M D Madhusudan
Scientist, Western Ghats
MSc, Wildlife Institute of India, 1995
PhD, National Institute of Advanced Studies, 2003
Over the last two decades, I have studied the ecological and social aspects of the interactions between people and large wild animals, mostly in southern India. I have also worked with individuals and collectives at various scales to apply such knowledge to mobilise conservation action and on-ground change. I have also participated in the making and application policies to try to reconcile the needs of wildlife and of humans. Along the way, I have also had the fantastic opportunity to help create, grow and manage Nature Conservation Foundation, a nonprofit that strives for knowledge-based and socially-responsible nature conservation across India.
Of late, I have become interested in the broad area of data science, but specifically, in the context of how ecologists and conservationists produce, manage, analyse and use various forms of data. Currently, I am working to leverage/build tools that help convert various kinds of ‘noisy’ information concealed in text, images and sound, into structured data, discernible patterns, and ultimately, into better ecological/conservation insight. While doing this, I am also keen to tell stories about our natural world that are crafted with rigour, and yet, are told in ways that are engaging and easy to grasp.
- Report2017Ecology and conservation of leopards in protected and multiple use forests in KarnatakaApril 2017
- Journal Article2017From intent to action: A case study for the expansion of tiger conservation from southern IndiaGlobal Ecology and Conservation, 9: 11–20Download
PDF, 2.61 MB
To conserve a large, wide-ranging carnivore like the tiger, it is critical not only to maintain populations at key habitat sites, but also to enable the persistence of the species across much larger landscapes. To do this, it is important to establish well-linked habitat networks where sites for survival and reproduction of tigers are complemented by opportunities for dispersal and colonization. On the ground, expanding protection to areas with a potential for tiger recovery still remains the means of operationalizing the landscape approach. Yet, while the gazetting of protected areas is necessary to enable this, it is not sufficient. It is essential to benchmark and monitor the process by which establishment of protected areas must necessarily be followed by management changes that enable a recovery of tigers, their prey and their habitats. In this paper, we report a case study from the Cauvery and Malai Mahadeshwara Hills Wildlife Sanctuaries of southern India, where we document the infrastructural and institutional changes that ensued after an unprecedented expansion of protected areas in this landscape. Further, we establish ecological benchmarks of the abundance and distribution of tigers, the relative abundance of their prey, and the status of their habitats, against which the recovery of tigers in this area of vast conservation potential may be assessed over time.
- Journal Article2015Distribution, relative abundance, and conservation status of Asian elephants in Karnataka, southern IndiaBiological Conservation 187:34-40Download
PDF, 1.57 MB
Karnataka state in southern India supports a globally significant—and the country’s largest—population of the Asian elephant Elephas maximus. A reliable map of Asian elephant distribution and measures of spatial variation in their abundance, both vital needs for conservation and management action, are unavailable not only in Karnataka, but across its global range. Here, we use various data gathered between 2000 and 2015 to map the distribution of elephants in Karnataka at the scale of the smallest forest management unit, the ‘beat’, while also presenting data on elephant dung density for a subset of ‘elephant beats.’ Elephants occurred in 972 out of 2855 forest beats of Karnataka. Sixty percent of these 972 beats—and 55% of the forest habitat—lay outside notified protected areas (PAs), and included lands designated for agricultural production and human dwelling. While median elephant dung density inside protected areas was nearly thrice as much as outside, elephants routinely occurred in or used habitats outside PAs where human density, land fraction under cultivation, and the interface between human-dominated areas and forests were greater. Based on our data, it is clear that India’s framework for elephant conservation— which legally protects the species wherever it occurs, but protects only some of its habitats—while being appropriate in furthering their conservation within PAs, seriously falters in situations where elephants reside in and/or seasonally use areas outside PAs. Attempts to further elephant conservation in production and dwelling areas have extracted high costs in human, elephant, material and monetary terms in Karnataka. In such settings, conservation planning exercises are necessary to determine where the needs of elephants—or humans—must take priority over the other, and to achieve that in a manner that is based not only on reliable scientific data but also on a process of public reasoning.
