Varun R. Goswami
I am deeply passionate about the conservation of wildlife, and endangered large mammals in particular. I work with the strong conviction that effective conservation stems from scientific knowledge, is cognisant of the local context, and adaptive and participatory in practice. I use my expertise in studying the ecology of wildlife populations, and their interface with humans, to further conservation strategies and action across large, complex landscapes.
My career started on a high note in 2003, having had an opportunity to witness the world of tigers and their prey through the seasoned eyes of a team led by Dr. Ullas Karanth, a foremost expert on the subject. I subsequently obtained my Masters in Wildlife Biology and Conservation in 2006 from the multi-institutional graduate program at NCBS-TIFR, Bangalore. I learnt a great deal from the experiences of many a field biologist and conservationist, culminating in an unforgettable journey I undertook with Dr. M.D. Madhusudan into the remarkable lives of the social and sociable, Asian elephant. I have not looked back since. My PhD, which the University of Florida awarded in 2013, was for my thesis, ‘Of Populations, Habitat and People: The Asian Elephant in a World Fast Changing’. A brilliant set of scientists guided my doctorate work, led by my advisor, the industrious population ecologist, Professor Madan K. Oli. Between 2014 and 2019, I worked as a senior scientist with the WCS India Program, using my expertise to build and shape WCS India’s work on elephants, as well as start and co-lead (with Dr. Divya Vasudev) the Northeast India program for the organisation.
At Conservation Initiatives, a non-profit I founded with Dr. Divya Vasudev, I continue to pursue my passion for science-based conservation of India’s threatened wildlife and their habitats. Being from Northeast India, I am particularly motivated to give back to the region I have called home. That I can relate to and understand local sensibilities helps me design win-win strategies for people and wildlife that are rooted in ground reality, and in a manner that is participatory and inclusive. When I am not engaging in conservation, I am out observing elephants, something I can never tire of! Usually, I also have a camera in hand.
Vasudev, D., Goswami, V.R., Hait, P., Sharma, P., Joshi, B., Karpate, Y., & Prasad, P.K. (2020) Conservation opportunities and challenges emerge from assessing nuanced stakeholder attitudes towards the Asian elephant in tea estates of Assam, Northeast India. Global Ecology and Conservation, 22:e00936. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gecco.2020.e00936
Vasudev, D. & Goswami, V.R. (2019) A Bayesian hierarchical approach to quantifying stakeholder attitudes toward conservation in the presence of reporting error. Conservation Biology, Early View. https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13392.
Goswami, V.R., Yadava, M.K., Vasudev, D., Prasad, P.K., Sharma, P. & Jathanna, D. (2019) Towards a reliable assessment of Asian elephant population parameters: the application of photographic spatial capture–recapture sampling in a priority floodplain ecosystem. Scientific Reports, 9:8578. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-44795-y.
Syiem, B., Goswami, V.R. & Vasudev, D. (2018) "In a tree by the brook, there's a songbird who sings": Woodlands in an agricultural matrix maintain functionality of a wintering bird community. PLoS ONE, 13(8):e0201657.
Goswami, V.R. & Vasudev, D. (2017) Triage of conservation needs: the juxtaposition of conflict mitigation and connectivity considerations in heterogeneous, human-dominated landscapes. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, 4:144. https://doi.org/10.3389/fevo.2016.00144.
Ripple, W., Chapron, G. … Goswami, V.R. … Young, H. & Zhang, L. (2017) Conserving the world's megafauna and biodiversity: the fierce urgency of now. BioScience, 67:197–200.
Ripple, W., Chapron, G. … Goswami, V.R. … Young, H. & Zhang, L. (2016) Saving the world’s terrestrial megafauna. BioScience, 66:807–812.
Lakshminarayanan, N., Karanth, K.K., Goswami, V.R., Vaidyanthan, S. & Karanth, K.U. (2015) Determinants of dry season habitat use by Asian elephants in the Western Ghats of India. Journal of Zoology, 298:169–177.
Goswami, V.R., Medhi, K., Nichols, J.D. & Oli, M.K. (2015) Mechanistic understanding of human–wildlife conflict through a novel application of dynamic occupancy models. Conservation Biology, 29:1100–1110.
Vasudev, D., Fletcher, R. J., Goswami, V.R. & Krishnadas, M. (2015) From dispersal constraints to landscape connectivity: lessons from species distribution modeling. Ecography, 38:001–012.
