Meet Wildlife Activist Urva Sharma
From growing up in a family where all kinds of animals were accepted and taken care of, to doing her post-graduation in wildlife science and subsequently beginning her remarkable journey as a conservationist, Urva has truly lived every moment of her life, unlike most people out there. Even before she graduated in science and subsequently did her post-graduation in wildlife science, Urva has always been interested in wildlife from a very young age.
“My father worked in the stone mines back home and he always used to bring back animals like rabbits, mongoose, hedgehogs, snakes etc. as pets. We used to keep mainly dogs, ducks and rabbits.” In her hometown Kota, Rajasthan, Urva fondly recollects her family being extremely receptive to keeping animals in the house from a very young age.
In 2010, after doing her MBA and working for a couple of months, she realised that it was not her calling and subsequently quit. This marked the beginning of her journey as a wildlife conservationist and since then there has been no looking back. Initially her family was sceptical about her wildlife passion, but finally gave in. She did a year of forest observation and volunteering on her own before getting into forest field work.
The work she has done regarding the spread of awareness and conservation is truly staggering. She has been around a host of wildlife sanctuaries (Ranthambore, Kaziranga, B R hills, Rajaji, Kuno, Jim Corbett and Dudhwa to name a few) where she has done transect surveys, rescue and rehabilitation of wild animals, socio economic surveys and river surveys on aquatic dwellers like the crocodile to encountering tiger attacks at Corbett.
“I met Dr. G.V Reddy who is the godfather of wildlife and a well-known Forest officer in India. He is the APCCS (Assistant Principal Chief Conservator Of Forest) and is based in Jaipur. Wildlife Science was a fresh course at Kota University so he suggested that I study different modules apart from my course syllabus, a few recommended books and online courses and to start volunteering for different organisations to understand different techniques to study wildlife in the field. This was the start of my foray into wildlife and conservation.”
“My first experience with volunteer work was with the WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) in Karnataka. I then subsequently did an internship with the TSA (Turtle Survival Alliance) in Lucknow working with the ChitraIndicaspecies of Turtle that are endangered at the moment. I also worked in the North East with the CWRC (Centre For Wildlife Rehabilitation And Conservation) and also got a chance to work in Jim Corbett National Park doing the work of counting the Tiger population and prey base with the Wildlife Institute of India.”
As far as her upcoming scenario is concerned, she states that she does have a plan to go back to Manipur. “I have worked there earlier with the PFA (People For Animals). There the main problem is in the tribal areas. I have also been drawn to wildlife art as of late and have started sketching. One Uttarakhand NGO has printed my sketches onto a few t-shirts that they sold. Now I plan to showcase my sketches and paintings of wild animals at an exhibition soon.”
Speaking of conservation, Urva narrates a near miracle of how proper awareness and the education of conservation can do wonders and make even the hardest of cynics believe that there is some hope for our cursed world after all. The Amur falcon migrates from Siberia across India, stopping over in Nagaland to finally winter in Africa. In Nagaland the local tribes were killing thousands of birds in tree traps for quite a few years, but in 2013 because of the spread of awareness and the realisation of conservation in people’s minds, not a single one of the falcons were harmed. And it continues to this day. She states, “It’s unbelievable what one film about falcon conservation can do to the collective consciousness of the people, thanks to some activists like Steve Odyuo, WTI and other people working hard for this cause.”
When asked about the scenario of awareness and conservation in India, she said, “Awareness is increasing, but there are still a lot of setbacks. Photography kiwajah se awareness badhrahahai. One of India’s biggest problems is encroachment due to lack of land/space which in turn leads to man-animal conflict. Jagah hi nahihai.This problem is most acute in the case of leopards, tigers and bears. One of the solutions scientists are working on is to build corridors between forests for the animals to move more freely as well as educating the village communities. Tell them the value of wildlife. Today, the people in the villages hate the forest department due to their association with protecting the animals that sometimes kill their loved ones and take away their cattle for prey. Man-animal conflict has emerged as a major concern for wildlife activists and the forest department in India. There are a lot of reports of snake killings as well.”
Her last words, “The more people become sensitive to wildlife, the more effective conservation will be.” Clearly, spreading awareness is the key. She emphasises; “People need to realise that you have to save your wildlife, instead of expecting kihaanforest department kakaamhaiand that they will do it. Because India meinwohi ho rahahaiand that is the main reason why basic awareness is not there. The forest department and the people in the villages clearly need to work together. There definitely is a need for more community-based projects than there are at the moment and a need for more leaders. At the moment it’s hard to say that without the support of local communities, any of the conservation programmes alone can give us long term results.”