Sukumar, Raman

Sukumar, Raman
▪ 2004

      After having spent more than two decades studying Asian elephants in the wild in an effort to preserve the species, Raman Sukumar, a faculty member of the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, India, was presented with the 2003 Whitley Gold Award in recognition of his commitment to conservation. Sukumar also served as honorary director of the Asian Elephant Research and Conservation Centre, a special division of the Asian Nature Conservation Foundation, an independent organization that worked closely with many governmental and nongovernmental agencies in the region. In addition, he was chairman of the Asian Elephant Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union, and he provided technical support and advice on matters of elephant conservation to the Indian government as a member of its Project Elephant Steering Committee.

      Sukumar was born on April 3, 1955, in Madras (now Chennai), India. As a young boy growing up in Madras, he was already nicknamed vanavasi (the Tamil word for “forest dweller”) by his grandmother. It was during his secondary-school years that Sukumar first thought of working in the field of nature conservation, and he began pursuing that interest. He graduated from the University of Madras with bachelor's and master's degrees in botany. In 1979 he began studies for his doctoral thesis at the Indian Institute of Science, where he focused on the ecological conflict that occurs when elephants and humans use the same land. His thesis eventually came out as a monograph from Cambridge University Press. Sukumar believed that “if the tiger is the spirit of the jungle, the elephant is its body.” He later published Elephant Days and Nights: Ten Years with the Indian Elephant and The Living Elephants: Evolutionary Ecology, Behavior and Conservation (2003); Elephants was scheduled for publication in 2004.

      In an effort to provide a safe habitat for elephants, Sukumar carried out surveys and tried to establish protected corridors so that elephant herds could move from one area to another. He experimented with various forms of fencing around village perimeters to keep the animals away from crops and human habitation. (Annually, about 200 people lose their lives as a result of elephants on the move.) Sukumar also helped design the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve—a first for India—where he conducted research on climate change, tropical forests, and wildlife conservation. In furthering his research, Sukumar planned to use the Whitley Award funds to help local farmers cope with elephant encroachment on their lands and to provide support for his field research team, which served as a “watchdog” in the identification of threats to the elephant population, including problems related to their health and ivory poachers.

      Some of Sukumar's other awards included the Presidential Award of the Chicago Zoological Society in 1989 and the Order of the Golden Ark, The Netherlands, in 1997. In 2000 he became a fellow of the Indian Academy of Sciences.

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