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Tiger conservation programs in India

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In our last post, we talked about tigers.  Here, we’ll share some more thoughts about how tiger conservation programs (and other conservation programs) can be created successfully.

We went to the Nature Conservation Foundation to find out about conservation in India.  We left after learning about many other things, too:  science; government policy; climate change; and working with local people.

It’s hard to sum up such a rich conversation, but there were two key ideas.

- Conservation should be based on science.  Without scientific data, conservationists may mean well, but their actions may not have the impact they want.

- Conservation policies should be created in harmony with local people.  Policies that tell local people what they can’t do — without considering the impact on those local people — are likely to fail.

How to be a Conservationist

MD Madhusudan (Madhu) and three young friends met 21 years ago.  Trained as scientists, they set out to explain the world through science.  They went to remote areas:  mountains, oceans and forests.

MD Madhusudan (Madhu)

MD Madhusudan (Madhu)

But the environmental impacts they studied in all these places were from one species:  humans.  So they started looking at how humans interact with the environment.  And then, they wanted to do something about it.

Now they work on programs all over India.  They investigate problems and causes.  They work to understand people’s attitudes.  They intervene by creating partnerships with local people.  And they stay with projects long-term, to measure success.

To Begin:  Understand the Problem

First, when starting a conservation program, it’s important to understand the problem.  For example, there are two areas where tigers disappeared in India:  Sariska Tiger Reserve and Keladevi Sanctuary (adjacent to Ranthambhore, where we saw a wild tiger).  According to Madhu, you could just put solutions in place to protect tigers… but they might be the wrong solutions.

Here’s why:  In Sariska, prey for the tigers was plentiful.  The problem was poachers.  But in Keladevi, local livestock had overrun the park, and tigers had lost their prey.  The problem in Keladevi was food for the tigers, and conflict with local people.  So in areas where tigers are threatened, the potential solutions may be very different.

The tiger we saw in Ranthambhore reserve

The tiger we saw in Ranthambhore reserve

Work With Local People

A major problem with large wildlife is that it creates lots of difficulties for local people — like restrictions on areas of forest, livestock being killed, and attacks on people.  How is it possible to save wild animals, like tigers, when they can cause such difficulties?

Amazingly, according to Madhu, people in India have shown their willingness to live in harmony with wild, dangerous animals such as tigers, leopards and elephants.  Understanding people’s attitudes toward wildlife is key.  People in India don’t hate elephants and tigers — mostly, they respect them.  But they do cause real problems.

NCF realized that it can’t do conservation without also helping address these problems.  By using this approach, they, and other conservation groups, have had some successes.  Here are just a couple of examples:

Problem:  Tigers Preying on Livestock

When they stray from their reserves, tigers sometimes go after people’s livestock — sheep, cows, horses, goats — in search of food.  People may then try to kill the tigers to protect their livestock.

Tiger we saw in Ranthambhore

Tiger we saw in Ranthambhore


Tigers may leave reserves for different reasons:  lack of prey, or too many tigers in one area.  And, even within their own territories, tigers may encounter livestock that have come there to graze.

So, to deal with predators, like tigers, NCF has worked with villagers on better fencing for protecting livestock.  They’ve helped farmers fence in areas so they can grow feed crops for their animals to graze, instead of letting them loose to graze.  In some areas, NCF has also started community-based compensation programs — sort of like having insurance for your livestock, so if an animal is killed by a tiger, the farmer gets paid.

Problem:  Cooking Fuel

Although it isn’t an NCF project, Madhu shared another great example.  In Bandipur, there are thousands of families living near the forest, and the average family was collecting about 3 tons of firewood each year.  This was taking a huge toll on the forest as a habitat for wildlife, including tigers.  The government protected the forest, which cut off the primary source of firewood for villagers.

Solution:  LPG Stoves

So, an organization called Namma Sangha provided LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) stoves to villagers at a reduced cost.  LPG stoves are healthier for people’s lungs than cooking over fire.  And, instead of gathering firewood, people now have more time to earn additional income.  Now, more than 17,000 families participate in the program.  (If that many families stop collecting firewood completely, that could mean 50,000 tons of forest preserved each year.)

