In the nature of things

In the nature of things
Zafar Futehally (1920-2013), Photo Credit: Vivek Muthuramalingam

Zafar Futehally was a man who could get people together, get them to talk to each other and make good things happen.

Romulus Whitaker
April 24 , 2014
02 Min Read

I was a budding herpetologist, just back to my home in India from a college-army-job stint in the US. The year was 1968 and Bombay (now Mumbai) was a bustling metropolis that was difficult to take for too long. I made a pilgrimage to the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and there I had the pleasure of meeting a group of people who would have a strong influence on my life, including a tall man with a hawk nose and an aura of humorous intelligence. This was Zafar Futehally, then the Honorary Secretary of the Society and soon to be the man who started India’s branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Zafar seemed to know just about everyone who was involved with wildlife studies, bird-watching and environmental matters. This was a time in India’s young history as an independent nation when the word conservation was only just beginning to be heard, and it was largely due to Zafar’s passion and energy that it became a buzzword, and the pursuit and goal of many of us neophytes. My own interest was reptiles, and this devoted bird man was fully supportive — the Madras Snake Park was started with an initial grant from WWF, thanks, of course, to Zafar at WWF-India and his daughter Shama.

Wildlife conservation was and is full of crackpots, cranky scientists, stodgy bureaucrats, drama queens and show-offs. But Zafar was a man who could get people together, get them to talk to each other and make good things happen. I was lucky enough to be one of the founders of the Palni Hills Conservation Council in Kodaikanal, along with Zafar, his wife Laeeq and daughter Zahida. This little organization went from strength to strength, planted lakhs of trees, raised awareness throughout the Palnis and suggested the Palni Hills Sanctuary, which, eventually, became a reality. I’m just touching on the fantastic dynamism of this man whose honesty could make people stammer and whose integrity was something we should all aspire to. Zafar was at the forefront of the conservation of India’s wildlife and wild places, from tigers and elephants to birds and butterflies, for some of the most critical decades. We owe it to his memory to pull out all the stops and do the best for our country’s magnificent biodiversity.

Romulus Whitaker, Karadi Malai Camp, Chengalpattu, Tamil Nadu, August 19, 2013

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