Tigers of The Tide, Breathing Roots et al. The Sundarbans with Dr Radhika Bhargava.

Heart of Conservation Podcast Ep#31 Show Notes (Edited)


Hi, I am Lalitha Krishnan and you’re listening to Ep# 31 of Heart of Conservation. I bring you stories from the wild that keep us all connected to our natural world. You can listen to Heart of Conservation on several platforms and also read the transcript right here on my blog Earthy Matters.

Today’s episode is about the Sundarbans. I recently made a trip there and I have to tell I am so spell bound by the immensity and biodiversity of the world’s largest delta which we share with Bangladesh. To be honest, I didn’t know about these 2 facts earlier.  Almost everything I saw was unique somehow, something I had never seen before. I knew I had to find an expert to learn more about the Sundarbans ecosystem. As luck would have it, I came across a social media account @onesundarban which belongs to Dr Radhika Bhargava, my guest here on episode # 31.

In her own words, Dr Radhika wears multiple hats as a coastal geographer, geospatial analyst, and a National Geographic Explorer. She is a Research Fellow at the NUS Centre for Nature-based Climate Solutions working with wetland conservation in Asia. She recently completed her PhD at the National University of Singapore. We will discuss her research some more but for now, Radhika, welcome and congratulations on your PhD. I feel so privileged to have you share your knowledge and experiences with us.

Radhika Bhargava: Hi Lalitha, thank you so much for having me on your podcast. I am so excited and I am so happy that you recently visited the Sundarbans. I am really looking forward to your questions and interacting with you on Sundarbans. 

Lalitha Krishnan: Lovely. So, let us start. Radhika, what made you, first, focus on the mangroves for your research and why must we be watching the mangroves to check on the health of our planet? 

Radhika Bhargava: I started working on mangroves during my Masters actually. I was part of a project where they were looking for someone to do coding or use coding /computer languages to identify mangroves of South East Asia. So, you use satellite images and you have to interpret where the mangroves are. There were many other forest classes that I was interested in studying but somebody had taken up those classes or somebody had taken up those forest areas to study using satellite imagery. They were only left with mangroves and then, I joined the lab. Nobody was willing to take up this project because there was a lot of computer coding required. And, coming from ecology, biology or management backgrounds, we were not trained in it. I saw this gap and even I didn’t know any computer programming at that time. But then, looking at this desperate need that nobody is doing, I said, “Sure, why not? I will give it a try.” I started learning coding from scratch and then my focus was mangroves. So, that is how I learnt a lot about mangroves. I became so curious that through the two years of my Masters which was at University of San Francisco, the focus was Environmental Management. I ended up with all my class projects or side projects related to mangroves. That’s how I came across the Sundarbans.


You asked me, “why must we be watching the mangroves to check on the health of our planet?” There are many reasons. Especially that mangroves are coastal protectors. They protect the sea from storms and cyclones. Their roots help in purifying water but specially they store or remove carbon dioxide which causes global warming. They store it within themselves and keep it there for millions and millions of years. They have such characteristics that can tell about the health of the planet and actually help in improving the health.


Lalitha Krishnan:  That’s quite amazing. I love the part about you learning coding from scratch. Look where it has taken you.  Radhika, I’m curious about your social media handle. Why its called ‘One Sundarban? There must be something to it. There must be a good reason why you have called it so?


Radhika Bhargava: So glad you asked me this question because initially, people thought that maybe I did not get the handle “Sundarbans’ and that it why I went with ‘One Sundarbans’. Also, I think, I have had that account for maybe two years. I only joined social media because I felt the urge to share about the Sundarbans. When I realised that a storm can come, a cyclone can come in that area and nobody would even know that somethings happening…  So, I felt that I am at a place that I can share so I should take that initiative. So, I only joined social media to share about Sundarbans.

And why ‘One Sundarban’?

Sundarbans is across India and Bangladesh. It is one ecosystem. As a researcher, it really annoyed me initially when I would come across studies or management plans or government records that focused on just one side-either India or Bangladesh. So, for me, ‘One Sundarban’ is one ecosystem so hence ‘One Sundarban’ but after I pondered about it a bit more, about the terminology, I realised that “sundar” is in Hindi, In Bangla and in many local Indian languages, “sundar” is beautiful and “ban” or “van” is forest. So, it is just one beautiful forest. If I branch out of onesundarban, this name still holds.

-Radhika Bhargava


Lalitha Krishnan: Right. That is a beautiful thought and it makes so much sense because you cannot save it in part. It is half the story then. Radhika, how much ground did you cover during your research and what techniques did you employ to cover this vast area?


Radhika Bhargava: Right. So, I worked across India and Bangladesh. So, Sundarbans, for those who are not familiar, is 10,000 sq. kilometres of just mangrove forests. It is made up of many small islands-I do not even know the exact count-but, adding both India and Bangladesh, it is going to be more than 200 islands. My initial idea was to capture the ecosystem. Since I use geo-spatial analysis, which means using satellite maps and satellite data to understand what is happening on the ground, I was able to understand that from one aspect, right? Since satellite images can help you cover that vast area but when I went into the field, I still intended to go from the easternmost to the westernmost and northernmost to the southernmost island. For that, I first recorded shorelines from on top of a boat. I installed a Go Pro camera on a boat and then we would go parallel across shorelines and then I would be doing a commentary on those videos. Later on, I converted those videos into multiple images, and so from the observations in those images and my commentary, I collected some data.


So, we covered around 240 kilometres just of observation. The travelling kilometres were much more. And then, I went to around 16 villages to conduct interviews with the communities to understand their part of the story of the work I was doing.


Lalitha Krishnan: That is very extensive. You must have learnt a lot. That is quite amazing Radhika.


Radhika Bhargava: Thank you so much. If not for COVID, I had another few methods I wanted to try out too which would have made me go into the forest to collect some  forest bio-physical  measurements  within the forests but because of COVID, I had a shorter amount of time and PhD scholarship and all restricted me. So, there was still more that I wanted to do.


Lalitha Krishnan: But you must have amassed quite a lot of information.


Radhika Bhargava: It took a long time to process it. I think I would still go back to that data set although I have written my thesis on it, there is still so much more to get from it. I hope I get a chance to do that in the future.


Lalitha Krishnan: I am sure (you will). These things never go to waste – what you’ve observed, what you’ve learnt and what you have surveyed. You know, even though I have lived by the sea, I never bothered to familiarize myself with mangroves. It was in the Sundarbans, that too on a boat that I witnessed up close, the diversity of mangroves species.  They are quite different from each other apart from the fact that they seem to be thriving in this cocktail of river and sea. Could you talk about some of these mangroves species and how unique they are? The snake roots, breathing roots for e.g. or the way some species propagate themselves with seed balls that float till they find a suitable location? It is all so fascinating.

10: 34

Radhika Bhargava: In just a few lines you actually explained how one comes across and becomes fixated with mangroves. Initially you lived by the sea, I come from a land-locked place. So, I had not even heard the word ‘mangroves’. So even today when I tell people I am doing research on mangroves, they assume I am researching mangoes. The word is so unfamiliar.

Lalitha Krishnan: There’s somebody worse than me that means.


Radhika Bhargava: I was worse than you. Despite visiting coastal areas with my parents, I never processed why there are trees on the beach or why there are trees on the water. Especially in Bombay. Goa, Gujarat side of India. So, I also learnt about it through books and through reading research papers until I went to the Caribbeans to do some project on coral reefs. So, we had a small project where we were snorkelling and looking at fish nurseries around mangrove roots. So, I thought that was cool. But I did not realise that there’s this amazing ecosystem like Sundarbans  or Bhitarkanika in Odisha, where in sediment-rich mangroves you can’t even see what’s happening under water. So, I also came to mangroves in a similar way; I said “what are these crazy roots?” A lot of people whom I have talked to say mangroves for them are like some sci-fi movie, when they come to the Sundarbans.


It is mainly because of the roots like you said. Mangroves have this crazy kind of roots, especially to adapt to the extreme environment they grow in. By extreme environment, I mean they grow at the interface of land and water. So, they are often flooded with salt water although they receive some fresh water from rivers as well. They get flooded twice a day during high tide. They are exposed to extreme waves. When I am explaining this, I like people to imagine that these mangroves are humans. Or to become mangroves themselves. So, if you’re standing at such a place or if you are to stay there for so long, you would develop some kind of adaptation that would help you first, stand there steadily. That the hold of the roots… the snake roots or the prop roots as it is called. that helps them stay aground. There are four to five kinds of mangroves roots. Basically, the first role they play is help them stay in that silty, flooded land. The second thing specially in the Sundarbans or Bhitarkanika, where there is a lot of sediment that these mangroves are standing on, the second thing they need to do is to be able to breathe. But the soil and the water mix are so poor in oxygen content that they have to grow their roots up or their roots have to come from their branches and then go into the ground, unlike other plants which grow roots hidden in the ground. So the roots that are propping up from the ground-there’s a type of root called pencil roots- which look like if you’ve stuck pencils in the soil, they look like that. Or buttress roots… All of these roots apart from giving them stability, they also help them get oxygen from the air. So, many plants get oxygen from the atmosphere directly and through their leaves and through their stems but mangrove roots also get oxygen content from the air to support breathing for the plants. So, these are some adaptations that mangroves must bring in to stand tall in that extreme environment.

Source: Nature Picture Library

You also asked about propogation of species. How mangroves grow mangrove babies, right? So, if you are a mangrove and you’ve figured out how you are going to stand and how to breathe in this fragile, dynamic ecosystem then the next thing is to figure out how are we going to reproduce? Unlike many trees which produce seeds–those seeds get propagated by wind or by animals or by water–some of the mangrove trees do produce fruits. And then within these fruits, there are seeds which finally find a ground and grow. But, it’s also common in certain kinds of mangrove species to not produce seeds but produce a mangrove propagule. That propagule is just a mangrove baby that’s growing on top of its mom. You might have come across these green sticks hanging from the tree, they are mangrove propagules. They hang from the tree and until they are ready to go- the weather conditions, the time of year, the tidal conditions etc are good-the mom drops them in the water. Now they are floating in the water but these are not seeds ready to be germinated. These are germinated plants which function like any other plant and it keeps floating until it finds the right elevation, the right tidal conditions, the right slope, and the right area to settle in. So, that stick or propagule has that much sense to find the right place for its survival.  It floats horizontally. Once it finds the right place, it becomes vertical, the centre of mass changes and it automatically goes into the soil. Which is just mind-blowing for me. In a way, they are like mammals. In mammals…humans, babies grown within the mum until they are ready to come out. I find equal similarities.


Lalitha Krishnan: It sounds like they have an intelligence of their own. There is so much we do not know.

17: 25

Radhika Bhargava: There are things people who study these processes are still finding out. Things we know have been published but there is so much more, so much unknown when it comes to mangroves.


Lalitha Krishnan: Thank you so much for explaining that. Talking of species, the animals that exist in the Sundarbans also seem to have adapted to this unique environment. We saw the rare Mangrove pitta, the Fishing cat we didn’t see but I know it’s there and the swimming Bengal tiger, which is the only tiger that lives in a mangrove system. How cool is that? What makes them so different or what can you tell us about them?


Radhika Bhargava: If we are talking about Sundarbans, how can not (talk) about the tiger? The Royal Bengal tiger is found in many places in India or in the South Asian subcontinent. However, the subspecies of the Royal Bengal tiger—I’m not sure if sub-species is the correct word—but the evolution of the Royal Bengal tiger that found in the Sundarbans is quite different from the other Royal Bengal tigers that are found, in say, Central India, where I come from.


The main difference in their adaptation to living in the Sundarban Delta. In those mangroves, in that flooded ecosystem. Just like I was explaining earlier how mangroves adapted to this soil, sediment, flooding conditions, the tigers of the Sundarbans also have to.


If you are a tiger, you would need sweet water or fresh water, as they say, to survive. But the tigers of the Sundarbans are living in a delta filled with salt water. Their houses or their land or their habitat, gets flooded twice a day which tigers of Central India do not experience.

They go to a fresh water pond within their forest to get water but then they can go back to their caves to chill. But there are no such structures that are dry all year around for the tigers of the Sundarbans. And if they want to go from one place to another, there are huge rivers and streams in between which they have to traverse. So, tigers and other kinds of cats can swim naturally but the tigers of the Sundarbans use swimming as their means of transportation. When their islands get completely flooded because of high tide they climb on to a tree and stay on the tree twice a day during high tide conditions. Hunting also, for  for these animals is very different. Now you don’t have a grassland to run and catch deer but you have to very strategically traverse the silty, quick-sand type or quick-mud type of terrain where you cannot run a lot because of the roots–that I just explained about earlier—would stop you from running far distances.


So, it so amazing how the Royal Bengal tigers of the Sundarbans have adapted to live in these conditions. However, these extreme conditions- lack of habitat these days, lack of availability of sweet-water ponds and extreme environmental and anthropogenic pressures are affecting these tigers in a way that now, they are more exposed to the local villages. A lot of human and tiger negative interactions have started to take place. There are a lot of theories of why some of these tigers are also maneaters. These theories that make sense to me are related to the extreme environment and increasing environmental and anthropogenic pressures that are making them encounter humans in a negative aspect.


Lalitha Krishnan: Right. I imagine tigers or for that matter any other animal there having to climb a tree twice a day to escape drowning if they cannot swim. I never would have even thought that far.  Thank you for explaining that.  It is quite a hard life even for a tiger. I was thinking of the deer…


Radhika Bhargava: Did you see any tiger?


Lalitha Krishnan: No, we did not see any tiger and we did not expect toeither. They told us not to expect to see a tiger. But we did see paw prints. What is fascinating is that—I have seen scratch marks of tigers on trees but here, we actually saw scratch marks on the mud. We had such an excellent forest guide. Mud looks like mud; it was all wet but he manged to point that out to us. It was quite distinct. That was fascinating.


Coming back to the Sundarbans and the ravages of nature, Cyclone Bulbul in 2019, Cyclone Amphan in 2020, Cyclone Yaas and Jawad in 2021 have all struck and affected these low-lying islands.  What makes them so defenceless? What were the losses incurred with every cyclone-hit?


Radhika Bhargava: The “defenceless” word here is something I should talk about. It’s Yes and No. Mangroves are known to protect inland areas from the impacts of storms and cyclones. So, in a way they are not defenceless. They have those defences. And, even the all the cyclones that you named just now; Kolkata was the least impacted if we are speaking from India’s perspective or Khulna or Dacca if we are speaking from Bangladesh’s perspective. They were impacted but the impact was so small compared to what it could have been if the Sundarbans was not there. So, Sundarbans is still holding ground, defending inland areas.

However, because of ongoing anthropogenic pressures; to name a few: the shipping channel that has been formed within the Sundarbans which is a protected area. It should not be converted into a water highway.

Or a coal plant coming into Sundarbans or other aspects, the extreme erosion of land; the loss of land which was the focus of my research, causing mangroves to degrade and get lost is causing them to reduce the amount of defence they could have provided.


When you are talking of defence I would also talk about the people. The people of the Sundarbans, I feel are resilient especially in terms of how they manage when these reoccurring cyclones, with the frequency of three to four times a year, impact them. However, with reduced options of livelihood, with reduced preparedness because they are managing a lot of land, and cyclones, lack of livelihoods, lack of protection altogether, their resiliency is also getting reduced.

So, although the people are not defenceless to start with, the conditions are making them such. So, if you hear, I just made a parallel between the resiliency of the mangroves and the resiliency of the people; yet both their resiliencies are getting reduced or impacted. Which on a side note is the conclusion of PhD thesis.


Lalitha Krishnan: Good. So, during my visit to the Sundarbans, I noticed that the embankment to my resort was half washed away. I was told it was the cyclone which is a recurring factor there. Is there more to it?


