logo

Buy the ticket, take the ride...

- Hunter S. Thompson

image

Earth

Aug 29, 2018

Dealing with Humans, for a Love of Tigers

For the first woman to earn a doctorate on tigers in India, while overcoming institutionalized sexism, it was a cruel journey.

WRITTEN BY

Jahnvi Pananchikal

Today, Dr. Latika Nath is recognized as the first Indian woman to hold a doctorate in tiger conservation.  Back in the seventies, in the beginning, it wasn’t that easy for her. Being the daughter of one of the founders of the Wildlife Institute of India proved to be both an advantage and a disadvantage. She was deliberately put under immense scrutiny and had to consistently fight the cruelty of the Indian male ego. After realizing that she may not be able to deal with centuries of bloated egos and sexist perceptions all by herself, Dr. Nath decided to pick another battle. She went to the University of Oxford to do guided research under Prof David MacDonald, an acclaimed carnivore biologist. Her important questions, previously shunned by Indian researchers, were appreciated by the professor. That’s when Dr. Nath’s career in wildlife biology really took off.

“However, the “wildlife” of the academic circles was a shock to my sensibilities.”

Dr. Nath spent initial years in India, when she frequented diverse natural terrains with her family. After studying in the U.K. for eleven years, she returned to New Delhi in 2015 to focus entirely on tiger conservation and restoration of local tribal communities in India.

In an exclusive interview, we spoke to Dr. Latika Nath about why she stuck around in the field of wildlife biology, how she was able to overcome institutional sexism, and what tiger conservation means to her.

Photo: Dr. Latika Nath

Proving Competence as an Indian Woman in Wildlife Biology

TOJ: What kind of excitement and challenges did you face as a beginner? Can you reflect on those intense moments and how such experiences shaped your perspective?

Dr. Latika NathAs a beginner, the first challenge was to prove my ability to my peers. Being the daughter of one of the founders of the Wildlife Institute of India, I was under twice the amount of scrutiny and received double the criticism. It was a tough fight all the way. It didn’t help that I had never lived away from home, had never faced tough field conditions and that I looked like a delicate city girl.

“From the time I entered the field, several male colleagues and male conservationists have gone out of the way to discredit me and my work.”

Wildlife moments were not new to me since I had been spending time in wilderness areas all my life. However, the “wildlife” of the academic circles was a shock to my sensibilities. From experiencing heartbreak when my work was published and credited to someone else, to facing the beginning of what was going to be a lifetime of antagonism from people who were outraged that I dared to question scientific methodology, techniques and statistics, and stand up to men who told me that since they were “Rajput Men” their word was written in stone and therefore not to be questioned – it was a cruel journey.

I chose to move to work under the guidance of Prof David MacDonald, one of the most acclaimed carnivore biologists in the world at the University of Oxford and to leave the convoluted world of Indian male egos and jealousy of Indian academia behind. This decision made it possible for me to complete a doctorate on tiger conservation.

Oxford is a place where people are judged purely on the basis of their work quality. Academic excellence is promoted, and resources made available to ensure that research is at the cutting edge. This was so different to India and such a welcome change.

TOJ: Being the first woman to hold a doctorate on tigers in India is a big achievement. It must have been a huge challenge too. What kind of obstacles did you face on the way to recognition and what motivated you to keep going in the face of hard times? In times of trouble and self-doubt, what or who did you resort to?

Dr. Latika NathMost people base their estimation of my ability on my physical appearance or my family background which bely my ability to work through the toughest and most extreme conditions in the field and does not show my infinite patience and persistence while doing research and photography. From the time I entered the field, several male colleagues and male conservationists have gone out of the way to discredit me and my work. People have published my work as their own, written to my University Professors and even used influence to ensure that I don’t get assignments or work.

My parents have always supported me in every way. They are my strength and my support. In times of need, I have also looked within myself to find the strength to fight on, avoid direct conflict and use my work to prove my worth.

The Reality and Rewards of Wildlife Conservation in India

TOJ: What made you feel that you could focus on tiger conservation and research in a male- dominated environment? How was the struggle in the last 25 years? Can you describe your energy, anticipation, fear, and finally achievement during this pursuit? In what ways do you think the field has evolved in India?

