When someone says ‘internship’, the first thing that comes to mind is a 9-5 shift in a high rise, following people around to take notes, fetching coffee if you’re unlucky enough, while clad in an impeccably ironed suit.
When someone says ‘internship with Wild Otters’, however, the first thing that comes to mind is walking through forests, spending hours watching animals be themselves, with moments of laughter and table tennis matches with the team.
My days at the beautiful Portuguese bungalow on Chorao Island began at 6 am, with soft bird calls quickly replacing my alarm. It was incredible to see what had been my home at night, transform into my workplace in the morning.
Surveys, where you trail through the forest to look for signs of otter activity, were where I learnt to trust nature. Despite the thorny leaves and the lurking critters, not once did I find myself using the first aid kit I had so meticulously arranged. It was during the surveys that I learnt to spot the biggest sign of otter existence: poop.
With the number of times I’ve poked through the clumps to check its age, I can now identify a defecation area from miles away.
Sightings are rare, with otters being shy animals, and I was fortunate to see not one, but two on my second day. Over the next few days, I came to realize that conservation isn’t about taking care of the animals but taking care of their environment. And since then, I would be just as excited at the sight of a defecating area, as I was when I saw the adorable otters just feet away from me.
The favourite part of my job had to be going through hours of camera trap footage, watching numerous animals be themselves, and seeing them go about their day just like we do.
I learnt how to set up my own camera trap as well. We placed it in the backyard for two nights, hoping to capture a mongoose. What we got instead was a porcupine, the first one I’ve seen in my entire life!
The people at Wild Otters are some of the most wonderful people I’ve had the fortune of meeting. With each person having a different background, I learnt things about the field of wildlife that no university could have taught me.
Occasional outings to the movies and for dinner were a wonderful look into how this is not just a group of co-workers, but a team of people with the same purpose, working hard to protect the wildlife of the island. Our cook, Geeta, cooked food so delicious, I’d sometimes end up having the same meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner! The people of the island are warm and generous. Not one day went by where I didn’t receive a greeting and a smile. A special mention is in order for Ladakh, Wild Otters’ very own guard dog, who never left my side, not even during my evening walks.
An internship with Wild Otters is so much more than otters, wildlife, conservation and research. Over the course of my internship, I witnessed myself transform into someone more patient, more hardworking, more courageous, more independent and much more aware of the world. And if given a choice, I would do it all over again.