Suyash Keshari from Madhya Pradesh had never felt the emptiness or loss he felt when Solo, a tigress from Bandhavgarh National Reserve, died abnormally.
Barely a year after starting his professional career as a wildlife photographer and TV presenter, he had to take a few weeks off to cope with the loss.
He had crossed Solo’s path eight years ago when she was little in Bandhavgarh. Since then, Suyash has captured important moments of her – from childbirth to fighting eight male tigers in the area.
“You (Solo) have played such a critical role in my life. I have spent countless hours with you or looking for you. Learning from you, learning from you. I learned the importance of family, of live in the moment, to be ruthlessly loyal, ambitious and courageous, and above all to be a loving person. You were the best and the most protective of mothers, the best and the most ambitious daughter “, Suyash wrote on his social media timeline in October 2020.
Solo had indeed played an important role in the life of the young man of 25 years. His first 5-part series “Safari with Suyash” showcasing his life impressed the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), which became a distributor.
The series also created an emotional chord with audiences, who saw a revealing tale of why wildlife should be conserved at all costs.
Suyash possesses an insatiable thirst to draw the world’s attention to the relevant issues facing wildlife, in a way that is both engaging and heartbreaking. This drive to raise awareness in a meaningful way is probably what makes him one of the youngest wildlife presenters to host a live show at Animal Planet.
At 19, he won Nature’s Best Photography Asia award for photographing a six-month-old tigress. The photo was on display for a year at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington DC.
Interestingly, Suyash is a self-taught photographer, who quit his job in the United States in 2019 to pursue his childhood passion for wildlife.
Suyash shares with The best India what it takes to be a wildlife photographer and presenter, how he stays engaged with over 40,000 of his Instagram followers, and how he promotes animal conservation, one image at a time.
“The zoo changed my perception”
Where most kids prefer to watch cartoons like Tom & Jerry, Suyash spent his childhood absorbing knowledge about animals and their ecosystem on channels like Discovery and Animal Planet.
His fondness for animals grew during his visits to national parks and zoos while living in states like Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh. He would spend his summer vacation in Calcutta with his maternal grandfather and visit the famous Alipore Zoological Garden.
His perception of animals changed around the age of six or seven.
“During one of these visits, as I clapped and jumped in excitement to see a tiger inside the cage, my grandfather told me that their natural habitat was a jungle. The cages are like prisons. This incident opened my eyes and I became more curious about animals, ”recalls Suyash.
A few years later, he started clicking on animal pictures using his father’s camera, inspired by legendary presenters such as Bear Grylls, Nigel Marven and Chris Packham. If foreigners could come to India and show off the unparalleled beauty of the wildlife, then why couldn’t an Indian do the same, he wondered.
But his lofty dreams were initially dashed.
When he interacted with experts in the field, including curators and rangelands officials, to explore a career at age 17, most of the responses he received revolved around the fact that this option was not. lucrative and did not guarantee any results.
He was offered internships to work in nature reserves, but without pay or diploma, which further discouraged him.
So he moved to the United States to pursue a Masters in Political Science and International Relations, leaving behind his true passion. Just as he was embarking on a stable and respected job, he decided to try his hand at what he truly loved one last time.
If that didn’t work, he always had the option of going back, he thought.
‘How I made my own path’
Like every millennium, Suyash also started his social media activities to establish wide reach. This was before he even finished his studies.
He posted the images he clicked on and provided captions about the animal and its role in the ecosystem.
“I realized that young people have a short attention span and it’s all about creating short, clear content. I was able to measure the pulse early on and that’s how I increased my online audience. I was very careful not to post funny, trivial, non-preaching posts, ”says Suyash.
When likes, comments, and shares soared, Suyash realized that people were interested in seeing wildlife from a guy in his twenties. This thought ultimately resulted in his SWS series.
Being a resident of Madhya Pradesh, he chose Bandhavgarh National Reserve as his central location. He assembled a team of filmmakers and writers and shot the series in October 2018.
He worked in unison with skilled professionals and forestry experts to weave the narrative for his series. Whether it’s studying photography textbooks, watching YouTube, or reading relevant books, Suyash has done everything to make his first series interesting, candid, factual, and most importantly, a visual wonder.
After the series, he approached several distributors, including WWF.
“WWF had seen my content on social media because I would continue to tag them on most of my posts. They had even found about 200 of my clicks on wildlife. Fortunately, they loved my series and came on board to release it, ”adds Suyash.
The series covered a wide range of topics such as poaching, human-animal conflict, deforestation, government compensation policy while following Solo’s story throughout. WWF has renewed the series based on lions, rhinos and other wildlife for season two which was filmed in South Africa.
Suyash’s work and passion has taken him to over 23 countries over the years. He says the traveling tapestry taught him things that helped him be around animals. He was only 100-200 yards away from wild cats like tigers which is a huge achievement.
“My most important lesson was to respect their limits by making sure I never take my vehicle towards them. I wait for them to approach me even if I have to wait for hours. It is also possible to develop relationships with them over time, ”he explains.
Suyash tries to go beyond filming on all of his sets.
In Bandhavgarh, he often works with locals and forest officials to raise awareness and contribute in any way he can, such as giving boots to rangers, installing solar lights for electrification, and educating children.
In 2018, when 18 wild elephants migrated from Chhattisgarh to Bandhavgarh in search of safe habitat, they ended up destroying farmers’ crops. The villagers used firecrackers to scare off the majestic creatures, but it backfired.
Suyash and his team stepped in and put up cactus fences to protect the fields, and today the reserve has nearly 50 elephants.
“Safari with Suyash” is also the name of an initiative he launched to promote wildlife conservation. He runs a safari in the reserve for 4-5 days and teaches people all about interaction with animals and wildlife photography. In just over a year, nearly a hundred people have benefited from this package.
He hopes to soon launch his own OTT platform dedicated to wildlife, which he believes will be one of a kind.
To see Suyash’s surreal photography or to get in touch, you can visit his Instagram here
Edited by Divya Sethu