Sandesh Kadur creates award-winning wildlife documentary films and photography books exposing the need to conserve threatened species and habitats around the world.
Sandesh Kadur has been sitting in a concealed blind, camera trained on a rhino carcass, for six uneventful days. Silent, back-aching, ten-hour, hundred degree days. The rhino died of natural causes and should be a mouthwatering magnet for a hungry tiger, but so far only buzzing flies have come calling. The decision to return to the blind for a seventh day seems irrational but is hugely rewarded. Not one, not two, but three stunning tigers arrive and feed-behavior never before captured on film. The week epitomizes the "three Ps" Kadur lives by: patience, perseverance, and passion.
Kadur hopes his photographs, videos, and documentaries will reveal places and species people rarely see and will inspire new passion to protect them. His work spans cloud forests and endangered sea turtles in Mexico, rain forests and king cobras in India, the breeding cycle of threatened birds in Indonesia, and orphaned clouded leopards being rehabilitated back to the Himalayan jungle. "I help people connect emotionally with the beauty of the wilderness, bring conservation issues to light, and raise awareness in a way that fosters respect and concern. I don't just want to take pretty pictures," he says. "I also try to make powerful graphic images that expose how much we are losing."
Often his work provides a first ever glimpse of certain animal behaviors in the wild. He caught the 12-foot-long stars of his king cobra documentary courting, fighting, mating, and nest building-action rarely witnessed in the wild. The locations he explores, often for many months at a time, may be the only corners of the world where particular species exist. His latest quest takes him to remote regions of the eastern Himalaya in search of the clouded leopard, a cat so elusive and undocumented that Kadur calls it the holy grail of wildlife photographers. "I'm shining a global spotlight on rare animals most people will never be able to meet face-to-face."
No place holds more personal significance to Kadur than the site of his very first documentary, the Western Ghats. This ancient mountain range in southwestern India remains one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet, home to hundreds of globally threatened species, crucial to the monsoon weather pattern, and a water source for hundreds of millions of people.
"It's very important to me to have opportunities to make films in my home country, India," Kadur notes. "In fact, the Western Ghats launched my career quite by accident." Kadur had never touched a video camera when he had the last-minute, mind-boggling opportunity to become writer-director-cameraman-editor for a Western Ghats documentary on which he was only slated to be an apprentice. He read instructions about how to turn on the camera, insert tape, and hit record on his way to the shoot. Four years later the film Sahyadris: Mountains of the Monsoons won worldwide acclaim, prestigious awards, and an international television audience.
More important to Kadur, the film and his accompanying book of photographs were part of the submission that helped convince UNESCO to name the Western Ghats a World Heritage site. "Using my work to help special places and species become protected and preserved is my ultimate dream." While pursuing that dream is anything but glamorous, he calls filming in extreme heat, monsoon downpours, and leech-infested jungles "a humbling privilege."
Ironically, his most vivid memory of the natural world happened without a camera in hand. "When I was a teenager, I had climbed up a big tree above a jungle trail that led to a watering hole. Suddenly, illuminated in full moonlight, a leopard appeared on the path directly below my dangling feet. That moment is etched in my mind more deeply than any photograph or video. I'll never forget it," he says. His passion bloomed. Given a camera, he took pictures of any creature he couldn't identify. Given a bike, he skipped school, cycled to a reserve, and observed elephants. Given a set of nature documentaries, he played and replayed them endlessly. "Those films I watched 20 years ago had such a profound impact on me. I just hope my work will have the same kind of impact on the next generation."