Dr. Peter Clyne is an Assistant Director in the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Asia Program, specializing in conservation in the southern part of the continent. We talked to him about his interest in conservation and what he considers to be the most important issues in conservation today.
What's your background?
I am a child of the 1960s. My parents took me to rural India when I was 11 to live in an ashram. During my teens, I shuttled back and forth between India and the U.S., and I fell in love with southern Asia. My undergraduate degree is in South Asia regional studies. I learned Hindi, Sanskrit, and heaps of information about the culture and history of the area—Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka.
After college I worked for an NGO teaching Hindi literacy to illiterate adults living in village India. Both the villagers and myself found a white guy teaching Hindi to Indians amusing. Meanwhile, I fell in love with bird watching. When I returned to the States, I decided to pursue a higher degree in biology. My PhD is in molecular neuroscience (on the sense of smell and taste) from Yale, and I did a post-doc in neuroscience (on synaptic architecture) at the University of California-San Francisco. I love all kinds of biology, from big animals and their ecology to the intricacies of how molecular components of the synapse interact to allow the nervous system to work.
How long have you been with WCS?
I joined WCS five years ago as Assistant Director of the WCS-Asia Program. I work on conservation efforts in India, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia, and I continue to find my job immensely rewarding and exciting.
What are some of the priorities for conservation/wildlife in Asia?
I can answer that question only with respect to South and Southeast Asia, and it depends on what you are trying to conserve. In my region, tigers, elephants, and most large ungulates need protected areas that are truly functional and not just paper parks.
To conserve habitats, we need to develop sound carbon-financed forest protection schemes (also known as REDD). These are challenging projects. For example, how do you create a mechanism where money set aside by a company in Illinois wanting to offset their carbon emissions makes its way to villagers in rural Cambodia to ensure they do not log illegally?
What do you consider your most important accomplishment?
Wildlife conservation is a mammoth task that requires a tremendous coordinated group effort. While there is undeniably a role for the maverick individual in this effort, a whole passel of skills are needed—law enforcement staff, community outreach abilities, statisticians, HR managers, accountants, biologists, janitors. With that in mind, I think my most important accomplishment has been to strengthen WCS country programs with a clear focus on inspirational, yet achievable conservation goals.
What's a favorite object/thing take into the field with you?
Binoculars. No doubt about it. One of the best perks of my job is that I get to watch birds in places like Indonesia.
What advice do you have for upcoming conservation biologists?
Since there is so much to be done, and since there are so many skill sets needed, my advice would be to develop skills in a field that you both have some talent for and which you enjoy and then apply it to a wildlife conservation effort. That way, you will like what you are doing, and you will probably do it somewhat well if not superbly. You will feel proud of yourself on both a day-to-day and on a long-term basis.