Dr. N.V.K. Ashraf (Wildlife Trust of India)
Dr. N.V.K. Ashraf completed his Bachelors degree in Veterinary Science (BVSc) from Chennai in 1985. As a veterinary student, he says, his interest in comparative anatomy attracted him to wildlife. "Veterinary schools generally use examples of cattle, goats or horses etc while teaching students. However, I had a professor who used examples of wild animals; this developed my interest in comparative anatomy that eventually drew me towards wildlife conservation."
After working for a couple of years as Assistant Veterinary Surgeon with the State government of Tamil Nadu, he joined the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in 1989 to do his Masters in Wildlife Science, which he asserts has been one of his most memorable moments.
For another two years at WII, he was associated with several projects, the principal among them being the short term survey he carried out on the status of the Malabar and brown palm civets.
In 1992, Ashraf joined the upcoming Coimbatore Zoological Park (CZP) and worked as Veterinary Officer and later as the Assistant Director. During his nine years at CZP, he was mainly associated with Zoo Horticulture and Zoo exhibit designing. He was instrumental in re-creating four vegetation types of Western Ghats in the zoo campus, including the tropical rain forest. His interest in exhibit designing earned him a place in the two-member team sent on a study tour of American zoos in 1993.
He joined WTI in 2001 as the Coordinator of the Wild Rescue programme and became the programme's Director in 2005. Representing WTI, he visited the Environment Public Authority (EPA) of the State of Kuwait in 2003 to help prepare a schematic design plan for a wildlife rescue centre.
His interest in zoological park management and exhibit designing once again earned him a place in IFAW's leading five-member team commissioned for renovating the Baghdad Zoo in 2003. Here, he was primarily responsible for the re-designing of the avian and mammalian exhibits. He braved the vagaries of a war zone to help animals and believes that "no matter what one's political ideologies are, animals caught in the midst of a conflict are innocent victims who should not be made to suffer".
"During my tenure at Baghdad Zoo, I found a huge tortoise in one corner of the zoo, just before we were about to wind up from there. Saving that animal has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life," says Ashraf.
Ashraf was instrumental in the creation of IFAW-WTI's wildlife rehabilitation centres, the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation & Conservation (CWRC) and Centre for Bear Rehabilitation and Conservation (CBRC), and the three rehabilitation stations (rhino, elephant and buffalo) as well as all the rehabilitation projects associated with them. Currently he holds the charge of several species surveys as well.
Under his leadership and supervision, for the first time in India, hand-raised rhino calves were relocated to Manas National Park from CWRC as part of IFAW-WTI's rhino reintroduction programme. He also oversees rehabilitation of other temporarily as well as permanently displaced animals. These include rescue and rehabilitation of Asiatic black bears in Pakke TR as well as in Manas NP, Hoolock gibbon in Panbari Reserve Forest, re-integration of hand-raised elephants in Manas among others.
Of all his numerous achievements, Ashraf considers "leading a large contingent of wildlife veterinarians, here in WTI; and through them, reaching out to animals in distress in different parts of India," as the one that he cherishes the most.
A non-believer of superficiality, Ashraf confesses to be, by nature, a person who seeks an in-depth understanding of all things that interest him. His ability to see humour in things that would normally elude others, also makes him popular among his colleagues.
Apart from his passion for various aspects of wildlife management Ashraf is also interested and well-versed in comparative religion, linguistics and ancient literary history. In wildlife management, his interests lie in wildlife rehabilitation, zoo exhibit designing, endangered species surveys, ecology and behaviour of small mammals and wildlife medicine. Author to a large number of scientific publications, Ashraf is a member of the Captive Breeding Specialist Group as well as the Veterinary Specialists Group of the IUCN/SSC.