Jathanna, D., Karanth, K.U., Kumar, N.S., Goswami, V.R., Vasudev, D. & Karanth, K.K. (2015) Reliable monitoring of elephant populations in the forests of India: Analytical and practical considerations. Biological Conservation, 187:212–220.
Jathanna, D., Karanth, K.U., Kumar, N.S., Karanth, K.K. & Goswami, V.R. (2015) Patterns and determinants of habitat occupancy by the Asian elephant in the Western Ghats of Karnataka, India. PLoS ONE, 10(7):e0133233.
Goswami, V.R., Sridhara, S., Medhi, K., Williams, A.C., Chellam, R., Nichols, J.D. & Oli, M.K. (2014) Community-managed forests and wildlife-friendly agriculture play a subsidiary but not substitutive role to protected areas for the endangered Asian elephant. Biological Conservation, 177:74–81.
Goswami, V.R., Vasudev, D. & Oli, M.K. (2014) The importance of conflict-induced mortality for conservation planning in areas of human–elephant co-occurrence. Biological Conservation, 176:191–98.
Troyer, E. M., Cameron Devitt, S. E., Sunquist, M. E., Goswami, V. R. & Oli, M. K. (2014) Survival, recruitment, and population growth rate of an important mesopredator: the northern raccoon. PLoS ONE, 9:e98535.
Troyer, E. M., Cameron Devitt, S. E., Sunquist, M. E., Goswami, V. R. & Oli, M. K. (2014) Density dependence or climatic variation? Factors influencing survival, recruitment, and population growth rate of Virginia opossums. Journal of Mammalogy, 95:421–430.
Goswami, V.R., Lauretta, M.V., Madhusudan, M.D. & Karanth, K.U. (2012) Optimizing individual identification and survey effort for photographic capture-recapture sampling of species with temporally variable morphological traits. Animal Conservation, 15:174–183.
Goswami, V.R., Getz, L.L., Hostetler, J.A., Ozgul, A. & Oli, M.K. (2011) Synergistic influences of phase, density and climatic variation on the dynamics of fluctuating populations. Ecology, 92:1680–1690.
Goswami, V.R., Madhusudan, M.D. & Karanth, K.U. (2007) Application of photographic capture-recapture modelling to estimate demographic parameters for male Asian elephants. Animal Conservation, 10:391–399.
Conserving our National Heritage Animal, the endangered Asian elephant: A megaherbivore that needs large amounts of space and resources for survival, the Asian elephant increasingly finds itself at crossroads with a growing human footprint. Be it the continuing degradation of habitats, increased impediments to their movement, or the negative interactions that threaten the mutual well-being of elephants and people, the challenges are many. I combine my understanding of ecology and species biology with insights obtained from stakeholder engagements to help design conservation strategies that balance the needs of elephants and those of people.
My work over the years has extended from the Western Ghats of South India to the heterogenous landscapes of Northeast India. An ongoing engagement in the Kaziranga landscape of Assam, for example, is focused on reducing negative human–elephant interactions, and thereby facilitating elephant movement between habitats. To design holistic conservation strategies for the landscape, I also lead a collaboration with the Assam Forest Department to photographically document elephants in Kaziranga National Park and track them in time and space. More broadly, my efforts are aimed at helping shape landscape-scale conservation plans and policy that can secure the future of our National Heritage Animal and the well-being of communities living alongside it.
Community-based conservation in Northeast India: In the hill states of Northeast India, a majority of forests are owned and managed by local communities. Some of these forests harbour a wide variety of wildlife and present substantial conservation opportunity. Colleagues and I work closely with rural societies in the states of Meghalaya and Nagaland to effect win-win strategies that can sustain local livelihoods and strengthen the conservation potential of priority community forests. Many of these strategies—which can range from creating awareness to supporting alternative nature-friendly livelihoods—are complementary, and together they strengthen local capacity for, and engagement with, long-term conservation.
Teaching and Mentoring
I co-teach Population Ecology & Estimation at the M.Sc. Wildlife Biology and Conservation Program, National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore. I have mentored a number of aspiring wildlife scientists and conservationists in the last few years, including the students below.
Advisor: 1 MSc student (completed), 1 PhD student (ongoing)
Co-Advisor: 3 PhD students (ongoing)
Committee Member: 4 MSc students (completed), 1 MSc student (ongoing), 1 PhD student (ongoing)
Editorial Board Membership
Gajah (Journal of the IUCN–Asian Elephant Specialist Group)
Courtesy Graduate Faculty, University of Florida
Affiliate Faculty, National Centre for Biological Sciences
Member, IUCN–Asian Elephant Specialist Group