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FOREST HEROINE: Suprabha Seshan fends off population pressures on endangered species

Successful plant conservation through a combination of scientific and traditional knowledge.
Suprabha Seshan is director of the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary in the Western Ghat Mountains in India

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Editor’s Note: International Women’s Day is Saturday, 8 March, and in honor of women’s many contributions to forestry, Forests News is publishing stories from readers about their “forest heroines” — women who have devoted their lives to make a difference for the world’s forests and the people who live in them. Throughout the week, we will be sharing these women’s stories. In this one, guest blogger Theun Karelse writes about his forest heroine, Suprabha Seshan.

Suprabha Seshan is director of the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary (GBS) in the Western Ghat Mountains in India, where a small team of rural women employ skills that place them among the world’s most advanced plant researchers and conservationists.

Through a combination of scientific and traditional knowledge, Suprabha and colleagues Laly Joseph, Suma Keloth and Purvi Jain have achieved successful plant conservation results for the deforested region, where many species face extinction. The 25-hectare sanctuary area has been restored to a higher level of biodiversity. All this involves nurturing thousands of plant species and animals, spurring collaborative action with groups in other parts of the Western Ghats that undertake restoration work.

Suprabha seeks to honor traditional and indigenous peoples from rainforest areas through cooperation and mutual support, as well as to educate young students and forest activists on issues of ecological destruction and renewal. She envisions a “Green Phoenix,” or a movement that supports resilience and restoration to arise from the ashes of modern industrial culture.

Suprabha, who won a Whitley Award in 2006 on behalf of the GBS team, has written this dispatch from the forest, where plants, animals and human communities are under assault from the destructive forces of globalization.

In it, Suprabha questions the notion that intelligence is solely a human feature. She also asks what drives the relationship between humans and the forest environment, and argues that cohabitation with wild creatures is essential to exploring deeper issues of life:

Animals and plants in my forest home offer the sweetest response to questions of: where and what is intelligence? 

Intelligence, they say, flows from the personal to the personal; it is known, experienced and lived through the personal, and enacted through the personal. It goes from this elephant, to that tree, to that bird, to that valley, to that river, to this land, to this sea.  

It is deeply personal to each of my white blood cells, to each of the trillions of bacteria in every gut, to every vein in every body, every enzyme in every gut, every tree in every forest, and every star in every galaxy.

Intelligence, they say, in fact, requires the personal, the beloved, and the rooted. It requires you and me. The last thing we need to do, in this last hour, is prove or measure or debate it or put dollar values on it, or bottle it up for posterity. Just listen to your body.

Before I die, and more importantly, before the forests are vanquished, I believe we are required to engage directly with the truly intelligent members of the universe, those who have figured out how life supports life, and how death supports life, how death doesn’t lead to immiserated oceans, and toxified air, and collapsed forests, and extirpated tigers, and devastated humans; and how intelligence and life are to each other how the wave is to a particle, or a river to water molecules, or blood to every cell.  

And I believe that love, beauty, real life, and a vibrant planet are born from this, wholly. 

excerpts from “From This Wounded Forest A Dispatch

 Theun Karelse  is a member of Shibumi Friends International. The views expressed above are those of the author and not the Center for International Forestry Research. 

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Topic(s) :   Gender