Lesson 4: What happens in Wolong doesn’t stay in Wolong

Ideas and methods in Wolong have switched on a light in a world smaller and more interconnected than fully appreciated before.

Perhaps the most revelatory lesson from pandas and people is that the lessons hold even without pandas.

The truths learned from 20 years in Wolong resonate in other parts of the world, even if the particulars are different. Consider Nepal: Benign pandas inspire adoration, while Nepal’s tigers have their own fans, but with an element of fear. Pandas, after all, eat only bamboo. Tigers, on occasion, attack people.

Yet coupled human and natural systems gives a framework to interpret the delicate balances between preserving habitats and allowing the people who share the forests to thrive.

MSU’s research team has studied both people and nature together in Nepal’s Chitwan National Park. They’ve researched shifts in the number and composition of households and effects sweeping changes like industrialization and globalization have brought to the rural areas and conservation efforts. The reward has been understandings that likely never would have been seen if examined in isolation.

For example, as people venture into the park more, we’ve learned tigers seem to shift their natural time clock and move around more at night to avoid their human neighbors.

This approach also has led to important insights into why some policies that restrict access to forest resources have floundered as they run against long-held traditions and practices. The result: Opening the door in Chitwan as it did in Wolong to improving policies.

In the bigger picture, ideas and methods in Wolong have switched a light on in a world smaller and more interconnected than fully appreciated before. People’s choices – whether we marry, divorce, have lots of children or none, move far from home or stay close – does affect to the natural world around us, which in turn that world affects us.


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