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Last Update: Sunday, Dec 31, 2023 02:42 [IST]

More than just Footnotes: Field Assistants in Wildlife research and Conservation

MOHAN SHARMA Department of Geography, Sikkim University Email:

Field-based research particularly in a remote landscape is not possible without the support of the local communities. Communities play a crucial role and guide the researcher in producing the scientific knowledge. However, their contribution remains in the footnotes and many times unacknowledged.  This volume edited by Ambika Aiyadurai and Mamta Pandya attempts to bring some of the stories from Arunachal Pradesh onto the main stage.
When I had a dream of doing research in the field of wildlife conservation then number of people shared their opinion of not choosing wildlife as a profession. Mr. Imran one of the prominent face in the field of wildlife photography informs, “You have seen a wonderful dream but an expensive one”. Doing a wildlife research means bearing a multiple expenses. Camera, lens, tents, sleeping bags, GPS, salary for the assistance, load carriers, transport cost, and the expenses on several other equipments and wildlife gear. What if, if we can become a part of the community participating in their everyday life. This thought became reality when I met Mr. Kanki who offered me a space in his house and helped to conduct the field surveys in Dibang Valley, Arunachal Pradesh.
Local communities and field assistant help to cultivate the knowledge about the community, places, plants, animals, social taboos. The relationship between researcher and the community members becomes so strong that they allow entering into their private spaces. They shares so called data on animal presence, hunting, the targeted animals, what they do with the hunt, number of times forest visit, human-animal conflict, utility of the forest resources, gender and family related information etc. In a way, researchers are the mediator between the field assistants/community and science but how much spaces they have got in the academic writings?
The biographical form of essays in this book present the contribution of the local field assistance and the community who have contributed in shaping the wildlife research in different manner. For instance, the story of Aisho Sharma and Apiya brother Jonti reflects the contribution of the field assistants who takes the researcher to trek Kahi-po, installs the camera there and discovers the tiger in Dibang Valley. Could researcher do that without the support of the local assistants? Murali Krishna presents the similar incidents that how Mr. Biron and Erebo shapes the imagination of an ecologist by sharing the stories of the interconnection between human and animals. This volume also presents the worldview and experiences of the bureaucrats and the researcher working in NGO’s. W.Longvah (an IFS officer) beautifully presents his experiences working with the people from various institutions- community, researchers, NGO’s, and defence forces. He argues that the work of forest officer is beyond the protecting of wildlife and deal with unavoidable circumstances which disturbs the harmony between community and the immediate nature.
The rich contents compiled in this volume not only present the contribution of field assistance and the local community but it also leaves us a question that who are the real conservationist? Who are the producers of knowledge? Which are the agencies that shape the human-nature? Is there something missing in ‘conservation science’? Is there a possibility to give a better space to the field assistants and communities?             

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi