Adventure

Wapiti

Wapiti

                                            -John Eickert

Several years ago, I wrote about my one visit to Kashmir, Srinigar and Dachigam. The terrain at Dachigam is much like here in Montana. When I was there, decades ago, it was fall of the year and the hangul were mating. The male hangul create an interesting song as they defend territory, hoping to attract females. There is an animal here, a large deer known locally as Wapiti, or sometimes-called elk. The wapiti are a large member of the deer family, tan to brown in color, about a meter and a half at the shoulder and 200-250 kilos. The females bond into calving herds and spend most of the year in those groups, herd size ranging from 2 or 3 to 400 or more depending on terrain. The males grow branched antlers, which they polish and use during the season as do their ‘cousins’ the hangul. Wapiti have fascinated me since I was a child.

 

When I was young, I took to the mountains alone to track and watch these animals in their habitat. It was important to me then to experience these creatures by myself and in wild, remote settings. I wanted to have the elk all to myself and discover their secrets. I greatly regarded the notion of man alone in the wilderness, at one with nature, a naïve romantic notion.

 

One day I went exploring. It snowed the night before, but the sun brought a day crisp and clear. The rising sun softened the new snow, creating silent-perfect tracking conditions. I hiked a short distance after leaving my transportation then cut the tracks of a herd of wapiti, they were moving uphill. I spent the day following, moving in and out of forest and meadow, stopping for lunch and a rest, enjoying my own time in the sun. The shadows stretched as the day deepened and I turned for home without seeing the animals I spent the day pursuing. I decided to follow my own tracks, knowing they would take me back to my transportation. I walked along my own footsteps in the snow; within 20 meters, I saw other prints with mine. While I was tracking the wapiti, a mountain lion was tracking me. The lion tracks sent a chill up my spine and I realized I shared this wilderness with others with similar interests and sometimes those others were unseen.

 

 

 Yellowstone National Park is five hours from our home and fall is a special time there. Snow falls early because of the elevation and, like Dachigam, the male deer sing and display, hoping to woe females. While the wapiti gather for their natural process, humans gather to share the experience, creating, of course, another natural process. I no longer need to be alone to enjoy.

 

Seasons come and seasons go, though I remember the boy who was startled to see the lion track imposed over his own, I am warm with the memory. Take the time and go today, tomorrow may be too late. Cheers.



Amazing Facts About Wildlife

How biodiversity adds up

How biodiversity adds up

 

Mathematical bases have been discovered for biodiversity to behave just so, says S.Ananthanaryanan.

 

The way living things thrive when many species live together seems to fly in the face of Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’. One way of looking at the apparent contradiction was to think the different species worked as a team and helped one another. But this does not explain how species relate even to other species that prey on them!

 

Rock, paper, scissors

 

In this children’s game, 2 players have to simultaneously choose one of 3 options, ‘rock’, ‘scissors’ or ‘paper’. If they choose the same, they play again, till the choices are different. There are then 3 possibilities - ‘rock breaks scissors’, ‘scissors cuts paper’ and ‘paper covers rock’. This means 1 of the 2 players has to win, but neither can be sure if she will.

 

 

This simple child’s game, usually resorted to for deciding which one will do an onerous task, or even get the first go at an attractive one, turns out to be an example of an important algebraic structure – the kind where the relation where a thing is greater than another, but less than yet another does not imply the obvious relation between the greatest and the smallest. In this case, ‘paper’ is shredded by ‘scissors‘and ‘scissors’ shatter when faced with ‘rock’. Still, it is ‘rock’ that succumbs to ‘paper’ and not the other way about!

 

Rock, paper, scissors is now known as ‘RPS’ and forms an important part of the mathematicians’ area of study, in algebra, in game theory, analysis of statistical processes, and the like.

 

 

Biodiversity

 

The relations between different living things that coexist in the wild seem to be a kind of RPS too. One species preys on another and the preyed upon species lives off yet another. And then, the third species preys on the first! This of course is the simplest case - there may be many more stages in the circle.

 

But the simplified sequence is that when the first species gets active, it reduces the danger to the third species, which is to its own peril. And as its numbers go down, the second species regroups and sets on the third species, to the relief of the first species!

 

In real life, species do more than prey on each other, they also reproduce and move about, in search of mates or food. But the complementary nature of RPS is retained with this more complex version of the game, and even with a great many more players

 

Current research

 

Nature this week reports the work of Ervin Frey and colleagues at the Ludwig Maxmillian University at Munich. They noted that in a static situation, an ecosystem of competing populations is the same as RPS, species can coexist and biodiversity is maintained. But how does it work when the species move about?

