Suchandra And Joydip Kundu

Green Teacher Award
A skilled educator who challenges norms and inspires youth to connect with the wild and who joins the Indian conservation community as an informed and concerned individual.

Suchandra and Joydip Kundu
Conservation campaigners, teachers, nature worshippers, wildlife defenders

The Sundarban, a crucial mangrove tiger habitat, is renowned for its rich biodiversity. The region accommodates 4.5 million inhabitants, with over half lacking land ownership, resulting in its classification as a disadvantaged area in West Bengal. This archipelago consists of 102 islands, 52 of which are inhabited, while the others are dense forests. The estuarine mangrove forest acts as a natural barrier against sea surges, but faces challenges including human-wildlife conflict and climate impacts. Cyclones, floods, and salinisation have disrupted livelihoods, exceeding the ecosystem’s capacity.

The vast Sundarban mangrove forest requires diverse and mammoth efforts to protect it for tomorrow. Working simultaneously in Kolkata, Sundarban and other wildlife impact areas of southwest Bengal, this giant effort requires not only the Forest Department, but those who support, train, and work alongside them, such as Suchandra and Joydip Kundu, who work seamlessly with the fringe population and foresters from all levels of the Sundarban Forest Department.

Wildlife conservationist Joydip is a Member of the West Bengal State Board for Wildlife and Suchandra is the Honorary Wildlife Warden of Kolkata. Both are the founder members of SHER (Society for Heritage and Ecological Researches), an organisation begun in 2011 devoted to mitigation of human-wildlife conflict through multi-faced activities in the Sundarban and other wildlife areas of southwest Bengal.

SHER has been active in helping marginalised communities living around the periphery of the Sundarban Tiger Reserve towards mitigation of tiger-human conflicts and building a climate resilient society in the delta through its community-based activities. The Society’s focus is on conflict mitigation through extensive field studies and consultations based on ground realities. It facilitates skill development programmes for promoting sustainable and diversified livelihood opportunities amongst the economically weaker sections, and redresses health and hygiene concerns towards creating a viable balance between humans and the environment. SHER believes that winning over the fringe population of the tiger reserve area is the key to conservation here. Toward this, SHER consistently makes people aware of the need to conserve this coastal bionetwork through different modules of awareness generation campaigns and by imparting nature education.

The Kundus work closely with the Forest Department to conserve the Sundarban ecosystem and its large human community, which is plagued by cyclones, floods, health problems, fuel and water shortages and the lack of employment opportunities. The main focus is biodiversity conservation by reducing forest dependency through raising awareness, skill development and promoting sustainable and diversifying livelihood options for local communities.

They have been working for almost three decades to mitigate negative human-animal conflicts through multiple initiatives. To make the lives of fisherfolk easier, SHER has been providing LPG cylinders to them so that they don’t venture into the forests for firewood to cook – increasing risk of predation by tigers. This scheme is the first of its kind in the history of the Sundarban. Professional development, spoken English training and skill building for eco-guides towards making them advocates of climate change has been another first-time-ever concept that has made a meaningful impact on the community.

Many years ago, they realised that with the magnifying threat of climate change, it was vital to rope in young residents of the Sundarban, so that adaptations necessary for their survival as adults can be imbibed, while the elasticity of time was still available. This triggered the couple to set up BAGHBON – a multipurpose community resource centre located on the fringe of the tiger reserve. The centre is aimed at bringing the reality of the climate crisis under spotlight and the options available to the locals to temper its worst impacts. Till date, they have trained 125 women who have been forest dependent and exposed to conflicts with wildlife by imparting tailoring-skills. Post cyclone-catastrophe left several fringe-dwelling communities across the tiger reserve with reduced livelihood options. SHER took the first-ever initiative to restore the livelihoods of such cyclone-hit fringe farmer communities at one of the worst affected areas through a three-layered approach – distribution of salt-tolerant paddy seeds, rural organic fertilisers and dewatering of inundated freshwater ponds that are a major livelihood source for the communities.

Their work does not end there. Recognising the crucial work done by the forest field staff working in the world’s most vulnerable terrain, the SHER team supports them through field gear, training and workshops, and even felicitating them for their continuing, tireless work.

Outspoken defenders of the mangroves, Joydip and Suchandra  often write for Sanctuary Asia about the threats that are challenging the biodiverse ecosystem. Through the Kundus, SHER’s focus has been on strengthening the bridge that connects foresters and locals. Such close collaboration allows mutual trust to flourish, and encourages more effective, inclusive conservation efforts where communities are consulted and involved with solutions. A large part of SHER’s work has also been in various districts of southwest Bengal where campaigns have been conducted to minimise human conflicts with elephants and other wildlife.

Towards that end, being Green Teachers they conduct educational courses and workshops for school and college students who serve as climate communicators for their elders. For over two decades, they have been sensitising forest-fringe children to become tomorrow’s defenders of the natural-legacy that they belong to. They have introduced Certificate Courses on wildlife and biodiversity conservation in the context of changing climates. Classroom lectures and nature trails help bring the youth of today closer to nature, and drive them to protect the wilderness.

For the work done by them over decades, their passion and belief in both the tiger and its worshippers, and their visceral belief in the use of education to prepare tomorrow’s generation to face the climate hurdles that lie ahead, we honour Suchandra and Joydip Kundu.