Wildlife Service Awards 2023
Sound engineer and producer, conservationist, filmmaker
Five seconds. That’s all that it takes for life to change. It did for Hans Dalal, the talented and incredibly committed conservationist working in and for the forests of Tadoba through his NGO Preservation of Wild Landscapes (PROWL) that was started by him and his wife Avantika to promote human-wildlife coexistence and wildlife conservation in the fringe villages of the tiger reserve.
After spending five years in the music industry, Hans launched his own music studio, which he ran independently for five years. Along with his work, he would make annual pilgrimages to the Himalaya to trek and camp in what he describes as heaven. On one such trip in Kanha in 2007, a five-second tiger sighting moved his soul and changed his life. Within the year, he shut his studio and moved to Ranthambhore where he met with the late Fateh Singh Rathore to learn about the striped cats and how he could be a part of the team that worked to save them. The first task he was given was to meet the Moghiyas, a traditional hunter-gatherer tribe that had turned to poaching to eke out a living. Combining his sound engineering skill with his love for the wild, he and a friend Sidd Cutto painstakingly shot a documentary titled ‘With a Little Help’ in which he relied on the Moghiyas’ incredible musical talents. The three lakh rupees they earned from the film was used by Fateh Singh’s team to rejig the life of the fabled tribe, away from hunting to protecting tigers.
That was just the beginning. Hans then began to travel through forest after Indian forest to document their biodiversity and understand the complexities of human-wildlife interactions. Today, Hans has given up city life to settle on the periphery of the tiger forests of Tadoba. Nothing has, of course, been easy. Hans developed cerebral palsy soon after birth, but went on to live a ‘normal’ life. With his typical wry sense of humour he asks with a chuckle: “What exactly is ‘normal’? Everyone is abnormal in their own way!” Hans credits his parents for his successes in life as he goes about doing his bit to improve the lot of local communities and create linkages between them and the Maharashtra Forest Department. Today PROWL conducts intimate training programmes for forest guards, by familiarising them with camera trapping, emergency first aid, and the use of technology to monitor the movement of the tigers next to which they live. He also helps the Forest Department staff in human-animal conflict situations. And his wildlife documentaries not only capture the sheer beauty of India’s forests but also tell compelling stories on those working to protect them. Hans is driven by tigers and the need to protect them. Just one phone call from Sanctuary saw him heading for Umred, where he helped Rohit Karoo, the Honorary Wildlife Warden, set up some of the first camera traps to monitor the tigers of this then virtually unknown forest. His work also helped confirm that tigers were moving across human-made boundaries, between southern Maharashtra and northern Telangana.
He credits his passion to those first five-seconds of a tiger sighting that cast a spell on him, and hopes that others upon whom the tiger weaves its spell, also turn their professions and talents to save the magnificent cat and its fabled forests.
For his love of the wild, persistence and purpose… and willingness to walk the less-trodden path, we honour Hans Dalal.