Whitaker, Zai

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Whitaker, Zai

(Zahida Futehali)


Born in Mumbai, India; daughter of Zafar and Laeeq Futehali; married Rom Whitaker (a naturalist), 1974; children: two sons.




Educator, naturalist, and writer. Chennai Snake Park and Crocodile Bank, Chennai, India, founder with husband, Romulus Whitaker; teacher at Abacus Montessori School, Chennai, and Kodai International School; Outreach School, Bangalore, India, principal. Consultant on wildlife preservation issues.


Up the Ghat (novel), Affiliated East-West Press (New Delhi, India), 1992.

Andamans Boy, illustrated by Ashok Rajagopalian, Tulika (Chennai, India), 1998.

(With husband, Rom Whitaker) Crocodile Fever: Wildlife Adventures in Guinea, photographs by Rom Whitaker, Orient Longman (Hyderabad, India), 1998.

Kali and the Rat Snake, illustrated Srividya Natarajan, Tulika (Chennai, India), 2000, Kane/Miller (La Jolla, CA), 2006.

Salim Ali for Schools, Permanent Black (India), 2003.

Cobra in My Kitchen: Stories, Poems, and Prose Pieces, illustrated by Saddhasattwa Basu, Rupa (India), 2005.

The Boastful Centipede and Other Creatures in Verse, illustrated by Ajanta Guhathakurta, Penguin USA (New York, NY), 2007.

Also author of Snakeman, a biography of her husband published in India. Contributor to periodicals, including International Wildlife.


A native of Mumbai, India, and the wife of noted conservationist Rom Whitaker, Zai Whitaker is principal of the Outreach School in Bangalore, where she dedicates her efforts to providing an education to the children growing up in rural areas. In her books for children, which include Cobra in MyKitchen: Stories, Poems, and Prose Pieces, Andamans Boy, and Kali and the Rat Snake, Whitaker draws on her lifelong interest in nature as well as her work as a naturalist and with the women of the Irula tribe of hunter-gatherers and snake catchers. In Cobra in My Kitchen, she collects the articles, poems, and stories she has written to share her love of nature with young children, while Andamans Boy and Kali and the Rat Snake are inspired by the knowledge Whitaker gained through her work as cofounder of the Chennai Snake Park and Crocodile Bank.

In Andamans Boy, Whitaker takes readers to the islands of the Andaman sea, home to the Jarawa tribe, where they meet ten-year-old Arif. An orphan since his parents died in an accident, Arif lives with his unloving aunt and uncle until he runs away to Chennai, and encounters a series of adventures while attempting the trip from there to the Andamans. In Kali and the Rat Snake a boy has trouble making friends at school due to the stigma attached to his father's job: the man is a snake-catcher for the Iruli tribe. However, when a large rat snake appears in Kali's classroom, the boy uses what he has learned from his father and becomes a hero to his classmates. Noting that Whitaker's story "moves at a good pace," Mary Hazelton added in her School Library Journal review that Kali and the Rat Snake "has much to offer children learning about other cultures."

Based on the life of Whitaker's great uncle, Salim Ali for Schools profiles a noted Indian ornithologist. In her book, Whitaker recounts how Salim Ali, a pioneer in the study of India's birdlife, "went all over India's princely states, surveying the bird life in them, travelling mostly on foot, and only much later in a Willys station wagon, which he drove ‘like a battle tank’," according to Hindu contributor Ranjit Lal. In addition to writing about Ali, Whitaker is also the author of Snakeman, a biography of her husband.



Hindi, June 7, 2003, Ranjit Lal, review of Salim Ali for Schools.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2006, review of Kali and the Rat Snake, p. 914.

School Library Journal, October, 2006, Mary Hazelton, review of Kali and the Rat Snake, p. 130.

Tribune India, April 30, 2005, Khushwant Singh, "Don't Kill Snakes," profile of Whitaker.


Penguin Books India Web site,http://www.penguinbooksindia.com/ (October 27, 2007), "Zai Whitaker."

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