Nature is not a place to visit It is home – Garry Snyder
India has a vast cultural diversity and synonymously it applies to the wildlife community. Floral and faunal diversity often vary with the altering physiography in the landscape like Tiger from dense forests of Terai-Arc landscape, clouded leopard from mighty Himalayas, Indian wolf from Deccan plateau, reptiles from Western ghat, Elephants from North east India, gecko from Andaman, Dolphin from Ganges and bustards and Spiny-tailed lizard from Desert.
The story I am going to share will introduce you with an enormously gigantic, magnificent, gorgeous bird. These defined adjectives are far inferior, if you have ever witnessed the beauty of this bird with your naked eyes. Dr. Salim Ali, a renowned ornithologist from the Indian subcontinent once nominated this bird for the race of “The national bird of India”. However, Peafowl or Peahen or most commonly known as Peacock grabbed the title of “The National Bird of India” from the Bustard solely due to its name. Only due to its name it has lost a war!!
Now, you may have already guessed which bustard I am talking about? Yes, I am talking about “The Great Indian Bustard”.
Once abundant in 11 states across India, from Odisha in the east to Rajasthan in the west, till the southernmost tip of the state of Tamil Nadu, this bird has a stronghold in grasslands of the deccan plateau and Thar desert of India. This bird in height reaches the size of a Chinkara and still can fly. The body weight of a male bird can reach up to 18 Kgs and a female can grow up to 12 kgs. They are omnivorous and can eat anything from insect to snakes. They are even seen feeding on agricultural crops from the neighboring fields from where they roost. Endemic to India, this bird is a winter migrant to our neighboring country Pakistan. If you go through “The Vanishing”, a book written by one of most significant figures on wildlife journalism by Prerna Singh Bindra it is clearly mentioned that in the 1890’s Hume wrote about collecting 100 bustard eggs from Bikaner. She has also mentioned that from 1809-1829, in Ahmedanagar district of Maharashtra, Robert Mansfield bagged no less than 961 GIBs (Great Indian Bustard), whereas now the remnant of existence of this bird has been erased from the human memory. In its first meeting of The Indian Board of Wildlife, conducted during 1952, GIB was kept among the thirteen rare animals to be protected. In 1969, the first survey conducted by Dharmakumarsinhji along with WWF (World wildlife Fund for Nature) estimated a total of 1260 GIB in the wild, which has almost dwindled to half. It reduced to 750 in 1978 and further reduced to 300 in 2008 before the Project Bustard initiated. This declination is mainly attributed to relentless hunting of the bird. GIB was a game bird back in 1970s. Arabs extended their hunting ground from our neighboring countries to here in India. This rampant hunting almost continued till 1978, even after the establishment of The Wildlife Protection Act in 1972. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, also showed enthusiasm and extended help to eight bustard states (reduced by three) to establish eight sanctuaries in order to protect it. In 1982, the Rajasthan government acknowledged this mighty bird and its conservational importance and finally, gave it the Status of the State bird. Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) also showed interest and started a project on the same bird. Till 2008, the bustard has lost hope and reduced to 300 in numbers. Their breeding and foraging sights have been reduced to half. Many states lost their grip on bustard. However, this has always been attributed to hunting. Pakistani author, Aleem Ahmed Khan et. al. 2008 has stated in his journal published on Current Science, that from 2001 -2004, out of the sighted 63 bustards, 49 have been poached. Birds are carefree, they do not follow geographical boundaries. Many have even questioned; will Pakistan ever save a bird that contains prefix “Great Indian”? No country, either Pakistan or India can save bustard alone? It needs collaborative movement from both the countries. India now has lesser hunting but even with the strongest law in wildlife, a hunter has killed a GIB in its most stronghold place in the Desert National Park during broad daylight. In 2018, WII in the leadership of Scientist Sutirtha Dutta has estimated the number of bustards from 2011 and published two reports in 2014 and 2016. In accordance to their recommendation a GIB breeding sight has been opened near SAM in 2018 by The Government of Rajasthan. Successful hatching has been done but the success of the project is still at stack? stake. It is not a single day process and needs 4-5 years of dedicated work and will be a success only if the released bustard from captivity breeds in their natural habitats. A lot of enclosed areas are securely kept for the breeding, roosting and habitat conservation in the DNP area. These enclosed areas are the land with a defined boundary with wired fencing so that the livestock does not graze inside this protected area. Great Indian Bustards are the umbrella species in these enclosed regions. Due to enclosed surrounding and protection from the guards these lands harbors several wildlife and birds.