Dr. Latika NathI never thought about working on tiger conservation as entering a male dominated environment. It was what I wanted to do, and I has always learnt that if you want to do something you just go ahead and do it. You need to work hard, give your best and stay focused. It was not about proving anything to anyone but simply doing what I loved and wanted.

“It is a job for people with passion and a commitment to nature conservation.”

The challenge for me has been more about staying true to my commitment and finding ways to continue to work in the field despite people wanting to thwart my attempts at joining things like the IUCN Cat Specialist Group where I was asked to withdraw my application quietly as ‘guru dakshina’ to someone who was associated with my PhD research, or being told that I had been black listed in the final interviews for an international job position because some phone calls had been made. This was tough to deal with especially since I had done nothing to deserve this and was being targeted just because I had refused to blindly follow all directions in connection to the research work I was doing.

The reality in tiger conservation politics has not changed much in the past 25 years. The people who are working today and dominating the scene are still the same and just a handful of new people have entered the field. There is still little cooperation between various stakeholders, and suspicion and animosity between the Forest Services and the tourism community. Wildlife biologists seem to be an appendage that is sometimes useful and sometimes to be ignored.

TOJ: What inspired you to work with tribal communities in the buffer zone of Kanha Tiger Reserve and the Forest Department of the Government of India? What kind of challenges did you face during that journey, and how did you overcome them? What about working with the Singinawa Foundation?

Dr. Latika NathI wanted to opt out of academic research on tigers as it was becoming impossible to work in the field as an independent entity and political pressures seemed to be increasing constantly. I also realized that while a lot of research and conservation work was being focused on the tiger reserves themselves, little work was being done on the areas surrounding the tiger reserves which acted as a sink for the dispersing tiger populations from the parks. This made me take the decision to focus on the local communities, corridors and buffer areas of the Park.

I founded the Singinawa Foundation as the Madhya Pradesh branch of the NGO my father had called AHEAD. The foundation had only one person in it – me, and 100% of all funds received were used for the project they had been assigned for. I made waterholes for the Park; helped the purchase of five 4×4 bolero campers for the Park; created a computer school for the children; held a festival called “Trees in their lives” focusing on the tribal communities of Kanha; held science competitions for the school; took children into the park; held health camps; cleaning drives for removing garbage from the area between Singinawa and the Park gate at Mukki; worked on alternate energy; focused on minimizing plastic use; etc

Photo: Dr. Latika Nath

“Life has taught me that there are good times and bad; that there are good people and bad. This is a part of life. And if you love what you do, then you take all this in your stride.”

The Pursuit of “Ikigai”

TOJ: Do you have some words of encouragement for women who aspire to pursue wildlife biology in India? Are there certain realities they should keep in mind while chasing this dream?

Dr. Latika Nath: For women aspiring to pursue a career in wildlife biology in India, it is important to understand that there will be many moments in their life when they will have to choose between a traditional home life and working in the field. Like all women in careers which involve travel, they will have to learn to balance both these aspects of their lives.

It is also important to remember that these are not incredibly well-paying jobs especially at the beginning of the career, however, the places you work in and the species you work with are a privilege that only a few have. It is a job for people with passion and a commitment to nature conservation.

TOJ: Fundamentally speaking, what personal values and philosophies are at the core of your success as a woman biologist in India?

Dr. Latika Nath: I love what I do. I have found my “ikigai”. My work is my passion and gives me great satisfaction. Life has taught me that there are good times and bad; that there are good people and bad; that there is success and failure; highs and lows. This is a part of life. And if you love what you do, then you take all this in your stride. You do your best and success follows. And there is always something to look forward to – that next meeting with a tiger!

Continue Reading

image

Environment

Feb 14, 2019

Meet RJ Scaringe. The Founder of Rivian, Changing the Way We View Transportation

RJ’s goal? To change the way our society views transportation. To change the way we buy and own vehicles. To change the way we treat our environment.

image

WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

Founder of Rivian, the company building the world’s first electric adventure vehicles, RJ Scaringe isn’t one to set simple goals. He thinks big.

