The Surveyor of Jungles

Priya Davidar 1

Priya Davidar grew up in picturesque Ooty, a town in southern India with the misty blue mountains of the Western Ghats, a biodiversity hotspot, as its backdrop. In the 1950s, the family lived in an isolated hillside bungalow, and the babysitter told the children ghost stories; Davidar mistook the hyena’s mating call for a wandering ghoul’s laughter. Today, she regrets that the four-legged monster of her childhood can no longer be heard in her hometown. As in the rest of the world, much of the wildlife has been poisoned, and the woods have been cleared to let the town grow.

“In a competition for space, other species are rapidly losing out to humans,” Davidar says. But she hasn’t been sitting around mourning the loss of flora and fauna in her backyard. For close to 3 decades, as an ecologist at Pondicherry University—not far from her hometown—she has been doing research that conservationists can use to combat the loss of biodiversity. It’s an issue worldwide, but it is especially pressing in a populous, developing country such as India.

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