Adventure

Kaziranga

'I believe any trip in search of wildlife can be coupled with physical activity and elements of cultural diversity to form a thrilling opportunity '
John H.Eickert

I had a bit of time to myself and wanted to sit and take into memory the smell and feel of the place where I was. It had been a special morning, an early, early jeep ride to climb atop an elephant, swaying-ducking through shadowy trees, then tall river grass, as the dawn yawned to life bringing pinkish blue mist to the banks of the wide Brahmaputra . We spotted wild buffalo on a small gravel bar, sambar and swamp deer near the forest, and much to my delight two Indian one-horned rhino. To me, a rhino appears to be an animal, which couldn't, shouldn't exist. Their odd head, long torso, and armor-protection skin make me think of some animal, conjured from a child's nightmare. To my sensibility, a rhino just doesn't seem possible. Yet, of course, they are, for now. Poachers take a heavy toll of these docile creatures and every year their habit diminishes and becomes ever more fragmented.

While I stood there committing Kaziranga to memory, I noticed a small leech trying to attach itself to my leg. It was on a branch of a small bush next to me. It stretched and re stretched, forming ‘S's in the air all the while holding onto the branch. I became spellbound witnessing this struggle for life on a small scale. The leech stretched and re stretched, formed and reformed. I leaned in as I watched. I stepped away and the leech rested on the branch. A horn honked in the distance and it was time to take the jeep back to Guwahati. Tomorrow would have me in a bus down the river to Calcutta .

For centuries, the source of the Brahmaputra was a mysterious riddle. Now it is known that it rises on the distant Tsangpo plateau. Somehow it flows south, then east before creating an enormous end run around the Greater Himal to flow west through India before turning south again to empty into the Bay of Bengal. The course of the Brahmaputra forms a giant ‘S.' I thought about the leech and the river while breezing along in the open jeep. I thought about rhino's in the morning river mist. I committed the smells, sights and sounds to mind knowing they would soon be replaced by different smells, sights, and sounds, those of Calcutta . The jeep jerked to a halt at my hotel in Guwahati. I thanked the driver and went up for a nap.

Kaziranga is a very special place, not only in India , but also in the entire world. There are those other special power places, names like Yellowstone , Kruger, and Madidi, where wildlife and man can meet on peaceful terms. With much work and great luck, maybe we can always have them with us. Maybe. I hope each of you gets a chance to visit Kaziranga and when you do, I hope you can take more time than I did. Maybe, just maybe, I will find the time to return. Cheers!

(Photograph Of one- horned rhinos-Susan Sharma)

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Answers To Quiz Of The Month

Right Answer to Quiz on Wildlife poaching

This month no one has given all right answers, chattorajd@yahoo.com and navneet1@rediffmail.com have given 8 right answers.

Right Answer toQuiz on Wildlife poaching

1.Wildlife, featured in Appendix 1 of “Convention International Trade on Endangered Species”( CITES), are
  • completely banned for international trade
  • are allowed for non-commercial trade
  • are banned for internal trade

  • 2.The most heavily traded, wild harvested, Asian fresh water turtle is……………………
  • Leather back turtle
  • Olive Ridley Turtle
  • South –East Asian Soft shell turtle

  • 3.Fishermen poach this endangered species for its oil, which is used for catching ‘Bakus’ and ‘Bacha’ fish. This specimen, now in Appendix I of CITES, is………….
  • River Otters
  • Whale shark
  • Gangetic Dolphin

  • 4.The crime branch of Delhi Police arrested two people in Shakkarpur, East Delhi in December 2004, who were trying to sell three birds belonging to this endangered species………………..
  • Great Himalayan Horned Owl
  • Eastern Screech Owl
  • Northern Hawk Owl

  • 5.The white”macaw”, a native of Australia and Singapore, sells for up to two lacs in India. Police recently caught up with poachers in
  • Jama Masjid , Delhi
  • Crawford Market, Mumbai
  • INA, Market Delhi