RJ’s goals go beyond simply building electric cars. They go beyond 4×4 vehicles. They go beyond self-driving vehicles. RJ’s ultimate goal is this – to change the way our society views transportation. To change the way we buy and own vehicles. To change the way we treat our environment.

RJ founded a car company, and yet he does not want people buying his cars in the future. This may seem like a strange business plan, but to RJ, it is the only way forward.

RJ envisions a world where you don’t own a car. Your family doesn’t own a car. Your neighbors don’t own cars. Sounds like a hassle to get around, right? How will you go skiing this weekend? How will you take your family to the beach in the spring? How will you move your oldest child into her dorm room?

RJ, with Rivian ambassador Alex Honnold.

With Rivian, you won’t own a car. But you will have 24/7 access to a vehicle that drives itself to you with a simple press of a button. No, it’s not Uber. No, it’s not a car share. It is a self-driving, electric vehicle that will drive itself to you, whenever you need it, so you have access to it whenever you need it. People no longer have the need to own vehicles. They just call a Rivian!

RJ’s Beginnings

It was this truly deep internal conflict

RJ’s lofty goals didn’t just spring out of the blue. He began his career working at a Porsche restoration shop in Florida, which is what sparked his deep love for cars and the car industry. “I’m a lifelong car enthusiast and grew up restoring classic cars, like the Porsche 356. Along the way, I decided that I wanted to get into cars, I wanted it to be the focus of my life. So I went to school to achieve it.” But no matter how much he loved cars, something about it always bothered RJ. “As I got more involved with it, it started to bother me how these things that I loved were simultaneously the cause of our changing climate, smog, and a whole host of environmental and social problems on the planet. It was this truly deep internal conflict.”

So, he set out to change things…


The First Few Miles

It’s like I’m naked at the base of a super steep mountain, and have to figure out how to get to the top

RJ went on to get his master’s and PhD from MIT with the goal of learning how to increase driving efficiency in vehicles. He went on from there to work for multiple large organizations, where he felt that efficiency could be improved, but they often lacked the ability to adapt to change given their structure. “I realized that I could have more impact by actually starting something on my own.” So he built his own company – from the ground up. “I saw how difficult it was to do big systems-level innovation even when you have really smart people. Just because of the scale of these organizations, the complexity of the organizations. So I said, ‘If you could redesign the organization to think of the systems-level, to not have the traditional boundaries between silos, and rethink from a clean sheet what the vehicle is, what the architecture is, what the company is…’”

So he did it. He started from a clean slate. No money, no team, no supply chain, no plant, no technology.

When asked if he has encountered any big challenges along the way, RJ responded, “It’s like I’m naked at the base of a super steep mountain, and have to figure out how to get to the top.”

Founding, and rethinking, Rivian

Starting with less than 20 people, the company took some time to get off the ground. But after securing good relationships with investors and shareholders, the team began to grow. Now, with five plants around the world, and mass production set for 2020, RJ’s hard work and aspirations are all starting to pay off. Naturally, in the beginning, given RJ’s background working with Porsche sports cars, Rivian was focused on building an electric sports car. However, as the company grew, and as RJ’s love for the outdoors grew, so their focus began to shift.

this whole world of conditioned air, of electronics and watching TV, of your vehicles that can take you places, is powered by fossil fuel

“In college, I was heavy into mountain biking. I would be biking every weekend, and it always bothered me that going on those adventures, I would have to use a car. It was this weird juxtaposition of wanting to enjoy the outdoors and go into the outdoors, but on your way there, making the outdoors worse. So, to be honest, I thought about all kinds of crazy things I could build to fix this… Could I build a bike that could peddle power a car to take me to these adventures? I would bike really long distances to get to a hike, and then I would be exhausted and hike for only half an hour. And I’d be like, ‘okay, now I have to bike all the way back.’ So, we pivoted off of the idea of the sports car, and we decided to really focus that passion around adventure and outdoor lifestyle.”

