“I caught snakes in the company of Irula tribals, and got bitten by hot-tempered reptiles, but came out of it all grinning and wiser.”

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A most eligible bachelor Rahul Alvares, 36, is really living it up, doing what he wants to and enjoying every nano second. A many-faceted personality, he began his career as a herpetologist, but soon expanded his field of activity. He is a wildlife guide, writer, photographer, fitness instructor, pain therapist, backpacker, all rolled into one. Son of the respected journalist from Goa, Claude Alvares, Rahul has created his own place in the sun. He spoke to A. Radhakrishnan in a freewheeling interview.

How would you describe yourself?
I have a mind that constantly wants to learn. I’m obsessive whenever I’m researching something. I’m quite self-centered and opinionated, but not afraid to admit I’m often wrong about things.

Actually starting off as a herpetologist, these days I’m into learning all about wildlife, including birds and insects. I like photographing reptiles, amphibians, birds and insects, and also photographing landscapes when travelling too. As a snake rescuer for twelve years, I’d get calls from all over Goa to remove snakes from people’s houses, and at last count it was over a thousand snakes!

What do you like or dislike about your job?
Most of all, I love the freedom to be who I want to be, and do what I want to do. I never give much importance to dislikes. If I don’t like something I either change it or just put up with it! I am more than compensated in this job. The common misconception people have about this job is that it is extremely dangerous. It’s a challenging job. I got loads of free time. A typical work week these days is a birding trip every few days! I intend reading and travelling a lot. I have loads of free time to watch movies, study subjects of interest on the internet, and these days I’m most excited about learning to ride my motorcycle. I want to become a good rider and own some fast motorbikes!
I also spend a fair amount of time photographing wildlife which is very exciting for me. I want to publish books as often as I can and travel the world.

What are the precautions you normally take?
I always handle venomous snakes in the day and in an area where I have sufficient space to manoeuvre them. I always wear all the gear needed to handle them.

Rahul Alvares with a python

Rahul Alvares with a python

Is any education or skills needed for this profession?
Well, I learnt snake handling from an Irula tribal in Mammalapuram. Can’t think of anything else!

Would you advise others to take up this as a career?
I am not sure of the status of herpetology in India. But this isn’t a career you take to, if you’re going to constantly be thinking about money. My parents were the ones who pushed me to follow my dreams in the first place! Honestly though, I’m not encouraging or discouraging anyone else from taking up this career. I know this kind of a life works for me, but I doubt it will work for most other people.

Have you travelled extensively in your job?
I have travelled to a few places including Australia, New Zealand, the USA, Europe, and some parts of Southeast Asia. I’ve been to quite a few wild places in India too pursuing my interest in travel and photography.

Tell us about your books.
I have written three books and plenty of articles for local and national newspapers and wildlife magazines including Sanctuary magazine! I’m working now on bringing out a coffee table book on the reptiles and amphibians of Goa.

I like getting books published. I have three so far. The first one called Free From School is about my experiences travelling around India when I was fifteen. It was then that I learnt snake handling. The second called The Call of the Snake is about my most interesting and amusing experiences as a snake rescuer in Goa. The third one is called Birds of Goa where I only contributed the photographs for the book written by a German colleague Heinz Leiner. I’m hoping to get the fourth one out soon.

Birds of Goa is a glossy book where the photos are mine and written by Heinz Leiner, who has had 35 years of bird watching experience in 2013. The beautiful volume is published by the Forest Department, Government of Goa in association with the Goa Foundation.

It is a great combination of science and art, with authoritative information on the habitat, population, distribution, migration, breeding status and any other locally relevant data of all the 440 plus bird species. It has hundreds of pictures of birds, exquisite, extraordinary, always in action. Never thought so many “feathered friends” have holed up in such a small corner of the planet. In fact, most people will depart this earth without even having seen these beauties. The simple one-syllable word ‘snake’ readily conjures up waves of terror in the hearts of most people. The book The Call of the Snake will help you change your mind – and successfully treat your inherited fears – about these creatures. It contains consummate little stories about snakes I have come across on my snake-catching rounds.

