Conservation Partner Profile: Dr Anand Kumar

This week, our conservation partner profile is on Dr Anand Kumar of the Nature Conservation Foundation India.

We support Anand’s innovative work to address the ongoing conflict between humans and elephants. His accessible and effective early-warning system uses low cost technology — including text messages and information boards along key stretches of roads — to warn people when elephants are in the area so they can take appropriate action. This project will bring increased safety to 70,000 people as the early warning system is expanded in Valparai, where it has so far had a 100% success rate, and replicated in the highly complex and fraught landscape of Hassan.

This week we hear from Anand himself about how he came to be a conservationist and what gives him hope that humans and wildlife are capable of coexisting.

Anand and Elephant Family

Over a decade of support from Elephant Family has enabled us to initiate early warning systems to convey elephant presence and movements via SMS and call alerts which help local communities to make an informed decision about their safety.

These systems have been well regarded and encouraged by people and state forest departments to be part of conflict mangement. The participation of stakeholders has resulted in removing fear of the unknown, and human fatalities remained at a low average of one person for 15 years between 2003-2021. Similar efforts in the Hassan region led to a decline of human deaths from an average of five persons per year (2010-2017) to two persons per year (2018-2021), which Hassan had never seen during the last three decades.

Stories from the field

Human-wildlife conflict is largely related to the perception of people. Constant negative interactions with wild species particularly large mammals induce fear, trauma, and affect the quality of life. Having said this, in countries such as India, centuries of living with wild elephants may influence the ways people perceive them. In Valparai, people have a lot of empathy towards elephants. One such incident has given us a lot of confidence about the possibility of promoting coexistence.

In one of the incidents, a couple who were in deep sleep on a winter night with their two children were awoken at around 3 am by a loud noise. They were shocked to see an elephant calf in their bedroom. In a panic, the couple picked-up their children ran towards the back door of the house while the mother elephant, who was alerted by a squeaky noise from the calf came to retrieve her infant. An unexpected encounter for both species!

Despite the commotion, I was astonished by the woman’s response when she expressed that she could feel the anxiety of the mother elephant to guard the calf, similar to how she felt for her own children. Her response gave me immense hope that people could accommodate these giants if the safety of lives is ensured from such surprise encounters.

Background

I am always fascinated by the theories of psychology, which talks about different personalities in humans. This quest for understanding behaviour was aided by an opportunity to look at the sociality in south Indian primates in the Anamalai hills, headed by a well-known primatologist Prof. Mewa Singh from the University of Mysore.

My six years of field days (1994-2000) with primate species such as the Bonnet macaque, lion-tailed macaque, langur speices have given me ample opportunities to understand the first five years of infant development and how this would influence the ranks, personalities, and the kind of politics of monkey groups which mirror human society more closely than any other species.

Later, the nearby tea and coffee estate managers requested that me and my colleagues from the Nature Conservation Foundation help them in dealing with human-elephant conflict. This led to the initiation of the elephant programme in the Anamalais in 2002.

I have obtained a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Mysore, India, during which I studied ecological and behavioural aspects of elephants and human-elephant interactions in the Anamalai hills of Tamil Nadu in southern India. Insights from this study paved the way for initiating early warning systems to provide safety to human lives and reduce property damages by elephants – work which is supported by Elephant Family.

I have worked with a team of conservation scientists for over a decade to mitigate human-elephant conflict with the involvement of the stakeholders and adopting innovative approaches to promote coexistence.

I have also received the Carl Zeiss Wildlife Conservation Award in 2012, Whitley Fund for Nature ‘Green Oscar‘ Award in 2015, and  Kirloskar Vasundhara Satkar Award in 2016.

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