Over the past 20 years large areas of land have been added to the protected area of a park in Central India. In order to ensure wide support for conservation and mitigate human-wildlife conflict it is crucial to closely monitor wildlife populations.
By conducting field surveys and collecting data using observations and camera-traps you can help map movement patterns and keep track of population densities. Your data on water-bird breeding along the banks of the reserve’s rivers might allow authorities to negotiate appropriate fishing locations and times with traditional fishermen. Your camera-trap data might confirm the presence of the smallest cat in the world, the rusty spotted cat, or the jungle cat, pangolin, or honey badger, and other wildlife in unexplored areas, which could warrant further action as well as attract further beneficial international attention for the area.
Your work restoring the local habitat will also help in making the environment more conducive to the animals living in the park. As you live and work among the families you can use the time you are not looking for wildlife to increase support for wildlife protection initiatives through formal and informal environmental education and livelihood programmes.
Rewilding efforts made to restore the land to its former glory of prime animal habitat have been very successful. Within a few years large fauna were spotted throughout. Former village sites are now grasslands supporting high densities of deer and antelope ensuring sufficient prey for larger cats such as the leopard and tiger. Even a tigress was found raising her cubs in the forests only a few years after establishment. Sloth bear, locally called bhālu, also hugely enjoy feasting on the mangoes and guavas growing on the trees surrounding relocated village sites.
The porous park boundaries, however, allow wildlife to roam outside the park. Groups of deer or wild boar can destroy a complete harvest in one night and some families fear that tigers might prey on their family cow. The indigenous people are also found of using the Mahua tree, which is considered holy by many tribal communities, for many purposes. Fruit and seeds are used for skin care, soap, vegetable butter, fuel oil and fertilizer, while and the flowers are used to produce an alcoholic drink. Sloth bear are also equally fond of the Mahua fruits, which is cause of serious human animal conflict throughout the area.
- Live in Madhya Pradesh, the heart of India, and witness generations of indigenous tribes’ experience, beliefs and traditions
- Witness the stunning diversity of Central Indian flora and fauna
- Experience a diverse landscape with sandstone peaks, level plains, narrow gorges, ravines and dense forests.
- Learn about challenges and solutions in forest and wildlife conservation.
- Experience the workings of community-based conservation in India first-hand.
- Contribute to UN Sustainable Development Goal #15, Life on Land and Goal #10, Economic Growth.
- Before moving on to visit the Taj Mahal, the Ganges at Varanasi or exploring Rajahstan take some time to soak in the atmosphere in Bhopal, the City of Lakes, a bustling central Indian town with thousands of years of history.
"My favourite moments were on the drives collecting data and observing the animals, improving my knowledge and understanding of the environment and working with young people who were committing time to help understand and improve the world in which they live. It was most reassuring to see young adults working together. The project gives one a more intimate knowledge of the environment and the animals, than it would seeing them as a tourist."
What's Not Included
You’ll be sharing quarters with other volunteers at the edge of a village which is on the border of the park. A wealth of birds can be found in the fields surrounding the village and wild boar and deer, occasional stalked by a leopard, roam freely between dusk and dawn. Sunsets overlooking the reserve are stunning.
A small room on base doubles as an office, library, meeting- and planning as well as equipment store room. After a day in the field you’ll work here to download and store GPS tracks and waypoints, confirm species identifications, process photos and submit other observations to the databases.
We all pitch in with the upkeep of the base and share cooking and cleaning duties. From time to time families living in the village prepare classic Indian dishes for us from locally sourced produce.
Every day you’ll wake up to the sounds of nature and rural village life all around you and join your team for breakfast and the morning’s orientation. You’ll then split your time either between working in the reserve or in the village, depending on the project’s needs at the time.
Your work in the reserve might include:
- Studying animal movement around and between private and agricultural land as well as reserve boundaries to allow authorities to manage human-animal interaction.
- Study factors that might influence animal migration and movement.
- Documenting bird-presence around the reserve, determine migration times and patterns and aid in developing local bird guides.
- Work on presence-absence studies, confirming presence of the rarely seen rusty-spotted cat or the vulnerable Indian skimmer, to generate a basis for further protection.
- Conducting animal density studies using direct observations or mark-recapture methodology.
- Compiling and analysing casual sightings and reports, community reports and safari-logs to learn about trends and establish baseline data on species presence and populations.
- Contributing to direct rewilding intervention such as replanting vegetation, constructing animal waterholes or checking dams as well as studying the effects of these interventions.
