Wildlife Service Award 2022
Ecologist, conservationist and astrophysicist
As an astrophysicist, peering at the sky to unravel the universe’s mystery is second nature for Ramana Athreya. His profession melded seamlessly with his vocation – the study of bird life, and the related fields of ecology and conservation. One of his most important contributions to our knowledge of avians was the description of a new bird species – the Bugun liocichla – in Arunachal Pradesh in 2006. The discovery is a feather in the cap for India too as it was the first bird discovered since India’s Independence! The striking, multi-coloured bird is seen in select pockets of the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary and Singchung Bugun Village Community Reserve (SBVCR), where Ramana works. Its conservation is of paramount importance as it has been classified as critically endangered.
In an effort to conserve the Bugun liocichla and its habitat, Ramana has been mentoring the Bugun tribal community. He believes wilderness conservation will succeed only if the needs and concerns of the local community are part of the solution. The community is a key player for the SBVCR, which won the India Biodiversity Award 2018 for its efforts to protect the Bugun liocichla. Ramana also received the Whitley Award in 2011 for his community wildlife conservation work. Fittingly, on the occasion of the 11th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity conducted in Hyderabad in 2012, the Indian Postal Department released a commemorative stamp with Bugun liocichla to highlight the need to protect our biodiversity. Ramana is a Trustee and Coordinator of Biodiversity Research & Conservation EcoSystems-India, Guwahati. He has also been an Associate Professor of Physics and Biology at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Pune since 2009. Ramana and his Ph.D. students engage in ecology and astronomy research in his molecular-ecology lab. He is a vital bridge between academia and on-the-ground conservation in Arunachal Pradesh. Ramana works hard to untangle the complexities of biodiversity conservation and community sustenance and is regularly invited to speak at national symposiums, conferences, and different universities in India. Deeply involved in science outreach work, he spends considerable time engaging with young men and women in colleges and schools across the country.
What began as a beautiful birdwatching holiday to Arunachal Pradesh for Ramana has turned into his life’s work and mission. Ramana’s spirited fight for the natural world and for the dignity and sustenance of local communities is a beacon in the world of today.