We all dream of becoming something at a young age. Some dream of becoming an astronaut, and some singers; however not all are lucky enough to fulfill their dreams. The reality grips and they have to choose a profession that would feed their family. I would’ve been one of them, but thanks to the support of my parents and my spouse, I could not only dream my dream but live it too. The dream of being a professional wildlife photographer.
After being in the pharmaceutical field, I fell in love with wildlife photography on my maiden trip to Gir National Park. It was the Asiatic lions that stole my heart and made sure that I kept on visiting Gir often. The year was 2002, and there was a major decline in the number of Lions, which was worrisome to the conservationists. I was ignorant those days and despite knowing that it isn’t good for the overall pyramid, I didn’t pay much attention and continued with my photography. But the thought never left me. On one of the trips to Gir, I asked my guide, “What is the reason for the dwindling numbers of Lions in Gir”? The guide in an extremely serious voice told me that the cause of the dwindling numbers was the lions falling in the open wells surrounding the national park. This intrigued me and on further investigation, it came to light that there were many such open wells. The task of closing those wells was not only magnum but also expensive. That same day I with my wife Zankhana decided to start saving for a year and donate it all to the closing of the wells. After diligently saving up for a year, I met then park director Mr. Bharat Pathak and was informed that the money I saved will be sufficient to close one well. He further guided me on the cause and that is how my journey as a conservationist began. Observing my dedication and hard work for the cause, I was invited by the Forest Department to be a life member of the prestigious Gujarat State Lion Conservation Society, and ever since I have been on that board, working for the conservation of Asiatic Lions.
Years went by smoothly conserving lions and photographing various animals and not even in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would land up saving birds too. On one of my photography trips on the outskirts of Ahmedabad in March 2009, I observed this beautiful bird called Ashy Crowned Sparrow Lark. The beauty of the bird was magnetic. I had to stop my car to click its pictures. Generally, birds are shy and fly away, but to my surprise, the Lark was cooperating with me completely. I took ample shots and came back to my car. I thought out loud, “wow what a brave little cutie!”. Zankhana who was sitting beside me exclaimed, “brave or thirsty”? Did you notice the little bird was panting? I felt ashamed. I was so busy taking pictures of it that I completely missed out on it panting. I immediately took some water from the car, poured it into a vessel, and kept it at a safe distance. At that moment all I wanted was that the Lark to drink the water and replenish its lost energy. The bird drank from it and flew away. We surveyed the area and to my horror, despite the fast population of birds in various species, there was no source of water. We decided to put some water pots in that area and made it a point to refill them every day. What pleased my heart was that only after 2 or 3 days, the birds would wait for us to refill the pots. We kept the routine till the monsoons arrived. We returned to the area at the onset of winter. However then some of the area had gone under construction. Now there was ample water for the birds.
A few months later I received a call from my dear friend a famous radio jockey working in Radio Mirchi, RJ Dhvanit. I along with Radio Mirchi and Dhvanit & Ahmedabad Mirror, collaborated on “Mirchi Mirror Save The Sparrow”. For this campaign, we distributed around 4000 nest boxes and bird food to the people of Ahmedabad for free. The campaign became a huge success and people started taking more interest in the conservation of House Sparrows. With the grace and mercy of God, the campaign won, the “The most innovative campaign on Radio” award for that year. That motivated us to work even harder for the conservation of birds. And after that me & Zankhana decided to do this activity every year. We started distributing bird feeders & water pots for free to each and everyone who came and still visits our house.
Every year on 20th March: World House Sparrow Day, we begin distributing the goodies and which goes on all year round. It’s been over a decade now since we started it. We have been living in the United States for the last four years. However, we have continued the distribution in India with the help of our office staff. This year we started free distribution of bird feeders here in North Carolina, USA too. The response we received was overwhelming.
Looking back at all the events that have taken place in my life, I believe that, every wildlife photographer turns into a wildlife conservationist someday and every wildlife conservationist takes to wildlife photography, it is impossible to be just one!!!