People of India – The Young Naturalists – Sunny Shah

I only met Sunny relatively recently, in September to be precise. I’d asked my mentor if he knew of any good naturalists in Gujarat and he recommended Sunny.  As it turned out, he was wrong, Sunny isn’t a good naturalist, he is incredible. He has foresight & insight, knowledge & passion, intelligence & vision. I am delighted to have found him and even more delighted to be currently working with him on a project in Gujarat.  Every day is a school day and I am learning so much from this man!

Here’s a little bit more about him and of course, his responses to the questions on my People of India project.

Sunny  Shah, born in Gujarat, started his conservation career with State Forest Department in 2007, at the research headquarters. Having strong passion for big mammal conservation, Sunny Shah has played pivotal role in several landscape scale conservation projects across Kanha National Park, Pench National Park, Achanakmar Tiger Reserve, Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve and Kuno Palpur WLS doing extensive work on Tiger corridors and habitat restoration. During this time Sunny joined WWF and led several wildlife conservations programs in and around the big cat landscapes of Gujarat and Rajasthan. Sunny has also worked on Central Asian Flyway and Habitat restoration at Little Rann of Kutch and for short while coordinated for Convention on Migratory Species- Conference of Parties. He is a keen bird watcher and nature observer.

1. Who you are (naturally!)
Passionate conservationist and naturalist  who believes in conservation innovation through co-creation and participatory actions.

2. What inspired you to create/join your business?
Watching nature in action inspires me every day, from my childhood days I was always inclined towards nature. My first visit to Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve during my college days I witnessed an event where a tigress and her cubs chased a sambar deer and killed it for their meal. This event changed my perception and inspired me to get into conservation and stay close to subject. Once My mentor told me that “Love your subject, subject will do good to you.”

3. An anecdote which epitomizes your India?
Wildlife has still bright future in India even with 1.36 billion people. That all the wild species are surviving in spite of this dense population and among all kinds of tolerant and intolerant people gives me more hope.

Further, the diversity of culture, hospitality in inhospitable landscapes, diversity of food, diversity of religion, countries natural history, festivals and cultures and attitude to restart anything from any point, describes my India.

4. One thing that you can’t live without?
First, chai pe charcha (tea and talk), given at any point with friends, colleagues, community, shepherds, forest dwellers and whoever come and meet for a while.  Second is, birding escapes, at least one or two in a week.

5. One thing that you hate?
Being fake and not being heard are my personal hates.
I hate it when ‘society’ ignores the rules & do’s and don’ts while visiting parks, sanctuaries, historical places, wetlands etc.

6. If you could change one thing about India what would it be?
Politics in each and every corner of life.

7. Who is your greatest inspiration?
My greatest & first inspiration is my family – parents, spouse and my son. Second my ex boss Dr. Dipankar Ghose and my friend Surya Ramachandran.

8. What is your favorite quote?
‘Do good, good will come to you,’ and ‘Keep faith and patience, things change.’

9. I have noticed huge changes in India over the last few years but what is the biggest change you have noticed in India over the last 10 years?
The power of social media and digitization.

10. What do you think are the biggest challenges India faces over the next ten years?
Unplanned development and population explosion.

11. Which is the destination at the top of your bucket list?
Not one, many, the snow leopard habitat across Himalaya starting from Ladakh to Sikkim.

12. What is the one place you visited that you have NO desire to return to?
Kuno Palpur- reason is its tourist free and human free.

13. Book or Movie?
Indeed, a book, I am a book freak. But during the pandemic, because of my son I am watching to0 many movies for my son’s entertainment.

14. Just for fun! I am doing a survey to find India’s most popular breakfast, what is yours?
Eggs and paratha

15. In retrospect, what is the one thing you wish you could have told your 20-year-old self?
Don’t take things casually and explore more of your loved subject.

Sunny is currently heading up the wildlife and conservation projects at Woods at Sasan in Gir, Gujarat. See some of the programmes they are offering here.

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