How To Be Naturalist – Careers In Travel & Tourism

Naturalist in the wild
Nature guides in the wild

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 the 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 Mahes Gurung on job
Mahes Gurung 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 nature guide 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.

Mahes Gurung

Naturalist Mahes Gurung
Nature guide Mahes Gurung

Mahes has been a nature guide 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 nature guides at this point in time are self-trained like Mahes. He indicates that sensing 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 neighbors – literally

Like any other profession, being a nature guide 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.
  • Willing 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 pugmarks

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

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

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

Naresh Singh

Naresh Singh
Nature guide Naresh Singh

Naresh Singh who is fondly known as Gudda comes from the forests of central India, more precisely Bandhavgarh. Born to a farmer, 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 professional. 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 them. 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 a 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 ones. There is an opportunity in developing a curriculum for the naturalists.

Watch the Video

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

How much can I earn as a Naturalist?

Always on a safari
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 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 wildlife tourism picks up in India, I am sure, the need for more and more professional nature guides will come up.

Video: Naturalist – Career Options Who Love Nature and Wildlife with Manav Khanduja

Do watch this video of my conversations with Manav Khanduja on career options as a naturalist.

My view

At this point in time, the Nature guide 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 read the following travel blog posts on wildlife sanctuaries of India.

Collarwali Tigress – Queen of Pench National Park & Tiger Reserve

Meeting Munna – Rock Star Tiger at Kanha National Park

Bandhavgarh National Park Wildlife – Beyond the Tigers

5 ways to Explore the Forests of Satpura National Park

Birds of Pench National Park – Bird Photography


  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.

  6. Namaste!!!
    Dear Sir/Mam,
    very great oppotunity for naturalist work ,my hometown is sasan gir forest , land of lions .
    i am totaly ready for do my mothers nature job , i am seen five yeasr still working with naturalist & recreation , my hobbies are living with five elements , Natures , i know about foana and flora , i take care of , herbles plants information , macro idification , birds watching , nature trails , trekking, mountain hiking ,yoga, mountain maditation , river meditation ,wildlife& nature photography ,
    i was worked with club mahindra holidays resort india limited, , sterling holidays and thomas cook resort india limited , now asiatic lion lodge eco friendly ,

    Warm regards
    Ramesh sarvani
    +91 8758801809

  7. Ma’am, I’ve just completed my 12th commerce in Nagpur, I’m attached to the forests since birth as my parents are wildlife lovers, so much so that we have our own dwelling place in Kanha National Park.. I want to help give back to the depleting Mother Nature and save our limited forests,, please do guide me in becoming a professional naturalist. Thanks. Brendon GONSALVES

  8. I’m interested for tour and travel. And I have also done my aviation hospitality and tourism. I’m very frank if u give me a chance I will do my best. Thankyou


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