- Removing invasive species and monitoring regrowth rates, studying the effectiveness of innovative removal strategies, reforestation and reintroduction efforts.
Your work in the village might include:
- Conducting environmental education for children and workshops for adults.
- Organising park visits and nature-interaction workshops for schools.
- Helping enthusiastic guides develop village tours and training them in how to work with international tourists.
- Working with families who live in the village to enable them to offer parts of their traditional homes as homestay accommodation.
- Assessing and developing further diversification in tourism.
- Supporting critical infrastructure development and planning, installing sinks, gutters, toilets and other facilities in public buildings.
- Expanding and promoting the fuel efficient stove programme.
What's Not Included
About the Tiger Reserve
Over the past 20 years, several traditional communities, who previously use to live within the reserve, been relocated to live outside of the protected area. Relocation has reduced unsustainable natural resource use and human animal conflict in the reserve and increased farming and development outside the reserve. In 2016, authorities received a national award for the successful initiative.
Many families in the relocated and newly established villages are moving away from traditional livelihoods which include hunting, collection of forest produce, subsistence fishing or small-scale cattle herding. With sometimes-limited experience and means families are becoming more reliant on farming and small businesses. Newer generations are keen to follow further education and explore and access new opportunities.
Deer and wild boar raid fields belonging to farmers, big cats occasionally predate on cattle, and there are ever-increasing restrictions on fishing, hunting and forest product extraction. Successful conservation of the reserve including success of the buffer zone strategy will rely on the attitude of communities who live in the area towards conservation action and regulation. As such, several development issues should and can be addressed and mitigated.
Ecologically, the establishment of the buffer zones seems to have been a success. There are many incidental sightings of large mammal species and there is evidence of their increasing abundance in buffer zones. Floral composition has changed dramatically around former village sites, creating additional habitat.
Local authorities as well as tour operators and other stakeholders are making a strong collaborative effort to diversify tourism in the area, especially in an effort to open up the buffer zone for tourism. New tourist activities have been developed such as canoe safaris, tented camping options and hiking safaris. The tiger reserve is on the forefront of this development and is the only tiger reserve in India that offers these options.
Although guides are very knowledgeable with regards to species presence and are well able to describe trend and threats, there is limited scientific data and published studies. Tiger populations are very closely monitored from a national level but good records of other mammal movements, their presence and population in buffer zones or on park boundaries are incidental and scattered. Species presence such as that of the rusty spotted cat, the breeding Indian skimmer, pangolin, honey badger, several endemic butterflies and plant species are under-highlighted.
Although presence and seasonally dense populations of sloth bear are know to be both a tourist attraction and a source of conflict, there are no known population estimates and limited knowledge on distribution. During some seasons ursinus competes for the fruits of the Maua tree with villagers causing several incidents yearly.
Several antelope and deer species as well as wild boar can cause havoc nightly on the field surrounding the park, an issue likely to increase as buffer zones are conserved more stringently, with potential to decrease acceptance of wildlife presence.
The banks of the main rivers are a crucial habitat for up to 100 waders and other bird species. For some species such as the River tern and the Indian skimmer (VU) the area provides a breeding ground. Bird enthusiasts and guides have kept records for some of the areas but consistent records for the majority of the riverbanks are absent and would give valuable insight into population resilience and add to the international importance of the area.
Guides and authorities are keeping a close eye on the development of areas where villages were relocated but can use your help to monitor these areas closely over the long-term. These areas are often interestingly set and located, have good access and have some basic leftover structures close to water and provide a very interesting location for satellite research camps.
What's Not Included
Madhya Pradesh is often referred to as the heart of India, with a typical central Indian landscape. The village is a remote location about 30-35 families call home. Volunteers will interact closely with people in the traditional community where many of the families rely on old beliefs, customs and traditions. The majority of the families live in traditional cow-dung houses and own several cows. The village has a one room pre-school and a small primary school.
Views from the base and surrounding area are stunning with beautiful sunsets over the river and park. Birdlife is very diverse and you might see primates, such as langurs or macaques, and spotted deer or wild boar nearly every day.
Days are sunny and hot, with temperatures running up to 40°C at the hottest times of year, but nights are rather cool so be sure to bring warm clothes as well.
During monsoon season (July - September) the area is very wet and green. The park closes but villages and the buffer zone surrounding the park are still accessible.
Optional Side Trips
- Safaris into the core area of the park with a good possibility of seeing leopards and sloth bears, as well as a potential to see tigers.
- A visit to Kanha, Pench or Bandhavgarh national parks and reserves, famous for their tigers.
