A journey from Hunting to Conservation
Dr Salim Ali was the first ornithologist to conduct systematic studies of birds in India. Salim Ali was born on 12 November 1896 in Mumbai. He was orphaned at a young age and was raised by his maternal uncle. As a child, Salim Ali and his brother often indulged in hunting birds with air guns.
Once on their hunting expedition, he shot down a unique kind of sparrow. To enquire and learn more about the bird, they went to the Bombay Natural Historical Society and discovered it was a lesser-known ‘yellow patch sparrow’. This experience was remorseful for him and he decided to dedicate his life to the study and advocacy of birds.
In his autobiography ‘The Fall of the Sparrow’, he has described more such fascinating stories in detail. In post-independent India, he contributed in saving various bird species from extinction and discovered new bird species in South Asia. Dr Salim Ali was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1958 and the Padma Vibhushan in 1976 by the Government of India for his contribution to ornithology and Indian zoological sciences.
He surveyed various species of birds extensively and wrote detailed books on their habits and habitats in the undivided pre-independence British India.
Dr. Ali co-authored the ‘Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan’ on the study of birds of India and Pakistan with the American ornithologist Sydney Ripley. The book remains a fascinating guide for bird enthusiasts and scientists.
Dr Ali also worked as an ornithologist and environmental advisor with former Prime Ministers of India, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.