(May 30, 2023) “Nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future,” wrote Jon Krakauer in his iconic biography, Into the Wild. Just like his protagonist, Chris McCandless, young conservationists have turned their back on what is tried and tested, seeking their fulfillment in the heart of India’s forests instead. From working with the little-known fishing cat, like Tiasa Adhya, to getting up close and personal with leopards as Shaaz Jung does in Bandipur forest, Global Indian takes a look at India’s conservationists and the people helping to protect India’s treasury of forests and wildlife.
Growing up, Tiasa would run home excitedly to her rooster, Nontu, and his many wives, all cared for by Tiasa and her brother. ‘Home’ had been transformed into a menagerie, with many pigeons, rabbits, fish and the family dog and cat. These experiences were the first seeds of Tiasa’s desire to be in wildlife conservation. Tiasa says in an interview that her coach, Partha, led her to the field. Today, she’s one of India’s young conservationists, and is part of the Fishing Cat Working Group to protect the under-appreciated Fishing Cat.
She has worked with Dr Shomita Mukherjee, the country’s only small cat specialist, to study the species. The team also works to preserve the animal’s natural habitat and to collaborate with local communities to reduce negative interactions.
Members of the International Fishing Cat Working Group also work in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam to provide global guidelines to protect the fishing cat.
In 2019, conservationist Ayushi Jain was living in Kanathur village, Kerala, searching for the rare Cantor’s giant softshell turtle. The matter had come to light due to unusual, mass fish death and the Cantor, which can grow up to one metre in length, was suspected as the cause.
Ayushi began working with the Cantor giant softshell turtle back in 2016, during an internship at the Turtle Survival Alliance in Lucknow. After finishing a course on Herpetology at the Indian Institute of Science, she began studying the distribution and mapping of turtles at ATREE, Bengaluru. In 2018, she was selected as a Distinct and Globally Endangered Fellow by the Zoological Society of London. She believes that the most effective conservation efforts involve working with the local community.
A group trip to Eaglenest in Arunachal Pradesh when she was an undergrad student at St. Xavier’s College, would change Nandini Velho’s life. She would go on to be part of the team that organised the first-ever Arunachal Bird Festival at Eaglenest and is the author of The Eaglenest Memory Project, based on interviews with the Bugun and Shedukpen tribes.
One of India’s most important conservation voices, Nandini holds a PhD from James Cook University in Australia. In order to understand policy, she worked as a Policy Fellow at the Ministry of Environment and Forests with then-environment minister Jairam Ramesh, with the forest department and local community leaders.
Ramki Sreenivasan, Shashank Dalvi
The Amur Falcon, a pigeon-sized, insectivorous raptor, breeds in Siberia and China, follows one of the longest yearly migration routes among birds and certainly the longest for any raptor. Flying 22,000 km annually, the Amur Falcon stops in Northeast India and Bangladesh to feed before setting off across the peninsula. The birds are mass trapped and are targets of hunting in China and India.
Ramki Sreenivasan started two non-profits, Conservation India and Friends of the Amur Falcon, to stop the illegal poaching in Nagaland. He quit his corporate job and dedicated himself to his passion – birds and took up wildlife photography with his friend, Shashank. That year, the intrepid conservationist founded CI to establish norms, share learnings and draw a blueprint for best practices in the field. It is the country’s largest conservation portal.
It’s easy enough to see why Shaaz Jung has over a million followers on Instagram. His brand of wildlife photography is raw, captivating and filled with the fury of the jungle – like falling headfirst, for instance, into a William Herzog film in the Amazon rainforest.
Shaaz Jung’s role as a conservationist is unconventional – he spends his days studying and photographing wildlife and has become known for his affinity for big cats. He has also helped establish eco-friendly wildlife camps in South India and also in East Africa.
Having studied economics at Utrecht University, Shaaz left the corporate world to follow his passion instead. He now runs his camp, The Bison and is closely affiliated with African Under Canvas, where he leads wildlife and photographic expeditions.
He was 12 when he caught his first snake and looking back, he attributes his sense of adventure to his grandfather, who introduced him to the wonders of wildlife when he was still a child. Soon, Nirmal and his friends were called upon if there was a snake in the neighbourhood, which they would trap and release into the wild.
A wildlife rehabilitator by the time he was in his teens, Nirmal became Goa’s youngest Honorary Wildlife Warden at 18. At 21, he led a team of 200 on a nature conservancy project in Chorla Ghat. Working with Captain Nitin Dond, the conservationist’s team team restored 800 acres of de-forested land and converted it into a diverse, private nature conservancy.
Kulkarni is now the chairman of a research centre and director of a wildlife nature resort. As a qualified herpetologist, he spends the monsoon months in the Western Ghats and heads off to the Northeast in April and May.