  • 6.The main corridors for illegal trading of wildlife in Orissa are Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. The meat and scales of …………….. are sold here illegally
  • Gharials
  • Pangolin
  • Yellow throated martin

  • 7.”Wildlife Law Enforcement Workshops” are conducted in various Indian Cities by ..
  • WWF(India)
  • Wildlife Trust of India
  • Wildlife Protection Society of India

  • 8.“ Vanrakshak Program” is conducted by …………..to train forest staff to protect wildlife.
  • Wildlife Trust of India
  • Wildlife Protection Society of India
  • Bombay Natural History Society

  • 9.Recently the carcass of a clouded leopard (female) was recovered from poachers in
  • Kedar Nath Wildlife Sanctuary, Uttaranchal
  • Pench Tiger Resrve, Madhya Pradesh
  • Buxa Tiger Reserve, West Bengal

  • 10.Rare species of butterflies such as ‘purple emperor’ and ‘meadow wanderer’ reportedly fetch as much as
  • $ 150 apiece
  • $ 10 a piece
  • $ 275 a piece

  • Please try our quiz for the current month on Coastal Regulation Zone(CRZ)in India

    Burning Issues

    Mining in India

    -Compiled by Dr.Susan Sharma

    Where is it happening

    How it has affected /is affecting environment

    What is being Done to salvage the situation

    Kudremukh iron Ore has the India 's largest mining and pelletization complex. The mine is located in the Western Ghats ofKarnataka State in the Indian Subcontinent

    Opencast mining results in huge amounts of surface earth being runoff into rivers.

    In the 2002 monsoon alone, more than 68,000 tons of sediment load was estimated downstream of the KIOCL mining area at Malleswara.

    Supreme Court directed KIOCL to wind up its mining activity by 2005

    and rejected the company's plea for a 20 year extension and for additional unbroken forestland.

    Orissa is rich in bauxite, the mineral that contains aluminum's raw material, as well as coal, limestone, silica, etc. Its mining history began in the 1950s. By 1970, it had 155 working mines and by the early 1990s, 281. By the early '90s, the state's mining industry had gone global. The government of India has approved investments from 13 multinational companies from the U.S. , Australia , the U.K. , South Africa and Canada .

    But half-a-century of development has impoverished the Adivasis. Displaced from their land and discriminated against in the industrial job market, they are now fighting to keep their land, their only remaining resource.

    Apart from the continuing agitation in Kashipur by Adivasis, the worst fears are for the environment: the Aluminium mine would be located in the catchment area of tributaries of the Indravati river. The fear is that the mining sludge will silt up the Indravati and bury the surrounding Kalahandi district's reservoir, endangering the chronically drought-prone area, not to mention risking human and animal health.

    Anti-mining movement in Kashipur is organized and led entirely by the Adivasis, and it has held out for over 10 years. UAIL was a joint venture promoted initially by Norsk Hydro of Norway , Indal and Tata Industries Ltd. Tata eventually withdrew and Alcan ( Canada ) became a joint partner in 1999. Protests are on in Canada too against the project.

    Illegal sand mining in Son Gharial Sanctuary, Madhya Pradesh

    Since the gharials and crocodiles lay their eggs and breed in the sands on the river bank, mining these areas will adversely affect these processes

    Villagers inhabiting the 200 villages along the river can become allies in conservation provided their rights and livelihoods are secure, and benefits are seen to be generated.

    Illegal sand mining and construction activities in Aravali Hills extending from Rajasthan ,Haryana to Delhi

    Aravali Hills act as a natural buffer stopping the Thar deserts from expanding towards the northern agricultural plains and the hill range had been termed as the most eco-sensitive by experts. It has been found that the rapid depletion of ground water in Gurgaon and the nearby region is largely because of the increasing desertification of the Aravalis.

    Mining has been stopped by a supreme court order of 2002.

