Dr. Varad Giri is the man who has inspired countless other wildlife enthusiasts to discover and label the unknown amphibians and reptiles in the Western Ghats and other parts of India. He is the renowned Indian herpetologist, whose tireless work has resulted in the discovery and description of 56 new species and two genera of reptiles and amphibians in the Western Ghats in India.
His work has inspired people from other professions to join him in his mission. He has mentored many such as Hemant Ogale, a mechanical engineer who became an environmentalist and dedicated researcher. Ogale helped Varad Giri discover a species that was later named the Castoe’s Coral Snake.
There are around 200 such enthusiastic citizen scientists who have been mentored by Varad Giri to discover and document the lesser-known herpetofauna. The Western Ghats is the most diverse biodiversity hotspot in the Indian subcontinent where numerous species remain to be discovered.
Varad Giri’s enthusiasm for training others in this specialized field stemmed from an incident earlier in his career. One day he sent out a group of student enthusiasts to look for reptile species and take a picture. The students discovered a new species of Gecko which was later named Hemidactylus varadagirii. This incident encouraged him to inspire others into joining him.
Lessons From The Nature For Dr. Varad Giri
Every moment in the wilderness has been one of learning as nature gives fleeting glimpses into its rich heritage. It has offered Varad Giri an opportunity to observe and comprehend the immense biodiversity of the Western Ghats.
His infectious enthusiasm has led to the discovery of over 56 new species of reptiles, geckos, and other amphibians in the relatively unexplored Western Ghats. His entry into the arena of zoology was by accident. And it has also made him realize that it doesn’t need specialization in the field to be a part of wildlife conservation.
He drifted into the field of zoology, as he could not get admission in chemistry at the post-graduation level, which was his first choice. He was inspired by a senior, Hemant Dhamake who introduced him to the riches of the forest. He and other friends joined him in his visits and discussions on birds, flowers, and other biodiverse flora and fauna in the region. The initial enthusiasm soon turned into an obsession.
Varad Giri learned to classify birds through their scientific name and their species. He was joined by Anil Shingare, a snake enthusiast.
He joined the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) after graduating. He discovered the Ceylon Frogmouth in Maharashtra and that impressed the interviewing panel. It had so far been discovered only in the neighboring state of Goa.
His career took off in 2001-2002 when he decided to explore the immense biodiversity of the Western Ghats. He concentrated initially on the caecilians, a unique tropical amphibian that resembles both worms and snakes. Varad Giri made his first discovery in 2003, the Gegeniophis danieli.
The Road To Success
He realized that he had to involve more people in studying amphibians and reptiles. There wasn’t much research done in this field in the Western Ghats. He teamed up with BNHS and began training enthusiasts from the non-academic and non-scientific spheres. It was a simple plan that involved training, taking them for field studies, and encouraging them to document every species they came upon. He, later, taught his students about their findings. And if anyone made a fresh discovery, he guided them to publish a paper on the findings.
There are people like R. Chaitanya, who gave up a career in the IT industry to pursue the field of herpetology. His enthusiasm and dedication led to the discovery of more than 20 species and is a specialist in his field. Varad Giri proudly says that even he seeks guidance from Chaitanya.
His enthusiasm and perseverance have helped him reach out to over 50,000 students. He has been fortunate enough to have got the right support right from his college days.
Since 2018, Varad Giri has been encouraging citizens to upload a picture of species, their habitat, food and breeding habits, and location. This treasure trove of images will help future conservation efforts. He said that reptiles should not be seen as an object of fear and revulsion. Frogs, lizards, and snakes are a vital part of the delicately balanced ecosystem, and we need to understand that.