Day two of the SCB Asia regional conference brought with it a packed schedule and much running around as a few of us attempted to make it to various talk in parallel sessions. Some even tried this between the speed talks (!). Today for me turned out to be all about megafauna - the BIG animals. Tigers - Indian and Siberian, elephants, dholes, leopards their distributions, their populations, degrading connectivity and maintaining genetic pools. Very heavy with models and statistics that conclusively provide enough scientific motivation to employ these results in policy.
Talking (yes, still) about the snippets that I noted and remember will be a jumble if we do this chronologically. So instead I am going to go topic wise.
Tigers - Russian conservation efforts need to see that large biomass prey base remains intact because these cats cannot afford to spend energy to hunt the required number of smaller prey across a year. Tigers in India - they traverse across the larger agricultural matrix quite well and novel ways are being used to look at the existing populations. The routes they take are sometimes quite surprising with a few protected areas for tigers being completely avoided (!) and some parks behaving like a "bus stop" with a large amount of inflow - outflow. Connectivity will have to be more seriously looked at and factors defining some protected ares not being used must be addressed to have a better handle on the conservation of the same. Also in tiger habitats a great deal can be and has been achieved through local peoples trained in survey methods.
Leopards - exist in extensive farmland and may be culture shocked when caught and relocated to a forest where they must learn what is prey and deal with forest structural factors of a thick canopy or non-crop vegetation. Maybe even the total absence of people may throw them off track. Maybe this happens only in India. We should remember cats are territorial and empty lots get taken off the market - so relocation may just swap individuals around. Relocation we're now finding may increase human-big cat conflict (at least with leopards). Townie leopards should probably not be released in the wild.
Elephants - populations being blocked in by private estates and corridors shrinking seasonally may not be the only changes they are finding hard to cope with. A road that is almost entirely as a linear barrier (too steep sides + human settlement concentrations) may require us to build viable overpasses. Needless to say - science must govern the placement of such measures, not administration and certainly not human convenience.
Other large carnivores - Canids being threatened by distemper carrying stray dogs and roaming outside of parks are often the very populations that provide for genetic mixing. Populations within parks also are increasingly being affected by hard edge affects - much larger for some taxa (sometimes extending beyond 6kms inside a forest from the edge). Conservation for large mammals across the region will have to consider measures that involve human dominated landscapes in a bid for healthy populations of large carnivores.
Peppered among the 'big carnivore day' today were science findings such as -
- Economic approaches to solving people-park situations fail in long term as attachment to land and way of life are rarely adequately compensated.
- Biodiversity of taxa like birds and amphibians largely fall through the net of protected areas and have have a lot less ability to bridge fragmentation gaps. These taxa therefore are under great peril even and especially in biodiversity hotspots where human pressures on non-protected land are converting as much habitat as legally possible.
- Vultures: the fight against Diclofenac use for cattle continues unabated and must remain the top priority for the many species of vulture to survive.
- Lion Tailed Macaques are in dire need of canopy connectivity between populations especially to facilitate males to get around.
- A study on forest and tea estates in Manipur found that ambient air temperature warming causes more carbon flux. (Initial findings that need more spatial and seasonal replicates that may point to these key habitat's source and sink functions for carbon storage)
A take-away from yesterday that got reiterated at the closing of today's sessions after a ride of different species and places and wholly ecological in nature: Politics, Economics, Society, Cultures - ALL of this has to be the purview of conservationists. The science has to play out in policy and governance (see what I did there for this regional's theme?). Maybe tomorrow will be a day of acting on all the parallel, collaborative and required momentum today generated to crystallize ideas and future course of conservation in the region.
Also most posters went up today (click the image to view pdf):