In particular, he has been comparing the health and well-being of villagers who continue to reside near the ecological core of this sanctuary with those who were displaced to make way for a proposed population of Asiatic lions to be transferred from Gir in Gujarat (the last remaining population of Asiatic lions in the wild).
Proceeding from a biocultural perspective, Snodgrass in particularly interested to develop a variety of alternate human well-being measures that make sense in this context.
These include subjective well-being measures like self-reported happiness, life satisfaction, and optimism (positive) as well as depression and anxiety (negative). Perhaps most exciting is Snodgrass’ integration of innovative “biomarkers” of stress into this project. This includes stress hormones like cortisol and alpha amylase as well as DNA telomere length as a potential measure of relative health and even biological age. Innovative new research points to telomere shortening, which is responsive to both cell replication and also stress, as a potential indicator of remaining generations of cell life; see the recent Nature publication by Elizabeth Blackburn.
The stress hormones were collected in saliva over two 9-day ritual periods, one occurring in each village, with the idea that ritual performance may be an important source of health resilience, allowing villagers to better resist even the painful process of displacement and dislocation. Improved post-ritual stress hormone data might point to the healing power of religious ritual, an important part of Snodgrass’ attempt to examine not only how and why things go wrong (i.e., when Sahariya develop psychiatric disorders) but also how and why they go right (resilience).
Overall, Snodgrass hopes that these alternate health measures will provide a truer measure of the human cost of “wildlife refugee” displacement in contexts like Kuno-Palpur, which can be weighed alongside the supposed wildlife conservation gains. Snodgrass hopes to have a good part of the data analysis completed this semester during his sabbatical, so that he can return to India in December to discuss results with local communities and the Indian state, ideally helping to facilitate better local-state collaborative stewardship of natural resources in this area.
The project is being funded 2011-2014 by the U.S. National Science Foundation. It is entitled: “Environmental Displacement and Human Resilience: New Explanations Using Data from Central India.” Sammy Zahran of Economics is a co-PI on this project, and senior personnel include Mike Lacy (CSU Sociology), David Most (CSU Education), and Thom McDade (Northwestern University, Anthropology). Doug Granger’s Salimetrics laboratory - associated with Johns Hopkins and Pennsylvania St. University - is performing the salivary cortisol and alpha amylase analysis. The telomere data was collected through swabs of mouth buccal cells, and this analysis is being performed by Susan Bailey’s laboratory - with post-doc David Maranon - here at CSU in the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences. Snodgrass is also working closely with many Indian colleagues, governmental and novgovernmental entities, including Dr. Chakrapani Upadhyay of the Government Postgraduate College, Pratapgarh, Rajasthan India and Dr. Debashish Debnath of the Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh.
For information on telomere shortening, check out this article by Elizabeth Blackburn in Nature
National Science Foundation Project Summary