Adventure

Dachigam

'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 have just returned from a memorable trip to Yellowstone National Park . In the fall, at Yellowstone, large herds of wapiti, a member of the deer family, begin their courtship behavior. This involves the largest of the males gathering groups of females together for mating and then defending their gathering. They display using their antlers and bodies, and they call. The call is best described as a three to four note rising whistle ending with a series of grunts.

There is a small park in northwest India , which may still provide habitat for a small number of a rare deer species known as hangul, the Kashmir stag. Hangul is derived from the local Kashmir name for the Indian horse chestnut, the han. The small park with its unique habitat is Dachigam. Dachigam is a small damp valley very near the city of Srinagar. The valley drains a beautiful high altitude lake. The lake is named Marsar.

The hangul are very similar to the wapiti. The hangul are a darker color and a bit smaller than the wapiti, but their body and antler confirmation are the same. Their rutting behavior is also the same, with the males announcing themselves with a very distinctive series of grunts and calls. Indeed, a visitor to Dachigam who found himself or herself at Yellowstone in the fall would sense something familiar and feel right at home, though the two habitats are a world apart.

Srinagar, a name formed from the roots sri and nagar, meaning beautiful city, is at the center of Jammu and Kashmir. It has been decades since my visit to Dachigam. In that time, Srinagar has been at the center of much fighting and unrest. Groups of men have taken to fighting and defending their territory. In outward appearance, there are many similarities between these groups and if they were not prone to combat would probably feel something familiar when visiting the home of the other. I have read there is a truce between groups now and Srinagar is once again an open tourist area. I wonder what has become of Dachigam. Do any of the Indian horse chestnut trees remain? In the crisp fall air, at Dachigam, can you hear the distinct series of calls from the rutting hangul?

Dachigam can be reached by NH 1A from Himachal Pradesh to Srinagar. It can also be reached via the Leh-Srinagar highway past the Wahka Gorge near Kargil, past Dras, the coldest city in India, and then over Zoji La. Of course, Srinagar has a modern airport for those with less time. Dachigam is also one of the last strongholds of the Himalayan black bear. The fall is also a good time to see these animals as they fatten themselves on chestnuts.

The rutting of the hangul in the fall is part of their life cycle, which always leads to the birth of young the next spring. I am eager to return to Dachigam and see what our human combat has led to.

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Answers To Quiz Of The Month

Right Answers to Quiz on Global Warming

This month no one has given all right answers but jacquie@scientist.com and merv@rediffmail.com have given 8 right answers.

Right Answer to Quiz on Global Warming
1.Global warming describes an increase in the average temperature of the earth’s………….
  • atmosphere
  • oceans
  • Both these
  • 2.Increasing temperatures are the result of………..
  • green house effect
  • increased solar activity
  • increase in desert regions
  • 3.According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the average global temperature has risen ……
  • 2.5+ or - 0.2degree centigrade
  • 1.6+ or - 0.2degree centigrade
  • 0.6+ or - 0.2degree centigrade
  • 4.The most prominent emission of green house gases are………
  • Carbon monoxide and Octane
  • CFC and Sulphur Dioxide
  • Carbon Dioxide and Methane
  • 5.Where are some early signs of a global warming phenomenon being observed?
  • Indonesia
  • The Arctic
  • Equatorial Africa
  • 6.Of the following peoples, which are currently being affected the most by increasing temperatures?
  • Latin Americans
  • Australian Aborigines
  • The Eskimos
  • 7.Which of these species had a shift in its gene pool in response to global warming?
  • Great Land Crabs-they deepened their underground homes to reach a cooler temperature.
  • Orcas-They changed their colouration to absorb less sunshine
  • Red Squirrels- they moved their breeding time 18 days earlier during the last 10 years
  • 8.How many years does the great barrier reef have before it is destroyed, according to scientists?
  • 100 years
  • 50 years
  • 30 years
  • 9.Places on earth where carbon dioxide is produced and removed are called ………
  • reservoirs and holes
  • springs and drains
  • sources and sinks
  • 10.The greenhouse gases in the atmosphere act like what part of the greenhouse?
  • the frame
  • the door
  • the glass
  • Please try this month quiz on Dolphins

