by Dr. David Harper...
I am writing this from the first 'Global Birdwatchers Conference' in
Gujarat, north-east India. It has been organised by the Gujarat State
Tourism Authority to promote birding and ecotourism in the state. It
is interesting to see what they have done to promote biodiversity
conservation - they have invited and paid for about 100 foreigners and
300 Indians - to try to promote Gujarat as a tourism destination. I am
here because Gujarat is the place where lesser flamingos breed in
India, not that we have see many at this time of year, but at least I
am meeting Indian flamingo qorkers and making links that will lead to
future grant applications.
There are a number of interesting aspects of this conference and of
Gujarat which compare with Kenya. The first is that the State - which
is semi-arid - is over-run by Prosopis juliflora, which has been there
for some 40 years. Everybody ignores it, uses it for firewood (no
charcoal) and, because it is cleared from fields, it becomes a hedge
barrier by default. Nevertheless, it is a problem for biodiversity
because it invades grasslands, wetlands and suppresses other plant
A second point of interest is the use of film. Delegates to the
conference have been given three DVDs - tourist promotion of Gujarat
but also one made specifically for the conference following two "green
soldiers" - school children - as they investigated lion bebaviour in
the Gir Forest National Park, India's only remaining lion habitat. Of
course, the films are made professionally, but clearly conservation
film-making is more embedded in Indian thinking than Kenyan.
The overwhelming memories that stay with a visitor to India,
especially a first-time visitor (my 3rd) is of organised chaos and
contrasts between extremes.
There is going to be another conference next year...