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What do Aubie the Tiger, The Tiger, Truman the Tiger and Mike the Tiger have in common? 

They are mascots for the four universities that comprise the Tigers United University Consortium, which includes Auburn University, Clemson University, the University of Missouri and Louisiana State University, respectively. 

With their tiger mascots, it makes sense that these schools would be working toward global tiger conservation via this consortium.

A man stands next to a woman at a table who is smiling and giving a thumbs up

Janaki Alavalapati (left) and Priyankaa Varghese celebrate the signing of the Tigers United IMOU between Auburn University and Forest College and Research Institute Hyderabad.

IMOU signed at Auburn

Auburn specifically was in the spotlight as the College of Forest, Wildlife and Environment (CFWE) leadership signed a new International Memorandum of Understanding (IMOU) with India’s Forest College and Research Institute (FCRI) Hyderabad, of Telangana State, earlier this semester. 

Priyankaa Varghese, dean of FCRI Hyderabad, came to Auburn’s campus to sign the IMOU. 

“Basically, we have a huge population of tigers in our country, and Auburn is looking to support tiger conservation, so we thought it would be right to partner with Auburn,” said Varghese. 

Tigers United University Consortium Director Brett Wright of Clemson said the IMOU is characterized by four tenets: education and training; research; application of technology; and awareness, specifically with students.

The makings of a consortium

The original idea for the consortium came from Clemson University President Jim Clements. At the time, Clements was chair of the Board for the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities.

From there, the idea grew into a trip of Clemson and Auburn provosts and faculty members to visit tiger reserves and sanctuaries in India, to better understand tiger conservation challenges and to consider how their universities could help, according to Janaki Alavalapati, the Emmett F. Thompson dean of CFWE and Auburn’s Tigers United coordinator. 

Following the trip, the group recruited Missouri and LSU and partnered with the Global Tiger Forum (GTF), headquartered in New Delhi and spanning 13 tiger range countries. 

These efforts were formalized in 2018, when the four university provosts launched Tigers United University Consortium, an initiative to promote tiger conservation in the wild.

Tigers United at Auburn

After forming the initiative, Auburn Provost Vini Nathan provided CFWE resources to support two doctoral students studying tiger conservation; Alavalapati recruited Vasavi Prakash and Shivkumar Chennappa in 2019. 

“We are thankful for the generosity of Dr. Nathan to contribute monies, but there was an expectation to find a good partnership with tiger range countries in which they would come to the table with resources, whether dollars, time or logistics,” said Alavalapati. 

Therefore, Tigers United explored options to secure partner institutions in tiger range countries to share costs of the initiative and to advance its mission and vision. Alavalapati discovered FCRI Hyderabad in spring 2023 and learned they were striving to advance tiger conservation via graduate education. 

Alavalapati saw an opportunity for a partnership with FCRI Hyderabad, and the brainstorming on what that would look like began. 

Two men and a woman in traditional Indian clothing pose for a photo

Janaki Alavalapati (left), Priyankaa Varghese (center) and Brett Wright participated in the Tigers United IMOU Signing between Auburn University and Forest College and Research Institute Hyderabad.

How does this partnership work?

Alavalapati is pleased with how the details settled in the Auburn and FCRI IMOU and believes it can serve as a model for partnerships with other global institutions. 

“We are so fortunate that we have found an institution to partner with and show to the rest of the tiger range countries that there is a model,” said Alavalapati.

In fact, Wright believes this model could be used to approach other countries, like Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. 

According to Alavalapati, here is how the model works: 

  • The FCRI has three to four graduate students apply for Auburn’s master’s or doctoral program. Auburn then selects one to two students to participate in a program.
  • Upon admittance, the students will be assigned one Auburn faculty member and one FCRI faculty member as co-advisors. 
  • The students’ research objectives are agreed upon by both institutions. 
  • The students complete classroom education at Auburn and conduct field work in India. 
  • Auburn covers students’ expenses on its campus; FCRI covers students’ expenses in India. 
  • The agreement is initially in place for six years. 

At the IMOU signing on Auburn’s campus, Varghese professed the practicality of the agreement. 

“We thought that we have the ground to protect tigers and work for tiger conservation, and Auburn is willing to take up the conservation work. So, this would be a very good area to work together,” said Varghese. 

Tigers United IMOU to benefit research + future

Alavalapati, Wright and Varghese clearly see the benefit of the IMOU for students’ research and future tiger conservation. 

Potential research topics include technology-based monitoring of tigers; tiger habitat movement; tigers’ interaction with herbivores; tiger’s water access; and tiger and human conflict, according to Alavalapati. 

“In India, our partnerships with GTF and now FCRI will ensure a strong tie to the world’s preeminent tiger range country moving forward,” said Wright. “We are grateful for their support in navigating the country’s logistics, permitting and culture.”

Varghese foresees the partnership driving “lots of new ideas and conservation strategies from different parts of the world to promote and conserve the tiger.” 

Interested in studying conservation? Explore your options at the College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment.

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