Combing through the wildest of jungles hasn’t been the biggest challenge in the life and career of Latika Nath. She has had to break many glass ceilings—in academics and on the field—to become a tiger expert, wildlife photographer, and conservationist. By Bayar Jain
From losing her ancestral home and career ambitions to militancy in Kashmir, to photographing endangered species around the world, and echoing calls of wildlife conservation, Latika Nath has come a long way. And she’s shattered quite a few stereotypes en route.
Although she used to take pictures as a child, Nath didn’t take to photography professionally until 2012. A divorce and other personal upheavals forced her to start life afresh. She began by making a list of 80 places to visit, and decided to photograph them “to remind myself what I was experiencing and seeing.” Photography was one of the things that her marriage had deprived her of. Claiming it back meant making an abrupt transition from film to digital cameras, but her work was instantly recognised.
Nath’s feats with the camera might be recent, but her connection with India’s wildlife denizens goes back much further. She holds the distinction of being India’s first female biologist with a doctorate on tigers; in fact, she’s often called ‘The Tiger Princess of India’, a moniker first made popular by a 2001 documentary. The biologist wasn’t always headed in this direction. “My original love was the snow leopard. I was planning to do my PhD on them, but then militancy hit Kashmir [in 1989].” Nath’s ancestral home in Kashmir was burned down, and she knew she couldn’t stay there for her research. Subsequently, the then director of the Wildlife Institute of India, H S Panwar, challenged her to do a doctorate on tigers instead. Nath accepted, and the rest is history.
For her dedicated work in wildlife conservation and resolution of human-animal conflict over the last three decades, Nath has garnered a long list of awards, honours, and titles. The male-dominated field of Indian wildlife biologists wasn’t easy terrain to navigate. “People kept making derogatory remarks like, ‘Oh, the woman in chiffon sari who roams in India’,” recalls Nath. But the multi-hyphenate pioneer had found her calling, and there was no stopping her. “I found my ikigai, and the peace I find within myself when I am in nature gives me the inspiration to carry on,” she says.
The wildlife expert believes the best place to spot a tiger is Central India but it all comes down to luck. One of her most memorable sightings of the snow leopard came in October 2021, when she watched two cubs—a foot tall—following their mother in Ladakh, a place she has frequented for the last four decades. As an A-List member, she promises to lead our readers to once-in-a-lifetime sightings!