Winner of the Whitley Award donated by WWF-UK
Dr Aparajita Datta’s love of nature and animals began in the classroom, inspired by the books of Gerald Durrell and James Herriot. Arriving at the Pakke Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India in 1995 to study the impact of logging on arboreal creatures including squirrels and primates, her attention was instantly captured by the charismatic hornbills which became the focus of her PhD.
Two decades on, Aparajita now leads a programme to conserve hornbills in the Indian Eastern Himalaya at the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), an NGO established in 1996 to promote science-based wildlife conservation in India. Focusing on hornbills as a conservation flagship species, she is seeking to improve the status of the bird’s populations outside protected areas by establishing models of community-based conservation. Aparajita is spreading knowledge of the needs of hornbills and their importance as seed dispersers in the maintenance of healthy forest ecosystems.
Image credit: Kaylan Varma
Key to her approach is raising awareness of the threats to the bird’s survival and creating a wider rural and urban constituency for conservation through a participatory community outreach programme that gets people involved.
India’s northeastern region is known for its biological and cultural diversity. The region encompasses two global biodiversity hotspots and the world’s most northerly tropical rainforests, with an estimated 7,000-8,000 species of flowering plants, over 600 bird and 150 mammal species including tigers and elephants. The region also has a diversity of tribal communities and, although large forest areas still remain, most forests are outside protected areas where deforestation and hunting threaten the survival of wildlife and their habitats. The work of Aparajita Datta and her team of NCF researchers in partnerships with local people and the government seeks to find an equitable balance between the conservation and protection of wildlife habitats and the needs and aspirations of rural communities that depend heavily on forest resources for subsistence.
Aparajita’s Whitley Award winning project aims to:
- Expand the Hornbill Nest Adoption Programme from 9 to 14 villages and give local people a sense of ownership.
- Set up a pilot forest restoration project.
- Establish The Hornbill Nyishi Festival to popularize the role played by local tribes in conserving hornbills across the region.
Why it matters:
- Hornbills are ecologically important as seed dispersers.
- The project’s inclusive approach transforms hunters into passionate guardians of nature.
- These forests are also home to tigers, elephants, and a vast diversity of insects, amphibians, reptiles and birds.
Image credit top image: Kaylan Varma