An affair that lasted a lifetime – Outlook India | Ad On Picture

We all dream of becoming something from a young age. Some dream of becoming an astronaut and some singers; however, not all are lucky enough to fulfill their dreams. Reality takes hold and they must choose a career that would support their family. I would have been one of them, but thanks to the support of my parents and spouse, I wasn’t only able to dream my dream, I was able to live it. The dream of being a professional nature photographer.

After working in the pharmaceutical field, I fell in love with wildlife photography on my maiden voyage to Gir National Park. It was the Asiatic lions that stole my heart and kept me visiting Gir often. It was 2002 and the number of lions was declining sharply, which worried conservationists. I was ignorant at the time and while I knew it wasn’t good for the overall pyramid I didn’t pay much attention to it 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 number of lions in Gir”? The guide told me in an extremely serious voice that the cause of the declining numbers was the lions falling into the open wells around the national park. This fascinated me and upon further investigation it turned out that there were many such open wells. The task of closing these wells was not only big, but also expensive. On the same day, I decided with my wife, Zankhana, to save for a year and donate everything to close the wells. After a year of diligent saving, I met the then park director, Mr. Bharat Pathak, and was told that the money saved would be enough to close a well. He guided me further on the matter and so began my journey as a conservationist. Given my dedication and hard work to the cause, I was invited by the Forest Service to become a Life Member of the prestigious Gujarat State Lion Conservation Society and have since served on their board working for Asiatic lion conservation.

Years have gone by smoothly preserving lions and photographing various animals, and not even in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that I would one day save birds too. On one of my photo trips in the outskirts of Ahmedabad in March 2009, I observed this beautiful bird called the Ashy Crowned Sparrow Lark. The beauty of the bird was magnetic. I had to stop my car to click the pictures. In general, birds are shy and fly away, but to my surprise, the lark fully cooperated with me. I took plenty of shots and got back to my car. I thought out loud, “Wow, what a brave little darling!” Zankhana, sitting next to me, exclaimed, “Brave or thirsty”? Did you notice that the little bird was panting? I was ashamed. I was so busy taking photos of it that I completely missed it, panting. I immediately took some water out of the car, poured it into a jar and kept it at a safe distance. At that moment I just wanted 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 rapid population of birds of various species, there was no water source. We decided to place some water pots in this area and made a point of refilling them every day. What made my heart happy was that the birds only waited 2 or 3 days for us to refill the pots. We kept the routine going until the monsoon came. We returned to the area at the beginning of winter. However, part of the area was then under construction. Now there was plenty of water for the birds.

A few months later I received a call from my dear friend, a famous radio jockey working at Radio Mirchi, RJ Dhvanit. I worked together with Radio Mirchi and Dhvanit & Ahmedabad Mirror on Mirchi Mirror Save The Sparrow. For this campaign we distributed around 4000 nesting boxes and bird seed to the people of Ahmedabad free of charge. The campaign became a great success and people began to care more about house sparrow conservation. By the grace and mercy of God, the campaign won the Most Innovative Campaign on Radio award for that year. This motivated us to work even harder for bird protection. And after that, me and Zankhana decided to do this activity every year. We started giving out bird feeders and water pots for free to everyone who came and still visits our home.

Every year on March 20th, World House Sparrow Day, we start distributing the treats and this continues throughout the year. It’s been over a decade now since we started this. We have lived in the United States for four years. However, we have continued distribution in India with the help of our office staff. This year we also started giving away free bird feeders here in North Carolina, USA. The response we received was overwhelming.
Looking back on all the events in my life, I believe that every wildlife photographer will one day become a conservationist and every conservationist turns to wildlife photography, it’s impossible to be just one!!!

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