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Go wild

If you love mother nature and her animals and are concerned about the environment, take a shot at being a wildlife expert, says Adit Mathai

education Updated: May 23, 2012 11:34 IST
Adit Mathai

The pigeons cooing at Sunjoy Monga’s Masjid Bunder home in Mumbai when he was four, triggered off his interest in nature. That led to a 40-year career in wildlife, recalls Monga, a self-made naturalist, ecologist, writer and photographer.

“It has helped me take a broader look at the overall ecology and, more importantly, given me a constant opportunity to interact with a huge number of people,” he says. Monga met naturalists and ornithologists like the late Humayun Abdulali and Salim Ali on his walks. In the ’70s, he became a member of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). He began writing a column on the birds of Bombay for Mid Day. Monga has half a dozen books on the subject to his credit and is working on more.

So what qualifications should aspirants acquire? Noted Delhi-based conservationist and activist Belinda Wright says, “I did not go to university and took up a career as a wildlife photographer without any professional qualifications. It was possible to do that in the early ’70s, but not now.” She says educational credentials are crucial but you need not be a zoology graduate. Monga suggests at least a Bachelor’s degree and preferably a Master’s, for research positions as most institutions or projects require these.

So why opt for a career in wildlife? Says Wright, “I think it’s a growing market. Now civic society and governments are taking it more seriously.” Monga, however, warns, “Remember, this profession will not offer all the comforts associated with other fields. In the end, it will not be the money but the inner drive and passion for the work, along with a great sense of contributing to the ecology of your planet, that will keep you going.”

With inputs from Rahat Bano

What's it about
Wildlife science is concerned with the conservation and study of ecosystem and wild animals. This field includes several factors, including economic and social, in suggesting better management of wildlife resources. Experts need to have knowledge and understanding of animal habitats and biology, which is also applicable to game, non-game and endangered species management. It is also concerned with minimising the negative impact of human-animal interactions. Wildlife biology, wildlife management and wildlife rehabilitation are related to this science. Scientists look after rehabilitation of wild animals/habitats, manage parks, reserves and zoos, study the behaviour of near-extinct species and protect the lives and possessions of human beings. They also solve environmental problems

Clock work
Belinda Wright spends a lot of time travelling, visiting field projects and attending meetings. She doesn’t have a 'typical day'. Long hours are the only constant – but it’s her personal choice.
10 am-1 pm: Talk to field staff on the phone and work on the computer
1 pm: Lunch
2-8 pm: Meetings in office, working with office staff
8 pm: Return home
9 pm: Dinner
10 pm to 4 am: Work on the computer again – emails, reports, proposals

The payoff
Typically, wildlife scientists get paid in the range of Rs 10,000-Rs 15,000 a month at entry level in the private sector. These include division officers with an MSc degree in zoology, life sciences and botany. In middle level positions, they earn around Rs 20,000. A senior scientist with a PhD degree may earn around Rs 30,000. NGOs employ wildlife scientist. In the government sector, the pay is generally higher. Pay scales increase with experience in a graded fashion

Excellent interpersonal and organisational skills, observational and decision-making abilities
Excellent data, collection, interpretation, analysis and technical writing skills. Should have the temperament for putting in long hours in research and be academically-oriented
Knowledge of and interest in animals, agriculture, geography
Should have a strong constitution, love for the outdoors, scientific and practical bent of mind, unending patience, adventurous spirit, ability to overcome obstacles and concern for environment
Good communication skills

How do I get there?
You can opt for science (PCMB) at the plus two level and pursue a BSc degree with biological science as the major subject in final year. You can also pursue a Bachelor’s degree in agriculture, forestry, veterinary or environmental science. Those with 15 years of formal education (10+2+3) and 55 per cent marks in the BSc programme can apply for MSc in wildlife science. The Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, offers MSc in wildlife science; entry is though a test which comprises multiple choice questions on general knowledge, general science and an optional third subject (veterinary and agricultural science, life science or forestry.) Those short-listed have to go through a personality and aptitude test. Others can opt for MPhil and PhD programmes in wildlife science

Institutes and URLs
Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun

Forest Research Institute, Dehradun University

Aligarh Muslim University

Kuvempu University, Shimoga

Guru Ghasidas Vishwavidyalaya, Bilaspur

Bombay Natural History Society

Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai

Virginia Tech University

Pros & cons
Makes you knowledgeable about wildlife, the environment and conservation issues
An adventurous field, involves lots of outdoor work. You get to see some great places in the wild and get paid to boot
You perform the vital role of contributing to save the planet
Work is project-based. Bagging fresh projects is difficult
Difficult work conditions, with irregular work pattern
Away from home and family for long periods of time.
Pay is lower than in other fields

'It’s a growing career market'

Wildlife activist-conservationist Belinda Wright on the changing stripes of this field

Belinda Wright, 56, is a wildlife conservationist and activist born in Calcutta to a British couple involved in environmental protection. She grew up in Calcutta and the jungles of Bihar. Wright founded the non-profit Wildlife Protection Society of India in 1994 before which she was an award-winning wildlife film-maker and photographer. She received the Officer of Order of the British Empire in 2003 for her “services to the protection of wildlife and endangered species in India”. Excerpts from an interview:

What’s the scope in this field today? What does it take to become a successful wildlife professional or expert?
In this career, financial remuneration is very limited. It’s very challenging and fulfilling.
You should be strongly driven by passion for wildlife. Educational qualifications are important but it’s not essential to have a degree in zoology. Administration and managerial skills are important. Above all, you should have a very strong interest in the job. Otherwise it’s not a sustainable career.
I think it’s a growing career market. Now civic society and governments are taking it more seriously. It’s a much more acceptable career.

How has the scenario changed since you came into this field?
Twenty years ago, it was considered a hobby. Today it’s an acceptable career choice.

What new profiles have sprouted in this field?
There is now a requirement for people with fundraising abilities, accounting skills, managerial skills, computer skills (for compiling and maintaining databases), and legal skills covering wildlife jurisprudence.

What’s your message to aspirants?
If we can get civil society engaged in wildlife conservation, then wildlife has a future. If we have good people in the field doing their job, you know what it means. In the big picture, it’s about saving the planet.