Milind Pariwakam works in the Central Indian Tiger Landscape (as a part of Wildlife Conservation Trust), with a focus on road ecology, large carnivore population estimation, policy aspects of tiger corridor conservation and various management functions. He is also a member of the IUCN’s Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group (CCWG) and the World Commission on Protected Areas. (Profile by NCCI coordinator Amrita Neelakantan) Why did Milind the youngster decide to dedicate his life to this way of living? When did “the moment” happen? On 8th November, 2003 (which was a long weekend due to Gurunanak Jayanti), I was 29 years old and working for a bank. It was a Saturday and I was alone trekking up in the Kalsubai range and switched on my phone to look at the time and got multiple text messages pushing me for my sales targets that were on track! I decided that you live only once, that I liked nature more than anything else, need to switch career tracks and that day I made a decision to resign from the bank and enroll for higher education in wildlife. One field day/moment that confirmed that you had taken the right path. On 7th January, 2019 when I was walking with Dr. Gary Tabor and we found a tiger pugmark below one of the mitigation structures on NH7. I knew that the ten year campaign to get proper mitigation measures had achieved its preliminary objective.
“Milind is persistent and stubborn with it working in his favour. He remains invested in complicated issues on the ground and just goes ahead to do what is needed! Another thing that is specifically Milind is him being unfazed by social standing or political influence – he is forthright with all. He is indomitable.” ~ Dr. Jagdish Krisnaswamy (mentor)
One field day/moment that made you doubt it all / caused immense personal struggle (these can be the same but often are not). All of 2015-2016 was a very tough time as I spent all my earnings on the campaign to get mitigation measures on NH7 to save the Kanha Pench Corridor. I had burned through my previous four years savings as well. I moved into an empty apartment owned by my sister because I could not afford to pay rent. Some scientists involved with the NH7 study were spreading canards that I was hand in glove with the NHAI and had purchased a new apartment with the bribes that I took! The rumours spread about me by people from within the wildlife conservation community caused immense stress and disbelief – I was questioning myself whether I had chosen the right path. A few words for interested folk who are considering a similar career and life: Encouragement: My advice to youngsters is to follow their heart and not listen to what others say. When I communicated my decision to quit a corporate career and get into wildlife science 99% of the people I spoke advised me not to take the risk (their advice was well meaning). Only 1% of my friends said that I should do what I really wanted. However, youngsters should realize that they need to work very hard and excel at what they are doing. One should realize that a career in wildlife conservation is a rarity and gives you an immense opportunity to make a difference to the planet that we live on. What to expect: Working in the field of wildlife science and conservation is immensely rewarding. The first few years may be tough with lower salaries. However, if you work hard then you can make a decent living though you may never earn enough to match your peers pursuing routine career tracks. Fieldwork is not glamorous. You will almost never have a LandRover and a 600 mm lens and will only sometimes get a decent Forest Rest House to sleep in. Fieldwork means going hungry all day, getting bitten by ticks, leeches and mosquitoes and sleeping wherever you find space. You will find yourself stretched for time and will often end up working all night. I have even endured being repeatedly sprayed by the waste water from train toilets while surveying for wildlife mitigation measures on railway lines passing through wildlife corridors (Life may sometimes feel sh***y, literally). Why it is worth it: In the larger picture, it is immensely rewarding to see the impact of your work. The impacts of your work will outlive you for sure. Words of encouragement and appreciation from people in other walks of life is what keeps you going. It will not matter what difficulties you face. Because you live only once! The little rewards are the places that you visit which you would never have access to as a tourist and those really rare wildlife sightings that only fieldworkers are afforded.