 

The scientists modeled the situation as 3 kinds of entities located in a spatial lattice.  There would be a rate at which the occupant of a square in the lattice would eat her food species in a neighbouring square, or reproduce and create another of her kind in a vacant neighbouring square. And then, there is the rate at which the entities may exchange places or move to vacant squares.

 

 

The rates of selection and reproduction were fixed with reference to the units of the lattice and for ‘mobility’, the area covered in wandering motion, was computer-simulated as a ‘random walk’. At low rates of mobility, it was found that the species coexist, forming patterns of moving spirals. As the mobility was increased, the spirals fanned out till they disappeared. When the spirals were gone, the system adopted a uniform state, with only one species surviving.

 

A remarkable finding was that there is a threshold mobility above which biodiversity perishes. There is thus a critical value below which the 3 species coexist, but above that value, 2 of the 3 species become extinct.

 

The work has been verified with strains of bacteria cultured in glass dishes, with the mobility controlled by varying the viscosity of the culture medium. The work is seen as having applications wherever there is interplay of coexisting populations, including in the social sciences and maybe in the behaviour of markets.

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

Common Birds of India

Tickells Flowerpecker

 

 

 

                  

Tickells Flowerpecker.( Dicaeum erythrorhyncos )

 

                                                                                    -Ragoo Rao

  

 

A small bird, which could easily be mistaken for a female sunbird, with olive-brown

 Upper body and a whitish yellow body, with a slightly curved beak, which is almost pinkish in color, hopping from branch to branch restlessly is the Tickells flowerpecker. Both sexes are alike. Their distribution is almost all over the country except for very arid regions.

  

 

These birds are often seen in shrubs and medium sized trees, which bear a lot of small flowers and berries.  It constantly searches for berries and flowers. It swallows many parasitic plant berries inadvertently helping the gardens and farmers.  But this habit also acts as a broadcaster for these plants, as the seeds are taken over a wider area.  Not a serious threat, just a small little shy bird occupying the eco-niche.

  

These birds are seldom seen in flocks. Invariably single or just a breeding pair can be noticed in many urban gardens with small trees and shrubs. They go around foraging with a constant Chik...chik....chik... call, very reminiscent of the tailor birds and other warblers.

 

Nesting season is chiefly between February and June, probably because of the berry plants bearing season.  Both the parents build the nest and the nest is a hanging oval cuplike pouch with a side entrance.  The nest looks similar to the Sunbirds nest but the cob-webs of the sunbirds nests are absent.  The flower pecker always selects a small hanging twig to build the nest and the nest is well covered with the foliage growth. Two small white eggs are laid and the parents can be seen sharing all chores of incubating and raising the chicks.

 

 

A small beautiful bird,  which likes very quiet atmospheres.

 

Did You Know ?

NOBEL ACCOLADES

NOBEL ACCOLADES

-Shivani Thakur

The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change or the IPCC was awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize on the 12th October, 2007. The panel is headed by Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, who is also the Director of Delhi based organization TERI. Born in Nainital and holding two PhD’s in economics and industrial engineering from North Carolina State University, he took charge of IPCC in 2002. The panel was set up by the World Meteorological organization and the UN Environment Programme. The IPCC comprises of 3000 odd atmospheric scientists, oceanographers, ice specialists, economists and other experts. The panel itself does not carry out any research but assesses and evaluates existing research.  All IPCC reports are scrutinized by the scientists and summary of each is reviewed by the participatory governments. The IPCC has predicted more severe rains, melting glaciers, droughts heat waves and rising sea levels. All scientists in the panel are considered the final word on climate change assessment.

          RK Pachauri’s achievement lies in the fact that he, as the head of TERI, has made immense contribution to the field of environment for which he was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 2001 by the Indian government. His zeal towards his job has brought focus to the growing concern about global warming. The earlier report, by the panel nearly six years ago, only talked about the “likely” effect due to human activities;  Te report of February 2007 has clearly stated  that it is  “very likely” the cause. The report predicts that the temperatures would rise between 1.8 and 4 degree Celsius in the 21st century. It warns that by 2050 more than 200 million people would be forced from their native lands by rising sea levels.  Himalayan glaciers could shrink from the present 500,000 sq.km to 100,000 sq.km by 2030’s.  The Mediterranean might become arid and the worst hit species would be polar bears, frogs, cod and coral.