Radhika Bhargava: Great observation Lalitha. I am so glad that you didn’t buy into just the story that a cyclone comes and destroys the structure. So, to give a bit more context to our audience, the soil in the Sundarbans , the sub-sediment in the Sundarbans is silty;  it’s clayish. So, if you want to understand this, clay that a potter uses to mold clay into, it is that kind of clay, on which if you put a step, just as a 55kg human, the soil is going to get compressed and you’re going to slip away.

Imagine putting concrete slab on this silty and soft soil? It’s like creating a hard line in a very dynamic system. That concrete is going to eventually collapse. I’ll explain very quickly how. So, there’s a concrete slab but underneath, is a soft silty soil. And underneath, there are waves that are coming in and out throughout the day, So the waves are going to take some of that soil with them. Or that soil which may be a bit harder during low tide is going to get mixed with water and become soft. So, the concrete slab on top is eventually and slowly and slowly going to collapse. And, then, it’s going to be like the embankment that you saw during your visit.

So, when a cyclone comes, all of this just gets exaggerated. But these processes are happening on a daily basis, causing these embankments to fall and collapse. Yet, when these embankments fall, another embankment of such poor design is built maybe 200 mts. away from the current shoreline. This keeps on repeating to the point where the place you stayed, you saw the 5th embankment collapse in the past 40 years or so. This is something I also worked on during my PhD to understand why this poorly designed embankments are still around and how are they impacting the local people. So, what I explained earlier about the reduced preparedness or resiliency of the people, that lack of preparedness, that lack of having other options make them rely on these quick yet poor solutions. So, the demand also increases for these. One thing collapses, yet the second time, they want the same thing to be built so that they can get some short-term benefits of prevention of flood or some people start living in tents- who have also lost houses because of all of this, start living around the embankment. So, it becomes like a vicious cycle of land loss, poorly designed embankments come in, poorly designed embankments cause more land loss yet more of these embankments come in and the cycle continues.


Lalitha Krishnan: Again, I never thought of it. I am learning so much from you Radhika.  Finally, my last question for you. Could you share a word that was perhaps part of your research or significant to you in some way? Something new for all of us.


Radhika Bhargava: So, the word I want to use, building off of what I just explained about embankments, is a word called ‘maladaptation’. It is very relevant because in the last IPCC report, it was used to highlight a pressing issue in our fight against climate change. I will explain it in pieces. Adaptation means any form of project, idea or implementation that comes in to reduce impact or anything. But in climate change context, climate change adaptation is an adaptation such as building a sea wall, or other things that help you reduce the impact of climate change. So one impact could be flooding, sea-levels rising and so on. Maladaptation to climate change means when that adaptation which is built to reduce the impact of climate change fails but not only does it fail but it causes other negative impacts to the local community or the global community.


So, when an adaptation fails and causes more negative impact it turns into a maladaptation. This is a word that I realise through the work I have done in the Sundarbans, or through my research in the Sundarbans, and I am hoping that I can contribute more to the growing literature of maladaptation.


Lalitha Krishnan: You have increased our vocabulary. Thank you so much Radhika, we have covered a lot and learnt a lot from you. It’s been a real pleasure talking to you.

Radhika Bhargava: Thank you so much Lalitha. I love talking about the Sundarbans and sharing about it from a place where I did not know and then I had the privilege to go and learn about it. So, I feel that it’s my responsibility in a way to share about it in any medium and form I can. So, thank you so much for giving me this platform to talk more about Sundarbans and the issues people and the forests are facing over there.


Lalitha Krishnan: Thank you Radhika, I feel the same way. I feel there’s so much we don’t know and I want to share. I am luck I found you.


Radhika Bhargava: One quick thing to add for our listeners. So, you learnt a lot about Sundarbans, and mangroves. So, one takeaway you can do for me and Lalitha would be if you can go and tell more people in your social circles about how cool and awesome mangroves are and how amazing Sundarbans is. Thank you.

Lalitha Krishnan: I hope you enjoyed listening to episode #31 and Dr Radhika as much as I did. If you know somebody who is doing incredible work and his/her story needs to be shared do write to me at earthymatters013@gmail.com Watch out for my next episode. Till then, take care. Bye.

Birdsong by hillside resident, the collared owlet.

Cover photo: courtesy Dr Radhika Bhargava. Podcast cover artwork by Lalitha Krishnan

Disclaimer: Views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the podcast and show notes belong solely to the guest featured in the episode, and not necessarily to the host of this podcast/blog or the guest’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.

Sudarshan Shaw:Breaking Definitions of Art & Nature.

Ep#30 Season 4 Heart of Conservation Transcript (Edited)

Read or Listen. All paintings-photos courtesy Sudarshan Shaw.


Lalitha Krishnan:  I’m Lalitha Krishnan and you’re listening to episode #30, season 4 of Heart of Conservation. I bring you stories from the wild that keep us all connected to the natural world.

For someone who has no sense of direction and couldn’t probably read a map to save her life, I have to say I practically drooled over one visually delightful map that I came across on Instagram.  It conveyed a spectacular visually-rich story of a place, its people and art and biodiversity on a single sheet.  This is one, I would easily put up on my wall permanently. I will be putting them up on my blog, Earthy Matters very soon, so do have a look.

My guest today is not a cartographer by profession but a young, extremely talented visual artist from NIFT, whose keen sense of perception and belonging, passion for depicting, and preserving local art, and love for natural history is tangible in his stunning artworks which go way beyond creating maps. I am speaking to one of India’s rising young, inspiring artists and authors, Sudarshan Shaw. Welcome to Heart of Conservation Sudarshan. Thank you for joining me.


Sudarshan Shaw:  Thank you so much for having me on Heart of Conservation Lalitha. It’s an absolute honour to be here.

Lalitha Krishnan:  My pleasure. Sudarshan why don’t we start by you telling us a little bit about yourself and what influences your work?

Sudarshan Shaw:  I was born and brought up in the culturally rich cities of Bhubaneshwar and Kolkata. And I grew up feeding on art forms and colours of all types. And, I have always been a history buff so… all of which came together after I discovered my calling towards wildlife while I pursuing my final year of college. That’s when I visited Ranthambore National Park which was my first ever formal introduction to the wild world. It was also for my graduation project and while the forest look all great and beautiful, I always felt that connection was missing; some sort of connection. Thus, I started to explore more and more regions to understand myself and the situation better and have a better understanding of the wider world.


Lalitha Krishnan:   Nice. Let’s talk briefly about all the maps you created. You created more than one for Orissa, biodiversity maps for Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and West Bengal, a special Elephant corridor one for Kerala and other clients like the one for the Shiv Nadar University etc.  The first one which is the wildlife map of Orissa- your home state was self-funded. Am I right? What I love about that map is how you incorporated the local tribes and hotspots in the traditional pattachitra style of Orissa. It almost feels like a tribute. So, what made you create this one?


Sudarshan Shaw: Yes, it is a tribute indeed. It’s a tribute to the land, the wild and the cultural heritage of my state. It’s also a tribute to the strong relationship among them that enhances their meaning of each other. I always felt a huge disjoint in the natural and cultural heritage of India and the kind of graphic language the young communicators use in the country. I feel it is heavily influenced by the west and does not have that connection with the native land and hence it’s not acceptable to the masses in a certain way. So, the vibrance and diversity that folk arts have in store have disappeared from the contemporary visual language that we used to in recent time used to communicate our stories. This was my humble attempt to bring it back with all dignity and pride. Another reason would be Odisha itself. Odisha has an abundance of wildlife. We almost know all the stories regarding Odisha but it never found a place, I mean materially in our surroundings.

What I saw is the pattachitra paintings which are quite prevalent in Odisha -which is the folk-art form in Odisha – and it has a place in our homes over here. There are depictions of gods and goddesses and many other folklores on the walls. I thought this could give me an important platform if I drew it in that style and I depicted wildlife in that style. Eventually, it worked out well and the wildlife map found a place in people’s homes. So, they put it up where they used to put pattachitra paintings.


Lalitha Krishnan:  That’s such an honour. That’s fantastic. What is your creative process? How do you create a map-I don’t mean technically- but I want to know how you think you know, and how long it takes, who commissions these maps. How does it work?


Sudarshan Shaw: The process usually starts with intense research, which is both online and in the field. It’s quite impossible to do justice to ….(lost in translation)  with short timelines or deadlines. So, I try my best to gather as much as I can; so more of essence than information. I must say, the internet has negligent information on this so most of the interaction and interpretations have travelled orally with tradition or in folk art forms. So, the idea is to go through and explore as many of these. The next step is where Is it down to innovate a graphic style which is more often inspired but local art and traditions. Then, I design a layout and then spend about one to two months to complete/render it depending on the amount of details. Most of these maps have been funded by the forest departments of various states or other wildlife NGOs if not other private institutions.

Lalitha Krishnan:   Great. Being from Odisha, does practising the traditional art of Odisha come naturally to you? Is it something you learnt as a child or is it something that you learnt in art school?


Sudarshan Shaw: Naturally it was in my subconscious because we’d always be looking at these art forms on stone sculptures, wall paintings of different buildings in Odisha and also in homes, as I said earlier. But, consciously I started practising and grasping it after I visited Ranthambore wherein I first had that interaction with Phad paintings of Rajasthan. There are these common folk paintings of Rajasthan, wherein they had drawn stories from the wild in their artworks. For example, in the story of ‘Machhli’ the Tiger, wherein they had depicted the tiger in a very beautiful style in stories from its birth to its death and everything. This was the main reason why I started grasping art forms more and this is how I implemented it. I get a story from one place and try to incorporate the folk-art of that place into it (the art).

Lalitha Krishnan: O.K. That’s very sensitive and thoughtful of you to do that. You have depicted wildlife, for example, the striped hyena, otters etc that are also listed as endangered or vulnerable by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Tell us something about these. I love the little camera trap you have put along with the ‘Black tiger’, the pseudo-melanistic black tiger painting of yours. I don’t know if the Fishing cat’ (see podcast cover) is part of this series but that too just caught my eye.

Sudarshan Shaw: The Fishing cat was the first painting that I did for this series but that was also a self-funded one. The main idea always starts with a self-funded one and the Fishing cat was one of those. The idea behind drawing the Fishing cat was–which is also a mud painting by the way—during that time, I heard a lot about fishing cats. You know they are found on the outskirts of my hometown. It was very interesting to know that these kinds of creatures live nearby. So, I started looking at images of fishing cats in Odisha and West Bengal and other regions of India. I found images of fishing cats which are mostly nocturnal. The images were quite similar. Once I got a glimpse of a fishing cat drawn in the Kalighat form of painting in Bengal, and I saw a very distinct flavour to it. That cat was depicted holding a fish, it had a stance of its own and it almost looked like that fishing cat is Bengal and it was very different from that of Odisha or any other region of the world. So, a depiction of that species in that art form you know helped in sensitising the people of that particular region regarding that species. That was my whole idea. To incorporate that style and show the world that all these creatures have their distinct characters from the places that they belong to. That was my main idea behind that. The other artworks: the Smooth-coated (otters), the (striped) hyena, you know, they tagged along, people understood my reasoning behind the Fishing cat and they wanted similar species to be shown in their own characters so that they would help in spreading awareness and in sensitising people about the species.

Lalitha Krishnan: It’s true when you say, (species) have their own stance, their own character of the place. That’s an interesting take. You know, tigers have been part of the Indian psyche forever and they feature a lot in your paintings. I saw one of The 9 Tigers depicted in different folk styles which tells us so much in one go.
I also want to talk about the ‘Tiger Boundary’ piece which is nothing short of mesmerising.
I like that you said somewhere that the boundary in the frame instead of blocking in gives you the artist and the subject, in this case, the tiger, free reign. Did I get that right? What do you mean by that? And what draws to the tiger?


Sudarshan Shaw: Absolutely. Apart from being as popular as ‘T’ for Tiger, and one of the epic predators of the forest systems in India, I feel tigers are truly beautiful beings in all senses. They are as gentle as they are fierce, the air of pride and mystery around the creature makes them much larger than their actual size -which is both inside the forest and outside. So, what draws me and the whole forest and nation to the tiger are that it’s like another mystery. I never met a tiger in the wild. But fortunately, I met so many in folk art and in my imagination and they are all different from each other.
So, yes, as an artist I always felt conflicted about having boundaries around my artworks. On the face, the borders look like confinements, a kind of limitation but they are very common, if you observe, in all the folk-art forms of India. So, one fine day, during an interaction with a pattachitra folk artist, he was explaining to me why they drew borders on the canvas before they started the painting inside. That was the instance when I thought that is how tigers also mark the territories for themselves in the forest and both the artist and tiger would then paint their minds and live inside it. I could then understand how boundaries set by self, bring a sense of safety, depth of connection and commitment to our responsibility. All of which actually sets us free.

Lalitha Krishnan: Wow. That’s all I can say. You authored your first children’s book called “When a Forest Wakes up”. Congratulations. The name itself evokes a visual flood but the book is also very magical. Your interpretation of nature… where trees are antlers sending messages and elephants block out the sun and birds fly to flowers in gratitude for the colours and where hills are sleeping rhinos…it’s so wonderous and I can just imagine the wonder and oneness that any child will love. I believe you said, “The basic idea of the book is ‘breaking definitions”. Yes?


Sudarshan Shaw: yes, one of the ideas behind the book was to see beyond rigid definitions that we have set for ourselves. To dive into a world of imagination and the endless possibilities that it has for us. So, another idea behind the book was actually inspired by animism. A belief system by the various ancient indigenous communities in India, according to which everything from the stones to the mountains to the trees and rivers are living forces and beings bigger than us or just like us. All of these live in relation to each other.

I remember how we were taught in our school days that nature is full of resources and had multiple uses for us humans. And the distinction between biotic and abiotic, the living and non-living things. We have been told to see a river or soil as a non-living resource it would be very difficult to respect and have a relationship with them. This book is an attempt to change that perception from a very young age.


If I give you another example, of it, when we ask a child to see towards the sky and the clouds, they would always say the clouds look like different animals or objects and everything. Suddenly, with time, you’d see how the animals and the various objects turn towards being a single cloud. When you ask an adult, what is that they would say, “That’s a cloud. Either it’s going to rain or not going to rain. But when you ask the child, “That is a tiger”. “That’s a leopard…that’s a dinosaur” and whatnot. All those imaginations with time are suppressed and you know, along with the coming of rigid definitions, that ends it for us. So, I wanted to break that stereotype fear out of understanding and definitions.


Lalitha Krishnan:  You’re freeing my mind as you speak. So, I believe you have travelled to Uttarakhand–that’s where I live mostly–and walking in the forests there impacted you. How was it different and is that where you got your studio name. ‘Kyari’ from?


Sudarshan Shaw: Yes. Uttarakhand has been like a second home. I have travelled to Uttarakhand quite frequently as much as I could. You know, I was in college in Delhi so Uttarakhand wasn’t so far from there. Living there, you can totally understand how special the land is. It is almost beaming with life and beauty, to say the least, and ‘Kyari’ is a very small village near Ram Nagar in Uttarakhand and my studio name lends its name from it and the meaning of it; you know how kyari is a small nursery kind of thing where in they put up small plants and flowers. Then they grow wild from it. That’s the main philosophy of starting my studio wherein I’d be experimenting with different forms and art styles, and stories and those would be going into the wide world.


Lalitha Krishnan: A nursery of ideas. Lovely


Sudarshan Shaw:  A nursery I would say is one of my best teachers of all the ways I see the world and understand the world the studio is a lifelong tribute to that.


