Adventure

Patrolling Bhimashankar -Next volunteer batch

Patrolling Bhimashankar -Next volunteer batch starts on 17th November
-Susan Sharma with inputs from volunteers

"It feels like heaven" was the reaction of Yogesh Alekari as he entered the sanctuary.

The landscape by Pravin Baviskar

If you are fond of trekking long distances, enjoy  fresh air, bird calls and butterflies in the lap of nature,  then here is Bhimashankar calling!   No, we are not organizing a tour.  This is serious business.   Trek with the forest guard for upto 19 km a day,  share his living quarters,food -understand the tough life our forest foot soldiers lead to protect our forests.   This is not a call to the weak hearted.

The green routes by Pravin Baviskar

Kevin writes....
The sanctuary is divided into areas.  No two volunteers will be given to patrol the same are.    Most of the areas are huge 15-20 km apart.
So you might probably be living alone with forest guards. Don't worry.   The range officers at  Bhima1-2 will brief you about the things to do while patrolling.
About food n electricity n all. Some villages don't have electricity and some do...

Susan Sharma has already shared with the volunteers a list of essential things to be carried.

Since you would be walking for 15-20 kms daily,  things me and Yogesh found necessary 

1) knee cap ( I had a little sprain in my left knee and thanks to Yogesh who shared one of his knee cap with me)
2) about vegetables and fruits etc, better to buy them from Pune or Shivajinagar
3) For us oranges ,apples , lemon, avala, beet root were very helpful.  And, of course some dry fruits.

Hoopoe  by Pravin Baviskar

Giant squirrel by Yogesh Alekari

Those volunteers whose applications have been accepted by the ACF, Bhimashankar and who could not make it to the first two batches may request the ACF to be considered for the upcoming batches in November starting on 17th November and 23rd November.  

Those who have not yet applied may apply now.  In the words of Pravin Baviskar "I request guys who missed the opportunity should give sincere efforts to visit this place.  It is a life time experience. "   So join in.  Click on the banner below to apply


Conservation

Rehabilitating peachicks in Delhi


Rehabilitating peachicks in Delhi
-Susan Sharma

India International Centre, a premier cultural institution of New Delhi, has the sprawling Lodi Gardens in its backyard.  This citi park of 90 acres, adds to the ambiance of IIC, but has also added  a new responsibility to the Centre.   

The Park has a large number of  peafowls, who call it their home.  Lodi Park is also visited by hundreds of walkers and joggers every day  who enjoy the presence of peafowls.  But the problem is, it also has many  feral dogs who relish peahen eggs and even the chicks!

The ever adaptive peafowls have found a solution to this.   IIC offers ledges with its numerous balconies high above the ground.  Over the last few years peahens have been roosting their eggs in the ledges.


So far so good.   The eggs hatch peacefully, under the protective gaze of managers, chefs, diners and attendants at IIC.   When it is time for the little ones to fly,  the peahen takes a big Leap of faith.  She simply flies out,  egging her brood to follow suit.   And follow suit they do.  But while the peahen reaches the Lodi Garden environs,  the chicks end up in the IIC compound.  Peafowls are poor fliers and the chicks especially so. 

On 25th August, I got a mail from  Rahul Bist from IIC, which read

"It is to bring to your kind attention that Peahens have been laying eggs within the premises of IIC Annexe since 2007. As they don't find the grounds of Lodi gardens safe due to the human intrusion in their natural habitat and also due to the increase in the number of pets (Dogs: both stray and adopted) that comes to the park. But guess they have found our office premises more safe for laying eggs. Last month a peahen laid 5 eggs at one of our hedge some 35-40 ft above ground level and luckily all of the eggs got hatched. Now as they are growing day by day they try to fly and fall down and there are very high chances of them being eaten by cats or being picked by eagles and crows. Twice we have been successful in saving them. Currently we have kept them in an enclosure with some food and water and also as the mother peahen doesn't  stay with them all the time, i request you to help us in providing them a more suitable and safe habitat which is important for their survival. 

Rahul Bist
Assistant Manager
IIC (Annexe)


When I reached IIC I found that the chicks were in a bird cage,  well looked after.  The peahen did pay a visit to the chicks but lost interest soon after.  I agreed with Rahul that we needed to have a more permanent and spacious transit cage so that the chicks can be released to the Lodi Garden when they are , may be a month old and are able to take care of themselves.   

