MEET OUR STAFF: SRIKANTH RAO
Srikanth Rao in Amrabad Tiger Reserve, Telangana ©Ankur Singh Chauhan
In the moist deciduous jungles of Nagarahole in Karnataka, it was another busy day for field staff of the tiger monitoring team run by WCS India. Srikanth Rao, along with his colleague, was in the middle of the forest collecting camera-trap data, when suddenly he felt his colleague freeze and back away quietly. Then he noticed something towards his right. Standing a bare 25 metres away from them was a tusker!
Srikanth and his colleague started taking steps backward, one by one. Srikanth recalls the thoughts racing in his mind at the moment, “There is no hard and fast rule to handle such situations. We were told by our mentors that during such situations we should think and act on our own and escape. But we were totally blank and did not know what to do!”
To their surprise the tusker just turned around and ran away, rolling up his tail in the air. Elephants do this when they are scared or feel threatened. Srikanth says, “This experience taught us a lesson on how alert and careful we should be in the jungle. Nature is beautiful and pleasant, but utmost care and knowledge on animal behaviour is essential to survive in a jungle.”
This was his very first encounter with a wild animal in a jungle, during the very beginning of his career as a wildlife researcher back in 2012. It however did not deter his wish to work in the field.
Since childhood, Srikanth Rao had a strong passion towards wildlife and nature. He had his own perception about forests as he used go on trekking and bird watching now and then. A commerce graduate, Srikanth worked in various companies in the corporate sector for nearly seven years. He was offered an internship to work in WCS India’s research team in 2012. Without any further thought he left his corporate job and joined WCS India where he is now working as a Research Assistant. He says, “It was my dream job and I got a lifetime opportunity to work with WCS India.”
He had a lot of information on wildlife and forests from the books that he read and this helped him to adjust to an entirely different environment from corporate offices. “We human beings think that we are disciplined and customised. But what I found in my time in jungle is that the discipline, customs, eating behaviour and the life cycle of wildlife are perfectly systemised. Each and every process in nature is linked with one another,” he says.
Today he spends most of his time in the jungles and some time in the office for data analysis.
He started working on small cell occupancy surveys (survey to assess the distribution of tiger prey species) in the Malenad landscape. Later he was assigned to do camera trap surveys, line transect surveys, large cell occupancy surveys and was involved in all WCS India field research work. He has worked in almost all of the National Parks in the Malenad landscape. He has also worked in the forests of Wayanad, Goa, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Kanha-Pench corridor in various research activities.
Srikanth Rao setting up a camera trap in Bhadra Tiger Reserve, Karnataka ©Srikanth Rao
When in the jungle, work entails collecting data and that often means travelling long distances. “During line transects every morning and evening, groups of two walk in the jungle. Markings with red paint would have been made, months prior to the walk. We walk along the markings and note the number of prey species sighted directly. Compass and range finders are used to find the bearing and distance of the animal,” says Srikanth, describing line transect survey.
Srikanth has experienced and lived an adventurous jungle life and has travelled around the country more in the last six years than in the rest of his life. He says, “Each landscape is different from the other, working in different types of forests made me learn more new things about forest and wild animals. My city time-table got lost and modified according to the requirements of the jungle. Not only my food habits, my total perspective of forest and wildlife changed after joining WCS India.”
WCS India’s Assistant director Killivalavan says, "Srikanth is one of the most hardworking, dedicated field staff I have worked with. He is very meticulous and does any job given to him with utmost sincerity."
Compiled and written by Manish Machaiah