Wildlife film-maker Shekar Dattatri won the National Award in 1987 for his first film, A Cooperative for Snake Catchers. Since then, he has worked with the likes of National Geographic, Discovery Channel, etc. Here, he tells Nitin Sreedhar how documentaries and wildlife films can help in the conservation of animals. Edited excerpts:
How did your passion for nature photography and film-making start?
I was fascinated with nature even as a child and enrolled as a volunteer at the Madras Snake Park when I was 13 years old. A couple of years later, a friend generously lent me his Nikon camera and, soon, it became an extension of my eye. In the mid-1980s, I got a chance to assist a film-maker couple from the US on a documentary about snakebites and I was bitten by the film-making bug.
How can documentaries and wildlife films help in animal conservation?
Not all documentaries on wildlife have a tangible impact on conservation. However, well-researched and powerful films that depict a problem and its potential solutions can, when screened for decision-makers, make an impact and lead to positive change. The film Shores of Silence (2000) by Riverbank Studios about the then largely unknown massacre of whale sharks in Gujarat is a good example, as is my film Mindless Mining: The Tragedy of Kudremukh.
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How is the scenario for ethical wildlife photography in the country?
About 20 years ago, few people could afford to indulge in wildlife photography because of the prohibitive costs involved. Today, with the easy availability of top-class equipment and greater purchasing power, wildlife photography has tens of thousands of practitioners. Many of these have no real interest in, or concern for, nature. For people like that, wildlife photography is more a quest for photographic ‘trophies’ than an effort to commune with or understand nature. Partly out of ignorance and partly due to callousness, many such casual photographers destroy habitats or disturb wildlife in pursuit of their hobby. This can only be curbed if veteran practitioners and conservationists constantly evangelise the need for ethical photography.
What problems does wildlife conservation face in India?
The number of threats to wildlife in India will need a lot of space just to enumerate. However, the greatest threat is habitat fragmentation due to poor or inconsiderate land use that does not take wildlife into account. New highways, railway lines, walls, fences and development intruding into the last wild spaces are splitting already vulnerable habitats into smaller fragments, hastening their annihilation. A lot of this can be avoided through proper planning involving ecologists.