An Interview with Shivani Dogra
© PRASENJEET YADAV
Welcome back to Corridor Conversations, and the next interview in our series on women working in connectivity conservation.
Today, Harshad Sambamurthy speaks with Ms. Shivani Dogra, Conservator of Forests, Yadadri Circle, Telangana (IFS Batch 2007)
How has your journey in conservation been thus far? What drew you to this field?
The journey has been great. I have had an opportunity to work in the forests of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana for the past 15 years; from the evergreen forests of coastal areas to places with the endemic Red Sanders. I have worked in various wildlife areas, and one of the most memorable experiences was in Kadapa; while working on the conservation of the critically endangered Jerdons courser. The journey continued to the Kawal Tiger Reserve, Telangana, and now, I am managing the dry deciduous forests in Yadadri.
I come from the hills where you are always amidst nature. So, nature has always been a part of my life growing up. While I was studying forestry during graduation, we were taken around the country and were exposed to various forest and wildlife management activities in various states and that’s when simple studies turned into a lifelong passion. Have never looked back since then.
Have you faced challenges as a woman working in conservation? What are some of the stereotypes you have had to fight against/ negotiate?
Conservation demands restriction and that is the biggest challenge. Though everyone understands the importance of conservation, no one likes limitation. The choice between conservation and development has always been debated and remains so. Hence the challenge is immense. Being a woman in conservation has never been a problem for me. It has rather got its advantages. Once people understand your intent and determination, they come along and it becomes easier to walk on this path. Though being a working woman sometimes poses challenges as you are under constant scrutiny from the system, and under pressure to prove your capabilities time and again.
What are some valuable lessons you’ve learnt that could benefit early-career women conservationists?
I would say, “Just Go Girl”. Never let anyone or any situation break you as a woman. You are always expected to fulfil all your responsibilities; be it as a homemaker, as well as an officer/ entrepreneur etc. There will always be stereotypes. Just Stand your ground, be firm in what you believe. Remember one thing: You are STRONG, CAPABLE, and BETTER in every sense one can imagine. Just Don’t stop.
In the landscape you work in, what are some of the similarities (or differences) you have observed in how forest-dwelling communities perceive wildlife, and the shared spaces they call home?
The forest-dwelling communities that really depend on the forests worship them and know how to use these spaces without breaking the balance. And that’s the Mantra of conservation. However, with the changing socio-economic, socio-political scenario; just like everyone, their perception is also changing, and they have started looking at the forest as a commodity.
At times, people do not want to acknowledge the importance of conservation and its importance to humanity. However, the efforts to protect and conserve nature as well as wildlife are showing results. Greening programmes have resulted in increases in green cover and has also led to awareness amongst the masses. One can see people actively participating in plantation drives and fighting for the cause of wildlife conservation. One can hope that the future for our younger generations is one that is green and clean.
In Telangana, are the local community supportive of the Forest Department’s interventions? As a Forest Department official, how have you navigated relationships with the local community?
They are. However, the dependency of the people on forests, and their socio- economic status has a lot to do with their support to the forest department’s interventions. Many a time, their livelihood is a major consideration when we talk of conservation. Therefore, it’s a tough battle between conservation and development; as both are necessary for the people. Communication is key. However, certain times, people are not ready and thereby make it difficult to navigate this fragile relationship.
Many a time, media coverage focuses on large mammals traversing fragmented habitat. How can we highlight the importance of connectivity for smaller species?
That’s very true. We need to create awareness on the importance of smalIer species in an ecosystem, and their role in improving the habitat for developing and improving habitats for larger species. The exposure of media to all kinds of lives in a forest, at different trophic levels, and the efforts of conservation, connecting various landscapes is necessary for various species be it avifauna, amphibians, aquatic, mammals, or reptiles. This will definitely bring focus on such important and lesser-known species and their habitat connectivity.
Linear infrastructure can often lead to instances of roadkill. Are there examples of mitigation measures from the areas you were posted in (or elsewhere) in Telangana that you feel have worked and feel to be effective, and think could be used in other landscapes?
In most cases, underpasses have been used as major mitigation measures to prevent wildlife roadkill. Besides this, the speed limits while passing through wildlife areas/ Protected Areas have also been very useful. In addition to that, regulating the movement of heavy vehicles during the night has also been very effective (e.g. by erecting check posts at the entry and exit of such wildlife areas). In certain instances, even speed breakers are useful. There can never be a common strategy that will work for all areas as it will have to be tailored to the terrain, kind of forests, etc. Hence, strategies can be devised and implemented based on wildlife locations and traffic.
What is the current status of tigers, and their connectivity in your landscape? What does the future hold?
Even though urbanisation has increased, tigers are traversing old corridors again. This could be due to biotic pressures or increases in tiger populations due to conservation efforts, and their subsequent search for newer territories. The future calls for protecting such habitats and connecting fragmented habitats, or else conservation efforts will be in vain. Also, we will have to deal with more instances of human – animal conflict; therefore the coexistence we talk about today might not be relevant tomorrow. So, protection of these corridors needs to be our utmost priority.
What are the foreseeable challenges in maintaining habitat connectivity? Realistically speaking, can they be maintained in the long-term, or is the arm of socio-economic development bound to cut through this longevity?
Striking a balance between conservation and development has always been the greatest challenge. Most of the corridors fall outside the forests and include human habitations and other development areas, and as such, it is very difficult to exercise regulations on certain activities for maintaining such corridors.
With corridors not recognised as a legal category, how does the Forest Department navigate that space? Is there internal clarity/ policy in place? What are some of the challenges here?
Constantly trying to connect with people and explain to them how coexistence is the key to the existence of the humankind seems to be the only solution that I can think of right now, which is being followed by the Forest Department in wildlife corridors. There is no doubt on the policy or the guidelines, though it is a challenge to convince people to give preference to something that is not directly beneficial to them.
How can we map tiger connectivity in a future that is likely to have more tigers, and surely to have more humans, and therefore more human-wildlife interactions? Is that a disaster waiting to happen or a global case-study in co-existence?
It is all in our hands whether we want a disaster or coexistence. The definitions and understanding of development needs alteration. A culture that protects nature consciously is imperative. In India, I do not think it is difficult for our society, where we already worship all elements of nature. We worship possible plants and animals. A little push is all we need. I think coexistence is the only option we are left with.