As the driver of the Maruti Gypsy gunned the engine, the SUV screeched into life. Storming into the wilderness of Bandipur National Park, the fearless crew on board began capturing candid shots of their muse, a female tusker, oblivious to the herd of furious elephants on their trail. While the driver swerved the SUV away from their track, gearing up for a wild chase, the mighty beast inched closer. That’s when crew leader, naturalist Jagannatha Rao noticed an unnerving sign. The deadly adversary had swirled its trunk firmly around its tusk, it was deeply agitated.
Realising the imminent danger, he told his crew to call it quits. This was 1995. A N Jagannatha Rao was shooting his critically acclaimed 13-episode TV series on Indian wildlife.
“We went a furlong and all of us exclaimed with joy. Then the camera man came up to me and told me that the wire got cut. So we went back and shot it all over again,” says the now 79-year- old wildlife enthusiast and co-founder of the Madras Snake Park and Crocodile Park, matter-of-factly. No wonder, considering he has been on 75 trips into forests across the country, to feed his fascination for nature.
The alumnus of Besant Theosophical HSS, Adyar narrates how his scouting days moulded his survival skills for his adventures.
“We had such a beautiful campus. Every day on our walk from the hostel to the dining hall, we would pass so much greenery. At that time, I was part of the Vasantha Scout Group. That’s how I learnt so much about nature — through outdoor camping,” Rao recalls.
After graduating as an Electrical Engineer, he took over the mantle of his family enterprise. But his passion for wildlife was intact.
“My deep interest in conservation got me into researching sustainable living,” says the veteran who was involved in the sketching of blueprints for wildlife sanctuaries, afforestation and reptile conservation.
The multi-faceted naturalist fondly recalls how he accidentally discovered a congregation of birds that was previously not known to the bird watching community in the Nellapattu region, on a one-off trip to Nellore.
“I was travelling by train and was using a pair of binoculars. There were some little white dots about a mile away. They appeared like birds. I got off at the station for about three minutes. I ran all over the place and caught hold of a porter. He told me the magical words I wanted to hear — they are all pitta (birds).”
Soon the constant exposure to natural beauty stirred his interest in wildlife photography, thanks to his mentor, renowned shutterbug M Krishnan. He realised his dream during his 1973 trip to Bandipur.
“I was taught the tricks to great photography over the 30 years. I remember how I closely hugged my camera like a baby, held my breath and clicked every shot,” Rao says, pointing to the masterpiece on display in his
While setting out on wild adventures, it is always important to respect the customs and beliefs of the locals or else years of experience can be irrelevant. The golden rule has served him in good stead till now. “On my first ever trip to Pulicat, I tried to get out of the boat and survey the island. It looked so placid… but the boatman began yelling at me. He said that the locals did lime shell-mining there and it was full of bottomless ooze. He saved me,” says the nature-lover.
On facing the challenges that nature throws at you, he highlights the importance of nature education, after all, wildlife is as unpredictable as it gets.
“Never disturb wildlife. It’s important know about the type of plants and animal species present in the region whenever you go outdoor camping. If you want to survive, you have to follow the rules of the jungle.”
The life-member of the Madras Naturalist Society (MNS) has served as a wild life consultant in IISC.
Every year, he gives talks on nature conservation to nearly 3,000 scouts.