Hans Dalal, Nature Bound
During a mid-day slump at the Sanctuary Nature Foundation office, Anadya Singh encounters tiger conservationist Hans Dalal. She sketches a portrait of a man who lives an unconventional life.
Pulled out of my reverie by loud, booming laughter, I peek around the corner of my little cubicle at the Sanctuary office to see what the commotion is about. A man stands arm-in-arm with our editor Bittu Sahgal. Eyes full of mirth, he smiles a lopsided grin, breathing familiarity.
He waves at me in acknowledgement and introduces himself from across the office.“Hey, I’m Hans,” he calls out. As he turns around to exchange pleasantries with the others, I quickly take to Google. I key in his name, and to my surprise find a TEDx talk among other interview links.
“I plan to live the rest of my life in forests, and continue my efforts to save the tigers, and I won’t stop till I drop, because it just makes me happy,” says a smiling Hans from my laptop screen.
I look up and see him talking animatedly to my colleagues. He’s nothing if not cheerful. Eager to know more, I make my way towards the little crowd that has gathered around him. As my colleague formally introduces me to the happy Hans Dalal, he fires his first question at me: “Have you ever seen a tiger?”
Photo: Munna Bhagat.
Though I balk at his question, having never seen a wild tiger, I can’t help but admire his ardour. “My heart and soul belong in the jungle,” says the 38-year-old tiger conservationist. Born in Mumbai, Hans moved to a farm on the outskirts of the Tadoba Tiger Reserve in 2012, and since then has always kept his visits to the city short. I ask him if he misses city life. “Not at all. I see tigers everyday, alive, wild and free. Why would I want to come back to the city?” he counter questions.
Before Hans stepped into the world of tiger conservation, he was a successful sound-engineer, having worked with the likes of musician Ankur Tiwari and music directors Vishal and Shekhar. However, his abiding love for the outdoors has been a long-standing engagement that dates back to his childhood. “My uncle would take me on treks to the Himalaya, sometimes to ranges as high as 23,000 feet. It was exhilarating”, says Hans.
As he unloads the contents of his hard drive onto an office computer, he recollects the moment that went on to define his life. In 2007, he came face to face with a tiger in Kanha Tiger Reserve. In that moment of absolute serenity, Hans knew his first tiger was not going to be his last. Following his gut, he packed up his studio in Mumbai and leaving a well-established career in sound engineering, plunged head-first into the field of tiger conservation.
While volunteering with Tiger Watch, a conservation NGO in Ranthambhore, an ingenious Hans not only found a way to integrate his love for music into the field of conservation, but also raised funds for tribal communities, known to engage in poaching, living in and around the reserve. “I met with tribal poachers and discovered that many of them were talented musicians. The blanket-ban on poaching had cost them their livelihood. So in order to help them find better employment opportunities, I recorded a five-track album with some of these local tribal musicians. A thousand DVDs of the recorded album were given to Tiger Watch,” elaborates Hans. The DVDs were then sold by Tiger Watch, and the funds collected went towards a rehabilitation programme.
As musically talented as Hans is, he’s also an enthusiastic wildlife photographer. Ask him if he has a particular style and he laughs. “Over processing images. No, but really, I just click. I am a self-taught photographer. YouTube has all the tricks you need to know,” he says letting me in on his secret.
Hans started out photographing langurs, using a camera he borrowed from his uncle, and later went on to assist Discovery’s documentary crew in tracking and filming tigers in the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve. “We filmed four tigers taking down a bear. It was quite extraordinary,” he reveals.
Photo: Hans Dalal.
On the Prowl
From being chased by tigers while on foot patrol to climbing trees to escape predators, Hans has come a long way. He now runs a non-profit organization, PROWL, which stands for Preservation of Wild Landscapes. The NGO monitors the movement of tigers between Maharashtra and Telangana, compiles reports on anthropogenic pressures on forest corridors and mitigates human-animal conflict. PROWL supports the Forest Department in multiple ways.
“Along with hip pouches and first-aid kits, we provided 250 forest rangers in Tadoba with self-purification water bottles. We also regularly track conflict tigers for the forest department”, says Hans.“We need to direct firm conservation efforts towards forest corridors,” he reiterates, while explaining the vital need to keep Protected Areas connected to one another.
The proud owner of a modest house, complete with an organic kitchen garden, in the buffer of Tadoba, Hans lives with his ‘birds of a feather’ conservationist wife, Avantika Chandra. “I get by mostly with support from Avantika” he says.
While his life does seem like a conservationist’s dream, Hans confirms that it comes at a price.
“Some days it feels like I am fighting a losing battle. I feel the loss every time a tiger gets killed or loses its home to habitat destruction. But then I go back to the jungle, see a tiger and am inspired once again to continue doing all that I am doing,” he asserts.
With his unconventional life choices, Hans Dalal seems to have reached an understanding beyond the realm of our rat race. Maybe he knows something we have overlooked, or maybe he just took Einstein’s words to heart — Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.
Author: Anadya Singh.