LPG stove

LPG stove

Madhu reminded us that some conservation problems come, not from criminals, but from honest, decent people doing reasonable things.  It’s easy for urban people to be concerned about saving wild animals.  But sometimes they overlook how someone else bears the cost of that conservation — like lost livestock, or lack of fuel to cook.

NCF is working hard to understand both sides of the equation, and hopefully, by respecting the needs of people, conservation can go hand-in-hand with programs that help people, too.


Study Guide Questions

1. What are the 2 key conservation principles we learned from MD Madhusudan?

2. True or False: All of the problems with loss of tigers in India have been caused by poachers.

3. Why would a tiger leave a nature reserve?

If you are an educator, we’ve created a page to help you leverage content we’ve created, including an index of our posts.

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The dogsledding season ends in Minnesota (but continues in Greenland)

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3_24_14StudentResponse (Lower)


Yesterday Amy and I said goodbye to the 70 sled dogs that we spent the winter working with at Wintergreen. We are heading to Chicago to visit schools. We will also be getting ready to head to the Amazon Rainforest in May. It is sad to think that another dogsledding season in Minnesota is coming to a close. However, the owners of Wintergreen, Paul and Sue Schurke, are about to head north on an amazing dogsled adventure. In a couple weeks, the Schurkes will fly to the one of the northernmost villages in the world—Siorapaluk, Greenland. Siorapaluk is a tiny village of less than 100 people in northwestern Greenland. Can you find Siorapaluk, Greenland on a map?


Northern Greenland is one of the last places on earth where people still hunt and travel using dogsleds like they have done for thousands of years. The Inuit hunters use large sleds call qamutiq. Sled dogs are usually connected to the qamutiq with a fan hitch. In a fan hitch, each dog has a long rope that connects it to the sled. The fan hitch works well for these dog teams that travel over jumbled sea ice.

greenland 2014


In Minnesota we dogsled over frozen lakes and rivers, as well as over trails through the woods. A fan hitch would not work because the dog team would be too spread out. We use a tandem hitch in order for the dog team to fit on narrow trails in the woods. The tandem hitch means the dogs are running in a line two by two.


When traveling in the Northwest Territories, we learned about one more way to hook up a dog team. There, the Dene First Nations people would traditionally run dog teams on really narrow trails in the woods. They would hook up their dogs in single file to travel on these trails.


These are three examples of how people traditionally dogsled in three different parts of the world. What kind of dogsledding would you like to try? What type of dogsledding would be best suited for the area you live in? Thank you for taking part in our Boreal Wilderness Adventure. We hope you learned a lot about dogsledding and the boreal forest. Let us know what your favorite lesson was! Do you have any suggestions for how we can make your learning adventures better?

Keep Exploring!


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Dog of the Week: Inuk

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Type of dog: Canadian Inuit

Age: 6, born in August of 2007
Favorite position: Lead


Hello. My name is Inuk. I am in charge. I just want to make sure there is no question, in case you were wondering. I run in lead. When I run with a partner, I tell him or her what to do. Usually I end up running with a younger dog. They can be so wild and curious. I quickly tell them what to do with a sharp bark or a growl. I am good at leading. I won’t let you down. You can depend on me. I am bigger than most of the other female dogs in the kennel. Like I said, I am in charge!

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Presentation at Vermilion Community College

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Dave and Amy will be giving a presentation at Vermilion Community College, sponsored by the VCC Foundation’s Barbara and Bill Rom Lecture Series Fund.

When: 5 pm on March 22

Where: Lecture Hall CL 104 at Vermilion Community College

Photo by Bryan Hansel

Photo by Bryan Hansel

Across the Continent by Kayak, Canoe and Dogsled

National Geographic Adventurers of the Year, Dave and Amy Freeman began a three-year, 11,700-mile journey across North America on Earth Day of 2010. Their human-powered trek took them from Bellingham, Washington to Key West, Florida via the Arctic. From coming eye-to-eye with humpback whales and grizzly bears to kayaking past Manhattan during rush hour and hunkering down as Superstorm Sandy battered the New Jersey coast, the Freemans have an unforgettable story to share.

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