Amazing Facts About Wildlife

Banyan: a strangler tree

By
Prashant Mahajan, senior Education Officer, BNHS, Mumbai

Scientific name: Ficus benghalensis

Banyan is one of the common trees planted as a shade tree along the city roads and highways. However, a palm tree growing out of Banyan tree makes an interesting observation. As a matter of fact the palm does not grow from the Banyan but it is Banyan which grows around the palm tree.


Roots of the giant banyan tree at Adyar,
Madras which overs 59,000 sq ft.
(Photographed by Susan Sharma)

This is a fascinating creation of birds. Many birds cherish the globular, stalk less figs of Banyan. One of such birds defecates on the palm tree. During rainy season, the undigested seeds germinate and send thread-like small roots to the ground. These roots then surround the palm tree with a delicate network. These roots further thicken and become like mighty ropes. The powerful roots then start pressing and squeezing the stem of the palm so strongly that all the capillaries that carry water from ground to the top of the palm get crushed and blocked. Eventually the palm dies off and its trunk decomposes and disappears leaving behind a strange, hollow, cage-like structure, formed by the strangler roots of the Banyan tree hence called Strangler fig. However the two can co-exist for along time.

Banyan is found in the sub-Himalayan forests and peninsular India. It has a smooth bark and large leathery leaves. The leaves are used as fodder for captive elephants and camels. The leaves are also made into plates. The fruits are fig like which appear between April and June and October and November as well.

The Banyan is sacred to the Hindus and Buddhists. The great Banyan of Calcutta has around 1000 trunks. The canopy covers 4 acres and a walk around the tree is about 400 meters. One can see huge Banyan tree under total control of a palm tree in gardens, roadside, forest area or agricultural land.

 

Close-up of Strangler Fig. Showing the banyan growing out of the palm tree.

(Photographed by the author in Film City Mumbai)

Call For Submissions To The Indian Wildlife Club

Join Us In Our Efforts

Would you be interested in contributing content to the world wide web's portal to network nature lovers?

Do you or someone you know have a veritable closet full of wildlife adventure stories, articles, pictures or other interesting media which would interest other nature lovers?

Have you always wanted to write about a specific travel adventure to the jungles/mountains/rivers or a memorable animal contact but never been motivated enough or given the forum to do so?

Do you have photographs of animals/nature's moods/forest tapestry, which sit gathering dust, never finding an audience beyond family and friends?

If your answer is yes to any of the above, read on!

As the founder and content aggregator for this website dedicated to bringing people all over the world to the 'Indian Wildlife Club' I need your help. With tightening budgets all around the tech and dot-com market place, IndianWildlifeClub.com is in need of support from those who love nature and wildlife.

How can you help?

By offering content

What kinds of content are you looking for?

Two main categories: editorial and images.

EDITORIAL

250+words on your favourite animal contact story, favourite nature spots....or your feelings on conservation of wildlife, environment, trees, your review of a remarkable video/book on Indian wildlife, write up on an NGO which prefers to do the work quietly outside public gaze, reports of volunteer efforts to protect rivers, trees, wildlife in your area.

IMAGES

Whether you are an amateur or professional, the pleasure of sharing your work with a group who share your passion is immense.

Pictures are even more valuable to us if they accompany an editorial piece, which you or a partner has written.

How will my work be used?

With the highest level of integrity and appreciation.

Unless we negotiate with you for use of rights other than the website, anything you offer to IndianWildlifeClub.com will be used exclusively on the pages of our website. We may, at a later date, get back in touch with you to discuss using your work in a CD ROM, or video about nature/wildlife which we would sell on the website. Of course you would receive payment for this use. But for now, all we are interested in is the right to use your content on the website.

Will I get paid for this?

Currently, the simple answer to this question is No.

But there are several benefits we can offer beyond cash, which may be immensely satisfying to you:

a) Exposure to a global market of your skills as a writer, photographer, or videographer.

b) Traffic to your own website. We will credit all work and be happy to place a link to your website.

c) Establish a good working relationship with IndianWildlifeClub.com in anticipation of future, paid assignments.

d) Helping a worthwhile project and building global appreciation of India's natural wealth which needs protection.

What is Indian Wildlife Club all about any way?

IndianWildlifeClub.com is a forum for wildlife lovers to share the wonder and beauty of India's exclusive wildlife and birds through reports, photographs and videos. It is the vision of this club that appreciation of the beauty and diversity of wildlife can promote commitment to a healthy environment objective which in turn achieves a conservation objective. The site gets visitors from an average of 20 countries. The maximum page views are from U.S followed by India, Canada and U.K. and other countries.

