Working closer to nature

Gana Kedlaya, Feb 12 2018, 18:56 IST
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Citizen science projects give people a chance to log data on wildlife.

In the early 1900s, ornithologist Frank M Chapman, from the National Audubon Society, USA, proposed a new holiday tradition - the 'Christmas Bird Census', encouraging people to count birds during the holidays than hunt them. Today, over 117 years later, the Christmas Bird Count is one of the most successful citizen science projects. This data led to Audubon's 2014 Climate Change Report that indicates that 314 species of North American birds will lose more than 50% of their current range by 2080 due to climate change.

So, why is citizen science so important? How does it benefit busy urban folks? Is there a value to contributions made by 'amateur experts'? For starters, it is a win-win situation. Most citizen science projects offer urban dwellers the opportunity to use their phones for the project and work closer to nature. Here are two such interesting projects coming up that will provide urban dwellers a chance to contribute to scientific inquiry and progress in a meaningful manner.

Roadkills.in is an initiative that collects data on mortality of animals on roads and railway lines in India. This initiative, which was started by the Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT), aims to engage citizens across the country. All you have to do is record events of roadkill of animals and upload the image with necessary details on the app. On its website, WCT elucidates why your help matters, "We hope that the data collected will be useful to researchers and road planners across the country to help in reducing wildlife mortality, install wildlife crossing structures and also improve passenger safety whenever a road is planned or upgraded."

"This one time, we counted off a good 15. If our observations and documentation can help wild animals, I would be more than happy to contribute. It's just depressing to see all this mortality and feel so helpless," says Priya R, a nature enthusiast based in Bengaluru.

Great Backyard Bird Count

The Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) India is the Indian implementation of the global Great Backyard Bird Count, which runs for four days every February. Indian birders have participated in the GBBC since 2013. GBBC India, coordinated by the Bird Count India collective, strives to use the data to answer a variety of important questions, including how birds are distributed across the country, how they are affected by changes in habitat and weather, and whether populations and distributions might be changing from year to year.

GBBC India has been gaining popularity and has witnessed several people contributing to the cause since its inception. The 2016 edition of the GBBC engaged over 1,100 birders who uploaded over 7,900 lists and reported 785 species. Similarly, last year's edition also saw participation from various birders, amateurs and professionals. According to the data released by GBBC, in 2017, over 1,500 participants spent close to 8,000 hours birding, uploaded 12,000 lists and recorded 825 species.

Dr Ullas Karanth, a wildlife biologist and senior conservation scientist, explains further, "Citizen science, if appropriately practiced, can - in addition to gathering high-quality data - channel energies of youth fascinated by wildlife into effective local conservation actions." As Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Well, here is your chance to be a part of the solution and fight the battle against the current extinction crisis, at the same time gain valid knowledge on the subject matter. Join the movement.

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