Environment

For Paul Rosolie the biggest threat to conservation is thinking someone else will do it

Paul Rosolie

Paul Rosolie  

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Into the wild: Conservator Paul Rosolie says the single biggest threat to conservation is to think someone else will do it

He was only 18 when he started working in the area of conservation. The naturalist and wildlife filmmaker’s first book Mother of God: An Extraordinary Journey into the Uncharted Tributaries of the Western Amazon won praise from Jane Goodall, legendary primatologist and anthropologist. Meet American conservator and researcher Paul Rosolie, who hosted Discovery Channel’s special Eaten Alive, launched the first ever study of anacondas in lowland rainforest, and won the United Nations Forum on Forests 2013 short film contest for An Unseen World.

In his decade-long career, he has worked on threatened ecosystems and species in countries such as Indonesia, Brazil and Peru. He is also researching the migration of elephants, tigers and the connectivity of ecosystems in Kerala and Karnataka. Paul was in Bengaluru, recently, to promote his novel, The Girl and The Tiger, set in Indian forests.

Paul Rosolie

Paul Rosolie  

Paul has witnessed the fires in the Amazon first hand. He talks about the devastation as we settle for a chat at the Bangalore International Centre, ahead of his lecture. “Watching the fires is incredibly hard. You see dead animals and animals running for their lives. It is hard to see all the beautiful biological treasure, medicine and culture of the indigenous people being wiped out by the fires. We have lost almost 20% of the Amazon.”

When he was three, Paul developed a love for the wild. “I would go into the woods in New York state and track bears, deer and rescue snakes.” Traditional education did not work for Paul. So at 17, he dropped out of high school. He worked in the Amazon while simultaneously completing his undergraduate degree in environmental studies from Ramapo College, New Jersey. “Today, I am protecting 30,000 acres,” claims Paul, referring to his NGO Junglekeepers.

He is currently working on Tamandua Expeditions, which conducts responsible adventure travels out of the Peruvian Amazonian Basin. “You do not have to be an ecologist or biologist to take part in conservation. Tamandua supports people, who would have otherwise been poachers and miners, to be guides and educate tourists.”

Over the years, his approach to poachers has changed. “When I was 18, I would get angry with them. But now, we are working with illegal gold miners in the Amazon and I approach them and ask: ‘do you want a better job?’ Often, it is the pressure of poverty or illness that leads them to become poachers.”

Paul Rosolie

Paul Rosolie  

Paul says we are at the tipping point in the climate crisis. “There have been many extinctions. We are seeing ecosystems collapse and more fires in California, in the Amazon, and in Australia. And it is getting worse. We need to become more aware and not cut down trees and pollute water. This is simple stuff. But it takes everyone understanding it; it takes everyone coming together.”

Paul has a special connection with Bengaluru. He is married to Gowri Varanashi, a well-known rock climber and environmental educator, and knows swalpa swalpa (little, little) Kannada.

“I chose to come to India because of the tigers and elephants. A professor challenged me to come here because he said in the Amazon there are lots of forest and small caps of humans. In India, there are a lot of humans and small patches of forest. And so, I came and fell in love with India, and then I met my wife, and became an adopted Indian.”

He admits that, initially, he found India “terrifying for conservation” because of its huge population and rapid development.

“The animals are up against so much. But here is the thing, if India can have the largest tiger population in the world, with this giant human population, then anything is possible. Here, there are great challenges but people are aware and have a national pride for their wildlife. The forest departments work hard. India is a huge example for the rest of the world to follow.”

Snakes are another one of his passions.

“I have always loved snakes. Anacondas are important apex predators in the Amazon. So they are regulating these ecosystems. And it is also a good way to teach people that these animals are not evil. They are just big, slow, pretty snakes that just want to be left alone. That is the same thing you can say about tigers too. I use these apex big ‘scary’ animals as ambassadors to educate people.”

Paul says his book, The Girl and the Tiger (Penguin India) has been getting a lot of enquiries from Hollywood and Bollywood.

“The book is written from the animal’s perspective, has a girl as the hero, and is based on real life incidents. A girl named Isha, from Bengaluru, sent me an email regarding a question about abandoned tiger cubs, in Chikmagalur, she was determined to save. That got me thinking of what if her rescuing those cubs became the story and I could take the reader across India and bring them into the story of the tigers, elephants and tribal communities.”

Paul says the single biggest threat to conservation is “believing someone else is going to do it. There are always going to be poachers, miners and oil companies. But as long as people are vigilant and love nature, it can be turned around.”

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Printable version | Dec 13, 2019 10:08:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/into-the-wild/article30138323.ece

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