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The call of the wild

Like most kids who grew up in Chennai when it was Madras -- and when it had lots and lots of trees and open space -- Shekar Dattatri was fascinated by ants, insects, squirrels, and birds.

Unlike others, he carried the interest forward.

"I firmly believe all children have an intrinsic fascination for nature but they lose it along the way because they get overloaded with other things. I was brought up in a family that encouraged all sorts of activities," says Dattatri, now a world famous wildlife filmmaker.

It was a book gifted to him by his sister that kindled his interest in wildlife, and taught him how to watch animals. When he was 13 years old, he paid a visit to the Snake Park in Chennai and fell in love with the reptiles.

"Nobody ever scared me about snakes. So, my fascination was pure. I kept going back regularly. Finally, one volunteer told me, 'I have seen you many times. If you want, you can be a volunteer here.'"

So, Dattatri met the director of the Snake Park, the famous herpetologist Romulus Whitaker, and asked whether he could work there on weekends. Whitaker welcomed the idea. He had only one advice to the youngster: 'Just stay away from the dangerous snakes.'

Text: Shobha Warrier
Photograph: Xavier Lecoultre/Rolex Awards

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