MONDAY, APRIL 23
Geeta Seshamani, Senior Wildlife Conservationist and Co-Founding Director, Wildlife SOS
Known for the landmark conservation success of ending the brutal dancing bear trade in India through the rescue of 628 dancing bears and the rehabilitation of the Kalandar community that depended on the bears, Wildlife SOS has established itself as a premier conservation organization in India.
Wildlife SOS was started in 1995 as an offshoot of Geeta Seshamani’s existing helpline for domestic animals in distress in the National Capital Region, and has since grown from a local 24-hour rescue helpline for wildlife to a country-wide organization, running more than 40 projects and 11 rescue centres with the aim of enabling coexistence of human beings and wildlife. Today, the organization runs three 24-hour rescue helplines in major cities in India (including the national capital of Delhi), which rescue, rehabilitate and release wildlife caught in urban settings.
With exploding populations and rapid urbanization, forests continue to shrink as anthropogenic stress destroys natural habitats, diverts water channels and depletes prey bases for indigenous wildlife, forcing them into human habitation on the periphery of former forested areas. A natural result of this is human-wildlife conflict, a fast growing and extremely critical conservation concern for the 21st century.
In response to this growing threat to wildlife, Wildlife SOS runs conflict mitigation projects in Maharashtra for leopards, in Kashmir for Asiatic Black Bears and Himalayan Brown Bears, and in Chhattisgarh for the Asian elephant. The projects work closely with local affected communities and stakeholders to provide solutions to conflict that are inclusive and hence sustainable, relying on increased tolerance and compassion on the parts of local people inculcated in them through training programs, awareness drives and mitigation workshops by the organization. Wildlife SOS also works on human-primate conflict mitigation in the city of Agra, running a humane population control project through scientific immuno-sterilisation that also helps reduce inter and intra-specific territorial aggression and conflict.
- There’s no going back, only learning to move forward: Populations are growing, and will continue to grow unchecked for a long time, and anthropogenic pressure on the environment cannot always be reduced or eliminated. In situations like this, dwelling on the difficulty of the situation and wishing we could undo the problems we have created for wildlife will not work – the need of the hour is to find a way to move forward sustainably by creating oases of sanctuary for these animals, and helping people learn to co-exist with the wildlife they share their landscapes with.
- The larger the animal, the larger the problem: With larger animals, particularly carnivores, who force themselves to adapt to urban environments, the problem is exacerbated by an acute intolerance founded on baseless fear, misunderstanding and a lack of awareness. In most instances, unrealistic demands for culling, capture and relocation cannot be met due to their significant detrimental impact on the environment and wild populations of critical species – and innovative solutions are required to solve the problem.
- The key is in community: In instances where local communities, particularly poor farming communities residing on the fringes of society are the most affected by conflict, legal, political and governmental solutions are rarely as effective as community-based solutions that seek to involve local stakeholders and affected persons by engaging with them to increase awareness, and involving them as active participants in the conservation of the species through mitigation of conflict.
Geeta Seshamani started working in 1979 with an animal welfare organization called Friendicoes SECA in New Delhi. Her passion is Wildlife Conservation and Research. Geeta has been a Member of the Animal Welfare Board of India, Central Zoo Authority, Government of India and has received several life time achievement awards and felicitations for her work in the field. Geeta established Wildlife SOS, India (wildlifesos.org) in 1995 with Kartick Satyanarayan that runs several projects to support Bear conservation in India including the largest rehabilitation center in the world for sloth bears. She is known for her work in bringing an end to the ‘dancing bear’ problem in India while rehabilitating the Kalandar communities through education and alternate livelihoods. She is now focused on tackling Bear conservation issues through biodiversity conservation, protecting sloth bear and black bear habitat and creating bear conservation and education programs to mitigate bear human conflict in India, wherever there is an increase in human-bear conflict.