Every time you meet someone new, one of the very first questions they throw at you is what you do for a living. I’ve learnt to brace myself for the various reactions I get every time I answer this question.
My job is saving tigers.
Most people are super excited; they ask if I’ve ever seen a wild tiger. They want to know what the Sundarbans is like. But there are others who are less enthusiastic; it’s hard for them to digest the idea that women, especially a woman from Bangladesh can choose a career like conservation when she had other options.
But the strange thing is, women in Bangladesh have always been deeply connected with nature. In the villages, women are in charge of harvesting, plantation, taking care of household animals. In the hill tracts women walk mile after mile through wilderness to collect drinking water. Even in the busy city of Dhaka, I see it’s women who are striving to hold onto nature in some small way through the greens of their rooftop gardens. Whenever natural balance is hurt in some way, women are the first to notice and feel it. To me, it seemed only natural that women would come forward in nature conservation.
The world is full of inspiring female conservationists. Dame Jane Goodall’s photographs holding Chimpanzees have become almost iconic. Rachel Carson’s research and writing (silent spring!) inspired a generation of grassroot environmentalists. Nobel Laureate Wangari Mathai initiated the Green Belt Movement, which has planted more than 51 million trees in Kenya. The qualities that are generally associated with women - their nurturing nature and determination, helped these women forge ahead even in the face of many difficulties.
When I joined WildTeam one of things I loved most was the presence of many strong women. There is Rezvin who is in charge of Conservation Action in the field, Gawsia and Lita who who are doing the very important task of monitoring and evaluation and Samia – who is doing a PhD on Bengal tigers, and Christina and Lucy – who bind WildTeam together with their incredible spirit. I have seen these women spend months in the field in the most basic conditions, wade knee deep in mud to reach the remotest villages, listen to local people in communities devastated by cyclones – and through it all, I have seen their passion for nature, and compassion for people shining through.
I have never been a very sporty kind of girl. The first time I visited the Sundarbans two and a half years ago, living for a week in a tiny boat (yup, you live, sleep, cook and clean all in a small boat) didn’t seem like something I will enjoy. But the moment I breathed in the fresh forest air, the first time I saw a pugmark by a canal – it hit me that every minute I spend in my work is somehow contributing to keeping the Sundarbans and the tigers roaming in the depth of the Sundarbans safe. That feeling of contentment has no comparison.
You don’t have to be a Zoologist to answer the call of the wild. Whether you are a math geek, have a keen eye for business, like gears and gadgets, love writing and photography (that’s me !) – conservation has a role for everyone to play. So if you know in your heart that nature is calling to you, I say jump right in.
But has it never been difficult?
I admit, at times choosing this career path has been hard. Each time I learn that a tiger has died, that deer are being poached for their skin, or age old forest trees are being cut down – it physically hurts. So the difficulty of building a career in conservation lies in caring too much, not in being a woman. But the good thing is, ‘caring too much’ – which has always been perceived as something that make women weak, is exactly what helps to make a strong impact in conservation.
After all, can Captain Planet ever be summoned without the ‘heart’ ring?