WEC Alumni in the World - Ravi Kailas
Ravi Kailas (WEC M.S. 2008) is the co-founder and co-operator of Ficus Travel and Natural History Tours, an India-based ecotourism company. Ravi defines ecotourism as “a form of low impact tourism which aids in conservation efforts by raising awareness of the importance of biodiversity... in society, as well as winning the support of local stake-holders, usually through socio-economic benefits derived from these activities.” Therefore, the objective of ecotourism is to educate the public on native species and natural areas while employing local guides and support staff.
Through his work with Ficus, Ravi has begun to see the positive impacts of ecotourism. He says that in India, “an increasingly well-travelled (to natural areas) middle class with access to social media have created a powerful voice in favor of conservation, not only for large charismatic megafauna, but also for smaller animals and issues. An excellent example is of a recent successful campaign initiated by a conservation organization whose original support base were amateur wildlife photographers, to reduce hunting pressures on the Amur Falcon in its annual migration through northeast India.”
Ravi explains that India has a great diversity of natural areas to be explored, from “monsoon forests to desert ecosystems, high mountains, wetlands and islands...” as well as a wealth of rare wildlife for eco-tourists to enjoy. “On our trips we have seen Indian Wild Dogs on a kill, Tiger with month old cubs, congregations of Asiatic Elephant herds, large troops of Lion-tailed Macaque, Indian Rhino, Hoolock Gibbon (India’s only ape), Nilgiri Tahr, Great-pied Hornbill, Cheer Pheasant, Asiatic Lion, Indian Wolf and Indian Bustard, among many lesser known animals.” Out of the several different itineraries that Ficus offers, the most popular are the multi-day trips in the Western Ghats of south India, where, as Ravi explains, “we explore the ecoregion’s biodiversity rich monsoon forests for Tiger, Elephant, King Cobra, Great Hornbill and Lion-tailed Macaque among over 400 species of birds, several endemic mammals, plants and herpetofauna.”
Ficus makes considerable effort to provide a holistic experience for tour groups while attempting to decrease its effect on the natural areas where the tours take place. “At Ficus, we are guided by broad ecotourism principles, to reduce negative impacts on the local environment caused by our presence within natural areas. Among those, we limit group sizes to between 4-6 people, choose accommodations which use environmentally friendly technologies (where possible), and employ local people as support staff.” Ravi explains that the latter “not only provides a source of employment for local people, as any tourism venture should, but is also inevitable due to their in-depth knowledge of the local environment.” This keeps the tour groups safe and in the hands of expert navigators.
Ravi feels that his masters research under the advisement of Dr. Kenneth Dodd at University of Florida was beneficial to the work he is doing now. “My experience at UF made me a more complete naturalist, refining a fundamental interest in nature to a more holistic understanding of the natural world,” says Ravi. “Further, interactions with faculty and students, the resultant exposure to natural history and conservation case studies from so many different perspectives and countries, field skills developed at UF as well as during my field work in the Western Ghats of south India, have all helped define our broad approach to this venture - making us think of ways to wed commerce and conservation - as well as the way we interpret nature to our guests on our tours.”
“Ravi is very knowledgeable and personable, and I am sure he gets across a conservation message in his ecotourism business,” says Dr. Kenneth Dodd. “Someday I might go over there and see wild India.”