Interested In Nature And In Love With Insects, Kashmiri Student Receives Young Naturalist Award

by Khalid Bashir Gura

SRINAGAR: Fascinated by the world of insects, a little boy was always wondering about the way these small creatures lived. Critical to the existence of the world, he was curious to know more about their life. The way they communicate, fly and sleep. In his growing years, he used to grab magnifying glasses to follow them everywhere. Curiosity continued.

Suhaib Firdous Yatoo

As he proceeded in his academics, he tried to seek answers from books, within his syllabus and outside. Somewhere, he found a glimpse of his answers in his high school textbook chapter titled, Pappachi’s Moth written by Arundhati Roy in her Booker prize winner book, The God of Small Things.

While going through books and banners across, words relevant to insects struck him always. He remembers coming across the words like entomologist that eventually illuminated the world he wanted to explore and the path he wanted to choose: to be an entomologist.

The urge to explore ignited in him the passion to become an entomologist and discover species unknown to the world. Finally, 23-year-old, Suhaib Firdous Yatoo, found himself in the wilderness to pursue his dream.

Finally, on January 30, he was awarded the Young Naturalist Award from Sanctuary Nature Foundation, a reputed organization working for wildlife conservation. A huge achievement for this young man, Suhaib, a student of B.Sc at Sopore Degree College was awarded for discovering and documenting endemic flora to fungi and two-winged flies scientifically known as Diptera.

“I wanted to be an entomologist and would soon find myself in the vast wilderness of North Kashmir,” said Suhaib, a resident of Sopore

“Intrepid explorer, roving scientist, and wondrous inquirer of the wildlife in Jammu and Kashmir,” is how Sanctuary Nature Foundation describes Yatoo, who has added a feather in his cap by becoming one of the youngest recipients of the award. He is one among three young naturalist awardees including Anurag Karekar and Ridhima Pandey to have been awarded by the Foundation.

The award is conferred to youth leaders who set an example for their peers and older generations alike, through their thirst for knowledge and conservation entrepreneurship motivated by hopes of their future on planet Earth.

Suhaib Firdous Yatoo

As Yatoo possesses an unending curiosity for the scientific workings of the natural world around him, he became one of the co-founders of the Center for Biological Diversity of Wild Life Conservation Fund, in Pampore. He was the director at the organisation until 2019 and was promoted to Director of Research last year. He avidly documents the natural world that fascinates him, from endemic flora to fungi and microorganisms. He also examines insects and recording behaviours with endless patience. He harbours a particular interest in Diptera, an order of two-winged flies, and myxomycete (slime molds).

“I have reviewed a manuscript for the Journal of Threatened Taxa. I was consulted as a ‘Fungi Expert’ with one of the largest open-access online databases that focus on biodiversity, Eflora of India,” he said adding that he has contributed natural history information to several other online databases, including SpeciesFile.org, ASCOFrance, and Mushroom Observer.

Inspired by the works of Peter Scott and David Shepherd, Yatoo said that he is aiming to document every step of his work through photographs. Most of the work done up till now does not have photos which makes them less interesting. “I want to create interest in layman in taxonomy. The field of taxonomy is dying in Kashmir. All the research lies locked in journal papers, rarely accessible to common people who may otherwise be interested. I want to bring them in the public domain to create interest,” he said adding, “In my collection, there are more than a hundred species of flies.”

“I think butterflies get more attention than other species while people are rarely aware of the importance of flies in ecology,” he added.

Two-winged insect one of the species found out by Suhaib Firdous Yatoo

Suhaib vividly remembers that in his childhood he had written on his school bag, “I am an entomologist. I discovered a new species in 2020,” he said but up until now, I have already discovered more than five which are yet to be in the public domain.

According to him, he could not explain to the layman why he wandered into the wilderness but he desires to contribute to the taxonomic field and wants to pursue research in the entomology future. “I have received this award for citizen science,” he said.

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