Running a Conservation Campaign

Kudremukh -- peace restored
Giri Cavale
Banning mining in Kudremukh National Park was a hard fought conservation battle

(With inputs from Praveen Bhargav and Sanjay Gubbi)

Feel helpless in the face of conservation problems?  So do most people. But with a proper plan and a carefully thought out strategy, you’ll be surprised by what you can achieve.

There are numerous examples from around the world, which show that determined individuals – acting alone or working as a group – can win conservation battles even against huge odds.  To quote renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.

Here are a couple of examples from India:

  • 2003, Karnataka:  a group of NGOs led by Wildlife First and Kudremukh Wildlife Foundation successfully campaigned to close down a huge iron ore mining operation in the heart of the Kudremukh National Park.
  • 2005, Tamil Nadu: a small group of individuals successfully campaigned to restore sea turtle nesting beaches from encroachment by coastal Casuarina plantations raised by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department with funding from the World Bank.

Simply visiting wildlife reserves or talking about conservation is of little use. With India’s wildlife under tremendous pressure, the need of the hour is concerted, well-thought out action.

However, if you’ve never undertaken a conservation campaign before, it might be difficult to even figure out where to begin or what steps to take.  The purpose of this article is to point you in the right direction.  Since no two conservation problems are exactly alike, and because every problem will have its own unique dimensions, this can only be a general road map of the basic steps that need to be taken in any conservation campaign.  You can modify this to suit your requirements.

What’s covered in this article:

Mental preparation

Understanding the problem

Determining the legal status of the problem

Preparing a report

Campaigning

Going to court

Approaching the CEC

The nuts and bolts of a conservation campaign

Managing the aftermath and being prepared for repercussions

Essential ingredients for a conservation campaign:

  • Take the initiative: When everyone assumes that someone else will take care of a problem, it ends up with no one doing anything about it! Don’t wait for someone else to lead the way.
  • Understand the issue: Conservation problems and their solutions can be complex. Therefore examine the issue from all angles and gain a thorough understanding. Only, do it quickly, because you may need to act fast!
  • Do the right things at the right time: The saying, “a stitch in time saves nine”, is really apt for conservation, for it is easier to nip a problem in the bud than to tackle it after it has assumed monstrous dimensions.

However, Conservation campaigns need not only be about stopping something that is damaging nature. It can also be about doing something proactively to safeguard an area or a species before pressures threaten it.

Mental preparation

Conservation campaigns need plenty of determination because they can involve a lot of drudgery and disappointment. Writing letters to government and meeting officials can be unexciting and time consuming, but they are absolutely essential for getting the job done. At times you may find yourself to be a lone voice in the wilderness.People may try to dissuade, discourage or, even, intimidate you. If you fail, there will be those who will say, “I told you so!” If you succeed, few will recognize your efforts, and someone else may even take credit for your hard work.

It is important to be mentally prepared for all this and persevere. A conservation campaign is more like running a marathon than a 100 metre dash, so endurance is a must! However, it need not be a lonely battle if you can find like-minded individuals to work alongside.

Understanding the problem

  • Try to determine the underlying cause of the conservation problem you are trying to tackle.  Is the problem being driven by political expediency? Or by a corporate lobby? Bureaucratic apathy? Or some other factor?  Figuring this out might help you in determining how to tackle the problem.
  • Assess if it is a chronic (long-standing) problem, which can be dealt with at leisure or an urgent problem that needs to be dealt with immediately. Does its solution lie in local action (eg.,persuading the local Range Forest officer to take action) or in something that must be done at a wider scale (eg., persuading the Government to take the right policy decision)? Either way, research and careful thought are advisable before deciding on a course of action.  Prematurely jumping to conclusions or airing one’s views in public or to the media without knowing the facts should be avoided as they may end up being counter-productive.
  • It is important to keep in mind that any advocacy is more likely to succeed if it is backed by facts, data and logic. Purely emotional arguments or action may not always work. Knee jerk reactions are almost always useless.
  • Try and identify people/organizations who are also concerned about the issue and may want to act. Discuss the matter with established experts and any committed officials you come across. This can help you put the problem in its perspective, help identify solutions and design a sensible strategy for tackling it. Most importantly, analyze who or what is causing the problem, who can solve the problem and who are your potential allies and opponents in the struggle you are taking on.
  • Conservation is like a game of chess.  To win, you must anticipate all the possible moves your opponent(s) might make and have a plan for dealing with them.
  • Search the Internet for additional facts, useful leads and maps (caution: not everything one reads on the net is accurate or reliable; so use your judgment).
  • Visit the area to learn about the problem firsthand and to collect evidence, including photographs and videos if possible. (Click here for a tutorial on conservation photography).
  • Maintain meticulous notes of the above activities, with dates, times, names and addresses.  The more data, photographs, maps, videos and testimonies you can collect, the better.

Be prepared to communicate with those who matter in the resolution of the issues. You may have to go beyond your comfort zone of caste, class, culture and language to get through to those who can help you.

About the author

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Shekar Dattatri is a Chennai-based wildlife and conservation filmmaker.


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