Conservation scientists in North East India face unending hurdles

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BENGALURU, Jan 13: Protecting a wide variety of animals, plants and other species is of economic, ecological and socio-cultural importance, conservation scientists risk their life and unravel the fundamental mysteries of life on the land, water and air. Efforts to protect these resources amidst growing developmental pressures and human populations are a global challenge and governments take several initiatives to protect the environment based on the findings of conservation scientists. When conservation of biodiversity remains a global challenge, the conservation scientists in the North Eastern region too face several hurdles to perform their studies and researches. 

Long process required for obtaining research permits, poor transportation facilities to access the remotest areas of the region, poor infrastructural facilities, unexpected landslides within the forest and lack of financial support are some of the major challenges. Difficulty in getting committed young researchers, long-term local field-guides or assistants who are willing to put up, with the demanding schedules of field ecological research, remain a major obstacle in North Eastern region. And thus rarity of quality manpower is such a big challenge to most of the conservation scientists.

Dr. Rajkamal Goswami, who hail from Tezpur, Assam said, “As a field biologist researching on issues related to forest biodiversity and its conservation in the northeast region of India, I end up spending a lot of time in the forests. However, most forests, which are still intact, are in the remotest parts of the region. Accessing those areas, which are richest not only in terms of biodiversity but also regarding opportunities for novel research, is one of the toughest challenges that I have faced in terms of work. Most of these areas don’t have motorable roads and the only way to access them is through foot. The rugged terrains are often prone to landslides and that hinter access to the forest during rains, even on foot, as most of the trails turn to raging streams during the monsoons.”

Some areas of the region are highly prone to unexpected insurgency driven violence which acts as another layer of logistical hurdle to access many of the biodiversity rich forests. North Eastern India has been facing problems of insurgency for nearly five decades; every Indian Scientist who visits the region has the fear and need to be vigilant about it. “It is important to keep in mind that many of these hurdles, that we conservation scientist face today, are actually boon for the forest and biodiversity,” added Dr. Goswami.

Amidst of these obstacles there are very few women who has the willingness to opt conservation researches in the region. “As far as biodiversity research is concerned, in my last seven years of working in the region: difficult terrain, lack of good roads, frequent earthquakes and landslides also deserve a special mention, but in retrospect I feel these are the challenges which has induced my interest in biodiversity and adaptation to nature,” said Dr. Barkha Subba, an young conservation scientist from Darjeeling, who works on edible insects of North East India.

The women strive hard to develop meaningful connections within the field and outside the field. They overcome all these impediments and conduct studies. Often their opinions are being excluded from decision making. “Even in the conservation research sector you will find huge gender disparity. Women have a general tendency to focus on biological sciences. Only few women make it to the top level of policy formation and decision making. Because they lose years in child birth, lack of family support, ego issues, balancing home and work remains as other hurdles of women in this sector,” opined Dr. Soubadra Devy, Senior Fellow at ATREE, Bengaluru. 

Identifying the biggest environmental problems in the region and determining the priority of work is essential, hence a right financial, government and local community support can be a consolation to these researchers who risk their life for the nature and mankind.  Local government initiatives in incorporating their views in policy formation are essential. The various initiatives on attaining the needed environmental knowledge for the next generation will depend on the active pursuit of the local government. More focused list of activities to be pursued in the region either alone or in collaboration with other research agencies.

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