His name was Ratanlal Maloo, and he had single-handedly taken care of the conservation of thousands of demoiselle cranes that come to the village of Kheechan in Rajasthan during the months of winter. And for these tireless efforts that spanned over 40 years, he was conferred the Salim Ali Nature Conservation Award in the year 2009 by BNHS.
It all began over 40 years ago when his uncle requested him to return from Orissa, where he was working, just to help his lonely mother cross the magical age of 100. Little did Ratanlal know that it was a decision that would change his life, and the lives of thousands of demoiselle cranes.
Since Ratanlal had precious little to do in the half-asleep village of Kheechan, his uncle entrusted him with a job: feed the pigeons and sparrows and peacocks that frequent a place at the outskirts of the village.
Ratanlal and his newly married wife Sundarbai liked this idea as they were devout Jains who believed that it’s their bounden duty to give alms and to feed birds. Young Ratanlal used to carry a sackfull of grains to the feeding place and his wife used to transfer it into a large vessel and disburse it on the ground at the feeding place.
Initially, for a couple of months, only the usual suspects came to feed: squirrels, sparrows, pigeons, and the occasional peacock. But then in the month of September, he found a dozen of a huge, black and white bird that he had never seen before, feeding with the regulars. On asking the villagers, he was told that they were migratory birds that have been frequenting the farmlands of Kheechan in winter. They were called demoiselle cranes or kurja in Rajasthani.
It was love at first sight. Ratanlalji started observing them closely. To his joy, he realised that their numbers started growing till it reached around 80 in November. But in February, to his horror all of them disappeared overnight.
He had to wait for a year for them to come back. And this time around, there were over 150 of them. Word must have spread in Mongolia and Eurasia that there’s a feast awaiting them in Kheechan, served by this gentle soul called Ratanlal. This number kept on increasing every year, and in the 40 years of his care and conservation, the number became a staggering 15,000 last year.
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