Deconstructing wildlife biologist Mysore Doreswamy Madhusudan’s work is to understand the philosophy of “accommodative living”– that is accommodating the needs of the animals while meeting the needs of people living within the range of the animals.
It is the abiding belief that conservation of wildlife cannot be achieved without the active support and involvement of locals that has underlined all of Madhusudan’s work. Sustainable efforts at conservation will not be possible without the support of farmers, is his argument.
Fondly called as “Madhu”, Madhusudan is the director of Mysore-based Nature Conservation Foundation that has a “broad goal of science-based and socially responsible conservation”. His work has been vindicated when he recently bagged the Whitley Award for his contribution to reduce human-wildlife conflict in the world’s most densely populated biodiversity hotspot, the Western Ghats.
What Madhusudan is doing is to mitigate the human-wildlife conflict by helping farmers protect their crops and financing the cost of erecting fences. While the initial investment is raised through grants and contributions — the £30,000 grant from the Whitley Award donated by HSBC Bank will go towards this, farmers pay for maintenance with NCF being the service provider. The fee is roughly Rs 40 per acre per month.
The inspiration for his work: An old farmer couple losing their entire crop to elephants that trampled and destroyed their means of livelihood. The couple had made substantial investment in the crop, had lost everything, and was completely shattered. “For someone raised in the city, like me, it showed the true harshness of marginal life and the high cost our very poorest people pay for wildlife conservation,” he is quoted as having said in his award acceptance speech.
Such passion for helping distressed farmers is what seemed to have got the jury to choose him for the Whitley award, popularly referred to as “Green Oscars.” “In Madhu’s case, we were especially impressed that he is showing how the burden of those who live closest to nature, and may suffer hardships as a result, can be eased in ways which benefit wildlife and their human neighbours,” Edward Whitley, who has founded the fund and who chaired the judging panel, said.
Madhusudan is broadly interested in understanding the ecological and social aspects of human activities that impinge on large wild organisms and using this knowledge to effectively mobilize conservation action and change on the ground.
A Mysorean, Madhusudan is the son of a teacher-couple, M.D. Doraiswamy, a retired reader at the Regional College of Education (RCE), and C.S. Anandalakshmi, a retired teacher at the CFTRI School.
Having completed his schooling from CFTRI and with a B.Sc from Yuvaraja’s College, Mysore, Madhusudan obtained his master’s degree in wildlife biology from the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun. His PhD thesis was on resource use in and around forests and its impact on large mammal conservation under the guidance of Anindya Sinha, a primatologist and professor at National Institute of Advanced Studies.
Credited with discovering Arunachal Macaque, a new species of macaque from Arunachal Pradesh in 2004, Madhusudan is also a well-known academic internationally. He is a visiting research fellow at the University of Leeds.
As the director of the NCF that he founded in 1996, he is spearheading several projects focusing on minimizing human-wildlife conflicts in Nicobar Islands, Arunachal Pradesh, Trans-Himalayan areas, and Bhadra and Bandipur areas closer home.
Especially interesting is a study on the consequence of the use of wildlife habitat by livestock, specifically in Bhadra and Bandipur areas, and also an attempt at conflict resolution in Valparai plateau, an area close to wildlife sanctuary, in the Anamalai hills.
In Bhadra and Bandipur Tiger Reserves, the team of scientists at the Foundation attempted to understand the consequences of intense use of wildlife habitat by livestock on large wild herbivores. In the study, it was found that the permanent pastureland available for grazing by wild herbivores was much lower in areas intensively grazed by livestock. The results suggested that in the long-term, continued livestock pressures in natural habitats could affect wild herbivores populations “simply by out-competing them for the limited forage available”.
Similarly, the Anamalai-Parambikulam Elephant Reserve has the second largest Asian elephant population of around 1500 elephants in 5700 sq km. Adjoining it is the 220 sq km Valparai plateau landscape dominated by tea, coffee, cardamom, and Eucalyptus plantations with fragments of rainforest. Here, NCF scientists are studying the elephant movement patterns, habitat use, behaviour, and patterns of conflict with people to identify and implement measures to reduce or resolve conflict.