The ongoing partnership between the University of Cologne and BVIEER Pune offered yet another outstanding cultural and academic experience for eleven students from the International Master of Environmental Science and Law program at the University of Cologne, as the students traveled to India in early March. The Cologne students collaborated with approximately forty students from BVIEER Pune as they journeyed to Periyar Tiger Reserve (PTR) in the South Indian state of Kerala for a research excursion. The students gained valuable field experience as they answered various research questions about PTR by interviewing local villagers living in the immediate area surrounding the park.
Villagers residing in the area surrounding the park have traditionally relied on the natural resources found in PTR to generate income. In order to protect the biodiversity of the area and conserve these resources that were being drawn upon by locals, the Government of India established Eco-Development Committees (EDC). These EDCs aim to protect the park’s valuable resources and to provide sustainable and eco-friendly income opportunities for locals in order to combat overuse of resources and conflict between humans and wildlife, such as the poaching of elephants. Students were able to hone their interview skills and gain a wide perspective on the state of the EDC project, as they spoke with several members of eco-tourism EDCs, members of the Kerala Forest Department (KFD), and local villagers that were interacting with the KFD.
It was not, however, all work for the students. The trip to PTR was filled with fun outings including a night-time nature walk, bamboo rafting, and boat safari tours where the abundant wildlife of the park was on full display. The students formed many friendships between BVIEER and Cologne that will carry beyond this brief excursion and the cultural exchange was among the most memorable parts of the excursion.