Remembering A Visionary Scientist Whose Contribution To Wildlife Protection Is Unmatched

An old, snoopy man, with hawk-like eyes behind black-framed spectacles, having no wings of his own, learned how to fly with birds and discovered a number of species during his journey. Salim Ali had flown in all directions for his love for birds. He spent half his life in bird watching and ornithology. Ali’s vision towards the field of ornithology is unmatched in India. His contribution and discovery have transformed the field of ornithology in India. His great vision and love for birds gave him the title of the ‘Birdman of India’.

Born as Salim Moizuddin Abdul Ali in Bombay on November 12, 1896, he was the youngest of nine children. The ten-year-old boy had developed an immense love for birds after he had shot the yellow throat sparrow. His uncle Abbas Tyabji introduced him to WS Millard, the secretary of the Bombay Natural History Society. Mr Millard was amazed by the curiosity of the young Ali and took him around to show the collection of stuffed birds. This single incident changed Dr Salim Ali’s life and made him one of the world’s best bird watchers and a legendary ornithologist.

Dr Salim Ali left Bombay in 1919, due to there being no jobs in natural history. He went to Burma, where he managed his family business. After seven years, he returned to complete his studies and he applied for the post of ornithologist at the Zoological Survey of India, but was rejected due to the eligibility criteria, as he didn’t have an MSc or a PhD. He was sure about making his career in ornithology. He went to Berlin to study, where he trained under Professor Stresemann, renowned ornithologist, whom Salim Ali considered his guru.

Salim Ali (Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Despite having a high qualification from a foreign university, Dr Salim Ali failed to find a job. He never let go of his dreams. Dr Salim Ali offered his services at the Bombay Natural History Society which was conducting a regional ornithological survey. He made his way through tough working conditions.

After independence from the British, he took over the charge of the Bombay Natural History Society and successfully managed to save it from financial crunches. The government of India helped Dr Salim Ali to save the 100-year-old prestigious institution – the Bombay Natural History Society.

Ali’s contribution in the field of ornithology is unmatchable and his books on birds were a result of a marvellous amount of field work that has set new standards in ornithology. He upheld bird watching as the science of systematic perseverance. His interest mostly lied in the ecology of birds, which is the study of habits, habitat, food, and the breeding of birds.

Dr Salim Ali was the first person to introduce systematical ornithology survey at that time when nobody was aware of the distribution pattern of birds in India. During his career in the Bombay Natural History Society, he worked on various important researches and studies on ecology. Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary is alive because of Dr Salim Ali’s continuous intervention. He fought hard to save the Silent Valley National Park in Kerala, where the government planned to construct a hydroelectric project. Ali’s research on the habitat of weaver birds was appreciated by the world’s ornithologists.

Dr Salim Ali penned down many books which reflected his achievements in the field of ornithology: “The Books of Indian Birds”, “Birds of Kerala” and his autobiography “The Fall of the Sparrow”. Ali was honoured with a doctorate from Aligarh Muslim University, Delhi University, and Andhra University. He was the first Indian and first non-British person to receive a gold medal from the British Ornithology Union in 1967, the same year he received the J. Paul Wildlife Conservation Prize. In 1969, he was honoured with the John Philips Memorial Award by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources and in 1973, with the Golden Ark from Netherlands’ Prince Bernhard for his excellent contribution to nature conservation. Dr Salim Ali was honoured by the Government of India with the Padma Bhushan (1958), the Padma Vibhushan (1976), and he was also nominated to the Rajya Sabha (1985).

To follow his passion and love for birds, he travelled a lot across the world. In his autobiography, “The Fall of the Sparrow”, he said, “When you are concentrating on the birds, you forget most of the things.” Nothing could stop him. Neither bad weather nor jagged terrains. He covered every single corner of India. Ali’s thirst for birds was never satisfied. The old man was always full of never ending energy. A person of his age looks for peace and a quiet place to spend the rest of his life, but Ali was a great albatross who was flying at a great height, looking at each bird and enjoying the voice of the birds.

There is no match for him. In many ways, Ali was in competition with himself. No person yet has contributed as much as Ali did during his life towards the conservation of wildlife in India. It is not easy to define the personality of Dr Ali. With a pair of binoculars around his neck and a diary in his hand, Ali’s hawk-like eyes were always looking for birds. Nothing could stop Ali from flying, not even his prostate cancer. On June 20, 1987, at the age of 90 years, he finally flew away with the yellow throat sparrow he had shot at the age of ten. It will be his 30th death anniversary.

Dr Salim’s contribution is matchless today. His books and love for birds are inspiring a new generation. Ali’s legacy lives forever.

Image Crediit: Arvind Yadav/Hindustan Times via Getty Images
Similar Posts

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below