Lalitha Krishnan:  I’d like to know briefly about the ‘My Pictures of Divinity’ series your visual stories about the turtle and sea, and the vulture and the dead e.g. though steeped in lore and also educating us about the animals’ role in the world and their vulnerability today.


Sudarshan Shaw:  Yes, I strongly believe that existence has its meaning in relation and not in isolation. So, my picture of divinity is the search for that godliness that lies in the relationship between the humble life forms that we see and the magnificent ecosystems of sustenance that surround them.  So, it is an attempt to override conventional portraits of God that centralised humans while all the legendary powers that they invented were inspired by the ways of the wild. So, it’s a tribute to our true ancestors, the teachers, the deities of the art of thriving and surviving. So, e.g.

I’d say, Uttarakhand and Odisha have been my main source for drawing this series. One story would be the Olive Ridley Turtles of the Odisha coast. If people talk about the species, they talk about the species in isolation but if you actually get to experience that place, you would see how the species is actually a connection between the land and the sea. It’s tying both of them together. That’s the beauty of seeing things in relation and not in isolation. –Sudarshan Shaw


Lalitha Krishnan: Beautifully put. Coming to my last question, could you share a word, concept or something you believe is important—you’ve mentioned a lot of things—something for all of us to know or imbibe.


Sudarshan Shaw:  Sure. So, being an artist, I’ll say a few lines on how we understand art and nature. For me, art and nature are two sisters of the same fate. Nature has been an inseparable part of native peoples’ being. Folk art has also been practised routinely by all in different ways and forms. So once, the colonial influences came, they alienated our art as a speciality which was quite pristine, exclusive and polished and very far away from us. They did the same to nature and wilderness which became (lost in translation). Art is the nature of all living beings; we must understand this. And, separating them in our words and worlds may have separated us from our true selves and denied us access to the strongest relations which are nature and art. So, I believe we can turn folk art for the reunion and reassurance for everybody, which is free too, we must draw, sing and dance to ourselves and our surroundings better.

20:14 So true, Sudarshan, thank you so much. You’re going to go a long way and all the best for your journey ahead.  I am so touched by everything you’ve said and everything you do. Thank you


Sudarshan Shaw: Thank you so much Lalitha.

Lalitha Krishnan: I hope you enjoyed this episode of Heart of Conservation. Do check out Sudarshan’s artworks. You might want to buy, commission it or gift it to somebody else or yourself. The transcript for this show will be out very soon on Earthy Matters (my blog). You can listen to Heart of Conservation on several platforms so check it out and spread the word, guys. Thanks.

Birdsong by hillside resident, the collared owlet.

All photos courtesy Sudarshan Shaw including Fishing Cat. Podcast cover artwork by Lalitha Krishnan

Disclaimer: Views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the podcast and show notes belong solely to the guest featured in the episode, and not necessarily to the host of this podcast/blog or the guest’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.

Is Tourism Taking a Toll Despite the Best Travel Practices?

Episode #29. Read or Listen. Show notes (Edited)


Hi there, I’m Lalitha Krishnan and you’re listening to Season 4, Episode 29 of Heart of Conservation. I bring you stories from the wild that keep us all connected to our natural world.

It’s so easy to book a ticket and fly out to most destinations. But Imagine what it takes to make a place, especially a high-altitude desert in the Himalayas sitting at  11,980 ft viable for tourism. To be able to involve the community, to be constantly successful and get world recognition for it. I’m speaking to Ishita Khanna who manages to do just that. Ishita is a brave and humble hero in my books. One of the pioneers of responsible tourism in Spiti Ishita is better known as the co-founder of Spiti-Ecosphere, a multi-award* winning eco-tourism enterprise located in Kaza,  in the Spiti & Lahaul district of Himachal Pradesh.

Having visited Spiti several times I am constantly drawn back.  But obviously, I’m not the only one who thinks it’s a go-to place. We all know revenge tourism is a thing right? But Is tourism taking a toll despite the best travel practices? That’s what I’m here to find out. Do check out the Spitiecosphere website for their diverse travel experiences.  Now, let’s find out hows it’s done right.


Ishita welcome and Thank you so much  Ishita for joining me on Heart of Conservation.

Ishita Khanna: It’s lovely to be here. Thank you, Lalitha for calling me

Lalitha Krishnan: Ishita,  you have been in Spiti since2002 and the sea buckthorn of all things which is a superfood berry led you to Spiti the first time over 20 years ago and you’ve been there ever since. Tell us about that and how Ecosphere came to be.

Ishita Khanna: it’s been quite a journey. As you mentioned right now, I came in the year 2000 and I was working with the state government of Himachal Pradesh. At that point in time, I had come to assess one of their projects which is when I discovered this super berry-seabuckthorn. It had hardly been discovered then. There was very little research and work and I was really in awe. China had done lots of work on it and I felt India was losing out and there was so much that could be done as a livelihood source as well as…it’s got immense ecological as well as medical benefits. So that’s what really got me to Spiti and I started working here in 2002. That’s what started my whole journey to Spiti. I never really thought I’d be spending so many years here. But then, once you start living in a place, you start understanding the place, understanding the people, understanding the challenges that are faced there. One thing led to another and I’m still here 20 years hence.


Lalitha Krishnan: hard to imagine. It’s a long time but such a fruitful time. Ishita what was it like then and what has changed in terms of infrastructure and tourism?

Ishita Khanna: Spiti was a very, very remote valley when I first came here. In terms of road infrastructure, it was bare minimal. There were two access routes. One is via Simla and one is via Manali. The Shimla road was known as the world’s most dangerous route and the Manali to Spiti road is still perhaps the world’s worst road. It was very difficult to get into Spiti. It was easily a two to three-day journey from Delhi or Shimla just to get into Spiti. So as a result, because it was cut off in a remote part of Himachal, very few people knew about the existence of Spiti over 20 years ago. Now, of course, it’s on the tourist map and it’s on the radar of every traveller, every domestic traveller in India. But back then, very few people knew about Spiti when I first started working here. People thought it was a different country I was working in. Back then, there was no internet or hardly any phone connectivity. So yes, infrastructure was very limited so now, of course, 2o years hence a lot has changed. The Shimla road is a lot better so it’s slightly easy to come in and out. Slightly easier. Still takes quite a bit of time. And now, finally, we have internet in Spiti. Just came in 2021 almost 20 years hence. Working without the internet had been quite a challenge. So yes, a lot had changed. The tourism infrastructure has really developed in a large way. When I first came here, there was just one guest house in Kaza. Now there would be over 100 guest houses. And every house would be a homestay you know? So, a lot has changed since then.


Lalitha Krishnan:   Do you see a difference in the type of tourists coming to Spiti? Especially post-pandemic?

Ishita Khanna: Yes, that’s something that has changed and I think anyone who is associated with tourism and is working in the tourism industry is now a bit baffled with the kind of tourists that are coming in. It has changed a lot, post-pandemic. Immediately after the 2nd wave, we had kind of like, revenge tourism coming in. People were kind of holed up in their houses for a long time so we had a lot of boy gangs coming in on a kind of revenge kind of a thing and of course, not the most culturally sensitive kind of tourists. Before COVID, we had very diverse kinds of tourists coming in. Now that has changed. So, we’re not getting the kind of tourists that we were getting earlier. So yes, we feel a huge change in the kind of traveller that comes in post-pandemic you know? The kind of diverse backpacker, the slow traveller that was there, both domestic and international pre covid has not picked up. It’s the packaged tourists. A foreign tourist is very very limited. They’re still wary of coming into India. It might pick up only in 2023. You know the quality backpackers, the European backpackers that come in, that haven’t picked up as yet. Even the domestic traveller..they’re more the really crunched up packages, fast-moving packages…eight days and six days.. and you cover the whole of Spiti kind of thing. So that’s the kind of traveller that’s coming in and unfortunately, not very culturally sensitive or really wanting to understand the place. It’s more about clicking selfies and posting on Instagram kind of.


Lalitha Krishnan: I think for international tourists, it’s also visas and the price of flight tickets has just escalated. Visas are not being issued. There is so much uncertainty for them to invest in a holiday where there’s no guarantee to even reach…now because things are just difficult.

Ishita Khanna: Yeah


Lalitha Krishnan:

What do you think tipped the scales for Ecosphere? What initiative or practice that you adopted made it such a success story?

Ishita Khanna: It’s been a journey and it’s been challenging over the years as well. You know we started as a typical NGO in terms of grants and donations coming in. Somewhere along the line, we realised that it’s not very sustainable. Especially when you’re working in a remote area like Spiti you know, to be dependent on an outside grant coming in? That’s when we started looking at a model of social enterprise. Where we can try and self-generate our income which would then go into projects that were a requirement and need in the area. Because, if you’re dependent on grants and donations coming in, then it’s often hard to find donations for things that are required on the ground. Everyone has certain specific areas that they want to support but that might not be a need or a requirement in Spiti.

So, that’s what led us to look at a social enterprise model which would then, you know, give us slight independence and sustainability. The first project that we worked on was the seabuckthorn and then we started looking at tourism. How could we ensure that the tourism coming into the valley could benefit the area and the local community you know? That it won’t go out and destroy the cultural heritage and the natural environment. So, we started looking at that and that’s when we developed homestays. Now of course the homestays have really picked up across Spiti and they are doing very well. And, they’ve become a direct source of income for the local community.


Usually, if you look at most tourist destinations, you’ll see guest houses coming up and it’s usually the richer person in the village who can afford that guest house. So you know, it just creates a larger divide between the people that have the money and the people that don’t. While for a homestay, you can just start a homestay, just a spare room is required. Rich or poor, anyone can people coming in and stay and hence, earn a livelihood from people coming and staying. That model really picked up and has spread across Spiti. Like I was mentioning earlier as well, in Kaza as well, every house is a homestay. In that sense at least the money is going directly to the local community- the residents of Spiti. And, when we started working on tourism, we were in touch with travellers to promote the homestays. A traveller of course wants to experience the homestay but not necessarily every day of their time in Spiti. So we developed entire programmes around these homestays and started marketing that so that people would get to know about homestays and start going to these homestays. In the process, that basically became our enterprise model as well where we started generating some amount of revenue through that which then helped us support other different projects that we were working on the ground in Spiti as well. So, that’s how our transition happened as well. And now, we’ve been working and operating like this for over15 years now and yes, it’s been working pretty well for us. Now the projects we feel are of relevance, we can support those and replicate those across Spiti.


Lalitha Krishnan: That’s really been a great journey. Even in Uttarkhand, almost every home has a homestay.  If you drive down a road, there are homestays of all sizes… I too feel that it gives tourists a different cultural experience compared to a standard hotel. Regardless of the class of the hotel.


What are the challenges you face today that perhaps weren’t such a big deal before? How do you mitigate those?


Ishita Khanna: if you look specifically in terms of tourism, for instance, there are a lot of challenges now. I  mean if you don’t look at Ecosphere-specific but you look at the region-specific, there are a lot of impacts that are having now on the area because Spiti suddenly opened up. It suddenly came on the radar of a lot of people so in the past 4-5 years we’ve had a huge influx of travellers coming in and of course with that, there is a huge amount of garbage generation that is happening in Spiti. And, the garbage dump which was a small tiny little thing has grown into a humungous garbage dumping area which is very sad to see. The other thing now which is becoming a challenge, especially in the urban centres which are the tourist hubs, is water. This year was really very bad in general for Spiti in terms of water. We didn’t have adequate snow so the crops practically failed in most of the villages of  Spiti. To top that up, we have a huge influx of travellers coming into Kaza. As I said, we have 100 hotels now which are all very water-intensive hotels. So as a result, there is now no water in Kaza. In the supply line, there is hardly any water coming in. Every hotel has to buy water which comes in from the neighbouring villages. If you happen to have a vehicle you send the vehicle up along with a tank every day just to ferry in water. And some hotels have to do this four to five times a day just to bring water. So this is a huge rising challenge in Spti because even though the government has plans of tapping into the groundwater but the point is that even if they do that it will be a temporary solution to the water problem. Because, eventually, the groundwater will deplete because at the rate it’s being sucked out we will not be able to recharge it because we are not getting the kind of snow we used to get in earlier years.

14: 35

Lalitha Krishnan: Most of the villages don’t have piped water. Right?


Ishita Khanna: yes, none of the villages has piped water. In Kaza as well it’s only the hotels that have a piped water supply coming in. Till now, the homes don’t have piped water. They still have like common spaces where you fill up your bucket or you fill up your can.


Lalitha Krishnan: I like what you do at Spiti Ecosphere in terms of encouraging people to bring refill bottles and you supply water. Is that still on?


Ishita Khanna: Yes, that is still on. We set up water refill points at some of the key destinations of Spiti as well. We’ve been offering free filtered water for donkeys of years, maybe 10-12 years now at Sol café – A taste of Spiti, in Kaza. We’ve had a lot of people coming in to refill the bottles, especially international travellers because they are more sensitive to these issues as opposed to domestic travellers even now. They do come regularly to fill up. We also set these (refill points) up at Key monastery, Dhankar monastery and up in Komic which are visited by travellers to try and encourage travellers to refill as much as they can. Then, in 2017 we set up a huge life-sized installation made of plastic bottles called ‘I love Spiti’ to try and raise awareness of this rising issue. It’s an ongoing challenge, it’s an ongoing issue and there are people now as well working on issues like these to try and sensitize the traveller about the impact that they have. But still, it’s a minuscule number of travellers who are actually conscious about their footprint. Most don’t really care about garbage or…


Lalitha Krishnan: But the very fact that you’re doing this…simple and generous idea… that you’re letting people refill, that itself should tell them something. They should see that one-time plastic bottles are not welcome in the desert at such high altitudes that too.


Ishita Khanna: It’s a kind of mindset, a kind of background.


Lalitha Krishnan: (You won the Sierra Club ‘Green Energy and Green Livelihoods Achievement Award’  in 2009 and the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards 2010 for Best in a mountain environment?) You explained how you went from being a donor-supported to a self-supporting organisation.  Today as we speak, how many villages/lives are impacted by Ecosphere’s initiatives?


Ishita Khanna: we have been working on different initiatives in Spiti for the past 20 years and it’s been a gradual journey for us as well. We started with seabuckthorn and went to look at community-based tourism and responsible travel. From there we started looking at some of the other challenges in Spiti. For instance, it gets very cold here in the winter months. Temperatures dip to -30 C  here and you have to burn a lot of wood to stay warm. So, we looked at how we could use the sun’s heat and solar passive techniques. So we adapted their winter room so that they could heat up using the sun’s heat. We also looked at solar electrification because there’s a lot of sunshine that we get here, even though it’s very cold. We looked at how we could use the sun’s warmth to grow vegetables so we developed local mud greenhouses. So, you know over the years, we’ve looked at various challenges and how we can solve them.


Another one of the problems we’ve been working on recently is to do with water and climate change. The groundwater is depleting, the springs are drying out so we worked on building artificial glaciers and contour trenches to trap as much of the surface runoff and the snowfall to try and absorb it into the groundwater so we can try and recharge these springs which are the lifeline of most of the villages of Spiti, especially the highland villages.

Water is a big challenge as I mentioned, especially drinking water in the winter months. you know, because of springs drying out, they are also now freezing up in the winter months with reduced flow. As a result, people have to walk more just to get drinking water. So we are trying to tap into springs which have a good flow—usually close to the river bed—and pump that water up to the village. Otherwise, it’s an arduous journey down for local communities in the thick of snow just to get a 20 L can up on their back.


Over the years, of living there you understand what the challenges are. Another one of our initiatives is to do health care.

We started working on oral health in Spiti and just recently we did an assessment in one of the schools. We were thinking of putting sealants onto the kids’ teeth to prevent caries/cavities from setting on to the permanent teeth. Unfortunately, that can only be done on caries-free teeth. We assessed a local school and out of 60 students, only two were cavity-free.


