Starting a new series on IndiTales – the potential travel careers. When I looked at 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?
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 natural 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
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 the 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?
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.
- A 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?
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.
- Bombay Natural History Society
- Nature Conservation Foundation
- Nature Foundation India
- Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History
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 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 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?
- 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 rather 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.
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.