        The climate change would also be responsible for falls in production of wheat, barley and maize.  RK Pachauri estimates that a rise of 0.5 degrees in winter temperatures could cause 0.45 tonne per hectare fall in wheat production. The crop yield per hectare will cause food insecurity and loss of livelihood. The rising sea level in the coastal areas will damage areas for fisheries causing coastal erosion and flooding.  India’s per capita water availability will fall from 1820 million cubic meters to 1140 million cubic meters in 2050.  Pachauri mentions that it is high time that Indian government starts looking at the implications of climate change impact, especially for the poor dependent on rain fed agriculture. The poorer nations that contribute to less heat trapping green house gases will pay the highest price for global warming.

        The IPCC findings are approved unanimously by the governments and will guide policy on issues such as UN’s Kyoto Protocol and the mini UN plan for capping greenhouse gas emissions.  Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environment Program says that it is no longer about whether climate change is happening but about how we deal with it.  Hans Verolome of WWF conservation group says that the urgency of this report should be matched with equally urgent response by governments. 

Pachauri says winning the Nobel award means that climate is on everyone’s radar and will prompt governments to take decisions.

  Attempt a quiz on global warming by clicking on the link below

Quiz on Global Warming

Eco-travel

Inside the woodlands of Wodeyars -Part V

Inside the woodlands of Wodeyars 
 Part V
                                                          -Saraswati Kavula                                                             

 

On our way back to Mysore we stopped at Kushalnagar to visit the Dubbare

Elephant Camp and Nisargadhama. The highlight of Dubbare was a chance to take

part in washing the elephants. Dubbare is 15 kilometers from Kushalnagar on the

banks of Cauvery. The place was almost picturesque except for the mad blaring of

a song from the film happening nearby. One has to cross the Cauvery in a motor

launch in order to reach the campsite. There are 14 elephants in all. The fees

is 20 rupees,  for the river crossing and another 75 for the interaction with

the elephants which includes bathing the elephants, drill, feeding and briefing

about the camp. Those come to just take a peek can do so, paying just 20 rupees.

As people started to come in the little booking office also doubled up as a

sales counter, selling souvenirs. The wash was enjoyed by the kids and the

animals alike. But the drill turned out to be a demonstration of circus feats by

the elephants after reasonable raps on the

 forehead with a sharp edged stick by their “trainers”. Quite a few elephants

had chains on their feet. “Look at the feet, the skin looks so bruised, they

must be in so much pain” rued my niece. For the people who came there, this was

another entertainment. After having sufficiently performed for the crowd,

enabling us to take some good photographs, the big fellows were taken for the

feeding ritual. Imagine being crowded around by nearly 50 people staring at you,

as you wish to eat your first meal in the day! 

 

 

  

  When I mentioned this to Muruli from the Coorg Wild Life Society, who runs the

boat service at Dubare, he said, “This used to be the elephant training camp of

the Mysore Kings. Later it was taken up by the Forest department. Now, they

opened this to public for tourism purpose. We have been telling them this is not

a good thing for conservation; the elephants must live in the wild, not like

this. But they don’t bother. They want the tourists. And the tourists want some

entertainment!”  I told him about the denuded hills around Bandipur Safari

Lodge, and the claim that it was a semi-deciduous forest. “How the topography

change within a short span of few kilometers?” “No, most of this area is

tropical forest, a lot of it is gone, what you saw in the Safari area of

Bandipur is actually replanted forest by the forest department. Here in Dubare

also, out of the 13,000 hectares of forest area, nearly 8000 hectares is teak

plantation, planted by the forest department, after they

 cut down the natural forest. But still the remaining area is natural forest and

we are fighting to let it survive”, replied Muruli. “But in Bhagamandala, we saw

a lot of natural forest”, I continued my query. “Well, thankfully, teak doesn’t

grow in the cooler climates, otherwise our forest department would have cut that

forest down to make way for teak plantations!”

           

  Some people stayed back for a picnic on the rocks in the middle of the river.

And bits of discarded paper plates, plastic carry bags and soft drink bottles

were floating around them.

