Beginning with his interactions with Dr Salim Ali, the legendary ornithologist—who was also his grand-uncle—wildlife biologist Rauf Ali takes the reader on a journey through India’s natural history and the beginning of ecological studies in India.
Rauf was one of the first Indians to complete a PhD in wildlife biology—he researched the social behaviour of bonnet macaques in the forests of Mundanthurai region in Tamil Nadu. In the late 1980s, he was instrumental in setting up one of India’s first Master’s programmes in ecology, and later, as an ecologist, Rauf undertook the task of delineating Protected Areas in the Palani Hills of the Western Ghats. He was also among the first to conduct environmental research in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and in this book, he provides eye-opening information on the environmental damage caused by the introduction of chital and other species alien to the region.
Enlivening the narrative are anecdotes drawn from a career spanning over three decades: of encountering wild elephants; dealing with red tape; and whiskey-laced brainstorming sessions with students and Nobel laureates alike.
Through these personal accounts, Rauf reveals the state of environmental conservation in India, and the complex relationship between locals, wildlife researchers and forest officials. He also emerges as a person who was influential in creating policies for the conservation of the environment and who had little patience for the corruption and bureaucratic processes that came in the way. Quirky, candid and informative, Running Away from Elephants is an invaluable addition to writings on natural history in India.