Come September and the sleepy town of Keechan in Western Rajasthan wakes up to the loud rattling calls of Demoiselle Cranes loitering around their village. By November Keechan is filled with at least 14000 of these elegant birds, which is a rare and beautiful sight. The people of Keechan have one man to thank –Ratanlal Maloo.
The Story of Ratanlal Maloo
What started with the intention of following the teachings of Jainism, – Ratanlal Maloo’s religion- became a phenomenon beyond anyone’s wildest imagination.
The story begins five decades ago, when Ratanlal Maloo’s uncle asked him to feed the pigeons, peacocks and other birds near the temple. Maloo and his wife took with them a sack of grains and did exactly that.
Around the month of September Maloo suddenly noticed a flock of black & white cranes that he had never seen before ,feeding on the seeds and grains left by him. Slowly their numbers kept increasing, until one day, they disappeared suddenly. Intrigued by these unique looking birds, Maloo did a little research and found out that these cranes are Demoiselle Cranes, that had visited Keechan from as far as Eurasia and Mongolia. He asked around and eventually got to know their migratory patterns.
Thus started his wait for these winged marvels to visit Keechan. The news of his generosity spread across the community and people began to support his efforts to keep the cranes coming back. Soon, the visit of the Demoiselle Cranes became an annual ritual that everyone looked forward to.
His Selfless Work
What Ratanlal Maloo did wasn’t just feed the birds a handful of grains. To provide for 14000 birds for 6 months requires not only a lot of grains, but money, time and selfless dedication as well. The grains alone cost him approximately 90 lakhs per year. Besides Ratanlal’s hard work, it’s the grain donation from the community that has kept the ball rolling for this cause. When Maloo noticed that the birds were in danger because of dogs that would attack and injure them, he requested the village Panchayat to provide him 1000 square meters land with a 6-footfence surrounding it for better protection. Popularly known as ‘Chugga Ghar’, the land became a home-away-from-home and a feeding hub for these wild cranes with no impending danger of dogs. He also started treating injured birds at his own cost and built a special room to keep them until they healed properly.
The Legacy He Left Behind
Regular visitors to the village and those impressed by the hard labour of love of Ratanlal Maloo, were concerned about the future of the birds after he passed away. However, Ratanlal Maloo thought way ahead in time and trained few others who have now taken the responsibility in their hands.
Ratanlal Maloo was indeed a great man, whose 40 years of dedicated selflessness and hard work gave birth to a conservation movement that rocked the world.