Community participation can change a lot in this scenario but it won’t be sustaining here. As per today’s scenario the people surrounding the bustard are exempted from their basic needs like roads, water availability (from IGNP), electricity and several other basic amenities. This leads to a very contradictory view among the participant and government. the basic stakeholders for the survival of GIB. So, its high time we must suggest some measures to defy these barriers and save this critically endangered bird, in accordance to IUCN red list.
Acknowledgement: I want to acknowledge the book “The Vanishing” and its writer Wildlife journalist Prerna Singh Bindra, for informative and valuable information and some of which are updated here for readers.
Why frogs are so important, being an one of the tiniest species of nature.
According to the one of leading herpetologist from Florida International University, M.A. Donnelly, A world without frogs and its domino effect or the cascading effect on fauna and environment is one she doesn’t wanna know. Biodiversity matters and we shouldn’t even question why? The constant and the abrupt change we are facing are the consequences of our past act or deed.
Frogs are the amphibian species that can survive both on land and water. They play a most important role in the regulatory function like in food chain. The eat algae as tadpoles thus reducing chance of algal bloom and contamination. They are even being eaten by lots of species from birds, snakes to monkey. Many a time certain species of frog legs are even used by Homo sapiens as a part of protein rich diet.
They are the indicator species thus being the most vulnerable one. They can detect smallest of changes in the surrounding. They have highly permeable skin which can absorb chemicals, toxins and even bacteria, Above mentioned trait is most important one to perform as an indicator species.
Frogs also keep check on annoying bugs and disease causing vectors like mosquitoes. Frogs are social creature. Group of frog is known as Army, Colony or knot. Frog chooses acoustics for the mating. Male frog will croak loudly in order to attract mate.
Not much research has been going on frogs as they are not most beautiful as the way they look. It needs much attention for research because they may harbour lot of medicinal potential. Epidebatidine is a highly potent painkiller can be harboured from poison dart frog. But this needs research to use as an medicine. Epidebatidine, if ingested, the toxicity of the same will kill a person.
They are species which needs lot of attention and care. Their habitat is being destroyed. Water is being polluted like the Maguri beel from Assam. Oil been spilled in the name of transportation. A strong law is the need of hour in favour of forest and its citizens from tigers to smallest of species like pangolin and bird to keep away rogue beings entering into their territory
It can be also noted From Wildlife Institute of India envis, (you can search it as “wiienvis” in Google search bar) about protected area network consisting 101 National Parks, 553 wildlife sanctuaries, 86 conservation reserves and 163 community reserves you will notice that these total 903 protected area merely cover 5.02% of geographical area in India and India have only 21.54% of forest cover. Is it necessary to exploit this bare minimum 5% area for natural resource and exploit it? Even though when you have another 95% in your hand. Let the biodiversity breath.
This photographed beauty has been spotted on a rainy day alongside an muddy pool in Manas National Park of Assam. We are out on a stroll to go back to our gypsy, after placing camera trap in a tree to count the population of Clouded leopard, an elusive, shy cat species. A day worth remembering with a frog eye view with beautiful reflection
Acknowledgement: Many of the facts in this blog is taken from the article “Why Frogs need saving” by Evelyn S Gonzalez from Florida International University
Guda Bishnoiyan Village lies around 15 km away from the heart of Jodhpur. It is a small village lies in Western part of India and dominated with Bishnoi tribe. Although well connected with roads and transportation this village is still holding up its traditional values and cultures. As stated by neighborhood of Jodhpur people, this village is specially known to protect animals since ages and animals does not fear them. A vegetarian society and strict rules against animal harm and abuse are the principalities of this village.