    However, implementation of the order has been found lacking and the Supreme Court has now issued contempt notices against senior Haryana Government officials.

    Endangered

    Cats that Fish

    Dr. Shomita worked at the Wildlife Trust of India, Delhi and Tiger Watch, Ranthambhor. She is writing a proposal that aims to explore the utility of non-invasive DNA analysis in addressing questions related to small carnivore ecology. Though her chief interest lies in the ecology of small cats, she is also planning a project on the leopards of Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Mumbai along with some other friends. Currently employed with the Centre for Wildlife Studies, Bangalore.

    The moon shone brilliantly through the clear summer sky, lighting up Keoladeo Ghana National Park , in Bharatpur. I sat still on the bank of the boating canal which was nearly dry, save for one end that had some water. Across the bank on the other side a wonderful picture unfolded. A relatively large cat walked along the bank and sat at the edge peering into the water. The cat, the moon and their reflections in the still water created a magical moment but alas I did not have a camera. Memories, it is said, get distorted or exaggerated as time goes by but this beautiful scene, according to me could never be exaggerated. The cat was unperturbed by my presence, very likely not even aware of me sitting there. It had come for one purpose – to fish. It sat for 15 minutes and then walked a few feet down the bank to sit again for some minutes and then move to another spot. All the while it concentrated hard at the water waiting for some fish to surface. Finally it spotted one and leapt into the water beating around with its paws. Then it dived underwater creating wild ripples and loud splashes and the next moment the cat was on my side of the canal with a big fish in its mouth. It sauntered into the bushes to feast.

    My study on fishing cats showed that fish formed a major portion of its diet along with rodents. The cat is a medium sized one weighing between 6 – 12 kg. and is often mistaken for a leopard cub. Its legs are short and its muzzle a bit elongated compared to other cats giving it its name of Prionailurus viverrinus. The specific name – viverrinus means “civet like”. This cat is largely Oriental in distribution but its western range extends to Sind in Pakistan close to the Indian border. Its distribution though wide is patchy and is probably limited by the presence of water. The fact that it is specialized for fishing is borne out by its webbed feet. It is closely related to two other species that we find in India – the leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis ) and the rusty spotted cat ( Prionailurus rubiginosus). All three have prominent stripped markings on their forehead and small round-tipped ears. In Bharatpur I also found that the fishing cats marked their territories with their droppings just like other cats do, but here they used to defecate on cattle and nilgai dung and at crossroads. It was a visual signal to other fishing cats and very likely other predators like jungle cats and jackals too. It could also be a signal placed by individuals to indicate to themselves the position of various important landmarks.

    Not much is known of this cat, but I had the good fortune to study them to a small extent in one of the easiest field sites and sightings like the one described above and one with a mother and cub were indeed rare ones.

    Gardening for wildlife

    Time to Prepare for Summer Annuals

    Ms.Promila Chaturvedi is a freelance landscape designer whose organization "Gardens India" undertakes a number of projects in landscaping and gardening.

    Unlike winter in North Indian plains, the annuals for summer season are numbered. If they are not sowed in time, even whatever colour one gets in hot weather conditions, may also disappear.

    The Gaillardia, Portulaca, Gomphrena, Cochia, Zinnia, Balsam and celosia are the few, which will add colour to our gardens in scorching heat of May and June. The seeds should be bought in January. By middle of February the seedbeds should be readied on a sunny spot. The beds should be four inch higher than the ground level to avoid rotting by sudden rain.

    To make a seed bed take one part sand, one part leaf-mould/compost and one part sweet earth. If small quantity of seedlings is needed then they can be sown in shallow trays also. They should be sown by the end of February when weather starts warming up. They should be mixed with sand and sprinkled on the beds/pots prepared for sowing them. A very thin layer of sifted leaf-mould/compost may be added to them. Water should be sprinkled over then with a watering can with a rose on it. If it is still cold, sowing can be delayed by a week or so. By the first week of April the seedlings will be big enough to be planted in the garden.

