Issue 13
May 2017


Studies have shown that changing weather patterns are likely to impact biodiversity and ecosystem services. Local communities have reported effects like early budburst and flowering of certain species of plants. To mitigate climate change and assess the impacts of change on biodiversity, ATREE collaborated with West Bengal Forest Department to conduct a two-day training workshop. Held from 27-28 April at the West Bengal Forest School, Kurseong, Darjeeling, West Bengal, the workshop trained 30 field/frontline staff, belonging to various divisions of Darjeeling's Forest Department.

Workshop on surface water quality monitoring

ATREE conducted a one-day workshop on 18 May to discuss surface water quality monitoring and address the issues and challenges associated with it. The sessions were anchored by Priyanka Jamwal from ATREE, Gary Fones from the University of Portsmouth, Mohan Kumar from IISc, Bangalore, and Veena Srinivasan from ATREE. The first session of the workshop included a comparative analysis of the water-quality regulatory and monitoring frameworks in India and the EU, followed by a discussion of water quality monitoring and modelling techniques. In the second session, the speakers presented the challenges in water quality monitoring and explored the potential of passive sampling devices for monitoring pollutants effectively at a lower cost. The workshop concluded with a group discussion on potential applications of passive sampling in the Indian context.

International Day of Biodiversity

ATREE’s Darjeeling office organised a perspective building panel discussion on ‘Current trends of tourism and its impact on biodiversity in the Darjeeling Himalaya’ in collaboration with the Tourism Department, Gorkhaland Territorial Administration (GTA), Darjeeling. The workshop was organised on the 22 May, the International Day for Biodiversity. The panel discussion explored ‘terminological/definitional’ crisis concerning tourism in the region. New concepts such as eco-tourism and sustainable tourism lack consensus, appropriate regulations and proper management.

In celebrating the biological diversity of India, ATREE's Mathivanan writes for Dinamalar, a Tamil daily, about the importance of diversity for human wellbeing. Drawing attention to the services humans derive from diverse species and natural processes, he puts the threats that endanger biological systems in context.
Biodiversity and human well-being, Dinamalar, 22 May

Annual Vembanad Fish Count

ATREE's Community Environment Resource Centre, Vembanad, organised the 10th edition of Annual Vembanad Fish Count from 26-27 May. More than 140 volunteers, from 12 institutions, attended the event. The fish count observed an increase in the number of fish species. The team found 49 species of fishes and eight kinds of prawns, one species each of backwater crab and clam. The following publications covered the results of the survey:
49 fish species identified in Vembanad, The Times of India, 28 May
Slight increase in fish species in Vembanad, The Hindu, 28 May


ATREE's PhD student Vikram Aditya received the Wildlife Conservation Trust - WCT Small Grant to study hunting practices and impacts on wildlife in the northern Eastern Ghats. His research focuses on the population status of the endangered Indian Pangolin in the region.

ATREE’s Senior Fellow, Sharachchandra Lele was appointed to the editorial board of the journal Sustainability Science, published by Springer. At ATREE, Sharachchandra Lele is the leader of the Climate Change Mitigation and Development programme. He has also contributed significantly to ATREE’s research on urban waterscapes and forest management.


Labour and conservation

Marking the International Worker’s Day, ATREE’s Siddhartha Krishnan and Rinzi Lama write about the missing narrative of the conservation labour force in debates and discussions on conservation. Discussing the labour-conservation conundrum, they draw examples from the biologically and culturally diverse landscapes of eastern Himalayas.
It’s Time to Make Conservation Labour Visible Again, The Wire, 1 May

Forest laws and forest crimes

The laws governing conservation of our forests are ambiguous. While on the one hand, the Forest Rights Act of 2006 gives local communities land and tenure rights, the legislation conflicts with the Wildlife Protection Act (1972) and the Indian Forest Act (1927). This ambiguity disenfranchises forest dwelling communities, leaving little room for activities that support their livelihoods and community-led conservation efforts. ATREE's Arpitha Kodiveri argues that forest departments continue to use the laws to criminalise the very activities which the Forest Rights Act guarantees.
Conflicting Laws Are Criminalising Forest Communities for Exercising Their Rights, The Wire, 2 May

ATREE’s researchers Nitin Rai and C Madegowda trace the history of BRT and explore the transformations that the landscape has undergone. Once an open forest with woodland savannas in the early 70’s, Biligiri Ranganswami Temple Tiger has been home to the Soligas, a native forest-dwelling tribe. They practised shifting agriculture by setting fires every summer, but after BRT had become a wildlife sanctuary, setting a fire in the forests was banned. Transformations that ensued in the region, coupled with an attempt to increase tiger numbers, further alienated the locals. Today, the landscape of BRT is colonised by the weed Lantana camara.
Once there was a fire, The Hindu, 14 May

