Meet Amrita Neelakantan, Executive Director of the Network for Conserving Central India.

Having worked for over a decade in the Kanha landscape, Amrita speaks to us about her conservation journey and key learnings from her work which involves understanding the dynamics of human-wildlife coexistence.

  • Tell us more about yourself and what got you interested in working for the environment.

I am a conservation scientist and the executive director of the Network for Conserving Central India (NCCI). Conservation as a career provides me with a lot of fulfilment and purpose. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of working on conservation projects across three of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. My interests evolved from conducting species-specific studies to exploring faunal communities responses across habitat gradients. I’ve found myself working on diverse aspects of conservation, from species centric research to monitoring protocols for Himalayan high-altitude wetlands and even advocating for Important Bird Areas (IBAs). Through my Ph.D., I delved more deeply into the social aspects of conservation. These days, I am particularly interested in understanding how we can manage conservation landscapes to benefit both people and wildlife, prioritize goals like habitat connectivity in human-dominated regions, and promote just and ethical conservation practices. I’ve been immersed in the central Indian landscape since the beginning of my doctoral work around Kanha National Park and have been a part of NCCI since its inception in 2014.


  •  How does a typical day unfold for you? Tell us a bit about your daily tasks and conservation work.

My typical day varies greatly, depending on whether I’m conducting fieldwork. When not in the field, I dedicate my time to planning and executing programs at NCCI, fostering relationships, and building collaborations. Administrative and management duties take precedence as they drive our work in central India. However, fieldwork remains an integral part of my job. During fieldwork days, I spend hours traveling to and engaging with villagers around Kanha National Park. Over the past decade, I’ve embedded myself across urbanized areas to remote forest communities to understand the dynamics of human-wildlife coexistence in the Kanha landscape.

A photo from the field by Amrita Neelakantan


  • What do you love about your current job?

I love the diversity of work that allows me to leverage my experience in conservation. Building long-standing relationships and collaborating with colleagues like Prof. Ruth DeFries, with whom I’ve shared this journey for over a decade, brings me immense satisfaction. Additionally, being part of networks such as SLTP, Coalition for Wildlife Corridors, IRALE and Coexistence Consortium allows me to contribute to shared projects and build on ideas with peers.


  • Could you share a key learning or experience from the field?

The most significant lesson I’ve learned from the field is to approach fieldwork with comprehensive preparation while keeping an open mind. Fieldwork constantly presents new insights, provided one is willing to reassess and adapt their perspective.


  • Do you feel optimistic about the future of the natural environment of India? Have you experienced a positive change regarding conservation in your area?

I cautiously feel optimistic. This era of collaboration among most actors in working landscapes gives me hope. Positive changes in conservation require concerted efforts and actions. Through the relationships we’re building and breaking down silos, we can develop a deeper understanding of long-term impacts and work towards maintaining the ‘jugalbandi’ between people and nature in the central Indian landscape, which is the vision of NCCI.

Amrita presenting NCCI’s work during the SLTP seminar 2024