The Things We Do
Romulus Whitaker and Janaki Lenin
Romulus Whitaker came to India from America with his mother Doris and sisters, Gail and Nina, in 1951 when he was 8 years old. His stepfather Rama Chattopadhyaya was the son of freedom fighter Kamaladevi and poet Harindranath Chattopadhyaya . Obsessed with creepy-crawlies as a child, Rom is now known as the snake man of India, and his enthusiasm has turned an entire generation of Indians on to reptiles.
Rom’s conservation career began in the early 1970s with the ‘Save Silent Valley’ campaign. This marked the start of the conservation movement in India. He then lobbied to have the exploitative snake skin industry banned, and set up a venom cooperative for his friends the Irula tribal snake hunters.
With friends and colleagues, Rom started India’s first reptile park, the Madras Snake Park and India’s crocodile gene bank, the Madras Crocodile Bank. He also established the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Environmental Team and Agumbe Rainforest Research Station as field bases for wildlife studies, conservation, and public education. He championed the preservation of the Critically Endangered gharial and set up the Gharial Conservation Alliance.
Rom was a consultant on wildlife management and conservation for the United Nations, World Wildlife Fund, USAID, Food and Agriculture Organisation in Bangladesh, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, Indonesia, Mozambique, and Ethiopia.
He has written a dozen books, hundreds of scientific papers and popular articles, and produced and presented about 30 documentary films and a children’s feature film. He lives with his life partner, writer Janaki Lenin, on a farm south of the city of Chennai, India.