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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Message from Mr. Dilip D. Khatau, Chairman, The Corbett Foundation

Corbett- the name itself brings back memories of my childhood when as a young boy sitting quietly on a machan with my father, I eagerly awaited the sound of drums which would mean that the hakka had started. The next half-an-hour would tell what the jungle held. May be a sambar, may be a tiger, may be nothing! But just the anticipation, the excitement of getting a fleeting glimpse of any animal was enough to make my hair stand on end.

In my case, the seeds of interest were sown early and the love for the wild flourished as the years went by. During my teens, having read all that Jim Corbett or Kenneth Anderson had to say about the jungles of India, I spent every holiday visiting the various forested areas of India. There were very few sanctuaries in those days and hunting was a very popular sport. Gradually, I got interested in shooting and learnt jungle lore from Jamshed, the shikari who showed me my first tiger on foot; Deva, a tribal who taught me the art of snaring small game; Kuvera, the tracker from whom I learnt to skin an animal and many more - M.V. Bobjee, Jimmy Wankaner, R.K. Parlakimidi - all great hunters at that time, were my mentors and I owe them a lot for not only the knowledge they passed on but also for the days spent in their company in the jungles.

The passion for the outdoors and nature grew to an extent that I started avoiding going back to the city. Finally, it was in the summer of 1960 that with my two closest friends, Sam and Bhupi, I came to Corbett for the first time.

It was love at first sight. The old forest bungalow at Dhikala, on the banks of the Ramganga, was delightfully deserted. We stayed for a week and met no other visitors. We did not see a tiger, but that did not matter. The forests were beautiful and tranquil. Out of all the jungles I had been to, Corbett with its chaurs, streams, riverine forests, sal trees and greenery was nature at its best! The vivid memories of those youthful carefree days will always remain.

I spent almost twenty years abroad in Africa and Southeast Asia, taking every opportunity to see wildlife and nature reserves in those places. On my return to India, I found a lot had changed. Gone were the forests I once roamed and with that were gone the animals I loved. Only small pockets of forests called reserves, sanctuaries and national parks. Project Tiger had been launched when everyone realized the state of wildlife had deteriorated all over India. Indiscriminate felling of trees and cutting of forests had left no sanctuary for the animals. Conflict between man and animal had increased and of course, the animal had lost out on all counts. Human population had exploded!

I came back to Corbett in 1985. Much had changed but the jungles seemed preserved. A dam had been built in Kalagarh, many known areas were underwater, but the charm was still there. I again did not see a tiger but there were many more elephants around Dhikala, Bijrani, Malani and other places. Shooting blocks which were familiar to me were now included in the area of the Corbett National Park. The thick cover and abundance of the game convinced me that this was still an ideal tiger country
By now I was completely converted into a conservationist, specially after seeing the success of game parks in Africa. I had given up shooting and the youthful desire had now to be put to an end. I had to put my knowledge and experience of nature, wildlife and forests to better use for posterity. What little was left had to be conserved and thus was the Corbett Foundation born.

Dilip D. Khatau

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