Whether it is mitigating Climate Change, Biodiversity Management or Conservation of Wetlands, all are interconnected and are key factors that not only ensure our sustenance but also secure the same for our future generations.

Jyotirmay Jena, our next pathbreaker, Biodiversity Expert at Bihar Vikas Mission, Environment, Forest & Climate Change Department, focuses on Climate Change related challenges in conservation of Wetlands in the state. 

Jyotirmay talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about the various opportunities to travel to most of the tiger reserves and learn about communities living in and around them which inspired him to get into practicing conservation on the ground and bring more impact.

For students, environmental ecosystems are our defense against natural calamities such as floods. Hence, it is very important that our future policies are framed to provide safeguards against climate challenges in every sector.

Jyotirmay, what were your early years like?

I spent my entire childhood in a small village in Balasore district of Odisha State. I belong to a typical middle class Indian family, where my father has a small business and my mother is a homemaker. Since I grew up in a village, my childhood had a lot of exposure to nature. My maternal granny often used to tell me stories of wildlife that were found in the nearby village forest. She was my first teacher who taught me about different birds, animals in the form of stories. Also, many of my holidays were spent in one my maternal uncle’s house which is adjacent to the forest area of the Similipal Tiger Reserve. So along with my cousin brother, I often visited the buffer area of Similipal National Park from the very beginning. I listened to stories from people about their encounters with leopards, sloth bears and other wildlife. This exposure had a very strong impact on me and I was fascinated by nature from a very young age. 

What did you do for graduation/ post graduation?

Since I was interested in nature, I always preferred biological science as my major. I did my graduation in Botany from Fakir Mohan University and thereafter did my Master’s in Wildlife and Conservation Biology from North Odisha University, Odisha.

Tell us what prompted you to take up such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

I believe the stories I heard from my granny ignited my curiosity to learn more about nature. Over the years till my 12th, I found that I was strong in Biology and hence decided to choose BSc in Botany. But one of my Zoology Professors introduced and motivated me to pursue Wildlife Conservation for my post-graduation. I did my Master’s in Wildlife and Conservation Biology from North Orissa University. During that time, it was fairly a new University and we were the first batch. My Professor Dr Hemant Sahu has had a huge influence on my career. He not only taught us but also guided me to shape my future career.

Tell us about your career path

After finishing my master’s, I wanted to gain field experience. Hence. I joined as a PhD student at the James Cook University, Australia as Technical Assistant. We worked on Irrawaddy Dolphins of Chilika Lagoon in Odisha. This was my first exposure to a field job.

But at the same time, I aspired for a fellowship at Wildlife Institute of India (WII), which is one of premier institutes for Wildlife Science. I got the opportunity when I was selected as Junior Research Fellow for the All India Tiger Estimation Project under the guidance of Dr Jhala and Prof Qamar Qureshi after which I worked with Prof Bitapi Sinha. At WII, I learnt a lot, gained knowledge and had tremendous exposure. Working in various projects, engaging in discussions with scientists and other researchers helped me to broaden my understanding and gain many new skills. My engagement with WII gave me opportunities to travel to most of the tiger reserves and I learnt a lot about communities living in and around them. This inspired me to get into practicing conservation on the ground and bring more impact.

Hence, I joined WWF-India as Senior Project Officer (Tiger Biologist) to work on Tiger Conservation in Central India. I was responsible for monitoring of species, identification of key sites for tiger conservation, wildlife corridors, managing human wildlife conflict etc. Direct involvement on the ground, interaction with the local community and facing the challenges during these initial days helped me to develop myself as a conservation professional. In later years, I was promoted to Coordinator-Species and was leading the tiger conservation program for central India with more responsibility of policy interventions, program management, supervising team members etc. 

My current role as Biodiversity Expert is to provide technical expertise/advice related to Biodiversity Conservation, Conservation of Wetlands and on Climate Change to the Department of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of Bihar. 

How did you get your first break? 

My first Job was with WWF-India, as all my prior roles were fellowships. I came to know about the vacancy with WWF-India from one of my seniors, Dr Jimmy Borah with whom I worked at WII. So yes networking is very essential.

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

Challenge 1: Lack of exposure 

Lack  of exposure to cutting edge technology and ongoing developments in scientific research during my master’s was a big challenge since mine was a newly created university as well as department.I utilized my time at WII, used the library, accessed journals, read a lot and spoke to supervisors and fellow researchers to learn from them. 

Challenge 2: Limited opportunities

I tried to enhance my skills besides my core interests. These skills gave me an edge in many places. Continuing learning, reading and on job training helped me to grow. 

Where do you work now? What problems do you solve?

I am currently working as a Biodiversity Expert with the Department of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of Bihar. Since I am with the Climate Change and Wetland Wing of the Department, most of my work is focused on Climate Change related and Conservation of Wetlands in the state. 

What are the skills required for your role? How did you acquire them?

Both of these above subjects require strong scientific understanding/capabilities on climate science, environmental science, ecology, biodiversity, wetland ecology and many more topics. At the same time one needs to have good knowledge on various policies of government, socio political aspirations and ground realities.

What’s a typical day like?

My typical day starts in the office with various tasks scheduled from earlier days including, dealing with various files for communications, decision making, meetings with multiple stakeholders. Also a lot of discussions, meetings, presentations take place with various higher officials, ministers on different issues for taking decisions and setting future course of actions.

How does your work benefit society?

The work we do, not only benefits the society today in multiple ways but also the future generation. Whether it is Climate Change, Biodiversity or Conservation of Wetlands, all are interconnected. Securing and conserving the biodiversity, ecosystems is not only important for sustenance of human existence but also securing the same for our future generations. The impacts of climate change are already affecting various aspects of human life. Hence it is very important that we act as a society to adapt to and mitigate climate change so that our future policies are framed to provide safeguards against climate challenges in every sector.

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

I always cherish the conservation work I did in Central India. The first ever survey of the tiger corridor (Kanha-Pench corridor) or  understanding the potential of Balaghat forest in Madhya Pradesh as a key tiger recovery site are projects close to me. Also the work on managing human tiger conflict outside tiger reserves are close to me.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

  • Read (Books/Journals/Articles) a lot, keep yourself updated and build up a network with professionals.
  • Enhance writing skills.
  • Develop multiple skill sets.
  • Highlight your work on suitable platforms.

Future Plans?

To continue policy level work on climate change adaptation and mitigation. Enhance sensitization and build capacity of various government and private sectors on climate change. Conservation of various important ecosystems in the states.