Month Year: December 2006
Lifetime Achievement Award
American by birth and Indian at heart, Romulus Earl Whitaker is an inspirational figure who has made an invaluable contribution to wildlife research and nature conservation in India. He arrived as a young boy and did much of his schooling in Kodaikanal where he developed an affinity for the natural world by trekking through the forests of the Palni Hills. He moved back to the U.S. to complete his higher education and after a short stint with the U.S. Merchant Navy, joined the Miami Serpentarium where he learned about venom collection. He returned to India to fulfill his destiny as a world class herpetologist, founding the Snake Park in Guindy in Tamil Nadu and then the very popular Madras Crocodile Bank/Centre for Herpetology in Mahabalipuram, where crocodiles are bred in captivity with the objective of releasing them into the wild. He was then enlisted by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation as a wildlife consultant and travelled to Papua New Guinea, Mozambique, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Indonesia. Vice-chairman of the Crocodile Specialist Group IUCN/Species Survival Commission for several years, Whitaker is currently spearheading a campaign to bring the gharial back from the brink of extinction. He has written scores of technical papers and a number of books including the Snakes of India. He has also directed and produced wildlife documentaries including the Emmy-award winner ‘The King Cobra’. Whitaker helped transform snake-hunting Irula tribals into snake-protectors and introduced them to a dignified livelihood through a cooperative set up to extract snake venom. He is in the process of establishing a research station in the rainforests of Agumbe for the king cobra. His work has attracted several awards – he won a Rolex award, received the Order of Golden Ark, the Whitley Award and now the 2006 Sanctuary-ABN AMRO Lifetime Service Award. Whitaker wears many hats – wildlife researcher, filmmaker, author and conservationist. But in his words, “I am happiest out in the wild just watching turtles, snakes, crocs and other herps.”
First published in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXVI No. 6, December 2006.