KNOW YOUR NATURALIST , Gaurav Dhotre @ PUGDUNDEE SAFARIS
Gaurav Dhotre, is a corporate turned naturalist. He gave up his city life in Mumbai to follow his passion for wildlife. He discovered his love for wildlife in childhood and was fascinated to draw and read about them. As he grew, he began hiking and trekking to expand his knowledge of flora and fauna. He started photographing and exploring more of wilderness, made him realise that’s where his heart belongs. You can find his posts or blogs here: https://www.pugdundeesafaris.com/blog/black-leopards-in-india/
Brief interview with Gaurav
What made you become a naturalist ?
I did my first personal wildlife safari trip to Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in 2011 and that was a major turn in my life. During that time I was inspired by Bollywood movie, in which one of the characters played, a role of an engineering student but he perceived his dream to become a wildlife photographer. I was researching about a wildlife photographer and I came across filmmaker named Kalyan Verma’s blogs, where he mentioned about a job opening and how one can follow their passion for wildlife by working as a Naturalist. So I applied for the job of a Naturalist at Taj Safaris and I got selected for the training. I made the tough decision to leave my job and go and join the training program. After 6 months of training I got qualified to work as a Naturalist with Taj Safaris, and I was posted at Bandhavgarh Mahua Kothi for 2 years, and later 2 years at Baghvan Pench. After working for 4 years from 2011 to 2015, I decided to go back to the City. But it was difficult for me to survive in Mumbai after spending a beautiful calm life in the Jungles. After 2 years I came to know what my heart wanted and in 2017 I returned to the wilderness and Joined Pugdundee Safaris. I was posted at Pench Tree Lodge, Pench and worked there for the next 5 years. And currently I am working with the same group and have been posted at Tadoba, Waghoba Eco Lodge.
What species of birds and animals are found in your region? I am working in the Central part of India, which is known as the Tiger region and most of the Tiger Reserves are in this part of India. Main attraction is Tigers, Leopard and Black Leopard, Sloth Bears, ( Wild dogs Dholes ), Crocodiles, Four horned antelopes and Birds species like Crested Hawk Eagle, Mottled Wood Owl, Malbar Pied Hornbills, Grey Junglefowl and Red Jungle Fowl.
Can you tell us some of the best experiences in your naturalist career? I made the right decision in selecting this profession and working as a Naturalist. It gives me the opportunity to meet different people from around the globe. After almost 10 years in this field I have learned a lot. Many guests who have been coming for the first time to wildlife areas have become good friends and when you share the whole wildlife experience with them their vision of seeing animals changes. I have changed many Tiger Centric guests to good birders and wildlifers. I am right now involved in guiding many forest guides and have helped them to learn the guiding techniques required on safaris to make the guest safari experience better. Recently I went to Simlipal National Park to train the guides and it feels good to convert the raw souls to experts in wildlife.
Guide Training at Simlipal organised by Pugdundee Safaris
Are there any changes in the sightings in this season? Are there any restricted zones in the Tadoba National Park? Compared to last session, this year most of the tigresses have young cubs and there have been good sightings of these cubs. And the queen of Tadoba Tigress Maya has been seen faking mating with 4 Male tigers who are roaming in her territory. And she is doing it to protect her 5 month old cub from these Male Tigers. Tadoba Andhari Tiger reserve dont have zone systems but has different gates for the same core area, so if one enters from any of the 4 gates he can explore the park. 20% of the park’s core area is open for Tourism and certain roads have a one way system. Good part of this park is its Plastic free so the guests are not allowed to carry plastic bottles with them.
What is the best sight captured by you in this season? Would you like to share the picture with the story behind it? Tadoba National Park always offers some great sightings of animals in action. The best sighting I had this year was of the tigress called Maya with her 1.5month old and she was carrying it in her mouth. I still remember the day it was 2nd Nov 2022 and I was on morning Safari. I came to know that many of the vehicles have seen Maya with her small cub and on hearing this i got frustrated with myself that why its happening with me I am not able to sight such a wonderful moment. We waited for Maya to come out with all the vehicles lined in one direction. After spending half an hour it was time to exit the park so we turned our vehicle, and we could see Maya and her cub walking some 800 metres away on the road in front of us. She gave us ample of time and then took the cub in her mouth and crossed the road. That was a lifetime experience for me.
PC: Gaurav Dhotre, naturalist @Pugdundee Safaris
What are the best times for sightings?
Animal sighting is always a matter of luck, and one should be at the right place at the right time. But a higher percentage of tiger sightings is from the month of March to mid June, when natural water sources start to dry up and animals start to congregate near the Man made waterholes.
Do you observe any difference in tourist behaviour during safaris post-covid?
The difference what I have observed is that post covid more of the Domestic guests within India have started visiting the parks. That is a good thing on one side as it’s been continuously generating income sources for the local people. But on the other side most of the guests are non wildlifer and they just want to see tigers and there has been a lot of commotion and noise during the sightings. However ,as naturalists we try to educate guests with us about jungle ethics.
What are your plans for the next 5 years – what do you want to achieve ?
When I selected this job profile I gave up on city life and the rat race. My plan for the next 5 years is to work as a Naturalist cum Trainer where I can share my experience and train new blood to become better guides and Naturalists.