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Defending Biodiversity

IVLP alumnus Sargam Singh Rasaily says the exchange visit to the United States helped advance his biodiversity conservation efforts in India. 

As a child, Sargam Singh Rasaily remembers his father reading hunter-turned-conservationist Jim Corbett’s books, like “Man Eaters of Kumaon,” to him. “He would retell the stories with liberal sprinklings of stories of his own making,” remembers Rasaily. “His versions would invariably put the tigers and the leopards in a favorable light and leave us empathizing deeply with wildlife and their cause. It was my father who sowed the seed of my love for nature conservation and biodiversity.”

Today, Rasaily is member secretary of the Uttarakhand Biodiversity Board. He has over 20 years of experience working on forest issues in India and has played an instrumental role in writing the management plan of the Singalila National Park in West Bengal. A science graduate, with mathematics and physics as his major subjects, he qualified for the Indian Forest Service in 1992. He also completed a three-month certificate course in wildlife management from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India, in 1991. “I won the gold medal in wildlife management in the ranger’s course at WII,” he says.

In 2005, when he was serving as the director of Rajaji National Park in Uttarakhand and conservator of forests in the state’s Kumaon region, Rasaily was selected to be part of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP), the U.S. State Department’s exchange program for professionals. He says the program taught him some valuable lessons.

Formulating effective policies
“The whole program was tailor-made for practicing forest officers actively involved in the management of protected areas and those who were in charge of developing wilderness tourism in India,” says Rasaily. It included visits to the headquarters of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington, D.C., and other parts of the capital; Shenandoah National Park, Luray Caverns and Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Virginia; Everglades National Park in Florida; and the mountain parks of Colorado.

“During the sessions and discussions, I realized how important it is to have a well-researched scientific study to back up any decision or recommendation for managing a protected area,” he says. Another important point was that creating awareness and generating public support for conservation is crucial for dissuading political leadership from taking decisions which may be politically attractive, but disastrous for conservation efforts.

“It is also very important to involve the local people in conserving our forests,” says Rasaily. “This garners public support for conservation, while providing an ecofriendly employment opportunity to the local people.”

Protecting national parks
“National parks are important preservers of biodiversity,” says Rasaily. “But, they face huge problems.”

Water scarcity is one. Also, forests and wildlife habitats have degraded due to increased and unabated pressure on natural resources for livelihood and collection of fuel, fodder and food, besides overgrazing and overfishing. “This is especially true of forests and national parks close to human habitats,” says Rasaily. “Smuggling of wild animals and their parts is another huge menace.”

As an IVLP participant, Rasaily learned being practical while dealing with such issues and formulating effective policies to protect precious forestland is important. “We must take care of all natural beings, even the tiniest being, apart from the more glamorous ones like lions and tigers,” he says.

Empowering local populations
Rasaily also commissions research studies in various fields for conservation of biodiversity. At the moment, he is involved in the creation of Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) for preparing People’s Biodiversity Registers (PBRs) in Uttarakhand. Local populations are empowered to document the bioresources and biodiversity found in their area in the form of a PBR. “In all, we are to prepare more than 8,000 BMCs and an equal number of PBRs,” says Rasaily. “So far, we have managed to create around 800 BMCs and prepare around 90 PBRs.”


Paromita Pain is a journalist based in Austin, Texas.