A well known movement in the history of forest conservation is started in the leadership of Amrita Devi Bishnoi took place in India. 363 bishnoi people have laid down their lives in order to save an single Khejri tree (Prosopis Cinreria). Such are the bishnoi tribe and till date they hold the same reputation. Across Jaisalmer and Jodhpur, every time I visit a bishnoi village I have always observed more number of animals than that of surrounding ones. Today, I want to talk about Demoiselle Crane. Also, the world highest wintering ground of Demoiselle Crane is also a bishnoi village, known as Kheechan. Such are the bishnoi tribes and is an extraordinary coexistence with animal kingdoms & birds.
One of the most memorable day in my life was that particular day when I watched this magnificent bird with long legs. It is the world’s smallest crane species. Every winter this bird travels from Siberia, magnolia and China to kheechan and Guda Bishnoiyan, Sardarsamand and several other places across Jaisalmer and Jodhpur. They start to arrive India from October till first week of March. They travel in huge groups with a leader in the front. Watching these birds in around above mentioned sources, it has also been observed that these birds deploy watchers to keep an eye on surrounding. Villagers and forest professionals used to provide them with grains inside Chugga Ghar or Bird feeding house. Where these birds can be observed in ample numbers and if required or if a bird fell ill is provided with immediate medical attention. More than 15000- 20000 birds can be observed in a single go in kheechan. Guda Bishnoiyan known to harbour around 1000 birds in one go. These places are also are of tourist importance.
Although such a beautiful bird is observed here, I have not observed any critical implications to save this iconic species from the government side. Many a time pesticide laden crop were distributed in Chugga ghar causing mortality of the bird. Around 37 bird died with food poisoning due to pesticide laden crops. Immediate medical assistance was also an issue. Although everyone in village were helping hand in the need of hours and are saving this species. Let’s pledge to save these iconic migratory winged guest and acknowledge bishnoi community for what they have done till date to save animal kingdom in their neighborhood.
As usual I woke up and is ready for university hours. Whenever I am out of my room, my camera is always been with me. I have a habit of Birding everywhere. So, my university campus is fairly big. I prefer to take roads less taken by crowds. It’s been my usual route to university everyday for last one year. Here in Rajasthan I have noticed that people always feed birds with grains. The reason to that is the aesthetic values. Aesthetic values lead Indians to follow their supreme omnipresent and keep them happy in order to be blessed. Here in India, you can widely see peoples feeding cows and dogs with a roti(chapati or Indian tortilla), feeding birds with grains, providing water. Now it’s an habit but most likely to have been emerged as a way to worship their idol.
Whatever may be the reason I am happy that people are feeding these hapless birds and animals, who can’t get food in these cities of concrete. As cities are mostly devoid of agricultural fields or forest that harbours these birds with food.
The reason here I am talking about the problems faced by animals within the cities because we have already lost enough green covers from our surrounding. People have a perception that the forest can be recreated with plantation but I can challenge you that just a mere plantation with mono species can’t replace a forest is with thousand years of evolutionary cycles.
Back again I am diverted, as love for nature never fades for me. On the way, I have seen a dull bird both in color and appearance. Both sexes of the bird looks alike. Dull brown in colour with white back. Almost dark black wings with pointed tails. Gregarious, prefers open area and feeds on millet.
Here I am talking about this dull rather beautiful bird Indian Silverback
Nature gives us a lot to watch. It soothes the soul. Birding a favorite pastime of mine gives immense pleasure. Today, I will narrate in front of you an another sighting story of mine from this summer of Rajasthan. Summer in Rajasthan never goes away especially for those who are from North eastern part of India. It can be damn hot here with average summer temperature can be soaring upto 48-50degree celcius. Although I am an introvert, I like to open up in front of my closest friends and nature. Does it make me an introvert? Oops, sorry I am diverted from the point.
Birdwatching can be favorite pastime. A lot of time I have seen many peoples showing the expression of dogs and cats or I can say basically of their pets through their social media platform. I gave it a thought and was looking through my balcony to spot a bird with my camera on. A Brahminy Starling or Brahminy Myna, a bird from starling family catches my eye. Usually seen in pairs but on that day I have seen a single one jumping impatiently from here to there with different poses, just like the models changing their posture every time in front of an camera to get a portfolio done.
This bird is of least concern according to the red list of IUCN. This bird is a resident breeder of India and Nepal and winter migrant species of Sri Lanka. They have black cap in head and yellow beak with bluish base. Females does not have prominent crest. This bird is both frugivorous and insectivorous. They are not much arboreal. They does built their nest on tree holes or artificial cavities. Another important habit is they are even seen visiting flowers for nectar. Most importantly they are often seen near to the human habitation.