In young kids nowadays you can put what is called sealants onto the tooth so that it creates a layer around the tooth so that the child’s tooth does not develop a cavity but it can only be done on cavity-free teeth. We held a camp recently in a school and out of 60 kids, we assessed only two kids who didn’t have cavities or caries in their teeth.

So, oral health is bad so now across Spiti we’re holding a free dental camp and we’re going from village to village because it’s such an ignored area. People just ignore their oral health. They don’t brush their teeth. Brushing twice a day is unheard of. Brushing once a day is unheard of. People might brush their teeth once a month at times or not at all. So by the time they reach 40, their teeth have all fallen off, because, they don’t give any importance to it and it just decays and the tooth has to be taken out. People in their 40s now require dentures, unfortunately.


Lalitha Krishnan: I guess if we had to carry our water to brush our teeth every day and hike two miles for it we might be also as casual about our oral health.


Ishita Khanna: Right, we could associate with that but yes, over the years we’ve been working on a wide range of issues and initiatives. And Spiti has a population of about 15,000 people now spread across about you could say, 65 villages. Each one of our initiatives has impacted the population in one way or the other.

22: 32

Lalitha Krishnan: Right. How can we as individuals be better tourists? There is no ideal.

22: 38

Ishita Khanna: Ideal is a very difficult word. There is no ideal tourist or an ideal person. We are all on a journey. I think in general if a traveller can, to sum it up, be a responsible traveller – to be responsible about the way you travel, to be sensitive, I would say. Be conscious of the impact you leave on the place. How much are you taking out of the place, how much are you giving back, you know? To try and create a kind of balance with that I would think.   


There are a lot of conscious travellers out there who really are mindful about how much garbage they generate when they go to an area, they try and minimize that. Even simple things like what we’ve been trying to do are encourage travellers to refill bottles. To try not to buy so much of plastic bottles. And if you do buy bottles and chip packets and things like that, be slightly more mindful as to how you throw it. A lot of us Indians unfortunately think that the entire roadside or the entire Himalayas or wherever we travel, we can dump our garbage anywhere. To be slightly more mindful as to where you dump it.


In Spiti,  I tell people  “Carry your  garbage out with you.” It’s not always possible but “At least find a dustbin and dump it in that.”


Lalitha Krishnan: Right. What about tourists’ interaction with locals? Is there something that needs to be improved or are they good about being respectful of locals?


Ishita Khanna: I think that is also part and parcel of how one can travel slightly more mindfully. OK, there are different tourists around. Some people are interested in local culture, some people are not. Even if you’re not interested in local culture, you can at least not disrespect the local culture. So, at least try and be mindful of how much noise are you generating. Do not be rude to people from that area.


              A lot of people of course would love to interact and hence people like that go to homestays and that’s a very enriching experience because you’re staying with the local family. They’re hosting you and people in Spiti are very, very hospitable. But not everyone wants that experience. I feel that even if you don’t want that experience, if you’re interested in local culture and things like that, please be respectful. Don’t be rude, don’t be loud.


Lalitha Krishnan:  Do you think community and government inputs are required in initiating, low-impact tourism? We only have suggestions. Do you think we need more laws perhaps instead of just signs?


Ishita Khanna: Yes, I think, there are policies and laws in place but there’s very little implementation of it. Definitely, I feel these policies and laws could be enhanced. For instance, in places like Himachal, they have a common policy for homestays. It has to have a room with a common toilet with hot and cold water. But in a place like Spiti, that’s not contextual. If you’re going for a homestay, you’re staying in a local person’s house, they don’t have common toilets themselves. So, to expect them to provide an attached toilet which has running water? In the houses, they don’t have running water.


Traditionally in Spiti, they had dry composting toilets. You’re forcing them to convert to flush toilets when there’s not enough water for agriculture here. So definitely, policies like these definitely need to be looked at contextually. They need to be developed more contextually.  Of course, there are signboards that you see all over the place but how many travellers really look at those signboards that are telling you to travel in a certain way? ‘Don’t’ throw your garbage. I mean, there need to be amenities that we provide, right? O.K. Yes. At one level, you do need to raise awareness, at another level you need to have facilities which are well maintained and that travellers can use regularly. Be it for dumping garbage, be it public utilities like toilets. Water refill points, you know? Places like Himachal should have these all over. Or even in the hills, it should be everywhere that it’s a norm that one refills a bottle as opposed to buying one. The thing is that for a traveller if they are given a choice, and with a lot of drilling into their heads, they would finally start using these facilities. But, these facilities aren’t there and they aren’t well maintained.


Lalitha Krishnan: Right.  Ecosphere is part of several networks like the Green circuit. Could you mention some more groups Ecosphere is a part of and what you achieve by working together?


Ishita Khanna: Yes, many years ago we were part of the Green Circuit. The idea basically was, that it was travel enterprises similar to ours who were trying to do travel differently, in a more responsible, mindful manner. And, we felt that if we join hands, then we’d have strength in numbers. Otherwise, it’s like just one person working in one remote part like us in Spiti or another person working in some remote part in Nepal, another one in Kerala, another one in Orissa… So, we felt we could share our learnings and challenges and also try and join hands to try and market these various initiatives and trips that we had on a common platform.

Lalitha Krishnan: OK.

Ishita Khanna: So that was the idea which initially led to the formation of the Green Circuit but it’s been challenging in itself. Especially also during the Covid pandemic, to stay in touch or to have regular meetings and updates, and things like that. We haven’t been able to as such travel to the different areas or do it at the level we wanted to.

Lalitha Krishnan: Understandable.

Ishita Khanna: so definitely, these kinds of platforms are useful, are very useful but the pandemic has had its impact on anything related to travel or collaborations like these.


Lalitha Krishnan: True. Now I’m going to ask you a personal question but I sort of know the answer seeing how happy you are.  How has living and working in Spiti changed your life after all these years?


Ishita Khanna: For me, it’s been a way of life you know? Because I came here when I was very young and I was never ever enamoured by city life and a regular 9-5 job. So, when I did get the opportunity to come and work in Spiti, for me, it was something I always wanted to do, in the hills. I think working here for so many years, it’s taught me a lot definitely. There have been a lot of challenges along the way, especially working in a place like Spiti, so far away with such limited infrastructure. For me, I think it’s made me into a much more patient, and humble person. For me now, going back to the city now…I even imagine life, living in a big city. So yes, this has become a way of life for me and it’s definitely changed me into becoming a better person. You don’t take things for granted which one often does in city life. Especially at least you take basic amenities for granted. Out here even those basic things are a luxury. It’s very common here not to have electricity here for days on end or water. So, you adapt and develop patience…

31: 29

Lalitha Krishnan: What? Swiggy hasn’t reached Spiti as yet?


Ishita Khanna: No, no Swiggy! Internet just came here last year and that in itself has changed things drastically.

31: 41

Lalitha Krishnan:  I think you live a very simple but fulfilling life. Of course, it has its challenges. My last question to you and I think this is important. Could you share a term or a word or a concept that’s important to you and perhaps improves our understanding of what you do?


Ishita Khanna: It’s hard to put it all into one word or phrase.

Lalitha Krishnan: it could be either a word or a concept or even just what you believe.

Ishita Khanna: I feel as individuals, as humans, as travellers, we need to be mindful, basically.  Mindful of our day-to-day actions that even encompasses when we travel. It all just boils down to trying to be a better person. That only comes from mindfulness. Being aware of the impact that we’re having on another individual, another community, the environment, this earth, on animals, you know? So, how can we reduce the impact and burden we have on the outside?


I think every individual has a choice that they can take. We have great power in our hands. We can change things very easily if we just tweak our lives by being slightly more mindful. I believe and hope that if more and more people become more mindful of their choices, the way they travel or how they speak to people and try and build more kindness and compassion, you know, automatically, the world would become a much better place.


Lalitha Krishnan: Right. I like the way you said, “tweak your life with a little mindfulness”. It makes it sound easier than it actually is.


Ishita Khanna: You know, like one small little thing every day. If one can do one small little thing. Change one small little thing; be slightly more mindful in your workplace or in how you brush your teeth. Turn the tap off while you brush your teeth. That itself is being mindful and not wasting water, right? If everyone starts doing small little things, it will have a huge impact. Look at our population. If everyone starts doing one tiny little thing, being mindful of their impact or being mindful of how they live, I think it will spiral into a huge impact.


Lalitha Krishnan: Absolutely. I was just teasing you but I like the words: tweak of mindfulness. Thank you so much Ishita. This was so good.

Ishita Khanna: Thank you Lalitha.

Lalitha Krishnan: Hey, I hope you enjoyed this episode of Heart of Conservation. The transcript for all episodes is available right here on this blog.  Do check out the Spiti Ecosphere website, especially the list of awards they have won for ecotourism. In the meanwhile, be mindful. I’ll catch you next time. Bye.

Birdsong by hillside resident, the collared owlet.

Podcast cover artwork by Lalitha Krishnan

Disclaimer: Views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the podcast and show notes belong solely to the guest featured in the episode, and not necessarily to the host of this podcast/blog or the guest’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.

Seena Narayanan Tells us About the Secret Life of Dung Beetles in Less than 20 Minutes.

Beetle (Terracotta) by Lalitha Krishnan

Heart of Conservation podcast. EP#28 Show notes (Edited)

Hi there, I’m Lalitha Krishnan and you’re listening to Season 4, Episode 28 of Heart of Conservation. I bring you stories from the wild that keep us all connected to our natural world.

We hear of people following the butterfly trail,  or kids chasing frogs and catching worms, but beetle watching isn’t a thing as far as I know. But my guest on this episode is passionate about the real dung beetles so much so it was the topic of her PhD research. Three new species of dung beetles have been discovered and named by her. I’m speaking to  Seena Narayanan, a Senior Research Associate & Assistant Museum Curator at ATREE. She has prepared species pages for the Scarabaeine dung beetles of the Indian subcontinent and manages a growing insect collection at the ATREE Insect Museum in Bangalore. Seena thank you so much for joining me on Heart of Conservation.


Seena Narayanan: It’s a pleasure. Thank you, Lalitha.

Lalitha Krishnan: Now, according to Wikipedia, there are 400,000 beetle species which constitute 40% of all described insects and except for the sea and polar regions they can be found anywhere on earth. And yet, we know so little about them.  Seena could you start with defining a dung beetle? So, what makes it different from other beetle species?


Seena Narayanan: The beetles are the largest order among all insects. They belong to the order Coleoptera. ‘Coleos’ means sheath-like and ‘tera’ defines wings. It’s Greek. So, for most of the insect orders, you’ll find ‘tera’ in their names. Why beetles are successful, why they are in such huge numbers is because of elytra which are the forewings which protect their transparent underwing or their body as a whole. Around the world, we find 6000 species of dung beetles. They’re different from other beetle species because they mostly feed on dung. We’re talking about Scarabaeinae today which are True dung beetles. Scarabaeinae is a subfamily of beetles and they belong to the family Scarabaeidae. This Scarabaeidae family has many subfamilies. Scarabaeinae is one among many subfamilies.  


Lalitha Krishnan: How many species of dung beetles can we find in India?


Seena Narayanan: In India, we’ll find around 500 species of the 6000 species of beetles worldwide. When I say 500 species, I am particularly talking about Scarabaeinae, the True dung beetles. So, in North-east India, we recently published a paper and we have recorded around 206 species. All over India, there are around 500 species.


Lalitha Krishnan: You discovered three species and named them. So, tell us about those.


Seena Narayanan: As the name indicates, these were mostly found in dung. They will provision their young ones also with dung but some beetles were found on other resources. I was studying these dung beetles which were found on millipedes and some mushrooms. Most of the species I discovered were from these millipedes. We got two species from the Western Ghats and one from Northeast India which was found feeding on a dead snail. These were from Onthophagus which is the most specio genus—‘Specio’ means most of the species are found under this genus. So one is called Onthophagus jwalae and the other, Onthophagus pithankithae. These two were found on millipedes and Onthophagus tharalithae which were found on snails.


Lalitha Krishnan: When you say, they are feeding on millipedes, are they feeding on dead insects or latching themselves to live ones?


Seena Narayanan: There was this particular species that was found running behind a live millipede which we found in the forest of Southern India. So, it need not only be dead millipedes that dung beetles feed on. It can even feed on the tissue of a live one. So when we got that millipede to the lab we saw that one adult was inside the body of a millipede which was alive. There are many predatory dung beetle species. Even though these millipedes produce defensive chemicals, it’s found that these dung beetles are attracted to these defensive chemicals because of the smell. The smell attracts them from far away and they come to the site.


Lalitha Krishnan: What is the dung beetle dance? I’ve read about it…


Seena Narayanan: Prof Marcus Byrne and Dr Mary Dacke were doing a series of experiments on Roller beetles. They saw these beetles rolling away from the dung balls. Let me explain. These dung beetles have different functional groups. Some of them will roll away the dung balls. These are the Roller beetles. Some will tunnel under the dung pat; these are the Tunnelers and some will just dwell in the dung pat. So, in this process, they will take away the resources to avoid competition from other beetles. Among the dung rollers, (Prof Marcus Byrne and Dr Mary Dacke) did some experiments in Africa and they saw that the Dung beetle, each time they roll a dung ball, it will climb on top of this dung ball and they will turn around and orient itself. What they’re doing in this dance is they are looking for the sun. According to that, they will orient themselves and push the ball in a straight line. They also saw that there is some kind of thermoregulation. They will rub their face in between while on top of the dung ball. This is to keep themselves cool on that hot sand. The way they orient themselves on the dung ball is called the dung beetle dance.


Lalitha Krishnan:  Lalitha Krishnan: You did mention how they nest? But could you elaborate a little more?


Seena Narayanan: As I said, this nesting is different for different functional groups. There are these tunnelers; among the tunnelers themselves, the sizes will vary. There are large tunnelers and small tunnelers. The smallest one might take the dung into the soil just under the dung pat, just some centimetres down. The largest ones like the Heliocopris dominus, the Elephant dung beetle can take the dung a meter deep. In the case of tunnelers, they take the dung under the dung pat and they tunnel under the soil. So, there can be different branches in that tunnel and what they do is they nest at the end of these branches-the tunnels. So, they will make many brood balls inside and the male and female will mate inside this tunnel and lay eggs inside these brood balls. That’s how they provide for the young ones.


And in the case of the rollers, they will just roll the dung ball some metres or feet away from the main resource and again, they will tunnel under the soil and bury these dung balls.


In the case of dwellers, what they do is, lay brood balls in the dung pat itself and lay eggs in these dungballs.

And young ones are called grubs.

Lalitha Krishnan: Grubs. Of course. Birds love them.

Seena Narayanan: They feed and change instars and pupate.

Lalitha Krishnan: What are instars?


Seena Narayanan: Instars are the different stages. So, in the end, they will produce a pupa and the adult will emerge from that. After the summer showers, once the soil gets a little wet, they will emerge. This is the time, starting of June when they start to emerge.


Lalitha Krishnan: This is also the season when birds are still feeding their young with grub for instance. You know you mentioned dung beetles feed on millipede apart from the dung of course but what else constitutes a dung beetle’s diet?


Seena Narayanan: True Dung beetles;  because they provide their brood also with dung and also they feed on dung, they’re called ‘True dung beetles’- Scarabaeinae subfamily. The adults can take in the liquid form of dung; their mouthparts are modified for even tiny particles of dung. And grubs can feed on solid dung material also. Other than that they also feed on—as I said before—the tissues of millipedes, snails, dead decaying substances and also on decaying fruits.


