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Whitaker gets top U.K. conservation prize

P. Oppili

Herpetologist's work on the King Cobra wins recognition



Romulus Whitaker with the Whitley Award for his project to conserve the King Cobra. — Photo: Vino John

CHENNAI: Romulus Whitaker, the Chennai-based herpetologist and founder of the Snake Park, Crocodile Bank and the Irula Cooperative Society, received the United Kingdom's top conservation prize — the Whitley Award — for his project "King Cobra as a flagship species for the vanishing rainforests of Western Ghats."

Princess Anne (sister of Prince Charles), who is the patron of the Whitley Laing Foundation, presented the award to Mr. Whitaker at a function in London last week.

The award carries a 30,000 cash prize, and a cut glass trophy with a citation. Of the eight award winners, two are from India. The other Indian to receive the award was Charudutt Mishra for his project to conserve snow leopards in the Himalayan high altitudes. Mr. Whitaker said the Foundation received about 100 entries from across the world, of which eight were short listed for the award.

Rescuing cobras

Mr. Whitaker's proposal concerns the protection of the king cobra and its habitat by setting up a research station in a rainforest. For implementing his project, he has chosen Agumbe in Dakshina Canara district of Karnataka. Mr. Whitaker says it was in the same area where he sighted the King Cobra during early 1970s.

"I call the place the capital of King Cobra." Moreover, Mr. Whitaker was involved in the rescue of King Cobras that had strayed into human habitations in and around Agumbe.

Mr. Whitaker bought eight acres of land in Agumbe in January this year, where the research station will be set up. The area receives about 10,000 mm rainfall annually. The station will undertake research on King Cobra biology, hill stream ecology, forest produce sustainability, soil conservation and will emphasise on applied studies.

Its focus would also be on stream/river integrity, rainwater harvesting, planting indigenous trees in forest corridors and ensuring local participation to save rainforests.

The station plans to bring research-backed conservation to people, encourage forest caretaker-ship, and initiate programmes in schools and local NGOs, says Mr. Whitaker.

Three cobra species

Mr. Whitaker says: "It seems that there are more than one species of King Cobra in India. We strongly feel that there are at least three species of King Cobra." More studies need to be taken up, he says.

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