When we met Jitendra Kaushik, assistant director horticulture division, Lodi Garden,  he was helpful and asked for a large and secure cage to be built within the Lodi garden, under the watchful eyes of the gardeners.  

 

The chicks soon found their safe home in Lodi garden.   While the dogs kept away, the mongoose population in the park seemed to have got wind of the abandoned chicks(abandoned by peahen).  One day while keeping the feed for the chicks, the gardener noticed that the mongoose had dug a tunnel from outside the cage which was just about to open inside the cage!  Mongoose are expert diggers and imagine the feast they were hoping to have!


Mr Kaushik had to take an emergency decision.   Leaving the chicks open in the garden to face their own fate,  did not seem feasible anymore,  what with the feral dogs and some clever mongooses on the look out for them.   He rang up the Forest Dept and asked if he can release five peachicks in the Delhi Reserve Forest.  He got permission and the peachicks are now freely roaming in The Asola Bhatti Range,  where BNHS has a conservation education centre.   The forest there is growing organically with birds and wildlife occupying their natural places under the watchful eyes of CEC officials and foresters. 

Delhi cares for their Peafowls and Delhiites are proud of them!


(Susan Sharma is the founder of IndianWildlifeClub.com)

Forest and trees

Afforestation & Reforestation

Afforestation & Reforestation
-Usha Nair
                    
Martin Luther King, in response to a question as to what he would do in case he dies the following day, declared “Plant a tree”. 

What a prophetic and aphorical statement made half a century back! Today it is the considered opinion, that if every individual on earth were to plant two saplings every year for the next 10 years, there may be some hope to arrest global warming. Just to make up for the loss of trees in the last decade, the world would need to plant trees over an area of 130 million hectares, an area as large as Peru. This would entail planting 14 billion trees every year for 10 consecutive years, i.e. 2 saplings for every person on Earth (source: UNEP).

World forests cover 30% of the total land area (FAO 2005, UNEP 2007).  Forests, which act as sinks for carbon and other greenhouse gases are threatened with elimination. Over the last three decades, almost half of the Earth’s original forest cover has been deforested. Certain areas such as the Atlantic Rainforest have been diminished to less than 10% of their original size, and the Amazon Rainforest is awaiting the same fate with 600 fires burning daily. Deforestation is contributing almost 20% to the overall greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, more than the world’s vehicles and aircrafts combined. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, deforestation, mainly in tropical areas, could account for up to one-third of total anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions. Humans, by means of deforestation and burning fossil fuels have altered the carbon equilibrium. Destruction of forests create numerous environmental catastrophes, including altering local rainfall patterns, accelerating soil erosion, causing the flooding of rivers, and threatening millions of species of plants, animals and insects with extinction. The critical task at hand is to decrease the rate of deforestation. 


Forest Produce

Reforestation and afforestation are two solutions to combat global warming. Afforestation is the establishment of forests on lands that have not been forested. Reforestation is the re-establishment of forests in lands where the forests were recently destroyed. It is important to increase carbon sequestration by these means, since it slows the growth of carbon emissions to the atmosphere. 

Forests remove around three billion tons of anthropogenic carbon every year (30% of all carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels). Together, they can increase the area of forested land, increase the carbon density of existing forests, and expand the use of forest products that will sustainably replace fossil-fuel emissions, reduce carbon emissions that are caused from deforestation and degradation. The amount of captured and stored carbon depends on multiple factors like the selection of the site for afforestation or reforestation, the choice of   trees grown, as all species do not grow at the same pace nor do they capture the same amount of carbon.  In both processes, the need to use ecosystem- compatible native species is irrefutable; otherwise it may have negative effects and threaten endemic endangered species of plants and animals. 

 Afforestation and reforestation are encouraged by the United Nations and the World Bank  through direct monetary and other incentives . The Kyoto Protocol provides for the clean development mechanism (CDM), an instrument intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while assisting developing countries in achieving sustainable development. Countries cap their carbon emission at certain levels and issue permits to industries and firms that grant them right to emit stated amounts of carbon over a period of time. The firms that can reduce their emissions sell to others that are unable to reduce greenhouse gas by giving monetary value for the cost of polluting air (Capoor and Ambrosi ).  

