Dr. David W. Tonkyn

Population ecology

Clemson University



The land of dreams and romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of palaces and hovels, of famine and pestilence, of genies and giants, of tigers and elephants, the country of a hundred nations and a hundred tongues, of a thousand religions and two million gods — India is nothing if not diverse.


– Mark Twain



Biodiversity and Conservation in India



Biosc 4960/4961 or Biosc 8710/8711 - All Sections 630

An international course for Spring 2015


This is open to students from all majors, as anyone could find this experience rewarding personally and professionally.  This will be the 11th trip with students.


Our goal is to introduce students to the origins, status and future of India’s biological and cultural diversity through lectures, readings, discussions and a 13 day trip to India over spring break.  India is at one of the biological and cultural crossroads of Asia, and the influences of western deserts, northern highlands and eastern rainforests are clear in the plants and animals, and in the architecture, cuisine, languages, and religion of this extraordinary country.  We introduce students to this diversity in weekly classes so that when they arrive in India, they will recognize much of what they see, and quickly learn more.  We will then observe this diversity firsthand while visiting World Heritage cultural sites such as the Taj Mahal as well as world famous tiger reserves.


This course will provide a window into a world of modern bustling cities and tribal villages, with extraordinary conservation challenges as subsistence farmers and wildlife share the same lands.  After the trip, students complete final projects that integrate coursework and their observations in India. Topics can vary depending on the students' interests and majors.  We have had students create everything from reports on ancient but still functioning water supplies to architectural plans for energy efficient schools from local materials to, of course, conservation.


India is remarkably diverse in every sense of the word.  It has 1/12th of the world’s plants and mammals, 1/8th of the world’s birds, and 1/4th of the world’s cats.  It is the birthplace of four major religions, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, and the adopted home of many others.  It has 16 official languages, 33 languages spoken by 100,000 people or more, and hundreds more. The architecture, cuisine and modern life all reflect a blend of home-grown influences with those of Persia, Arabia, Mongolia, south-east Asia, Portugal and England.  Even Americans who have traveled widely in the West will find everything new here.


For someone seeking breadth to put their own studies or profession in perspective, India is a wonderful place to visit.  Of course, a person might gain similar insights traveling to many exotic places on Earth.  However, there is a second, more pragmatic reason to visit India.  It will soon have one of the world’s two largest economies so that, in the future, Americans from all professions will need to work closely with and understand Indians.  We have found that a travel experience on students' resumes gets them interviews!

Every traveler on ten class trips to India has seen wild tigers from open jeep or elephant back, and sometimes up close and personal!  We are helped by the many animals that call when tigers are on the move - chital, sambar, peacock, langur - so we can track the tigers through the forest. Some of our lodges are literally next to the park borders, and we have heard leopard cries in the night and found pug marks at the gates in the morning. The forests are beautiful and rich in birds and other wildlife.  Some also have ancient palaces, fortresses and temples.