[blockquote id=”” class=”” style=”” align=”none” author=”” affiliation=”” affiliation_url=””]As the days of the course come to an end and suddenly one day you are going back home, you realize that you have had a life-changing experience.[/blockquote]
My name is Ximena Neri and I am an environmental scientist from Mexico, currently doing research on how humans interact with wildlife, and what we can do to help conserve biodiversity. The area where I focus is highly competitive, so I am always looking for opportunities to engage in ways to improve myself and learning what is being done in contemporary wildlife science worldwide. However, as many students in Latin America, where chances to grow in academy and science are not as evenly distributed as in other countries, financial means can be conditional.
A year ago, I first discovered Field Projects International (FPI) when they promoted their courses on wildlife research in Peru and India. It all began entering to their page, reading about the courses they offered and getting extremely excited wondering what it would be like to visit the Amazon, or the unknown to me at the time, Indian tropical ecosystems. To my favor, FPI offered a wide offer of full-paid scholarship opportunities; all I had to do was apply, give my best and wait for the results. A couple of months later I received a call, and the next moment I was applying for an Indian VISA and getting ready to live the dream.
It takes several hours flying overseas to reach India from Mexico, but all the tiredness is forgotten as soon as you land and are surrounded by foreign languages, heads tilting to nod, the endless cultural diversity featured on every face, robes, temples and the strong ever-lasting smell of tea and curry. I could already call myself one of the luckiest in the world, not only was I discovering new places of this earth, but I was also getting the chance to learn about the ecology of primates and predators, in a paradise for Indian wildlife: Fringe Ford.
At Fringe Ford, you wake up before dawn to bird-watch more species than you can identify; during breakfast, with a warm cup of Indian tea in your hands, you listen to the howls and calls of langurs; and right after that, you were headed up to what was to me the best part of the day: field lessons. From learning to walk without a noise following monkeys and keeping ears and eyes open to any critter that could cross your path, to walking up and down hills as part of the radio-telemetry training, all lessons in the field increased my curiosity and triggered my adventurous instincts. The joy of being in the forest is hard to describe, you feel relief from the sun under the canopy, refreshing breezes from waterfalls and rivers that you come across from time to time, adrenaline of walking through “king cobra territories” and freedom within the grasslands where elephants roam.
The wilderness was a lure, but the reward was the people I met. Instructors from FPI strive for excellence in their teachings, either in the classroom, the field or at the dinner table, when everybody eagerly listened to their stories. The lessons were carefully planned and we were tested fairly on every subject, which certainly helped us to get the most from the course and made me feel confident that what we were being taught was going to be useful for my scientific career. Networking with people worldwide was an additional incentive, and several of my classmates are now good friends with whom I share wildlife news and exchange updates about our respective field sites.
After my departure, I read more about the Western Ghats and realized the full scope of how unique this opportunity was. With the increasing pressure over natural resources deriving in land-use transformation, pristine ecosystems are shrinking at alarming rates; some of the most biodiverse places in the world have lost over 70% of their original cover. The relicts of the ‘once crowded beyond-imagination biodiverse lands’ are now called ‘Hot Spots’. These periled areas are numbered and most of them host several endangered species. Fringe Ford is a privately protected area of forest in the Western Ghats, an Indian Hot Spot of tropical biodiversity, where nature is intentionally left undisturbed.
I found FPI to be one of the best places to start, or grow, a career in conservation, and beyond this it is an opportunity to discover new cultures, either from the place you are visiting or from the people you meet. The unique opportunities to learn and network on an FPI course may appear secondary to the joy of traveling and the chance to discover new wildlife, but FPI succeeds in giving you both. As the days of the course come to an end and suddenly one day you are going back home, you realize that you have had a life-changing experience. The print I make on this world will be a positive one.
Ximena Neri, Mexico