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Salim Ali
Early life:

Orphaned at a young age, Salim Ali was brought up by his maternal uncle, Amiruddin Tyabji in a middle-class muslim household in Khetwadi, Mumbai. He was introduced to the study of birds when he met W.S. Millard, secretary of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) to help him identify an unusually coloured sparrow that he had shot for sport. Millard identified it as a yellow-throated sparrow, and showed him around the Society's collection of stuffed birds. This was a key event in his life and Salim took a keen interest in birds and pursued a career in ornithology, an unusual career choice in those days. Salim Ali's cousin Humayun Abdulali also became an ornithologist.

Burma and Germany:

Following a difficult first year in college, Salim Ali dropped out and went to Tavoy, Burma to look after the family mining and timber interests there. The forests surrounding this area provided an opppurtunity for Ali to hone his naturalist (and hunting) skills. On his return to India in 1917, he resumed his education, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts (Honors) degree in Zoology. He married a distant relation, Tehmina in 1918.

Lacking an advanced degree, Ali failed to get an ornithologist's position at the Zoological Survey of India and decided to study further after he was hired as guide lecturer at the newly opened natural history section in the Prince of Wales Museum in Mumbai. He went on study leave to Germany where he trained under Professor Erwin Stresemann.

The Princely States:

On his return, still unable to find a suitable job, Ali undertook systematic bird surveys of the various princely states under the sponsorship of those states. He was aided in his surveys by advice from Hugh Whistler. He wrote "My chief interest in bird study has always been its ecology, its life history under natural conditions and not in a laboratory under a microscope. By travelling to these remote, uninhabited places, I could study the birds as they lived and behaved in their habitats."

Ali rediscovered a rare weaver-bird species, Finn's Baya in the Kumaon Terai region, but failed to find the Mountain Quail (Ophrysia superciliosa) although he attempted an expedition to find it.

He was accompanied on all the early ornithological surveys by his wife for which he was always grateful. In 1939, Salim Ali's wife Tehmina died suddenly after minor surgery.

Salim Ali was very influential in ensuring the survival of the BNHS and managed to save the 200-year old institution by writing to the then Prime Minister Pandit Nehru for financial help.

Although recognition came late, he received numerous awards including the J. Paul Getty International Award, the Golden Ark of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the golden medal of the British Ornithologists' Union (a rarity for a non-Britisher), the Padma Shri and the Padma Vibhushan from the Indian Government, three honorary doctorates, and numerous other awards. He was nominated to the Rajya Sabha in 1985. Dr. Ali's influence helped save the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary and the Silent Valley National Park. In 1990, the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology & Natural History (SACONH) was established at Kalayampalayam, Coimbatore, aided by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government of India.He also took an interest bird photography along with his friend Loke Wan Tho.Dr. Salim Ali died in 1987 at the age of 91 after a prolonged battle with prostate cancer.


Salim Ali has written a number of popular and academic books, many of which have become standard references and guides for the study of birds in the Indian subcontinent. He is the author of

Fall of a Sparrow, (Autobiography) (1985)
The Book of Indian Birds, Bombay: BNHS (1941), ISBN 0-195-66523-6
Handbook of the Birds of India & Pakistan (Vols. 1-10) with Sidney Dillon Ripley, Bombay: Oxford University Press(OUP) (1964-74)
Common Birds with Laeeq Futehally, New Delhi: National Book Trust(NBT) (1967)
A Pictorial Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent with Dillon Ripley, Bombay: OUP (1983)
Common Indian Birds, A Picture Album New Delhi: NBT (1968)
Hamare Parichat Pakshee with Laeeq Futehally (Hindi). New Delhi: NBT (1969)
Handbook of the Birds of India & Pakistan (compact edition) with Ripley, D., Bombay: OUP (1987)
The Book of Indian Birds (12th and enlarged centenary ed.) New Delhi: BNHS & OUP (1996)
Bird Study in India: Its History and its Importance New Delhi: ICCR (1979)
The Great Indian Bustard (Vols.1-2). with Rahmani, A. Bombay: BNHS (1982-89)

Regional Guides
Birds of Bhutan with Biswas, B. & Ripley, D., Calcutta: Zoological Survey of India (1996)
The Birds of Bombay and Salsette with H. Abdulali, Bombay: Prince of Wales Museum (1941)
The Birds of Kutch, London: OUP (1945)
Indian Hill Birds Bombay: OUP (1949)
The Birds of Travancore and Cochin Bombay: OUP (1953)
The Birds of Gujarat Bombay: Gujarat Research Society (1956)
A Picture Book of Sikkim Birds Gangtok: Government of Sikkim (1960)
The Birds of Sikkim Delhi: OUP (1962)
Birds of Kerala Madras: OUP (1969)
Field Guide to the Birds of the Eastern Himalayas Bombay: OUP (1977)
The Vernay Scientific Survey of the Eastern Ghat; Ornithological Section—Together with The Hyderabad State Ornithological Survey 1930-38 with Hugh Whistler, Norman Boyd Kinnear (undated)

Technical Studies and Reports
Studies on the Movement and Population of Indian Avifauna Annual Reports I-4. with Hussain, S.A., Bombay: BNHS (1980-86)
Ecological Reconnaissance of Vedaranyam Swamp, Thanjavur District, Tamil Nadu Bombay: BNHS (1980)
Harike Lake Avifauna Project (co-author) Bombay: BNHS (1981)
Ecological Study of Bird Hazard at Indian Aerodromes (Vols. I & 2). with Grubh, R. Bombay: BNHS (1981-89)
Potential Problem Birds at Indian Aerodromes with Grubh, R. Bombay: BNHS
The Lesser Florican in Sailana with Rahmani et al. Bombay: BNHS (1984)
Strategy for Conservation of Bustards in Maharashtra (co-author) Bombay: BNHS (1984)
The Great Indian Bustard in Gujarat (co-author) Bombay: BNHS (1985)
Keoladeo National Park Ecology Study with Vijayan, S., Bombay: BNHS (1986)
A.Study of Ecology of Some Endangered Species of Wildlife and Their Habitat. The Floricans with Daniel J.C. & Rahmani, Bombay: BNHS (1986)
Status and Ecology of the Lesser and Bengal Floricans with Reports on Jerdon’s Courser and Mountain Quail Bombay: BNHS (1990)
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