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Can you tell us about your background? How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?

I grew up in Munnar in Kerala, where seeing wildlife was almost a daily phenomenon. Going trekking with friends and observing animal tracks and signs, seeing elephants grazing on grassland-slopes right next to my school or making an occasional trip to the tourist zone of the Eravikulam National Park to see Nilgiri Tahr made me wonder about these animals and want to really do something about keeping their habitats intact. However, disillusioned by the status of zoology courses that I had access to, I did my Bachelor’s in English Literature, Journalism and Political Science. During my last year, I heard about the only master’s course in wildlife biology in India offered by National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) that took in students from multi-disciplinary backgrounds. I saw it as a means to finally get into the field of work that I had always been passionate about. Interests that I have developed along the way include trekking, butterfly-watching, bird-watching, photography, traveling and reaching out to the public about science, to name a few.

Can you tell us about your work?

For my master’s thesis, I examined patterns of occupancy and habitat use by the Asian small-clawed otterAonyx cinereus in Eravikulam National Park in Idukki district in Kerala. This work has recently been published as a scientific paper (Perinchery, A., Jathanna, D., Kumar, A. 2011. Factors determining occupancy and habitat use by Asian small-clawed otters in the Western Ghats, India. Journal of Mammalogy 92 (4): 796-802).

As part of the thesis, I also identified up to species level, a set of thirty-six otter pelts that were confiscated by the Karnataka Police Department from the Uttara Kannada district in northern Karnataka. Later, in 2009, I worked with Dr. Uma Ramakrishnan at the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) on phylogenetic analysis of otter skin and tissue samples, comparing genetic data from otters in south, central and north-east India.

Following my master’s degree, I participated briefly in a survey for large mammals in the Shencottah Gap in the southern Western Ghats with FERAL (Foundation for Ecological Research Advocation and Learning). I also initiated a project on plant communities in the shola-grasslands of the Western Ghats with Dr. Mahesh Sankaran at NCBS.

What are you doing currently?

I’m currently working as a trainee journalist with NCBS. My aim is to lead this to writing full-time as a science writer, especially about current work that is published about ecology and the environment in India. I believe it is important that news about science and scientific progress be broken down into understandable language devoid of jargon: literature about science and its findings that common man can understand and thus, appreciate and support. Currently, written work I have completed for NCBS can be accessed at http://news.ncbs.res.in/source/aathira-perinchery.