Saturday, September 23

Doctor Salim Ali: Bird Man Of India

Salim Ali was a well-known ornithologist,  wildlife conservationist, and naturalist of India. He is often known as the “Bird Man of India”.  He has surveyed almost every single bird of India.  After the survey, he used to write very well about the birds.  He has also written many books, in which “The book of Indian bird” is quite famous. 

Salim Ali

Personal Details

He was born on 12 November 1896 in the Bombay Presidency.  He belonged to the Sulemani Bohra family, the ninth and youngest child of Moizuddin. By the time Ali was three years old, both his parents had died. Along with his siblings, Ali raised by his maternal uncle Amiruddin Tyabji and aunt Hamida Begum in a middle-class family in Khetwadi, Mumbai.

According to his biography in “The Fall of a Sparrow”, No one in his entire family had any interest in birds. At that time, words like environmental protection were also rarely heard. Ali’s maternal uncle was a great hunter. Once when he was in fourth grade he got a book for good behavior called our animal friends. When he was ten years old, his maternal uncle brought him an air gun. He achieved such skill on the air gun that he could kill any bird. In 1908, Ali’s strong desire was to become a big and famous hunter as he was not much interested in studies. In the summer, he changed his home and moved to Chembur, a busy area of ​​Mumbai. Those days there were dense forests in the hills of the Western Ghats. There were many trees, plants, and many birds.

Salim Ali

Career Life Of Salim Ali

The sweetest memory of Ali’s life was listening to the song of Magpie Robin, which he could hear as soon as he woke up in the morning. At that time hunting and shooting animals was a symbol of a masculine sport. How many times did Ali himself target small birds.

Magpie Robin

Once when he was going to hunt a bird and kill it, he saw that this bird is different from all other birds. There was a yellow spot on his neck just like the color of curry.  At that time he felt that perhaps this bird is a devotee of God. He was afraid that after killing this bird, he would have to go to hell. Thinking this, he did not kill that bird. He took that bird to his house and told his uncle about it so that his uncle could explain the right thing to him.   His maternal uncle carefully observed that sparrow and said that it was a new species of bird that he too had never seen before.  The name of the yellow-neck bird was “Yellow-throated Sparrow“. 

Yellow Throated bird

Ali’s scientific interest in birds grew only after this incident of sparrow hunting.

After the establishment of the Bombay Natural History Society. In 1883, Ali’s maternal uncle Amiruddin became an active member of the organization. One day His maternal uncle gave him an identity card which was given to the honorary secretary of the organization, Mr. W.S. Millard’s name. In that letter, Ali was asked for help in identifying the bird. This was his first contact with the BNHS. After that, this institution played a very important role in shaping his life and profession.

Salim Ali

Mr. Milard was a very kind man. He gave some books on birds from his small library to Ali. And thus Ali was first introduced to the wonderful books of Edward Hamilton Aitken.  It also included the Common Bird of Bombay and A Naturalist on the Prowl

At that time there was no illustrated book on Indian birds. Because of this, it was very difficult for any novice to recognize the birds.  And perhaps that is why people in India did not adopt the hobby of the study of birds.

Salim Ali

A question that he was repeatedly asked about was his exciting moment during bird watching. His answer was that bird watching is a profession that is utterly thrilling and has both rewards and disappointments. But this profession has a specialty that the quietest activity is done outside the home.  It may be a little different from normal professions, but the most joy comes in searching for clues.  There is a lot of fun and excitement in it. 

He wrote numerous journal articles in the Journal of Bombay Natural History Society.

Salim Ali

Apart from this, Salim Ali wrote some books:-

  • Stopping by the woods on a Sunday morning  in 1930
  • The Book of Indian Birds in 1941
  •  Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan  with Dillon Ripley in 1974
  • The Birds of Kerala and The Birds of Sikkim
  • The Birds of Kutch (later as The Birds of Gujarat)
  • Indian Hill Birds
  • Birds of the Eastern Himalayas.
  • The Fall of a Sparrow (autobiography) in 1985
  • A two-volume compilation of his short letters and writings in 2007, edited by one of his last students, Tara Gandhi.

Salim Ali received several honorary doctorates and numerous awards

  • Joy Gobinda Law Gold Medal in 1953, awarded by the Asiatic Society of Bengal
  • Receive the Gold Medal of the British Ornithologists’ Union in 1967
  • The J. Paul Getty Wildlife Conservation Prize in 1967
  • The John C. Phillips memorial medal of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources in 1967
  • Sunder Lal Hora memorial Medal of the Indian National Science Academy in 1970
  • Pavlovsky Centenary Memorial Medal by The USSR Academy of Medical Sciences in 1973
  • Received honorary doctorates from the Aligarh Muslim University (1958), Delhi University (1973) and Andhra University (1978).
  • A Padma Bhushan in 1958 and the Padma Vibhushan in 1976. He also nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1985.

In 1990, the Government of India established Sálim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON) at Coimbatore.  The government of Goa set up the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. Pondicherry University established the Salim Ali School of Ecology and Environmental Sciences. On his 100th birth Anniversary (12 November 1996) Postal Department of Government of India released a set of two postal stamps.

Salim Ali
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