Being out in the open

Being out in the open

Being out in the open

As the monsoon clouds covered the sky above the rainforests in the southern end of the Western Ghats and the frogs started their orchestras, we packed our backpacks, filled with research equipment, with headlamps fastened, rain gear and gum boots on, and went on with our schedule. This is what my life looked like for six months.

An environmental engineer by training, I decided to pursue my interests in ecology and conservation. After a lot of initial disappointment, things turned for the better when I attended a course on ecology. Here, I was introduced to Dr Seshadri K S who offered me an internship. He was then pursuing his PhD on the ecology and conservation of frogs in the Western Ghats.

During the first few weeks of my assignment, we were chasing the monsoon across the Western Ghats. Working in harsh weather conditions, lack of nutritious food, leeches and ticks, wild animal encounters, and the study site teeming with venomous pit vipers, were some of the challenges we faced. However, each day in the jungle was unique and exciting. I was often left with the responsibility of managing the field work when Seshadri travelled. The field work included carrying out periodic frog surveys, monitoring study sites and setting up camera traps, among others.

During my first night in the rainforest, I was overwhelmed by the cacophony of sounds coming from all directions. It was easier to identify the calls of animals than to spot them through the dense vegetation. These calls became familiar with time. The nights are when the forests come alive. Being far away from human settlements and free from light pollution, the clouds would often open up to reveal a night sky dotted with stars in clear sight. Returning to our field station every night after work was like a wildlife safari. Elephants, gaur, sambar and mouse deer were a common sight.

When not doing frog surveys, I would volunteer to help other researchers in the area with their work on projects like long-term monitoring of tree phenology. This not only helped me learn more about ecology but also taught me new skills. One such skill was canopy tree climbing. Canopies have often been dubbed as the eighth continent. The age-old trees, whose canopies are interconnected, provide a habitat for orchids, insects and other canopy dwellers.

However, my stay in the forests was not short of misadventures. From encountering a leopard on foot and getting chased by an elephant to coming face to face with a 12-foot long king cobra, my stay in the forests was exhilarating. Although my work was mainly on amphibians, I also used the opportunity to work on other projects during my free time. By the time I finished, I ended up working on studies of the brown mongoose, dusky striped squirrel and forest regeneration to name a few.  

I will miss waking up to loud calls from the crested serpent eagle in the mornings and falling asleep while listening to the brown fish owl's hoots. I grew up watching documentaries on animal planet and was fascinated by the people who helped the animals be heard. Today I feel like I'm living the life of these people who inspired me and, all I did was listen to my passion.

(The author is a research fellow at Gubbi Labs, Bengaluru)