Forerunners of the Wild: Kashmira Kakati
From the archives: Saevus celebrates the indomitable spirit of the Women in Conservation during the entire month of March. Inspiring us with their dedication to the conservation of natural spaces and wildlife despite all odds, these young wonder-women of the wild have done pioneering in the Indian conservation scene.
There is something in the vast openness of forests, mountains, and the sea that draws people to these places. For some, it is the quiet, calm, and peace, while for others it is the sound of nature, the clean air, the wind that carries the smell of the earth and the sheer pleasure of knowing that you are in the company of some of the most remarkable creatures on earth.
There are also people for whom there is all of this, along with a larger, more serious task at hand – of working to conserve and preserve these natural spaces for scientific and social as well as ethical and ecological reasons. Our environment is continually under threat, small and big. No urban set up – even towns and villages – is spared from the politics and bureaucratic malady of our times.
On one hand, we have corruption and greed taking over and destroying everything that is natural or necessary. On the other, we have people working tirelessly to prevent this destruction, to present scientific data that validates their theory and build a strong case, legally speaking. And all this is being done in difficult environments confronting even more difficult attitudes.
It is, therefore, not wrong to say that wildlife conservation is among the most worthy and altruistic causes that one can be working for. The job is tough, can be deeply disheartening, soul-crushing and can bear on you both physically and emotionally.
Despite these challenges, conservationists and biologists continue to work towards bringing about a change. And they are present every day in the field – researching new methods to mitigate conflict, alleviating habitat destruction, halting development projects that ignore environmental concerns, and educating and empowering people about sustainable livelihoods in harmony with the forest.
In this series, we will bring to focus some of the formidable women who have made wildlife conservation their main focus and are striving towards a common objective of conservation.
Wildlife Biologist and Member – IUCN Primate and Cat specialist group
‘Impossible’ and ‘Can’t do’ are not words that Kashmira Kakati understands or believes in, let alone even listens to. Wildlife conservation, for her, is her entire life and she keeps on moving forward, no matter the challenge. Her perseverance, despite the adversities that politics and India’s unsustainable development plan throws at her, is extremely admirable. So much so that, she might (unintentionally) leave others feeling like lesser mortals.
Alumni of the Wildlife Institute of India, this wildlife biologist is a multi-tasker who has been working in the field since 1997. Apart from research and field work, she also spends an enormous amount of time and effort in fighting legal battles, sharing knowledge and acquiring scientific data that will hold good in the courts in order to prevent further damage to the already fragile forests in the North Eastern part of India. Kashmira also works along with the forest department and the state government when it comes to doing the right thing for the wildlife in that area.
Her very first fieldwork, prior to 1997, was undertaken during Her M.Sc dissertation work on hoolock gibbons in Borajan, which led to a more intensive PhD study in Upper Assam to understand the behaviour and survival of gibbons in fragmented forests’. After completing her thesis, she returned to initiate a camera trap survey in Assam’s Joypur Rainforest to confirm her theory about the existence of large carnivores in this region.
“With funding from Dr. Ullas Karanth of Wildlife Conservation society, CEPF and the Rufford Small Grants program, I was able to record 48 mammal species, including the clouded leopard and the marbled cat. This was done in a forest area where no one believed big cats or large carnivores to exist. What I also achieved from this survey was the existence of seven species of cats in one place – something that has not been recorded anywhere in the world till today,” she said.
Kashmira grew up exploring forests during her vacations. The forests have always influenced her strongly and she probably gets her remarkable personality, her unending admiration for the jungle, and her fearless attitude as an inheritance from her father – a former forest officer. That explains how her numerous confrontations with the ULFA, illegal loggers and poachers, and being ambushed by the Indian army during field work has not deterred her from doing her job.
She has provided all her data and helped collect information on other fauna and flora so that the Forest Department of Assam can push for Jeypore RF to be declared as a protected area. She had filed several petitions in court, one of which is an NGT application against Indian Oil Corporation and the State of Assam for setting up an oil terminal in the middle of a notified elephant corridor with a fairly positive verdict delivered recently. Replicating the Rhino Protection Unit in Sumtara’s Way Kambas National Park, she initiated three separate teams of the Gibbons Patrol Unit in Joypur Reserve in 2012. Similar to the Indonesian national park, each team comprises of a forest guard and three locals patrolling the forests, removing snares or traps, if any, surveying the forest and aiming to deter poachers. She has worked on preventing the NHAI from building a highway through this reserve and is also going to begin work on a petition to prevent a railway line running through this forest.
Kashmira has also worked on a three-year study in Meghalaya’s Balpakram National Park from 2012-2015 to present a strong scientific argument against denotifying parts of the forest area for mining uranium.“Balpakram was declared a National Park in 1986 and although there were baseline checklists of the flora and fauna, there had been no systematic documentation of mammals. During the course of our camera-trapping study, we recorded 51 species of mammals, including the first record in India of the three-striped palm civet. I hope that this information will help scrap the government’s uranium exploration plans that are currently stalled because of strong protests by the local Garo tribals.
All of this work takes great strength and she persists because of her love for the jungles. She explains, “I’ve tried to define what it is that keeps taking me back to the forest, that feeling I get when I am in the forest. I don’t meditate per se but maybe this is what I can call meditation. I feel no angst, no confusion, I feel like I belong here in all this peacefulness. When I am in the forest, I feel like this is all I need.”
There may be things in her life that she could be unsure of but the one thing she has no doubt about is that these natural environments and all that lives in it needs to be protected through relentless conservation efforts.
5 Quick Questions with Kashmira Kakati
- Conservation to me is… a gentler way of living that will allow space for nature. It is absolutely in our own interest.
- Coexistence – it’s meaning in today’s landscape… a utopian idea, but worth aspiring towards.
- The one thing that separates humans from other species of animals is… greed.
- My greatest challenge is… to hold on to hope when the natural world is under siege everywhere.
- When I think of forests, I think of… the three things that come to my mind are fresh air, crystal clear water and an abundance of mysterious life.
This article was first published in the March 2018 6th Anniversary issue of Saevus magazine.