The CDM allows for a small percentage of emission reduction credits to come from afforestation and reforestation (CDM-AR) projects. Carbon trading, sustainable forest management (SFM) and forest certifications are options being adopted by countries for alleviating deforestation.

Oceania and North and South America had a net loss of forest, while Europe continued to expand, but at a slower rate. Asia, which had a net loss in the 1990s, registered a net gain due to large reforestation by China, which ensured that each citizen between the ages of 11-60 years planted 3-5 trees per year. Kelly Fella in her2014article, ‘Deforestation and Afforestation, The Value of  Forests’  comments that consumers need to be provided with sustainable options such as provision of more recyclable products and certified wood products with support for brands that embrace zero deforestation. 

 In September 2014, leaders from governments, major multinationals, indigenous communities and civil society signed the landmark New York Declaration on Forests spelling out ambitious commitments to end deforestation, similar to earlier pledges by the Consumer Goods Forum, a global alliance of 400 companies with combined sales of three trillion dollars, to achieve net zero deforestation supply chains by 2020.   India, which currently ranks in the top three importers of forest risk commodities, after China and the EU/EFTA countries, in terms of value imported, is the largest importer of palm oil, soya and timber products from tropical forest producer jurisdictions. India, in March 2015, consciously decided for the first time ever, to include forest cover in its tax allocation formula, by prescribing state government’s portion of tax revenue as partially dependent on how much forestland it has maintained. India has earmarked $6 billion, more than any other nation in the world. The adoption and implementation of appropriate governance, production and trade policies that favour sustainably produced commodities by all countries is evidently the overriding requirement to ensure a healthy, ecologically balanced environment for future generations.

*
I cannot give you my forest

The worrying questions are: Has the world woken up too late? Has enough been done to reverse global warming? Is it a case of too little too late? Will the haze over S.E.Asia- China, Indonesia-spread? Will more gloomy forecasts follow the recent the MIT study predicting intolerable temperatures in the Gulf at the turn of the century? What is in store for the human race? Should we have taken more serious note of Martin Luther King’s advice 50 years back?

Usha Nair is a nature lover and can be reached at  ushaenvironment@gmail.com

(* I cannot give you my forest is a documentary directed and produced by filmmakers- Nandan Saxena and Kavita Bahl. It has received the National Film Award for Best Environment Film in 2014.  "In the city-centric world-view of most planners and administrators, Forests mean ‘timber’ that can be sold, and minerals that can be mined.  They fail to understand the critical importance of the Forest for the food security of the communities that live around the forest.")

Gardening for wildlife

New ways of pest control


 New ways of pest control

Sending out signals to attract insects that eat pests may be the way to sustainable agriculture, saysS.Ananthanarayanan.

As crop plants are bred and refined for features of better yields and also to be hardy and resilient, they are losing out on a network of natural safeguards that wild plant varieties employ for pest control. Great effort, expense and damage to the environment then become necessary, for a purpose that the plants had within themselves before they got specialised.

Johan A. Stenberg, Martin Heil, Inger Åhman and Christer Björkman, from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the Department of Genetic Engineering of the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico describe in the Elsevier journal, Trends in Plant Science, their study of how wild plant varieties are able to attract and retain insects, which do not harm the plants, but feed on species of pests that do. Even if re-engineering crop plants to get back the lost function is too challenging, the researchers suggest planting wild varieties along with crop plants or spraying crop plants with the active agents that wild plants use. 

Numerous studies, they say, have established that wild plants generate volatile organic compounds (VOC) to produce odours that announce to predators that leaf-eating organisms, which endanger plants, have appeared on the scene.  As generating VOC consume scarce resources, plants generally produce them at the onset of damage by herbivores. "Even as humans we smell it when our neighbour is mowing the lawn - odors can carry very precise information," says co-author Martin Heil of CINVESTAV-Irapuato in Mexico The VOCs released are of different kinds and can indicate the nature of damage and the type of the attacker, so that specific predators associate odors with the herbivore involved, as an efficient defense mechanism for the plant.  And then, to hold the interest of the predators that the VOC invokes and get them to stay on, many kinds of plants also exude nectar on different parts of the plant body. These food rewards are carbohydrate rich, which favour the nutrition needs of predators, rather than the herbivores, and also serve to keep the predators both energetic and to discourage conflict among themselves, the paper says. 

