April 19, 2011

Peer Review: Gharat ’13 Explores International Development And Conservation

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Born and raised in India, Yash Gharat ’13 became interested in studying the effects of economic development on environmental and wildlife protection efforts in developing countries.From 2004 to 2009, Gharat worked in India in collaboration with other youth through a program called Nyass, an environmental organization that collects and archives information about different indigenous tribes. For example, Gharat investigated the names tribes attributed to certain birds and trees, as well as how they used these natural resources for cultural or medicinal purposes.When asked about the connection between his research and this project, Gharat explained, “Indigenous knowledge can be applied for environmental protection in a lot of cases. Since [indigenous people] have lived in these areas for so long, they know about the land and have developed sustainable ways to live. Local, indigenous knowledge has a lot to teach us.” Growing up in India, Gharat has been a witness to overpopulation and its effect on the environment. “I have always realized that there can be no environmental solution without people in it. We need participation of local people to make environmental protection a success,” Gharat said.One traditional Indian method of preserving nature is through the establishment of ‘devrais.’ Devrais are small patches of land that have been traditionally protected in the name of Hindu God(s). These patches are scattered throughout India and may be the only land currently not under development for miles. Village counsels are responsible for enforcing laws in regards to protecting the devrai. Gharat sees these devrais as opportunities to examine how such development influences environmental preservation. “Some communities are giving up on the devrais and converting them to profitable land. The most important part is to see how [the devrais] are changing with time, because India is globalizing very fast,” Gharat said.  “I want to look at how these communities today decide how to protect [devrais] and what disturbances are allowed.” Gharat’s interest in economic development and environmental protection extends beyond India. In the fall, he will travel to Kenya and Tanzania to study wildlife population dynamics and the management of wildlife and human populations. Studying at the School for Field Studies American Institution, Gharat will be taking classes such as wildlife ecology, environmental policy, tribal culture in East Africa and Swahili. “Kenya and India have a lot of ecological and cultural similarities; Kenya also has an expanding population, and problems with mega fauna and population expanding into wildlife areas,” he said. Gharat has been paying attention to the birds flying around him since the seventh grade and considers himself a “birder.” Gharat sees a connection between bird watching and wildlife protection as well as environmental preservation in local communities. “Birds are the most basic indicator of cultural knowledge about nature. If you know a lot about birds, you are probably aware of your natural surroundings,” he explained. Gharat later admits that he is not very keen on North American bird identification, as he has only been in North America for two years. “I miss Indian birds,” he remarked, “It’s like missing old friends.”

Original Author: Paige Roosa