Thursday, May 30, 2013

Saving wildlife as a career

In the last two decades the advent of television channels, digital photography and Internet has brought in scores of people closer to wildlife. A few even contemplate to take it up as a full-time career.

A simple definition of the profession is a good start to understand the occupation. Wildlife biologists/conservationists are those who work towards understanding the species or their habitats and work to protecting the natural world from misuse.

If you are one of those on the road to become a conservation professional the first question one needs to answer is if this is the right career for you? It is important to begin with some serious introspection. The world of wildlife biology is no Alice in Wonderland. It’s well beyond the glamour as seen on television channels. The archetypal thought of conservation professional is only a part of the larger sphere. It involves lots of drudgery, fieldwork and one does not feel triumphant every day. Conservation professionals do not spend everyday in beautiful parts of the world but the job is truly fun, exciting and rewarding in several aspects.

It’s not just about studying animal behavior. The field of conservation is very cosmopolitan hence students need to learn a variety of subjects including dealing with anyone who can make a difference to saving species. The assemblage stretches into statistics, geographical information system, policy, law, communication; all that can help students become ecologists or conservation practitioners. A good master’s program can help students to set off their career in a trained manner.

There are also options for those who are contemplating a shift in careers. Most people who come to me for advice belong to this group. If they possess the right skills and aspirations they could start working with NGOs but it is ideal to return to university to earn a degree and start over as conservation professional and make your way beyond a “conservation amateur”.  

However if you intend to buy an expensive SUV, holiday abroad and pursue other similar passions, then it’s essential to understand that for conservation professionals job satisfaction is the biggest reward than vast wealth though it supports decent standard of living. Despite all the hard work, grind and struggle, a conservation professional can go to sleep knowing well that they are striving to make a difference.

There is a large demand for trained professionals with genuine commitment and interest. If you are a person who understands both society and wildlife, concerned in solving complex conservation problems and possess communication skills then becoming a conservation practitioner is a worthy career option. However if you are content with traveling around gathering data to publish information about species, their eco-systems and other similar aspects than becoming an ecologist could be the career option.

Though there are no options within the country for those willing to pursue a qualification at the undergraduate level, there are a few opportunities for those interested to undertake a master’s course.

Some master’s course in wildlife conservation
Wildlife Institute of India –
National Centre for Biological Science –
French Institute of Pondicherry –
Ambedkar University, Delhi (School of Human Ecology) –
Aligarh Muslim University (Department of Wildlife Sciences) –

Some universities abroad that offers quality teaching in wildlife conservation biology
Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University
Earth Institute and Centre for Environmental Sustainability, Columbia University
The Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, University of Florida
Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University
University of Cambridge
School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford
Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent

Possible employment opportunities for conservation professionals

Consultancy firms

Indian Forest Service (IFS)

Conservation practitioners

Wildlife veterinarian

GIS specialist

Conservation lawyer

Ecological economist

Conservation communication

An edited version of this article is published in The Great Leap, A career handbook - 2013 published by The Hindu