Queen of the wild nurtures Indian wilderness

Queen of the wild nurtures Indian wilderness
Sitting in her office Monica <g data-gr-id="39">Fatogun’s</g> passion in her work is evident in her concentration on the monitor beaming visuals from the cages of the cats in the captive breeding program she is overseeing now at Sanjay Gandhi National park.

The 26-year-old researcher is the daughter of a Nigerian father and Indian Bengali mother. She was born in Russia where her parents met as students. They then moved to India before relocating to Nigeria when she was 6 years old. She spent the next decade in the West African <g data-gr-id="42">nation,</g> and then moved to India when at 17 to pursue higher education.

A passionate nature and animal lover, when she went to university, she chose B.Sc Environmental Science and graduated in 2010. After graduating, she quickly realised this was no an easy road, the field is a man’s world, and certificates are not enough. One needs a lot of experience as a volunteer to qualify for most vacancies. So undeterred, she volunteered as a guide in Shillong, her mother’s home town, then in 2012, she flew to The UK for further studies and attained an MSc in Wildlife Conservation and Management.

She then returned to India the following year and to her surprise, work was still hard to come by. So in 2013, she took off on another volunteer project in Mauritius under the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation’s Pink Pigeon Recovery Project. The work which involved caring for the species’ fledglings to boost their survival rate is to date her proudest accomplishment and despite leaving the project early due to family commitments, she was still sure it was on its way to success.

Upon returning to India, Monica joined EDUCARE, an NGO that assists interns in setting up projects. She launched campaign for plating trees on an <g data-gr-id="50">erosion prone</g> slope that precariously hang above a village in Himachal. She also spearheaded the Green Gift Project that presented children with saplings of fruit trees to plant on their birthdays, a project that was successful in sensitising kids on the importance of environmental conservation. Monica also introduced villagers from the Gaddi Community to organic farming using manure instead of chemical fertiliser.

Amidst all these successful projects, she was still struggling <g data-gr-id="46">getting</g> a paying job. She applied for numerous vacancies, attended many interviews and even got selected for some posts, but there was always be a negative twist at the end, and the job would go to someone else because the employers preferred a man, sometimes even no reason was given, and she would only find out she lost the position to a less qualified person.

Then in 2014, she applied for a post in a project in Sanjay Gandhi National Park, running a captive breeding program for the Rusty Spotted Cat, an endangered feline that resembles the domesticated cat. She was selected and she promptly relocated to Mumbai. Monica started out with skeletal infrastructure, without even an office to work in, but however, she has since then overseen the up-gradation of the facilities, from the cats’ housings to the research offices. A CCTV camera system is installed to make monitoring the cats less intrusive and she has also introduced more rigorous monitoring procedures for the animals’ behaviours. Earlier today, she was worried about a female that was pacing up and down her cage. 

“That is a sign of stress, but she’s calmed down now, the breeding season is close, and we don’t want her stressed if we want her to breed”, she says while still fixated on the screen and ticking away columns in a data sheet. Finally Monica is on a project as a paid scientist, and it doesn’t stop there for her. The 5’8” researcher is toying with the idea of a <g data-gr-id="54">part time</g> modeling career and a PhD in the near future. She also dreams of working in New Zealand, South America and in her father’s native Nigeria where she hasn’t heard of anything to do with Wildlife conservation. But for now, she has her hands full with the Rusty Spotted cats.
Bob Omulo

Bob Omulo

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