Animal Conservation

Award-winning wildlife photographer, 23, has documented felines behaving like humans

As Covid-19 continues to rage, focusing on the impact of climate change and bringing our ecosystem back to balance has taken a step back, and talking about the same has all but disappeared from the media. But even now the Crusaders continue their work of trying to put the spotlight where it needs to be in order to ensure the survival of not only human life, but the planet as a whole.

When Aishwarya Sridhar was only five, she moved to Panvel in Navi Mumbai which is a green pocket. His life has become different from that of most of his fellow townspeople. She climbed trees, waded in streams, and observed wildlife in her yard herself.

Later, her love for wildlife viewing intensified in the urge to document the animal behavior she witnessed. Soon she found her best friend in her first camera. “The birthday present has become my favorite companion in all adventures,” she beams.

The 23-year-old wildlife photographer, filmmaker and presenter is now working intensively on documenting the environment, especially tigers in their natural habitat. She has several national and international awards in her kitty, including the Wildlife Photographer of the Year award for her work.

She’s worked to protect Maharashtra’s wetlands, and during the Covid-19 lockdown, she even directed and presented an eight-part digital series for WWF-India that focuses on instilling love for wildlife in children thanks to Origami.

We chatted with Aishwarya Sridhar to learn more about her journey, the work she does to focus on environmental challenges, and to get some tips for budding wildlife photographers.

(Photo by Aishwarya Sridhar; from ‘Tiger Queen of Taru’)

What path did you take to make your dreams of wildlife photographer and filmmaker come true?

Aishwarya’s love for animals and her father’s position in the Bombay Natural History Society, which allowed her to follow various hikes in animal parks and sanctuaries since her childhood, prompted her to study the mass media from the University of Mumbai for his graduate studies.

“I studied business until grade 12, but then I pursued mass media because I wanted to train in the art of filmmaking and storytelling,” she says.

After finishing her studies, she started volunteering for environmental related campaigns such as Kids for Tigers and Greenpeace India. She has also been a part of Sanctuary Asia’s child conservation programs.

A few years after starting this job, Aishwarya started running her own programs for schoolchildren and college students as soon as she was in grade 10. She visited various schools in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai to advocate for the protection of wildlife or to carry out anti-plastic campaigns and tree planting campaigns.

“Film screenings were part of those workshops and events, and watching these wildlife documentaries made me realize the impact of the visual medium on the minds of children and young adults,” she explains. .

“Visual media are very powerful and their power can be harnessed by telling the right stories,” she adds.

Work on impactful environmental projects

“My primary focus is on telling stories about wildlife and conservation to a global audience, mainly because I want to bring wildlife and conservation to the living rooms of people around the world,” says Aishwarya.

Filmmakers are storytellers who help bring critical issues to the forefront of people’s minds through their work.

Aishwarya’s first documentary helped protect the last remaining wetlands of the Mumbai wetlands in which she grew up. She is now working with local fishing communities, NGOs and the state for political level protection of wetlands in Maharashtra, India.

“My first documentary ‘Panje-The Last Wetland’ helped shine a light on the dying wetlands of Uran in Navi Mumbai. Wetlands are generally seen as wasteland and are traded for commercial development, but our decision-makers miss the ecological or economic impact their destruction causes, ”she says.

Aishwarya is currently working on a series on endangered primates of India. There are up to 15 different species of primates and eight of them are very endangered.

Through this series, I want to explore the deep jungles of North East and South India and understand from conservationists what it takes to protect India’s last primates, ”says -it.

(Photo by Aishwarya Sridhar; from ‘Tiger Queen of Taru’)

Working with the big cats

Aishwarya loves working with tigers. She was 10 years old when she first saw a tiger in the wild.

“That day, looking into those amber eyes, I fell in love with the big cats. Tigers are one of the most enigmatic, revered and feared creatures in India. We’ve been documenting tiger behavior for a decade – six years behind the Maya tigress herself, ”she says.

His documentary “Tiger Queen of Taru” traces the remarkable life of Maya, a wild Bengal tiger living in the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve. The wildlife photographer has followed Maya since she was a sub-adult and this trip gave her a glimpse into the life of this supreme predator on the planet.

“Seeing Maya as a little sub-adult challenging an Indian Gaur – twice her size, I knew she was there to rule. Something about her was different from her siblings, ”Aishwarya says.

“If you watch the film, you will realize that she has demonstrated skill in strategy to secure her territory. By attributing human qualities to the big cats, I hope to be able to come into contact with all age groups, and they too will realize that tigers are not only carnivores, but that they are also capable of feeling emotions, ”she explains.

“Tiger Queen of Taru,” which aims to take viewers on an optimistic journey to continue saving tigers, will premiere on Earth Day (April 22) at 12 p.m. on National Geographic India and Nat Geo Wild.

Tips for aspiring wildlife photographers

“Patience, quick reflexes, pre-visualization and crafting a strong narrative are some of the key skills you need to become a professional wildlife storyteller,” says Aishwarya.

She also notes that understanding the behavior and life of the subjects or wildlife you photograph was also important.

“I spend a lot of time reading about the species I’m going to film / photograph. It will definitely help you document key moments in your topic, ”says Aishwarya Sridhar.

“My path may be different for other young photographers, but when you have a deep passion to achieve something and you work hard with dedication, you ultimately achieve your goal,” she adds.

(Photo by Aishwarya Sridhar; from ‘Tiger Queen of Taru’)

Main wildlife challenges facing India

India faces a number of wildlife-related challenges, of which habitat loss or destruction and illegal hunting remain the main ones, Aishwarya says.

“Human greed is insatiable. We have endless demands for finite resources. Therefore, it will never be balanced, ”she said.

“Our protected areas are tiny islands. We need to be able to say “don’t exploit” at least those areas. India is a large country and about 4% of its land is protected areas. So the least we can do is leave these areas alone for biodiversity to thrive, ”Aishwarya says.

Read: Latika Nath, India’s first wildlife biologist and ‘Tiger Princess’ talks about breaking down barriers to animal conservation in India

Read: 10-year-old Arshdeep Singh breaks age stereotype and wins wildlife photographer of the year award

Read: Why Paul Salopek, two-time Pulitzer winner and Nat Geo explorer, walks 34,000 km for 10 years

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