He has been working in the field of conservation for the past 28 years and has helped in deriving the IUCN status to more than 10,000 species
The spider Strigoplus moluri and the freshwater fish Pethia sanjaymoluri share a bond. They are both named after Sanjay Molur, a conservation biologist based in Coimbatore.
The 52-year-old, who has been working in this field for the past 28 years, recently won the Wildlife Service Award from the Sanctuary Nature Foundation. “I was in Coorg as part of my work when I got a call from Bittu Sahgal, founder of the organisation. I was surprised as I did not know that I was even nominated for this. I am happy and consider it a great honour,” he says.
Sanjay’s journey as a conservation biologist started in 1993 after he joined the Zoo Outreach Organisation (where he is now the executive director and trustee).“I was inspired by the works of Sally Walker, its founder. She has mentored me and I owe her all my knowledge in the field of wildlife and conservation.” Sanjay focusses on studying amphibians, reptiles, fungi and little-known plants. “They are actually running the real show. They play a very important role in the ecology and without them, life as we know now would collapse. Their function is sometimes more important than that of the larger animals,” he says.
Sanjay Molur with his team
So far, Sanjay has assessed and derived the IUCN status to more than 10,000 species from South Asia. “I was a core member that developed the IUCN Red List category and criteria from 1998-2000. Since 2001, these criteria are used to analyse the status of different species. It involves workshops with experts in the field from around the world.” There they understand the distribution, the threat to the species etc to do the risk assessment and conservation planning of wild species. “The information collected is sent to the team in Cambridge who then uploads it on the IUCN website,” he explains.
Sanjay was also involved in bringing out the monthly Journal of Threatened Taxa, along with Sally Walker. It is a monthly peer-reviewed open-source journal published from Coimbatore. “During the workshops, we realised that most of the information that we got was from the notes and observations of experts. There was only minimal data available as scientific publishing, and this inspired us to bring out the journal in April 1999.” The first issue had 12 pages; over the years, it has grown to become 160 pages long. “All the publications can be done free of charge. We have had studies from more than 100 countries so far,” says Sanjay.
While he finds all the species that he has studied interesting, he particularly enjoyed his research on the Arboreal tarantulas. “They are big-bodied spiders that live on trees, and are found only in Sri Lanka and India. Not much was known when I started learning about them in 2000 and it was fun to know about their distribution and status,” he states.
Sanjay agrees that it is challenging to work in conservation, adding, “Nothing happens here overnight. It needs a lot of perseverance and patience. It is a field that people get into for passion and most of the work is voluntary. Getting financial assistance is difficult and this will change only when more people get involved. If the public understands what is happening to Nature, I am sure that this field will be taken more seriously.”