I have related it with a fine sense of humour and with great attention to detail, while also keeping you wholly enthralled and entertained. After you have read and enjoyed them, you will see snakes differently forever; as friends and not as mortal enemies. In addition, critically useful information about snakes and how you can survive a venomous snake bite is also included. It’s not every day that a 16-year-old writes a book. In fact, girls and boys of that age spend time studying what other people write and have nothing interesting to say. And the education system guarantees just that – rewarding those who can parrot answers. Those who try to use their imagination or reply differently are often punished with low grades.

I did not set out to write a book, but under the encouragement of my parents, I consciously set out to try my hand at learning things outside the school framework, and as a result, Free From School emerged.

Rahul Alvares is an avid photographer

Rahul Alvares is an avid photographer

After SSC, unlike my other classmates, I opted out of schooling to follow my instincts. It was the best thing I could do back then. I was fond of reptiles, and chased them at the Pune Snake Park, and at the Crocodile Bank at Mamallapuram. In the process, I also picked up trails of spiders, earthworms and turtles. I caught snakes in the company of Irula tribals, and got bitten by hot-tempered reptiles, but came out of it all grinning and wiser.

This book is my story of a year out of school, when the learning graph of my young life went up leaps and bounds. I wrote it to encourage other boys and girls of my age to move out of the sterile school and college environment offered by India’s antiquated educational system, if they wish to experience another side to life and learning. I lost nothing but gained a lot, and so did my parents.

Should the government give any kind of encouragement to your profession?
Of course! It would be swell if the government encouraged wildlife conservation as much as they encourage growth in other sectors of our country. Today, progress often comes at the cost of destroying forests and biodiversity. It doesn’t have to be that way.

What have you learnt from the snakes, the birds, and insects which human beings could very well emulate? Are we doing much for them?
Live in the moment! No, we aren’t doing much at all. Look around…forests are being flattened to make space for buildings and roads. With the forests gone, the animals are gone too. What’s needed is to protect all existing forests. Animals can look after themselves so long as their home is intact.

What is this bird trip all about?
I take small groups of enthusiasts on birding trips apart from showing my snake-wrangling skills. Happy punters get to see golden orioles, scarlet minivets, sunbirds, rufous woodpeckers, kingfishers, and an orange headed thrush… and that on a bad day too.

What do you offer in your photography workshop?
I conduct a one to three-day photography workshop, all year round. It’s a crash course in wildlife photography, and guarantees you will with my training methods, learn more about photography in three days than you will learn in two years on your own.

The workshop covers everything you need to know about your camera (ISO, exposure compensation, white balance, focussing systems, etc.) and everything you need to know about editing your images on your computer (light room and photoshop software). Besides, we visit the best spots to photograph our subjects!

What about your snake trips?
They are most unusual and particularly recommended for those who’ve harboured an irrational fear of snakes all their lives. Within three hours you go from herpetophobia to philia.

Can your trips be customised?
One can even have their own customised trips. I conduct such overnight trips to Dandeli, Mollem National Park, Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary and other day trips to Carambolim Lake, Neura Wetlands, Morjim Beach, Aguada Lighthouse, Arpora Woods, Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary and other birding areas.

In conclusion, has the reputation of your famous father ever intimidated you?
No. I admire him for his work and the person he is. He is the kind of writer that I could only dream of being. And his work as a social activist is something I have immense respect for. But I’m happy with the things I do, and have my own life which is very different from his.

Rahul Alvares can be contacted at: Mob: +91-9881-961071 Res: +91-0832-2268617 and rahulalvares@gmail.com


a-radha-new

A. Radhakrishnan, a Pune-based freelance journalist, with close to four decades of experience in mainstream print journalism, is aiming for the digital platform. Making friends interests him and for company, he loves music and books. He also writes short stories and indulges in poetry.

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