Lalitha Krishnan: Interesting. Earlier you had spoken about the beetle dance but I just want the audience to know that even in Egyptian mythology, the dung rolling beetle was associated with the god of the rising sun who was believed to roll the disk of the morning sun at daybreak. Scientifically, it has been proven that migratory birds, seals and other creatures too navigate by the stars. But that’s also been said of the dung beetles. Is it true?


Seena Narayanan: Yes. The experiments which Prof. Marcus Byrne and Dr Mary Dacke had done–were awarded the Noble Prize for this work. There are diurnal beetles and nocturnal beetles also, so, it’s not just in the daytime you find beetles, they’re active during the night also. You’ll find some species rolling the dungballs at night. When there is no sun, what they do is, follow the stars. That’s what the experiment results prove. They will follow the light of the milky way/stars.


Lalitha Krishnan: That’s amazing. And, like birds, do you think they get disoriented by street/building lights?

12: 39

Seena Narayanan: So, even on cloudy nights, they get disoriented according to the experiment results. When they spot the polarised lights they will get attracted to the light and keep moving. They can be some effect of street lighting etc which is very bright.


Lalitha Krishnan: What threats do dung beetles face?


Seena Narayanan: So, most of the threats are anthropogenic. There is deforestation and habitat loss. There are species-specific dung beetles like the elephant dung beetle I was talking about earlier. These specifically feed on elephant dung. As mammals reduce in number, it affects the population of dung beetles also. They have to find the resources. So, when there are lots of trees cut down,  deforestation happening, and lots of buildings coming up, there is no pasture lands for cattle to graze. All these things affect dung beetles.


Lalitha Krishnan: True. We see birds care for their young and other animals do the same of course but when it comes to insects, we don’t know much about their parental care. Perhaps, because we don’t see them too much or we don’t observe them too much.   How do beetles care for their young?  


Seena Narayanan: In the insect world there are many insects which give parental care like the Giant water bug which carries its eggs on its body to protect them. The Spittlebug produce spittle which protects the eggs kept inside. Similarly, the dung beetle provides their young ones with dung. In some species, like the largest species which lay eggs only once a year, the female will protect the young ones for a while. They stay around the nest, near their brood balls. So, in the case of larger species like the dung beetles, you’ll find some parental care.

15:24 Alright. Now Seena, would you like to tell us something about your current role at the Insect museum?


Seena Narayanan: The collections at ATREE Insect Museum are curated according to the projects and according to the insect groups the PhD students are working on. Whatever we collect from these projects and their fieldwork are part of the collections at the ATREE Insect Museum. Insects are named, labelled according to which place they are collected from, and curated. We create a database. Right now, we have two projects that are DBT funded projects for monitoring the diversity of ants and dung beetles of Northeast India and another is for edible insects of Northeast India. We have collections from most states. The second phase of the project will be coming in a couple of months. The recent collections we have are of ants, dung beetles and edible insects of North East India.

We also have parasitic wasps i.e. these wasps which belong to the Hymenoptera order. We have many new species being described.


Lalitha Krishnan: Are these from the Northeast?


Seena Narayanan: All over India. We have collections from the Western ghats. The person who recently joined our lab is working on those collections from the Western Ghats and from Northeast India.

Lalitha Krishnan: How many of you work at the Insect lab?

Seena Narayanan: Currently we have two Research Associates and four JRFs.


Lalitha Krishnan: Could you share a word or concept that will improve our understanding of dung beetles?


Seena Narayanan: As beetles are very important to the ecosystem, and they help in many services, I would say it is ‘Eco-system Services’. Through the process of relocating dung and burying them, they help in nutrient cycling and bioturbation which means the porosity of the soil increases. Then there is this secondary seed dispersal—whatever seeds are present in the dung are dispersed. And, there are some parasites which get suppressed and beetles also help increase nutrients in the soil. So, many ecosystem services are provided by dung beetles even reducing greenhouse gas emissions.


Lalitha Krishnan: Thank you so much, Seena. What you do is so important and so interesting. And I love all the stories about dung beetles.


Seena Narayanan: Thank you Lalitha. Each insect has its own story.


Lalitha Krishnan: I hope you enjoyed listening to Seena and hearing all about dung beetles. Do check out the ATREE website. Heart of Conservation is available on several platforms. Do subscribe and watch out for more episodes and please spread the word. Bye for now.



Birdsong by hillside resident, the collared owlet.

Podcast cover artwork by Lalitha Krishnan

Disclaimer: Views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the podcast and show notes belong solely to the guest featured in the episode, and not necessarily to the host of this podcast/blog or the guest’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.

Behind the Scenes, Wildlife Rehabilitation: Jayanthi Kallam (ARRC).

Heart of Conservation Podcast. Ep #27 Part 2 Show notes (Edited)

Listen to Episode 27, Part 2 on many platforms or read on this blog.


Hi there, I’m Lalitha Krishnan and you’re listening to Season 4, part 2 of Episode 27 of Heart of Conservation. I bring you stories from the wild that keep us all connected to our natural world. Today, I continue my conversation with Jayanthi Kallam, Executive Director of Avian and Reptile Rehabilitation Centre in Bangalore and part of her amazing team including Subeksha, Ranjana, Samiiha and Veerababu to find out what it takes to make a wildlife rehabilitation centre an efficient and successful one.


Subeksha: Hi, my name is Subeksha. I am the Rescue Coordinator here; I am also an Animal Rehabilitator and I have been working here for a year and a half now. My role involves coordinating rescues, managing the place a little bit as well. I do work with the animals directly.

Lalitha Krishnan: I understand ‘co-ordinator’ but how exactly does it work?


Subeksha: The first step to that is dealing with outside people when they call you, answering calls, giving them basic instructions on how to handle the situation till the rescue team arrives and then planning out how to go about the rescue. Which person to send, what equipment will be needed for the rescue, figuring all of that out… How to optimize so that…on some days we do get a whole lot of rescues.

-Subeksha (Animal coordinator at ARRC)


Lalitha Krishnan: What is a whole lot?


Subeksha: Depends on the season. Right now we are getting into the season where we are getting a lot of baby animals coming in. We also have a lot of Manja (kite string with glued-on glass) cases coming in so some days rescues may go up from 15-20 rescues a day. So I’m making sure it’s all done efficiently and animals get rescued on time. So I’m coordinating that.


Lalitha Krishnan: And when you speak about making a plan, how long does that take to make a plan when you get a rescue call?


Subeksha: It is very dynamic. So, a rescuer may be assigned for something else but if a situation comes up which needs more immediate attention, they will be redirected there and another person will be sent for this. So, it (the plan) has to be immediate so that it’s based on the situation. Which one gets more priority? So, yes, it’s instantaneous. It’s very dynamic.


Ranjana: My name is Ranjana. I’ve also been here for about a year and a half. I’m under training for rescue coordination and currently, I’m mainly working with animals, the rehabilitation and caretaking part with respect to feeds. One of the things we are prioritizing right now are nestlings-like you saw over there. It’s the season for kite nestlings that are coming in. So, we are prioritizing that at the moment and I also handle the social media part of it for our centre.


Lalitha Krishnan: OK. What is a typical day like for you?


Ranjana: A typical day as a rehabilitator…we mainly start about 6:00 am. We do a check on all the animals that are currently at the centre. Any critical animal will get immediate care/intervention. Post that, we get on to feeds. Each animal has to be reviewed with respect to what feeds they are on. If they’re weak, they’re put on fluids and things like that. So, that has to be taken care of. So once the feeds are done, we get on to two different things at the moment. One is the ICU where we have animals like kites and crows and the other section is the neonatal part where we have younger, smaller birds and squirrels and animals like that.


Ranjana: The schedule varies a lot with respect to both sections. So, then we have our ICU where the critical animals are attended to. Animals with wounds and medications are checked about twice a day. Once in the morning and once in the evening. Dressings, if they have to be done. If animals are eating properly. Things like that are taken care of. Post that, we also have feeds. Again, to ensure the young ones are growing well, they’re eating, if they need any intervention in case they’re not eating. And also. being able to monitor their health if they’re not looking as great, we have to intervene asap. So, this happens throughout the day and in the evening it’s more focused on the nocturnal animals. We also have a lot of owls and bats and animals like that. So, they get a little more priority.


Sameha: Hi, I’m Samiha Zele. So my daily schedule is feedings when I come in; weighing the meat that needs to be fed. So, most neonatal birds, don’t eat meats. It’s mostly fruits and seeds and the kites and crows get meat. The crows also get papaya. And then, we also have bats. They devour fruit plates. So I chop up fruits in the evening for them and then I work on filling up fluids, medicine, helping with other small duties at the same time in-between.


Lalitha Krishnan: What backgrounds are you’ll coming from? What did you do before this? Or is this your first job?


Ranjana: No, I actually studied architecture. Midway through that is when I realized that this is kind of what I wanted to do. There was a period when I was trying to combine both passions because I wasn’t ready to let go of either. So, I was working on habitat design and enclosure designs for a while at my last job and then during the beginning of Corona is when I heard about the opening and I applied for this job.


Subeksha: I actually did my Masters’s in Wildlife Science from Amity University, Noida. So, for a while, I kind of had my eyes on a rehabilitation kind of setting for a long time since that’s where I feel I fit in, in a way because that’s what I want to contribute to.

There’s a lot more to rehab than what most people think. It’s not just about rescuing animals and putting them out there. There’s a whole lot that goes into it. You have to take things like ecology and disease management…there’s so much to the field.

So, yes, I felt like this was something where I could contribute. My main focus before that was on research and I said, “Hey this would be nice to do”. At some point during my Masters, I really wanted to pursue this. That’s when I reached out and started working here. Yes, this is my first job.


Samiha: I completed high school in California and during that time, I worked in a parrot shelter. I’ve been working at a lot of different things related to conservation like little different fields in that which also include…I did a little bit of customer service and retail during certain periods. When I moved back to India in 2019, I started working as a Wildlife Education Assistant. Then, I was working in elephant research; then I was working on an independent project with another advisor in entrepreneurship during 2021. And, I just started working here in 2022 in February.


Lalitha Krishnan: Jayanthi, it’s been a tough two years for everyone with the pandemic. I want to know if the number of rescues decreased with everyone at home.


Jayanthi Kallam: Actually no. Quite unexpectedly, post-Covid, after the lockdowns, the numbers of certain rescues cases have skyrocketed. Two things have happened that have increased our rescues. One, which applies to Bangalore particularly, is Manja (kite string) cases. A lot of people during lockdown…their contact sports were limited. Children could not go out. They didn’t have school and people were looking at ways to engage the kids as they stayed together as a family so kite flying as a sport got picked up unexpectedly because people could do that from their terraces and things like that. And suddenly, we have seen these Manja cases skyrocket post the first lockdown. And it continued to increase. And, in the second lockdown last year, it became quite worse. Just to give you an example, in July of last year, 2021, we did 910 rescues out of which close to 600 were Manjarescues. All these birds hang to these kite flying threads that get left out after people fly them. So that in fact has increased the load. On one side there was this lockdown and we had quarantine protocols you know. People’s movements were restricted and we didn’t have all of our staff available to us. On the other side, there is an increasing number of rescues that were coming our way. We could not hire new staff during that time. So, that was a challenge to go through.


The second type of challenge we faced is a lot of people in the beginning part of the pandemic assumed that bats were the reason for Corona and suddenly we started getting so many calls to remove bats from neighbourhoods. People who were tolerant of bats before—and we have worked with them-but post-pandemic they were like, “No, we don’t want bats, please remove them”. That became a lot of work… trying to convince them. In some cases, provide alternatives in some other cases. Of course, we would never get involved in the removal of a wild animal because that goes against our objective in the first place. But we had to counsel all these people who are calling and do our best to convince them to try and coexist with bats and tell them that’s not the reason… and make them understand about Covid and the bats in general and try and disassociate that connection from bats and covid. In these ways, and many other ways actually, the lockdown has brought us increasing rescue calls. And, a lot of wildlife because the roads were all free and there was no movement from people. One spotted peacocks everywhere in Bangalore; on the roads, on the terraces and things like that. So even those rescue calls have increased. Lockdown had been a double whammy for us during covid because we had to make sure we, our animals and our employees are safe with all disrupted supply chains, a disrupted workforce and at the same time, we had to attend to increasing rescue calls. But we had a great team, we got through sound and safe on the other side. So we’re very glad about that.


Lalitha Krishnan: Hats off to you and your team. It’s so strange. One doesn’t think of all these things. One is so self-occupied. Most of the time, we only care about our next meal, our this and our that.


Jayanthi Kallam: That is the purpose of a wildlife rehabilitation centre according to me. See, if there is no wildlife rehabilitation centre, all these connections that we have with the animals around us, how we impact them, how they impact us, these connections get missed and we don’t think about it unless we see an animal. So, what happens if a community has a wildlife rescue centre? They are connecting with people… they get all these different calls or encounters with wildlife. There are different things, these stories go on and on and we don’t have time to go through 10% of it now. Now, as a rescue centre, we are specializing in looking at conflict in an urban environment between wild animals and humans. We gain a lot of understanding in how to mitigate these, figure out what the real issues are, how to go forward and things like that. So, that is the purpose of a rehabilitation centre. It’s not just the animals that benefit but in a way, the community gets the benefit because now the community has a place to go to if they have any questions, issues or they want to do something for wildlife/animals around them. You know, they have a place to go to now. That’s in some ways a service to the community also I feel and not just for the animals that come through our door.


Lalitha Krishnan: That’s true. I wouldn’t have put it that way but it’s something to think about. Thank you so much, Jayanthi. Once an animal comes to you, it’s treated and has recovered, what do you do next?


Jayanthi Kallam:

Every wildlife rehabilitation centre’s primary goal or only goal is to return the wild animal back to nature. Back to its function in the wild. With that in mind, we emphasise so much on the right rescue and the right treatment which will enable us to put that animal back. Because these animals and birds have families too. They survive well in the wild where they belong.

Black kite in rehab at ARRC photographed with permission by author.


There are two types of releases that we do. If it is an adult animal or if it is a juvenile animal, we try to put them back where they’re found. If we rescued it from your neighbourhood, I’ll try to release it about 50 metres from your house, something like that. But if it’s not an adult, if it is a young animal, which came as a baby to us, it also needs to learn critical life skills to survive. So, ‘hard releasing’ is not a good solution for the animal. We do what is called a ‘soft release’. We’re not just pushing them out there to survive. They have been in our care, in a rehabilitation-controlled setting and suddenly if you release them, they will not be able to survive in the wild. So, we go through what is called a ‘soft release’ process which is we acclimatize them in a safe environment like a cage or something like that. We acclimatize them first where we are going to release them so they get used to the sights, smell and sounds of that place and after a few days of that we try to give them access to the outside and it is up to them whether they leave. If we are doing this with five birds, two of them will leave and two of them may need a little more care so they might stay back. They will go as and when they will feel comfortable with the outside world. And, if they encounter anything they are not sure of, they will actually come back. Recently we released three tailor birds, these tiny little things and in post three days of release, in the evening, they come back to this cage that we have where they feel safe. They will be allowed to come back. Slowly, once they find themselves comfortable outside, they will release themselves. This process is called the soft release process which is important to do when these baby birds and animals grow up with us.


Lalitha Krishnan: Very interesting. Jayanthi, could you share or hold a concept that you hold dear that will improve our vocabulary or perception of the wild or wildlife rescues.


Jayanthi Kallam: The whole concept behind what we do with wildlife rescues and rehabilitation and the philosophy behind it is—at least for me –is the concept of eco-centric development. We all want to develop for sure as humans but we have a choice in which way we want to develop.