- An outing to Pachmarhi hill station, featuring towering waterfalls, calm pools, caves and several sites of religious importance.
- A trip to the popular city of Bhopal which has retained its old-world charm with narrow alleyways and crammed markets, while the new part of the city is full of parks and gardens.
- A visit to Sethani Ghat, the largest ghat (steps leading into the river) in India. People often converge on the steps and lights are floated on the river.
- A trip to Bhojpur and the magnificent Bhojeshwar, 11th century Temple.
- An excursion to Bhimbetka, a World Heritage–listed rock shelter containing thousands of paintings of animals, people and other subjects from the Stone Age to medieval times.
- For those with a bit more time there are good connections from Bhopal to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, to Varanasi ‘the soul of India’ or onto the desert palaces and forts of Rajasthan.
Towns and Cities Nearby
Bhopal the nearest large town and state capital has an international airport with several daily flights from Mumbai and Delhi. From Bhopal, popular destinations such as the Taj Mahal in Agra, the steps on the Ganges in Varanasi or the forts and palaces in the deserts of Rajasthan can be reached within a day.
Director of Programs
Meet Shayle, our innovative and driven director for all our projects around the world. She has two honours degrees, one in Industrial and Organisational Psycology, and another in Developmental and Education Psycology. Shayle also has over 10 years experience in setting up, managing and evaluating environmental and community programs across Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America.
She is well-practiced in facilitating meaningful and effective intercultural engagement and this makes her the perfect person for overseeing our operations in the multicultural country of South Africa.
When not attending meetings or planning her next endeavour, Shayle can be found spending time with her family or taking part in some or other exciting outdoors activity!
Transport Coordinator and Translator
Meet Jutten, our local Transport Coordinator and Translator here at our hub in India. Being a native of the country, he was asked to drive the tuk-tuk and coordinate the other tuk-tuks for the volunteers in Kerala. Later he was offered to be a official staff member and was thrilled to take the job.
He has worked with all of the projects here in Kerala. "I like to work with both the sports and health projects, because I enjoy seeing the beneficiaries happy and satisfied."
Before working with GVI he was a package tour driver as an English/Hindi/Tamil speaking tour guide. Since joining us he has taken great pride in his work and is enjoying meeting all the volunteers. "I like to see people happy. All the people that I meet through working here are treating me as their own."
Assistant Director of Programs
Meet Jill, our Assistant Director of Programs and line manager for Thailand, Laos, India, Nepal, Australia and Kenya programs. ‘Manow’ (lime), as she’s locally known in Thailand where she's based, taught English, environmental education and art in the USA and Thailand before joining us to set up a TEFL and Community Development Expedition. “I haven’t looked back since!”
When Jill isn’t working, she likes reading or doing just about anything energetic. “I devour books, love cooking and enjoy finding some time to get some exercise – yoga, dancing and aerobics are some of my faves.”
What does Jill like most about her job? “It’s great to see volunteers rising above the cultural and language barriers between themselves and the communities. That, and every day is completely different, which is the way I like it- it keeps me from getting bored.” Being ‘allergic’ to being bored has led to Manow doing some pretty amazing things. “I once ended up spending a week living in a cave with some Buddhist monks while I helped them build a small adobe monk hut.”
Meet Lucy, our Base Manager here in Kerala. As wildlife conservation student, she initially joined GVI as a wildlife conservation intern to gain practical experience before staying on as a part of the team. Lucy has worked on our former Shimoni hub as long-term staff member before moving to India.
What does Lucy think volunteers bring to the projects? ” Without a doubt, the programs would not be able to run without the volunteers. The sheer amount of data volunteers help us to collect is immense, and so vitally important.”
Lucy’s highlights since working for GVI? “Setting up a new partner project in Kenya’s Western province, where I worked with a grassroots community group in Kenya’s last rainforest was amazing."
Meet Zeno, our Country Director in India. He used to work on Crocodile Morphology and Ecology and has even trekked the Sierra Madre mountain range in the North of the Philippines in search of one of the last members of a critically endangered freshwater crocodile population. Zeno used to be our Country Director in Kenya a few years ago before moving to India.
His most memorable moments since he started working with GVI? Was discovering a population of ‘hidden’ African Skimmer Birds at Lake Turkana, which turned to represent almost 40 percent of the world population. “That, and when my cat left a snake at my bed as a ‘present’, which turned out to be a new species for Kenya!”
His favourite aspect of his job? ”Seeing people being in awe of everything new around them, realising and completely accepting how different their world of experiences suddenly has become.”