St. Olaf to award honorary degree to renowned elephant ecologist
St. Olaf College will award an honorary degree to Raman Sukumar, an internationally renowned conservation biologist and elephant ecologist, on May 1.
The honorary degree convocation, part of the college’s Honors Day celebration, will be streamed and archived online. Sukumar will deliver an address at the ceremony titled Through an Elephant’s Eyes.
While on campus, Sukumar will also deliver two lectures. The first, on April 29, is titled The World of Elephant Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. The second, on April 30, is titled Climate Change and the Resilience of Tropical Dry Forests. An exhibit of his papers and books will also be on display in the Hustad Science Library.
Sukumar’s connection with St. Olaf extends more than 20 years, during which time he has welcomed students participating in the Biology in South India program — 60 students to date — to his research teams, guiding their work and providing training in field ecology and conservation research.
A professor of ecology at the Indian Institute of Science, Sukumar’s specialties include wildlife ecology with a focus on the Asian elephant, tropical forest ecology, climate change, and conservation biology. He has worked on several projects over the years, including designing the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, which was established in 1986 as the first of its kind in India.
He also initiated and directed the Asian Nature Conservation Foundation, an independent organization that worked with governmental and nongovernmental agencies to best conserve elephant habitat and manage human-elephant conflict.
He has also been published on the behavior of the Asian elephant, climate change, and tropical forest ecology in many leading journals. He has four books to his name, the most recent one titled The Story of Asia’s Elephants.
Over the years, he has received several awards for his work, including the Whitley Gold Award for International Nature Conservation, the International Cosmos Prize, and the T.N. Khoshoo Memorial Award for Conservation, for which he was the first recipient. In 2007 he was commended by the prime minister of India for contributions to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that shared the Nobel Peace Prize, and in 2014 he was elected a fellow of the World Academy of Sciences.
Sukumar earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Madras, and then went on to earn his doctorate at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). He then joined the IISc faculty at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, and became a Fulbright scholar and completed a postdoctoral fellowship Princeton University. He is currently a professor of ecology at IISc, is on the faculty at Divecha Centre for Climate Change, and is an adjunct senior research scientist at Columbia University.