“You’re never too old to start learning, and you’re never too young to aim high and achieve great things.” – Asa Hutchinson
Vikas Madhav��s confidence and joy in his work shine through when he talks. As a child, he was drawn to nature, and his parents cultivated this interest. Now, at the age of 20, Vikas is a well-regarded ornithologist, butterfly and moth data collector and surveyor. A key resource for organizations like Sanctuary Asia, WWF, and the Madras Naturalistic Society, he has spent weeks climbing mountains and combing jungles in remote parts of Uttarakhand, the North East, the Western Ghats, looking for rare species. Vikas takes photographs, makes checklists, and identifies species with astonishing accuracy. He then contributes his observations through ‘citizen science’ to the NGOs to use towards conservation: the list of water birds he compiled from the Odiyur Lagoon in Cheyyur was used extensively by organizations seeking to save the lagoon from destruction. Or he uploads findings on to portals like Butterflies of India to collaborate with scientists working in the field. In 2010, the Oriental Bird Club in the UK published his sighting of the Indian Skimmer, which had not been seen in Tamil Nadu for 160 years.
Vikas’s work aiding conservation and wildlife analysis was recognized when he won the Young Naturalist of the Year award from Sanctuary Magazine in 2014. Their citation states, “…Vikas Madhav is already a conservation force to reckon with and is destined to be one of India’s key conservation voices for tomorrow.”
Vikas was never interested in studying zoology and botany. He chose to join SSN College of Engineering and pursue Chemical Engineering. It was a good decision in more than one way. As a student of SSN, Vikas received great support and impetus for his environmental pursuits. At SSN, he learned to balance two parts of his life, which will stand him in good stead forever. The faculty helps him catch up with what he has missed, and his peers help tremendously too. He explains. ‘I wouldn’t have managed if I didn’t have an understanding college.’ Vikas has helped SSN College of Engineering document over 125 species of birds on their campus.
There are challenges, of course. A typical day for Vikas means attending college, then coming home and starting wildlife work. Sometimes he feels sleepy in class! But on the whole, the encouragement from the faculty of SSN has helped him through some tough times. As their value statement says, the college seeks to create ‘stimulating environments for intellectual development, free-thinking, and personal growth…’ The rigour he has learned as a young wildlife expert has stood him in good stead in studies too, making him a diligent and organized student, which his teachers appreciate.
Vikas didn’t have a regular childhood, but there are no regrets. His friends and classmates are supportive. He takes fellow students on bird walks and is happy to note that the college has not encroached on the habitat of the birds on the campus, letting the eco-system prevail.
Going forward, Vikas intends to forge stronger links between his passion and profession. He aims to study environmental engineering. This modest young man is not one to rest on his laurels. He is clear that his journey has just begun!
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