People get scared watching a Kashmir lady catching snakes in the homes and driving them to the forests. As the man-wild animal conflict surges, Kashmir’s lone wildlife rescuer is in sharp focus. Urvat il Wuska talks to Aaliya Mir about a wide range of wildlife
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): What motivated you to choose wildlife rescue as your career despite being from a mathematics background?
AALIYA MIR (AM): I did my masters in Mathematics as I was inclined towards teachings at that time. While pursuing my graduation I got married to a veterinarian and it was the time when my journey into wildlife begun and my interest in this field started to develop. So I first started to work as a volunteer for wildlife and used to participate in workshops and their fundraising programmes.
While working, I gradually realized that doing this job is giving me a different self-satisfaction. I think one gets this satisfaction only when you are working for a good cause and this motivated me to work in wildlife. So I joined Wildlife SOS as an employee and joined them officially in 2007 when they started their project of mitigation of man and animal conflict in Jammu and Kashmir.
While doing my job, I go to different colleges and schools for awareness programmes and interact with the youth and students. This is why I always feel that wildlife is providing me with an opportunity to fulfil my passion of being a teacher.
KL: How challenging do you face as a female?
AM: I think every job is a challenge in itself but the extra challenging thing in my job is that as a female I work with wildlife, which is usually considered as a men’s field. I am very much thankful to almighty Allah that I got to work with people who always boosted my morale. Everyone in my organization including my seniors and co-workers never let me feel down or made me realize that I am alone in this field.
KL: What was your family’s reaction when you decided to choose this profession?
AM: My actual journey of wildlife started soon after my marriage so it was not possible without their support to continue in this field. I feel lucky to be a part of such a family that never stopped me to follow my passion especially my husband. Wildlife is not a day job, it is a field where you can get a call anytime as there is no barrier of day and night in this profession. But everyone in my family supported me and my children are also very cooperative. So whatever I have achieved is only because of their support.
KL: Man-animal conflict is increasing day by day. What are the main reasons behind it and what measures should be taken to overcome this?
AM: First of all, we need to understand the reason behind why animals move towards human habitations. Before that, however, we have to ask ourselves whether it is actually a human habitation or not? The human population is increasing, people are making their homes near the forests so animals come down in search of food and get attracted towards the livestock. Rapid urbanization is another cause of rising man-animal conflict as we can see big concrete buildings all around us and roads being built through wildlife sanctuaries.
The developmental work going on in Dhoodpathri and Tosamaidan is one such example of rapid urbanization. It has been a trend now that we get two to four calls on average of reptile cases. Before 2014 snakes were rarely seen. So we can clearly understand that we are in a consistent conflict because of habitat loss of these wildlife animals.
KL: What is the focus of Wildlife SOS?
AM: We work for three main causes. The first is to rescue wild animals and then release them to the wild after proper examination. Second is education and awareness of the masses about the human and wild animal conflict. We make people aware of the precautions and prevention of human lives. The third is the training of frontline staff who are directly and indirectly involved with the society for mitigation of human wild animal conflict. Wildlife SOS also works with local communities through outreach programmes and workshops to reduce or resolve human-wildlife conflicts. We believe it is possible and absolutely critical that humans and wildlife find ways to peacefully coexist.
KL: Do you ever feel scared while doing risky rescue operations like helping a venomous reptile?
AM: Yes. Because unless you do not have fear of them, you cannot maintain a gap with them. If you do not fear you will keep disturbing them so in order to save yourself it is important to maintain a reasonable gap.
Animals usually attack you when you disturb them or make them feel that they are in danger. So we should always respect the animals and maintain the distance between them. We have many examples where people especially youngsters mishandle these animals and get attacked.
We need to understand that they too are living creatures – when you improperly handle them they feel danger so in order to save themselves they attack you. So I always try to maintain a space with them.
KL: In Kashmir, there are only a few professions that are socially acceptable for females but you are an example for girls who want to go beyond that and pursue an apparently risky profession. So what is your message for half of the population, I mean the women?
AM: My message to girls is that if you feel you are capable of doing something do not think twice, just do the work you are comfortable in. But always remember that you are a special creation of Almighty so take care of yourself and your parents by being obedient to them. When you keep these things in mind, nobody will stop you from achieving success. If I can do well in this field despite being a female, you can also do. Nothing is impossible when you are confident about yourself and work honestly. And my message to all those parents who believe that their children can be successful only if he/she becomes a doctor or an engineer is to let your children free to explore different professions.
KL: How do you manage your profession and home at the same time despite being the mother of two children?
AM: It is very challenging for me to do so but with the support of my family and team, I am able to manage my profession as well as my home. My children have accepted my job with all those challenges that I go through and they are always ready with me to face these challenges.
KL: Do you wish to tell anything to the commoners?
AM: We should always remember that animals both domestic and wild are the creatures of Almighty Allah. He has made everything in this universe with a purpose so everything that exists has its own worth. Respect these animals because we will be held accountable for whatever we do in this world. Be responsible and always do well so to play a better role as a human being. And this world is precious, we need to save this world for future generations so that they will have a good environment with fresh air and water.