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Friend of the feathered lot

He’s an environmentalist, a crusader, but first, a naturalist. Wildlife, from butterflies to elephants, is his interest, but birds are his passion. Sujan Chatterjee has been a part of surveys, studies and camps, and is an amateur photographer as well. But at heart, the man from Salt Lake is just a birdwatcher.

“I learnt the alphabet through animal pictures,” he laughs. Joining the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) nature club in Class V was the start. After Class XII, it was a life subscription. Post-college, 15 like-minded friends got together to form the Naturalists Club.

Becoming a member of the NGO Prakriti Sansad began his lifelong love affair with birds. “The members are very experienced and knowledgeable. I spent ages talking, reading and learning, practically sleeping on the couch in the office, which was a member’s home. I actually see them more often than my extended family,” he smiles.

Chatterjee’s first official survey was in the Sunderbans, in ’97, to monitor the birds over a five-year period. Being observed by man-eating tigers at close quarters is a lasting memory. Now, the survey being funded by the forest department has been extended to follow the migratory patterns of rare species.

Research for UK-based organisations World Pheasant Association and Oriental Bird Club, on the pheasant populations in Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh and the Neora Valley National Park, near Lava, and assisting in a study on Gaurs in the Dooars, for the WWF, followed.

The active WWF and Birla Industrial and Technological Museum volunteer has taken several school and college teams on nature camps, from Bakkhali to Purulia and Orissa, besides taking part in several WWF subscribers camps, in Kanha, Kaziranga and north Bengal, as well as individual and group trips, trusted camera by his side.

Recently back from an excursion to Lava-Lolegaon, Chatterjee is excited about clicking birds that are “rarely seen”. But having his tent blown away in Ladakh and staying in army tin huts, and having a suitcase filled with Rs-50,000 worth of camera equipment (mostly borrowed) stolen from Delhi station on the way back from Kedar-Badri, are two travel tales he won’t forget.

But the Prakriti Sansad representative on the state wildlife advisory board has not forgotten animals. Although breeding butterflies for a while required too many plants, a backpacking trip across South Africa last year, with his five-month-pregnant wife in tow, was an “unforgettable experience”. In fact, in parts, he was “the first Indian backpacker”. And in the desert town of Springbok, he shot to instant fame just by saying “Sourav Ganguly”.

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