    Common Birds of India

    Rose ringed parakeet (Psittacula crameri)

    By - Ragoo Rao

    Winter is quietly creeping in and the rains are fading out and the scenario is changing over to a different mood. Most of the Bird and Animal watchers may be preparing to study their interest in its winter settings. Down South here it's a haven for animal study groups to visit our Sanctuaries. Most of the ungulates are with their young ones. Specially the young fawns of spotted deer and Gaur calves. Its a sight to see them gamboling around their herds with abandon. The forest cover is also beautiful this time of the year as most of the deciduous trees are in bloom and flocks of Crimson headed parakeets swarm the Erythrina blooms.

    This month I have chosen the Rose ringed parakeet for our Bird of the Month slot.

    The most loved among the pet birds all over the world is undisputedly the Parrot. The Parrots come in a variety of sizes and colors depending upon their Geographical locations. From the small Budgerigars (Love birds) to the huge Scarlet Macaws they all belong to one family-Psittacidae.

    The Rose ringed parrot is very familiar to both urban and rural areas. The green colored birds with red hooked beaks and a pointed tail is practically distributed all over the country. The males have a dark pink ring like marking around their neck-hence the name. Often large flocks can be seen in the late evenings in leafy trees in the country side noisily settling down to roost. The same large flocks also roost amid bustling urban area avenue trees. These flocks raid maize crops of farmers often wasting more than what they actually eat. Orchards are a favorite foraging area for these birds. They are gregarious feeders.

    These birds are not shy and they always make known their presence with their loud Keeeak....keeek...keeeeak calls. When a breeding pair is noticed quietly without disturbing them, one can hear varied vocalizations.They could be found interacting vocally with each other which appear like mumbling. Parrots have a large vocabulary.

    The main nesting season is between February and May varying locally depending upon the food availability and weather. A natural hollow is selected in tall trees and both the birds work out by carving out their requirement with their powerful beaks. When one bird is busily carving inside the other stands at the entrance to warn any intrusion. With one loud k week.... from the guard bird both of them bolt off. Sometimes high barn walls are also selected for nesting.4 to 6 white eggs are laid. Both sexes share all the domestic chores. In about 6 weeks the fledglings are ready to start their own life.


    Did You Know ?

    Water walkers

    By - S.Ananthaanrayanan

    Scientists at MIT have found the way tiny insects use molecular forces in the surface of water to zip about like speedboats

    David Hu and John Bush have reported in Nature that insects move at 30 body lengths a second when they strike a pose and move up the slope of water at the edges of a puddle, without even moving their legs!

    The water surface

    Water molecules consist of 2 positively charged hydrogen atoms linked to one negatively charged oxygen atom, but the way the atoms are placed is not symmetrical. Thus, at short distances, water molecules showpolarity, like magnets with N and S poles, and exert powerful electric forces.

    When well within a body of water, where other molecules surround a molecule, there is no net effect of these forces. But at the surface, with a mass of water on one side and nothing on the other, the surface molecules feel a strong inward pull. The surface of water is thus like a tight membrane, which resists anything creating a gap in the surface and getting in.

    The surface can thus support a reasonable weight and the surface of ponds or puddles supports a whole universe of tiny, millimeter-scale life-forms, which find the water surface as rigid as any other.

    Getting their feet wet

    This is so long as the insects' feet stay dry. If they got wet and the separation between the feet and the mass of water then disappeared, the feet would sink. We may have seen that a drop of water on a glass sheet that is just a little greasy does not spread out, but forms a little bubble, as it tries to pull itself into a ball, its smallest surface. But if the glass is clean, then the forces between the water molecules and the glass are as strong as the force of the water mass and the drop spreads out.

    The attraction of glass for water molecules, in fact, is quite strong and we can see that the edge of water in a glass tumbler slopes upwards at the sides of the tumbler. If we dip a thin glass tube into water, the force can raise the water to a considerable height. This capillary effect is what helps nutrients flow up the roots of plants and trees.

