Survival Instincts of Lapwings

Posted by Susan Sharma on September 26, 2009











The red wattled lapwing is a regular visitor to our neighbourhood park. So I was thrilled to see three spotted eggs on the ground on 5th June. The eggs were laid in the centre of the Park which sees morning walkers doing their rounds every day (who would not notice the eggs anyway) and young children playing football and cricket in the evenings. To protect the eggs the bird had laid the eggs underneath a tree-guard.

On 9th June, I went to check on the eggs. There was no one in the Park. But I was delighted to see two small chicks with their mother. The mother noticed me as I was still at the gate and started alarm calls. The pitch went higher and higher as I tried to go close. The chicks scampered in one direction while the mother went in another. Soon the father lapwing appeared on the scene and started shrieking. Then, an amazing thing happened. The chicks suddenly disappeared in the grass and made themselves invisible. Almost simultaneously, sparrows and Indian robins started flying around the area even as the parent lapwings held on to their spots.

I was mesmerised by this amazing act of community feeling! Needless to say I had to return without a photo. I could not help but feel moved enough to write this blog!



Jumping to freedom-Salmon

Posted by Susan Sharma on December 18, 2007


Salmon Jumping to Freedom

Down on the fish farm, workers could not understand why the number of brown trout had suddenly taken a dive. But close observation revealed the reason - an aquatic version of the Great Escape.

The resourceful fish are leaping 3ft out of the water and into an eight-inch pipe which brings fresh water into the farm near Alresford, Hampshire. Following their instincts the trout, cousins of the Atlantic salmon, then swim against the flow for 30ft before finding freedom at the other end as they plop into a tributary of the River Itchen. Simon Johnson, director of the Wild Trout Trust, said: “Brown trout do have migratory tendencies and swim upstream, especially in November and December. “The water coming down from the pipe is oxygenating the pond and this could be kicking in their natural instincts. “They might well think it is a waterfall and are trying to head up it to find a place to spawn.”

The Escape Committee were caught in the act by wildlife photographer Dennis Bright, 59. A farm worker said: “It is remarkable how they manage to jump so high and through such a small pipe. “We run a low-intensity farm and like to let nature thrive so we don’t net our ponds. As a result we lose up to 40 per cent of our stock to predators every year. “To see us losing more fish through pipes that are designed to help them is a bit of a blow. But to be honest, if I were them I would be trying to escape too. Good luck to ‘em.” Wildlife photographer Dennis Bright, 59, captured the amazing aerobatic fish earlier this week. He said: “It was an incredible sight. “Swimming against the current is instinctive for trout as they head up stream to spawn but they are doing a remarkable job getting through that pipe.



Play of passion-Tusker style !

Posted by Susan Sharma on September 12, 2007


A wild tusker from Jharkhand enacted a play of passion in the middle of the night, broke through the fence of a circus and eloped with a female circus elephant.

Drawn by calls of the four female elephants in the circus, the 26-year-old tusker raided the circus, broke the tin barricade and barged into the stable where the female elephants were kept, reports said.

It didn’t take long for Savitri, four years older than him, to give in to his wild charms. Despite entreaties from her keeper, the female elephant broke free of her shackles and went with him into the jungle where the residents spotted the two frolicking near a pond.

The tale of love and passion has shocked Savitri’s manager Chandranath Banerjee, who has sought the forest department’s help to trace the female elephant. "I have never seen anything like this. Savitri’s loss could be huge as she was one of our prized elephants," he said.

The elephants were finally spotted moving from Badam Bagan to Nepali Para in Raniganj by a district forest officer in Durgapur, Kumar Bimal.

When a team of forest department officials along with her keeper Kalimuddin Sheikh tried cajoling Savitri to come back, she entwined her trunk around her lover’s leg in a show of defiance.

A crestfallen Kalimuddin said this was the first time she had disobeyed him.

Till late at night, the forest officials were seen trailing the pachyderms with flaming torches. They were last seen heading towards Mejia in Bankura district along the Ranigunj-Mejia Road.

Source: IANS
Reported in Indian Express dated Aug.30, 2007



African Rats: The Best TB and Landmine Detectives

Posted by Susan Sharma on August 02, 2007


African Rats: The Best TB and Landmine Detectives
Trained giant African rats, with their extraordinary sense of smell, can detect whether or not a sputum sample contains TB indicators 48 times faster than a human lab technician. They also are brilliant at detecting mines—and won’t set them off, unlike dogs or humans, because they are so light.

