Managing conflicts is never easy. Conflict Management is taught as a course in several B-Schools around the world. But there are some conflicts that can never be taught in schools. They can be learnt only on the field through real experience.

Yashaswi Rao, our next pathbreaker, is a wildlife biologist who manages conflicts between humans and tigers/elephants at periphery areas by monitoring their activity and collecting data to predict movement and behavior.

Yashaswi talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy  from The Interview Portal about the unique challenges conservationists face in their attempts to avoid conflict between humans and wild animals and what brought him to this career path!

Yashaswi, tell us about your background?

While I always had an affinity towards nature and wildlife, I never really thought of it as a career. I had the life of any other middle class child. I was good at academics as well as in sports. I loved the outdoors. Activities like camping and hiking trips excited me. But I always wanted to take the more unconventional path. The first instance of that was when I chose to pursue commerce instead of science, even though most people expected me to go for science. But even at this point, I was not sure what I wanted to do in my life.

What did you study?

I had decided to pursue a management degree and that’s when I came across an institute which offered a course in Forestry Management. I decided to pursue my Master’s at Indian institute of Forest Management. That was the first step I took towards a career that revolved around natural resources.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?

The biggest factor was my own drive to pursue a different path, a path that could help me align my career with my passion for conservation. But I never would’ve been able to take the first step without the support of my parents. Any unconventional career choice is difficult without the support of friends and family.

How did you get your first break?

After my Master’s in Forestry management, a career in wildlife management was in front of me but I screwed up a little. During campus placements, I joined an MNC that manufactured paper. It was a corporate desk job. And I spent a solid two years there. These two years had driven me further away from my goal of working with wildlife. And it’s always difficult to quit a comfortable job. I had applied for a MSc course in Wildlife Biology and was unable to clear the interview, owing to my limited exposure to the field. This was a major turning point for me. It drove me to quit my job and intern with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) for a few months. This gave me my first break

Tell us about your career path

I was an Intern at WII from Aug’18 to Dec’18. During this period I worked across two tiger reserves – Sanjay Dubri tiger reserve in M.P and Satkosia tiger reserve in Odisha. In Sanjay Dubri, i was largely involved in the active management of elephant conflict, since elephants are notorious for property damage and agricultural losses. So during that period, my work usually involved tracking elephant movement during the day, trying to predict where the herd would go at night, setting up an electrical fence near the particular village and monitoring movement at night. In Satkosia, two tigers had recently been translocated from M.P. My work revolved around tiger monitoring of the two collared tigers. We had 24 hour cycles of monitoring where we would spend 24 hours in Forest tracking the tigers on alternate days. If there was movement near a village, we would try to push the tiger back into the forest to avoid conflict. 

Next i was a Junior Project biologist at WII, SECURE Himalaya project, from Jan’19 to Aug’19. This was my first project as a researcher. This was a UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) funded project, aimed at conservation of the Himalayan landscape and I was a part of the human-wildlife conflict component. Work involved intensive field work for data collection in the Darma-Byans-Chaudans valleys of Pithoragarh. We used to conduct group discussions and household surveys for data collection. We also setup camera traps across the mountains to observe movement of wild animals. The other aspect was analyzing the data to prepare a management strategy for mitigating conflict.

Currently iam JRF (Research Fellow) at WII, as a part of Large carnivore conflict project. This is a long term project for mitigating large carnivore conflicts in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra which is a hotspot for conflict incidents. You might have heard of Avni the tigress. She was from my forest division in Yavatmal district. Work here involves looking into past conflict incidents to figure out trends, while collecting data regarding current populations and movement, in order to reduce carnivore conflict in the future, which is absolutely necessary for conserving species like Tigers.

What were the challenges? how did u address them?

I did not having a Science background nor did i have enough field experience. Also, this is a highly competitive sector, where earnings and job stability are both limited

Not having a Science background is something that I can’t really do much about. I try my best to highlight the diversity in my background and my knowledge of varied subjects. As far as earnings go, each person needs to make a personal choice, choosing between decent pay and their own passion. Whichever aspect motivates them and makes them feel satisfied, is the way to go.

Where do you work now? 

I’m currently a Research fellow at the Wildlife Institute of India in a project titled – “Understanding large carnivore conflict in Maharashtra”. I try to look at factors that cause conflicts between people and carnivores in areas of overlap. A variety of skills are required for the job – management skills, research skills, field-based practical skills, wildlife science techniques. Basically, a healthy mind as well as a fit body. The concept of ‘typical day’ does not exist in the field. Every day is varied, owing to the dynamics of wild animals. But I usually spend a few hours in the forest at least 4 days a week. When I’m not in the forest, I work on data collection and analysis. I also liaise with forest department bureaucrats on a regular basis. The most enticing aspect of my work is the fact that I get to be in places where most people can’t enter and do things most people would not be allowed to. 

 How does your work benefit the society? 

My work is crucial for ensuring a future where humans and wild animals co-exist. If we let things go unchecked, we would soon get to a point where our societal pressure on natural resources would drive these majestic creatures to extinction.

Tell us an example of a specific work you did that is very close to you!

While in Madhya Pradesh in Sanjay Dubri Tiger Reserve, I was part of a collaring option for a tigress. I was responsible for taking measurements during the operation and it was my first time seeing a tiger up close. It was also the first time I got to touch a wild tiger and it’s something I’ll always cherish.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

While it’s never too late to start, I do think that good planning goes a long way. When I look back at things, if I’d known that this is what I wanted to do in life, I would’ve done some things differently. Students should try to give some conscious thought to what kind of a career they want to pursue. It doesn’t have to be something that everyone else is doing. They don’t all have to become engineers and doctors. There are thousands of different things they can do, if they put some thought into it.

Future Plans?

First step would be to get a doctorate and that in itself is a journey