    Prepare the annual bed by the third/fourth week of March depending on the weather. Hoe the ground. Remove weeds and other unserviceable matter from the beds. Add compost/ Bio-manure/ well rot cow-dung manure to the ground and mix well. Add water to it. Dress it. Before sowing the seedlings final dressing should also be done. Sow the seedlings; water it with watering can with rose on it. Water them lightly twice a day for a week. Then water as needed. Watering should be done in the morning or evening. The annuals will grow and brighten the garden in hot weather.

    (Flowers pictured here are, from top, Gaillardia, Gomphrena and Celosia)

    News and Views

    News & Views

    News……………….

    When you are forty plus, there is need to reinvent yourself. IndianWildlifeClub.com is bringing out their fortieth issue of “WildBytes”. Help us to look at ourselves and make changes to be more relevant to you, our readers. Give us your feedback by clicking here . You can fill up this questionnaire in just two minutes!! Also do tell us more about you, your interests through theBlog!!

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    and Views……….

    “ Eco-criticism and environmental literature can help us to pay attention to and understand the physical and social processes that are affecting the planet. I am not under the delusion that everyone is going to read this genre. But when a distinguished filmmaker is influenced by it and incorporates it into his film or a best-selling novel, the ripple effect will be enormous. The central part of the work is to make people live more sensibly. Fewer and fewer people in industrialized nations such as the U.K. , Germany , Italy , Australia , Japan , Taiwan and of course the U.S. , actually know where their food, fuel and building products (wood, steel and glass) come from. We participate- as producers sometimes, but mostly as consumers- in an increasingly global economy, which tends to mean that we depend on natural resources from throughout the world, although the products we consume are strangely removed from the landscapes and communities that produced them and the costs of production- often substantial costs in the form of ecological damage and social injustice- are hidden .”

    Dr. Scott Slovic

    Professor of Literature and Environment,

    University of Nevada

    Story Of The Month

    Elephants and wildlife escape Tsunami

    - Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, CEO, Jetwing Eco Holidays (www.jetwingeco.com)

    6 January 2005

    The scale of the human tragedy is so vast, the impact on the wildlife, almost does not warrant concern. Certainly it seems of almost little consequence in a tragedy which saw so many lives lost. A little comfort in the tragedy is that the Yala National Park and its animals have survived the Tsunami almost unscathed. There was some confusion in the minds of the public that there was heavy damage to the park because there was a terrible death toll of humans. However, during the four days (26 - 29 December) I spent looking for survivors and the dead, I did not see any dead animals, except for a dead fish. The park officials I spoke to also confirmed the absence of dead animals. Why this maybe so, I will answer later.

    Within the park, tragedy struck at Patanangala, a bowl shaped depression where the Patanangala ridge, slopes down into the sea. This is a popular picnic site where people come to stretch their legs after a morning game drive. From around 8.30 am , people who have finished their morning game drive start to arrive at Patanangala, to enjoy the beach. Patanangala and another site besides the Menik River are two designated places where people are allowed to alight from vehicles in Block 1 of Yala National Park.

    Before 9.00 am , Wicky Wickremesekera, arrived at Patanangala with his client, a lady on a Leopard Safari. Wicky is one of the top Naturalist Chauffeur Guides with Jetwing Eco Holidays. He has accompanied me on many a wildlife quest from photographing the endemic Red-faced Malkoha in our rainforests to searching for rare migrants on the island of Mannar . At the wheel was Kalu (one of two Kalu's), one of my favourite jeep drivers, who is well versed in my idiosyncrasies as a wildlife photographer. The client photographed fishing boats and enquired as to whether the sea was always this calm? Wicky says the thought of taking a swim may have even crossed her mind.

