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Exploring interactions between humans and large carnivores

Exploring interactions between humans and large carnivores

Sunetro Ghosal

This spring, Dr. Sunetro Ghosal, visiting faculty at St Xavier’s Autonomous College, Mumbai and Norwegian University of Life Sciences, as well as editor of the inter-disciplinary journal Ladakh Studies and the periodical Stawa visited EUC for a two-week residency. This included an interdisciplinary workshop on animal agency as well as interactions with faculty and students focusing on broader discussions of human-nature interactions and sharing the rewards and challenges of working in a wide range of landscapes and contexts. His visit also entailed connecting with wildlife conservation groups and undertaking preliminary fieldwork in Canada to explore possible future comparative and collaborative research. 

“The residency was a good opportunity to interact with students at York as well as researchers such as Leesa Fawcett who have similar interests. It was also an opportunity to strengthen current collaborations with Patricia Burke Wood who I met in 2023 while she was on sabbatical research in India and Suzanne Macdonald (York Faculty of Health) with whom we plan to publish a paper in the Journal of Urban Ecology,” says Sunetro. 

Sunetro and Leesa with Gary and Sally Allan, who have raised wolfdogs and done public education about human/wildlife conflicts and advocacy for wolves. In keeping with the aims of reconciliation, they strive to raise awareness about Indigenous laws that sustain and protect ecosystems.

Currently, Sunetro conducts applied research on interactions between humans and large carnivores, especially common leopards (Panthera pardus), snow leopards (Panthera uncia), and wolves (Canis lupus). His main interest is to understand factors that influence these interactions, which can range from conflict to coexistence. To do this, he uses tools from a diversity of disciplines. The insights gained from this work help to develop interventions to strengthen coexistence and mitigate conflicts between animals and humans. A good example of applications emerging from his research is the Living with Leopards/Mumbaikars for the Sanjay Gandhi National Park project in the city of Mumbai which is a community-based initiative that was started by the Forest Department, Government of Maharashtra to manage human-leopard interactions in an metropolitan landscape.

Asked about his key findings or insights, he notes that “the most important learning is that non-human species have varied cognitive capabilities, an ability to learn and reason, and a capacity to act.”. When this is taken into account, the management of human-wildlife interactions becomes more complicated but also more effective.

“Such interactions must be understood in the spatio-temporal context of all relevant factors that influence human-wildlife interface. This means that we need to focus as much on human behaviour as non-human behaviour and other factors to understand and manage these interactions,” Sunetro notes.

Ungulates are members of the diverse clade Euungulata which consists of large mammals with hooves (XAttlexattle, Wikimedia).

Sunetro also underscored the importance of better understanding and appreciating the world.

“We need to replace Cartesian dichotomies, which have dominated science for several centuries, with a more holistic, non-linear, and non-dualistic approach to conceptualize the world. These dichotomies have resulted in a multitude of simplistic conceptualizations that have blinded us to complexities and diversities. Take for instance the assumption that humans and wildlife cannot coexist or that there are no wild animals in urban areas -- these assumptions are simplistic and untrue,” says Ghosal.

With a mix of teaching, research, writing, and consulting, Sunetro has an impressive academic publication record, including a recent co-authored article in Ecological Frontiers on Climate change impacts on high altitude wildlife distribution: Predicting range shifts for four ungulates in Changthang, Eastern Ladakh. He also co-published an article focusing on Intercultural education through an online field course during the COVID-19 pandemic which found that online field courses, supported by live virtual field visits and online fieldwork, can provide students with a meaningful intercultural experience. Further he has published articles in Society and Natural Resources, Biodiversity and Conservation, and Conservation and Society covering a range of topics from conservation practice and wildlife management to the impact of climate change and the ontologies of conflict and co-existence between animals and humans. He is also a regular contributor to public scholarship, with articles in several newspapers and magazines in India, the UK, and Norway.