Rauf Saad Ali, the seniormost founding trustee of FERAL, breathed his last on the 1st of April 2016.
Rauf slipped into a coma about 7pm the previous evening, shortly after insisting he be taken to his favourite round table under the neem tree outside his house in Auroville. His last conscious minutes were the chitchat and cheerful banter of friends and family. Rauf, to many of us in the ecology community, was much more than just a mischievous, provocative and eccentric scientist. He was a person of intellect with incisive logic and depth of knowledge in the subject.
FERAL would not have existed without Rauf. He put the trust together and steered it during its formative years, bringing in funds for projects such as mangrove restoration, tourism potential studies in KMTR and later, for work in the Nicobars. Rauf gave us the much needed legitimacy of a fledgling organisation and furiously networked to put us among the few research based conservation groups working in South India. Rauf injected fun and enthusiasm into the organisation, he also did his bit of “stirring the pot” as he called it, provoking thought and pushing us into taking bigger and newer challenges. He was a managing trustee a number of times - grudgingly accepting the responsibility as the post revolved round to him. Almost always, he was quick to relinquish the position to one of the junior trustees - he simply hated administration!
Rauf was not known for diplomacy, predisposed as he was to calling a spade a spade. His presence often caused anxious moments for those unable to deal with the “Rauf package” - some thought twice before inviting him to a major conference, just in case he sabotage the plot! To most of us, however, he was a valuable resource as a scientist, a solid friend to turn to during both professional and personal crisis and a great chap to hang around with for a drink, or more. Those who didn't know him personally, often referred to him as the nephew of Salim Ali, one of the greatest ornithologists India has seen. Behavioural ecologists would have come across Rauf’s pioneering work on primate behaviour in the Kalakadu Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve, that was part of his PhD. He wrote insightful articles both in scientific and popular journals covering a myriad of topics from stray and feral dogs to wildlife corridors and the problem of invasive species in the Andaman and Nicobar islands.
The last was his passion - to the extent that he had acquired a small plot of land to serve as a field station for researchers in the Andamans. To facilitate research in Andaman ecology was one of his most fervent desires, as was his dedication to the teaching of biological sciences. Rauf did not publish much by today's standards - which he considered a rat race. He did not care much for academic laurels - having been burned more than once by the system. But he did work for a long time on a book about his life - and the people in it. His friends were charged with the task of ensuring this book gets published in the coming months. Do it we will, knowing fully well that he's probably pulled our legs and twisted a few tales his way. It does look like Rauf is going to have the last laugh after all!
We will miss him dearly