Is our development going to be egocentric or ecocentric? What is eco-centric development? Eco centric development looks at humans as a subset or a part of the environment and nature as a whole. It is based on this concept that there is value and importance of nature and every life form in it and we are also part of it. Whereas, eco-centric development focuses on the parts of nature that are useful to humans. So, our effort in doing this is to foster the connection we have with animals around us and encourage people to shift more toward this eco-centric approach by making them aware of the fact that these wild animals are also part of our neighbourhoods, nature and that our actions will have an impact on them. So, let us choose our future carefully and focus on eco-centric development realizing that that development is in what our development lies and which would be more sustainable and feasible in the long run.


Lalitha Krishnan: That is so enlightening. Thank you, Jayanthi.


Lalitha Krishnan: Veerababu, how many rescue calls do you get in a day?


Veerababu (edited): There are a lot of Manja cases coming in. Summer is the start of the Manja season. December to June. This is the big season but last year this time, we did so many rescues every day, around 20-25, 30. But now awareness is more widespread amongst children also. I always tell them not to use glass-glued kite stings. Wherever I go, I tell the children, “Hey guys don’t leave these kite strings behind, they’re very dangerous.” But now, I think things are changing a little bit. Not 100% but at least 50% change in mindset is happening I feel.


Lalitha Krishnan:

On that positive note, I’ll end this episode. I hope you enjoyed listening to Jayanthi Kallam and part of her team. Do check out the ARRC website. Heart of Conservation is available on several platforms. Do subscribe and spread the word, guys. Stay safe. Bye

Birdsong by hillside resident, the collared owlet.

Podcast cover artwork by Lalitha Krishnan

Disclaimer: Views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the podcast and show notes belong solely to the guest featured in the episode, and not necessarily to the host of this podcast/blog or the guest’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.

Minimum resources, Maximum Impact. Avian and Reptile Rehabilitation Centre (ARRC), India.

A conversation with Jayanthi Kallam, Executive Director of ARRC and the team.

Podcast Episode #27 Part 1. Show notes (Edited).


Lalitha Krishnan: Hi there, I’m Lalitha Krishnan and you’re listening to Season 4, part 1, Episode 27 of Heart of Conservation. I bring you stories from the wild that keep us all connected to the natural world.


We may all have at some point in our lives called an animal rescue centre. But how many of us know you know what goes after the animals is picked up?  How many people does it take to look after an injured animal? What treatments are given? What is it fed? Or not fed? How long does it take to heal? What precautions are taken to speed up its recovery and how and where is it released?  I’m speaking with the Executive Director of Avian and Reptile Rehabilitation centre ARRC, Jayanthi Kalam and the ARRC team in Bangalore to find out makes a wildlife rescue centre a professionally run enterprise

Jayanthi has served as a board member of the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC).  She holds a Master’s in Business Administration from NYU.  She worked in various MNCs in the U.S. and quit after 12 years to pursue her interests in wildlife conservation.

Jayanthi, thank you so much for joining me on Heart of Conservation. Before we start with your relationship with the wild, I’d like to ask you about human behaviour? We, animal lovers, are a very enthusiastic bunch. The first thing we do, when we pick up an injured animal is to try to feed it food and water. Is that an OK thing to do? What is the right way to handle an animal before we even contact you?


 Jayanthi Kallam: That’s a really great question because this happens quite often. Like, people want to help animals but the very first they want to do is feed the animal.  To give you an analogy, if you have a human that was in a road accident you’re not going to try and feed him something right? You’ll take him to a hospital first or you’ll call an ambulance. The same thing applies to wild animals also, particularly in places where there are wildlife centres and wildlife rehabilitation centres. The best way to deal with a wild animal when you find one is to call the rehabilitation centre and take their guidance. Because there are many nuances in this. Sometimes, an animal does not need rescue at all. Sometimes it has to be kept in a certain way before the rescue team arrives. Or, maybe the most important thing to do in certain cases would be just doing crowd control so no one disturbs the animal. So, it varies based upon the situation, that’s why it’s important to call the rescue centre for guidance first before acting. Because, feeding an animal or giving water, like in the case of birds… if you just pour water down the throat, it can enter the lungs directly. Because their airway system is different from mammal airway system. Or if you try and feed an animal without knowing what species it is or what is the right diet and how much to feed and is it even in a condition to eat at that point? You can do more harm than good. So, while wanting to help is a great thing and we do find a lot of people in Bangalore who want to help the animals, we always tell people to learn the right way or call us first and take our guidance and then approach the animal accordingly.


Lalitha Krishnan: That’s great. There are several animal rescue centres in Bangalore but it is so remarkable that, and correct me if I am wrong, you’re one of only two Certified Wildlife Rehabilitators (CWR) in India. And you were the first. So, congratulations on this CWR certification from the International Rehabilitation Council. So, how did this come to be? Tell us this story.

Jayanthi there are over several rescue centres in Bangalore but it’s so remarkable that you are one of only two Certified Wildlife Rehabilitators (CWR) in India. And you’re the first.  Congratulations on the CWR Certification from the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council. How did this come to be? Tell us this story.


Jayanthi Kallam: My journey into wildlife rehabilitation started in the U.S. Until 2012, I was just working my cooperate job. I didn’t know much about wildlife rehabilitation but when I started looking into something to do with conservation, something to do with social causes, wildlife rehabilitation happened to be one of the things I was interested in. And, when I wanted to get into it, there are not many formal courses one can take to become a good wildlife rehabilitator. There may be related coursed one can take but Wildlife Rehabilitation as a course is not offered, was not offered at that time. So the way I learnt wildlife rehabilitation is to actually get hands-on experience by volunteering at different places. And, taking these conferences and courses on wildlife rehabilitation offered by different universities. And I wanted to make sure that I have the right information with me and the IWRC, the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council offers this test called Certified Wildlife rehabilitator ensuring that any person who passes this test has an understanding of all different aspects of wildlife rehabilitation. Because it’s not just the veterinary field, it has ecology as part of it, nutrition and many other aspects for someone to become a successful wildlife rehabilitator.  So, to make sure I have my concepts right, I was looking for some certification and that is how I found this certification and took it sometime in 2014, I think. I’m happy to be qualified as a Certified Wildlife Rehabilitator. Having done that, not only am I a Certified Wildlife rehabilitator now, I am also one of the instructors for the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council (IWRC) who offer these training courses into wildlife rehabilitation.


Lalitha Krishnan: I am glad for all the people you work with and all the animals you rescue. They’re in good hands. You studied veterinary technology. It’s not a familiar term. Could you explain that line of study?


Jayanthi Kallam: In India, again we don’t have this specific field of veterinary technology. In the US there’s this defined role as a veterinary technician. Veterinary technicians can do a lot of things except for performing surgery or prognosis in medical outcomes but they receive knowledge and training and skills like animal anatomy, animal handling, pharmacology, anaesthesia, radiology, surgical nursing you know, many different skills that go along with handling an animal and taking care of an animal even including giving medications. Since, that was not the path I wanted to fast track my career into wildlife rehabilitation because even when I started this, my goal was ultimately to start a wildlife rehabilitation centre of my own. I wanted to make sure that I am familiar enough–since I don’t come from a vet background—familiar enough with the concepts and things like that. That’s why I took this Veterinary Technology course. It’s a two-year course to basically get familiarized, to understand how to take care of an animal medically.


Lalitha Krishnan: That’s amazing. It’s so interesting to know that there are so many options to study. It’s been7 years since you established Avian and Reptile Rehabilitation Centre (ARRC) with Saleem Hameed, who is a noted environmentalist, illustrator and photographer, also the winner of the David Shepherd Award from Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and Nature Forever Society’s Sparrow award. I would love to hear how you began … there are so many stories to tell.


Jayanthi Kallam: Again, going back into my journey, in 2012, I quit my corporate career. I wanted to do something that mattered to me. In 2012-2014, I was in the US, trying to get into fields like conservation, land restoration, organic farming, wildlife rehabilitation etc. Suddenly I felt like, you know, why not do this in my home country? And, I wanted to explore possibilities if it would be feasible for me to come back here and do something. So, I took a trip to India and I went to different cities here trying to find like-minded people, figuring out what possibilities exist. One such person I met is Saleem Hameed. At that time, what he said to me definitely inspired me a lot and that’s how I ended up starting up ARRC in Bangalore along with him. He is one of the pioneers in wildlife rehabilitation in Bangalore. He has dedicated his life for a very long time. That was when wildlife rehabilitation did not exist as a field at the time. When I spoke to him it became very clear that many people here care about wildlife, the formal way of taking care of them or the science part of it, the finances part of it makes it a little bit difficult to give the highest standards of rehabilitation. So, that looked like an opportunity for me because I was exposed in the US to different wildlife rehabilitation centres that existed for years which run with a scientific approach and all that. So, I wanted to get some of that back to India and thanks to the support of a few other friends who are also trustees of ARRC now, we can financially start this as a philanthropic initiative from all of us. So, our passion also was in wildlife rehabilitation, the finances were there and the guidance of Saleem is also there. With all this, we thought we could make a difference by starting a wildlife rehabilitation centre here in India and thankfully, it did work out for us today. In 2016 we started and in 2021 about 6600 animals have been rehabilitated through our centre. I feel it’s been a good journey so far.


Lalitha Krishnan: Truly. In fact, I was very impressed with how the professional way your staff rescued a bird from a park in front of my house. He was quiet, he was quick and he was efficient. What according to you makes a good rescue centre excellent? Tell us about the training your staff undergo at ARRC?


Jayanthi Kallam: All our people who work, particularly the rescuers, don’t have any formal background in wildlife rescues as such. Some of them have probably passed their higher secondary school, you know. It’s not like they studied wildlife and then come and become wildlife rescuers. But, even when we hire someone, we look for that passion in them, like wanting to do right… It’s not just a job for them, they also want to do something good. So, we hire people like that and once they start working with us, we take a lot of time in fact, to culturally get them inducted into our own philosophy at ARRC as such where the animal matters first. Whenever you do a rescue it’s important to ensure the animal is safe, the rescuer is safe and the public at large is safe. Initially, when someone joins us, he will shadow a senior rescuer and they will learn from them on the job. And, all of that will be reinforced back through the training sessions and one on one coaching that we give. That’s how a Wildlife Rescuer becomes so efficient but it stems from a larger philosophy that we have which if you’re okay with, I will go into…


Lalitha Krishnan: Go ahead


One of the things that drive us to be efficient is the understanding that most non-profits including ours are limited by resources whether it is financial resources or technical resources etc. So we have to use these minimal resources to do the maximum impact. -Jayanthi Kallam, Executive Director (ARRC)

And, in doing so being efficient, being quick and being to the point helps a lot. So that is why we train our rescuers also to get information about the rescue ahead of time, discuss with the team, go with the plan, finish the rescue with minimal stress to the animal and carry the animal back because after the animal is rescued, it has to come back to the rehabilitation centre to get treatment. That’s how they are trained to make sure that it (a rescue) is done efficiently so that they can rescue more animals and they can get those animals back to the hospital in time so that their treatment can start.


Lalitha Krishnan: Alright. There are so many people at ARRC who play so many different roles. Starting with the vet, you have the Outreach Coordinator, the Rescue Coordinator, the Wildlife rehabilitator, the Animal Care Manager, the Animal Rescuer, the Animal caretaker and of course the Maintenance Staff. I was wondering if you could briefly tell us about one of these roles, perhaps the Rescue Coordinator?


Jayanthi Kallam: Generally, I think Rescue Coordinator is one of the most important—a key role—for a rescue centre because the first interface that the public have when they find an animal is they call the rescue helpline and it reaches the rescue centre. So, it is important for this person to calm the person, assess the situation, try to get the key information from the caller and then accurately access the situation and figure out how the animal needs help. And, if it does, how to go about it, and assign the right rescue team which can handle that rescue safely.  

They will have to deal with different types of personalities. Some people who call are very nervous when they find an animal. Some people who call, they get very aggressive you know.” How long are you going to take? Can you not come in the next five minutes?” Some people will not be sure. They want to help but they don’t want to. They’re scared of the animal…all kinds of people call the Rescue Coordinator. Through all this, they have to keep their objective in mind which is helping the animal which cannot speak for itself. There is no caretaker for that animal who can accurately give a history of all that had happened. So to keep the person calm, to keep themselves calm and to be able to help the animal is the role that a rescue Coordinator has to play. Day in, day out, someday there could be 50 calls on the phone. It doesn’t matter. They have to keep going through one rescue call after another and ensure that every call gets the same kind of proper care, proper instructions: Animal is safe, the person is safe, our rescue team is safe. That’s why I think the Rescue Coordinator role is a key role and thankfully we do have some good people handling these rescue calls at our centre.


Lalitha Krishnan: It’s an important role but I think each of you’ll in your way have very important roles. Thank you.

I also spoke with some members of the team who work behind the scenes including the vet, Dr Ashwata.


Dr Ashwatha: Hi, I’m Dr Ashwatha and I’ve been working with ARRC for a little over three years now. Wildlife is not exactly, entirely deeply taught in veterinary studies in India. So, it was quite a new field for me and I have been learning ever since I joined here and I am still learning. It’s very rewarding to work here I feel.

Lalitha Krishnan: What’s a normal day for you?

Dr Ashwatha: I come around 10 am and my main aim when I come is to recap on what has happened from the time, I left in the previous evening till the morning that I reach there so I recap with all that has happened overnight and then I move on to what we have to do that day. What birds and animals need more attention? Like, the whole course for the day. And, who’s going to handle what feeds? Basically, a whole overview, a take-up on that and also, this is peak season…

Lalitha Krishnan: I didn’t know that.

Dr Ashwatha: Yes, we have to excessively stress on how to manage the large number of birds that we are getting so that is one main thing we are busy with right now. So, all the cages are full and we have to release the birds that are good and everything has to be monitored. There’s always one work or the other.

Lalitha Krishnan: When one rescues an animal, apart from what you physically see, one doesn’t know its history. How do you figure that out and resolve issues?

Dr Ashwatha: OK. Obviously, we all know animals can’t speak; that is one of the biggest problems that we face. But otherwise also, whenever something is wrong…like even for us, if we are having a cold, it is manifested by some or other symptoms. We’ll cough or see dullness at least. The same things are correlated in animals also. So, if an individual is not feeling well, they are going to be dull. That in itself is a major symptom. So, to treat dullness, the first thing (that needs to be done) is to get them back to health. Once that is taken care of, you can find out what other issues are there. And there will be a lot of information in the history of the animal. We get many cases of animal attacks. Then we would search for injuries; accordingly, we treat them. If a person is reporting a bird that would have fallen from the nest, then we know it’s a young one. We check it for fractures and accordingly we treat it after that.

Recuperating Black Kite At ARRC. Photo taken with permission.

So, one main thing about wildlife is that they get stressed very easily. In wildlife, it’s a very common thing that stress kills. Sometimes even if a bird is dull and we don’t find any physical abnormalities or any injuries or anything like that, it so happens that just the presence of a human can cause a bird’s death. We have to be very careful about how much human interaction, these birds and animals are facing. We try to keep it minimal. We always handle them with a cloth.- Dr Ashwathi, Vet (ARRC)

Sometimes, we can’t quite ascertain the causes of why they have come to us. In case we administer palliative treatment based on our assumptions and what we see. It’s dull, we give it fluids. It’s not able to eat, we keep it on fluids. We go ahead with such treatment till we are certain about what may have caused it to be dull. Usually, that resolves it. Invasive treatments in wildlife lead to stress; that would anyway cause its death.


Recently, I have been dealing with a lot of collision cases in kites. Usually, we see a lot of collision cases in small birds like koels (cuckoos)

Lalitha Krishnan: Collision meaning glass?

