Meet “Her Daringness”: India’s Tigress Princess

By Nitin Gupta

Dr Latika Nath is a passionate wildlife conservationist, keen researcher, photographer, nature lover, television personality, and most significantly she is the ‘Tiger Princess of India’

Australia successfully built a thriving tourism industry focused around wildlife theme, by using Steve Irwin and later Bindi Irwin as its ambassadors. The Irwins have been the face of wildlife related tourism for Australia for a long time now, pumping in millions of tourism dollars for Australia.

India too has its indigenous talents like Dr Latika Nath—who was bestowed with the title of “Tiger Princess” by National Geographic—and others to create an even further thriving wildlife based tourism, and it is time the country turns the spotlight on them. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appearance on the Man V/s Wild with Bear Grylls did bring back some focus on Indian wildlife tourism.

Post COVID 19, when human kind is showing more interest in wildlife preservation, it’s high time India uses experts like Dr Nath who can work well with systems, tribes, villages, and the wildlife to develop an even more thriving and sustainable wildlife tourism ecosystem in India.

Her Daringness, Tiger Princess Dr Latika Nath

Dr Nath’s love for wild animals, tribal communities, jungles, nature and the environment inspired her to get a doctorate on tiger conservation from the University of Oxford. She has spent over 25 years of her life out in the wilderness to learn, understand, and improve the wildlife and environmental conditions.

She eventually shifted her focus from academia to working with the indigenous and tribal communities living around wildlife sanctuaries. She currently focuses her energies on education, health, art and alternate energy projects to empower communities and tribes that have lived near jungles for centuries.

As the first Indian and woman with a doctorate on tigers, the journey of her initiation into wildlife royalty has been as adventurous as her profession itself. She braves death-defying conditions to be among nature’s finest inside the jungles, and according to her it’s worth it.

Spot the real Tigress; Photo: Raghu Rai
Back to the beginning

She grew up in Kashmir, Assam and Himachal Pradesh, where the family had holiday homes. After procuring an undergraduate degree in Environment Science from Delhi University, she obtained a scholarship opportunity for the School of Forestry at the University of Wales.

She had originally set out to study the Hangul and the bears in Dachigam National Park—but this coincided with the time terrorism peaked in Kashmir. “My grandparents’ home was burned using incendiary bombs, the staff were tortured, shot and murdered and we lost everything. I then took the decision to join the Wildlife Institute of India, where the director Dr HS Panwar, advised me to consider doing a doctorate on tigers as no holistic scientific studies had been done on India’s national animal till date,” she recalls.

Academic Dr Judith Pallot invited her to the University of Oxford, to study under the tutelage of renowned biologist David Macdonald, who in fact, founded the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at Oxford. She completed her doctoral research and received her PhD.

As the first Indian and woman with a doctorate on tigers, the journey of her initiation into wildlife royalty has been as adventurous as her profession itself. Dr Nath braves death-defying conditions to be among nature’s finest. Why? Because it’s worth it, she says

As a wildlife biologist, Dr Nath spends weeks in jungles conducting research, and hours together with the animals, observing them in their natural habitat.

She began her career at INTACH, where she advanced up the rungs as eco-development officer. She was responsible for coordinating the activities of their 172 regional offices—working in detail on the issue of river pollution in the Marwar region of Rajasthan.

She then joined a research unit at the University of Oxford to research tiger biology, behaviour and taking stock of their numbers. The human-wildlife conflict and landscape ecology issues in Bandhavgarh National Park became an area of interest. So, at WII, between 1994 and 1997, she researched the wildlife corridors in Eastern Madhya Pradesh using a combination of Satellite Image Analysis and Geographical Information Systems with extensive ground trothing, population estimations and sampling.

“I was also involved in project design for Terai Wetland Conservation in Nepal through IUCN, Nepal, where I worked with the park authorities on creating watering holes and new tiger territories, on tourism policy and relocation issues,” she says.

On the Job: Latika spending some time studying wild dogs
The Singinawa chapter

In 2005, Latika, using all the learnings she had amassed about the Kanha forest ecosystem, founded the Wild India Resorts (Kanha) Pvt Ltd, with the purpose of establishing model eco resorts all over the country. Singinawa Jungle Lodge in Mukki, Kanha was their first ever stride. Subsequently, in 2008—she founded the Singinawa Foundation.

She has been working on imparting computer education to the tribal children there, using computers donated by friends. She also helped provide alternate sources of livelihood to the villagers in the buffer zone of Kanha Tiger Reserve—of creating charcoal briquettes from lantana and cow dung as a fuel source, funded by TOFT again. She also spearheaded the construction of five watering holes for the core area of Kanha Tiger Reserve in places where there was no water for miles.

Over all, Latika has dedicated her life to the conservation of wildlife. Since 2015, Latika has also been working on photography, coffee table books and conservation ecology projects. The Indian Sun wishes Tigress Dr. Latika Nath the very best in pursuing her mammoth efforts of wildlife conservation.

The writer is a former Ministerial Adviser, and a guest columnist for The Indian Sun

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