|With a Passion for Wilderness|
Wildlife photography is not as simple as carrying a telephoto lens and shooting whatever you see on the way.
It is also about mutual respect and respect for space since you are trespassing into the territory of the animal. If you get a chance to spend some time in the wild with a good wildlife photographer, you will get to know the nature up close and personal. Harshad Barve is one such seasoned photographer who understands the fragility of nature and takes care not to disturb its fine balance. Here he shares his experiences as a naturalist and a wildlife photographer.
Your profile mentions that you are first a naturalist and then a photog-rapher. Could you elaborate on your journey so far?
I was born into a farmers’ family (although my father was a banker, he is now a full time farmer), I was close to wildlife since my childhood days as my farm was located at the foothills of the Melghat Tiger Reserve. This allowed me to venture into Chikhaldara and Melghat many times. I fell in love with wildlife, especially Tigers, at a young age. Wandering in the woods was obviously my favourite pastime and it taught me how delicate nature’s balance was and how all species were important for our survival on this planet irrespective of their size. Being a student with no income for myself, the only tool in my kit was a pair of binoculars and I was very happy to watch the wonders of nature unfold in front of my eyes from a far away distance. After settling down in my professional life as an Electrical Engineer, I eventually took up photography. My aim was to create great images and showcase the beauty of nature without disturbing wild life. I still enjoy watching wildlife, even if I can’t photograph them and I still get a tremendous satisfaction from those experiences and moments as well. That is why I feel I am a naturalist first and photographer later.
What are the special preparations you make while going on a wildlife outing?
I make sure that I have done my full homework. I try to get all possible information about the location by reading and talking to people who have gone there. I will always hire best possible naturalist of the location rather than best possible accommodation. I will make sure that my equipment is in top condition and I have sufficient number of memory cards. I try to travel light and compact. Planning for a wildlife trip is like planning for a war—you have to be methodical and have all contingencies identified in advance. That comes with experience and I am still learning as I go.
Wildlife is a very special genre in the sheer raw experience it presents. Could you share with us few such experiences while on wildlife trips?
O man! Where do I start? There are so many experiences to share. I think of my days in the jungle like days on a golf course. You play/travel the same routes, but each day/experience is different. As for memorable experiences, it was like nirvana for me when I first saw the Jewel of Jungles—Oriental Dwarf Kingfisher. The colour palette on this tiny bird blew me away. I still remember the goose bumps I felt when we were charged by elephants in Manas and Kabini. I have no words to express what I went through when a big male tiger charged us in Bandhavgarh. But apart from this, I have fond memories of amazing nature too. I still remember the innocent eyes of three tiger cubs who were just three months old when I first saw them in Bandhavgarh NP. I was blown away by the attitude of a two month old tiger cub who walked in front of my vehicle in TATR (Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve) without any fear. Great One Horned Rhinos taught me that humility exists regardless of size. A female Black Rhino female, a critically endangered specie, who was grazing along with her calf in Masai Mara was another ultimate scene to witness. This May, when I was in Tanzania to see the great migration, I witnessed one of the greatest spectacles of nature. We were expecting a gathering of Wildebeest in western Serengeti. In a couple of hours the number swelled from few thousands to nearly 500 thousand. The river crossing of Wildebeest and Zebra in Masai Mara was another spectacle that is worth remembering.
All your images bring out a conservation aspect into the frame. We are able to expe-rience some of your thoughts while watch-ing your photographs of tigers—the ones that have been lost to poaching. What role can a photographer play to spread aware-ness among the public, and how do you plan to do your bit to save the wildlife population?
Let me tell you, I am not the typical conservation man but I try to evoke people’s emotions about the fragility of nature through my images and my own thoughts. When you have less than two thousand tigers left, photographers must try to make an impact. Conservation is not all about running an NGO and seeking help. In my humble opinion, the tiger who is sighted most and photographed most will have the greatest chance of surviving in the wild, due to the publicity and limelight it garners.
As an individual I try to spread the message of conservation by giving my images for this purpose. Helping local people realize and understand how important it is for them to see that wildlife survives. Big Cat Tours, a joint venture with a good friend of mine, does have policies to help conservation and promote sustainable tourism. We do not promote sources who are not keen about saving wildlife (in India and Africa), and also book eco-friendly locations in India and Africa. For example, if a specific camp is located in the critically endangered Black Rhino habitat in the Masai Mara, they should forget about getting any business from us. Acting responsibly in such situations is also directly helping protect wildlife and spread the message of conservation. We make sure that our money goes towards the right cause and the right people.