  

  The next stop was Nisargadhama, a little island on the Cauvery, with some

bamboo plantations grown by the forest department. A hanging bridge takes you to

the other side of the island, which has some bamboo cottages overlooking the

river, a small restaurant, some swings and tree houses and a deer park. One can

go for an elephant ride, pedal a boat in the river or just look at the miserable

deer behind the iron mesh boundary, fed on dry worn out grass. The elephant ride

was nice except for the occasional rap with shrapnel on the elephant’s forehead

given out by the mahout to prevent the animal from eating the bamboo shoots

hanging from the top. “Why do they hit so badly? And that too on its forehead,

where it hurts the most?” my niece asked. That reminded us of the incident of

our first elephant ride at Bandipur. There the animal was hit with a bamboo

cane, to sort of get it into action. As we finished our turn and were getting

down, a banana seller asked the tourists to

 buy bananas to offer to the elephant. That seemed like a good idea, which

turned sour, as one lady was just busy posing with the bananas next to the

elephant, in front of a camera. The animal was waiting and wanting to eat the

fruit. Meanwhile, the next batch of riders had climbed up and wanted to leave.

The Mahout hit the animal asking it to move. Our lady tourist was still busy

with her poses, not getting the right picture, and the animal did not wish to

leave without eating the fruit. Our Mahout was getting worked up, for lost time,

means lost revenue, so he really hit the animal so hard, that it screamed out

loud in pain and of course had to move without eating the bananas.

  

  The second elephant ride which concluded with the shrapnel hitting the

elephant gave us a new resolve. “I will never ever ride an elephant in my life,”

my niece and nephew, said in unison. The restaurant, run by the forest

department, served tea in disposable plastic, and lot of packed foodstuffs. And

the surrounding area was filled with lots of plastic bottles, wrappers,

disposable cups etc, etc. As we left the place, I saw a board at the entrance

which read, “No plastic Zone”.

 

 

  On returning to Mysore, we went to see the migratory birds at Ranganatittu

bird sanctuary, certainly a much better maintained place compared to

Nisargadhama. One did not find any plastic lying around only a few used condom

packets under a bamboo bush. The sight of the birds all over the little islands

inside the river was really refreshing. I began to wonder at how little these

creatures ask for, even a little bit of green and some sort of a watering hole,

they survive some how. And how much we ask for, without giving back much to

nature? Do we have this right to bulldoze all the other inhabitants of the

earth?

 

  

  I suppose I am living in a fools’ paradise thinking these thoughts. As we went

past the once garden city of Bangalore, I realized that people thought

otherwise. Bangalore has a severe water problem, the city is terribly hot, the

roads are clogged with vehicles and of course no body can breathe normal. (Not

too different from Hyderabad). Yet one finds every day a new lake replaced by a

concrete structure and new forests cut down to make way for glasshouses. At one

time, Banarghatta National Park was some 20 kilometers from Bangalore city.

Today, the city barely leaves the boundary of the National Park in tact. The

sight at the Park itself was a revelation. A huge hotel was under construction

very close by, in addition to the existing little eating places, shops selling

various things like, packed foods, mineral water, camera rolls, knickknacks etc

etc, in front of the Park gates. Not to forget the huge parking area being built

to accommodate the great number of vehicles.

 We were lucky to have arrived a little early for the Grand Safari. An hour

later we would have been squashed in the crowds. The buses taking the tourists

on Safari roared around, while we waited in the queue for our turn. “Anybody,

just two or three people?” the man at the entrance asked us, and finally the

three of us, who were the last to climb in, squashed into the last seat. We did

see a lot of tigers, lions and bears, an elephant, some deer, bison; but when

one compares with the area of the Park, there were a lot many carnivores, than

the area would naturally support. I suppose, they must be fed by the Park

keepers in order to sustain them. Sure enough, the animals had to get back into

their cages after vehicle after vehicle of screaming tourists, had their fill of

seeing the animals. “I think the animals are looking better in the Bandipur

forest than here”, said my nephew. “I suppose, they are happier when they are

free”. “Actually, when they are able to hunt, they

 are healthier, rather than when they are fed by us. I read it somewhere”, my

neice replied. “I guess it applies to us too. As we begin to make life more

“comfortable”, we begin to get sluggish”, I replied.

  

  The zoo was something; smelly, small cages, in the hot stuffy climate. What

cruelty one can imagine. The worst hit seemed to be the Himalayan Bear, (which

lives in the cold climes of the Himalayas), now suffering inside a cage in

boiling hot Banergatta!

 

  Anyway, after our fill of bhelpuri and ice-cream, we too left the park,

feeling no better than the other tourists. Outside there was the usual scene –

an elephant ride, hankering tourists, frustrated mahout, in addition to the long

queues of vehicles, buses, people, shops, cat calls, nimbu pani, ganna ras,

mineral water…reminded me of the exhibition grounds of Hyderabad, where the

annual Numaish, was meant for people to sell their wares – crafts, food,

electronic gadgets, camel rides….

