Happy International Women’s Day

In celebration to the beauty and power of a woman I wish every women “Happy International Women’s Day.” On this important day it makes me proud to highlight one such special woman and I feel her inspiring story is just right to share with all of you today. She is Dr. Kashmira Kakati , an immensely talented and one of the bravest Indian women I have ever known.

A high achiever with a Ph.D from Cambridge, Kashmira is unique as she pursues an unconventional career which deviates from the traditional norm of a career in India. A career that requires her to face the challenges of living in the wild for days on end with basic supplies such as a tent house, a stove coupled with no electricity, working toilet or running water. More than often there would be just two or three unharmed young assistants to aid her as they would base their camps somewhere right in the middle of a dense – wild and unpredictable jungle.

Kashmira revealed her passion for animals and love for the wild life right from the time I met her, when we were barely nine years old. Growing up we were really fickle about our ambition in life wanting to be a doctor, actor, air hostess, writer etc all at the same time – depending on whatever or whoever took our fancy at that moment. But this little girl was quite clear about what she would like to pursue when she would grow up. Her eyes would sparkle as she regaled us many stories and experiences across the many wild life sanctuaries that her father often took her on their family trips. We used to listen with great fascination as she would explain each and every scene in photographic details. Her father who worked in the forest department was an avid wild life lover himself which further fuelled her passion for an outdoor life in the wild.

A career not for the ordinary, it requires quite a nerve to work as a wild life biologist especially when you work outdoors. Because a day on the field might involve surprise encounters with large predatory animals such as the tigers, bears or you might suddenly find yourself walking into a herd of wild elephants. The thickets of grass, creepers and heavy vegetation are a refuge to many poisonous snakes or other venomous animals including scorpions, spiders and bees. Many a time insects such as mosquitoes, ticks and fleas carry the threat of numerous communicable diseases.

The field work of a wild life biologist again constitute endless treks across rocky terrains which also includes crossing lakes, rivers and streams with the added risk of uneven surfaces, loose gravel and algae covered rocks. You also need to be physically strong as working in the field for hours on end might lead to muscle cramps, ankle sprains, foot blisters or back injury from carrying heavy backpacks. Besides leech bites, it also entails other health hazards such as heat exhaustion, allergy attacks and dehydration. Topical injuries such as frost bite, sunburn and wounds from plant thorns and animal quills maybe other deterrents in your day to day activities. Unpredictable weather like rains, storms, tornados etc might call for emergency survival techniques.

It can be tiring but this is this is the kind of work, in spite of all its challenges, that inspires this highly spirited woman. At the end of a hard day when her assistants would retire for the night she would be relaxing by the camp fire alone in her thoughts yet drinking in the silence and beauty of the night.

Far away from the city, she loves revelling in nature in all its splendour. It undeniably fulfils that irrepressible passion in her nature craving heart. Conservation of this beauty is a driving force in her life. She wants to make a difference in the life of these animals and make a contribution to the conservation of all the natural resources on planet earth.

She humbly says that she still has miles to go and loads of work to do as she silently pursues her life mission. As I listen to her, I marvel at all the work she has done in the field of wild life conservation, so far in a relatively young career. Using camera traps, she is the woman behind the discovery of seven species of cats (Tiger , Leopard , Panther clouded , leopard cat , cat footwear , Asian golden cat , marbled cat ) in little known Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam, which is a record for a single zone. This is the highest diversity of cat species yet photographed in a single area. These fragile rainforests in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam are threatened by deforestation, heavy poaching and extraction projects compromising the very survival of the wild life habitats. All due to her efforts Jeypore-Dehing Forests has now acquired a renewed interest internationally. Ever since she started her work in 2010, she has also taken photos of a dozen additional predators and in total 45 mammals. These include the endangered Asian wild dog, the dhole, and the Malayan sun bear, as well as six primate species, deer, porcupine, wild pig, civets, otters, mongoose, and a number of rodents.

As per her findings and efforts to project the tremendous bio diversity of the region, Jeypore-Dehing Forests has now been identified as one of India’s Top Wildlife areas holding one of the India’s richest carnivore communities. In terms of field diversity recorded in forest, it is now among top regions in the world holding seven different species.

She has also participated in the much talked about BBC series “Lost land of the Tiger,” along with Steve Backshall, Gordon Buchanan, George McGavin, Justine Evans and Alan Rabinowitz.

Kashmira lives in Kathmandu with her charismatic biologist husband Dr. Christy Williams and their two young sons.

In case you are inspired by her story, let me give you a small gist about what a wild life biologist exactly does. A wild life biologist studies the behaviours of animals to see what they are doing in the wild. They study different kinds of animals and how they live and grow in their natural surroundings. They usually specialise in a specific type of animal scrutinising its behaviour, diseases and development. They are concerned with the conservation of all types of animals and plants as well as with their overall environment. Their work is often geared towards managing habitats to protect threatened and endangered animals. Sometimes they are learning about ecology which means they study the relationship of their subject with other species in their habitats such as animals, plants or microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, algae etc. Some wild life biologists work regular hours in classroom and labs. So they must be familiar with lab equipment, research techniques and computers. Others work in the field enduring the same conditions as the life forms they are studying. These scientists may work alone or as a part of a team. They are employed by the government, colleges, universities, environmental consultant firms and conservation groups. Most employers look for at least a master degree in zoology, micro biology, bio-chemistry or a related field. Biology in high school along with other sciences such as physics and chemistry are a requirement to pursue wild life biology as your career. More information is available across various wild life resources on the internet.

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