In addition to VOC and food rewards, the paper says, plants also attract and maintain the carnivore (as opposed to herbivore) creatures by providing shelter, like cavities for ants or mites, which are more often used by the predators. In general, the paper says, plants that generate extra floral, i.e. other than in the flower, nectars (EFN) and produce large amounts of pollen or provide shelters for predators show stronger resistance to attack by herbivores.

EFNs have also been found to impart advantages even by themselves. For one, they are direct antimicrobials and immediately protect both an injured plant and its neighbours from disease. Volatile Salicylic Acid, for instance, regulates plant resistance to infection and certain forms directly inhibit growth of bacteria and fungi. This versatility of EFN action hence marks EFN as a valuable trait that could be induced in crop plants.

Lost Protection 

While this kind of ‘bio-control’ of pests is observed in plants in the wild, the features seem to have been bred out in domesticated, crop varieties. “Crop domestication aims to enhance the quality of plants for human use,” the paper says. “In addition to yield, domestication most commonly has altered the size, taste, and nutritional quality.…favoring synchronous ripening, homogenous plant sizes…..or other characteristics of relevance for cultivation and harvesting and traits that facilitate transport and storage…. enhanced resistance to pathogens or other forms of  stress represent an integrated goal in most plant breeding programs,” the paper says. In the process, breeding for the trait of resistance to herbivorous pests has been neglected. The paper, in fact, cites an instance of breeders and governmental agencies having consciously preferred cotton plants that did not exude EFNs because presence of colonies of insects on the plants was considered undesirable!

Many of the traits that confer direct resistance to pests have been counter-selected during  domestication, either because they depend on undesirable properties such as bitterness, hairiness, toughness, or toxicity, and thus reduce the quality of the consumed parts, or because they cause a yield penalty because of the metabolic costs of resistance expression

The result is that we have huge acreage under crops with high yield and resistance to drought or flooding, traits which benefit crop-eating pests as much as they help us, but without the protective features that were native to the ancestors of the domesticated plants. This has encouraged efforts to put these features back into crop plants, a move towards ‘rewilding’.  But features like secretion of a range of VOC or EFN involve multiple genes and the trail of their being bred out, over generations, cannot be retraced. “Whereas disease resistance is frequently based on gene-for-gene resistance, and thus depends on the presence of a single and usually dominant gene, the blends of VOCs that exert biological functions are complex,” say the researchers. Classical breeding strategies, like crossing, mutation, breeding by ‘qualitative trait loci’ are hence unlikely to be successful in getting domesticated plants to regain the lost capacity.

Practical bio-control of pests has thus used methods like conserving the existing population of predators, attracting them from adjacent areas, or physical release of predators onto crop plants infested by herbivores. This approach, however, has not gone far in all areas, because the carnivores tend to disperse to neighbouring ecosystems, or they may starve once the herbivores are consumed, or, if they are used as a preventive, they may need to consume the plant matter for themselves. Artificial release of VOCs to invoke carnivores also presents problems. For one, VOCs are signals not only to carnivores but to herbivores too.  The strategy may hence turn counter-productive! VOCs also have a wide range of effects on the plant, some of which may not be desirable. And again, their function depends on a complex of physical conditions, like temperature, humidity, which a wild plant takes into account, but is still not understood for artificial use of VOCs. And finally, VOCs may call in carnivores when there are not enough herbivores, which would affect the fitness of the carnivore and also lead to the carnivores ‘unlearning’ the response to the VOCs.
 

One way natural VOCs are used to control pests is by ‘intercropping’ with plant species that emit VOCs to mimic herbivore damage of the main crop plant, and hence attract, or ‘pull’ carnivores. Or, there could be plants that exude repellent VOCs to expel or ‘push’ herbivores away to neighbouring fields. Another strategy, of using artificial VOC dispensers has been refined to the ‘attract and reward’ scheme (see pictures), where a combination of VOCs and EFNs provide higher efficiency. 

  
 
There is still much work to be done and ground to be covered, the authors of the paper say. The existence of the volatile and odor related communications network in ecology has been recognised only some thirty years ago and work larger breeding programmes as well as new methods to leverage biological methods for viable and sustainable pest control need to be developed, they say.

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

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