Ecologist Ravi Jambhekar Gives Us The Scoop On His Work

Ecologist Ravi Jambhekar Gives Us The Scoop On His Work
Discover the life of an ecologist and botanical illustrator, Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Ecologist and botanical illustrator Ravi Jambhekar talks about leaves, butterflies and everything under the sun

Rangeet Ghosh
December 26 , 2019
03 Min Read

You have a lot of love for butterflies...

Yes, indeed. Though, surprisingly, my affinity with butterflies began in a backyard in Mumbai when I was studying. A small patch of native plants and trees, it attracted many butterflies and my professor was very keen on me archiving their feedings and other observations I had. What began as a record-keeping exercise, turned to devotion and a decade later, here I am, still working on these lovely creatures.

A profile picture of Ravi Jambhekar

Is rescuing small birds and squirrels also a part of your research?

It is more of a personal interest than research. I spent much of my childhood bringing home strays, or rescuing pigeons and squirrels and trying to nurse them back to health. It is just something I practice. Now, it seems, a lot of people have taken note and I often get called to tend to injured animals.

Where does your fieldwork take you?

Currently, I am based out of Bengaluru, a place where I earned my PhD and where I work as a postdoctoral research fellow. My work revolves around butterflies and birds, and how urbanisation has changed biodiversity in India. I frequently travel to the grasslands and forests of Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka.

Why the focus on the Western Ghats?

Well, it is a biodiversity hotspot full of jungles and grasslands and is home to almost 300 species of butterflies. The Western Ghats form a unique ecosystem with light deciduous forests and laterite plateau grasslands. And, of course, its butterflies are highly endangered and understudied, which only furthered my interest.

A leaf painting made by Ravi Jambhekar

You are also a painter. We quite like your leaf paintings...

Painting is another passion—initially, it was oil and acrylic and now, it is watercolours. With the majority of my day spent on fieldwork, I would hardly get a few hours to myself. All my energy went into painting the leaves I would handpick from the forest. There was hardly any connectivity, so I couldn’t rely on the internet for pictures of butterflies and birds. But leaves were aplenty, all around me, and they do make for great subjects. It is a great way to document the variety, and brings people’s attention to the vivid colours, beauty and minute details on their surface.

You don’t travel to illustrate?

Ah, no. It is mostly the other way around. I like to observe, do a quick sketch or even click a photo of native varieties. Detailed sketches come later.

What do you wish to achieve with your work?

Awareness would be one. My work adds directly to the management plans of the endangered habitats, but the artwork achieves something different. Conservation only comes with interest, and I hope that more people will look into the world of butterflies and leaves. Or so I hope.

You are a man with many names, it seems...

I find it very funny and honestly, I don’t know how to react to them. Birdman, ‘dead leaf guy’ or the ‘butterfly whisperer’— positively is how I take it.

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