A book traces the course of Indian wildlife, from the princely and British era to the present
As a child, wildlife conservationist MK Ranjitsinh says, he used to wriggle inside a tunnel of the Ranjit Vilas Palace in Wankaner, Gujarat, to reach a hideout from where he would watch leopards go by. In his new book, A Life with Wildlife: From Princely India to the Present, Ranjitsinh also reveals how his father would often test his ability to identify the gender of the big cat from its call.
Passionate about nature since childhood, it’s no wonder that he became the architect of India’s first wildlife policy—Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972.
In the decades since, he has helped create more wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in India than anyone else and has held several high-profile positions in the Indian government, as well as the International Union for Conservation of Nature and United Nations Environment Programme. It’s on this journey that he takes the reader along in A Life with Wildlife, which traces the course of Indian wildlife, from the princely and British era to the present.
The author talks about how in the pre-independence era “there was more wildlife in princely states than in British territories because hunting was personally controlled by the rulers”. As the book progresses, it unveils the deep transition India has made with respect to wildlife. Over the years, Ranjitsinh says, many skilled hunters became ardent conservationists. Talking about his own work, he shares the challenges he faced during some of his projects, whether in planning the relocation of the Asiatic lion from Gir forest, the reintroduction of the cheetah into the grasslands of central India, or in saving the Kashmir stag from extinction.
Along the way, Ranjitsinh also narrates some interesting anecdotes. “In 1488 CE, whilst out hunting, Jhala ruler Rajodharji’s horse flushed a desert hare. Instead of fleeing, the hare stood its ground. Attributing the hare’s plucky behaviour to the quality of the soil and water of the place, Rajodharji built his capital there. Halvad remained the political capital of the Jhalas for three centuries and remains their spiritual capital till this day,” he writes.
The book recounts many such stories, including from the author’s childhood, offering deep insight into Ranjitsinh’s life. From family elders’ wildlife encounters to him spotting as many as 400 blackbucks during a morning drive, these stories leave readers with a great feeling of intimacy.