Are you considering quitting your career to travel and explore the outdoors? What if you could work and be in the outdoors all at the same time? LBO brings to you a new series of outdoorsy professions that will keep your heart and bank account happy. We chatted with wildlife conservationist and author Prerna Singh Bindra who’s new book The Vanishing – India’s Wildlife Crisis is now on stands. Here’s a snippet from the interview.
Tell us about your childhood memories in the outdoors
When I think of the outdoors, I think of bird songs, bees and butterflies and frogs croaking in the monsoon puddles. I think of elephant calves at play in a waterhole. The outdoors for me is about wildlife, and wilderness. I am still pretty blessed to have around 25 species of birds visiting my little garden just because I’ve left a little water for them. Outdoors for me is about wildlife in its entirety. If we think, “Oh I want to go to Corbett National Park and see the tiger,” then we perceive it as something very separate. We have to open our hearts and expand our vision to all that there is around us.
How did you take this up as a career?
You know back in the day, we did not plan careers. The family made it clear that whatever I wanted to do it had to be within the city. So I did a course in management after which my first job was in IIM Ahmedabad. It was a pretty prestigious profile, but it wasn’t me. It was fun alright, but my affinity for animals was getting deeper. Around the same time, the world was changing, right here in my city I was witness to open spaces being destroyed. I remember reading about a sanctuary being cut up because of mining, and I had been there, seen wolves and chinkara..and now it would all go. I felt very disturbed by it all. All that was dear to me, and all that was essential to us was being destroyed and everyone around me was so casual about it.
If a road had to be constructed, it was taken for granted that trees would have to be brought down. And I heard myself thinking, “shouldn’t there be alternatives? This is nature, what we are part of. Our natural heritage. Natural Resources we depend on. Why isn’t anyone doing anything to stop it? Why is there a complete silence?”
So I thought I must do something; marry the two, my love for wildlife, and my love for the written word. I would write about forests and wildlife, and the desecration to it. Being young and foolish, and thinking I can change the world by writing.
That’s when I first joined Sanctuary Asia, and then moved on to mainstream media.
How they are connected, and ‘talk to each other, and aid their own . It fills me with wonder, the natural world . We share Planet earth with so many fascinating creatures. And we are instrumental in their destruction-one species, homo sapiens causing the Sixth Extinction.
There is a fascinating book I am reading now on the hidden life of trees, How they are connected, and talk to each other, and aid their own . It fills me with wonder, the natural world . We share Planet Earth with so many fascinating creatures. And we are instrumental in their destruction – one species, homo sapiens causing the Sixth Extinction.
It pains me. Just imagine migratory birds, flying thousands of miles -across mountains and metros and oceans, to home in on their nesting place, perhaps a wetland, only to find it doesn’t exist, and in its place there is a grotesque mall, one of many springing up across the city. Imagine coming from an exhausting journey, to find your home has ceased to exist, nada.
Tell us about your journey as an author.
The King and I – Travels in Tiger Land was penned over 10 years ago. It is a very personal travelogue with conservation at its heart. And then there is my recent book for children When I grow up I want to Be A Tiger. Yes the tiger inspires me, he is the star of the forest. I still remember the first, the second and the third time I saw tigers and how I literally divided my life – it was before tiger and after tiger. You can’t stay unaffected…having watched a tiger. And its shocking to reflect on how we are responsible for extinguishing this species from this earth.
I adore elephants, dolphins, whales, watching fireflies… each animal has affected me deeply. Look at the Ghariyal (an ancient crocodilian species) again an endangered animal, there are just about 200 breeding adults in India. Completely harmless, they only eat fish. I still remember writing about a moment at the Chambal river, we were on the banks of the river and on the edge we saw around 300 to 400 little hatchlings. They were just a day or two old, ugly cute little hatchlings. We could see the mother close by keeping a close eye on us.
And then suddenly a swift movement under the water and a huge 22 foot long Ghariyal gushed out of the water! The babies clambered on to his back and as he floated around, the babies were diving off and jumping on to his back. It was such a magical natural history moment to be a witness of.
How do you balance your work with wildlife while still staying connected with the real world.
It is a very difficult thing to do. One is the actual physical horror that one lives in, in highly polluted cities, with nerves jangled all the time, all that you see around you is concrete, buildings, obliterating all green, open spaces, ponds, wetlands. How can these be sustainable? Where will the water come from? It is a nightmare. But as I always say, my heart resides in the forest. So I try to keep my little box of a garden at home as wild as it can get for situations when I cannot head out in to the wilderness.
Then there is the psychological horror. People increasingly don’t appreciate nature or are simply not aware of their natural environment. It is all about growth and development without considering ecology and environment. How can growth be sustainable if we destroy forests which are river catchments, and pollute rivers? And if pollution is leading two Indians every minute to an early death? Few comprehend or are willing to internalise the damage to environment, wildlife this ‘growth at all costs’ has. It is like you are putting a spanner in the party, and it can be isolating. You need to develop an alternate way of thinking to communicate with this mindset.
Advice to young and old readers who would like to work in the wild.
The way our world has been designed, one still struggles financially in this profession. You can’t expect to earn like an investment banker for sure. But there are opportunities and scope. You can work on projects as a naturalist, work with a responsible travel company or well-placed ngos and more.
But you know, a person interested in this line of work has to ask, “What do I value? How do I define my quality of life?” The kind of satisfaction and joy that I get when I am amidst wildlife, when I gaze into the eye of a tiger, I feel that I am so blessed and people who have not seen this are not. The struggle is also emotional because conservation can be a heart breaking space as I am constantly writing about it and a witness of it during my travels and encounters with animals. That’s what I have expressed in my new book The Vanishing – India’s Wildlife Crisis.
The book might be bleak – a crisis tends to be one, but it is not about despair, it is about hope. Ignoring the crisis is not the answer. Burying our heads in the sand only means we dig ourselves in deeper. The idea of the book is to shake people up, to get a dialogue going—India has this incredible wealth of wildlife, but its current status is precarious, and this is why it matters to us.
This is the second in a series of interviews with professionals who have outdoorsy careers and share with us the world through their looking glass. If you know of someone out there doing brilliant work with the great outdoors do share with us on [email protected] or comment here. We’d love to share your outdoorsy story with the world.