At home in the wild

His busy urban life offered limited opportunities, constricting Yajuvendra Upadhyaya’s tryst with wildlife to the city zoos, until he visited the Namdapha National Park in Arunachal Pradesh in 2012. “That trip”, he says, “really changed me, and it was after this wildlife holiday that I realised I wanted to work and live in the forests”. Since then, 28-year-old Upadhyaya has worked in various national parks like Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Panna and Pench, and has felt at home in the wild.

Currently working as a naturalist in the jungles of central India, Upadhyaya says his job entails giving an “interpretative wildlife experience” to guests who come to explore the forests of India. “A naturalist is someone who is well-versed with the wildlife of the forest he or she is working in, and also has knowledge about natural history,” says the graduate in tourism working with Banjaar Tola at Kanha National Park.

Many, like him, have packed their bags and ventured into the heart of India’s forests and wildlife reserves to serve as professional tour guides and naturalists to satiate their passion of being close to nature and its flora and fauna.

“We serve as a bridge and tie up the loose ends between a traveller ‘just spotting wildlife’, and those ‘experiencing the wilderness and the entire drama that goes on within’. The best thing about being a naturalist is that it gives you an opportunity to be so closely connected with nature!” exclaims Rofikul Islam, senior tour leader at allindiabirdingtours.com, Kaziranga National Park.

Born and brought up in Kaziranga, Islam says since he was always close to the natural environs, a profession that involved working out in the fields and closely following the wildlife and their behavioural aspects came naturally to him. “And the opportunity to meet people from across the globe and learn from one another, coupled with the chance to travel and explore new places just adds to the whole experience,” he tells Metrolife.

Having an eye for detail, patience, great communication skills, knowledge about the area, passion, self-motivation, high fitness levels, along with being a great storyteller are some qualities that make you an expert in the profession. Another requisite says Dhanya V, is a “very strong override code to give up the routine and be different”. Adding, Upadhyaya says if you are willing to live in a place with “just about ok mobile phone network, slow internet and inconsistent electricity, I think you would do fine”.

Bengaluru-based Dhanya, who works as a wildlife tour leader and naturalist, says her love for the jungle is so strong that she always finds herself happy around guests even if she has not had enough sleep, or had a bad day. “Every moment in wilderness has been remarkably amazing, which is why even after so many years I am still here with the same enthusiasm and energy,” she says.

Ask her about her most interesting sightings ever, and Dhanya exclaims “plenty!” and goes on to list spotting pangolins, a rare, scale-covered mammal; Crested Hawk Eagle with a baby langur kill; a fight between a leopard and wild dogs, and also recollects an episode where she encountered a herd of elephants while she was atop a tree during a night census. Similarly, for Upadhyaya it was a fierce fight between two leopards on top of a tree, and for Islam a pack of wild dogs chasing a mother Takin and her in Arunachal Pradesh’s Mishmi Hills was a thrilling experience.

However, while the profession offers plenty of opportunities to meet new people, explore the country’s wild side and travel to new places, it may not necessarily be monetarily satisfying. Despite so, the enthusiasm of naturalists has no bounds, as Islam
points out that “it’s a passion-driven job”.

He continues, “So it never gives you an opportunity to worry about the financial aspect.Moreover, when it’s passion driven, one is bound to thrive in most cases.” Agrees Upadhaya, and adds, “It isn’t at par with what a city dweller would earn, but I assure you that for a person who loves nature, you wouldn’t find a more suitable job. Plus, national parks in India are closed for the monsoons, so it’s an assured three-and-half-months of holiday.”

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