Meet naturalist and snake expert, Chinmay Deshpande, who decided that pursuing his dreams was worth sacrificing a career in IT and a desk job. You only have one life, says this young man. And we agree! This is his story.

Enjoying a peaceful and serene sunset
Enjoying a peaceful and serene sunset
He was hooked at a young age. A wildlife enthusiast and a naturalist at the Kanha Earth Lodge, Chinmay confesses he got interested in reptiles and snakes after watching a lot of Discovery and NG channel while growing up. He began to learn about handling snakes by watching and observing and soon in his hometown people started calling him whenever there was an issue. He began to learn and understand how to handle venomous and non venomous snakes. At the same time, he was also pursuing his studies and went into commerce, but his heart was always in wildlife and nature.

He conducted workshops and camps to educate children and people, especially those of the poorer economic class, who face conflict on a regular basis. Chinmay took on a part-time job as a swimming coach to earn some money, but continued to work with snakes. He says since he would offer his services for free, there were also a lot of people who would take advantage. Some would give him petrol money but others didn’t want to pay at all (sometimes they would rather kill the snake, than pay up). But he decided to persist.

At that point of time, Chinmay recounts that he had a life changing experience of sorts when he got bitten by a cobra he was handling. It was his own mistake and he knew exactly what he did wrong. He talks about how he took himself to the hospital (a government one, since he says that they are the ones who stock the anti-venom). It was a near death experience, but he survived after going through nearly 6 months of recovery. But it made him even more determined to continue his work in the field (rather than deterring him).

Chinmay leads us on a walk to the sunset point
Chinmay leads us on a walk to the sunset point
He was in a near coma and survived to tell the tale, but Chinmay saw this as a second chance at life. And he realised he’d rather spend his second chance pursuing his passion, than work in a dead-end job that he didn’t care about. It was refreshing meeting Chinmay, because it’s rare to see such passion in someone so young. I find it admirable that he was able to recognise and pursue his goals and aims at such a young age.

He continued his work and decided not to get into full time coaching. He also says that to pursue a vocation like swimming, he needed a piece of paper with a certification. No matter that he could do the job, in this country it’s the qualification on paper that’s important. Not ground experience. Sad, but true as many of us would have personally experienced.

But this is when Chinmay decided to pursue his interests full time. He looked at different career options. While researching online, he came across the posting for a naturalist. He decided to research this and also approached others in the field for advice on how to go about it. He studied about other species like birds and mammals (to increase his knowledge beyond snakes and reptiles) and built his knowledge base over a period of time.

As a career option, NGOs and other smaller organizations are not worth the time and effort he says, due to the meagre compensation. “Though our needs are basic and limited, what they offer is not enough,” says Chinmay. Soon, he was able to get a job as a naturalist and in the early years he worked in Panna and Pench. He then joined Pugdundee Safaris two seasons ago, at their Kanha property where he is now based.

Out on a nature and birdwatching walk with Chinmay
Out on a nature and birdwatching walk with Chinmay
He tells me how his parents initially were really confused and unsure about his job choice. “Yeh naturalist, kya cheez hai?” is perhaps their line of thinking and not surprisingly, since that generation usually recognises just 2-3 professions – doctors, engineers and IT. Then he brought his parents down for a visit to the sanctuary and apparently his mom now appreciates and understands his job a little more. Even his cousins and friends often want to hear his interesting stories, which probably spice up their otherwise routine lives.

He works with villagers and school kids nearby on increasing awareness about wildlife, snakes etc. whenever there is an opportunity. Chinmay points out that since educated folks go on and usually move to the city (or even overseas) for better opportunities, their contact with wildlife is limited. “It’s no point telling them about wildlife,” he says. On the other hand, it’s villagers and their children who come into direct contact (and sometimes conflict) with wildlife. It makes sense to make this segment of society more aware of dealing with conflict, appreciating wildlife and knowing how to handle a crisis situation.

Chinmay telling us more about the jungle over lunch by the riverside
Chinmay telling us more about the jungle over lunch by the riverside
The Kanha forests are truly beautiful and it gives Chinmay the chance to continue his work with reptiles and snakes. During our nature walk, he also familiarised me with the birds in the area, their migratory patterns and we also indulged in some bird watching. During our short walk we saw the black drongo, rufus treepie, the rose ringed parakeet, black hooded oriole, white throated kingfisher, egrets, pond herons, common stone chat, paddy field pipit, teeter (hindi word, grey fancolin), large grey babblers, southern coucal, common hoopoe, lesser whistling duck, spotted dove, red-vented bulbul and jerdon’s leaf bird.

