Much like any other professional domain, men have also dominated the field of wildlife conservation for a long time but India’s Tiger Princess is gradually changing the game.
Latika Nath – India’s first woman to become a wildlife biologist with a doctorate on tigers – has dedicated her life to studying and protecting the big cat.
Working closely with the tigers for 25 years, Nath has dived deep in the adventurous and challenging profession that has often put her in death-defying conditions. But even in hindsight, Nath would not have it otherwise.
“It’s been a fantastic journey so far. I don’t think there is anything that I would have done differently or changed anything. If I would have done something else, I would have come back to this,” says the conservationist, who chose this field of work at the age of six. “I decided it then, stuck to it, and I am continuously doing it. I am walking on the path that I chose years back,” she smiles.
Braving the storm
At an age when a child can hardly hold a book, Nath was learning about forest animals from her father who served as a member of the Indian Board of Wildlife.
“All the people I knew in my childhood were either doctors or wildlife conservationists, so everything around me was about animals and forest, which would interest me a lot,” shares the biologist who spent most of her childhood visiting the wilderness with her father.
Nath followed her passion and graduated with a degree in environmental science, which was rare or entirely unheard of at the time. Although, earlier in her career, the scientist had to deal with the downside of being a woman in a male-dominated field, and also overcome wrongful accusations of data-fabrication.
“People wanted to stop my research and made false accusations against me, but that’s a part of anything exceptional you want to do. Nothing kept me away from what I wanted to do,” she asserts.
She further recalls that many people underestimated her because of her privileged background. “People in the know of my background were certain that I won’t be able to live in harsh conditions because I come from a comfortable background, but all those notions became vindictive,” she smiles, adding that she chose to not focus on the noise.
In addition to her superseding identity of India’s Tiger Princess, Nath leads multiple lives — as a scientist, conservationist, wildlife photographer, author, and researcher. Following her illustrious work on tiger conservation, Nath soon developed a knack for wildlife photography, and has also been working closely with tribal communities in India to resolve human-wildlife conflicts.
Her pictures of the wildcats are a reflection of her knowledge about wildlife. “It’s not my profession, but because I spend many hours in the field, I do photography as well. As a wildlife biologist, I can understand rare animal behaviours, and so my work is different from others,” she shrugs, adding that she wants to remind people to care about wildlife through her photographs.
At a time when wildlife photography has become a passion for every other photographer, Nath reveals that it’s not easy. “It’s about ethics and limits. It is much beyond capturing the subject; it is about emotions. One needs to learn to empathise with whatever animal you are dealing with,” explains Nath who has travelled across the globe to photograph animals such as tigers, leopards, lions, snow leopards, and dolphins, among many others.
Learning from the West
When asked if the West inspires her work, Nath is quick to respond with a nod but rues that people in India are not ready to share and help. “Everyone is so territorial about what they are doing. The biggest difference between the West and India is the fact that people are not willing to share and that stops people from doing some extraordinary work here,” she avers.
It’s no secret that India’s national animal is also one of the most endangered species on the earth. As a conservationist, Nath has had a bird’s-eye view on what’s threatening the survival of the wildcats and attributes the damage to individuals’ lack of awareness.
“We need to inculcate the value of caring for the environment in our daily life, in everything we do. Protecting wildlife should be an integral component of any development planning,” she suggests before signing off....