A 1966 letter from Salim Ali to Erwin Stresemann reminded me of a question posed to me on the development of ringing in India. India is famed for its License Raj or governmental control over any activity that offers opportunities to display power.* One of the things about power, is that those who overcome it or get empowered display a form of Stockholm Syndrome in which they not only praise the system but choose to inflict the same kinds of power down the hierarchy. In the UK, there is a Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which grants power to the BTO to permit and designate qualified ringers who then can capture, handle, and ring birds. This devolution of power from the government to a volunteer organization allows for scaling up study across geography. The US has a refined bureacracy that deals with ringing permits - from what I have been given to understand, that refinement was largely led by researchers pushing the government to make appropriate amendments so as to expand the base of volunteers. The documentation itself demonstrates clarity on the implementation of the regulations. Now for a fun assignment on the Internet - try finding the appropriate documentation for India to become a bird ringer. A few Indian scientists manage, through personal influence, to obtain the necessary permits to carry out ringing but it is merely for their own specific short-term research - leading to personal degrees or publications to advance careers. That is not to say that science as a career is a problem but that certain forms of research need to be done without an immediate aim - something like the work done (formerly, as much is now automated) by meteorological station recorders on a daily basis. Now compare this with how large numbers of people elsewhere are introduced to the bird in the hand, to learn morphometrics, understand moult, develop their own field guides with details on age, while also discovering new information first hand. Scientists in India can claim to have little time in fixing systemic issues but that is exactly how they positively contribute to backwardness in Indian ornithology (or indeed to a number of other societal issues). True "citizen science" can begin only when we can talk about the devolution of power.
|An aerogramme from Ali to Stresemann.|
Permission to reproduce kindly provided by the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin.