Goan Herpetologist Constructs A Green Brigade

For The Love Of The Wild 

by Kanchi Mehta

The Chameleon

Goan Herpetologist Constructs  A Green Brigade

The Chameleon speaks to Nirmal Kulkarni, a passionate herpetologist and an Eco-Warrior, who is silently building an army of conservationists and changing the way people see their envirnoment.

When writing about a specialist in reptiles and amphibians, one must be very, very careful.  I had the privilege of travelling with Nirmal Kulkarni on a Conservation Outreach program across Goa and Karnataka, and I say this very seriously, he is completely out of his mind! Nirmal is always on the lookout for snakes. Be it the King Cobra, the Pit Viper or a Python. The more venomous it is, the more exciting the hunt is for him. He always has a snake hook attached to his belt loop, and is willing to go to great lengths to simply ‘check them out’ in their natural habitat. “This is my vice. I have none other.”

A Bachelor in Applied Arts from the Goa College of Art, Nirmal also holds a Masters in Environment and Ecology from the Indian Institute of Environment and Ecology, New Delhi. In addition, he has completed a year long course in Herpetology from the Bombay Natural History Society.

For the last 16 years, Nirmal has researched, mapped and documented the intense bio-diversity of the Western Ghats, especially the Mahdei region.  He has published ‘The Goan Jungle Book’, offering a vivid description of the state’s breathtaking ecology.

By establishing the Mahdei Research Centre, Goa’s first independent field research station, he has created a single platform that trains young naturalists and brings communities and wildlife enthusiasts together. His other base is the Hypnale Research Station at Kuveshi, Karnataka. Nirmal has been working tirelessly to help conserve the forests of the Western Ghats, by providing alternative livelihoods with less impact on the environment. Nirmal is also a director at the Wildernest Nature Resort, one of the most important (and beautiful) conservation centres in the state.

Apart from being an Eco-Ninja, Nirmal has been a key player in recruiting and motivating grass roots activists.

We need more people on our side,” he says “This is no longer a job for just a few professionals. Unless we have the support of each and every human being to become aware of their natural surroundings, who can respect it, conserve and preserve it, we will not stop.”

For this reason, Nirmal initiated CORT (Conservation Outreach Road Trip), where several people accompany Nirmal to the natural reserves of the Western Ghats, traveling in a Skorpio car, which is brimming with back-packs, equipment and an up-to-date medical kit.

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Nirmal Kulkarni

“Every CORT trip has a photographer, a writer, a wildlife enthusiast and a researcher accompanying me, and this ensured that a detailed report and reality check was done on field issues that concern the forests of the areas we visited. With the help of images, video shoots and journal entries and sketches, we generated stories for popular as well as scientific interest.”

Through the CORT trips, Nirmal has witnessed the heartfelt commitment of field staff of the forest departments of Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra. He has explored the stunning beauty of each of those states. “This, for me is sheer bliss.” CORT has also generated a new breed of wildlife warriors for the Western Ghats (myself included), whose work will define the way these forests are viewed by everyone else.

Collecting knowledge about one’s environment is a delightful habit, and one that’s best inculcated at an early age. “One must be able to look at a bird or a tree in their neighborhood and know the basic characteristics and nature of it, and so, if they notice anything odd, they must be able to bring awareness about the same.” Nirmal has initiated plans to create Nature Clubs in schools, so that children are encouraged to observe and document. This is a clever way to involve parents as well. The Children’s Outreach Program extends to 30 schools across 3 states, and is the backbone of his awareness initiatives.

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Nirmal Kulkarni analysing a snake’s skin

Nirmal has also reached out to outdoor sports enthusiasts, urging them to record and document the species of wildlife during their adventures.

“I call this my Second Line of Defense, where we are creating a younger generation of people who help us with our mission. We call this CITIZEN SCIENCE, where the common people come to contribute to data collection, and over time, this becomes a way of life.”

Nirmal has also worked as a volunteer with the Wildlife Conservation Society, estimating prey for tigers in the Nagarhole Wildlife Sanctuary in Karnataka, and as a group team leader on a Biodiversity documentation Programme at the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh. He is also involved in data collection and consultancy services on eco-tourism and wildlife research projects in six states, including Goa, Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. In 16 years of ground work with communities, field staff, researchers and students, Nirmal has used a combination of science, photography and activism to spark what he hopes will become an environmental revolution.

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Nirmal Kulkarni in wild action

He concludes, “If we can sustainably use the infrastructure we already have, it will have far reaching advantages. The Earth gives back what we give Her. To respect our land and all the flora and fauna is our primary survival resource.

For more information on his programs, please check

www.goawildwatch.blogspot.com

www.mahdeiresearchcenter.org

www.wildernest-Goa.com

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