I have been interested in evolutionary ecology since my undergraduate days at Sri Venkateswara College, University of Delhi (DU), where I worked on insect ecology and behavior, vulture conservation advocacy and monitoring of tigers and their prey. In 2011, I earned a Govt. of India fellowship to join the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) for my MSc, during which I started a new project on resource selection by Black Kites in Delhi and NCR. I became a Junior Research Fellow at WII in January 2014 and joined the EGI in October 2014 as a Felix Scholar to study for a DPhil under the supervision of Prof Andrew Gosler (EGI) and Prof Fabrizio Sergio (CSIC, Spain).
I am a researcher jointly based at EGI and WII. In Delhi, I study opportunistic animal responses to resources provided by humans, and how centuries of coexistence have tied the urban ecology of commensals with religiously founded patronage and ritual animal feeding by people. Currently, I am interested in understanding the socio-economic impacts of scavenging ecosystem services provided by opportunistic commensals and how their biocultural links are vital for a sustainable urban future in South Asia. Therefore, with Prof(s). Ben Sheldon, Greger Larson (School of Archeology, Oxford), Yadvendradev V Jhala and Qamar Qureshi (WII), and Dr Radhika Khosla (Oxford India Centre for Sustainable Development, Somerville College), I have convened a collaborative network of experts from more than 25 institutions across the world (for details see www.PAWS-web.site). This team has academicians (sciences and beyond), practitioners, administrators and policymakers for actionable research on urban spaces that are contested due to their finitude and dynamic characterisation between People, Animals and Waste Systems (PAWS-Web).
The initiative was funded by the India-Oxford initiative’s Global Challenges Research Funds. With Prof Ben Sheldon, I aim to study the influences of animal societies on the flow of information from individuals to populations, potentially impacting the spatial cognition in commensals within rapidly urbanizing tropical megacities in the Indian subcontinent and Kenya. Specifically, we aim to work on zoonotic disease costs of social structures within animal populations driven by dispersion of anthropogenic food waste in heterogeneously developed tropical megacities. I completed my D.Phil. in 2020 through my ongoing project on a facultative city scavenger, the Black Kite Milvus migrans (for details, see www.delhikites.wixsite.com/121212). The study incorporated satellite telemetry on kites (Hindi: Cheel) which congregate on the garbage dumps of Delhi (n = 19 GPS-tagged individuals). It led to an amazing discovery of the annual migration of Black-eared kites Milvus migrans lineatus into Mongolia, China, and Russia.
Meanwhile, the resident-breeding kite subspecies benefited from the philanthropic attitudes of communities that offered meat to these birds. The enormous flocks of more than 10,000 Black-eared kites over landfills may carry pathogens and toxicants to and from cities like Delhi and distribute them along their migratory journeys. This research has indicated how wild and feral animals that interact with humans locally as efficient agents of garbage disposal may have local and global ramifications to the origin and spread of diseases that are similar to COVID-19. Understandably so, now, I seek to investigate the links between public health, and the ecology of feral and wild animals in the framework of One Health.