Behind the lens

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Spreading awareness Shekar Dattatri
Spreading awareness Shekar Dattatri

Conservationist and wildlife filmmaker Shekar Dattatri tells W. SREELALITHA there’s still time to save the environment

Kudremukh, a place nestled in Karnataka, was famous for its iron ore. Or so we thought, till a tiny group of people showed us otherwise.

Little did we realise that the place was one of the best rainforest national parks in the country, and that the mining hit it hard. An 11-minute documentary later, the wealth of Kudremukh came to light, and the mining was stopped in 2005.

Small yet powerful

“Conservation today is only because of tiny groups with a big conviction. Such groups have won huge battles,” says Shekar Dattatri, who produced the documentary Mindless Mining - the tragedy of Kudremukh. He was in city recently The 45-year-old conservationist and wildlife cinematographer has directed and produced various documentaries, including ones on tigers, snakes, crocodiles and Olive Ridley turtles. He was here to take part in the World Forest Day celebrations organised by Osai and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.

While there are plenty of animals out there facing extinction, is the tiger getting undue attention because it is our national animal? “May be. But saving the tiger is going to improve a whole chain, including the trees, its habitat, its prey etc. So, indirectly many stand to benefit. However, a few animals including the snow leopard, gharial and birds such as the great pied hornbill need special attention too. Invisible destruction of habitats will have insidious results. What is needed is a landscape-based conservation.

“Saving electricity and water may not look as glamorous as saving the tiger, but that’s what we can do as individuals,” says the recipient of Rolex Awards for Enterprise.

“The forests provide us everything that we have. But, we are driven by greed, and soon nothing will be left.”

He says the country is witnessing unsustainable growth. “We are competing with China. But look at them, their growth has been at the cost of bio-diversity. Such growth will kill the real pleasures of living.”

He says that forest provides everything, but only four per cent of the total forest area in India is protected. “If we do not realise the links, the nation will collapse. Shortage of food and water will cause civil unrest.”

He is all praise for Bhutan, and claims that it is the best country in preserving its resources. ‘They look at not the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) but GNP – Gross National Happiness. They are not looking at unbridled growth, and are slow to adopt any new or outside technology.”

However, he says it is still not late. “We need a non-populist politician to apply the brakes, to study the positives and negatives of the current situation before doing anything. We should ensure that the four per cent of the protected land is not encroached upon. We should strive for recovery of resources in the remaining 96 per cent. We can raise a plantation, but never a forest.” He asserts that destroying Nature does not affect Nature, it only affects mankind.

Sign of hope

“As a kid, I was depressed that I many not grow to see tigers roam the forests. However, thanks to conservationists, including NGOs, I see tigers today. I want the kids today to be able to see the majestic animal when they grow up. And, the responsibility is in everyone’s hands: journalists, politicians, NGOs, teachers, students, filmmakers. Just about anyone can inspire and create awareness. That is a sign of hope.”


Where are all the sparrows?

Where are all the thatched roofs? We now live in concrete jungles that do not have the provisions for sparrows to build nests.

Further, earlier they could feed from rice etc spread out on the terrace. Now, we buy everything off supermarket shelves.

As a conservationist don’t you have the responsibility to save an injured animal while on a shoot?

It may sound cruel, but a sanctuary is not a zoo, where the animals are your responsibility. By saving a dying animal I am depriving food for others such as vultures, hyenas and wolves. The best thing is to not interfere.

Can forest fires be prevented?

Yes, because all forest-fires are man-made, and invariably due to his indifference. Reckless throwing of torches, cigarettes and beedis, or deliberate burning of dry leaves to retrieve fallen antlers are reasons for the destruction.

What are the problems you face from animals inside the jungle?

Strangely, we are worried about our safety only till we reach the jungles. Once we are inside, we are very safe. There have been a few ‘mock charges’, but they were just that – mock!

For more about the conservationist and his works, visit




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