Romulus Whitaker's boyhood fascination with the snakes near his home in Bombay has developed into a career of getting up close with some of the world's most venomous creatures. In 1972, Whitaker founded India's first snake park, in Madras, with support from the World Wildlife Fund. Later he founded the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust Centre for Herpetology to re-establish three species of crocodiles that were nearing extinction. The bank now houses 3,000 crocodiles of 15 species. Currently, Whitaker is focusing on the Gharial crocodile, whose species has less than 250 members left in Indian waters.
At age 65, he shows no sign of slowing down. “The Dragon Chronicles,” filmed in 2008 for PBS's series Nature, shows Whitaker cave-diving in ice-cold water for Slovenian olms, climbing trees in pursuit of flying lizards in the Western Ghats, and Komodo dragon-wrestling in Indonesia. Awarded the 2005 Whitley prize, Whitaker used the £30,000 purse to start the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station, the first to be built along the whole 1,000km length of the Western Ghats. He uses the research station to study king cobras in their natural habitat.