From listening to some of India’s prominent conservationists discussing wildlife management to finding friends in dogs, cats, hedgehogs, monkeys, peafowl, mongoose, and even an elephant—life for Dr Latika Nath has never been less than extraordinary.
An undergraduate degree in Environment Science from Maitreyi College (University of Delhi) and a scholarship opportunity that led her to the School of Forestry at the University of Wales, Bangor, would become defining factors for the young woman to embark on a lifelong journey in the field of wildlife biology and conservation.
But nothing beats the tag conferred to the wildlife biologist by the National Geographic—India’s Tiger Princess!
What would quite literally be a living nightmare for scores of people, was instead a dream come true for Latika when she got the opportunity of working with the tiger population in Bandhavgarh, Madhya Pradesh, in the early nineties.
Seeking to complete a doctorate in Conservation Biology, Latika had applied to the nascent Wildlife Institute of India (WII) for a research fellowship, and following a mentor’s advice, had zeroed upon a comprehensive study on the conservation and management of tigers in India.
However, at that point, there was no comprehensive long-term study on the species, and to add to that, there was a lack of women on the field. However, the experience of living with tigers in the forests, irrespective of the wide-ranging weather conditions was something she did not want to miss out on!
“At times mine would be the only vehicle in the forest. It was hard work, but nothing could match the experience of living with tigers. I got to know every member of the tiger family intimately,” said Latika to The Hindustan Times.
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As her work started garnering attention from wildlife spheres across the country, she found herself being pulled into unwarranted political conflicts and false accusations of manufacturing and fabricating data. Unfortunately, this led to her research permissions and grants being cancelled, and it looked like her dream was coming to a standstill.
Fortunately, an intervention in the form of Dr Judith Pallot, an academic at Christ Church, emerged as the speck of light at the end of the tunnel for a dejected Latika, who was accepted to the University of Oxford under the mentorship of none other than famous biologist David Macdonald.
Additionally, the US Fish and Wildlife Service restored her permissions and grants to continue on tiger study, after personally verifying and checking the authenticity of her data and work.
The ‘tiger princess’ tag followed when her work caught the attention of National Geographic, who then expressed the desire to document Latika’s life and work.
Currently, one of the foremost experts on tigers in India, Dr Latika continues to live and work in the field, where each day is a fight to keep the impending threat of tiger extinction at bay, despite a major lack of interest and funds from the centre.
“With each dead tiger one sees or every animal caught in a trap, my determination to work harder grows. I cannot imagine a world without tigers, or my country without its forests. I have a dream and each day I remind myself that dreams can come true. You just have to believe in yourself and dare to be different and walk your own path,” she adds.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)