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Safeguarding the science of ‘Conservation Biology’ for who?

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March 13, 2017 by Species Ecology

Safeguarding the science of ‘Conservation Biology’ for who? A perspective ‘on the socio-communication’ gap between academic and public.

Mohammed Ashraf

As far back as I can remember, one of the primary codes that was developed by one of the most prestigious conservation group the ‘Society for Conservation Biology’ is to encourage academics to volunteer their professional service for the public good at a level that they can financially afford. Unfortunately the division between public professionals and academia remains as strong as ‘china wall’ both in terms of socio-communication and knowledge sharing. Among all other public professions, conservation science is possibly one of the most ‘semi-educated’ and ‘under-funded’ civil service ‘wing’ where public policy implementations are not based on core science of the ‘Conservation Biology’. This is due to the recognition that the gap between academia and public services are partly stem from lack of interests among academics to voluntarily engaged themselves in public service commissions in the form of consultations, social gatherings, seminary workshops etc. A good example comes from the ‘endangered species’ conservation and recovery programs in South Asia. Among all other large vertebrates, tigers are often served as a ‘landmark’ species to bring about wider public attention hence education and so on. Millions of dollars have been invested for the last quarter of a century to help recover tigers from ‘extinction crisis’ with mixed result. Despite these large scale conservation funds directed to safeguarding the dwindling tiger numbers in tropical Asia, their population seem to be under continuous threat hence declining. Most of these ‘high profile’ conservation funds are channelized and ‘funneled’ down to academic and scholarly research institutions in Asian countries and often conservation academics’ career receive a ‘rocket boost’ when they receive grant support be it be in the form of sabbatical or travel bursary to present their research papers in New York or Montreal. Indeed, publications, or at least ‘high impact’ publications as measured by numbers of citations in other publications, augment our current scientific knowledge base and an absolute yardstick for measuring the success of scientific development. Nonetheless the implication is its pragmatic implementation ‘tools’ appended in the research papers for example to devise conservation policy to help protect tigers never reach to the public officials or grassroots NGOs that are trying to do their best to bring tiger conservation advocacy and education. It is all nice and glamorous to live between the walls of ‘Ivory Tower’ but it is equally inevitable to marshal scientific knowledge base to broader public sector and academics. I feel academics have broader role to play in this remit. Often they pose considerable latitude to collaborate with conservation managers, local communities, NGO forums, grassroots organizations and stakeholders but often they would rather prefer to be ‘insularized’. Their exist a ‘degree’ of fear among scholars and academics that their professional integrity may be downplayed had they been involved in community and grassroots representations. Some of these fear may have some justifications, however the potential benefits to accept ‘good-faith’ invitations to participate in tangible conservation efforts with public sector and grassroots far outweigh the potential risks. I believe academics can be a champion in both worlds. Many conservation biologists including myself choose our academic and professional career because we are fascinated by the nature. We feel and receive sheer joy and happiness even when we observe a tiny butterfly engaging in pollinating a tropical flower yet often we fail to safeguard their habitats by disengaging ourselves from grassroots: the one who often live and share lands with the butterfly. The freedom of academia comes with responsibilities: the kind of responsibilities that takes courage to leave the cluttered laboratory or editorial desks and give oneself a chance to engage in advocating and communicating the science of conservation biology to broader public sectors, the kind of responsibilities that can only benefits dwindling tiger numbers hence to help preserve the healthy ecosystems. Ecoblogs is dedicate to do exactly that by disseminating the core of conservation biology to public through inviting academics and scholars in a lively on-line ‘buffet over a drink’ discussions, knowledge-sharing and possible collaboration with grassroots and NGO communities that are tirelessly working ‘in-situ’ to help conserve our ecosystems across the globe. As one of my colleagues once quoted ‘true academic never live inside the Ivory Tower’ and I added neither the Elephant nor the Walrus.

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