Dr. Aparajita Datta has been a leader in the conservation of the tropical forests of Arunachal Pradesh, one of the states of the Republic of India.
She first arrived at the Namdapha National Park in 1995 to study the impact of logging on arboreal, or tree dwelling, creatures including squirrels and primates. But her attention was instantly captured by the five species of hornbills that make their home in the area and her research into these birds formed the basis for her doctorate. Datta studied the role of hornbills in seed dispersal in Namdapha and learned how crucial they are to the continued growth of the tropical forest tree species that rely on animal dispersal. She also learned that many of these animals are hunted, and some of the parts of the forest had become empty due to over hunting creating conditions for severe consequences to the regeneration of many plant species.
Undertaking a unique approach to protecting the hornbills, she has found ways to work with the Lisu people–a marginalized tribe living in the area. Working with the Lisu she has developed community-based conservation programs to reduce hunting and save wildlife by improving the quality of life for local families in order to curb their need to use the forest in the way they had been. By providing fuel-efficient stoves and water-heating devices it has lessened deforestation and with other activities geared toward giving the community direct meaningful benefits Datta says that it will ultimately save wildlife.
This inclusive approach has turned those that used to hunt the hornbill into conservationists and protectors of the species. Her project “Threatened hornbills as icons for the conservation of the Himalayan forests” was a recipient of a 2013 Whitley Award, often called the green Oscars to convey their prestige.
During a separate survey for her employer, the Nature Conservation Foundation, an entirely new species of macaque was discovered and this helped lead to the creation of a biosphere reserve protecting high-altitude areas.
Dr. Datta is passionate about saving the hornbill and in turn saving their forest home.
Written by Angela Goad