Romulus Whitaker

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Romulus Whitaker
Mr. Romulus Whitaker.JPG
Born (1943-05-23) 23 May 1943 (age 73)
United States
Nationality Indian
Education BSc (wildlife management)
Alma mater Pacific Western University
Occupation Herpetologist, Conservationist
Known for Wildlife film-making, Herpetology, Rolex Award

Romulus Earl Whitaker (born 23 May 1943) is a herpetologist, wildlife conservationist and founder of the Madras Snake Park, The Andaman and Nicobar Environment Trust (ANET), and the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust. In 2008, Whitaker was selected as an Associate Laureate in the 2008 Rolex Awards for Enterprise, for his efforts to create a network of rainforest research stations throughout India. [1] In 2005 he was a winner of a Whitley Award for outstanding leadership in nature conservation. He used this award and found the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station in Karnataka, for the study of King Cobras and their habitat.

Work in India[edit]

Ghariyal and Turtles at the Crocodile Bank

Whitaker was the founder director of the Snake Park in Chennai. The park was conceived to rehabilitate the Irula tribe who are known for their expertise in catching snakes. The tribals were left jobless after the ban of snake trading. Whitaker helped the Irula tribe to get involved in extracting snake venom used for the production of antivenom drugs. Rom is the Founder-Director of the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust Centre for Herpetology, actively involved in crocodile breeding and conservation programs. [2]

Whitaker is currently coordinating an effort to save the Gharial, a Critically endangered species of Crocodilia on the brink of extinction with less than 250 individuals left in Indian waters. [3]

King Cobra at Agumbe Rainforest Research Station

On 27 December 2010, the Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh, during a visit with Rom at the Madras Crocodile Bank, announced the formation of a National Tri-State Chambal Sanctuary Management and Coordination Committee for gharial conservation on 1,600 km2 of the National_Chambal_Sanctuary for Ghariyals along the Chambal River in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. The Committee will comprise representatives of the states Water Resources Ministries, State Departments of Irrigation and Power, Wildlife Institute of India, Madras Crocodile Bank Trust, the Gharial Conservation Alliance, Development Alternatives, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Worldwide Fund for Nature and the Divisional Forest officers of the three States. The Committee will plan strategies for protection of gharials and their habitat. This will involve further research on the species and its ecology and socio-economic evaluation of dependent riparian communities. Funding for this new initiative will be mobilized as a sub-scheme of the ‘Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats’ in the amount of Rs.50 million to 80 million (USD 1 million to 1.7 million) each year for five years. This project has long been advocated by Rom Whitaker. [4] [5]

Professional affiliations[edit]

Rom is Honorary Consultant, International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources/Species Survival Commission (IUCN/SSC), Vice Chairman (Western Asia), IUCN/SSC Crocodile Specialist Group, Member, IUCN/SSC Indian Subcontinent Reptile and Amphibian Group and Member, IUCN/SSC Sea Turtle Specialist Group.

He is a Member of the Advisory Committee and the Editorial Board of the Bombay Natural History Society, as well as Correspondent, The Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, USA; Advisor, Irula Tribal Women's’ Welfare Society, Afforestation Project; Member, Centre for Science and Education, New Delhi; Member, Centre for Environment Education, Ahmedabad and Founder-Member, Tamil Nadu Society for Social Forestry Research. He is also Chief Technical Advisor, Irula Snake Catchers’ Industrial Cooperative Society; Convenor, Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), Andaman and Nicobar Islands Chapter; and Founder – Member, Palni Hills Conservation Council.[6]

Popular culture[edit]

He was producer of the 1996, 53 minute, Super 16 mm wildlife documentary The King and I made for the National Geographic Channel Explorer program. This film on the natural history of the King cobra, the largest venomous snake in the world, received the Emmy Award for Outstanding News and Documentary Program Achievement, 1998. It also received Best Photography Award, Progetto Natura 8th Stambecco d'Oro Nature Film Festival, Turin, 1997; Nominated for Best Cinematography, Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival 1997; Emmy Nomination for Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft-Cinematographers and News & Documentary, 1998 and nominated for Best Animal Behaviour, Wildscreen Film Festival 1998.

In February 2007, he was the subject of a critically acclaimed documentary produced by Icon Films and WNET (and broadcast as Supersize Crocs on PBS's Nature series) on oversized crocodiles, which was filmed in India, Ethiopia and Australia.

In January 2009, Whitaker was in another Nature documentary on real-life reptiles such as Komodo dragons and Dracos that inspired tales of dragons.

In February 2011 BBC Natural World followed Whitaker during his ongoing research into the causes and prevention of snake bites in India.

He has authored several scientific articles and popular books on reptiles, especially on snakes, including the comprehensive field guide, titled "Snakes of India - The Field Guide" in 2004.[7] on the Snakes of India. [6] [8]


Rom and his sister Gail (born 1939) grew up in New York City. After the birth of his sister Nina, his mother Doris Norden and his stepfather, Rama Chattopadhyaya moved the family to India when Rom was seven. Rom's stepfather was a pioneer in color film processing in Bombay (now Mumbai) for Bollywood. His brother Neelkanth was born in Mumbai in 1953. Rom continued his education (begun in New York) at the Kodaikanal International School (class of 1960). He studied briefly at Wyoming University. During the early Vietnam era he was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he trained and was a medic on a military base hospital in Japan.

After his Army tour of duty, he apprenticed from 1963 to 1965 at the Miami Serpentarium with Bill Haast, whom he affectionately calls "guru". A short career in the Merchant Navy brought him back to India. He married Zai Whitaker in 1974. Two sons, Nikhil and Samir were born from this first marriage. In 1986, He earned a B.Sc. in Wildlife management from Pacific Western University. Whitaker is a naturalized Indian citizen; he currently lives in Chengalpattu town in Tamil Nadu. He married again after a divorce and lives with his wife, Janaki Lenin, on a farm south of Chennai.[citation needed]

He is also a licensed amateur radio operator, holding an Indian callsign, VU2WIT.[9]

Honors, Awards, and Other Recognitions[edit]

Romulus Whitaker became the Associate Laureate in Rolex Awards in 2008
Won the Whitley Award in 2005 for his work...


  1. ^ Dickie, Phil (2008). "Romulas Whitaker, Unconventional conservationist". The Rolex Awards for Enterprise. The Rolex Institute. Retrieved 2009-01-29. 
  2. ^ Raghavan, T. L. (2009). "Romulus Whitaker - His Story". Environment. Chennai Online. Retrieved 2009-01-29. 
  3. ^ "Mystery of crocs' mass die-off". Science and Environment. BBC News. 2008-12-02. Retrieved 2009-01-29. 
  4. ^ Lenin, Janaki (1010-12-27). "New Government of India initiative for gharial conservation". Janaki Lenin's Facebook Notes. Madras Crocodile Bank, Chennai, India.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. ^ Oppilli, P. (2010-12-27). "A sanctuary Coming Up for Ghariyals". S & T, ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT. The Hindu, Chennai. Retrieved 2010-12-27. 
  6. ^ a b "Earl Whitaker". Resume. Wildlife Central. Retrieved 2009-01-29. 
  7. ^ Romulus Whitaker & Ashok Captain, (2004) Snakes of India: The Field Guide. Draco Books, Chennai.
  8. ^ "Alumni Profile: Romulus "Rom" Whitaker (Class of 1960)" (PDF). KIS Alumni Newsletter. KIS Alumni Association. August 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-29. 
  9. ^

External sources[edit]