learning more.

My host organization, MCBT, was co-founded in 1976 by renowned herpetologist Romulus and Zai Whitaker [1]. Hunting crocodiles had become a major trade by the mid 20th century; by the 1970s, India’s crocodile “populations had been exploited to the brink of extinction” [2]. MCBT was founded with the specific goal of breeding three species of Indian crocodile: the marsh/mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris), the saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), and the gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) [3].

mugger crocodile with mouth open
Mugger crocodile. Photo by Anjana Srimathi.
saltwater crocodile on grass
Saltwater crocodile. Photo from MCBT.
gharial overlooking water
Gharial. Photo by Nikhil Raut.

 

It was designed to be a living genetic repository of crocodiles for safekeeping until they could be returned to their original natural habitats [4]. Release into the wild was initially successful, but has since stopped due to diminishing wilderness areas and loss of habitat [5]. In 2003, MCBT expanded to the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and Centre for Herpetology, as it grew to include turtles, lizards, and snakes [6].

I am so excited to be serving with MCBT during my time as an AIF Clinton Fellow. My project focus is on creating educational material and activities for youth and adults to learn about India’s ecosystems and to promote the conservation of endangered species in their natural habitats. MCBT has 28 species on display at their 8.5 acre park, four of which are ranked critically endangered by the IUCN [7]. So far I am also focusing heavily on technology and social media — how we might utilize them to reach a wider audience and make education more accessible.

My own journey in conservation started at a young age. In sixth-grade, I attended Outdoor School, a week-long experiential outdoor education camp in Portland, Oregon. I fell in love with the outdoors, and four years later I returned to volunteer as a student leader. I spent a week every fall and spring taking kids into the forest and teaching them about the water cycle, fungi, and plant identification. I was always learning new things, and it instilled in me a deep curiosity that kept me passionate about the sciences. I watched so many kids grow, and I found meaning in this community of shared cabins and late-night campfires. I found the importance of education and investing in our youth.

I recently graduated from Colorado College with a degree in organismal biology and ecology. During my time there, I conducted research on alpine forest ecosystems in Colorado and coral reefs in the Red Sea. I studied conservation abroad in Ecuador, Tanzania, and the Galápagos Islands. I attended the CD16 at Dominican University and the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco. All of these experiences have led me to where I am today. I am excited to continue exploring the intersections between conservation, education, and sustainable development while in India. So far it’s been a busy, informative, and adventurous time.

Group of fellows
2019-2020 AIF Clinton Fellows. Photo by Ismael Byers.

Resources: 

  1. “The Dragon Chronicles. Interview: Rom Whitaker, Reptile Expert.” PBS, 18 Sept. 2011. https://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/the-dragon-chronicles-interview-rom-whitaker-reptile-expert/4525.
  2. “History.” The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, 2019. http://www.madrascrocodilebank.org/web/history.
  3. Ramakrishnan, Rohini. “Spend the Day with Crocs, Tortoise and Snakes.” The Hindu, 15 Nov. 2010. https://www.thehindu.com/features/kids/Spend-the-day-with-crocs-tortoise-and-snakes/article15688007.ece.
  4. “History.” The Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, 2019. http://www.madrascrocodilebank.org/web/history.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.

Naomi is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (Croc Bank) in Mamallapuram, Tamil Nadu. For her Fellowship project, she is designing educational material and activities for youth and adults to learn about India’s ecosystem and to promote the conservation of endangered species in their natural habitats. Born in Taipei, Taiwan, and raised in Portland, Oregon, Naomi recently graduated with a degree in organismal biology and ecology. While at Colorado College, Naomi worked for the Office of Sustainability, overseeing various green certification programs and serving on the Campus Sustainability Council. She also worked as a lab technician in the GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Lab and as a resident advisor. She completed over 300 service hours through the Community Engaged Scholars program, was a backcountry trip leader for the Outdoor Recreation Committee, and a member of Kappa Alpha Theta. Most recently, Naomi worked as a kayak instructor at Trackers Earth, an outdoor education camp in Portland. Naomi is excited to join the AIF Clinton Fellowship and to immerse herself in the local community and culture through service.

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