World Wildlife Day Environment

Back in Bera: wildlife enthusiast Sundeep Bhutoria on his new book

A snapshot from the book   | Photo Credit: Shatrunjay Pratap Singh

After his 2020 book, Calcuttascape: Musings of a Globetrotter, Rajasthan-born Sundeep Bhutoria’s latest is a coffee table book dedicated to the over 55 leopards of Bera. While the former is a compilation of the social activist’s columns and blogs, the new book, Bera Bond, takes us through his journey in 2016 — into the leopard colony in the forests of Rajasthan.

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The land where the big cats have been cohabiting with humans for over a century offered a “unique learning of coexistence and harmony that was both beautiful and bewildering”, says Bhutoria. He shares that this rare occurrence isn’t just because the Rabari tribesmen (who believe themselves to be direct descendants of Lord Shiva) consider protecting wildlife their religious duty. They, in fact, welcome the beasts as they keep other animals from destroying crops.

Sundeep Bhutoria with the book

Sundeep Bhutoria with the book   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

It is important to note that while tigers have justifiably been the centre of attraction, across India the leopard is probably vanishing faster than Panthera tigris, says environmentalist Bittu Sahgal, in the book’s foreword. This is ‘primarily because it has been pushed into the many shrinking pockets of wilderness that still survive as urban sprawl and short-term commerce take a toll on most undisturbed wildernesses’.

With stunning photographs and inside stories — in his introduction, actor-writer Victor Banerjee paints a picture of a ‘Marwari cowboy’ courtesy Bhutoria’s jodhpurs and Stetson hat — the book was compiled during lockdown. The writer credits Bera-based conservationist and photographer Shatrunjay Pratap Singh, who was his guide.

Edited excerpts from an interview:

What did you learn from Shatrunjay Pratap Singh?

I did not have the faintest idea that I would get along so well with him; it was an instant bond, a friendship formed on the very first meeting.

The best thing about travelling with Shatrunjay was his ability to spot a leopard camouflaged against the landscape. He would just pass me the telescope and say something like, “After three rocks, there is one,” and then I would be able to see it. Leopards are reclusive animals, so they’re a lot harder to spot. Lions can be found in groups and tigers are seen walking alone down the path of the jeep. But leopards like to lurk under rocks, in caves, or even up in the trees.

The book’s cover

The book’s cover   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Snapshots from Bera...

One of the highlights of my stay was being able to name a leopard cub, at the request of the locals. I named it Gullu.

In Bera, the sunsets are breathtaking, and it is not the angle at which the sun goes down or even the colour of the sky. It is the fruit bats that fill up the night sky just as the sun is about to sink into the horizon. They are noisy and smelly, and are attracted to fermenting fruit, but thousands of them in the sky is a sight to behold!

While the example of Bera is great to show wildlife and humans can peacefully exist, this is not the case in many parts of the world. Please address how habitats (like Bera) are being challenged due to increased tourism and manmade conflicts across the globe and in India.

As I mention in the book, railway tracks running through forests result in many wildlife deaths. It happens in Gir [in Gujarat] and also in Bera, which lies on a major train route. Not only leopards, but even bears and crocodiles have come under the wheels of trains.

Thus, despite an exemplary and unique bond between local residents and the leopards, the big cats are not entirely safe from the dangers posed by humans. The overhead electricity lines pose another danger. Also, at many places, tourists use searchlights to spot animals at night, disturbing them in the process. Residents, thankfully, are aware enough to not allow such behaviour.

Priced at ₹750, Bera Bond is available on amazon.in and at leading bookstores.

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Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 5:04:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/wildlife-enthusiast-sundeep-bhutoria-on-his-latest-book-bera-bond/article33922094.ece

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