Finding the necessary funds to aid wildlife conservation is never easy, especially if you are trying to save a species that may be lower down the food chain, like an insect or a terrapin. That’s why newer methods of funding using technology such as crowdfunding are now gaining popularity.

Very simply put, crowdfunding provides an innovative online platform that provides small businesses and start-ups with opportunities to raise investment. There are three ways in which crowdfunding works—by donating, lending or taking an equity stake in the company. Among the three, donations are the most commonly used method in India. Two wildlife biologists, both working on species that are not quite well-known, decided to use crowdfunding for their conservation projects.

One of them is Arjun Srivathsa, currently pursuing his PhD at the University of Florida, who recently launched the DonateForDholes initiative. An endangered canid, as per the IUCN Red List, there are only 1,000-1,500 adult dholes left in the world. Canids are members of the dog family Canidae and include wolves, jackals, hyenas and domestic dogs. The red, rust-coloured dhole, which has a bushy black tail and stands around 50cm tall, is considered one of the least-studied carnivores. Srivathsa turned to a crowdfunding platform to raise $2,000 to help fund field surveys, pay local field assistant salaries and for local travel within India.

“The project attracted funds and supporters from all over the world (Japan, Australia, US, UK and India). Many of my photographer friends readily shared their dhole images for my campaign. Overall, I would say this was a great outreach exercise to bring dholes into the limelight," says Srivathsa.

Trust is definitely an issue. Srivathsa says he spent a month to make information about himself freely available in case people wanted to do background checks. “I have a personal website; all my scientific publications, résumé, etc., are available for download, and anyone can reach out to me through email or social media," he said. He was able to reach his 100% of his funding target 48 hours before the deadline.

For other wildlife biologists seeking funds, Srivathsa’s advice is simple: Raise funds for projects that are ongoing, where field updates, live feeds and field anecdotes can help drive people to the site. In his case, his project was yet to begin, so he didn’t have adequate content. Instead, he relied on cute dhole photos and cartoons to attract donors through his Facebook page. For Srivathsa, crowdfunding worked as a platform not just for raising funds but also creating awareness about the endangered animal.

Tiasa Adhya is another wildlife biologist who took to crowdfunding to focus on a similar lesser-known species: the fishing cat. Today, the fishing cat is confined to small pockets, thanks to rapid changes in habitat.

While most people in India know about tigers and lions, most are still ignorant about the fishing cat. Specially adapted to wetlands, this felid has faced a rapid decline in the last decade and is now listed as endangered. Adhya’s aim was to raise funds for a documentary film on this species and use that as a tool to build awareness. She too was able to achieve her target and recommends that others in conservation use crowdfunding.

“Crowdfunding presented itself as a wonderful opportunity to us in this specific context. Grant-making organizations generally take time to review and, at the same time, the process is competitive. Crowdfunding provides one with a novel way of generating funds," she says. She recommends making an effort to personally reach out to potential donors and keep the entire process transparent and apolitical. Adhya sees everyone who donated as producers of her documentary on the fishing cat.

Even renowned TV personality David Attenborough in 2013 turned to crowdfunding to help raise £110,000 to save the mountain gorilla. Crowdfunding could help reboot the entire business of non-governmental organizations working on conservation and social issues. It has empowered people like Adhya and Srivathsa with the requisite tools to go out and save the species they are passionate about.

Bahar Dutt is a conservation biologist and author of Green Wars: Dispatches from a Vanishing World.

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