A scientific research initiative for urban systems

Research Vision

More than 25 experts leading and contributing to project PAWS-web, from other divisions at Oxford, and institutions based in the UK, India, USA, Australia, Kenya and Bangladesh envision a long-term actionable research on the impacts of urbanisation on human-animal relations within heterogeneously developed tropical megacities. The team has received a seed GCRF funding of £15,000 from India-Oxford initiative to conduct workshops in India to plan actionable-research on human-animal interface in the Global South that likely promotes divergent evolution of socio-cultural beliefs. The latter contextualise and affect urban animal populations. Urbanisation in tropics, therefore, offers unintended but highly replicated global study of experimental evolution, with implications for healthy and sustainable human-animal coexistence in urban ecosystems.

Worthy Collaboration of Experts

With extensive experience on using evolutionary genomics, and studying the history of human and animal dispersal using phylogenetics, e.g. dogs, pigs and chicken, species ubiquitous across the globe, Prof. Gregor Larson brings a keen eye to the table. These species, along with black kites, urban rodents and rhesus macaques would be our focus in the next stages of a research project which is about to be kickstarted through, a soon to be conducted, stimulating workshop which would aggregate numerous experts from various fields to examine the idea of 'Urban Spatiality' . Utilizing the expertise of Prof. Larson, whose ongoing projects demonstrate how scientific approaches can make significant contributions to answering research questions often perceived to lie principally in the domain of the humanities, we wish to break new grounds in our understanding of the urban system. With the likes of Prof. Ben C. Sheldon, who has demonstrated expertise on social ecology, and an incisive research focus on understanding the causes and population-level consequences of individual-level variations, our abilities to deal the ecological nuances of a complex system get enhanced multi-fold. Dr. Nishant Kumar is studying opportunistic animal responses (population, movement and behavioural ecology) to resources provided by humans, and how centuries of coexistence have tied urban ecology of commensals with religiously founded patronage and ritual animal feeding by people in South Asia (ethno-zoology) and he brings in critical capabilities and in depth practical knowledge and experience of the system under study. Other experts from PAWS - web bring key skills and knowledge, which is absolutely essential to deal with a deep vision and an ambitious project.

Our core Objectives

#1 Bridging The Gap

To reduce the gaps between academic prerogatives and on-the-ground challenges that concern urban space for solid waste, informal human settlements, and urban animals.

#2 Knowledge Integration

To integrate knowledge that is currently distributed among multiple-stakeholders concerning spatial relations in South-Asian-megacities that promote the convergence of solid waste, urban poverty, and opportunistic animal populations.

#3 Platform Building

To build a platform for inter-disciplinary basic and applied research to address objective #1 and #2, while incorporating cutting-edge scientific-methodology and tools.

#4 Examine Underexplored Domains

To examine critically the rapidly evolving trade-offs, pertinent to the religiously grounded human patronage of animals and the practice of harnessing informal garbage-disposal by companion animals that also cause conflict and diseases.

Initiative towards building Cross-disciplinary understanding for actionable research interventions

Biologists, wildlife, health experts and bio-anthropologists

Sciences

  • Ethology
  • Ecology
  • Genetics
  • Phylogeny
  • Telemetry
  • Statistics

Social-scientists, human geographers, urban historians

Social Sciences

  • Ethnography
  • Cartography
  • Survey
  • Archive
  • Religio-culture
  • Heritage

Urban practitioners, administrators, legal and trans-disciplinary experts

Applied Fields

  • Management
  • Litigation
  • Policymaking & Planning
  • Applied research
  • Governance

Focus area #1

Human interpretation(s) and governance of urban space contextualising (i) waste areas and (ii) animal areas

Focus area #2

Behavioural co-option by urban animal populations whose successful coexistence with humans features in folk biology of South Asia

Focus area #3

Contextualising human mediation (waste and ritual-food-subsidies) that promotes proximity to animals: it begets conflicts and supplicates zoonosis, adding to the urban precarity of poor people

Focus area #4

Blueprint for actionable research to combat urban conflicts over space and waste, and zoonoses

Frequently asked questions

Urbanization and food-subsidies create huge potential for new human-animal interactions. Contested urban spatiality, incidentally demonstrated by COVID-19 lockdown and exodus of inland-immigrants raises two critical questions:

1. How specifically do urban-animals thrive on anthropogenic-resources in tropical-megacities?

2. Under what conditions are these human-waste-animal interactions a cause of concern?

A platform for cross-disciplinary dialogues between various stakeholders will address several SDGs (sustainable development goals) concerning urban growth in South Asia.

 We are a collaborative team of more than 25 experts who either study, manage, and/or constitute the urban, have been funded by the University’s internal-GCRF to conduct workshops, leading to an actionable proof of concept over the competition for resources within the finitude of ‘available urban space’. Here, we focus on ‘humans-animals-waste-system’ in a contested urban space within Delhi.

