Saturday, July 5, 2008

Their Voices Will Survive Forever A passionate young man's quest to save the sounds of birds

Published 2008-07-05 03:16 (KST)

For the last three years, Gautam Sapkota has been after birds and only birds. He follows birds in national parks, forests, nearby gardens and the central zoo in Kathmandu and spends his time imitating their sounds -- the way the birds communicate with each other in different situations. And it is hard to believe that within a span of three years, he has been able to mimic 151 different types of birds.

"I know the birds won't be here forever, they are being killed and getting extinct due to loss of habitat and human encroachment," he says. "Although I won't be able to save them, I will preserve their voices."

Although there are many exotic birds, crows are Gautam's best friends. He can communicate with the crows more efficiently. He opines that these birds use only a few basic sounds to communicate things like "come," "go," "run, there's danger," "let's gather, one of us is in danger" and a few others.

It was his long study and experience that allowed him to call a conference of crows during the auspicious festival of Kag Tihar (the first day of the Hindu festival of Deepawali, when people worship the crow, the messenger of Yama, the god of death). Hundreds of crows came, responding to his calls at the Open Theater in Kathmandu.

"They are my friends, and they come to me when I call them," says Gautam. "They know that their friend needs their help and flock to me."

Once hounded by the media, he has been surviving on the presentations that he holds everyday in different schools. So far, he has visited more than 6,500 schools in 45 districts of Nepal, interacting, entertaining and educating the kids about birds, their habitats, their ways of life and their calls.


When asked what inspired him to take up this hobby, he says, "When I was a little kid, I wondered how people imitated animals. … When I grew up, I realized that I could mimic a lot of different sounds, so I started my journey and the beautiful birds became my friends."

He can also imitate other animals. Following and studying the monkeys of Swayambhunath stupa and Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu, he has learned their sounds, too. He can initiate a brawl between two or more monkeys. And if you really pester him, he can arrange for all the monkeys to attack you at once in a gang.

You would never get bored with his bird calls. However, to entertain students better he has composed songs in different bird voices. An album of popular Nepali folk songs remixed in the voice of different birds (particularly the heron's voice) is on the offing.

Although born in a lesser-known Gadhi village of Makwanpur district in central Nepal, he is aspiring to record his feat with Guinness World Records. He is in correspondence with its officials and they are positive about recording this extraordinary feat.

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