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A J T Johnsingh: A Titan of Wildlife Conservation Passes Away

A Legacy of Conservation

Asir Jawahar Thomas Johnsingh, widely recognized as A J T Johnsingh, India’s eminent wildlife biologist and staunch conservation activist, passed away in Bengaluru on the early morning of June 7, 2024. At the age of 78, Johnsingh leaves behind a monumental legacy in the realms of wildlife biology and environmental advocacy.

A Distinguished Career

Born in Nanguneri on the fringes of the Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu, Johnsingh was nurtured in an environment that fostered a deep love for nature. His parents, both educators, frequently took him on excursions to what is now the Kalakkad-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR), instilling in him a lifelong passion for wildlife. Inspired by the legendary tales of Colonel Edward James ‘Jim’ Corbett, Johnsingh pursued a career in wildlife biology, leading to groundbreaking work in various Indian habitats.

Groundbreaking Contributions

Johnsingh’s career was marked by numerous significant contributions to wildlife conservation. Between 1976 and 1978, his fieldwork on free-ranging mammals, including studies on dholes in Bandipur Tiger Reserve, garnered international acclaim. His efforts were pivotal in establishing several tiger reserves across India, including the KMTR, enhancing the country’s conservation landscape.

P O Nameer, a fellow wildlife biologist, described Johnsingh as India’s foremost vertebrate ecologist. He emphasized Johnsingh’s role in exposing critical issues like the Sariska debacle and his unwavering commitment to preserving India’s tiger habitats.

Advocacy and Achievements

Johnsingh’s dedication to wildlife conservation extended beyond research. As a faculty member and later dean at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in Dehradun, he expanded the institute’s focus and scope. His activism continued post-retirement through involvement with organizations like the Nature Conservation Foundation, WWF India, and the Corbett Foundation.

His research encompassed a wide range of species, including the Asian elephant, Asiatic lion, and Nilgiri tahr. Notably, his work on the conservation of the endangered golden and blue-finned mahseers has left a lasting impact. Johnsingh’s scholarly contributions include over 70 scientific papers and more than 80 popular articles on wildlife conservation.

In recognition of his exceptional contributions, Johnsingh received several prestigious awards, including the 2004 Distinguished Service Award from the Society for Conservation Biology, the Carl Zeiss Wildlife Conservation Award, and the ABN AMRO Sanctuary Lifetime Wildlife Service Award. He was also honored with the Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian award.

Personal Philosophy and Influence

Johnsingh viewed himself as a practical conservationist, emphasizing the need for a balanced approach to wildlife preservation. He admired Jim Corbett’s pragmatic stance on wildlife management and often cited him as a major influence. Johnsingh’s practical conservation philosophy extended to advocating for the sustainable management of forest resources and promoting scientific methods to mitigate human-animal conflicts.

His legacy includes mentoring a generation of wildlife managers and conservationists. Johnsingh trained approximately 300 wildlife managers, 50 MSc Wildlife Science students, and supervised 10 PhD students, significantly influencing forest management in India. He advised young conservationists to avoid destructive rivalries and focus on collaborative efforts to achieve meaningful conservation outcomes.

Enduring Impact

Johnsingh’s passion for nature and wildlife was unwavering. Even in his later years, he continued to explore and document India’s diverse ecosystems. His practical conservation ideas, such as sustainable hunting practices in regions like Coorg, reflect his deep understanding of the complex relationship between humans and wildlife.

Johnsingh’s message to future generations of conservationists was clear: maintain curiosity, stay physically fit, immerse yourself in learning about nature, and work collaboratively to protect it. His life’s work serves as an enduring testament to the power of dedication, knowledge, and practical action in the field of wildlife conservation.

Conclusion: A Life Dedicated to Nature

A J T Johnsingh’s passing marks the end of an era in Indian wildlife conservation. His contributions have shaped the landscape of conservation efforts in the country, and his legacy will continue to inspire and guide future generations. As India remembers this great conservationist, his work and philosophy remain a beacon for those dedicated to preserving the natural world.

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