Young Naturalist Award
Leopard researcher, communicator and trend-setter
Nikit Surve conducted the first-ever official, scientific census of leopards in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, as a part of his Master’s dissertation for the Wildlife Institute of India.
Nikit Surve is not your average city slicker. Drawn to the wild side from early on, in school he was inspired by an Environment Science teacher who told his class “Even if one of you goes out and does something for the environment I would be satisfied with my job”.
While studying Zoology and Botany from St. Xaviers College, Mumbai, Nikit decided to put his theoretical knowledge to use and volunteer on various research projects. Thus, he found himself in the field, sometimes studying mega herbivore densities, including that of the gaur and the elephant, and at other times collecting tiger and leopard scat for DNA studies. It was during one such project, that Nikit encountered leopard biologist Dr. Vidya Athreya. Her work on the interaction between big cats and humans struck a chord with this young naturalist and in a flash of clarity he understood what he wanted to focus his energies on.
Emboldened by this recognition of his calling, Nikit went on to conduct the first-ever official, scientific census of leopards in the sprawling urban wilderness known as the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, as a part of his Master’s dissertation for the Wildlife Institute of India. Using camera-traps to collect data, he calculated leopard-prey densities and also studied the big cat’s feeding habits. Nikit then conducted similar studies in Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Vasai and in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh along with his team members.
Apart from being an accomplished researcher, Nikit is also a fantastic communicator. “Other than conservation of course, my interests are walking, talking and reading,” he laughs. He ingeniously marries these interests in the impactful awareness campaigns based on his research findings that he conducts in schools, colleges and even in the remote sugarcane fields of Maharashtra, where communities live cheek-by-jowl with big cats.
At 25, Nikit is a Research Associate with the Wildlife Conservation Society – India, and has already fulfilled his school teacher’s dream, working with dedication and passion on a complex and burning conservation issue – that of sharing space with our wild cat neighbours. But even as he continues to observe, study and analyse human-leopard interactions, his dream remains humble: “All I want is for my friends and young people to act responsible and contribute to healing our environment”.
And for this, we honour him.
First published in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVII No. 12, December 2017