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- Introducing the Tiger Team
- The big picture of tiger conservation
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- Darshan Patel: Exciting stuff! All the best in saving the okapi -...
Bangladesh diaries: tales of a trainee tiger conservationist
Until about 5 months ago, I was working 9 – 5 in London. Smelling armpits on the London underground every morning, thinking anyone was weird if they attempted to speak to me. TV dinners on weeknights, pubs and beer at the weekend. Usual stuff…just passing time.
Then my life turned upside down. I applied for and got a job with the Sundarbans Tiger Project in Bangladesh, part of the ZSL conservation programme. I didn’t really think I’d get it, but one thing led to another, and before I knew it I was dancing in a skin tight tiger leotard at my leaving doo in Camden. I’d hoped for a professional exit, but I think I’m an exhibitionist at heart. And then I arrived at Zia International Airport, Dhaka – the capital city of Bangladesh. It was like a big slap in the face; smells, heat, poverty, traffic, noise, insane color clashes, and a billion other things as I stepped out from the calm airport into this new chaos. A reserved British man – Henry Churchill – that politely holds the door open for his seniors is suddenly propelled into this frenetic, manic space where you are stared at and pointed at and given absolutely no privacy.
Since then I haven’t looked back. My soul has been given a huge shake-up, like a big snow globe in a Bangladesh tumble drier, with a million new sensations and experiences. A new world of conflicts and dichotomies; a world that has had me in tears on the back of a rickshaw because I have felt so alone and far away (Christmas time – very tough); a world of intense poverty where people literally die on the pavements as air conditioned cars zip past, oblivious in their tinted windowed cocoons; a world that has had me beaming from ear to ear from some of the happiest moments I know I’ll ever experience; a world that has more people living on every square inch than anywhere else, and yet boasts the world’s largest mangrove forest and population of tigers.
Bangladesh is an incredible place and I have fallen in love with it. Fallen in love with the dusty rickshaws that ting ting through the tiny Dhaka alleys lit only by kerosene lamp, in love with the countless times the tea wallahs refuse my money because I attempted to speak Bangla (even though they sleep under tarpaulin in the streets), in love with the Sundarbans where tigers roam in a huge watery jungle, in love with a million other details that can’t really be described. I also love the job and the lifestyle. ZSL has asked me to write a monthly blog of my experiences. Not specifically about tigers and conservation – (www.sundarbanstigerproject.info) – but on the life of an ordinary 32 (nearly 33) year old dawk from London that left all his creature comforts, friends and family at home, to live in one of the poorest countries in the world to save tigers.
Why write the blog? Well, I hope to inspire people to at least think about using their skills to help conservation projects. You see, I used to get paid a good salary and had a good job with a bonus around the corner and a two-week holiday every year and the chance to get a bigger mortgage to get another room so I could consume more and watch Eastenders on a bigger TV and maybe one day own a Mercedes and a gold watch and die “happy”. But I gave it up and gave this a go. And I want to say: if there is any part of you that thinks about making such a change, then please read this blog and learn about the trials and tribulations. Sometimes it is incredibly hard – the hardest thing I’ve ever done, for many reasons – but it is also the most rewarding thing in the world. I don’t regret it for a second. Now every day I experience something completely new, I am learning about a culture I had no idea about, I’m picking up a new language (slowly), I’m learning how to cope with constant power cuts and job strikes and I’m meeting brand new people that have the same aspirations as you or I. I am constantly fascinated, dustily blinking up from my daily rickshaw commute, to see this chaos that challenges me to my core. Who would have thought it: Bangladesh, one of the poorest nations on earth, could make a Londoner so happy. It says a lot about people I think. Not to be too clichéd, but happiness has little to do with wealth and creature comforts. I think it has more to do with challenging yourself, learning new things, gaining new experiences and (and I know this is sounding a little preachy now) doing something helpful for the planet.
Working in this line of work is incredibly fulfilling, and you do not need to be a doctor in zoology or ecology to make the change. Those positions are important, but so are many others. At the Sundarbans Tiger Project we have a project manager from Accenture, a sales and marketing person (me), a communications expert, a journalist, and many other people with diverse skills (including carnivore biology, of course). So maybe you don’t need to retrain to save wild animals and fulfill your dreams after all.
This is the first of many blogs. An introduction. I will try to capture some stories that epitomize my life out here, and try and persuade you – with the uncovered truth – what life is like as a trainee tiger conservationist living in Bangladesh. Feel free to get in touch and ask questions: email@example.com
Henry Churchill, Programme Coordinator, Sundarbans Tiger Project