MONTICELLO, Arkansas — Dr. Elena Rubino, an Assistant Professor of Conservation Social Science at UAM, traveled to Katmandu, Nepal, during the holiday season, but her mission was far from a vacation. She was there to help save two endangered species: the red panda and the Chinese pangolin. She was approached by the Red Panda Network, a non-profit environmental organization based in Nepal, to design a social science project to collect data from rural farmers about their perceptions and interactions with these endangered animals. The project aims to understand why red pandas are being poached and people’s attitudes towards pangolins. “[Regarding red pandas] we want to understand why that is happening, who these people are, and where they are selling these animals,” said Rubino.
The red panda is a small mammal native to the eastern Himalayas and southwestern China, while the Chinese pangolin is a scale-covered mammal found in Southeast Asia. Little is known about these animals, including the lifespan of the pangolin. Dr. Rubino’s expertise is in designing research instruments to study people’s behavior and habits, which will come in handy in collecting data from rural Nepal farmers who have limited internet access.
A small award from the UAM Faculty Research partially funds the project. Rubino says, “We want to understand why [poaching] is happening.” Little is known about people’s perceptions regarding either species. Rubino’s role is to design research instruments to study people’s behavior and motivations.
The research team will head to remote areas this spring to interview farmers, local government officials, and law enforcement to understand why red pandas are being poached. Rubino acknowledged that collecting the correct data is crucial to the project’s success. “There are specific scientifically sound methods that we use in the social sciences that are rigorous,” she said.
Some farmers view the pangolin as bad luck, while the red panda has seen a significant uptick in poaching in the past decade.
The project is not just about collecting data but also about educating fellow Nepali conservationists. Rubino hosted a workshop for Red Panda Network staff to teach them how to design social science research questions and surveys themselves, to create a sustainable future research program.
“I want my new colleagues to be able to go and put together surveys themselves. I also want to teach people what surveys are and how to design social science research questionsthemselves,” said Rubino.
“There is hardly any social science research [on red pandas and pangolins] available, so I’m excited,” said Rubino. “We have these research questions because we want to go out into the field and interact with the people that directly relate to these species.”
She was introduced to the Red Panda Network by a conservationist from Katmandu, who saw some of her previous work and publications on the internet. Rubino wants to work with her graduate assistants and teach people around the world how to design a social science research project and use surveys effectively. She acknowledges that there will always be some bias in the data collected, but she hopes to minimize it by providing context and neutrally asking questions.
Rubino didn’t let the trip be all work and no play. She took some time to explore the local village and visit heritage sites and religious temples. “I also got to go to some of the heritage sites and some of the religious temples because that’s just something that I thought was really cool, and I don’t have any knowledge about whatsoever,” she said.
In conclusion, Dr. Rubino’s trip to Nepal is a testament to her commitment to conserving endangered species and her expertise in social science research. The data collected from this project will be valuable in understanding attitudes about Chinese pangolins and why red pandas are being poached. It will also help the Red Panda Network and the wider conservation community in their efforts to save these animals from extinction.
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Dr. Elena Rubino, UAM Assistant Professor of Conservation Social Science, traveled to Katmandu, Nepal to help save the endangered red panda and Chinese pangolin. She joined the Red Panda Network, a nonprofit environmental organization based in Nepal, to help with the social science component of the conservation effort. The team will collect data from rural farmers on their perceptions and interactions with endangered animals. Rubino and the team will interview farmers, government officials, and law enforcement to understand the motivations for poaching red pandas and to understand people’s perceptions of the Chinese pangolin. The trip was partially funded by a small grant from the UAM Faculty Foundation. Rubino aims to teach conservationists how to design a social science research project and to provide context to reduce bias in the data collected.
About the College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources and the Arkansas Forest Resources Center
The College of Forestry, Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the Arkansas Forest Resources Center, a University of Arkansas System Center of Excellence, brings together interdisciplinary expertise through a partnership between the University of Arkansas at Monticello and the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. The College and Center are headquartered at the University of Arkansas at Monticello campus, but their programs range statewide with the mission of developing and delivering teaching, research, and extension programs that enhance and ensure the sustainability and productivity of forest-based natural resources and agricultural systems. Academic programs are delivered by the College of Forestry, Agriculture, and Natural Resources through the University of Arkansas at Monticello. Through the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, research is administered by the Arkansas Agricultural Experiment Station, and extension and outreach activities are coordinated by the Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.
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About the Division of Agriculture
The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s mission is to strengthen agriculture, communities, and families by connecting trusted research to the adoption of best practices. Through the Agricultural Experiment Station and the Cooperative Extension Service, the Division of Agriculture conducts research and extension work within the nation’s historic land grant education system.
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The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs and services without regard to race, color, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, national origin, religion, age, disability, marital or veteran status, genetic information, or any other legally protected status, and is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.