    Wicky declined a cup of tea and Kalu took only one sip. Around 9.10am , they began to drive up the slope. Wicky heard a roar and looked back to see a wall of water, wall of death thundering down onto the beach. He heard a group of seventeen Japanese, simultaneously scream. Another forty or so, Sri Lankans were also on the beach. Wicky yelled at Kalu to pull away and as they did, he saw the water go over the roof of a restaurant being constructed at the site. The restaurant roof is an estimated 60 feet in height. A 'funnel effect' by the bowl shaped depression may have resulted in the waves reaching this height as it swept over the restaurant which is at least 50 meters from the shore line. The timing could not have been worse for those at Patanangala. Two hours later and no one would have been there. For Wicky and Kalu, one more sip of tea, would have been fatal. Wicky could only look in horror as the waves engulfed the people on the beach.

    Sea water surged into the park through low lying areas especially where there was a lagoon mouth to the sea. As Wicky and Kalu sped away, they warned away other jeeps heading to Patanangala. After the waters subsided, they returned with others to Patanangala and found only four survivors. Subsequently, with his client safely sent to Colombo , Wicky bravely stayed on with me and my colleagues for the next four days assisting in the search for survivors and the dead. Miraculously, on the 28th December, a 13 year old boy was found, still alive, by a search team. By the 29th December, the park warden told me that over 50 bodies had been recovered.

    At the same time, the wave hit Patanangala, a forty foot high wall of water slammed into the Yala Safari Game Lodge, exacting a terrible death toll. Two 'funnel effects' seemed to happen in parallel, with water coming from the cove near Browns Beach Safari Motel and the Goda Kalapuwa lagoon-mouth creating two high velocity jets of water. Uditha Hettige is one of the Master Naturalists of Jetwing Eco Holidays. He was in the restaurant and says he ran about 50 meters before he was hit by the water which felt like it was travelling at 40 plus km per hour. In his description of events he says "........then I was submerged about 5 feet below water and my sandal snagged on a tree. I managed to hold my breath while struggling to release my leg. Somehow I removed the sandal, but the pressure of the water was so great that I could barely move my hands. It felt like 10 to 15 people were pushing me down. It was like I was glued to the tree. I remember seeing figures of all my family members. I used all my strength to release myself from the tree by pushing with my legs. The water carried me off again .........".

    Six of the eight rooms at the nearby Browns Beach were booked by a single group who thankfully escaped by being in the park. I heard a rumour of one staff member surviving by using a can as a flotation device. At the Game Lodge, out of a total of 229 people known to have been at the Yala Safari Game Lodge on that morning, 174 people (75%) are confirmed to be alive. Some guests survived the Tsunami because they were in the park or had checked out. 9 staff (and three family members of staff died), out of a total of 80 staff members. We are devastated at the loss of lives, but thankful that many lives were also spared. I went down with senior colleagues as soon as we heard of the tragedy and spent four days working with search teams. Many Game Lodge staff joined the search and despite Tsunami warnings on the 26th, kept searching under risk. The Yala Village , another hotel, few kilometers away was protected by sand dunes and suffered damage to three chalets. Thankfully, there were no casualties or injuries. Within the park, the Patanangala Bungalow was badly damaged and two members of staff are believed to have lost their lives.

    Despite the heavy loss of lives, the park's fauna and flora suffered very little physical damage. As expected the coastline has been re-shaped. I found entire banks of sand have moved around, rivulets were running where there were none before. But the few hundreds of meters of coastline that were affected, is a minuscule percentage of the square area of the Yala protected area complex. Many of the larger trees have survived. A few smaller ones had snapped. The lagoons have many broken branches, but otherwise the untrained eye will not see much damage.

    The coastline is an important habitat for invertebrates. However, very few vertebrates (e.g Mammals) are found on it. Certain species such as the Sand Lizard (Sitana ponticeriana ) may have suffered losses in certain places, but would have survived in other places.

    So how did the wildlife survive? Read on in our next issue




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