Careers should take their natural course, even if means having to pursue a lonely path which is spurred by childhood interests but solidified by planning, determination and conviction !
Shubhobroto Ghosh, our next pathbreaker, Wildlife Projects Manager at World Animal Protection, India, manages wildlife projects with the objective of preventing cruelty to wild animals in captivity as well as combating wildlife trade.
Shubhobroto talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about systematically planning his career very early on, by visiting zoos and learning the principles of animal husbandry and wildlife conservation while gaining exposure to the varied nuances of wildlife management in India.
For students, a career doesn’t begin after school, but right after you discover your interests and your calling, which might come at any time !
Shubhobroto, tell us about Your initial years?
I was born and grew up in Kolkata in West Bengal. I studied at Calcutta Boys’ School and was always interested in animals and books. I loved writing. I have written a book named, ‘Dreaming In Calcutta And Channel Islands,’ that speaks about my journey from childhood to my first study trip to England in 1999. My father is a businessman and my mother is a homemaker.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
I studied Journalism, Psychology and English for my graduation at Garden City College at Bangalore University. For my Masters, I studied International Journalism at the University of Westminster in London.
What prompted you to choose such an offbeat, unconventional and rare career?
I was influenced by the works of several scientists and writers during my student days, among them, Gerald Durrell, Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Billy Arjan Singh, Gopal Chandra Bhattacharya, Jacques Cousteau and Ratan Lal Brahmachary. Since I was always interested in animals and writing, this was a natural course for me.
What brought you to where you are today? Tell us about your career path
I always wanted to pursue a career where I could combine my interests in writing and animals. So I became a member of the Jersey Wildlife PreservationTrust (now Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust) and started exchanging letters with staff members of Jersey Zoo. I also systematically visited zoos since my childhood. I was always prepared to go it alone because there was a lot of opposition to my interests in many circles. I have always been mentally very tough and this is very important for young people to understand, no matter what field they are pursuing. You have to pursue a lonely path and be prepared to go it alone, because mediocrity always attracts those with herd mentality. I finished my class ten from Calcutta and then went to Assam for my Higher Secondary where I visited zoos systematically in the seven North Eastern states. I submitted my reports voluntarily to the Born Free Foundation(Zoo Check) who guided me on the process of formally surveying zoos. Thereafter, I obtained a scholarship to attend a three month training course at Jersey Zoo and spent a month in England visiting different zoos and animal welfare organisations. I received great help and guidance from stalwarts in wildlife conservation like Lee Durrell, Jeremy Mallinson and Virginia McKenna in England. I not only learnt a lot in England about wildlife management but also also learnt the true value of India in England. On my return, I did my graduation from Garden City College in Bangalore University with English, Psychology and Journalism as my major subjects. During the same time, I undertook an all India project to survey zoos in India on behalf of Zoocheck Canada. This study taught me a lot about the principles of animal husbandry in zoos and wildlife conservation and also exposed me to the varied nuances of my home country, India. The project has now been covered by the BBC and is considered to be one of the major independent studies of Indian zoos. I thereafter went to London for my Masters in International Journalism at the University of Westminster and did my Masters thesis on British zoos. Studying for my post graduation in England allowed me to interact with many international students and gave me exposure to outstanding teachers like Deborah Vogel, Richard Adamson and Gavin MacFadyen, who went on to become director of WikiLeaks. Studying in England made me a well-rounded individual and shaped my thinking and practical skills that have assisted me in my subsequent career, as well as broadening my intellectual horizons.
My first job at The Telegraph was driven by the desire to write and reach out to a wide audience, even if it was not driven by solely wildlife interests. I did write several science and wildlife stories at the Telegraph and the science section at the Telegraph, Knowhow, was among my favourite sections for writing. I moved to Wildlife Trust of India when I thought I had gathered the basic experience needed for writing and general skills in communication, journalism and media. Thereafter, I worked at TRAFFIC in WWF India, where I worked in conservation related issues connected to wildlife trade specifically. I worked on first hand investigations in wildlife markets, wildlife research, editing newsletters, participating in training workshops and public outreach and interacting with media. I switched to my current job because it provided me an opportunity to come back to my first love, working for animals in captivity. World Animal Protection is one of the world’s leading organisations working for the welfare of wild animals in captivity and felt very privileged when they offered me the position to help them in this endeavour in India.