The website offers videos and CDs on wildlife produced by independent and committed producers of India. The film and television industry has grown to become the greatest single force for education and change that the world has ever known, with the ability to reach all corners of the globe and touch the hearts of all people, regardless of class, religion and ethnic origin. We do see the website developing into an exclusive Indian Wildlife Channel in the future.

The site is not all about clicks though. The Mumbai chapter of the club has a few active members who is working in tandem with the Bombay Natural History Society.

The Pune chapter is taking shape to be soon followed by the Delhi chapter.

Nature lovers know very well the alarming disappearance and destruction of habitat around the world that is causing what biologists refer to as the 6th major extinction period. As more and more of humanity moves to large urban centres, our connection with and need for nature becomes less obvious. There has never been a time when a conservation message is more urgently needed.

Conserving species, protecting the environment, safeguarding individual animal welfare - these are the core missions of Indian Wildlife Club. But however hard you work, if no one gets to hear about your projects then attitudes remain unchanged, public support suffers and things get steadily worse. Getting our message out, to inform, to educate, to encourage and inspire - and to bring about change for good - is an essential task. We hope to be a forum that can marshal the energies and talents of the common man to actively support the conservation of the natural world.

How does IndianWildlifeClub.com support its activities?

Good question! There are three current revenue models we are pursuing:

a) Sponsorship and advertisement.

b) Marketing of videos/CDs

c) Subscription to premium areas of the site ( projected model)

How do I submit content?

It is easy! Just send an e-mail to me (susan_sharma@hotmail.com) and tell me about your idea. Before sending any material by post, it is required that you contact me through e-mail.

I will do my best to respond in a timely manner to everyone who contacts me in this regard.

Whether you submit content to us or merely visit the site as an active member of Indian wildlife Club, I offer my deepest thanks for your support. Let us create a web force which percolate to the physical chapters and enthuse them to actively take up field projects.

We invite club members to send us 'species profiles' on endangered animals

Join Us In Our Efforts.


Forest and trees

The Making of a Zoo Man

Toby Ninan retired from Delhi Zoo about two years back. With his varied experiences with the wild animals in the zoo, he is the right person to direct your queries to. Hear what Ninan has to say about his life and chosen career!

The Making of a Zoo Man

The urge to look after wild animals started off at a very young age especially fuelled off by my Dad's hobby of keeping not only domestic animals but also wild ones at home. At about the age of 7+ I had the chance to enter a pigeon coop and help my father to clean it up, change the water and feed. I could, after some instruction, find out the sick ones, treat them and after some years could even do minor surgery.

The local jungly area around South Delhi gave me a chance to hunt the ring necked doves and eat these after roasting them on an open fire. These were joints which my parents knew nothing about but my prowess with the catapult was well known to my friends around and in the colony we lived in.

Soon after school choosing a subject for college was not any problem and soon I was pouring over thick Zoology, Botany and other science books and cutting up all sorts of inoffensive creatures in the lab.

After graduating I did a job as a public relations man and also one knocking off beetles and worms from bags and bags of wheat and other grain. My delight knew no end when I came across an ad where the Delhi Zoological Park wanted what they called a 'Zoo Ranger'. I appeared for a test. Luckily all the questions were of a practical nature and thus were well up my street. The interview also turned out to be a zoo man's delight and it seems that I did well. In spite of a few candidates having pulls and pushes, I was selected and thus I was thrown on to a job where my teachers were older zookeepers, a colleague who had been there for a couple of years and of course my boss and the good old library. Last but not the least I must mention the wild animals under my charge- for they also taught me a lot about my job.

During my tenure with the zoo I was selected for a training course at the Jersey Wildlife Trust and could get a professional insight into my job , most of which I had learnt through experience. A number of foreign zoo experts taught me skills like using the tranquilizing equipment.

I had the great fortune of traveling with a number of wild animals to deliver them to different destinations both within India and abroad which were very instructive indeed.

One cannot make money on this job but the adventure and satisfaction of a wonderful job is well worth the job of a curator in any zoo.

If I had a chance to do it all over again I 'd do it, though hopefully better!!

Toby Ninan can be contacted at Ninan@indianwildlifeclub.com

General

Greening the Eastern Side of Sanjay Gandhi National Park



Indian Wildlife Club.com has been in existence for about a year, providing a forum for exchange of views among wildlife enthusiasts and disseminating information on environmental issues and working for achieving a consensus on approach to resolving environmental issues.  Recently, the club decided to go beyond its cyber existence and to set up local chapters so that its members could get involved with a larger community and take up environment up- gradation work.   