Ashoka Fellow Bart Weetjens has shown how to put these “HeroRATS” to work in Tanzania. Now he and his HeroRATS organization, APOPO, have been asked to bring this life-saving innovation to the 11 countries of the Great Lakes Region in Africa.

A HeroRAT can screen 40 sputum samples for TB in 10 minutes—a day’s work for a lab technician. HeroRATS are accredited according to International Mine Action Standards (IMAS), just like mine detection dogs, and 23 HeroRAT teams are now deployed in Mozambique. HeroRATS are cheaper to breed, train, feed, maintain and transport; the use of HeroRATS speeds up landmine clearance and reduces operational costs; the rats are highly intelligent and social creatures, with an highly developed sense of smell; they are adapted to the environment; and they love to perform repetitive search tasks in exchange for food rewards. Moreover, the African giant rat has a lifespan of eight years, much longer than other types of rats, and can be used for several years after the one year training period.

APOPO now has a proven, recognized approach—and the challenge to bring it to scale quickly across 11 of Africa’s most troubled countries. APOPO is demonstrating how to do so in Tanzania. It has established a certified animal training center in Morogoro. Skilled trainers from there then go out to the most affected parts of the country to help local people learn how to train and use the rats.

For further information (including technical reports, videos and articles), please visit the websites and


House Sparrows attack

Posted by Susan Sharma on June 29, 2007


Here is an amusing story from Ahmedabad. A flock of sparrows has been pecking at three friends living in Ahmedabad since three days. The pecking is so severe that the men cannot go out of their homes and one day the birds even chased the men nearly a kilometer away.

It all started from an effort by Shastri and his friends to help two fledglings, which fell from their nest after being attacked by a cat in his frontyard. "The sparrows thought we had killed her babies and started pecking us on the head." said Shastri. The friends thought that was the end, but in the evening, they were attacked again by the sparrows near a pan shop. The next day too, the sparrows had not forgotten them. The men are now planning ways to sneak out of their homes.

Source Times of India June 29, 2007



Posted by Susan Sharma on May 28, 2007


Both orangutans and chimpanzees share about 96 % of their DNA with humans.

 In a recent study, orangutans have been named as the world’s most intelligent animal.

Once widespread throughout the forests of Asia, they are now confined to just two islands, Sumatra and Borneo.

The study has opened up the question-would it be possible to compare different species of primates for intelligence?

(From a report in Sunday Times London)


Raven world’s second smartest creature

Posted by Susan Sharma on May 20, 2007


Birdbrain is no longer a sign of stupidity; indeed it could be a sign of surprising intelligence. 

Scientists Bernd Heinrich and Thomas Bugnyar reveal a series of experiments that back the idea that ravens are the brainboxes of the natural world. "These birds use logic to solve problems and some of their abilities even surpass those of the great apes."

The experiment they outline involved ravens that were allowed to sit on perches from which pieces of meat dangled from string. To get a treat, a raven had to perform a complex series of actions: pull up some of the string, place a loop on the perch and hold it with a claw, then pull up another section of string and hold that loop on the perch. By repeating the process half a dozen times, a raven could reach the end of the string and get the meat.

Source:  Guardian Newspapers Limited April, 2007


Are chimps more evolved?

Posted by Susan Sharma on May 12, 2007


A comparison of 14,000 human and chimpanzee genes by researchers at the  University of Michigan, U.S, shows that the forces of natural selection have had the greatest impact on our ape cousins. Humans and chimps followed different evolutionary paths from a common ape ancestor about 5 million years ago. Both underwent changes as the fittest survived to pass their genes on to future generations.

But the U.S study shows that the humans possess a "substantially smaller" number of positively-selected genes than chimps. This may be because the original human population was very small-which would have reduced the effectiveness of natural selection. Instead,"genetic drift" -the random survival of genetic mutations rather than their preservation by the laws of natural selection -was likely to have been more important for humans.

"These observations refute the anthropocentric view that a grand enhancement in Darwinian selection underlies human origins." scientists wrote in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: Daily Mail, London


The Cockatoos Story

Posted by Susan Sharma on February 04, 2007


A picture story sent in by a friend was so moving I thought we must have a blog topic exclusively for "anthromorphism". Anthropomorphism, also called personification, is the attribution of human characteristics and qualities to nonhuman beings.

Scientists at one time used to look down upon such stories-as figments of human imagination. But as human beings are observing and flming more deeply into the private lives of animals, realisation is slowly dawning that we were probably too egoistic to acknowledge that animals have intelligence and emotions!

Read the story at this link


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