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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
(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).