Dr Vidya Athreya

I wish these were real Indian elephants we could take travelling across the world. The real gentle giants elicit an almost spiritual feeling but the lantana elephants come close, not just with their form which is almost real and life like, but also with the story that accompanies them - of tribal men and women being involved in making them, of an invasive weed that magically transforms into art to narrate an inspiring story of humans and elephants in shared spaces. This teaches us more about living together than excluding the other. Somewhere at the back of our minds there is definitely a much larger lesson of humanity and of a shared planet that we need to treat with love and respect —— to me this is perhaps the true story of these elephants. 

"I am an ecologist by training and have always been fascinated by interactions between different groups of species/organisms. My masters work at Pondicherry University was to study the relationship between Strangler figs and their host trees as well as to look at frugivory by birds at fruiting fig trees in a tropical evergreen forest in the Western Ghats of India.

I went to the US (University of Iowa) for graduate research where I did my field work at the Smithsonian Research Station in Panama and completing my second Masters degree on ecology of Strangler figs. My PhD was obtained from Centre for Wildlife Studies which is affiliated with Manipal University, India on research and mitigation of human leopard conflict in rural Maharashtra.

Since 2003 I have worked extensively with the Forest Departments in many states; Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and have students who work in West Bengal, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Punjab. I have held trainings for handling wildlife emergencies in collaboration with them, have held media workshops across many states to engage with the media for better reporting of human wildlife interactions. Currently I am a supervisor and co-supervisor of three PhD students in various stages of submission of their theses.

I have taught courses at the MSc Wildlife course at the National Centre of Biological Sciences, Bangalore. I strongly believe in the role science has in contributing to conservation outcomes. And as a corollary, no conservation outcome is successful without engaging with important stake holders in India. I have been part of policy documents related to human leopard conflict in multiple states in India as well as in central government policy documents. I have been on government committees in the state of Maharashtra for addressing tiger and leopard conflict.

I am also part of the IUCN human wildlife conflict and coexistence task force group. Increasingly my focus of interest has moved away from wildlife biology to better understand nature culture relationships and its role in enabling spaces that are shared between people and wildlife. Our research group has been the first to publish some very interesting papers on the relationships people have with large cats in India."