Published: 23rd August 2020
This 24-year-old research scholar from Odisha is discovering new species of snakes and spiders
These are the steps Rakesh Kumar Mohalik follows when he comes across anything new or different, just like he did with the yellow turtle in Balasore recently. We find out more about his work
Remember the rare yellow turtle found in Balasore in July, pictures of which startled the world and immediately went viral? Conservationist Rakesh Kumar Mohalik was one of the people the forest guards called when they came across it. And, as a result, the 24-year-old had the opportunity to capture rare stills of the viral turtle. He also gathered meristic (counting quantitative features) and mensural (measurements) data. "When the forest guards called me, I was in Keonjhar. I rushed to Balasore to see it for myself. I clicked pictures, collected the data and then, we released it into the Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary," says the youngster.
Rakesh | (Pic: Rakesh Kumar Mohalik)
Now, let's get into the story of why the forest guards called him in the first place. Growing up in Kaptipada, the Simlipal Tiger Reserve was a stone's throw away for young Rakesh. "Before the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 was announced, my grandfather had several pets like a sloth bear and peacocks. Basically, I was born to a family that loves wildlife," he begins. In 2011, he started rescuing snakes in his area and even put together a team to help him. He claims to have rescued over 1,500 easily because sometimes, they rescued as many as three snakes in just one day. That's how he grew popular with the forest guards. In fact, it was with their help that he was able to find, for the first time, the arrowback tree snake (Boiga gokool), a mildly venomous snake that is known to dwell in Northeast India alone. So, they did not think twice before calling him when they spotted the yellow turtle. "When one of the forest guards called me, I travelled 160 km from my home," he informs, adding that this finding has been published in the Records of Zoological Survey of India.
It's a given that Rakesh has a lot of real-time experience with wildlife but academically too, he is quite adept. He is currently a Research Scholar, carrying out his work in the Keonjhar Wildlife Division, Anandapur. "My work is to document all kinds of flora and fauna. I also measure population density and undertake biodiversity assessment," he shares. But you see, the pandemic has Rakesh locked in because his roommate has tested positive for COVID-19. But the youngster, who pursued his MSc in Biodiversity Conservation and Wildlife Management from North Orissa University, has put this time to good use. He started his own YouTube channel, Conservation Through Lens, on August 3 because, "From all my field visits, I have innumerable amounts of footage, both videos and pictures. I figured this would be the right way to let them see the light of the day," he shares. The channel aims to focus on species diversity, the importance of conservation and just the beauty of Mother Nature in all its glory. Well, we are hitting that bell icon, for sure!
Close encounters with the wild:
- In 2018, he and his friends were lost near the Chhattisgarh border and spotted a black panther. They were scared and were stuck on a hilltop for a long time
- Two elephants had entered a village to feast on pineapples. With the intention to help, he went there and had a close call with one of them about a month back
Bamboo pit viper | (Pic: Rakesh Kumar Mohalik)
Double-headed common wolf snake | (Pic: Rakesh Kumar Mohalik)
Indian chameleon | (Pic: Rakesh Kumar Mohalik)
Indian black scorpion under ultraviolet light | (Pic: Rakesh Kumar Mohalik)
For more on him, check out facebook.com/rakeshkumar.mohalik