Acclaimed ornithologist Zafar Futehally passes away at 93

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ZafarBangalore: One of India’s best known naturalists and ornithologists, Zafar Futehally, passed away on Sunday at his home in Kihim, to which he had moved a few months ago from Bangalore. He was 93. He had suffered from bronchial infection.

Mr. Futehally spearheaded the early years of the conservation movement in India, serving as a link (often controversially so), between conservationists and corporates, says Theodore Baskaran, a friend, author and trustee of World Wildlife Fund-India.

The Newsletter for Birdwatchers, which he founded, was a vital publication and served to document observations at a time when there was no digital documentation and few scientific studies on wildlife in the country, Mr. Baskaran said.

“He may not have been known so much for field work as Salim Ali was, but he galvanised people and encouraged discussion. He was a mentor to an entire generation of budding naturalists, encouraging them to follow their passion for conservation,” he said. Mr. Futehally was associated for 60 years with the Bombay Natural History Society, of which he was honorary secretary for 16 years, until the 1970s, when he shifted to Bangalore.

In Bangalore, Mr. Futehally’s residence for four decades, he will be most remembered for nurturing a vibrant birdwatching community, said scientist and friend S. Subramanya. “The first ever pair of binoculars I laid my hands on was a 6×30 lent to me by Mr. Futehally,” recalls Dr. Subramanya, who was among a group of budding birdwatchers who faithfully visited the Futehallys’ Dodda Gubbi residence on Bangalore’s outskirts. “And that was in the 1970s. If we have an active birders’ group in Bangalore today, we owe it to his mentoring,” he told The Hindu.


Mr. Futehally was not just an Indian conservationist but associated with world organisations, observed Ashish Chandola, a naturalist and filmmaker who assisted the veteran ornithologist with his autobiography (not yet published). “They don’t make them like that anymore,” he said.

Mr. Futehally is survived by his wife Laeeq, author of a book on Indian birds; his daughter Zai, also an author; and his grandchildren. His older daughter Shama, a celebrated novelist, passed away in 2004.

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