Romulus Whitaker

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Romulus Whitaker
Mr. Romulus Whitaker.JPG
Born (1943-05-23) 23 May 1943 (age 76)
New York City, United States
ResidenceTamil Nadu, India
EducationBSc (wildlife management)
Alma materPacific Western University
OccupationHerpetologist, Conservationist
Known forWildlife film-making, Herpetology, Rolex Award
Spouse(s)Janaki Lenin

Romulus Earl Whitaker (born 23 May 1943) is an Indian 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.

For his work in wildlife conservation, he received the Padma Shri award in 2018.[2]

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. [3]

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. [4]

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 (US$1 to US$1.7 million) each year for five years. This project has long been advocated by Rom Whitaker. [5] [6]

Professional affiliations[edit]

Whitaker is a member of the Advisory Committee and the Editorial Board of the Bombay Natural History Society, correspondent of The Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, USA, advisor of Irula Tribal Women's’ Welfare Society, Afforestation Project, member of the Centre for Science and Education, New Delhi and of the Centre for Environment Education, Ahmedabad. He co-founded the Tamil Nadu Society for Social Forestry Research and the Palni Hills Conservation Council. He is chief technical advisor of Irula Snake Catchers’ Industrial Cooperative Society and convenor of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Chapter.[7] He is honorary consultant of 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 of IUCN/SSC Reptile and Amphibian Group and of IUCN/SSC Sea Turtle Specialist Group.[citation needed]

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 [8] on the snakes of India. [7] [9]

In 2018 he received the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian awards in India for Distinguish services in wild life conservation.[10]


Whitaker was born in New York City, United States. His mother, Doris Norden, was an artist and his father served in the United States Army. After his parents divorced, his mother married Rama Chattopadhyay, son of Kamaladevi and Harindranath Chattopadhyaya.[11] Rom and his sister Gail (born 1939) grew up in New York City. After the birth of his sister Nina, his mother and his stepfather, Ram, moved the family to Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1951. Rom's stepfather was a pioneer in color film processing and established India's first colour motion picture processing lab in Worli. 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.[citation needed]

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, who was the niece of Dr. Salim Ali[12] 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.[13][14]

He is also a licensed amateur radio operator, holding an Indian callsign, VU2WIT.[15]

Honors, Awards, and Other Recognitions[edit]

  • He won the Whitley Award (considered as top U.K. conservation prize) in 2005 for his work.[16]
  • He became the Associate Laureate in Rolex Awards in 2008.[17]
  • A species of Indian boa, Eryx whitakeri, is named in honor of Romulus Whitaker.[18]
  • Romulus Whitaker was awarded the Padma Sri (the fourth highest civilian award) by the Government of India for his work done in the field of Wild Life Conservation in the year 2018.


  1. ^ Dickie, Phil (2008). "Romulus Whitaker, Unconventional conservationist". The Rolex Awards for Enterprise. The Rolex Institute. Archived from the original on 13 February 2009. Retrieved 29 January 2009.
  2. ^ Crocodile Specialist Group (2018). "Minutes of CSG Steering Committee Meeting, Santa Fe, Argentina, 6 May 2018: 3.5. Zoos" (PDF). CSG Steering Committee Meetings (2018): 10.
  3. ^ Raghavan TL (2009). "Romulus Whitaker - His Story". Environment. Chennai Online. Archived from the original on 14 December 2008. Retrieved 29 January 2009.
  4. ^ "Mystery of crocs' mass die-off". Science and Environment. BBC News. 2 December 2008. Retrieved 29 January 2009.
  5. ^ Lenin, Janaki (27 December 2010). "New Government of India initiative for gharial conservation". Janaki Lenin's Facebook Notes. Madras Crocodile Bank, Chennai, India.
  6. ^ Oppilli P (27 December 2010). "A sanctuary coming up for Ghariyals". S & T, ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT. The Hindu, Chennai. Retrieved 27 December 2010.
  7. ^ a b "Earl Whitaker". Resume. Wildlife Central. Retrieved 29 January 2009.
  8. ^ Whitaker, Romulus; Captain, Ashok (2004). Snakes of India: The Field Guide. Archived 28 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine Chennai: Draco Books.
  9. ^ "Alumni Profile: Romulus "Rom" Whitaker (Class of 1960)" (PDF). KIS Alumni Newsletter. KIS Alumni Association. August 2008. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 November 2010. Retrieved 29 January 2009.
  10. ^ "6 Padma awardees are pride and joy of Tamil Nadu". The Times of India. 26 January 2018. Retrieved 26 January 2018.
  11. ^ "Meet Rom Whitaker". Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  12. ^ Salim Mamoo and Me.
  13. ^ "There are no other books like 'My husband and other animals' in the Indian market: Janaki Lenin". Zee News. 25 December 2012. Retrieved 27 January 2018.
  14. ^ "There's never a dull moment in life: Janaki Lenin". The Times of India. 5 February 2013. Retrieved 27 January 2018.
  15. ^
  16. ^ "King Cobra Research Station, Western Ghats, India". whitleyaward. Whitley Fund for Nature. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  17. ^ "romulus whitaker". rolex awards. Rolex Awards for Enterprise. Retrieved 26 February 2018.
  18. ^ Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. ("Whitaker, R.", p. 284).

External sources[edit]