Bhavna Menon graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Arts from Delhi and later, moved to Mumbai to pursue her post-graduate studies in Journalism. She is currently employed with Last Wilderness Foundation, an NGO working towards wildlife conservation, as a Programme Manager and has a particular affinity for leopards.
Last Wilderness Foundation (LWF) an organisation that was founded in 2009, works towards conservation outreach- focusing primarily on Human – Wildlife conflict, capacity building with the Forest Department frontline staff and creation of livelihood opportunities for communities that live around the tiger reserves at Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Panna Tiger Reserves of Madhya Pradesh, in tandem with the Forest Department.
1.Who you are (naturally!)
My name is Bhavna Menon and I work as the Programme Manager for Last Wilderness Foundation, an NGO working for wildlife conservation in Central India (Kanha, Panna and Bandhavgarh)
2. What inspired you to create/join your business?
I have always been a wildlife buff. Almost all my holidays as a child and as a young adult have been to places known for its flora and fauna. My interest also lay in understanding people and the human mind which led me to pursue psychology. Three years into studying the subject, my need to meet and write about people, who were in need of being recognised – those who resided in remote parts of this country especially, grew. To do this, I needed formal training in writing whih lead me to pursue a Journalism degree in Mumbai. It was after the completion of this course that I joined Last Wilderness Foundation as a college placement and since then there has been no looking back. I have had the privilege of not only writing about issues/work/people that need writing about but have been a part of some of the most beautiful projects. The turning point of my work was the first time I visited Bandhavgarh. It was during this particular project visit that I met the local community members of the jungle and I realised how myopic my idea and knowledge about conservation had been. It was during this trip that I realised that conservation is not possible and is just an empty word without the support of local communities in the safeguarding of our forests.
3. An anecdote which epitomizes your India?
During one of our Village Kids’ Awareness Programmes at Bandhavgarh, an 80-year-old gentleman by the name of Golu Singh went on a safari with us. His dream was to see tigers and as luck would have it, he saw 4 tigers that day. His immediate reaction was to shut his eyes and bow his head in reverence. For me, this epitomizes India, where forests are still revered and respected by its’ people despite the conflict owing to sharing of space. It is this love that has helped protect the last of the remaining wilderness spaces in this country.
4. One thing that you can’t live without?
A visit to the forest and chai.
5. One thing that you hate?
Pre- conceived notions
6. If you could change one thing about India what would it be?
Speaking strictly from the point of view of wildlife conservation. The most important change that needs to take place is for more and more people to know the on-ground situation/ conservation work being done by coming on field/visiting field sites themselves rather than being armchair conservationists oblivious to the ground reality, which can prove detrimental to the conservation sphere. I feel it is easy to talk from afar about what needs to be done rather than toiling on the field.
7. Who is your greatest inspiration?
I think my greatest inspiration was my father. He was the one who introduced me to the wilds at an early age which had me hooked to the wilderness from the start and cemented my need to work in the field of conservation. This apart, another quality he helped instil in me was the importance of accepting people for who they are. This is a motto I follow till date and has helped me while working with community members around tiger reserves.
8. What is your favourite quote?
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” Another quote I love is – “This too shall pass.”
9. I have noticed huge changes in India over the last few years but what is the biggest change you have noticed in India over the last 10 years?
In the field of wildlife conservation, a big change that has happened is that there is a lot more awareness and sensitisation among people with regard to importance of forests and a good part of the population does in fact want to help in whatever way they can to help. Another change that has happened is that people want to understand the forests more deeply beyond the safaris. That could mean a visit to a village, dialogue with community members, experiencing local culture and food, experiencing conservation efforts and workshops, which has helped give people a holistic understanding of forests and its people.
10. Which is the destination at the top of your bucket list?
I want to trace back to all the places visited by Jim Corbett during his time in India and write about it someday!
11. What is the one place you visited that you have NO desire to return to?
Haven’t come across one yet.
12. Book or Movie?
13. Just for fun! I am doing a survey to find India’s most popular breakfast, what is yours?
For me it would be Poha – Jalebi accompanied by a piping hot cup of ‘adrak’ chai on a cold winter morning in Central India.
14. In retrospect, what is the one thing you wish you could have told your 20 year-old self?
Communicate. It solves all problems, no matter how complicated.
More about Last Wilderness Foundation