Tigers Out of Sight are Far From Out of Mind
Published: Thursday, 19 Apr 2012
Carter is working to understand how people and tigers move in respect to each other, both directly and indirectly. The Nepalese who live among tigers depend on the forest. Tigers are fierce, but fragile. He says the dance goes like this:
“The people there really depend on the forest. They are a subsistence culture, and so it is important that the forests stay healthy,” Carter said. “We try to let people understand that having tigers there is important to keep the forests healthy. They do rarely eat people. And they do also sometimes eat people’s livestock. They also keep the numbers of deer and boar down. Because deer and boar often eat people’s crops, tiger conservation can reduce crop predation by deer and boar, and mitigate risks on people from tigers.”
Carter also seeks a better understanding of how tigers’ behavior changes the behavior of their human neighbors, and vice versa. He uses camera trapping to understand the tigers, their prey, their competitors and the people in their habitat. He combines that with a strong social science component as he evaluates local attitudes and tolerance towards tigers—the first time this had been done systematically.
That makes him one of a new breed of scientist mixing and matching the sciences of sustainability across the natural and social disciplines. Carter’s adviser, center director Jianguo “Jack” Liu, is an international leader in this new, holistic way of looking at the world.
Liu, the Rachel Carson University Chair in Sustainability, talks about human-nature interactions in Nepal in terms of telecoupling, a new concept to address how to understand and manage how humans and nature interact as distance shrinks and connections are strengthening between nature and humans.
The prefix “tele” means “at a distance.” Telecoupling is a way to express one of the often-overwhelming consequences of globalization—the way an event or phenomenon in one corner of the world can have an impact far away.
“As the Earth becomes smaller and smaller, telecoupling has increasingly important implications at the global level,” Liu said. “The current management of natural resources or governance systems will not work well. We need to have new ways to understand and manage coupled human and natural systems worldwide.”
The People Planet Link
Increased trade, expanding transportation networks, the Internet, invasive species—all have made everything once “somewhere else” seem closer. That has enormous consequences for environmental and socioeconomic sustainability.
It also helps explain why healthy forests and tigers in Nepal are important at the global level. Healthy forests in
Nepal, for example, are important to carbon sequestration for the global climate change.
The data Carter now diligently crunches hold the hope of one day shaping all those relationships into a model that can be used to forecast forest-tiger-human interactions. That in turn can help create conservation policies that promote long-term coexistence between humans and tigers. From there, the model can lead the way to nurture other human-nature dances—coyotes in U.S. suburbia, pandas in China, chickens in villages across the world.
So Carter treasures his glimpses of tigers. But it is his vision—not glimpses—that is poised to change the world