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Natural inclination

From stockbroker to naturalist, Sarath's is a long journey into the great unknown



THE GREAT OUTDOORS Sarath C.R. takes some young urban denizens on a road to discovery

Sarath C.R. is a naturalist, which means that when packs of city slickers stumble out into unknown forests, he's the man with the keen eye always right on hand with the quick tips and ready facts — on animal behaviour, sighting patterns and every other bit of information you could possible want. Simply put, he's the key to the jungle.

But this is just one facet to him. He's also written a book on the forests of Kabini and Nagarhole. He's founded his own NGO, the Kabini Foundation, which provides scholarships to local youth in Nagarhole to ease their dependence on forest resources and provide self-employment options. He constantly comes up with new ideas for the Jungle Lodges resorts where he works. He's a consultant with other State Governments, helping them replicate Karnataka's ecotourism model. He's an avid photographer. And once a year, for a month, he disappears into the depths of the great safaris of Tanzania and Kenya to soak in the wildlife.

Now spending most of every month in the jungles or travelling, Sarath C.R. took an unlikely route to fulfil his lifelong dream of working with animals. Littering his journey are stints as a stockbroker and another dealing with ball bearings for a Swedish diagnostic company. His degree is not in Environment Science, but Sociology from the prestigious Delhi School of Economics.

His interest in wildlife began as young as 12 or 13 when he would read books on the subject and became determined that the Corbett National Park be his first visit to a large sanctuary. And so he waited till his postgraduate course in Delhi to begin his travels. "It was just about five hours away," he remembers. "I just got into the park and the sal trees... the jungle... the animals... the deer... made me fall in love with wildlife. I intended to enter the civil services but from that trip on, I loved travelling. I would just jump on my bike and travel, sometimes alone, sometimes with a friend."

Destination Bangalore

Ten years after that, realising he couldn't join the IFS (Indian Forest Service) because he didn't have a science background, he wandered into Bangalore. "It's the only city located so strategically close to wildlife," he explains. After some bread and butter jobs, he stumbled on to a job through an advertisement for the post of naturalist with a leading hotel group. "I had travelled to almost every single major park in India by then," he says. "But I wasn't sure if they would hire me since I had no formal experience." But he was hired and since then, Sarath has let wildlife and the forests completely consume him.

Love for wildlife

"It's lucky my wife shares my love for wildlife," he points out, since he's quite firmly and permanently rooted in the forests himself. When he got the opportunity to live and work in Nagarhole with Jungle Lodges, "I couldn't believe I would actually be living there since I used to only go there for weekends and get so depressed coming back!"

Helping shape Jungle Lodges into a company that promotes eco-tourism and takes an interest in indigenous population around their forest areas, Sarath looks beyond being an employee to what his individual contribution towards conservation could be. "In 2000, I took a small break and pondered for a while... I was having great fun, but what was I contributing? Since I understood some grassroots conservation issues and had worked with the local community near Kabini, I decided to start my own NGO."

Working at Kabini and other parks like it has allowed Sarath to interact with the big names in wildlife, watch how they work and understand their research. One such encounter with a researcher in elephant behaviour spurred on Sarath's own interests in these animals. "They have a combination of qualities which others don't have," he explains. "They are awesome yet gentle, intelligent, sensitive and have amazing olfactory senses. The more you learn the more you're fascinated" He shares stories of elephant herds, their greetings, their movement patterns and the almost-eerie female habit of moving away from the herd when she has a premonition of her impending death. Just out is his book — A Guidebook to Nagarahole and Bandipur National Parks — and he's already working on his second, this about elephants.

His photographs and journal are online at www.sarathcr.com.

This column features those who have the courage to pursue their beliefs.

HEMANGINI GUPTA

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