Nanda SJB Rana: Born to Be in the Wild

Features Issue 22 Aug, 2010
Text by Bijay Shrestha / Photo: Nanda SJB Rana

Do you know anyone whose  passion is to locate, chase,  and capture wild beasts?! Who spends most of his time in the jungle looking for animals that most people have a deadly fear of?! Someone in whose love life the role of cupid was played by tigers?!  Meet Nanda Shumshere Rana - obviously no ordinary man. As an internationally acknowledged expert on tiger behavior, wildlife consultant for National Geographic Television, a premier wildlife photographer of Nepal and one of the best in the world, Nanda Rana has brought Nepal into the international limelight.

As a young man, Nanda SJB Rana, the great grandson of Chandra Shamsher Jung Bahadur Rana, had no inclination towards conservation; he was in fact a hunter and his ultimate dream was to shoot a tiger! “It was on one of my hunting trips that after three-four days of search, we saw a tiger. She stood right in front of me. It was a bright moonlit night and everyone was waiting for me to pull the trigger. But she looked so beautiful that I just couldn’t do it,” shared Rana. It was on one of his later hunting trips that he realized that where there used to be hundreds of animals there were now just a few. “I thought that my children would never see these beautiful creatures. That’s when I thought of conservation, not destruction,” expressed Rana.

Nanda Rana became a conserva-tionist at Bandhavgarh Jungle Camp in Madhya Pradesh, (central India) the first private jungle resort in India. It was here that he developed his knowledge of tigers. He believes that he had the best teacher he could ever have: the jungle itself. “I just spent as much time as I could with the jungle, observed it and became one with it. I got the best first hand knowledge that anyone could ever get,” exclaimed Rana. For him, being inside a jungle is like meditating because once he is in the jungle he goes into a kind of a trance. He enthusiastically explains, “I like to be inside the jungle before it is light. Once I am there, I forget everything that is.outside that perimeter. I don’t just look for the tigers; everything about the jungle is fascinating, pure and natural. The greatest challenge is not seeing a tiger but to track one, following the pug marks and other signs and pitting my wits against theirs.” The risk is high, but for Rana, even dangerous encounters are learning experiences. “Tigers attack humans only when they feel threatened or to protect their cubs or their kill (food). At times, tigers will make mock charges.  At such times you should raise your arms to look as large as you can and shout, and the tiger will back away. They are just defending themselves and are normally not aggressive.” Asked if the tigers of Bandhavgarh recognize him, he laughs, “I don’t think so, but I recognize most of them.”

Rana’s passion has transformed his life. “When I look at a tiger, I think it is the most majestic and graceful of living creatures. I totally agree when Corbett says “The tiger is a large-hearted gentleman,” says Rana. Having realised that tiger numbers had fallen from the thousands in the days of Chandra Shamsher to around a mere 200 today in Nepal, and that there were an estimated mere 7000 left in the wild on the planet, Nanda decided to do whatever he could to help in the conservation of the species. Over the 13 years of his career, his efforts as a photographer, a conservationist, an expert in Tiger behavior, and a documentary filmmaker have earned international acclaim.

Although his wildlife photographs are world renowned, Nanda Rana never had formal training as a photographer, but built on his own natural gifts and opportunities. “It was after I joined Bandhavgarh Jungle Camp that I started photographing wildlife. I took pictures of tigers with my ordinary camera and they really came out well. There (at Bandhavgarh) I also got to know world famous photographers and worked with them, which helped me improve my photography. To be in front of a wild tiger, with only a camera, is more exciting than hunting them with a gun. The risk, the excitement and the adrenaline flow is something that very few will ever experience,” expressed this man who loves to live life on the edge. Patience, passion and lots of courage are the three essential qualities required for a photographer to work in this field, and Rana has all of them. Still, he sees himself more as a conservationist who takes photographs than as a professional photographer. To date, Nanda Rana has never sold his photos.  “I give them to organizations working for the conservation of the wild. If my photographs help them, I take that as my reward,” says Rana. He has been supporting the King Mahendra Trust for Nature Conservation and has been giving them his pictures to use for their publications for many years now. “It’s only recently that I had my first exhibition. My wife pushed me to do that; otherwise I never exhibited my photographs.  But it really felt good when so many people appreciated the photographs,” remarked Rana. He will have his work exhibited for two weeks in Berlin, Germany as a part of the Asia Pacific Festival this month. After that, the exhibition will move on to Mumbai, Delhi, and then England. He is also looking forward to organizing another exhibition in Kathmandu.

