An Ode to Women in Conservation
Happy Women’s Day!
A tribal widowed woman with ten children, who owned nothing more than a shack in the Nagarahole forest, has gone on to be honoured as ‘super farmer’ after relocating outside. In her message of gratitude, the woman Daasi, notes how she was a ‘nothing’ inside the forest who now feels proud of her achievement and hopes more women around her will be inspired by her work.
Today we see more and more women achievers, be it the defence minister or a tribal farmer. In conservation too, the numbers are rising, sometimes even tipping over the balance.
Walking on line transects in the core of protected areas, looking out for prey species counts, but also encountering unpredictable wild animals like elephants and bears, women in conservation are proof that their gender is no more known for faint hearts.
In the line of research, the women scour leopard scat and nip a hair off the cow’s back for DNA analysis in understanding the leopard’s varied diet! They can put a baby gibbon in a rescue centre to sleep, and also unflinchingly dissect a deceased elephant’s foot to find the cause of death. Some women can switch from a project to the next with dexterity and competence matching the LTM swinging high in the canopy. Tailing elephants, rogues or matriarchs, our women are walking with the men to help identify individual pachyderms in a unique project.
There are women in conservation who have proven their worth in grit and action. They can pitch in and even lead operations to trap and rescue a gharial, found with fishing nets entangled on its snout. This calls for strength and gentle handling. There are the women who trudge through tough, unfriendly jungle terrain as they do their studies on birds and primates. Dedication and passion fuel their arduous treks in search of information that can be used to protect a species and its habitat.
There are also those who sit in the confines of an office room and figure out effective ways to use the funds in hand to conserve species and landscapes. No less challenging a job is this, where one often negotiates sensitive egos and rigid mindsets in order to win a key support for the organisation.
Women scientists are collaring tranquilised leopards and showing the world that the carnivore is no ‘blood-thirsty beast’ waiting to ‘pounce and maul’ humans but an animal that has learnt rather wisely how to co-exist with humans while staying out of sight. These researchers can call a fake a fake as they take on popular myths.
Talking to the hunter, and convincing him how it can be more worthwhile to be a protector of wildlife, is no easy job. Convinced women have taken on the daunting job. To empathise with the loss of a family caught in the midst of human-wildlife conflicts and cause a change in habits calls for walking a thin line. Our women are doing that so well too.
In the arena where the ugliest and roughest operate, poaching and trading in wildlife parts, women are joining the fight. Deciphering the law, revealing the loopholes, motivating and strengthening the frontline staff, be sure these are no mock-fighters.
Staying committed to the cause of nature and wildlife conservation, there are the women who have taken on the might of a whole ministry. Convinced and fearless, they have called the bluff of threatening seniors and refused to budge from their uncompromising ethical stand in the face of transfers and suspensions. They have helped frame policies and guidelines that today stand in good stead for the cause of wildlife conservation.
These tough women have a soft heart as is evident with the social causes they undertake. Be it fighting for stray dogs or educating a poor child, or shedding a few tears for the orphaned elephant calf.
Fighting for a just and kind world, where all creatures are respected and have their place; where development is inclusive of the environment; where mankind takes on stewardship of the planet instead of exploiting for greed; where truth is worth fighting for. That is what more and more women in conservation are doing, here in WCS-India and elsewhere, as they join the ranks of men battling it out.