Conservation & Development in the Indian Tropics (Biol 367) - May Term 

India Campus - May Term

Course Description

Conservation and Development in the Indian Tropics explores ways in which conservation and development goals can be reconciled. Conservation and development are often portrayed as at odds with one another. This course challenges those assumptions and explores the creative ways in which conservation and development can go hand-in-hand. Christian practitioners have particularly strong motivation for exploring how to create win-win arrangements to improve the lives of the poor and protect God's creation.

South India provides the perfect backdrop for studying these issues. Students will travel into the Western Ghats, a mountain range in South India that is one of the world's 8 biodiversity hotspots according to the United Nations, and the coastal ecosystems along the Bay of Bengal. Students will encounter the immense biodiversity of the region by visiting high mountain ecosystems, protected areas for tigers, elephants, and other wildlife, and marine ecosystems; engage with Indian culture and society by exploring city life, visiting local villages, and meeting with rural and indigenous peoples; and engage the major issues facing conservation and development around the world: poaching, deforestation, human-animal conflict, indigenous and community land rights, overharvesting, and sustainable resource use.

Students from North America and India (Bishop Heber College) will interact in this cross-cultural course. Mini-buses will transport the group to each site with extensive hiking at each location. Food and lodging will be provided at nearby guesthouses and hotels. The course is co-taught by North American faculty member, Prof. Dieter Bouma and Indian faculty member Dr. A. Relton, Associate Professor and Heath of Social Work at Bishop Heber College, with guest experts in natural and cultural history also participating. Field, Interdisciplinary.

Professor: Prof. Dieter Bouma


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Knowledge Gained

  • Understanding human-environment systems in a number of ecosystems and contexts, including communal, public, and private lands
  • Approaches to conservation and development in developing countries from a Christian perspective
  • Understanding the principles of conservation biology and major ecosystem types in the South Indian tropics
  • Ability to identify a diverse set of flora and fauna throughout the tropics as well as the role they play within ecosystems (autecology)
  • Understanding appropriate ways to learn about and enter a new culture
  • Basic understandings of Indian culture, religion, history, and village life

Skills Developed

  • Ability to analyze human-environment systems for conservation and livelihoods outcomes
  • Experience with the Grinnell system for field journaling for making detailed field observations
  • Ability to assess tropical ecosystems in the field to understand their dynamics and function
  • Ability to enter a new culture appropriately
  • Ability to communicate cross-culturally and make cultural observations

Field Experiences

  • Point Calimere and Muthupet Mangrove Forest
    • Estuary, dune, wetland, coastal grassland, dry evergreen forest, and mangrove ecosystems 
    • Coastal salt mining operations
    • Coastal fishing communities
  • Cultural exploration of Tiruchirappalli
    • Exploring city life and home visits
    • Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple
    • Rockfort
  • Thorn forest ecosystem
  • Valparai (Western Ghats)
    • High mountain grassland, wet evergreen forest, and mountain shola ecosystems
    • Tea and shade-grown coffee plantation communities and operations
  • Nilgiri Bioreserve: Mudumalai Tiger Reserve and Bandipur Tiger Reserve
    • Tropical moist deciduous and tropical dry deciduous forest ecosystems
    • Adavasi, indigenous tribal communities
    • Forestry Department conservation programs
  • Local farm visit
  • Local village trip


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