For most people, wildlife photography seems all fun and adventure. But if one looks at the other side, it is not at all an easy road to walk. It requires hours or even days to get that one perfect click. Besides, the unprecedented climatic conditions and the risk involved add to the struggles of these wildlife lovers. But despite all these challenges, some people continue to follow their passion no matter what comes in their way. Among them is a 25-year-old wildlife presenter, filmmaker, and conservationist —Suyash Keshari.
Growing up in Central India, Suyash has always been close to wildlife, and this is where his deep affection for wildlife was ignited. After his schooling in India, he moved to the United States for higher studies, where he studied political advocacy and entrepreneurship and journalism.
"While I loved my Political Advocacy job in Washington D.C., something was always missing. My deep-seated love for wildlife, and quest to fulfil my childhood dream drove me in the summer of 2019 to quit my job and delve right into this field, to become a full-time wildlife presenter," Suyash told The Logical Indian.
Inclination Towards Wildlife
From an early age, Suyash used to watch wildlife shows and documentaries. "Instead of watching Tom catch Jerry, I saw hyenas devouring an animal, a tiger hunting and a dung beetle rolling dung, quite cryptic for a child but it shaped who I am today," he said.
The young filmmaker was 4 years old when his grandfather took him to the Zoological Park in Kolkata. As all kids would do, he was very excited about seeing the tiger roar. "My Nanaji asked me, 'Beta, do you like watching the tiger?", I replied "Yes Nanaji". Then he told me, 'Beta these are not the same tigers that you watch on TV in Nat Geo or BBC documentaries. These animals are trapped for life in these small cages.' It broke my heart at a very early age and set me on a path to learn more about our wild animals and seeing them as much as possible in their wild homes," he explained.
Suyash has always been that kid who wanted to play in the backyard, run on the farm, climb up a guava tree and wait for the birds to come, watch ants parade in a line, sit by a pond in the middle of the summer in 45-degree heat just to observe fish, herons and other birds come to drink or hunt.
Works And Projects
When he turned 19, he became one of the youngest people to win the Nature's Best Photography Asia Award, for a photograph of a six-month-old tigress from Bandhavgarh National Park. This photo was exhibited for a year at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington D.C. Suyash was also in the top 10 finalists for the Sustainable Category Award of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum.
In 2019, he produced his first series 'Safari with Suyash', which was entirely self-funded and executed. Later, he pitched it to many organisations and eventually, WWF International took over the online distribution rights.
'Safari with Suyash' is a real-life web series about a young person's life with tigers and conservation issues surrounding the species, centred in Bandhavgarh National Park. It followed the story of a tigress named Solo and her cubs. "A tigress I had known since she was just a cub herself. It's really close to my heart and it was one series that people could connect to immediately," Suyash explained. Solo was reportedly killed last year in October, and it is suspected that she was poisoned.
The series has grown to cover many initiatives related to wildlife conservation, forest community upliftment, virtual safari experiences, and in-person safari tours, and nature content creation such as films and photo stories. It also works with field staff and locals to alleviate their demanding lifestyle and engage in conservation programs.
"Connecting with our wild world is absolutely vital, and safaris are one of the best ways. When you are on a safari, you learn about different species and their behaviour, the conservation issues surrounding them, and the entire habitat. You learn to appreciate the fresh air, sounds of birds, the texture of the soil, and the relationship between different animals, trees, shrubs, birds, and even the soil," Suyash said.
"All of this develops a deeper and more meaningful connection to nature. People also learn not to fear but rather have a healthy respect for wildlife, and most importantly connect to another being which is completely different from our own species, and yet must have equal right to survive," he added.
The conservationist said that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of nature and a deeper, more meaningful understanding of wildlife, leading to better conservation measures.
India's First OTT Wildlife Platform
Keeping all this in mind, he is now creating 'Safari with Suyash – TV, which will be India's first OTT platform dedicated to wildlife. It is aimed to bring the beauty, excitement and wonder of wildlife into people's homes across the world. The tentative launch is scheduled in the mid of October, 2021.
"I envisioned a grand experiment – to bring the safari experience into people's lives – virtually from one of India's best and most iconic places, Bandhavgarh National Park. This has never been done in India before, and I think pioneering an experience like this will really help in connecting people to our wild wonders, educate them about different species and conservation issues surrounding them and serve as a place for endless pleasure, learning and long-term conservation," Suyash said
"I hope the platform, while connecting people with nature, can have a positive impact on wildlife conservation and inspire many to serve in this field," he added.
Being young can be a daunting challenge in this industry where there is hardly any clarity on where to begin, how to make a positive impact for conservation, turning one's passion into a profession, Suyash believes.
However, what helped was his own research, absorbing as much knowledge as he could from books, articles, documentaries so that nobody could question his "lack of experience" for being young. He also made sure to have as many real-life experiences with wildlife and conservation as possible and get a lot of training from locals. Then he came down to designing an idea, transforming it into a brand, creating a personality and leveraging all that to create opportunities.
"This does not mean I have it all figured out. It's far from that. I make a lot of mistakes that I regret, I am still confused in many ways and I still think I can be doing so much more. But I am content with it because it is part of the process," he concluded.
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