Nirmal Kulkarni, Goa
Nirmal U. Kulkarni’s calling card would read something like this: field ecologist, conservationist, photographer, Director (Ecology) of Wildernest Nature Resort, an eco-tel in the Chorla Ghats (Goa), co-founder of Goa-based eco-store Earthworm, Chairman of the Mahdei Research Centre and promoter of HERPACTIVE, a study initiative on Herpetofauna.
Not one to sit around daydreaming, Nirmals proactive approach, particularly in the field of wildlife conservation, has led to significant discoveries. To his credit are the discovery of two previously unknown species of legless amphibians, the caecilians – Goan caecilian (Gegeneophis goaensis), reported from Keri village in Sattari district, and the Mahdei caecilian (Gegeneophis mhadeiensis), reported from Chorla village from Khanapur taluka of Karanataka. He was part of a team that reported a new sub-species of the pit viper (Peotobothrops jerdonii xanthomelas) – the Jerdon’s Red spotted pit viper – from the Eaglenest Wildlife sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh.
Over the past decade or more, Nirmal has researched, mapped and recorded the secrets of the Mahdei Bio Region. He would often accompany historian and environmentalist Rajendra Kerkar into deep forests, armed with just a camera. Those journeys whetted his appetite to know more about the region which was undocumented, and on several self-funded journeys he photo documented the diversity of Mahdei – particularly lesser known animal species like reptiles and amphibians, insects and spiders. He was helped and guided by stalwarts in the field of biodiversity research and documentation like Dr Claude Alvares, Dr Manoj Borkar, Dr G.K Bhatt and Dr M K Janarthanam.
Nirmal converted his passion for the wild in general, and the Mahdei Bio Region in particular, into a career that combined science, photography and activism. He has established Goa’s first independent field research station, the Mahdei Research Centre, which trains young naturalists, brings communities and wildlife enthusiasts on the same platform, and documents the biodiversity of the region
Nirmal’s growing role as an activist can be seen in the successful ‘Save the Frogs’ campaign against the local consumption of Indian Bullfrogs, which he led along with co-campaigner Clinton Vaz and the Goa Forest Department. The campaign included awareness-come-law enforcement activities. He was also part of a team that worked on conserving the Bhimgad forests in Karnataka. Their efforts ultimately led to the creation of the Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary.
He has won several awards for his dedicated work to wildlife conservation– the Sarpamitra Award by the Indian Herpetological Society for reptile conservation in the Sahyadris, the ecologist of the year award by ECHO Goa, the Nehru Yuva Kendra award for motivating youth, and the Big Goenkar award for conservation work in Goa.
His latest initiative – Herpactive – aims at promoting the science of field herpetology by conducting walks, surveys, treks, training workshops and field technique sessions for budding herp-enthusiasts and students of mainstream science.