Scientist – F
E-mail: bivash.pandav [at] wii [dot] gov [dot] in
Most of my childhood was spent in a small sleepy town on the bank of river Mahanadi in rural Orissa, India. Locating the nests of Black-bellied tern and Indian river tern in the dry sandy beds of Mahanadi in peak summer and breaking them open was my favourite pass time. It took some time for me to get rid of this juvenile delinquency and those hot summers were followed by beautiful winters. That 15-20 km stretch of river Mahanadi where I spent my childhood receives good concentration of migratory waterfowl in winter. Flocks of Ruddy Shelduck and Bar-headed geese in the river enthused great interest in me to observe them. By 1990 when I graduated in Zoology, I was well acquainted with the water birds of the area. There were lesser whistling teals rearing their chicks in monsoon in the paddy fields, grey patridges calling from the barren hillocks in summer, river full of pintail, shoveller and gadwal in winter all around me. Imagine spending your childhood in such a beautiful surrounding. Those days I spent along the bank of river Mahanadi actually shaped me to take up a career in natural history.
After joining the Masters program at the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun as a student in 1991, I got an opportunity to carry out my field-work in the Bhitarkanika mangroves, Orissa. Bhitarkanika is a small patch of mangrove forest but the amount of wildlife it harbours is simply amazing. It is one of the few coastal plains in India, which has six species sympatric king fishers (brown-winged, collared, black-capped, white-throated, pied and small blue). The area is a heaven for migratory waterfowls in winter. But the most notable feature of the bird life of Bhitarkanika is the huge congregation of resident water birds for breeding. While studying water monitor lizard in the mangrove forest of Bhitarkanika, I got a chance to count these breeding birds in this massive heronry. Nearly 10,000 nests of 11 different species of storks, cormorants, herons and egrets have been counted in this heronry. The kick of counting birds in knee-deep mud in this crocodile infested area has always lured me to get back to this area and continue the work.
I started my career in marine turtle research along the coast of Orissa in 1994. Working with the WII as a research fellow I was involved in a long term research and monitoring program to gauge the health of the turtle population that come ashore to nest in hundreds of thousands each year. To know more about their habits I along with my team members tagged nearly 15,000 adult olive ridleys. This tagging exercise has provided us many interesting information about marine turtles using the Orissa coast for nesting. Many of the turtles tagged by us have been recovered from the coastal waters off Sri Lanka indicating their migration to and from Orissa coast. Every day I had spent working on marine turtles in Orissa was a rewarding experience for me. Witnessing the massive armada of turtles crawling up the beach and laying eggs in hundreds of thousands is a lifetime experience. Memories of the small 10 HP motor boat of mine being surrounded by thousands of olive ridley mating pairs and schools of dolphins in the coastal waters off Gahirmatha will always remain fresh in my mind.
I joined the WII as faculty in late 1999. Besides the regular teaching and training assignments, the WII provided me ample opportunity to plan and carry out research projects in the field. In 2003 I along with my colleagues, Dr. S.P. Goyal and Abishek Harihar started a long term monitoring of tiger and its prey population in Rajaji National Park, Uttarakhand, following voluntary relocation of human settlements. The tiger population in eastern part of Rajaji NP bounced back immediately after the area was made inviolate and their density doubled within a span of four years.
In 2007 I was deputed to WWF-International and was based at Kathmandu, Nepal. As part of this assignment I coordinated WWF’s tiger program across 14 different landscapes in 11 tiger range countries. I managed to travel extensively across Asia’s tiger habitats, witnessed massive destruction of their habitat in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, came across few success stories (mostly in India) and my focus over the years shifted from research to conservation.
After completing my tenure with WWF-International, I returned back to the Wildlife Institute of India on 31 December 2010. At WII, I continue to work in the Endangered Species Management department.
Last Updated: June 1, 2020