- Popular Article2015Current ecological concerns in the power sector: options to avoid or minimise impactsPages 89-100 in M N Goswami and P Chaudhry (editors) An Epochal Shift in the Idea of India-Meeting aspirations? IPPAI Knowledge Report, Independent Power Producers Association of India, New Delhi.
- Book Chapter2015The Nilgiri TahrPages 409-432 in A. J. T. Johnsingh & N. Manjrekar (editors) Mammals of South Asia. Volume 2. Universities Press, Hyderabad, India.
Keywords: Nilgiritragus hylocrius
- Popular Article2015Where elephants roam: mapping the distribution of an endangered megaherbivoreEcoLogic: The NCF Blog
- Journal Article2015Looking beyond parks: the conservation value of unprotected areas for hornbills in Arunachal Pradesh, Eastern HimalayaOryx, 49:303-311Download
PDF, 383 KB
The loss of tropical forests and associated biodiversity is a global concern. Conservation efforts in tropical countries such as India have mostly focused on state-administered protected areas despite the existence of vast tracts of forest outside these areas. We studied hornbills (Bucerotidae), an ecologically important vertebrate group and a flagship for tropical forest conservation, to assess the importance of forests outside protected areas in Arunachal Pradesh, north-east India. We conducted a state-wide survey to record encounters with hornbills in seven protected areas, six state-managed reserved forests and six community-managed unclassed forests. We estimated the density of hornbills in one protected area, four reserved forests and two unclassed forests in eastern Arunachal Pradesh. The state-wide survey showed that the mean rate of encounter of rufous-necked hornbills Aceros nipalensis was four times higher in protected areas than in reserved forests and 22 times higher in protected areas than in unclassed forests. The mean rate of encounter of wreathed hornbills Rhyticeros undulatus was twice as high in protected areas as in reserved forests and eight times higher in protected areas than in unclassed forests. The densities of rufous-necked hornbill were higher inside protected areas, whereas the densities of great hornbill Buceros bicornis and wreathed hornbill were similar inside and outside protected areas. Key informant surveys revealed possible extirpation of some hornbill species at sites in two protected areas and three unclassed forests. These results highlight a paradoxical situation where individual populations of hornbills are being lost even in some legally protected habitat, whereas they continue to persist over most of the landscape. Better protection within protected areas and creative community- based conservation efforts elsewhere are necessary to maintain hornbill populations in this biodiversity-rich region.
- Journal Article2015Perceptions of priority issues in the conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems in IndiaBiological Conservation, 187: 201-211Download
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We report on the results of a country-wide survey of people’s perceptions of issues relating to the con- servation of biodiversity and ecosystems in India. Our survey, mainly conducted online, yielded 572 respondents, mostly among educated, urban and sub-urban citizens interested in ecological and environ- mental issues. 3160 ‘‘raw’’ questions generated by the survey were iteratively processed by a group of ecologists, environmental and conservation scientists to produce the primary result of this study: a sum- marized list of 152 priority questions for the conservation of India’s biodiversity and ecosystems, which range across 17 broad thematic classes. Of these, three thematic classes—‘‘Policy and Governance’’, ‘‘Biodiversity and Endangered Species’’ and ‘‘Protection and Conservation’’—accounted for the largest number of questions. A comparative analysis of the results of this study with those from similar studies in other regions brought out interesting regional differences in the thematic classes of questions that were emphasized and suggest that local context plays a large role in determining emergent themes. We believe that the ready list of priority issues generated by this study can be a useful guiding framework for conservation practitioners, researchers, citizens, policy makers and funders to focus their resources and efforts in India’s conservation research, action and funding landscape.
- Report2015Tigers of Malai Mahadeshwara and Cauvery LandscapeNovember 2015Download
PDF, 5.13 MB
Report on tiger numbers in the dry forests in the confluence of Western and Eastern Ghats in southern India
- Book Chapter2014Nature Without Borders: An IntroductionPages 1-40 in Rangarajan, M., Madhusudan, M. D., & Shahabuddin, G. (eds.) Nature Without Borders. Orient Blackswan.