The National Geographic Society approached him in 1996 to be a special advisor for their cover stories, book and documentaries on the tiger for the Year of the Tiger, 1997. The work resulted in a 40-page article in the National Geographic Magazine, a book entitled “The Year of the Tiger”, and a television documentary called “The Eye of the Tiger”. In recognition of his unique knowledge and expertise, National Geographic presented him with a letter of appreciation and a specially printed cover of the magazine. “This letter of appreciation has been awarded to only seven people in the world and it is a great honor to be one of them,” expressed the proud Nepali.

 Dr. Latika Rana, Nanda Rana’s wife, has also been featured in a program on the National Geographic channel.  She is a tiger expert in her own right, the first woman in the world to do a Ph. D on tigers from ChristChurch College, Oxford. Nanda Rana remarks, “I am lucky to share my feelings about the wild with my wife because we both have the same affinity for it. We do discuss and argue but at the end we both know that it is for the common cause and that discussion enhances our knowledge on the topic.”

 Rana himself produced two full-length natural history films based on the tigers of Bandhavgarh National Park with Partridge Films, an England-based production company. It took four and a half years to make the films ‘A Tale of Two Families: Sita’s Story’ and ‘A Tiger’s Tale’, shown on the Discovery Channel. The films used research gathered over a ten-year period when Rana tracked a family of tigers for up to nine months of the year, documenting previously unknown tiger behavior, including the interaction of an adult male tiger with his cubs.

About his conservation work, Rana says: “As far as wild life conservation is considered there are two ways of doing it. One way is to work with the jungle and the animals, and other way is working with the people [especially] around the park. The main problem that we are facing is that we do not have large wild life parks like in Africa. Ours have shrunk into small pockets and the conflict between the wild animals and humans has become the main issue. For that reason in Bandhavgarh we have established health posts, anti-poaching camps for local people, and books related to anti-poaching and creating awareness from the school level. In fact we are trying to introduce conservation for children right from the kindergarten level up to high-level studies, and the Madhya Pardesh government has reacted positively to the suggestion. By doing so, people will learn about wild life right from childhood and will be sympathetic towards the cause of conservation, which is the best way forward.

Here in Nepal, Nanda is founder trustee of an NGO called ‘Wild Life Conservation Nepal’, recently established with the aim of supplementing existing efforts of the government for wildlife conservation. He explains, “We are concentrating on stopping trafficking in animal parts and for that reason we organised our first workshop recently in the capital. At the workshop we interacted with wardens from wildlife parks all over the country. We are getting support from international organizations like CARE, Wildlife Trust of India, NGOs and even the Nepalese Army, but this alone is not enough. We need more involvement and partnership with the local people in safeguarding the future of our natural heritage.”

Latika and Nanda are also planning to register another NGO called ‘The International Group for Environment and Research’ (TIGER). They plan to use the NGO to initiate basic research on wildlife, and to address the issues of human-wildlife conflict and livelihood alternatives. “We are planning to invite and involve people from all walks of life, especially the development, media, education and health sectors. We believe in grassroots work, imparting knowledge to the local people through example, and using our time in the field to understand the needs of the local people and learn and document their knowledge and traditions. We want to make this a platform for people to voice their concerns and needs, and allow interaction between the government, academicians and the community.”

Nanda is currently working on a documentary film in collaboration with Himalayan Films, Kathmandu. He also plans to lead exclusive tours to share with people the special world of the jungle, focusing on national parks in Nepal and India.

His intentions are noble, his resolve firm, he is sure of his goals and he knows that the path is not smooth. Nanda Rana is a gentleman who feels for the wild: a man with the heart of a tiger whose heart beats for the tigers of the wild.  

For more information on the
work of Wild Life Conservation Nepal
contact 5524202, 5549803.

Contact: Bandhavgarh Jungle Camp,
0091 - 07627 - 265307/265358