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True champion of Indian forests

In restoring the tiger habitat near Ranthambore reserve, Dicky showed a commitment to all kinds of wildlife

True champion of Indian forests

ADITYA DICKY SINGH handed me an awe-inspiring shot of a tiger limned with backlight — a black and white, difficult-to-shoot silhouette of the big cat loping through the forest at night. This was his choice for the cover of my book, 'Wild and Wilful' (2021).



Neha Sinha

ADITYA DICKY SINGH handed me an awe-inspiring shot of a tiger limned with backlight — a black and white, difficult-to-shoot silhouette of the big cat loping through the forest at night. This was his choice for the cover of my book, ‘Wild and Wilful’ (2021). The photo he selected demonstrated two things. It showed Dicky’s absolute mastery at photography, and his work on making the best use of light, a mantle he never tom-tommed about. It also showed how he embraced Nature in all its forms — jaw-dropping, beautiful, but sometimes also eerie or haunting.

In his many years of restoring the tiger habitat near the Ranthambore tiger reserve on his private land, and tracking tigers in Rajasthan, he demonstrated a commitment to all kinds of wildlife, and the natural ecosystems that sustained them. After the restoration of a patch next to Ranthambore, he had tigers in his backyard. He also had snakes, birds and reptiles. And though he’s best known for his iconic tiger photos, he would often cheekily share photos that showed a tiny organism (like a frog or a bird) on a tiger, or next to it. His idea was to showcase all of wildlife, in all its forms — be it a mother sloth bear fighting off a tiger, a tiny bird on a fragile stalk of grass, or wildlife in his own garden. Dicky suddenly passed away this month aged 57, leaving behind an enduring legacy of commitment towards wildlife and wild habitat.

Years ago, he gave up his job as a government officer to live near the tiger reserve. Ranthambore, situated in Sawai Madhopur, Rajasthan, is one of those mofussil places that would likely never be on the tourism map if it weren’t for its celebrated tiger reserve. While Dicky dedicated his life to help preserve the area, he was also an outspoken watchdog for it. He worked closely with others to monitor tigers, but when necessary, he also rang alarm bells. In 2020, he highlighted the deaths of four cubs, two males and a female tiger in Mukundara hills tiger reserve. He was also outspoken on the matter of Ustad, a male tiger that had killed people in Ranthambore.

Ensuring the welfare of forest staff, who work in tough field conditions, was very important for him. He had also witnessed Ustad near a human kill. His mind was made up — the tiger needed to go. While many activists wanted Ustad to remain in the park, Dicky batted for those who knew the tiger, and the forest well.

On the issue of Ustad, he wrote in his blog: “Some activists are trying to tell us that the local forest officials and others do not know anything about their own forest; while sitting in an urban setting far removed from the park they know it all. I for one cannot really believe that someone who has spent more than half his life living and working in a tiger reserve, someone who sees more tigers than even the most ardent safari goer, knows less about the tigers in his area than say someone living in Bombay or UK or USA.”

This was Dicky in his essential, say-it-like-it-is style. With his untimely demise, Indian forests have lost a true friend, champion and fighter.

The photo Dicky and I chose for the cover of my book was never used. We needed a cover that was less ‘frightening’, we were told. Nevertheless, a tiger shot by him was used. When I relayed the news about the cover to Dicky, he laughed it off. More than anything, I will miss his laughter.

— The writer is a conservation biologist


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