STUDENT SPEAK Studying the Cobra
Gowri Shankar’s interest in snakes motivated him to enrol as a visiting student at Indian Institute of Sciences Centre for Ecological Sciences, and pursue a PhD from the North Orissa University
Reptiles, especially snakes, have interested me for as long as I can remember. It would have been really easy had I pursued science, attended herpetology camps, volunteered with reptile parks and met people in the field, which most kids have access to these days. That was not to be. Lack of exposure and guidance led me to follow the mainstream. But when my passion got the better of me, I dropped it all. I joined the Madras Crocodile Bank and soon realised my forte was King Cobra. I worked on captive King Cobras there, and later worked on wild King Cobras at Agumbe.
While at Agumbe, I opted for a correspondence course in MSc Ecology, field work always took priority. Under Rom Whitaker’s guidance I collected data on wild king cobra nests, hatchlings, king cobra rescues and breeding biology. I teamed up for the pioneering king cobra radio telemetry project.
While looking for options for my PhD I came to the Centre for Ecological Sciences (CES),Indian Institute of Science (IISc).The support and encouragement I receive here is incredible. I’ve enrolled as a visiting student under the guidance of Dr Kartik Shanker. He takes time to discuss, urges me to ramp up academically, offers lab space, and access to the library, and even allows me to attend regular classes. Faculty and fellow lab members are extremely supportive and even though I lack formal basics in ecology I’m able to catch up with their help.
Admission to CES is through an all India common entrance test. Research initiatives underway at CES include animal behaviour, evolutionary and socio-biology, community and habitat ecology, molecular genetics and conservation biology, large mammal and forest ecology and climate change. IISc also holds an open day every year where all departments open to the public to share their work offering an opportunity to interact and network. Their library is open to students all through the year for references.
My journey so far has been anything but conventional. But I have progressed. Today I have several scientific papers to my credit,been part of wildlife films for the National Geographic and Discovery Channels, completed my MSc and now have enrolled as a PhD candidate at North Orissa University under Dr S K Dutta. It still feels like I have just begun.
Gowri Shankar handling the King Cobra
Gowri, along with his wife Sharmila have started an environmental education camp site, Kālinga Centre for Rainforest Ecology at Agumbe, where their focus is to open doors of opportunity to people from varied backgrounds to learn scientific tools of conservation through workshops and camps.
As told to Poonam Jain
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