Swachch Baharat Mission and water governance

ATREE's researchers Durba Biswas and Priyanka Jamwal talk about The Swachh Bharat Mission in peri-urban India. They argue that The Swachh Bharat Mission promises to address issues of sanitation and water in rapidly urbanising areas. However, without an adequate understanding of all potential sources of contamination, the mission may, at best, only achieve the goal of universal sanitation but may not meet the goal of safe drinking water.
The Swachh Bharat Mission- Groundwater Contamination in peri-urban India, Economic and Political Weekly, 20 May

Feral dogs and conservation

ATREE’s researcher Abi Vanak, along with Al Glen from Landcare Research, New Zealand discusses how dogs threaten endangered species. Across tropical biodiversity-rich countries, dogs threaten livestock and wildlife. Chasing, harassing and hunting wild fauna, dogs are a potential threat to 188 wild species. Aside from killing the animals, feral dogs threaten the wildlife by spreading diseases, interbreeding, and competing with resources. They recommend integrating human health and animal welfare objectives into dog management to ensure conservation of wildlife.
The bark side: domestic dogs threaten endangered species worldwide, The Conversation, 2 May

In the News

The Dogged Problem

Domestic dogs (Canis familiaris) have a near-global distribution. They range from being feral and free-ranging to owned and wholly dependent on humans. Recent research on the topic by ATREE’s researchers Abi Tamim Vanak and Chandrima Home reveal the extent of the problems caused by free-ranging dogs; estimating their impact globally, and their impacts on local livelihoods. Globally, dogs have contributed to 11 vertebrate extinctions and are a known or potential threat to at least 188 threatened species worldwide, including 96 mammals, 78 bird, 22 reptile and three amphibian species. This includes 30 critically endangered species, two of which are classed as “possibly extinct”. These numbers place dogs as the world’s third most damaging invasive mammalian predators, behind rodents and cats.

Chandrima Home, a PhD scholar at ATREE, who studied patterns of livestock killing by feral dogs in Trans-Himalayan landscapes, found that free-ranging dogs killed more livestock than snow leopards. Dog attacks have caused high economic losses to people. With continued predation of livestock, the last five years have seen a major decline in the population of small-bodied livestock (sheep and goat) within the landscape. Many villages have stopped keeping small bodied livestock due to increased frequency of depredation by dogs.

The current rules and regulations in India prescribe that the only method for regulating dog populations is through sterilisation. However, sterilisation is unlikely to solve the problem in the short-term, especially since it is likely that only a small proportion of the dog population is becoming feral and may be responsible for most of the attacks. The publications received a wide media coverage:

Dogs are biggest predators of livestock in Trans-Himalayan regions, The Hindu, 13 May
Not their best friend, The Telegraph, 3 May
In Cold Himalayan Desert, Feral Dogs Are Killing More Livestock Than Snow Leopards, India Spend, 27 May
Dogs Are Turning Hunters, Wreaking Havoc On India's Livestock, Wildlife, The Wire, 27 May
Dogs kill more livestock in upper Himalayas than wolves, snow leopards, DNA India, 3 May

Soliga artists and their contribution to conservation

In the Male Mahadeswara Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, the forest dwelling Soliga community are making a profit out of an invasive weed called Lantana, an invasive species. Crafting furniture and other utilities through the Lantana bark is aiding the community in finding substitute livelihoods while reducing the burden of the invasive species upon the forests.

Citizen science initiatives

Once, the extensive green cover of Bengaluru gave much-needed respite to residents. Every tree had a story to tell, before the urge to rapidly urbanise cut them short. However, citizen science initiatives like The Neighbourhood Tree Campaign, where residents are encouraged to photograph trees in their neighbourhoods, are plugging gaps in science by crowdsourcing data collection, while also reinvigorating their connection with nature.

Lakes in distress

Hundreds of dead fish were found on the banks of Doddakallasandra Lake earlier this month. While Citizens claim it is due to untreated sewage flowing into the storm water drains, officials squabble over who should plug sewage flow into the lake. ATREE's Priyanka Jamwal says to The News Minute, "In summers, due to the increase in temperature, the dissolved oxygen in the water is low. The untreated sewage aggravates the problem by increasing the ammonia content in the water."

Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE),