Wildlife Week Parade in Kumily

Parade float with children dressed as plants and animals

Parade float with children dressed as plants and animals

On the 8th of October Kumily held a parade in support of the Periyar Tiger Reserve and Wildlife Week.  As an intern for Raxa Collective, I had the unique opportunity to participate in this procession. This was my first Indian parade, and in some ways it was very similar to the parades I had participated in the USA; the majority of people waited around in some confusion until someone with the knowledge of the lineup said to start walking, but what made this a very unique experience is I couldn’t understand the conversations of anyone besides my own party.

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Tourism Event in Thekkady

Entrance to the Tourism Event

Entrance to the Tourism Event

This past weekend Cardamom County was the venue for a Thekkady Destination Promotion Council (TDPC) event to promote the activities available in Thekkady and Kumily. At first I thought it was just going to be like other conference events I had witnessed in my 3 months here, but I soon realized I was wrong. The first evidence of my misconception came when someone asked me if I was coming early to see the elephants before the guests arrived.  I was completely surprised by the question but of course I responded, “yes!” quite aware that this event was becoming a lot more interesting than I had previously thought. Continue reading

Farm Fresh From Ghana

Accra Green Market Photo Courtesy of The Guardian

Accra Green Market
Photo Courtesy of The Guardian

Recently Ghana had its first ever farmer’s market in its capital of Accra, featuring locally grown, sustainable, and organic produce. This is a big step for the organic farmers in the area to expose their products to the local people. According to an article in The Guardian,

The only space we (the farmers) usually get to market our products are at the bazaars of international schools, where we sell to a lot of expats, but we need more markets like this – the best feedback we have had for our products is from Ghanaians.

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Helping Kerala: Transatlantic Collaboration

Western Ghats

Western Ghats

Kerala State Biodiversity Board (KSBB) has recently joined with the University of Alabama (UA) in Huntsville to help improve Kerala’s landslide alert system and the conservation of the Western Ghats. Both projects are currently in the development phases for testing, but implementations of such projects in Kerala could have profound and lifesaving affects. According to an article in The Hindu, a landslide alert system would be able to help predict landslides and give advanced warning to the authorities in the area.

Placed one kilometer apart above ground, the sensors, which cost about $300 each, register ground movement and record rainfall and soil moisture. The data is transferred to an off-site computer hosting a software model that provides advance warning of a landslip.

If testing proceeds, KSBB would place this system first in the Idukki district, an area known for having multiple landslides during the monsoon season. Predicting landslides in this area can save hundreds of lives, but this landslide alert system is not the only project in development that involves the UA and the KSBB working together to protect this region.

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India’s Recycling Communities

Scrap waste collected in Bholakpur Photo Courtesy of The Hindu

Scrap waste collected in Bholakpur
Photo Courtesy of The Hindu

What happens to obsolete computer or the animal skins from meat factories?

The majority of people couldn’t answer whether these items are recycled or landfilled. A recent article in The Hindu gives some insight into what happens to these items in Bholakpur, a small area of Hyderabad, and it is a surprisingly important industry. Much of what might be considered trash in the Hyderabad area plays an important role in in the community being recycled by families, and resold on the secondary market.

Once inside (Bholakpur), the animal skins go to one of the 200 skin processing units and the plastic and iron scrap to one of the 500-odd plastic or 300-odd iron scrap dealers. There it is sorted and either cleaned up and resold, or ground, melted and transformed into raw material for industrial use. Thus giving new life to waste and also earning a living for the people involved in the process. This includes over 60 per cent of the ward’s 36,000 voter population.

These recycling communities don’t just exist in the Hyderabad area, but also in many of the large metropolitan areas in India. Continue reading

Saving a Gentle Giant

1,600 WWF's Paper mâché pandas representing today's Giant Panda population

1,600 WWF Paper mâché pandas representing today’s Giant Panda population
Photo Courtesy of National Geographic

The Giant Panda is the logo for WWF, the world’s largest conservation organization and it isn’t hard to see why they’re such a successful symbol. Their black and white coloring, and compellingly large eyes have tugged on the heartstrings of millions of people around the globe. This past week the newest baby panda was born at the Washington D.C Zoo.  Mei Xiang’s cub was welcomed with applause and awe from around the world, but this event has also brought about some questions about the money going into WWF for saving the Giant Panda. National Geographic recently addressed this issue.

Is the considerable effort and millions of dollars put into breeding the animals in captivity really worth it?

Some conservationists say yes, claiming public “pandemonium” can translate to real conservation action. But others argue that the money could be better spent on other things, such as preserving threatened habitat.

Statistically, Giant Pandas have a lot stacked against them for the survival of their species. First, there are approximately only 1,600 individuals in the world today, and of those, 300 are held in captivity. Secondly, according to biologist Devra Kleiman, the Giant Pandas have a very small mating window. The female panda is only “in heat” for 2-3 days a year, and thirdly, the natural areas where the panda thrives are fractured and damaged, making it less likely that a pair will find one another easily during that limited period of time.

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Traditional Duck Farming of Kerala

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If you visit Kuttanad, Kerala at a certain time of year, you are able to hear on the rice fields a noise one might not expect, the quacking of ducks. It is not the sound of a few ducks, but the sound of thousands. In Kuttanad when the harvest season is finished duck farmers move in, and take their flocks through the pre-designated rice fields for feeding.

Aby, a 38-year old duck farmer calculates that his 10,000 ducklings are worth around Rs. 24 lakh. According to him, if the ducks survive through the period, one can save up to Rs. 5 lakh a season, despite expenses for medicine and daily wages for his helpers.

This is a livelihood for many of the farmers, but their process differs greatly from many of the commercial duck farmers you will see in the United States. Some US duck farms can process up to 70,000 ducks per week at a single site, but the good news is that duck farmers who visit Kuttanad have neither the facilities nor manpower to produce or maintain such large quantities. Instead these farmers spend 6 months of the year keeping their flocks on the move, to keep them feeding until they are ready to sell. In some ways this is the definition of “free range” meat, but at what cost? Continue reading

“I Hope You Can Swim”

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to go Bamboo Rafting, one of the unique experiences that the Periyar Tiger Reserve has to offer. From my knowledge about bamboo, I understood that it was naturally hollow so it made sense to use it to make a floating raft. Being naïve I expected the raft to be like any water worthy vessel and stay completely above water; that’s where I was wrong. My initial experience with bamboo rafts was at the beginning of the trek where all participates had to cross a narrow section of the Periyar Reservoir. When the raft was just sitting on the water it looked perfectly dry, but when people began to step aboard the middle slowly became covered with water, which happened to be exactly where I was standing. It really freaked me out when we started moving from the shore and my water-proof boots were being put to the test. I remember saying to the person next to me “I hope you can swim” because at the time I was feeling a bit of panic that I might have to. Continue reading

Conservation and Your Health

Park in København  -Enriching the city's biodiversity

Park in København -Enriching the city’s biodiversity

Conservationists have always referenced the benefits of biodiversity to the natural world, but many people wouldn’t associate that benefit with our own species. Humans have always had a bond and relation with the natural world, so it is logical that the change, no matter how small, in one would affect the other. According to a Discovery Magazine article, there is new compelling evidence out there showing that biodiversity is good for our health, and the lack of it in urban areas might be the cause of the rise in inflammatory and allergy problems.

The main evidence comes from a Finnish study that found that children who lived in a more biodiverse environment were less likely to have an allergic reaction to a controlled allergen substance than children who did not.

…the urban-dwelling nature of developed countries may be to blame for their increasing problem with inflammatory diseases. If so, conservation of natural spaces, including parks and other green initiatives, may be key to protecting the health of future generations. Continue reading

“Buy a Fish, Save a Tree”

A fisherman on the Rio Negro Photo courtesy of Discover Magazine

A fisherman on the Rio Negro – Photo courtesy of Discover Magazine

One would normally associate conservation with protecting the natural environment and the animals in it, but this Discovery Magazine article shows a new, almost counter-intuitive, way the local people are helping conserve and protect the Amazon Rainforest.