    But if the insects' feet are dry, the surface of water does not break and the insects can ride the surface like a sledge over snow, using the fore and rear legs as support and the middle legs as paddles. The insects' secret is that their feet are covered with the fine hair which traps air, to keep the water away from the feet!

    The research at MIT

    For all the facility of moving over the water surface, tiny insects face a challenge when they come to the edges of the surface. At the edges, the surface slopes upward, like at the side of a glass tumbler. And for a millimeter-scale insect, the slope is high and steep and slippery! Many insects do need to come to dry land. But they may well be trapped on the water by the gradient-barrier at the water edge.

    The MIT scientists used high speed video – 500 frames a second – to capture the action. They found that the insects adopt a specific posture along the edges of the pond or puddle and then make capillary forces propel them out of the water! The insect does this by selective wetting of its front and rear feet, while keeping the middle ones dry.

    As the insect approaches the sloping edge of the water, it lets down claws that it otherwise keeps drawn in from its front and rear feet. They then take up a stance where the front and rear limbs pull up the surface of water while the middle feet push down. The capillary forces that draw the feet that are wet then add up to a net force that pulls the insect up the slope.

    It is a delicate operation, with the limbs to be stretched just so, somewhat like a sailor ‘tacking' the sails to move against the wind. But the insects manage to reach speeds of around 10 cms a second!

    “The normal locomotion of animals is to use muscles to move or raise things”, say Hu and Bush. But with water walking insects, the muscular force is used to deform a surface, to tap molecular forces.

    [The writer can be contacted at simple­­science@gmail.com ]

    Photographs courtesy David Hu and John Bush . More photographs of the insects in action can be seen at the following url:

    http://www-math.mit.edu/~dhu/Climberweb/climberweb.html

    News and Views

    News & Views

    News……………………………………….

    Our yahoo club has seen some action of late and is becoming an interesting discussion forum cum notice board. Those of you who are not yet members are invited to become members of this group. Let me remind you about our ownweblogtoo, which lets you keep a diary of jottings about issues which interest you / bother you. I find it convenient to write my jottings on river-linking projects. This seems to be the least reported yet most earth – shaking project India has undertaken. Through the jottings I try to reassure myself that things will work out fine. Any opinion? Please feel free to add to myweblog.



    And Views………………………………….

    “I clearly recall my first visits to Wildscreen '84 and '86: I felt like a complete outsider. At the time I was a team member on the BBC's first environment series - "Nature" on BBC2 - ----------------The industry was almost entirely 'blue chip' - pure unadulterated wildlife, mainly 'life stories' and 'place' films, with the emphasis on escapism and beautiful photography. Our 'people' stories were looked down upon from a very lofty eyrie indeed. We felt (and were treated) like journalistic young bulls in the Miessen china shop, pushing our issue-led (and often very un-pretty) films at an unwilling audience.

    Then things began to change. I remember Jim Murray, executive producer of CBC's "The Nature of Things", talking about his series " Sea of Slaughter " at Wildscreen '90. These films openly tackled thorny issues of over-fishing and the in-humane and wasteful practices that had led to the near-extinction of many whale and fish species. They were not easy viewing, and Jim's openly ecological and 'political' agenda sharply divided opinion at the festival - some delegates felt such films didn't have a place there at all. Others, like myself, felt it was an awakening. We may look back now on "Sea of Slaughter" as a blunt instrument - worthy and evangelical, with not an ounce of lightness or entertainment about it - but these films were without doubt a turning point for Wildscreen: passion about conservation had been let loose.

    Fast forward 17 years...

    Today's festivals are sprouting with ecologically-minded, globally-aware awards. At Jackson Hole there are now "Best Environmental" and "People and Animal" awards, at Wildscreen there are now four separate categories, from the "Filmmakers for Conservation" Award to "Best Campaign", the "Television Trust for the Environment" Award and "One Planet". At Missoula , Montana , this year they had the poetically named "Hands around the World" award.

