How To Be Naturalist – Careers In Travel & Tourism

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Naturalist in the wild
Naturalist – in the wild

Starting a new series on IndiTales – the potential travel careers. When I looked around new travel career options, I was surprised to not too many options except being a travel agent or an approved tour guide. Hence began my exploration to look for some exciting travel careers in an industry that is bound to grow in coming years. This is an on-going search and I would be happy to get feedback, suggestions, and ideas. A naturalist is the first one I choose to write about.

Who is a Naturalist?

Naturalist MahesGurung on job
Naturalist MahesGurung on job

When we travel to regions full of bio-diversity we are surrounded by a variety of flora and fauna. A good example would be the national parks or the western ghats or Sunderbans. Most visitors do not understand the word of plants, birds and animals and their interdependence. This is where a naturalist comes in. He or she guides and introduces visitors to the nature world. Some of the key activities involve:

  • Taking groups of tourists for nature trails – safaris, walks.
  • Study and document flora and fauna of the region in various seasons and at various times of the day.
  • Be a part of the conservation and preservation of the ecosystem around your workplace.

Naturalist Mahes Gurung

Naturalist Mahes Gurung
Naturalist Mahes Gurung

Mahes has been a naturalist for almost 13 years now. He comes from Nepal. He grew up in and around Chitwan National Park in Nepal. His father was a tiger-trapper, so he grew up hearing stories of the wild. Though his informal training for his future career began when he started volunteering for the projects at Chitwan National Park. He would help in data collection on animals or for the census. He would escort safaris.

When I asked Mahes how did he learn – he said by observing. The whole jungle is in front of you – start observing and start learning. My little research would later tell me that most naturalists at this point in time are self-trained like Mahes. He indicates that sensing the animal behavior is very important. If the animal is in a good mood you can take some leverage but if it is a bad mood, you must leave it alone.

Mahes came to India or rather Kanha national park in 2006 and joined Pugdundee Safaris. He went on a 10-day training that introduced him to the local species of Reptiles, Mammals, birds, and plants.


What Skills do I need for being a Naturalist?

Naturalist with a lizard in hand
Know your neighbours – literally

Like any other profession, being a naturalist has its own skill requirements, here are some of them.

  • Have a genuine interest in nature.
  • Ability to lie in isolated locations for long stretches of time.
  • Keen eye for spotting new species or learning about themselves.
  • Good command of languages – languages that your visitors speak and local language.
  • Ability to work long hours – most safaris begin the early morning.
  • Ability to handle difficult situations with calm.
  • Willingness to work with people from across the globe.
  • A keen sense of observation so that you can sense the animal behavior.
  • A fit and agile body to deal with long hours in the jungle.
  • Driving, Storytelling & Photography skills are an added advantage.

Are there any courses for Naturalists?

Skills that a naturalist requires...
Know the pug marks

In India there are no formal courses that I am aware of that can help you with a career as a naturalist. However following courses can definitely help.

You can learn basic astronomy and give stargazing sessions with your guests.

Women naturalists are less in number, but they are there, the lure of wild is gender-neutral I guess.


Naturalist Naresh Singh

Naturalist Naresh Singh
Naturalist Naresh Singh

Naturalist Naresh Singh who is fondly known as Gudda comes from the forests of central India, more precisely Bandhavgarh. Born to a farmer father, Naresh grew up playing in the forests. His first brush with his future career as a naturalist was when he started preparing checklists for birds and butterflies in his region.

Naresh is a self-trained naturalist. He learned everything on the job. Of course, little training provided by his employers helped give the much-needed start.


Where all can a Naturalist work?

Most high-end jungle lodges like Pugdundee Safaris and Taj Safaris have a team of naturalists. They not only hire but also train their staff on a regular basis.

National Parks and forest departments also need naturalists.

Agencies like WWF need nature specialists, at times on project basis.

You can be a nature entrepreneur too. For e.g you can have stock of nature photographs & videos that you sell online.

After 10-12 years of experience, you can start training the younger naturalist. There is an opportunity in developing curriculum for the naturalists.


Watch the Video

Hear Naturalist Anurag talk about flora & fauna of Satpura jungles.


How much can I earn as a Naturalist?

Naturalist with a safari vehicle
Always on a safari

The starting salary is about Rs 10,000 – 12,000 + accommodation and food.

Growth may be a bit slow compared to counterparts in the corporate world. But you lead a life as close to nature as possible.

It is a career that people would choose for passion for than money.

Recognition can come in the form of awards like TOFT Awards. Yes, they have a category for the Naturalist of the year.

As the wildlife tourism picks up in India, I am sure the need for more and more professional naturalists will come up.

My view

As this point in time, Naturalist or nature guides is an evolving career in India. The first generation of professionals would play a strong role in defining how this profession shapes up.

Recommend you to read following travel blog posts on wildlife sanctuaries of India.

  1. Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary – Places to visit in Rajasthan.
  2. Kaziranga National Park – Home to Single Horned Rhinos.
  3. Collarwali Tigress – Queen of Pench National Park & Tiger Reserve.
  4. Meeting Munna – Rock Star Tiger at Kanha National Park.
  5. Bandhavgarh National Park Wildlife – Beyond the Tigers.
  6. 5 ways to Explore the Forests of Satpura National Park.
  7. Birds of Pench National Park – Bird Photography.
  8. Chambal River ecosystem & ravines.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Very interesting Anuradha, and inspiring too!! Would just like to add, with few years of experience, you could also help in administration and conservation of National parks!! Few earlier generation Naturalists have set up their own NGOs which get funds from corporates and employ budding Naturalists! I am currently undergoing a workshop in Sanjay Gandhi National Park, where they are training volunteers to be ambassador of the park and it’s forest and biodiversity. They intend to run many such workshops

  2. It’s nice to see diversified career options slowly gaining momentum in India. I would love to know more, and get some details of the courses available as of today.

  3. A profession that anybody would die for. I am envious of these people. I have met naturalists, but they don’t call it that, but their job description is something similar. Nice informative post. Thanks.

  4. That was very interesting.. I love to go on wildlife tours. More than the animal sighting it is the tales that these naturalists tell that am super hooked too. On one such safari, the naturalist picked a dangling spider from the jeep and dropped it so carefully far from the jeep tracks so that it is not harmed.. I was in super awe. And from then on I give the insects their way. 🙂

    • Chittra, your observation is bang on. Naturalists can help raise awareness about the conservation of bio-diversity. Most of us living in urban settings hardly understand the relevance of small insects or anything that is beyond ur imagination. They can also make us visit the wild in a responsible way.

  5. The concept of careers is undergoing a sea-change and people are rethinking the reasons to choose career streams. Unconventional choices are becoming more popular. In that context, hopefully your post will inspire more people to think differently.

    • Yes, Punita.I think it can be a great option for people living in and around national parks, people living closer to bio-diversity hot spots like western ghats. If they find engaging employment closer home, migration to urban areas would hopefully slow down a bit. More importantly, people can live in their own environment.

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