Here is the portfolio of Brahminy starling or Brahminy Myna
Getting bored and than napping for 2 to 3 hrs is most common hobby nowadays during lockdown period for almost everyone. Amid such biting summer, when I tried sleeping setting traditional water cooler on, a beautiful raptor sang a loud song titew…….. titew. In flight Shikra calls are shorter and like Kik… Ki…. Kik…. Ki. Must be thinking what is that call indicates?? It is a call of a very interesting raptor found across all Indian landscape upto 1600 m above sea level. They are so successful hunters that in 2009 Indian Navy helicopter base was named as an INS Shikra. “Shikra” word came from Arabic word “Shikari” that is the hunter. Shikra are master of hunting. They can take on fairly large prey like Patridge, crow and even young peafowl. They have typical flap and glide flight pattern. Shikra is the mascot for even 149 squadron of Singapore Air force. A balcony Birding of remembrances.
Led by matriarch these are big majestic asiatic Elephants are treat to the eyes. These animals are archive of complex social bonding and structure. Very intelligent but regretfully endangered animal according to the IUCN. Largest Asiatic species now in grave danger mostly due to anthropogenic activities like degraded habitat, Fragmentation and poaching. This story goes back to one my happy days, when I am interning with one of the best Institute in India for wildlife. We are following safari road to gather the camera traps spread around the several habitats in Manas National Park to assess the population of Clouded Leopard, an another beautiful small cat species. We are on the road leading us back to home. This small pachyderm is in the mood of playing. He is running alongside our gypsy. We stopped the Gypsy. He started holding our hands and playing. Calf’s mother is waiting at distant noticing her boy. He was not letting us go. We patted him and promised to come back after we finish our job. May be he understood when forest guard joining us told him to leave him and let us go as we were very hungry. It’s already been more than 4 hours we carried out our job inside the forest. After playing with him for around half an hour we left the site. Hope he will grow into a beautiful large tusker. I still miss those days.
It’s 4:30 pm. Doing my job as JRF whole day, in University exhausted I am going back to my room. Suddenly saw a long legged bustard like bird. Basically, I thought this may be Macqueen Bustard an winter migrant to Rajasthan from Pakistan. Unable to identify properly, I called my principal investigator Dr. Hem Singh Gehlot, assistant professor of Zoology department from the same university. He instantly recognises the bird and said its Indian Thick knee. This is a very shy bird. I noticed the bird for long hours. After certain minutes, I have noticed that bird is incubating the eggs. I tried looking at the eggs from the distant. They are quite similar to lapwing or turkey eggs but differ in size. Egg is light brownish -yellowish with black dot mark differing in size. She is a beautiful mother. Here is my photograph of Indian Thick knee on the eve of World Photography Day, 2020.
I was sitting inside the office room and heard a knock on wood. I thought someone is knocking our door. I went to see and no one is there. I came back and tried to concentrate. Suddenly I heard the knock again saw no one. This time I thought the college kids are doing it for fun. I turned back and returning to my seat but suddenly I heard of the knock again. Now I know no one is knocking my door. I started looking around me and saw this beauty. She is being very vigilant and knocking on the neem tree i. e. beside our office room. Most probably she is doing this for her kids. I saw her doing this for two days in a row. Another male bird is accompanying her. But unfortunately, most likely due to crowd and gathering outside our office she didn’t came back ever again to knock after those two days. She is a Lesser Goldenback from JNVU (New Campus) , Jodhpur, Rajasthan,India
Sometimes it’s so hard to believe ; are we the nastiest one? This Anthropocene era brought a havoc to the wild avian fauna. This is a common bird house Sparrow. A special visitor to the our dearly home? Although the population status of this bird not changing much in rural areas but a huge declination has been noticed in urban areas. This may be due to the inadequate opportunity for them to grow or otherwise destruction of their potential home. Another major cause of decreasing population of this bird can be attributed to bloom of invasive species like Rock pigeon. Pesticide and insecticide laden crops also causing mortality in bird. So, be cautious. Help birds survive specially those who performs free concerts to shed worry.