At sunrise on a September day in 1991, as Scott Dowd’s riverboat floated up the Rio Negro in Brazil, flocks of shrieking macaws streaked the sky red and gold. Otherwise, “my full field of vision was filled with jungle,” he remembers.

Best of all for the self-described “fish nerd” from Weymouth, Massachusetts, the dark waters beneath his boat teemed with beautiful fish—species he’d kept in aquarium tanks since he was 10. Now he was headed to the place they’d come from: Barcelos, a town of 20,000 in the heart of the Amazon.

But when he got there, he was horrified.

The riverfront was jammed with men in dugout canoes. They had come from the surrounding municipality, a rainforested area the size of Pennsylvania, bringing hand-woven baskets lined with plastic, now brimming with tiny, colorful fish. Tubs of the fish they caught would fill the entire bottom floor of an 80-foot ferryboat headed to Manaus, 280 miles to the south.

The fish were bound for exporters supplying home aquaria around the world. The estimated catch of tropical fish leaving the area, Dowd discovered, was more than 40 million fish per year. “My kneejerk reaction to this was, this was out of control!” he says.

But now, 22 years later, he eagerly admits: “I could not have been more wrong.” Continue reading

Crossing the Border: From Kerala to Tamil Nadu

Grapes ready for harvest

The first thing that I noticed about Tamil Nadu was the juxtaposition to the Kerala landscape to which I am now accustomed. Unlike the mountainous western Kerala, where during monsoon rain is plentiful and direct sunlight a rarity, just across the border in Tamil Nadu the land is flat, and during monsoon the air is dry and the sun shining. It is a shockingly fast transition that you can see as soon as you are at the base of the mountains. I knew this part of Tamil Nadu was flat, but I thought it would all be made up of lush green farm land, but instead what I encountered resembled central Texas, dry and rocky. In fact, it made me feel quite at home.

After seeing the landscape it was not surprising to hear from a local organic farmer, that most of the water in Tamil Nadu comes from the Periyar River in Kerala via the Mullaperiyar Dam. The farm boasted many types of fruits, including grapes and pomegranates.  It was well worth the trip to see a farm in action and to see how and where some of the local fruits are grown.  Continue reading

Exploring My New Surroundings

Mountain ridge border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu

Mountain ridge border between Kerala and Tamil Nadu

This past weekend I was able to explore the surrounding areas of Kumily and Thekkady, where I am staying for the next three and a half months. For this trek I went with RAXA Collective team member Salim, who is very knowledgeable and familar with the area. First he took me to see a scenic overlook. Here I saw and learned about the natural mountain border that separates parts of the state of Kerala and Tamil Nadu.  After a short drive from the overlook we arrived at a small spice plantation where Salim taught me about some of the local spices grown in the area such as cardamom, lemongrass, mint, and cinnamon. Continue reading

Student Innovation Helping Make a Better World

Fasoap Founders Photo courtesy of gsvc.org

Moctar Dembele and Gerard Niyondiko are this year’s grand prize winners of Global Social Venture Competition, an annual competition that awards young entrepreneurs for ideas that can have a positive impact on the world. Their idea “Fasoap” hopes to help prevent the contraction of malaria, a disease that Johns Hopkins Research Institute states over 40% of the world is at risk for, including parts of Africa and India. Malaria a disease that is contracted through bites of infected mosquitoes. Once contracted the medical treatment for the malaria can be very costly, and many of the people who contract it have trouble seeking and paying for such medical care. Continue reading

An Introduction to India

View out of the Houseboat

View out of the Houseboat

My name is Kendra, and last week I arrived in Cochin, India. I am a recent graduate of Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, and I traveled here to work for four months with Raxa Collective to learn more about Conservation-tourism in action.

Before I arrived in India I didn’t know what to expect. I knew the culture and food were different from the western style I grew up with, but when I arrived I was completely spellbound by what I experienced. My first sights of India came during a drive I took through the southern city of Cochin, and it was amazing. I didn’t expect it to be so full of life and color, especially in the rain. I saw women in beautiful saris racing across the busy streets in the rain and billboards advertising intricate and colorful jewelry. This was my first view of India, and despite my earlier apprehension I was enthralled with it. Continue reading