Wolf Walks

Community based conservation of nature and wildlife in an arid and impoverished region of Southern India.

Siddharth Rao

Age 33, India

PROJECT: Community based conservation of nature and wildlife in an arid and impoverished region of Southern India.

Tell us about the work you are doing to create a wilder world.
An estimated 2,500 Indian Wolves (Canis lupus pallipes) remain in the wild in India and most of them outside traditional ‘protected areas’. The majority are in village common lands and ‘reserved forest’. The population is rapidly declining due to the pressures of habitat loss, retaliatory killings and a declining wild prey base.

In 2014, I instituted a-not-for-profit called the Adavi Trust with 3 other colleagues. Our flagship project titled ‘Wolf Walks’ is an attempt to address this critical conservation problem though community engagement and Eco-tourism. The project looks to achieve a reduction in retaliatory killing of wolves as economic benefits from Eco-tourism and compensation/insurance will cover the cost of livestock lost. The project will protect wolf and blackbuck breeding grounds and impact the wolf metapopulation of Southern India while benefiting the rural communities on whose land and livestock the wolves depend.

The objectives are:
a) Create a network of community/pastoralist led ecotourism initiatives focusing on the wolf as a flagship species
b) Develop India’s (and possibly the world’s) first Community Conserved Wolf Sanctuary
c) Develop and implement a livestock compensation or insurance scheme against wolf depredation in Southern India.

Activities will occur in three phases. The project is scalable with each independent phase having significant conservation outcomes. The activities include:
a) Establishing a community wolf sanctuary where Eco-tourism, habitat management, habitat and wildlife protection and wildlife conflict mitigation will be undertaken
b) Developing culturally, socially and financially viable and sustainable, Eco-tourism models for the Southern Indian context
c) Developing a network of communities and organizations within wolf home ranges to partner on Eco-tourism ventures for wolf conservation (with a priority on pastoralist communities)
d) Designing suitable livestock compensation/insurance schemes against depredation.

As of today we have initiated work for establishing the first community conserved wolf area in conjunction with the not-for-profit Timbaktu Collective (www.timbaktu.org). The Timbaktu Collective has worked with local communities to restore and conserve 7,500 acres of village common land for natural resource management and watershed management over the past 25 years. In collaboration with Adavi Trust the Timbaktu Collective now proposes to extend the scope of this work by creating a community conserved wolf sanctuary. The community wishes to develop an Eco-tourism model for the conserved area which will serve as our first pilot and serve as our training hub.

What are 5 of your short term goals to accomplish in the next 1-2 years?
The next three years are very important for our project and the following five goals are things I look forward to achieving:
1. Completing the project design and implementation. As a 2015 Kinship Conservation Fellow, I will be developing this project into a finished product by early August.
2. Community Capacity Building. Our focus will be on building skills and leadership from among the community.
3. Establishing strong baseline data sets for the region. We have already started this work and look forward to making this more comprehensive in the next two years.
4. Awareness and Outreach. Connecting with youth and children will be crucial to garner support for our work as well as creating the next generation of conservationists.
5. Fundraising. Getting in place long term funding for the project will be crucial in the initial stages to ensure sustainability.

What are 5 of your long term goals to accomplish in the next 5-10 years?
My role as a principal investigator on this initiative means that the responsibility for implementing the project and for its long term sustainability rests with me. I wish to accomplish the following in the next 10 years:
1. Forge institutional linkages. I look to further my work with various institutions in related spheres and build stronger ties with them.
2. Scale up the existing project to a national level. Making this project replicable is one our our long term goals.
3. Increasing market credibility. In the coming years ensuring that our eco-tourism venture is still relevant in regards to the maket is one of our focuses.
4. Community Leadership. Building the next generation of leaders from withing in the local community is the only way to ensure long term viability for our work and we will focus on this.
5. Advocacy and Policy level changes in wolf conservation. I would like to focus on policy changes to wolf habitat (common lands, grasslands, grazing lands) and to the status of the wolf itself.

How can others help you accomplish these goals?
Our work is based on building linkages with numerous stakeholders from governmnet departments to individuals. We see many roles for each and every one of these from generating awareness to providing financial support. Others can help us with marketing, advocacy, outreach and networking.

How can the public get involved with your project/work?
The general public is a key partner in knowledge sharing and our support base for lobbying and advocacy when looking to make changes to policy. The public is also a key partner in our eco-tourism venture.

What have been some successes you have had?
Our major success has been in getting the community on board to conserve wolves and grasslands. Building institutional linkages with the Timbaktu Collective and the Kalpavalli Tree Growers Society has been a major success. In turn, our collaborative work has led to over 8,000 acres of common lands being declared as a biodiversity reserve by the local communities. Getting funding in principal for the next 3 years 2016-2019 from a key partner of the Timbaktu Collective has been a huge success for us, all that remains is to submit the final project with budget in August. Getting a small grant from the Audobon Society www.audubon.org to conduct conservation education and awareness across 47 villages and reaching over 2,000 childern is also one of our successes.

What are some lessons you have learned/what would you have done differently?
Although this project is in its initial stages, one thing we could have done and which will focus on is social media. We did not share our work widely enough and use the reach of social media effectively. For example, currently – our website is still not fully functional.

Have there been any major or minor milestones in your work?
A major milestone has been getting the local communities to recognize the need to conserve the wolf and its habitat. In addition, getting a fellowship to the Kinship Conservation Fellows to further develop the project is a milestone. Recieving funding from the Audobon Society and other sources has been a major milestone.

 

Our project uses the Indian Grey Wolf as a Flagship species for conservation and through the creation of rural cooperatives.

Others can help us with marketing, advocacy, outreach and networking.

The general public is a key partner in knowledge sharing and our support base for lobbying and advocacy when looking to make changes to policy.

Our major success has been in getting the community on board to conserve wolves and grasslands.

Grasslands are important habitats and are home to many wild species. Please help us conserve grasslands and all that live on them.