  

  For now, Bandipur is an island of peace and quiet. Only time will tell, if the

Mysore- Ooty road will begin to resemble the environs of Banerghatta in future.

 

                                                                                    -Concluded

Endangered

Butterfly Conservation


 

Lime Butterfly

 

 

 

Common Rice Swift

 

 

Butterfly Conservation

 

 

-Dr. Surya Prakash

 

My love towards butterfly started way back in early 70s when I was a young child of 8 or 9 years. We were living in a small town of Rajasthan –Pali where my father was teaching Botany in a govt. college. There was a beautiful park in our colony called ‘Gandhi Udhyan” A fresh water canal was there feeding to another district around 75 km away where I was born Jodhpur – A mini Bombay now.

 

Well, I was a very naughty boy in my childhood so usually after my school is over I would go to home change uniform, eat and then slip into this park full of many kinds of butterflies I did not know name of a single butterfly at that time but I used to recognize them by their size and colures of wings. I used to catch them, would bring them to my home and put them in a cage made up of wire mesh, decorated with all fresh flowers plants and water, my younger brother used to help me in all my endeavors, then would start waiting for my father to come back from the college  in the evening for identification of these beautiful creatures of nature. before releasing them to the same garden. One day Gardner of that park caught me and took me to my grandfather with a complain that I catch butterflies from garden and then kill them, He had already given me a name ‘Papla” (Sinner) in Marwari language at that time.

 

 My grandfather started smiling and showed that Gardner the cage where I used to keep butterflies for identification from my botanist father. It was the time when that Gardner realized that how much fascination I really have for butterflies.  Today I know that they are Commanders, Sailors, Sergeants, Tigers, Leopards, Raja, Queen etc.

 

India is a home to around 1500 butterflies species among 17000 species that are found all over the world, constituting 65% of total Indian fauna. North eastern India, Kerala, Bangalore, Arunachal Pradesh, Himalayas, Nilgiri Hills, Rohtang pass, Tiger Hills in J&K, Western Ghats ,Assam are the major areas in the country harboring maximum species of these Lepeidoptera.   Assam alone has over 500 species of butterflies many of which were commonly seen in 20th century, have now dwindled drastically and this decline is so rapid of the third world today that if not checked now, this downward trend will become irreversible soon in ongoing global environmental crisis.

 

In most part of the country butterflies are treated as non target species in the wild life conservation and management programmes. In the present scenario of “Protected Area Network” set up by the government, is directed towards iconic fauna like Project Tiger, Asiatic Lions Elephants, Rhinocerose, Vultures  etc. all naturalists are not against it but at the same time these small, beautiful and agriculturally important creatures must not be ignored. Nature and poachers do not differentiate any animal, insect, or plant , their main aim is to earn money for which they can go to any extent of crime. When nature eradicates any species it takes its own time which is very slow process and may take as long as millions of years for natural extinction but, when a poachers kill any species or a species go to extinction due to human negligence the process is so rapid that in just one blink of eye , species vanishes. Its not only butterflies but Gangetic dolphins, forest owl,and many aquatic species are at the verge of extinction.

 

The nature has set up a system in an ecosystem called food chain where there are primary consumers, secondary consumers and tertiary consumers so the importance of inter-species-relationships among different species and landscape level ecological processes taking place through smaller life must not be ignored. 

 

                                                                                                            -----To be continued

 

Forest and trees

Are zoos out of date?

Are Zoos out of date?Visiting the Zoo

A colorful campaign aimed at parents and children is playing up the “wild” in the premier attractions owned and operated by the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Those attractions are the Bronx Zoo and the New York Aquarium in Coney Island, Brooklyn. A new agency, Deutsch, is encouraging potential visitors to “Go wild” in a campaign with a budget estimated at $7 million — and, as the elephants at the zoo might say, that’s hardly peanuts.

 The campaign includes television and radio commercials; signs and posters; print advertisements; trading cards bearing pictures of animals, which are of course called “wild cards”; and a Web site where computer users are invited to “build your wild self” and forward the images to friends.

With species going extinct at an alarming rate, wildlife protection is possible only if the adults who are now in charge, do their bit. 


While the ad companies are doing a good job of attracting kids, can they do something to make "visiting the zoo" serious adult business too?

-Susan Sharma

 




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