Dr Ashwatha: Mostly it’s glass. They won’t be able to see it and they just crash. Koels are fruit-eating birds. They would be foraging in the garden and all of a sudden they’d fly up and not see a window and crash into them. Those are common cases with koels. But Kites, as such fly high. But once in a while, they do crash into a skyscraper. We’ve been getting those cases—not a lot but a little more in number—and I’ve been wanting to figure out how to deal with those. The kited head-on crash into something and their face gets affected.  We have been seeing that their eyes get affected. As such, dealing with an affected eye is very difficult. They need to see to catch their prey or scavenge or whatever. So yes, we have been dealing with those and have been finding them very challenging. Even, to find out which antibiotics are more preferable for eye infections and all that. Recently we did surgery for a male kite who had an eye deformity. We are still waiting on how his recovery will be but usually, these birds actually, can live with one eye. They manage to adjust to their surroundings and learn how to fly around them. As long as their claws are fine, they can actually live in the wild also.


Jayanthi Kallam: First aid for animals particularly for wildlife? There are certain rules and laws. You don’t want people to end up keeping them at home. Or keep them for too long. What would be more appropriate for citizens would be how to coexist with wildlife.

All photos of a recuperating owl and other animals at ARRC were taken with permission.
All photos of a recuperating owl and other animals at ARRC were taken with permission.

We get a lot of calls from apartment complexes or Resident Welfare Associations: “We have a problem with bats around us”, “We have a problem with owls.” Right now, in the current season, I just heard from my Rescue Coordinator that we’re getting a lot of calls about Kite conflicts. We are living in an urban environment which we share with this wildlife. They use this space; we use this space. We are all using these common spaces so encounters are inevitable. Depends on our perspective whether we see it as a conflict or an encounter with an animal.

So how to coexist with wild animals or wild neighbours is important. We can all do something to promote wildlife in our neighbourhoods. Those kinds of talks or presentations would be more appropriate for general citizens I feel.


Lalitha Krishnan: That sounds more practical. You made a career in wildlife rescue. What would you tell somebody who is contemplating the same?


Jayanthi Kallam: Wildlife rescue or rehabilitation is now a way of life I would say for me. When you empathise with urban wildlife or wildlife in general, you will understand that they are suffering a lot because of how our goals are not in alignment with what is good for them. Our own developmental goals are directly putting us in conflict with animals. We are taking away their habitat, we are constructing things that are obstructing their pathways and things like that. So, if somebody wants to get into wildlife, I would say, first, one should understand the ecology behind it. The importance of the eco-services that wildlife provides for us. And, once you understand why it’s important still you have to be prepared for this career because it’s not an easy career. That I would say. There’s not great pay in it. That’s unfortunate but still, people are working in it because they’re passionate about it. It (lost in translation) a social engineering causes for all of us.  If we are aware of the things we are causing knowingly and unknowingly to the wildlife we share the space with, this person who makes a career or wildlife rescues would be a conduit. Or be this person who will make the society around him aware of the disconnect between wildlife and humans. And, how we can be compassionate and can live in a way in which we can co-exist with wildlife. So, the career needs a lot of dedication, a lot of understanding of the wild animals in general because these animals will not be able to tell us what they need. You have to try and figure it out. You have to understand animal behaviour. It’s quite an interesting field I would say because it combines a lot of different aspects. Like I keep repeating, it’s about animal behaviour, it’s about ecology, it’s about urban development and the confluence of all these things and figure out a response to this conflict that we are facing today and turn it into coexistence. That is the role of this wildlife rescuer or rehabilitator. So, career-wise, it is extremely interesting. A person would grow by working in this but it has to come from the passion because it’s not one of those high paid careers out there.


Lalitha Krishnan: Like most outdoor careers. Well said. Thank you. I also spoke to Veerababu, Wildlife Rescuer at ARRC who has been working there since 2016.

When you get a rescue request what do you feel?

(Since English is not Veerababu’s first language, I have translated the gist of his conversation)

VeeraBabu: Actually, the animal does not express its pain to me but I feel its pain. We have a voice. Animals are voiceless.  I don’t understand what it’s expressing but, in my heart, I feel its pain 100%. When I get a rescue call, we go and evaluate the situation, plan and discuss with the team also on how to proceed with the rescue. Then taking precautions we safely rescue the bird and bring it here to the rehabilitation team at the centre and after it has healed, I release it in the same location. I release and rescue both. Rescue first. Before taking the bird to the centre I inform them of the bird’s condition so they prepare for it in advance. When it has healed and can fly, I help to release it back where it was picked up.

Lalitha Krishnan: You must feel very good then?

Veerbabu. Actually, I can proudly say, we have job satisfaction which is most important. I never had that in my previous places of employment. I am happy to do good work.

Lalitha Krishnan: What does your wife think about your job?

Veerababu: My wife is very supportive. She also works in a hospital, also in service. Her mindset and mine are aligned about doing service. My family is not rich. My father is a carpenter. I do this work without thinking of what financial profits will come my way.

Lalitha Krishnan: So, both of you are in the caring line of work.

Veerababu: Yes. Always.


Lalitha Krishnan: Guys, hold on, this is not the end. Do listen to part 2 to find out how Jayanthi Kallam and her team at ARRC are raising the standards of wildlife rescue and rehabilitation in India.

You can listen to Heart of Conservation on many platforms.

Birdsong by hillside resident, the collared owlet and others on site

Podcast cover photo: Lalitha Krishnan. Artwork: Lalitha Krishnan

Disclaimer: Views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the podcast and show notes belong solely to the guest featured in the episode, and not necessarily to the host of this podcast/blog or the guest’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.

It’s not every day a yet-to-hatch cuttlefish stares back at you through its thin egg membrane. Listen to Shaunak Modi unravel the marine wonders of Mumbai. Ep#26

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Show notes (Edited)

0:05    Lalitha Krishnan: Hi there, thanks for listening in to Season 4 episode 26 of Heart of Conservation. I’m Lalitha Krishnan, `bringing you stories from the wild that keep us connected with the natural world. You can read the show notes for this podcast episode on my blog Earthy Matters. Today I’m to speaking to Shaunak Modi. Shaunak is the co-founder and director of Coastal Conservation Foundation and a key member of Marine Life of Mumbai. He speaks of being a nature photographer in the past tense but I keep seeing his splendid photographs on social media. Do check them out.  

Shaunak has worked in the wilderness travel space where he founded his startup, Naturenama.

I’ve been wanting to have you on Heart of Conservation for so long. Finally, it’s happened. So, thank you sincerely for making the time. And a very warm welcome to you.

Shaunak Modi: Thank you Lalitha for having me.

0:15    Lalitha Krishnan: Shaunak, you studied amphibians but your work and passion now have taken you to the source – the ocean. Tell us how that happened.  

0:24 Shaunak Modi: OK. I didn’t study amphibians, I studied herpetology at Bombay Natural History Society (BHNS). That was another lifetime it feels like now. I have been going to forests for more than a decade now. And, there was a little hesitation whenever I came across a snake. What I realised was I would need to know them better I would need to not have that discomfort and I wanted to learn more about them. That is why I studied herpetology. So, that’s how that happened.

Then for a very long time, I was associated one way or the other with the wildlife community. I have been doing photography for a very long time. I also had a news website called ‘Project (lost in translation)? where I used to share wildlife news. That went on for almost 6 years before I shut it down. After Project Bhiwan, I was also working. I was in the wildlife travel space, that was where my work was; along with which there was a whale stranding that had happened in Mumbai and that was my introduction to the sea.

A lot has happened since and I’m sure we will have that conversation later in the podcast but that is how I am where I am today.

1: 40   Lalitha Krishnan:  Alright, thanks. It’s very interesting to me to see that you’ve plotted a map of whale strandings. I’m not sure if this is the first of its kind in India of stranded/beached marine life. Why don’t you tell us more about this map?  

 1:58 Shaunak Modi: Yes. So, in fact, that was what I was talking about earlier. In 2016, there was a Bryde whale that had beached on Juhu beach. I was there. I had spent a considerable amount of time on the beach that night because 1) out of the fascination of seeing a whale for the first time in my life and 2) because there was some crowd control that needed to be done and I was just helping with that. And, you know, when a creature of this size washes ashore, you would expect it to cause, you know, to be a topic of discussion. Especially in a community of wildlife enthusiasts and conservationists. But what I realised back then was that beyond the news that is 24 hours or 48 hours after that beaching, there was not a blip. I did not hear anything about it in the conservation community, largely the terrestrial conservation community. That’s when I realised that if something like this can happen and go without being noticed, I just wanted to see how often it happens. I started following news articles and news stories about whale and dolphin strandings happening across the country and I started mapping them. I did that for a year and realised that there was a considerable amount of activity that was happening. What I did not know is that the marine biologists and the marine scientific researcher community were already mapping this. So, clearly, I was not the first one to do it. There’s a wonderful website that has been documenting sightings and strandings for a very, very long time. It’s called the Marine Mammal Research and Conservation Network of India. And, the website is marinemammals.in. It’s been there since 2008. And, there is a database of strandings that is happening there. But, like I’m saying, you know, there’s sometimes a sort of echo chamber when it comes to conservation because there is so much to be done, so much happening that within the terrestrial conservation community, talk of anything beyond forests and big cats rarely makes a blip. That was exactly what I was going through. I was in an echo chamber of my own at that time and I had no idea these things existed. So that’s how I started mapping it but eventually, I realised that it wasn’t really a useful thing because this website already had all that data. But what that did was also sort of, inculcate this interest in me to know more about this ecosystem and this habitat that I had no idea existed.

But, like I’m saying, you know, there’s sometimes a sort of echo chamber when it comes to conservation because there is so much to be done, so much happening that within the terrestrial conservation community, talk of anything beyond forests and big cats rarely makes a blip.

Shaunak Modi
Indian ocean humpback dolphin in Mumbai

4:54: Lalitha Krishnan:  It’s amazing what’s out there and how little we know. There are apps where citizens can report road kills of all wildlife. We have, correct me if I’m wrong, around 6000km of coastline. Do you think a similar app can be created for marine life? Especially for marine life?

5:21    Shaunak Modi: See, again, the equivalent to a road-kill for marine life would be strandings and since this website already exists, I think it’s a great national database. There are a lot of researchers who are a part of it, there are a lot of people who contribute data to it. Rather than having another app, it would be great if people would contribute to this website. No one really owns this data so to speak. But it does help to keep everything in one place. There is no point having different silos-so to speak- for something like this because it’s always very helpful if everything is being co-related in one place. This website is a great place instead of an app. Hopefully someday if something happens an app can be made for this website perhaps–I don’t know—that would depend on the people who are in charge.

6:20    Lalitha Krishnan:  Yes, I feel there are too many (apps) for birds but you’re right. If it’s all in one place then it would make absolute sense and accessibility also would be easier for everyone involved.

6:33    Shaunak Modi: For sure. eBird is a great example of that. I mean there is so much data that one gets by just by visiting ebird. You can search by species; you can search by national park or you can search by your own neighbourhood and see which birds are found there or documented from there. And, it’s not like eBird is saying, “We own this data.” You know, the data is still contributed by people, by citizens, by enthusiasts and wild lifers. It’s great that something like this already exists. It makes sense not to add more to it.

7:07    Lalitha Krishnan: Yes. So, CCF’s flagship project Marine life of Mumbai has become very popular. What exactly is the focus here and what citizen science activities do you’ll undertake?  

7:23    Shaunak Modi: I’d like to say something here CCF, that’s Coastal Conservation Foundation came much after MLOM was there. Marine Life of Mumbai, for the first three years of its existence, was a collective. We were a bunch of people who came together from various backgrounds and we started working in different capacities doing different things with the single aim of basically sending out a message to … Our aim was to do outreach and familiarise the people to a very lesser-known side of Mumbai. So, outreach, again, was the main objective of the project.

So, it was started by Pradip Patade, Abhisek Jamalabad and Siddharth Chakravarthy in 2017. They started conducting shore walks. It’s basically like a nature trail but 2on a beach, during low tide so you can see the animals that live there. Along with shore walks, they also started uploading photographs to social media and that’s how a lot of people came to know that animals like this live in the city, with whom they share their natural spaces. That’s been one of the main aims of MLOM. It continues to be one of the main aims but what started happening was that we were collecting so much data. Because there were a lot of wildlife photographers even in the group. We were constantly taking photos.

8:50       What we started realising is that the things we were photographing were not documented before. So, we decided to have an open-access database. That is the second side of Marine Life of Mumbai, the first being outreach. The second is data gathering. So, we have a project on our website called iNatularist.org It’s a global database of enthusiasts, researchers, scientists…I mean it’s a mixed bag of people who are on the website. What we decided is, again, like I told you earlier, is instead of having our own database hosted on our own website, we started contributing all of our data to that website. So, we created a project there called Marine Life of Mumbai and started uploading everything to that and started getting help from across the world trying to ID things. If not help we started getting pointers as to how we should click a photograph, what we should look for in an animal to ID it… we got a lot of help from the scientific and non-scientific community from across the world. That was again, 2018; the start of 2018 was when we started uploading our data there and today, we have more than 41/2 thousand observations of about 500 odd species., just from the Mumbai metropolitan region. That’s where we are.

10:21    Again you asked what the aim of Marine Life of Mumbai was? One is to familiarise the people with the marine life of the city and the second was to document it in a structured way and also have all of this data that we have accumulated open access so that anybody could make use of it.

10:40    Lalitha Krishnan:  So, this outreach programme and data gathering, the documentation… Do you think all this is the secret of MLOM’s success? What do you think?  Also, you mentioned around 500 odd species, right? Tell us some of this.

Cuttlefish at Juhu beach – photographed on the shores of Mumbai

11:00    Shaunak Modi: If you’re going to ask me what the secret of MLOM or what its success is, I would flat out say the people. After the three of them started MLOM, people started gathering. Some stayed, some didn’t. But there was a very strong group of about 13 people. We were all just enamoured by our shoreline. We come from various backgrounds. There are editors, there are scientists, there are artists, there are water sports instructors; I come from a travel background… All of us are from various backgrounds but we were just united by our love for marine life and curiosity. We were just curious about the shoreline. That’s what brought us all together. For me, that would be the main reason why we succeeded. Because everybody was giving it everything they had and that’s how you end up with something so nice.

12:03    And if you were to ask me about species, I would like to be clear here that these are not species that are washed ashore dead or stranded like the dolphins or the whales we spoke of earlier.  Our work is mainly in the intertidal zone. That is basically the part of the shoreline which is underwater during high tide and exposed to air during low tide. And, this is a highly dynamic ecosystem where you have a lot of animals that live right here.

So, you have, from the smallest ones being snails and clams that people are familiar with, you have octopuses, you have cnidarians(??) like zoanthids. Cnidarians are the same group of animals in which jellyfish are. So, you have zoanthids, you have coral—you have a lot of coral in Mumbai. This is something that no one really thought of you know, earlier? You have all sorts of things—the smallest animal being a few millimetres to the largest one being a couple of feet large. You find a lot of stuff here.

13:14    Lalitha Krishnan: It’s amazing that there was no record in the public domain of the marine life of Mumbai before MLOM started documenting it. What is the most amazing thing you have photographed on Mumbai’s shores? Or what has been the most fascinating thing you’ve seen?

13:33:   Shaunak Modi: OK. There has been some research done from the city. One of the oldest and seniormost marine biologists in India, Dr Chappgar was based out of Mumbai and there has been some work done but all of that exists in scientific journals. What I meant when I said there is no work in the public domain is that there was nothing accessible to the people. People did not know. So, if you were to ask anybody about the wildlife of the city, the first thing people would talk about was Sanjay Gandhi National Park which is great because here you have a city which is filled to the brim with people and then you have a park right in the middle of it where leopards roam. You don’t see this everywhere in the world you know? That’s great and you have a lot of wetland spots where you have wetland birds which come every winter. You have some spots where you can see a lot of wildlife in the city but there is something that has been completely ignored all this while and that was the marine life. Again, it’s because this is so unfamiliar. Not a lot of people thought that they should go out looking for marine life.

