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Life in the Jungle – M.N. Jayakumar

What led to a life in the forests?

From the time I was a child, I always knew I wanted a career that would keep me outdoors. This led me to pursue a degree from the Agricultural College in Hebbal. My father desired that I become a grape specialist. Unfortunately, he died in an accident and I had to give up his dreams. My uncle persuaded me to try forestry as a career option and that's how I ended up as a forest officer.

Photographing with a friend at Kaziranga National Park, Assam

How were your early days in the forest service?

My first posting after training at the then Indian Forest College (now, Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy) Dehradun, was at Shimoga. This gave me an opportunity to traverse through and observe life in some of the finest forests in the Western Ghats districts of Shimoga and Chikmagalur. This was followed by a brief tenure at Mysore Zoo, which gave me an insight of managing wildlife in captivity. These formative years gave me a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the fantastic forests and wildlife of our state.

On the coast of Gujarat

Does a forest officer have advantages when it comes to wildlife photography?

I do agree that forest officers have a slight advantage to pursue wildlife photography. But, I sincerely feel that one has to be passionate to be a successful wildlife photographer. If one looks at the country, there are only a handful of foresters doing wildlife photography but a substantial number of good photographers are passionate individuals.

Blackbucks fleeing, photographed at Velavadar Black Buck National Park, Gujarat

Grey Wolf pair, photographed at BasurKaval, Karnataka

What do forest officers think of wildlife photographers?

It varies from individual to individual. I consider wildlife photographers as a breed that would also help in conservation by creating awareness and I believe that awareness is the first step towards a successful campaign.

Freshwater Terrapins, photographed at Nagarahole National Park, Karnataka

Great Indian Bustard, photographed at Desert National Park, Rajasthan

You began photography during the days of film and darkrooms.How has the digital era changed wildlife photography for you?

I have now practiced nature photography for over 2 decades with a little longer time in the digital era.  I do believe that rapid improvements in digital technology have made photography easier and less taxing financially (there are no recurring costs now). Situations that were considered impossible for photography in terms of light have become possible now, and I do feel that light plays a very, very vital role in creating quality images. 

Courtship behavior of Asiatic Lions, photographed at Gir Forest National Park, Gujarat

Who are the people who have influenced your photography the most?

Bangalore is considered the ‘Mecca‘ of India for wildlife photography and I was lucky to know some stalwarts like Mr TNA Perumal, late M Y Ghorpade,  late E Hanumantha Rao, late Mr BNS Deo, late C Rajagopal, B Srinivasa.Them and a few of my friends influenced me and guided me all through my photographic career. A few international photographers like FransLanting, John Shaw and Thomas D Mangelsen have had a profound influence on me.

Leopard, photographed at Nagarahole National Park, Karnataka

What equipment do you use?

I am currently using Canon 1D Mk III, Canon 5D Mk III, and Canon 40 D bodies with a range of lenses upto 500mm tele lens.

Red Avadavat, photographed at Hampi, Karnataka

Could you tell us about your earlier wildlife photography books?

I co-edited a book with TNA Perumal in 2001, showcasing the flora and fauna of Karnataka titled ‘Encounters in the Forest'. This was a compilation of photographs taken by nearly 60 photographers of the state covering the flora, insects, spiders, reptiles, birds and mammals of the state.

Sambar with fawn, photographed at Ranthambore National Park, Rajasthan

How did your book ‘Life in the Jungle – Memoirs of a Forester' come about?

After having had the privilege of traveling extensively across various national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in India, capturing the essence of nature through a camera, I presented my work in Bangalore in 2008. This gave me an opportunity to meet many outstanding photographers. I met DiineshKumble on the last day of the exhibition.

Though I always wanted to share my experiences of almost 4 decades in the jungles of India with 2 decades of photographic endeavors,I didn't dream of making this a reality until I met Diinesh. He cajoled and persuaded me to share my stories and photographs through a coffee table book. The idea was to use this as a vehicle to both showcase the fascinating world of wildlife in our country and to inculcate the spirit of conservation in its citizens.

At the launch of the book

What is your most memorable wildlife/photographic experience from the field?

It would be very difficult to pick a single incident as the most memorable experience for me. Our country is so vast and presents a variety of flora and fauna. Capturing animal and bird behavior like River Terns feeding their chicks, courtship behavior of tigers and lions, interaction amongst elephants in the herd, hunting and sibling rivalry of tigers, documenting fishing skills of kingfishers and Ospreys, etc., are very memorable.The most important thing for me is the joy and happiness my family and I have by spending time amidst nature.

His wife, Asha, is also an accomplished Nature and Wildlife Photographer, and has the International distinctions of ARPS and AFIAP.

What do you think is the future of wildlife photography in India?

Sky is the limit for wildlife photography in India if one is not mammal centric in general or tiger centric in particular. Photographing wildlife in our country is not easy compared to Africa, but the opportunities are unlimited and challenging.  

With Dr. Bawa, at a photography exhibition

What is your advice to young photographers?

Success comes with hardwork and dedication and there are no shortcuts.  Patience, Persistence and Perseverance are the 3 Ps one must practice to be a successful photographer. Please remember that the welfare of the subject is more important than the picture. Always be an ethical photographer. The shortest definition of a successful photographer is "f8 and be there", the former is relatively easy whereas the latter is damn tough. 

A Tiger family, photographed at Bandipur National Park, Karnataka

Vijay Cavale of India Nature Watch had this to say about the book-

'Life in the Jungle - Memoirs of a Forester' is not just another coffee table book. It is the result of M.N. Jayakumar's dream to share his experience of almost four decades in the jungles of India through true stories and photographs.

Life in the Jungle - Memoirs of a Forester

The 240 page book is replete with superb images of more than 100 species of animals carefully chosen from a vast repository of photographs shot across 20 National Parks and Sanctuaries spread all over India and Sri Lanka. Many an interesting behaviour and natural history images are interspersed with anecdotes too.

As you thumb through the pages you are sure to be spellbound!

M.N. Jayakumar IFS (Retd.)

M.N. Jayakumar is one of India’s leading nature photographers, and is one among the few forest officials to take up nature photography. He has had the privilege of travelling extensively across various National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries in India, capturing the essence of nature through his camera. He has won numerous awards and Certificates of Merit in National and International photography salons and has exhibited his work in several countries. MNJ, as he is popularly called, retired from service as the Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Member Secretary, Zoo Authority of Karnataka. He is spending his retired life with family, alternating between Bangalore and the dense jungles of Asia and Africa. You can see more of his work at

Arun S K
MN jayakumar , forest officer and an ace wildlife photographer is an inspiration to every youngster ...really enjoyed his book which has got some fantastic pictures ... Keep up the good work sir and wish u many many more years in the photographic world !!!
Posted on 2/15/14 4:06 PM.
Arun S K
lovely interview.. MNJ is an inspiration to all youngsters … his book "life in the jungle" is well written with excellent photographs.. wish him many more years 'in the jungles " !!...
Posted on 2/17/14 11:57 AM.
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