We are delighted to see the love and interest for our Eco Warrior series, meet Meghna Krishnadas, an ecologist studying for her PhD at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University. She graduated with an MBBS from Bangalore Medical College and obtained her MSc in Wildlife Biology and Conservation from the NCBS-WCS India joint program.
“I think a love for nature was always part of me but I never had a chance to realise it until my early twenties,” says Krishnadas. “As a child, I seemed to spend a lot of time watching ‘Animal Planet’. When I was at medical college, I visited a senior who was working at a tribal hospital in a forested landscape. That’s probably where I first realised how much I enjoyed being in a forest.”
Krishnadas took a leap of faith with her Master’s in Wildlife Biology and Conservation. Her parents were unsure of her decision, but she’s stubborn. “I enjoyed doing the MSc course, learning the basics of ecological sciences, and had opportunities to meet a lot of established folk in ecology and conservation. Most of all, it was fun to be with a crowd who thought about these matters,” says Krishnadas.
Krishnadas began her career in science and conservation as a volunteer with the Center for Wildlife Studies in Dr Ullas Karanth’s projects to estimate large mammal populations in the state of Karnataka. That was where she learned much of her animal spotting skills and the ability to walk carefully and attentively through forests.
Her professional journey took her to several places as a doctor and field research assistant. As of now, Krishnadas says, “I have an ongoing project looking at non-timber forest produce harvest in Karnataka and am working with a colleague in trying to identify drivers of forest cover change in the Western Ghats. For my PhD, I am studying how forests change when they get fragmented.”
She also writes about nature and conservation issues.
Hurdles in conservation
Conservation has become a topic of discussion even amongst laypeople. “I certainly do see an increase in awareness amongst the urban public about nature,” says Krishnadas. “There are some big generic issues like tiger conservation, human-wildlife conflict, or climate change that gets a lot of press space (not always in the right way). But I’m not sure how much of this awareness gets translated into practice in changing lifestyles or being involved with conservation issues.”
It is important that children at school realise the significance of nature, since they are the pioneers of our future. “Our modern lives are taking us away from nature and wildlife. Most children today are brought up in a world of gizmos and gadgets,” says Krishnadas. Ecology is not taught as a subject in schools, which she thinks is heart breaking.
Gender also acts as a barrier for many women in this field, Krishnadas adds. “Whether interacting with the forest department or locals living in areas where we work, women researchers often have to bear an often implicit and unstated bias against them. In most parts of India, women field researchers have to work harder to establish ourselves as independent, capable professionals. There is an underlying attitude of condescension and paternalism, and sometimes blatant sexism and harassment.”
While it has been tough ride, for Krishnadas it’s all worthwhile. “Getting to see wildlife and understanding something about natural systems is amazing,” she says.
Do your bit
What can laypeople do to help conservation? “First thing is to be aware that in today’s world everything we do, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the products we use can have an impact on the planet,” says Krishnadas.
Our material culture and increasing consumerism, in which we seem to be blindly following the “developed” countries, is not sustainable.
She also advises, “Public response and support is critical for the government to be motivated to take note of conservation issues, and the more people who write letters to the government about this, the stronger becomes the case for conservation.”