In 1974, a 20-year-old Toby Sinclair climbed into an old minibus with some friends for a road trip that would change the course of his life. After travels through Europe and the Middle East, they drove into Asia where he says he “caught the travel bug.”
Four months later, thinner and poorer, Sinclair finally returned home to Great Britain. It didn’t take him long, however, to begin his next adventure, this time with a six-month stint in Kathmandu, Nepal, helping set up a whitewater rafting company. Six months became 18, and then in 1977, he moved to New Delhi where he helped establish the tour company Mountain Travel India.
“I had no plans to stay, but it was a fun way to live and to spend time while I tried to work out what I would do with my life,” he said. Forty years later, Sinclair is still living in India. “This is not a rejection of my roots,” he insists. “I was born in Britain and will always be British. In fact, I find the transition seamless when I get off the plane at Heathrow. But I do start getting a bit anxious after about 10 days away when I want a good curry and the scent of India.”
A couple years after moving to India, Sinclair helped a friend acquire permits to film elephants in the country. This led to requests from others for his advice and guidance, and in 1995 he assisted on a BBC series called “Land of the Tiger.” Sinclair has now worked on more than 100 BBC programs—and dozens more for other companies—helping to brainstorm filming ideas with producers, obtain required permits and organize logistics of the shoot.
Many of these filmmakers were interested in filming Bengal tigers. “I have probably seen over 1,000 individual tigers in the wild since my first sighting in 1976,” Sinclair said. “I have been incredibly lucky.”
“I have probably seen over 1,000 individual tigers in the wild since my first sighting in 1976. . .I have been incredibly lucky.”
Through the decades, Sinclair has been concerned about the tiger’s future. “I thought tigers might survive in a few pockets up to 2000,” he said. “I was proved wrong. The tiger defied us.” There are now an estimated 3,200 tigers in the wild.
Sinclair remains worried about the big cat’s future, however, noting that less than 4 percent of India’s land is protected as national parks, tiger reserves and sanctuaries. He has become immersed in tourism and conservation efforts. “I think tourism is a fact of life that can be used as a tool for raising awareness and to help protect some places,” he said.
Today Sinclair is a member of the Government of India Steering Committee on Protected Management, the co-founder and vice president of the Ecotourism Society of India, and a trustee of the Global Tiger Patrol. In 2007, he won the Carl Zeiss Wildlife Conservation Award. He’s also written multiple books about South Asia and its wildlife.
Despite his jam-packed schedule, Sinclair makes time to lead two to three tours each year. “The trips give me the opportunity to revisit places I love, and to share my love for South Asia’s history and culture,” he said.
By Marsea Nelson, WWF guest blogger