2005-01-21 / News

USC professor speaks to Explorers Club

One out of six people in the world lives in India, yet 380 animal species thrive
By Ceille Baird Welch

Dr. Tobias Lanz and Ginny Newell a member of the Explorers ClubDr. Tobias Lanz and Ginny Newell a member of the Explorers Club According to Dr. Tobias Lanz, assistant professor of Governmental and International Studies at USC, India ranks as both the worst and best in the world when it comes to providing sanctuary for wildlife.

Dr. Lanz, leading off the new round of monthly lecture meetings of the Greater Piedmont Chapter of the Explorers Club, gave an across–country look at India’s tiger resources. In his second appearance before the Columbia–based club, he reported on his visits to India’s major tiger sanctuaries and gave the current status of tiger populations.

India is second only to China in human population. About one out of every six people in the world lives in India and most of them in the central part. And yet, India is home to 380 species of animals.

Said Dr. Lanz, “India is as rich in animal life as it is in cultural life. It is the only place in the world where one can indeed find a billion people living alongside lions and tigers and bears.” For such a large and concentrated population, it seems amazing the animal population has survived at all.

Lanz’s illustrated tour covered the great biodiversity of India, from the Himalayas across the Northern Plain and into the Deccan, the great plateau that forms much of India’s southern peninsula. Aside from the high alpine forests, there are rain forests, scrub forests, dense forests, and arid barren sands. There are great rivers and threads of rivers. There are monsoons, and there is snow.

India’s human population is also diverse, politically and culturally. There is a caste system of sorts. Lanz explained, “The people of India are living in several different centuries at once. The vastly varying levels of people place vastly different values on the importance of ecology.”

The country’s national park system, now over 500 parks, began in the 1930s. Lanz said, “Although the park system has provided sanctuary for much of the world’s threatened tiger population, there are problems.”

Some of the parks, it seems, are no more than paper parks, existing more on paper than in reality. Local villagers often raid the habitat for firewood. Other countries offer tempting fees for animal products. There are poachers, and there is corruption within the system.

“However,” Dr. Lanz reminded Explorers, “When you consider one billion people living in an area half the size of the US, and when you think of 380 species of animals, India’s conservation record is not that bad!”

Tobias Lanz is the author of several academic books and papers, and plans a future book on his travels throughout India. He said, “There has been very little written about conservation in India, and I want to aim the book at the general reader.”

Lanz’s courses at USC on the political and economic problems of Africa have been extremely popular with students, and his trek across India was extremely well received by the large gathering of Explorer Club members and guests.

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