For the Love of Wildlife and Cause of Conservation

8 months, 3 weeks ago 1
Posted in: Blog


From a student to a finance/administration head was one big leap. Now, from the office to the field is going to be no less than a launch into fresh challenges. But that isn’t deterring Mrunmayee, given her commitment to wildlife conservation.

Mrunmayee, most happy outdoors

The quick transformation within a decade, from a teenager focused solely on studies and volleyball, to becoming the Assistant Director – Finance and Administration of a wildlife conservation organisation, sums the eventful journey of this young woman, committed to the cause of wildlife conservation.

Five years of managing the finances, learning to strategise, prioritise, analyse and tackle issues, gave Mrunmayee Amarnath a good insight into conservation and how effective planning can help. But while the learning has been good, the itch to get out there in the field now sees her switching roles.

As Mrunmayee embarks on her new journey, we take a quick look at the making of an intrepid wildlife activist. A native of Chikmagalur, it was as a mere lark that she first attended a meeting of the local group WildCAT-C at the behest of a friend. Going for the same during weekends was more perfunctory than borne out of any particular interest. But it was all to change soon when she attended line transects conducted by WCS-India in Bhadra Tiger Reserve.

“I remember having to lie to my teacher to skip class. To convince her how important it was, I told her that taking part in the line transect would help me in my career,” recalls Mrunmayee, noting how that the lie eventually did become a truth!

She was not yet 20 then. Life had been all about doing well at studies and volleyball, a game in which she excelled, playing at university and state levels.

Even when she did her first few ‘line walks’ it was not with any particular interest. (These are surveys undertaken to estimate herbivore numbers and involve teams of two walking the forest in pre-determined paths of 3 kms. The walk is done in the least intrusive and unhurried manner, with the duo watching all around and jotting all that they see.)

But in 2009 when walking the lines with an experienced hand, Mrunmayee missed a leopard sighting that her companion on the line had not. “That was it! I was disappointed by the miss and went back to the field with renewed desire to see what I had missed.”

Enjoying the serenity by the side of Bhadra river

Soon came the transition period with her degree in business management completed and the search for a job. She moved to Bangalore and worked with IBM for a few months and then attempted civil service examination before joining the Northern Trust Bank, working there until the monotony of it began to hit her. Using her one week mandatory off time, she volunteered for several projects of WCS-India including helping the research assistants scour the camera trap images manually. This was a time before any software was available and every image had to be compared with the available database.

Mrunmayee’s next engagement with conservation came in 2011 when she went on a human-wildlife conflict survey in Bhadra landscape outside the protected areas. “With the relocation of people from Bhadra still fresh in their minds as also the ones undertaken at Kudremukh, there were all sorts of fears and apprehensions in the minds of the people. This resulted in many not cooperating with the survey. It gave an insight into the challenges of wildlife as I interacted with people, witnessed forest fire, etc.”

That experience also gave her an idea of the human context to wildlife conservation. Soon she began visiting other landscapes. It was during a line transect at Bandipur conducted by WCS-India when Mrunmayee got lucky and saw wildlife at close quarters. The transformation was complete. “I learnt the skill of walking in the forest and the seriousness of a line transect then.”

Inspired by D V Girish, who she considers her mentor, she began taking interest in knowing more about the forests, challenges and solutions. She started taking visits to the field more earnestly and “did line transects religiously, not missing a year” till 2018. So far she has walked line transects in Bhadra, Bandipur, Wayanad and Ranthambore. The bored teenager was now a nature lover who was totally mesmerised in the wilderness by things as inconsequential as a breeze or the sound of rustling grass, to something as magnificent and awe-inspiring as a tiger with its cubs.

With the line transect team in Wayanad

Mrunmayee’s interest and involvement with Wildcat-C grew stronger as the group took on windmills, roads and a burgeoning tourism in its battle to conserve the Chikmagalur natural landscape. In 2013, K Ullas Karanth, the former Director of WCS-India,  offered her the job of program manager at WCS-India. “I was initially unsure as I did not want to be tied up at yet another desk job handling finance. But I was tempted when assured that I could go off to the field now and then.”

That did not happen and she was stuck to the office and desk for the next five years! However, looking back now, Mrunmayee sees the positive side to the period. It gave her a good look at conservation and the issues. “The role of finance in conservation work is crucial. I realised how important it is to run conservation organisations professionally and manage finances diligently. Good planning helps project management as also grant management. Overall, it has helped me strengthen my perspective.”

The strategising and working in a systematic and organised manner will stand her in good stead now as she takes on entirely new balance sheets.

She did try to do a bit of field work along with managing finances for the organisation but it was difficult as central administration is a very challenging role, she admits, and that is why she has now chosen to take on a new role. Plans include expanding the conservation agenda and territory, but will evolve with time and the necessities on ground, she says. Mrunmayee is not looking too far ahead at this point of time and is content with taking up tasks in conservation that need immediate attention, which are many.


During a trek at Chikmagalur

WCS-India Country Director Prakriti Srivastava is all praise for Mrunmayee. “She is very lovable, hard-working and a smart girl, ready to learn new things and excel at them. I have no doubts she will excel in the field too just as she did in the office.”

There have been some concerns around safety for a woman working in the field but Mrunmayee is confident that the advantages of being a woman far outnumber the negatives. Given the backing of WCS-India and the local group WildCat C, “which operates more like a family” she has no fears. The valuable experience gained in a short period will come to good use in the long run, is her firm belief. 

Written by Jayalakshmi K


One Response

  1. Madhu Venkatesh says:

    All the best Mrunmayee.. Good to read about you. Very well written Jayalakshmi Madam.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *