At the peak of winter in 2016, wildlife biologist and photographer Latika Nath decided that she wanted to meet the snow leopards in Leh and Ladakh. Soon, she found herself 16,000 ft above sea level, where the wind was bitter, air was thin and she had to catch her breath after every few steps. One day, she looked up at the skyline and spotted the majestic cat on top of a mountain. “We watched it for three hours and 45 minutes, to be exact. She saw us, climbed down to stand 50 ft away and was talking to us all the way,” says Latika, who met four more snow leopards in the next few days. The photographs are part of her new coffee-table, Hidden India, which was launched at The Safari Bar in Delhi’s The Lodhi.
Latika is one of the first wildlife biologists in India to work in the field of tiger conservation. Apart from academic research, she has photographed tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars, snow leopards and clouded leopards. Only the puma is left. While Latika has shared her images of the Indian landscape and wildlife, writer-journalist Shloka Nath has written autobiographical essays, where she examines her relationship with nature. Apart from the snow leopards, there are breath-taking photographs of tigers in the dense jungles of Madhya Pradesh, great Indian one-horn rhino of Kaziranga, marine life from the depths of the Andaman waters and centuries-old bridges grown from tangled roots in Cherrapunji, among others. The proceeds from the sale of the book will support the elephant conservation project of Wildlife SOS.
Latika remembers being with the wild ever since she was a child. “My parents tell me that my first fishing trip was when I was a three-week old baby. I’ve had every pet possible, from elephants to horses, hedgehogs, eagles and langurs,” she says. Her father, Prof Diwan Lalit Mohan Nath, was the director of AIIMS and a member of the Indian Board for Wildlife and, once Latika returned from school to find a sick baby orangutan resting in her bed. Zoo authorities had sent it to their home for treatment.
Photographing the wild, according to her, is meditative, when everything stops — thinking, thirst, hunger, and chatter in the mind. She relates to animals, and their expressions, moods and conversations. “You live in that moment and observe the pupils of the animal dilate, feel its breath and watch the twitch in its ear when a sibling comes near. The subject is so perfect that every shot becomes a perfect shot,” she says. She returns with over 30,000 photographs from every trip.
She has faced down stereotypes, when people have expected a male scientist on the field. “They did not believe that I’m the person they’ve come to meet. I was the girl in chiffon sarees,” she says with a laugh.
On tiger conservation, she says India still needs more political will. “It doesn’t have to be development versus environment, us and them, environmental ethics needs to be part of development,” says Latika, who has worked for more than 25 years in the field of tiger conservation.
Her next book is titled ‘Ethiopia: Wildlife and Tribes of the Omo Valley, a photo book on one of the world’s oldest tribe.’