Sudha Chandran

Wildlife Service Awards 2023

Sudha Chandran
Nature guide, birder, homestay owner, climate warrior

At 68, Sudha Chandran, or Sudhamma as she is fondly called, wears many hats – licensed forest guide, homestay owner, cancer survivor, mother, grandmother, and more. Ask her to name bird species in the wetland wonderland she has adopted and she will rattle off name after name with practised ease. Widowed at 30, she brought up two children by running a small tea shop that she and her husband had established on the outskirts of Thattekad in Kerala. She credits Dr. R. Sugathan, a protege of Dr. Sálim Ali, and a hugely respected BNHS scientist, with moulding her into the naturalist-conservationist she has turned into. At one time, she used to supply food, refreshments, and support to those attending BNHS nature camps. Always curious and smitten by nature, she would peek through doors and windows as Dr. Sugathan taught his wards, and her spirit of inquiry soon turned her into an expert! Noticing her interest, he invited her to accompany them to walk the forests and wetlands around Thattekad. In time, Sudhamma’s knowledge grew and she in fact became a source of knowledge even for many experts. Not surprisingly, she soon became a licensed guide. Today Sudhamma stands as a living example of how empowering and including people from local communities not only strengthens wildlife conservation, but helps to create real conservationists of tomorrow.

The past does determine the future. Way back in the 1930s, it was Dr. Sálim Alii’s Travancore survey that ended up with Thattekad being declared a bird sanctuary in 1981. The tiny park covers an area of 25 sq. km., nestled by the Periyar river, and was Kerala’s first bird sanctuary. Sudhamma now hosts ornithologists and scientists at her homestay in Thattekad, with guests arriving from across the world. Fluent in English, which she picked up from her guests down the years, she is somewhat of a linguist, and apart from her mother tongue Malayalam, understands French, a touch of Tamil and Hindi.

Today, Sudhamma is celebrated as the ‘Lady Guide of Thattekad’. She is the quintessential all-rounder, equally at ease when birding, driving a four-wheel vehicle, or captaining a boat, and even riding a motorbike! Each day she spends anywhere from eight to 12 hours guiding visitors through Thattekad’s wonderland. “This is my temple; my duty is my prayer,” she says. Soon after her 25 radiation and five chemo sessions, she was back in the forests she loves. Her sheer will and passion for nature shines through every moment of her life. “My advice to every woman is to tap into the strength they have and forge on. Never let anyone take you for granted or take advantage of you,” says Sudhamma.

For her courage, determination, her love of wild nature and her desire to share all she has with others, we honour her.