Combining the virtues of wildlife photography with essays of a rich natural heritage, Santuary Asia’s ‘Wild Maharashtra’ offers rare insights

It is rare to get to know a bird like the small green bee-eater but Baiju Patil in the best traditions of wildlife photographers managed to do that last year. Waiting in chest- high water, complete with a tripod and camera, Baiju tracked the bee eater in the waters of Jayakwadi dam near Aurangabad for two months. “Every day I waited and watched the bird for four to five hours and even wore the same clothes so the bird would be familiar with me,” he says.  A chummy relationship developed between him and the bird, at best a frisky creature, and he noticed the bee-eater often dived into the water.  And the moment he was waiting for came without ceremony one day. The bird dived into the water and Baiju was there with his 300 mm lens to capture it emerging beak upward, the water droplets forming a halo around its curving wings to give him an award winning photograph.

His picture was chosen as the best in the photo contest held by the Maharashtra government and even made it to the cover of the recently released book published by Sanctuary Asia titled ‘Wild Maharashtra.’  Another of his photos which won the third prize is the glowing frontispiece of the large book, edited by Bittu Sahgal and Lakshmy Raman. The book has put together pictures from the competition which got over 350 entries and essays in a concerted effort to highlight the state’s biodiversity and natural riches. The chief minister’s foreword is proud to point out that Maharashtra is one of the few States which have over 200 tigers. There are four tiger reserves in the State and Nagpur is slowly emerging as the tiger capital of the world, says Praveen Pardeshi, secretary, forests. Both the forest department and the tourism department worked closely to envision this book aimed at promoting the state’s rich wildlife and historical legacy of forts and other heritage sites. The state has notified four more protected areas and for the first time given permanent employment to 6000 forest guards who have been working for 15 to 20 years.  About 500 sq km of new sanctuary areas will go towards creating vital wildlife corridors and since these have no habited villages there will be no issues of resettlement.

Mr Chavan said that six national parks and 41 wildlife sanctuaries was a rich wealth intended to protect, showcase and also celebrate the biodiversity of Maharashtra. Right from the Great Indian Bustard to the Pangolin, to the fan throated lizard or the red rumped swallow the state has a rich fund of wildlife, apart from its burgeoning tiger population and a plethora of  diverse habitats. The focus is also on involving local people in tourism around these forts and parks and near Sinhagad people have made Rs 1.7 crores from visitors and created jobs for over 100 youth.

Apart from excellent pictures, the book has essays by Bittu Sahgal, Erach Bharucha, Deepak Dalal, Ulhas Rane who writes on the Malshej Ghat region  with its majestic forts familiar to many trekkers, chief conservator G Sai Prakash’s  take on the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve which he knows inside out, conservationists Debi Goenka, Anish Andheria, Raman Kulkarni,  Faruk Mhetar, Farah Vakil, Sarang Kulkarni  on their favourite protected areas and herpetologist Varad B Giri who has a newly discovered snake species named after him, gives you the lowdown on  reptiles and amphibians in Amboli in the Western Ghats. Kaas Plateau near Satara, nominated a World Heritage Site, and evocative of Kashmir with its carpet of myriad flowers get its due as also the spectacular Lonar Crater.

Maharashtra has its own set of dedicated wildlife researchers and Poonam and Harshawardhan Dhanwatey with their close association with the Tadoba Andhari Tiger reserve give a glimpse into the field level management of this reserve while photographer Aditya Dhanwatey writes about his pet subject-- the tigers of Pandharpauni. The efforts of conservationists like Kishore Rithe, Asad R Rahmani director Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), Parvish Pandya, Ashish Fernandes, Girish Punjabi and others are also part of the book’s features as also the great riches of the State’s coastline, its wetlands, and little known wildernesses. No such book on Maharashtra’s wildlife can be complete without a mention of butterflies of which the Western Ghats offer a rich biodiversity and none better than Isaac Kehimkar of the BNHS to give an insight. Kehimkar’s The Book of Indian Butterflies has spawned an entire breed of butterfly watchers in the same mould as birdwatchers. The book rounds off with essays by Pardeshi, a personal account of his love and involvement in protecting and enjoying wildlife habitats and Sahgal’s concerns for the future.

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