Avocation meets vocation in the wilderness

In line with the theme of this year’s World Tourism Day, which is about job generation, here are a few offbeat profiles

Published - October 02, 2019 02:10 pm IST

Trekking and team work .  Photo: Special Arrangement

Trekking and team work . Photo: Special Arrangement

Recently, on LinkedIn, there was a job posting seeking a naturalist. The job description was interesting. One would normally associate such jobs with identification of fauna and flora in the wild. The job description made it clear that the candidate should be creative, and be able to translate facts into fascinating stories. They needed a storyteller-naturalist.

A naturalist employed by a resort to get clients to understand nature hotspots nearby will be seen as one of the voices of the facility, and therefore they will have great expectations to live up to.

A number of resorts and lodges hire naturalists on full-time or contractual basis. Besides, national parks and forest departments need naturalists on their pay-rolls.

Asif Khan, an ornithologist and programme officer with Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), recalls how the field has evolved over the years. When he joined BNHS ten years ago, there were very few in-house naturalists.

“Only top resorts hired them,” he says. “Today, even smaller resorts in Gir and Pangot have in-house naturalists,” says Khan.

Earlier, resorts would hire a naturalist and often expect them to double as managers. Now, a naturalist’s job is seen as specialisation. A naturalist may be expected to work in isolated places, and for long hours, to be able to find hotspots for flora and fauna that may interest clients.

Khan did his Masters in Oceanography and Biotechnology. He was always fascinated with bird-watching and that is central to what he does for a living. He developed as a birder all by himself.

“Most naturalists are self-taught,” says Khan.

Kaustubh Srikanth, naturalist for WWF-India, says as urbanites are now seeking to be more connected with nature, the role of the naturalist keeps evolving. “Through nature trails and workshops, I develop new stories based on the experiences in the wild to get youngsters interested in the nature studies,” says Srikanth, who did his Masters in wildlife biology.

On a Himalayan high

Indiahikes, a Bengaluru-based organisation, receives around 10 applications every day for trek leaders or trek guides looking for employment. Most of the applications don’t make the cut. In fact, only a few applicants get hired.

“We recruit around 40 people every year after multiple rounds,” says Sandhya Chandrasekharayya, co-founder, Indiahikes.

There are many adventure-seekers who are giving up cubicles for the mountain tops. Many of them are hired by tour operators, either on a full-time or contractual basis, to lead teams in the mountains.

Indiahikes, for instance, insists applicants have a course in mountaineering from a certified institute, have done at least two high-altitude Himalayan treks, have a minimum of two-years’ work experience in any field and possess good communication skills. Hiring is mostly done for full-time roles. After seven to eight months of training, one will be ready to lead a team.

“This is like a mini-management degree — high on people’s management skills,” says Sandhya. The role evolves and people go on to become “slope managers” and “outdoor trainers”.

Many outdoor sports and adventure companies hire trek guides based on needs. Ghoomophiro, a tour and travel agency that runs treks for women, hires freelancers for the job.

“More than a formal education, we look for familiarity with the local terrain and conditions; and for experience in the candidate,” says Prachi Garg who runs Ghoomophiro.

Trek the Himalayas and Himalyan High are a few other organisations that have requirements for trek leaders and assistant trek leaders through the year.

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