Humayun Abdulali bigraphy, stories - Ornithologist

Humayun Abdulali : biography

May 19, 1914 - June 3, 2001

Humayun Abdulali (May 19, 1914 in Kobe, Japan - June 3, 2001 in Mumbai ) was an Indian ornithologist and naturalist and a cousin of Salim Ali, also known as "birdman of India". Like many other naturalists of his time his interest began with a collection of bird eggs and an interest in shikar.

Early years and education

Humayun Abdulali was born in Kobe in 1914 to Lulu and Najmuddin Faizalhussain Abdulali, a businessman who imported raw cotton and safety matches from India. In an unfinished autobiography (incorporated in the book Humayan Abdulali - Naturalist Portrait and Tribute), he wrote that his interest in natural history may have been cultivated at an early age at the English Mission School in Kobe, while reading stories from English and American literature about cowboys and the wild west. The Abdulali family relocated to Mumbai (then Bombay), India in 1924.

Humayun went to primary school at St Xavier's High School and later graduated from St. Xavier's College, Mumbai in 1936 with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) degree with the Narayan Vasudev Prize. While studying zoology at St Xavier's College, he started collecting birds for the college in 1932.

After completing his graduation and working for a year, he joined his father's business (Faiz and Co) of exporting scrap iron to Japan. He bought a second-hand 10/12 HP Harley Davidson to travel extensively in and around Bombay. He also bought an old Lancia Tourer, which he used for several months. In 1938, he and his friend Boman Patuck met with a motorcycle accident, which left them seriously injured. A policeman who had hitched a ride with them died in the accident. Humayun was charged with rash and negligent driving and subsequently acquitted by a court in Bombay. He replaced the motorbike with a Morris Minor in 1939, which he used until his death.


  • Some peculiarities of avifaunal distribution in Peninsular India


Salim Ali introduced Humayun to the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). He became a member of the society in 1931, the year in which his first note titled "Eleven Koel eggs in a Crow's nest" was published in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society (JBNHS). His second note, published in the journal in 1934 earned him further acclaim as a naturalist. He published 348 notes in his lifetime on birds, snakes, frogs and other fauna. A six-part series based on his collection done at St Xavier's college and on birds spotted in an around Bombay, co-authored by Salim Ali, and titled "The Birds of Bombay and Salsette", was published between 1936 and 1938 in the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. The series documents various species of crow, munia, sparrow, wagtail, sunbird, woodpecker, cuckoo, and so on. Subsequently, the two continued to document their observations of the birds spotted in these areas in the journal.

The assistant curator at BNHS, Charles McCann helped Humayun in identifying the specimens he had collected during his excursions. The two became good friends. After McCann's death, Humayun donated seed money for the Charles McCann Vertebrate Fieldwork Fund instituted by the BNHS to promote field research.

Humayun was elected to the Executive Committee of the BNHS in 1942. His greatest contribution was cataloguing the specimens in the collection of the BNHS. During his tenure as the Honorary Secretary at BNHS from 1950 to 1962 , he was instrumental in the cataloguing of the bird skins in BNHS' collection. He also led two expeditions to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 1964 and 1966.

He was instrumental in drafting the Bombay Wild Animals and Wild Birds Protection Act of 1951. He was also responsible for the protection and designation of the Borivali National Park.

Several species including a new species of frog Nyctibatrachus humayuni, also known as the Bombay Night Frog, and a new species of Nicobar Scops Owl Otus alius have been named after him. He also described the Andaman sub-species of the Black Baza.

His work on frogs in agricultural ecosystems helped in the establishment of a ban on frog leg exports by the Indian Government.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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