What do you do?
The positive side of being a naturalist, apart from being in the wilderness, is to get to meet interesting people. Sarath Champati spent three days in 1998 with Robert Plant (of Led Zeppelin fame) showing him the flora and fauna of Kabini in Karnataka. “I didn’t know he was Plant, but I was glad to be in the man’s company anyway because he oozed charisma,” says Sarath, who wants to be reborn as a langoor. “Langoors know how to embrace the rain, heat and cold with equipoise; they are most alert and attentive,” he smiles.
Can you tell us about your background? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and interesting career?
Before Champati became a naturalist, he had already spent a considerable amount of time believing in and following the tenets of naturalism. He joined the Delhi School of Economics not for ‘studies’ but because it allowed him easy access to all his favourite national parks. At 20, as Champati’s safari bus drove into the dense Sal forest of Corbett, a Sambar stepped out and gazed at him with a surprised look in its big eyes. It was a moment of truth for him and he fell in love with the raw animal power those eyes exuded. The intense feeling that he experienced haunted him long after. He continued to visit national parks even as he ran an icecream parlour and later, when he traded at the stock exchange.
What was the turning point?
In 1996, when he was offered a job as a naturalist in Murkal, Nagarahole, he was only too glad to leave city life behind. Didn’t the low income deter him? “I was young and reckless, and such mundane issues, thankfully, didn’t weigh me down. An undying opportunity to work in the jungles was my ultimate dream,” he says. When Champati chose to become a naturalist, other young Indians were captivated by the IT boom. Butterflies, birds, nature trails, etc, held little or no charm for them. “In fact, at the time I was hired, they didn’t even have a job profile for a naturalist,” he shares.
What do you do now?
He currently trains the youth to become naturalists. Champati monitors their standards so that they offer the best wildlife experience to guests. He also advises companies on sustainable practices, conservation and other related issues. But his biggest challenge is converting Indians to become evolved ‘wildlife tourists’ who ask for more than just a tiger sighting. “People visiting national parks want to sight only the big animals or photograph them, forgetting the butterflies and birds, the flora and fauna, truly a sight to behold,” he adds. Champati is currently working on a book that captures his travels from around the world.
What kind of growth does this field offer?
It’s all about improving one’s skill, informs Champati, who had the opportunity to lead scholars from the Harvard Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian Institute. “One can also branch out and become an independent tour leader, wildlife photographer, film-maker, author — the possibilities are endless.” Currently, his focus is on building a pool of local naturalists. “I am now more involved in training the youth from the local rural community; through their help we can work better on conservation,” he adds.
Along with his wife Indu, Champati offers annual scholarships through their NGO, Kabini Foundation. The focus is to reduce human pressure on the natural habitat of Kabini by taking care of the local community . “We make sure competent students avail of higher education, and people have access to good healthcare. This motivates them to preserve the forest around the areas they live.” Champati’s constant endeavour is to communicate his wildlife encounters through his blog ‘as lucidly as possible’ so that it motivates people to care for the wildlife.