    It's not only the awards that reflect changing times. Today's keynote speakers have become global conservation leaders - Ed Wilson and Jane Goodall, Richard Leakey and Bob May. The celebrities who attend are no longer John Denver and Stephanie Powers, but the environment ministers from Brazil and Gabon .


    If I have any hesitation in all this, it's a small, personal - and perhaps slightly perverse - one. Having started as an 'outsider', wanting to bring more environmental awareness to the festivals, I now find myself feeling almost protective toward that original 'blue chip' purity which we've been diluting. I didn't start out as a campaigner; I started out loving nature, wanting to spend time in wild places, feeling that sense of absolute humility and irrelevance which comes from total immersion in wilderness. It's a sort of escapism, I guess, a basking in beauty and landscape, often in solitude. I hope we never lose those beautiful, celebratory films which best reflect that simple wonder at nature, because crucial as it is to talk about conservation, we mustn't lose touch with all those wonderful things we're trying to conserve.

    -Brian Leith, Head of Granada Wild

    Story Of The Month

    Vanishing Wealth

    - Shivani Thakur

    With winters setting in most parts of northern India and designers showcasing their fall collection, it also means bringing out the prized shawls by the rich and the famous. If the Pashminas are considered good buys, the Shahtoosh are considered to represent class and sophistication. The toosh shawls as they are infamously known, are considered to be an investment worth its weight in gold by many among the well placed. Whereas the Pashminas are easily available in open market, Shahtoosh are only available on very high discretion because of the ban on their sale.

    Pashmina is made from the mountain goat found in the upper Himalayan regions where as Shahtoosh is obtained from the endangered species of the Tibetan antelope found in Tibet . The wool is woven to perfection in Kashmir . The wool woven is so fine that the whole shawl can pass through a ring finger. Yet the warmth it gives is no match to any other wool. Chiru as the Tibetan antelope is known is found mostly in Tibet with about 10-12 per cent of its population in the Ladakh-Kashmir region. It is estimated that there are about 75,000 antelopes left in the wild. Wool from five Chiru's is required to make one shawl. The weavers claim that the wool they use is not acquired by slaughtering them but what is usually collected from the bushes where Chiru roam. But this is not so as around one lakh chiru have died in the past few decades. The wool is often obtained by bartering tiger bones and skin. Thus not only the chiru but we are also ending up losing the tiger and pushing our eco system to collapse.

    A drive by Wildlife Department was carried out to declare the shahtoosh shawls so as to stop their illegal trade. In Delhi alone and particularly South Delhi 25,000 shawls were declared. Officials say that more than 200 families own more than 5 shawls. Each shawl costs about Rs 50,000 in the open market. Brigadier (retired) Ranjeet Talwar of the World Wildlife Fund explains that the main reason for many big addresses of Delhi owning these shawls is to confirm the social standing in the society. Many a times these shawls are passed from one generation to another. Also, they are gifted to each other to convey their status. In Mumbai too 20,000 shawls have been declared. In July Swiss custom officials had confiscated 537 shawls estimated to cost about 2.5 million Euros meant for sale in Switzerland , UK , France and the US . Wildlife experts estimate that at least 1,600, more than 3 per cent of the population, could have been slaughtered to produce the seizure.

    An act in 1972 under Schedule 1 of Indian Wildlife Act has banned the sale and trade of shahtoosh shawls yet the trade is alive and kicking in Kashmir . Belinda Wright of the Wildlife Protection Society of India remarks that the wool from Tibet is smuggled into Kashmir where the shawls are made. The finished product then probably reaches Switzerland through China and Korea . She also adds that the trade has seen an upsurge in the past few months and the production of shahtoosh shawls in Kashmir has increased.

    In October 2003 the Government of India made the failure to declare wildlife items a punishable offence. But this has not stopped the production of the shawl as the demand for it is now seen in other parts of the world. To curb this is a difficult task as now it is not just one endangered species, which is being exploited for wool; We are on the verge of losing the species for ever. Will a hand me down wool shawl satisfy the wanderlust of your grandchild who is willing to travel to the Himalayan regions to catch a glimpse of the Chiru?

    Photograph : Chiru on Tibetan Plateau by Liu Wulin ( IFAW)




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