And with that outdoor adventure lifestyle in tow, Rivian decided to completely rethink the way an outdoor adventure vehicle is designed. “The key for building a new company, and for that matter, establishing your brand, is that you have to have something that gets people excited. It has to foundationally reset expectations… So, it’s quicker than it needs to be. It’s better off-road than it needs to be. It’s more efficient than it needs to be. It’s sort of unreasonably good. But it’s there to make a statement, and that statement is the foundation framework we are building. And when I started on that journey, it wasn’t as unreasonably good as it needed to be across all the different areas of the vehicle. So we’ve kept on going back and saying, ‘Let’s make it better. Make it better, make it better.’ It’s three seconds, zero to 60. It’s better off-road than any vehicle on the market, and it’s wrapped in something that’s really compelling. It’s got great storage. It’s a unique vehicle.”

And with this unique vehicle, RJ hopes to help enable people to access the outdoors. “We often think that a vehicle can’t make you active, but it can enable that, and make it easier for you to generate memories. And from a societal point of view – right now, we collect our memories with pictures. So, we need to be designing a product that helps you to do the things you want to take pictures of. Like, you don’t take a picture of yourself sitting on the couch watching TV. But you take a picture of yourself on an awesome hike, or with the kids at the beach. And we want to enable those things that you’re going to take pictures of.”

Rivian vehicles aren’t even in production yet, and they are already a hot topic of conversation among outdoor adventure enthusiasts. They even gained attention from the outdoor industry’s biggest star, Alex Honnold, when he decided to leave his #VanLife behind and partner with Rivian as an ambassador. Honnold described his partnership as an easy choice, “Even if I wasn’t working with Rivian, if I wasn’t an ambassador or anything, I would still be supporting the brand. We need more companies like this in the world. The world has to go 100% electric at some point, and the sooner the better!”

What are we doing wrong?’ I think every business should be able to answer that question – why the world needs them to exist.

RJ hopes that by founding Rivian, this will help push other car companies to make the move toward electricity as well. “We as a society today live in a world where we have conditioned air in our homes. We travel 30 miles to get to the office on a daily basis. We don’t really think anything of it, but this whole world of conditioned air, of electronics and watching TV, of your vehicles that can take you places, is powered by fossil fuel. And what’s amazing is that in 100 years of this level of this style of lifestyle, we’ve used about half of what took 300 million years to accumulate. All the fossil fuels on our planet are 300 million years’ worth of plant and animal life that died and went into the earth’s surface. It then comes out in the form of coal and liquid fuel, and we literally used almost half of that in 100 years. It’s just staggering to think about how fast we are consuming that energy resource. It’s not a choice if we want to continue to travel and we want to continue to live the way we live today – we have to transition to something that’s sustainable beyond the next 100 years. And our argument is that the sooner we do that, the better, because simultaneously while using up all those carbon fuels, we are significantly changing the makeup of the atmosphere. We essentially took what happened in 300 million years where carbon was extracted from the atmosphere and put into the core of the earth, and we reversed that in 100 years. Of course it is going to lead to dramatic changes in our climate books. So, let’s make this change as fast as possible. We’re going to have to make it anyways. It’s not a debate, it’s a fact. We have to change. We can’t continue moving around like this on the planet. Everything we do at Rivian is to try to get that to be faster.”

All in all, we are excited to see what Rivian has to offer in the future. RJ’s business tactics may differ slightly from the way his competitors do things, but that may be just what the world needs right now. Who knows – maybe other businesses will be able to learn from RJ, and from the question he asks himself every day. “Does the world need us as a company to exist? Because if the answer to is no, then you need to take a step back and say, ‘What are we doing wrong?’ I think every business should be able to answer that question – why the world needs them to exist.”

Find out more about the Rivian vehicles here.

Recent Articles



Is ‘Sidecountry’ a Four-Letter Word?

A team of Avalanche experts define the word, and discuss how to deal with the phenomena. Do we attempt to stop the sidecountry locomotive, or shape the definition and attempt to harness its power?

Field Notes: Tracking Big Cats – The Life of a Wildlife Field Researcher in South Africa

In a heartwarming tale, it might not have always been the adventure that was expected, but for these researchers, the rewards made all the hardship worth it.

Tom Ballard and Daniele Nardi: Bodies Found on Nanga Parbat Confirmed to be Missing Climbers

The bodies of the British and Italian climbers were found more than a week after their last contact from the ninth highest mountain in the world.

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Advertising

Analytics

Other