It’s not easy to be an award-winning wildlife photographer, more so when you’re the CEO of one of the renowned and widely growing printing company like DESCO. But then we’re talking about Thomas Vijayan, who’s not only passionate about photography but also uses it to create awareness about nature and wildlife – an ISME feature.
We are all (well, at least most of us are) afraid of tigers; and know of them as aggressive and dangerous. So when Thomas Vijayan showed me a photograph of a tiger sitting atop its prey – a nilgai (the blue bull), I wasn’t surprised and viewed it merely as a regular hunting picture. But then, he shared the actual story behind the picture and that changed my entire view point. The tiger was stalking a spotted deer as its prey and didn’t intend to kill the nilgai. But the nilgai came in between and the tiger had to kill it. However, it immediately realized that the nilgai was pregnant. Slowly, it pried open the nilgai’s stomach, starting from its skin, the flesh and the entrails; it was almost like a C-Section surgery. Finally, in around 30 minutes, the tiger was able to cut open the nilgai’s insides. It gathered some fresh green leaves and tried to keep the baby nilgai safe and alive but unfortunately couldn’t.
The surreality of the situation gave a new meaning to the photograph in front of me. It was not a picture of a tiger hunting a nilgai anymore; it was the world’s most majestic and ferocious wild animal trying to save the unborn child of its prey. The picture was a living proof of tenderness and compassion from one of the world’s most dangerous animals. Exactly what Thomas Vijayan wants to show to the world, that animals do have concern for their fellow beings and they do care about them, they do not exploit the eco-system like us humans. “Animals only hunt when they are hungry and unlike human beings, animals will never hunt and stock food for their future use.”
An avid jungle lover, Thomas Vijayan can spend days and months entrenched at a place hoping for the ‘perfect click.’ Originally from Bangalore, India, Thomas has always been fascinated by the world of photography from a very young age. “I’ve been into photography since my school days. There was a bird sanctuary 100 km out of the town and I’d go there with my analog camera to take pictures of the birds. All my pocket money would go into buying the films. During those days camera films were pretty expensive and had limited options of 24-36 films; each shot was crucial and couldn’t afford to be wasted. This was a challenge for wildlife action photography”, Thomas recollects.
His interest in capturing animals and birds in action within the challenges and limitations of analog camera was probably what trained him to become the master of his craft. Thomas believes that luck plays an important role in wildlife photography but cannot be capitalized without patience and intuition. A strong wildlife photographer needs to be patient and intuitive enough to recognize the moment that luck is going to present to them.
Thomas is also the Middle East and African ambassador of Nikon and it has been around seven years since he has taken photography seriously.His passion for tigers is reflected in all his photographs.
Capturing tiger moments are not easy. According to him, “You have to collect a lot of information about them –explore their paths, understand their behavior, where are they often seen, know their range of territory, find out if there are tigers with cubs (which is by the way, is his favorite subject) – and be in touch with the forest guards and park rangers at all times.”
As expected from a wildlife enthusiast like him, Thomas doesn’t believe in disturbing the animals and their daily lives as a pretext to taking pictures. “Photography is something different, and nature is something different. You cannot go out and disturb any birds or animals in the name of photography.”
A strong believer in the conservation of nature, Thomas insists that photography is a powerful medium through which people can be made aware of their actions and their repercussions on nature, wildlife and other forms of being. A classic example is his award-winning photo of ‘A Swinging Time’ for which Thomas has received the prestigious Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2015 People’s Choice Awards. The picture showcases a family of ‘grey langoors’ (a type of monkey) hanging around a tree having a good time, where the youngest in the family used the tails of two others to make a swing for itself. A note of sadness creeps into his voice as Thomas laments the way langoors are treated in India. “People don’t even slow down (their cars) when they see a langoor on the highway; they just zoom by without caring. Every year there are so many accidents (of langoors) and so many are killed. Each of them has life and should be valued.”
Thomas believes that through his pictures he can inculcate love and affection towards these animals that majority of us are exploiting at the moment for personal benefits. He wants people to realize that they are also part of the nature and should be allowed to live peacefully. He drives home the basic tenet of human psychology when he says that people are not taking global warming seriously because they are not immediately impacted by it. However, it is a gradual change; and if people see huge melting glaciers and comprehend their effect on the entire balance of nature and life, they will be able to control it though it is impossible to stop it.
One of the primary reasons for global warming is deforestation; and this is where Thomas feels nature and wildlife photographers have role to play.
“We need strict laws to stop deforestation and poaching.” With jungles getting depleted faster than before, the existence of the tigers and the rest of the wildlife are in danger. With stricter laws being enforced in India regarding poaching and tiger conservation, and an encouraging survey that showed a 30% increase in tigers for the past two years, Thomas is hopeful that the situation might still be in control.
Thomas is pretty happy with the progress that the UAE has made in the field of wildlife pet licensing.
“Ten years back, UAE had no law regarding animals and wildlife and the residents were free to own wild animals as their pet. But now, strict rules and regulations have been implemented and anyone without a valid license isn’t allowed to keep any wild animal as their pet. Big thanks for UAE for these new laws. I believe these changes have occurred primarily because of the photographers and videographers who study these animals and create awareness about them among the general public.”
The conversation is constantly interspersed with spectacular wildlife images and nuggets of interesting knowledge like ‘the cheetah being the fastest animal but can hardly run for more than a minute; hence it starts its chase only when the prey is at a distance of 200/300 meters.’
My eyes and soul feast on the grandeur of Masai Mara, the swoop of the birds, the kingly gait of the lion and more. Before I know it, my appointment is over. I thank Thomas Vijayan, the CEO of DESCO Copy Center, and the leader of a successful thriving 30 year old business empire for his valuable time and insights and wish this wildlife lover, a soft-spoken, simple and unassuming person all the success in his efforts to protect the nature and wildlife.