              So, ever since I was a kid, I’ve lived in Juhu OK? It’s a suburb. An area very close to the Juhu beach—that’s a very famous beach in the city—and I had never thought that there would be marine life here. In fact, the first time I saw, came across the Marine life of Mumbai’s Instagram account, and then shared some photographs taken in Juhu, there was disbelief. “No this can’t here”.   Because, you know, in Mumbai, in the last 20 odd years, there has been such a strong narrative around the pollution and the sewage and the dirt and the beaches being dirty….the beaches need cleanups. While all of that is true, despite all the stress that the ecosystem is under, there is a thriving ecosystem right there. And that is the fascinating thing for me. These are not ideal conditions. And this is not a beautiful island on the Pacific where you walk on a very clean white beach and you happen to come across a coral reef or a coral.

You know, in Mumbai, in the last 20 odd years, there has been such a strong narrative around the pollution and the sewage and the dirt and the beaches being dirty….the beaches need cleanups. While all of that is true, but despite all the stress that the ecosystem is under, there is a thriving ecosystem right there.

-Shaunak Modi
False pillow coral at Haji Ali

15:57    Here there are areas, I don’t know if you are familiar with it, we have a very old dargah in the city called the Haji Ali dargah. It’s a little bit into the sea and there’s a pathway which leads to the dargah but on either side of the pathway is a rocky shore.  And on some days when the tide is low enough and you go there—in fact, I have taken a video because I find it extremely fascinating—that you look down and you see corals; and you look up and you see the dargah. And you look in another direction you’ll probably see 1000 people walking to and from the dargah. Where else would you find something like this?  And all this while, it’s sort of being hidden in plain sight. So that is the mind-blowing part for me.

Arabian carpet shark from Napean Sea Road

16:53    Again you asked me what I find fascinating or what is something I have photographed that has been fascinating? If you had asked me this last year, or before last year, I would have said that I happened to be walking on one of the shores and I happened to walk by a shark which was in a tide pool.

Lalitha Krishnan: Did you say tidepool?

Shaunak Modi: A tidepool, yes. OK, it’s not a large shark, it’s called the Arabian Carpet Shark. It’s a smaller species of shark that are found in the shore waters. But even then, to walk and reach a place where there is a shark in the water, it’s not something you say every day. It’s not a sentence you would say every day. But that was before last year.

Last year, between the lockdowns in the city we happened to go to Juhu beach which again, is a very crowded beach and just by the tideline, there was this bunch of black grapelike things. This is something that is seasonally found around this time in the city – a lot of cuttlefish which are similar to octopuses and squids. It’s an animal; they come and they lay their eggs on the beach. So, if you happen to walk on the beach when the tide is low enough, you can actually just walk up to those eggs. So last year a group of us happened to walk and we saw these eggs and we waited there. And there was this moment when I was taking pictures of the eggs and I am looking down at it, shining a light on it and this tiny baby which has not even hatched yet looked back at me.

Lalitha Krishnan: What a thing to happen. Fantastic.

Unhatched cuttlefish looking through its egg membrane at the photographer, Shaunak Modi.

So last year a group of us happened to walk and we saw these eggs and we waited there. And there was this moment when I was taking pictures of the eggs and I am looking down at it, shining a light on it and this tiny baby which has not even hatched yet looked back at me.-Shaunak Modi

Shaunak Modi: Yes, from within the egg. I have a photograph of it. I am not doing the sighting justice just by talking about it but something in me sort of changed at that time. And then, a few minutes after that, we saw some of them hatch. And when the tide came in, they just went into the sea. So again, not a lot of ecosystems…there aren’t too many times when you get to witness something like this. And when you do, it sort of changes you in some ways, you know? It’s a very personal thing, it may not mean the same to someone else but to me, that is the most fascinating thing and the most amazing thing I have photographed and seen in the city. 

19:32:   Lalitha Krishnan: That’s the most amazing thing I’ve heard happen to somebody on the shores of Mumbai. That’s your reward I think for being persistent, doing what you do to conserve the shoreline. It’s truly amazing. It’s also amazing that all of this marine life exists and survives when we can barely handle bad air quality. So Shaunak, is there a good time or better season for spotting marine life?

20:11    Shaunak Modi: I think other than the monsoon months, once it starts raining there’s not much point in going tide pooling, because you won’t see too much. But other than that, I think the shores are open throughout the year.

              There are a lot of changes that happen seasonally. There are some things that you will only see in winter for example, the cuttlefish eggs that I spoke about. Similarly, there are squid eggs that happen during the winter months. So, those are seasonal. Other than that, I think, pretty much throughout the year, you can easily go tide pooling and see a bunch of animals. But along with that, you need to remember that a large part of the shore will open up only for a few days a month.

There is something called Spring tides and Neap tides. Neap tides are essentially the time of the month when the difference in the high tide and low tide is very less. So, a large part of the shore will probably be underwater. And during spring tides, the difference between the high tide and the low tide is much greater. So, the days of spring tide is when we go for tide pooling. So, I think other than that, seasons don’t really matter but you need to have a good tide. Any tide which is below, maybe 0.07 mts. on your tide chart or the tide app that you may check is a good tide for Mumbai.

20:30:  Lalitha Krishnan: So, one should actually check the tide chart to have a better idea.

Shaunak Modi: Yes.

21:26    Lalitha Krishnan: OK great. What photographic equipment does one need for intertidal photography? 

21:42    Shaunak Modi: I am so happy that you asked me this. Nothing. Your phone is enough. Again, it depends on the kind of photographs you want to take but we regularly have participants on your shore walks who have brought just their phones and taken beautiful photographs. I am also, increasingly taking more and more photos with my phone…unless you want a really macro photograph of a really tiny animal, you will need an SLR with a microlens but other than that, a point and shoot camera or your mobile phone are good enough. These days you even get macro lenses just for your mobile phone, you know, the clip one ones. So, with that, you can come out with really, really great photos and videos. So yeah, I don’t think you need much.

22:27    Lalitha Krishnan: That’s heartening to hear. Who wants to lug around stuff when you can do so much with so little?  Perfect.

Shaunak Modi:

22:38    Lalitha Krishnan: I liked exploring the interactive map on your CCF website with all the popup photos and information. What is the CCF team busy with these days?

22:52    Shaunak Modi: Yes. So, that was part of the Confluence exhibit we did with Mumbai Water Narratives. The whole idea was to do a virtual shore walk for people. This happened during the lockdown so anyway, we could not go out, nor see the shore. So, Abhishek and Sarang, who were part of this project decided to do, a virtual shore where all three types of ecosystems that you find near the intertidal were close to each other and you would find an illustrated map – done by Gaurav. And, you click on an animal and you get more information about it and also the photograph. Again, the idea here was to familiarise people who are one, either not in Mumbai or at that time, could not go to the shore to see and probably learn more about what this intertidal zone is or what type of marine life Mumbai has, and things like that.

And what we are busy with now?

22:54    So CCF essentially was started by a few members of the MLOM collective. It was started to scale up MLOM’s work and have a more sustained impact. That is what we are working on right now. The main focus areas, for us, is outreach, research, education and citizen science. And within that, we are taking the work that we have done as a collective—that’s MLOM—and we are trying to scale it up to different cities, scaling it up to different audiences. We are constantly trying to find newer ways to get more people, to appreciate, and become ambassadors for marine life. That’s pretty much what we are doing.

24:38    Lalitha Krishnan: I enjoyed reading the water narratives project e about the old water fountains of Mumbai. We’ve always seen it but one never thinks of it. And, also the bhistees as the water carriers were called in a time before pipes. We so take tap water for granted. Tell us about your other two projects the Coastwise Marine Festival and Inhabited Sea. 

25:11    Shaunak Modi: Sure. Yes, I’ll start with Inhabited Sea. It’s a wonderful project. I had an opportunity to work with a great group of people. What we were doing is essentially documenting Mumbai’s waters, basically the coastal areas and the sea in different ways, different aspects. There were architecture students, architecture professors who were doing it from their perspective. There’s Nikhil Anand whose project it was- he’s a professor at the University of Pennslyvania- who was looking at the artisanal fishing that happens in Mumbai. Sejal and I were representing Marine Life of Mumbai and of course, we were documenting the biodiversity bit of it. All of our projects are on a website called Inhabited Sea.org That was that project.

26:03    Coastwise is something we came up with. We’ve done 3 editions of this festival so far in three years. It’s a festival that is co-organised by CCF, the Mangrove Foundation which is a foundation of the mangrove cell of the Forest department of Maharashtra, and WWF India. So, the idea here was to again, create a festival that sort of familiarises people with different marine ecosystems. While our work at MLOM has mostly to do with the intertidal zone, as an extension, of course, there is marine life-but here, the idea was to do it at scale. So, we have a month-long festival in February. We do it every year when we host different events. Like there’s an art workshop, a photography workshop…  Of course, the theme of all of this is to do with marine life in some way. We also host an annual photo competition which is a marine photo competition for photographers from across the country.   We also do flamingo boat rides, mangrove walks… we also do walks at the fish….. centres in different cities. We started this a couple of years ago and started just in Mumbai and it has sort of grown. We’ve had more states, we’ve had our partners in different states come and be partners in the festival. And we’ve had ………………..(lost in translation) walks in Chennai. We’ve had shore walks in Goa as part of the festival. This year unfortunately we’ve had to delay the festival because of the current third wave that’s happening but hopefully, at the end of the year, we’ll have the festival with even more states. That’s what Coastwise is.

27:56    Lalitha Krishnan: There’s so much one can do with people from so many different fields coming together. Really interesting. I hope you get more people joining you next time.

Your website has a lot of resources as well for those who are interested. Would you like to talk about that?

28:13    Shaunak Modi: Sure. On the MLOM website, we have a Tide Chart. Of course, it needs to be updated for 2022—I’ll do it soon—but that has the low tides and the high tides for each month of the year so that people can plan their shore walks around it. We’ve also created small guides for different shores in Mumbai where it has illustrations and information about the most common animals you ought to see on the shore. So, anyone who wants to explore can download them, make use of them. We also have a lot of photographs that we’ve taken and under those photographs, there’s information about it. About what the animal is, where it is found, what its habitat is. This is also something that we do on our Instagram and Facebook accounts. We have a post every week about a different animal. We talk about what makes it interesting, where it is found, again, what its habitat is, how big is it? Things like that. All that can be found on our website, it can also be found on our social media accounts and that’s part of the digital outreach

30:11    Lalitha Krishnan: Fantastic. Do you have any advice for young or old citizens (because I think we are never too old to learn) who have never seen the marine life of Mumbai?

30:24    Shaunak Modi: Just pick a day with a good low tide. There are a lot of apps today which tell you what time the low tide is. An hour before that time, just go out on the shore. Whether it’s Juhu beach, Girgaon Chowpatty, whether it’s Carter Road in Bandra, it’s Bandstand in Bandra, it’s Haji Ali, just go out and look down. And, all of this marine life is right there.

30:49    We do walks every month. You can come and join us. We will show you around, we’ll explain what you’re looking at. Again, my personal goal is to make tide pooling a—and this is also what other people in the group want to do—our goal is to make tide -pooling like birding. People wake up on the weekend, pick up their cameras, binoculars and go birding. We would like to make tide pooling that. It’s an activity that you can do on your own, it does not cost money, you don’t have to travel for it. There are no tickets to be bought. You literally have to put on your shoes, go out on a shore, look down and you will see much marine life. It’s not limited. We have a 71/2 1000 km coastline in the country. And, there’s marine life everywhere. So, it’s one of those ecosystems where you don’t really need guides.

Of course, there will be times when you don’t really understand what you’re looking at because here you have plants that look like animals, animals that look like plants…it’s a mixed bag of things. I think it’s a great activity to do on your own. I would request people to go out and if they’ve seen something they don’t know what they see, they can send it to us, they can send it to me personally. I will help them ID, explain what they are looking out for. Yeah, just go out and go to the shore.

32:19    Lalitha Krishnan:  It’s a whole different world from what we’re used to.  Most of us are not used to it. 

32:26    Shaunak Modi: You know Lalitha, there’s actually a reason why it’s gone like this for so long. Because there is no familiarity. This is why, as part of MLOM’s education pillar and now CCF’s education pillar, what we’re doing is also constantly going to schools and colleges, and giving presentations to very young students. If you look at other countries, for example, Australia. There’s a very strong beach culture in many of the cities there, right? Even in parts of the US, it’s like that. Even in parts of the United Kingdom, it’s like that. And, you’ll find this on a lot of pacific islands also. It’s not limited to these developed countries. Here we don’t have that.

For a very long time, even for me, I would associate Juhu beach with food. It’s not the kind of association that you’d make with an ecosystem. So, we really want kids to have a different mindset about it while they’re doing it/growing up. So, we take them on the shore, we show them all of this. We do presentations with a lot of photographs, with a lot of videos. We want to sort of pass on the message to them that there is something that is beyond our forests. I love my trips to the forests but you don’t always get a chance to do that. You probably take one or two holidays a year. Most of us do at least. But here you have an opportunity to –even if you have an hour or even half an hour before class—and you’re close to a beach just walk down. You’ll definitely see something. That’s the idea we want to familiarise people with. That this really exists and exists everywhere. And we want people from other cities to have their own MLOs. By MLOs, I mean Marine Life Of… and their own city. It’s not that we want to go there and create, we want them to have that. We’ll of course help them. We made some mistakes in the last few years and we’ve learnt a lot. We’re ready to share all of that information with them but it would be nice if groups or individuals or organisations came forward and sort of want to create their own collectives in their own city.

34:45    Lalitha Krishnan: And take ownership for what’s theirs. It’s their land, their backyard.

Shaunak Modi: That’s exactly why we don’t want to do it. It’s not our backyard. So, while we may be able to do it, we really need a partner who is local, because that is how these things should be.

35:07    Lalitha Krishnan: That’s really great. Shaunak, we are almost at the end of our conversation but before I let you go could you share a word or two that’s relevant for you that will improve our seaworthiness.

35:23    Shaunak Modi: I think we should start respecting the sea. There’s a lot that’s going wrong right now with our seas. We always hear about the sea in a negative way. We hear about it more in a negative way than a positive way whether it’s climate change or rising sea levels. There’s a lot that’s happening. Not a lot of it is easy to change or alter or reverse. But I think a good first step would be to respect the sea. Because we are if the sea lets us be. That’s all I would say.

36:00    Lalitha Krishnan: Thanks, Shaunak. That was poignant and relevant, and so interesting. Thank you so much.

Shaunak Modi: Thank you. This was a lovely chat. So much fun.

Shaunak at the shoreline in Mumbai. Photo courtesy Shaunak Modi

36:17    Lalitha Krishnan: I hope you enjoyed listening to Shaunak Modi as much as I have. Do check out CCF links and the whole transcript for this podcast right here on Earthy Matters. You can listen to Heart of Conservation on many platforms. You can also write to me at earthymatters013@gmail.com. I’m Lalitha Krishnan signing off. Till next time stay as safe as possible please and do subscribe for more episodes.

Birdsong by hillside resident, the collared owlet.

All photos including podcast cover photo courtesy of Shaunak Modi. Artwork: Lalitha Krishnan

Disclaimer: Views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the podcast and show notes belong solely to the guest featured in the episode, and not necessarily to the host of this podcast/blog or the guest’s employer, organization, committee or other group or individual.