Luther Alumni Magazine

Conservation in Bhutan

David Hecht '11 at the Black-necked Crane Festival in Gangtey, Bhutan, with the mascot of the International Crane Foundation

David Hecht ’11 might say that it takes a village to save a crane. As a research consultant for the Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN), Hecht regularly travels to Bhutan to develop community-based efforts to conserve black-necked cranes and white-bellied herons, most recently with funding from a National Geographic Young Explorers Grant.

Hecht majored in biology and anthropology at Luther. As a PhD student in the University of Georgia’s Integrative Conservation and Anthropology Program, he studies ecology, anthropology, geography, and natural resources/forestry. The program, he says, “operates on the understanding that conservation problems don’t conform to disciplinary boundaries.” Students in the program learn to “speak the language” of various disciplines so that they can design research to address urgent conservation concerns.

In Bhutan, Hecht aims to better meet the needs of both human and avian communities. He works with community members and partner groups to understand local belief systems and map sacred landscapes and deity spaces. “There are many different ways of protecting a landscape,” he notes, and paying attention to belief systems “can improve the way institutions and conservation practitioners choose to map and think spatially about the social and cultural realities” of areas under study.

Hecht believes that conservation efforts are and should be complex, that they don’t start and end with the protection of an animal species but should also include an understanding of local human communities and the cultural, religious, social, political, and economic contexts in which they live. “Conservation efforts for birds like the black-necked cranes and white-bellied heron can be more effectively and ethically governed,” he says, “when we can collectively consider the cultural complexities of places and spaces, in addition to the ecological.”