On a trip to Botswana this year, Dattaraj Salgaocar saw from close quarters a scene that remains firmly etched in his mind. This incident involved a leopard climbing a tree as it was being followed by a group of hyenas. Soon, there was a large pack of wild dogs and in barely half hour, an elephant herd was out in large numbers trumpeting away. “I loved this interaction and found it fascinating. Such incidents give me a big kick,” says Salgaocar.
Exploring wildlife is Salgaocar’s way to beat stress and photography is merely an accompaniment. “Wildlife is my passion and the camera helps capture some of the memories,” says the managing director of the Goa-based VM Salgaocar group. His first big wildlife trip was to Kenya in 1995, and his enduring relationship with the “call of the wild”, as he likes to put it, began back then.
Salgaocar now plans his holidays around a wildlife destination or a safari. Last year, it was Tanzania and this year, it was the Okavango delta, Selinda and Linyanti reserves in Botswana. “These are completely wild and extremely untouched locations,” says the 58-year-old Salgaocar, adding that he prefers Botswana since hunting is prohibited there. “Animals are not spooked and therefore you don’t find them to be ferocious too.”
Each year, he sets aside 12 days a year only to explore a wildlife destination. “The experience is invigorating, energising, relaxing and meditative. To me, it is a good way to have my internal and external energies aligned,” says Salgaocar. “You feel one with nature.”
Wildlife is not a once-a-year break for Salgaocar -— it’s a passion he keeps alive by engaging with it in some way or the other through the year. “I watch a lot of shows on Animal Planet, Discovery and National Geographic. I subscribe to Africa Geographic and constantly get alerts on my phone,” he says. He loves to read about wildlife too. “I have a collection of over 500 books and DVDs on the subject and that is how I keep the interest going.”
There is a bit of a background to Salgaocar’s passion for wildlife. His mother had a soft spot for animals. “We housed cats, dogs and buffaloes. After moving to a bigger house, the expanse of the new home meant making room for Goa’s abundance of life such as snakes, mongooses, porcupines and monkeys,” he narrates. The fascination for animals took off in a big way after he visited the family’s farms in Mollem and Collem in Goa.
Salgaocar took to photography because of his love for wildlife. “I thought it would be nice to share the magical knowledge on the subject that I had gained through photography,” he says. He started with a modest camera in the early 1990s and now uses a Nikon D4. “When photography went digital, my DSLR and telephoto lenses gave me a new-found freedom,” he says cheerfully. But when he is not lugging along his heavy camera bag, he has his iPhone and binoculars handy anytime, anywhere.
The biggest challenge — although an exciting one — Salgaocar faces every year is how to zero in on a destination. “How I would love to go to the Republic of Congo to see the gorillas… but if you really think about it, it’s not a walk in the park due to safety concerns,” admits Salgaocar. Every trip requires some serious background work. “I plan all my trips a year in advance so that I can set aside time from my work schedule. Luckily, my family shares my passion for wildlife and I combine family vacations with safaris.”
Back home, Salgaocar’s favourite wildlife destination is Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh, where the tiger population is sizeable. But Africa remains an eternal favourite for him. “To me, it is like going to the cradle of civilisation. It’s the place where we all came from. The atmosphere is primeval and as old as time,” he says.