How did you get your first break?
I got my first job via an advertised position for copy editors at The Telegraph(Anandabazar Patrika) in Calcutta. Anandabazar Patrika is one of the largest media firms in India.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
There were numerous challenges I faced as a journalist. It is a profession that gives a lot but also takes a lot. It is the most demanding profession, in fact one of the most demanding of all professions. One has to interact with a huge range of people. Some are cooperative, others are not, people also misbehave but you have to bear with them because there is no choice. During my journalistic career, I did my very best to interact with as many people as possible and learn as much as possible, although I did have my share of people misbehaving with me. Journalism also provided me the opportunity to speak to many celebrities from Mahesh Bhupathi to Mahesh Bhatt, Sourav Ganguly to Dilip Vengsarkar. I also made full use of the very valuable Anandabazar Patrika library to read old newspapers and books as well as international newspapers. One has to handle the challenges of clients or interviewee misbehaviour with equanimity, patience, tact and tolerance because there is no other way out. It is also a great challenge to write quickly and I had this quality inbuilt in me though it can be difficult for some people, which I understand. Writing skills can be developed with practice, and one learns to write by writing.
As a journalist, it is also very important to listen carefully and treat all sources with equal respect and make sure that you do not treat people with double standards. Treating people with double standards is a very common trait in all professions and ought to be avoided at all costs. Respect for humans must be uniform throughout and is the cardinal point of human existence. As the physicist, Richard Feynman said, human beings should treat human beings like human beings.
Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?
I work as Wildlife Projects Manager at World Animal Protection in India. I manage the projects of wildlife with the objective of preventing cruelty to animals used for entertainment. The project tries to discourage people from taking elephant rides, clicking selfies with tigers in Thailand and patronizing dolphinariums. Our wildlife trade campaign focuses on combating wildlife trade. There are technical skills required that I have developed through my work in zoos in India and abroad and through extensive reading. Reading is an essential part of the job. A typical day involves coordinating the project with local and international stakeholders, office colleagues and speaking to corporates and wildlifers. This job gives me the chance to work for compassionate conservation and to weld science with morality. I love this aspect of my job. I also learn new skills on the job very frequently from my office colleagues who are always around to help me, both in the India office and in the international office.
How does your work benefit society?
This work helps give voice to the voiceless and helps to protect and safeguard the environment on which we all depend. Animals need genuine friends, but cruelty to animals is rife. Animals also need qualified people to speak out for them. World Animal Protection is a leading organization working for the cause of animal welfare, so I feel privileged to be working for this organization. My association with them goes back to two decades when they endorsed the “Indian Zoo Inquiry” I conducted with my friend, Sanjib Sasmal. They were known as the World Society for the Protection of Animals then. So I have known about World Animal Protection for a very long time now and it is an honour working for this NGO.
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
World Animal Protection in India has conducted major activities to raise awareness on elephant rides in Jaipur, including interactions with the government, a cycle rally, mass media coverage and also meeting elephant owners. I also vividly remember my investigative work examining the wildlife trade at WWF/TRAFFIC India at different pet markets in India, including the famed Sonepur Market. I also make it a point to visit zoos wherever I go, to monitor conditions and have visited zoos in three continents, Asia, Europe and North America, till now. My zoo visits in India, England and Canada have been particularly memorable. I write regularly to raise awareness on animal cruelty and on how science can help us to understand the biological world better. In this regard my coverage of the famous ‘Cosmos’ series created by the astronomer Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan have been particularly memorable. I also enjoy interviewing people and have interviewed well known wildlifers like Lee Durrell, Virginia McKenna, Jane Goodall, Philip Wollen, M K Ranjitsinh, Vivek Menon and George Schaller.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Be honest and true to yourself. Avoid double standards. Bhagavad Gita’s advice to work and not worry about results has been of great help to me. Do not be misanthropic. Always remember human beings are also animals and should always be respected.
Right now, we are in the midst of a national and international coronavirus crisis. Any future plans will depend on how well my work with animals and writing is adjusted to the current conditions brought about by the pandemic. One thing is for sure, I want to keep on reading, writing and helping animals, no matter what. Take care and stay safe everyone.