WIND UNDER THE WINGS AWARD
Researcher. Herpetologist. Conservationist.
Photo Courtesy: Mhadei Research Centre.
Nirmal Kulkarni started out as a snake handler and nature photographer, but now dons multiple hats as the Director (Ecology) of the Wildernest Nature Resort, Chairman of the Mhadei Research Centre, Team Leader of the Hypnale Research Station, Senior Researcher at Madras Crocodile Trust and a Promoter of HERPACTIVE, a study initiative on herpetofauna.
All this was only possible thanks to the unstinting support of Captain Nitin Dhond, of the Merchant Navy, who decades ago purchased a parcel of degraded, mined and deforested land in Goa’s Chorla Ghat area. This is now a private, biodiverse, nature conservancy in the Swapnagandha valley of the Mhadei bio-region, at the tri-junction of Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra. Capt. Dhond put his entire life’s earnings into this land, devoting much of his monthly salary to acquire smaller adjoining parcels as they became available. He met and employed Nirmal in 1997 and together over five years, through selective planting of local species and by encouraging natural regeneration, they transformed the valley into a 450-acre nature conservancy of incomparable worth and incredible biodiversity, and enabling two rivers, the Haltar nullah and the Valvanti to spring back to life. On five out of the 450 acres, they set up Wildernest, an eco-lodge, which employs locals and whose carbon footprint is lower than the carbon their land sequesters and stores each year. In doing so, the project has also helped protect and conserve a vital corridor for large mammals that is now being increasingly acknowledged by researchers as a crucial link between the forests of Maharashtra and Karnataka.
The Wildernest Eco-lodge encouraged Nirmal to establish the Mhadei Research Centre to document and conserve the biodiversity of the Mhadei bio-region. A second, the Hypnale Research Station was established at Kuveshi, Karnataka and scores of aspiring young conservationists now use these institutions to work for the conservation of the Western Ghats.
Nirmal has been credited with the discovery of several species and is associated with multiple national and state organisations including the Goa State Wildlife Advisory Board. His team also works with other groups seeking to protect tigers in Goa. It is their united effort that resulted in the declaration of the incredible Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary.
Nirmal Kulkarni has had to face all the challenges that conservationists routinely face on a daily basis, including funding gaps between conservation imperatives and budgets, a lack of support from government agencies, inadequate field equipment, and more. However, fully supported by Capt. Dhond and the Wildernest team, he presses on and says that nothing will stop their ongoing mission to protect India’s wilds, one valley at a time.
For this, we honour him.
First published in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXIV No. 6, December 2014.