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Member Profile - Vipul Gupta

Updated: Jun 10

1. How did your journey begin? - What drew you to conservation work and when did you start?


I have had a deep connection with the  Central India landscape for over 50 years; first as a child, then travelling in central India for work, and as a wildlife photographer.  From seeing amazing wildlife in the open at close quarters, to seeing the fortress style of conservation taking shape, I have been a witness to the change in the landscape as it has unfolded. The most prominent shift  I have noticed is the wilting relationship between the original stewards of this landscape with the biodiversity  around them.

 

While the national parks did a great job in conserving the wildlife, the exclusion of the local indigenous tribes has been rough for the communities and the landscape. The loss of large patches of pristine forests, the fragmentation of the corridors, the increasing human wildlife conflict, and the loss of ownership of the landscape by the communities is disturbing.


I believe that hope is still alive, and it is with this hope that I started Earth Focus Foundation- with a vision to see nature and man thrive together.  Our effort is to bring back that age old tale of humans and nature.


2. When reflecting on your work from the past decade, could you share some milestones and accomplishments you've achieved?

 

We started in 2019, and in 4 years we have been able to convince local communities around the Mukki area of Kanha National Park to stop mindless felling of mature trees, and build land restoration program on their degraded lands. This has led to building back the biodiversity, and opening up nature based livelihood options. It has also reduced dependency on core areas, reduced conflict, bought down distress migration and improved the nutrition basket.

In the same period we have seen attendance in Aanganwadi and Primary schools soar to an all time

high, with children coming to our “ anand ghar” even on school holidays.

 


3. In hindsight, looking at the trajectory of your life and career, can you identify pivotal moments or signs that guided you toward your current purpose? Was there a particular turning point that crystallized your direction?

 

There may have been several moments or triggers, and I shall narrate a one .

I once saw solar powered borewells being installed inside the core of the KNP by well-meaning but ignorant NGO to make drinking water available to the wildlife. Photo-ops , applause , and of course social media was set ablaze for this noble cause. At the same time, there wasn’t a drop of drinking water in nearby villages, and with the sole river Banjar drying up, entire communities were being forced towards distress migration. It is well known and documented that animals can find water on their own inside well preserved forests ( and KNP is an example ) but lack of drinking water in communities spells disaster. This and several other instances got me to realise that while all the money, effort, research and attention was being made on the wildlife inside the protected areas, there wasn’t much being done to ensure long term balance between nature and man. I knew then that something needed to change, something had to be done.



4. What is the most fulfilling aspect of your role or job?

 

We work with over 1500 children on basic numeracy, literacy and critical thinking. But the core of this is biodiversity sensitisation. My fulfilment comes from seeing these children relate to the local landscape with pride and ownership, giving me hope that future generations will again resume stewardship of the bio diversity of this region and be still able to have dignified livelihoods.

 

And finally, the most fulfilling part is that all our interventions are built with the community, and the ownership that they are taking will ensure long term , perhaps irreversible changes for the good. It gives me great satisfaction to see the communities take ownership of the degraded lands and how they have started work to restore them. We have together planted over 1 lac saplings of native trees, which have economic, medicinal or social importance to these communities, and built resilient and sustainable sources of food and income.



5. In the realm of conservation research and academia, what has remained a constant since you began, and what is the most rapidly evolving aspect?

 

I think that conservation research and academia has spent decades working in silos, a little too distant from the actual reality on the ground. I now see more and more efforts directed towards finding solutions. The intersection of research and practice is finally happening. NCCI is one such perfect example.



6. What advice would you offer to aspiring young conservationists?



I don’t come from the world of development sector or conservationists. My advice to all such people who wish to bring around change is to study like a scientist, act like a practitioner, and think like a community person. “Conservation" may sound like preserving what we have. Go a step further and embrace “Restoration“ which means bringing back what we have lost.




7. Do you uphold the concept of maintaining the 'Jugalbandi'* of people and nature in the Central Indian landscape? If so, how does your work or your organization's work reflect this?

 

Any long term conservation / restoration work will succeed only through “ jugalbandi” and not by exclusion of the communities or a top down approach. Earth Focus is a symphony of Jugalbandi, and a perfect example. All our work is community visioned, community led and community owned. Even in our own team, over 90% of our 70 + team members are from the local community, and one must see the pride and ownership that they carry on their shoulders.


 

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