The rapid urbanization of tropical megacities and massively increasing compostable waste (acting as a food-subsidy for commensals and livestock) create huge potential for new interactions between animals and humans. Linking these interactions with contested urban spatiality, involving animal welfare and other behaviours of the stakeholders, emergence of contagions seems plausible. Contextualising SDGs (sustainable development goals), urban South Asia has the highest burden of diseases that spill across the human-animal barrier (zoonoses). Zoonotic-diseases are complemented by poor solid waste management and rearing of livestock alongside commensals in cramped urban-environments replete with garbage.

South Asian urban-systems stand out in ‘religiously-motivated feeding and tolerance’ people exhibit to commensals that subsist on garbage. Therefore, studies that link the evolutionary-ecology of behavioural-exhibitions by urban animals with local socio-economy and social-ecology can address multiple SDGs. Urban sprawl, at the expense of relatively rural social-ecological systems, carves mosaics of variable habitat-suitability for animals, and offers unintended but highly replicated global studies of experimental-evolution. In light of the COVID-19 episode, such an integration of multidisciplinary-expertise can actionably demonstrate how scientific approaches can make significant contributions to answering research-questions often perceived to lie in the domain of the administration and humanities.

Urban-impacts in this century are further extending the overlaps in Global Challenges for the humans and the non-humans, primarily driven by trade, biotic-homogenization and an increase in human-animal interactions within and outside cities. The inevitable urbanised future for tropical-landscapes encompasses complex issues that are captured in the multiple SDGs. As India prepares to urbanise a further 400 million of its rural citizens over the next 30 years, the country’s development agenda will largely revolve around optimising urban space for humans, the disposal of enormous solid-waste, and the co-existence of humans with diverse opportunistic-animal-populations responding to anthropogenic-resources and religious patronage. Similar drastic developmental-challenges are underway, elsewhere in the Global South.

     Although Delhi’s civic bodies undertake measures like neutering, translocation and occasional culling, their understanding of urban animal ecology, and urban changes that rapidly alter the dispersion of food-subsidies (e.g. slum-rehabilitation, and the decommissioning of landfills and abattoirs) is incomplete and inadequate to the task of urban development. Our initial workshop and the proof-of-concept project would address major impediments to Sustainable-Development-Goals 2,3,11,13,15 and 17, by identifying multiple conflicts amongst human-groups involving animal-cohabitation, and human-animal conflicts within heterogeneous megacities. We will integrate scientific approaches that individually lack scope with respect to the scale of evidence for instinctive animal responses, and diverse, inductive folk perceptions and practices of native stakeholders.

Contributors from Oxford and WII, who have been collaboratively studying the ecology and behaviour of commensals, and livestock maintained by the urban poor within the megacity of Delhi identified the need to capture the multiplicity of urban space and waste for humans and animals. To this effect, Kumar has been liaising with experts across multiple divisions at OU, and elsewhere in the UK, India, Kenya, Bangladesh, USA and Australia. The central theme is studying the complexity behind the translation of local human practices and ritual-activities into resource-affording-opportunities for select-species that dominate urban-ecosystems.

Understanding the ramifications of ambiguous-spatialities of urban metabolism of anthropogenic-waste from human and more-than-human perspectives is the central-research-theme of this project. We intend to extend the learnings from an initial study on dogs by incorporating more spatial replicates (cities within the Indian-Subcontinent and Africa) and model organisms (kites, livestock, rats and macaques). Our core strategy is utilising our understanding on the recent past of domestication for a sustainable coexistence of urban human-animal interface.  In fact, variously developed pockets of discrete human-dog relationships involving population-level consequences of shared space networks will be probed to understand genetic drivers for specific commensal-behaviours, especially when we replicate the studies to multiple-cities in the Global South.

Estimated Impact

The inevitable urbanised future for tropical-landscapes encompasses complex issues that are captured in SDGs. As India prepares to urbanise a further 400-million of its rural citizens over the next 30 years, the country’s development agenda will largely revolve around optimising urban space for humans, the disposal of enormous solid-waste, and for the co-existence of humans with diverse opportunistic-animal-populations, responding to anthropogenic-resources and religious patronage. Although Delhi’s civic bodies undertake measures like neutering, translocation and occasional culling, their understanding of urban animal ecology, and urban changes that rapidly alter the dispersion of food-subsidies (e.g. slum-rehabilitation, and the decommissioning of landfills and abattoirs) is incomplete and inadequate to the task of urban development. This workshop would address major impediments to SDGs by identifying multiple conflicts amongst human-groups involving animal-cohabitation, and human-animal conflicts within heterogeneous megacities. The project aims to integrate scientific approaches that individually lack scope with respect to the scale of evidence for instinctive animal responses, and diverse, inductive folk-biology and practices of native stakeholders.