Apparently, we nearly missed a tiger, which had strayed into the village just across the lake from where we were. The young male of around 4-5 years is still trying to define his territory and is often found roaming around, sometimes straying into the buffer zone. Today, he decided to sit outside one of the village houses for a while. We were very close but didn’t even guess all this was happening while we were birdwatching. We only found out when we came back to the lodge later.

With Chinmay & Ashish (manager of the Satpura property) at the Kanha Earth Lodge
With Chinmay & Ashish (manager of the Satpura property) at the Kanha Earth Lodge
I was impressed by the knowledge and the strength of determination of this young naturalist to trod his own path. Someone like Chinmay is also a role model for those who want to pursue their passions, rather than trod the usual well-laid down path and sends a clear message: go forth and live your dreams!

(I visited the Kanha Earth Lodge in December 2013, on an invitation by Pugdundee Safaris, who also run a few other properties in Satpura, Pench and Bandhavgarh).

18 thoughts on “Naturalist, Chinmay Deshpande, and his passion for all things wild

  1. Chinmay is a golden boy with a warm heart. I have seen him getting excited on hearing the words like jungle or animals and even more when somebody mentions a snake!

    I am yet to write about him but since I’ve asked him to write a book, it won’t be nice on my part to give all the details in my article. 🙂

    And yes, I recognize each & every place in your photos. He took us around as well. 🙂

    Way to go Chinmay! All the best.

  2. superb job man ….keep up the good work ….as mush as ur life story is inspiring …the words those we put together to narrate were simply superb …gr8 jab Chinmay n awesome work by Anita Bora..

  3. Chinmay i can understand your love for nature and the decisions you took . I wish i could have done the same but being a girl and trying to be one with nature would never be allowed . But i look at you and feel that you are so blessed . What an amazing service you do . God bless you and i will always hold true and passionate people in very high esteem . Earth and many living beings depend on people like you . The blessings you get everyday are many, to put it lightly . You can bring incredible changes to many children who will look at you as a Hero as their Mentor . Go ahead bring about beautiful changes .India could do with many like yourself .

  4. Chinmay, most peole think that living one’s dream is akin to gliding through a fairy tale. But the paradigm shift in your life and the hardships you overcame, speak volumes about how pursuing one’s goal with passion and selfless dedication can make a person’s dreams come true.
    It is all the more heartening to know that there exists a young person like you, whose sole intention is not to show off selfishly to the world that ‘I have been there and seen it all’. But instead, your goal seems to be that ‘Let’s protect all living beings today, so that the coming generation can see them all’.
    Keep up the good work and live your dreams !!!!!

  5. great job chinmay!!! ur passion for ur dreaMs is really appriciating…just keep goin wid them!! n ur story may always inspire all d people to go wid their dreams!!!

  6. Nice Work that u r doing Chinya ……….. Keep it up … Best of Luck !!!
    Jindagi ek hi bar jine ko milati he …Aapni style se jio ….
    Best wishes to you Chinmay SIR …………………….

  7. Nice Work that u r doing Chinya ……….. Keep it up ….
    Best Wishes to you !!!

  8. Dear, Happy to note that you proved yourself in the chosen field. Wish you grand success in life. Good luck.

  9. nice article anita ! Very truly and simply said … regarding Chinmay …. He is out of the world person … no one would believe that my son who is 7 yrs old now is fan of this amazing guy Chinmay ….. He is very much attached with him … i really appreciate your decision towards life Chinmay ……. Regards nd best wishes

  10. Hi Anita ! Very truly and very simply written …… Chinmay indeed is a gem of a person ….. Hats off to you Chinmay, You know Anita my son is 7 yrs old now, he met this guy when he was 5 from then he is fond of wildlife safaris and at only 1 condition….. Chinmay should take him for the ride …… I don’t know how but he feels comfy and secure with Chinmay . … You are really a nice person buddy, I hope almighty shower his best blessings upon you today and always …… my best wishes ….

    nd yes once again COngratulations on your Promotion …..hope to see you soon again ….
    Thanks Anita to promote this blog ….. this young lad deserves it !

    Best Wishes

  11. Hey, kudos……..anita thank u so much for this write up,as it introduced an amazing persona…..n chinmay ,hats off for the ‘jigara’ to stand up agn, after confrontation with kobra # dedication……all the very best.

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