A beginning was made by members from Mumbai.  As part of ground level activities  members of the club visited the Borivili National Park( also called Sanjay Gandhi National Park) which is the green lung of Mumbai.  There was visible denudation of the forest on the Eastern side of the Park which called for remedial action.


Encroachment on one of the hills. In the background one can see the smog over Mumbai city. This picture was taken around 12a.m.. In the left top corner, another view of he encroached hill is shown.

Indian Wildlife Club decided to take up this work and for that we have been in touch with other organisations. Our  networking with BNHS and WWF(I) Mumbai chapter elicited eager responses and officials from WWF(I) Dr. Jagdish Puneta and Mr. Kedar Gore have since agreed to actively involve themselves in the effort being mounted by the Club. We are now in the process of  approaching the Forest Deptt. to seek their approval and cooperation and we expect a positive response from them within the next 10/15 days.


Members who trekked to the Eastern side from left to right: Sunil Joshi, Swapnali Das, Srikant Oka,  Krishna Tiwari, Geeta Verghese and Susan Sharma

The activities we intend taking up are :

   1.      Take up tree plantation in the park with the help of volunteers
   2.         Enrich the experience for the volunteers themselves by organizing workshops and                 nature walks for them with the help of  WWF(I), Mumbai.
   3.         Make an effort to involve the youth from the slums in and around the park in the         reforestation work

It is felt that groups of volunteers can take up the task of planting tree saplings in a planned manner. We believe that drawing volunteers from educational institutions has a dual benefit in the opportunity that such endeavours provide for involving the youth in constructive activities, educating them on the importance of protecting the environment and getting a committed volunteer group.

Introduction: The forest of Borivili is Mumbai's indispensable lung.  Not only that, most of the water supply of Mumbai comes from rivers and lakes in the Borivili National Park (BNP) and Tansa Wild Life Sanctuaries. Years of abuse by quarry owners, illegal encroachment, poaching and illicit distilling stills have taken their toll and left their marks in the once densely forested hills.  While the socio-legal processes are already underway to clear the forest land of illegal occupants, we can help the forest regrow  fast by scientifically implementing a tree plantation program suited to the land and climate.

The plan : Members of the Indian wildlife club visited the eastern and western side of the park and came to the conclusion that the western side is taken care of by the Sanjay Gandhi National Park and it is the eastern side ( adjoining Thane area) that needs immediate attention. We have tied up with Dr. Jagdish Puneta and Mr. Kedar Gore of WWF(I) who have promised all their expertise and scientific knowledge to green the Eastern side of BNP in the shortest possible time. The plan, however needs to be discussed with the Forest Conservator who will map the area for reforesting.

The Activity: The objective is to plant at least 1000 selected saplings in an area alongside the Eastern side of BNP, to be approved by the Forest officials.  The saplings will be selected for hardiness i.e., trees which are non edible to grazing cattle and capable of taking root in one season.  As far as possible only indigenous varieties of trees will be chosen as these attract bird life and are more suited to the soil.  Prior to planting,  ground preparation like making trenches, removing stones , cordoning off areas etc. will need to be undertaken.

Resources needed: The greatest resource needed for undertaking the above activity is 'volunteers' willing to devote time and energy.  Saplings will be provided by WWF(I) Mumbai chapter.  Implements can be had from the Forest Department.  Water for the saplings will have to be arranged from Thane, but most of this requirement will hopefully be met by the coming monsoon.  This and some fencing work may need some financial outlay.  But who will plant the trees?  This is where we want to involve the young college students of Mumbai.

Mobilising students  By organizing workshops to create awareness in Mumbai colleges and high schools, by arranging nature walks in the park area, by providing incentives for students who participate in the greening project. WWF(I) Mumbai chapter and  Indian Wildlife Club members will join hands in conducting workshops.

Proposed time schedule: The awareness campaigns in colleges will have to be organized during February -March before the colleges close for vacation. The pre plantation ground preparation must ideally start in the first week of April by when we could mobilse enough volunteers.  Sometime between May 15 th and the 1st week of June, that is, just before the monsoon starts a massive camp can be organized for planting the trees.  The resources of WWF(I) and the Mumbai based members of Indian Wildlife Club will help in organizing the workshops and mobilising volunteers.  Efforts will also be made to network with like minded volunteer organisations working in Thane, Mulund area .

A recent study by KEM Hospital on the increase of diseases due to air pollution  in three representative regions of Mumbai revealed that while 60% to 70% of Mumbaikers in the regions studied suffered from headaches and eye irritation caused by pollution,  only 5% of the residents of Borivili East suffered from these symptoms. In fact Borivili (East) has been chosen as the control area for such studies as this part records minimum air pollution in the Pollution Control Board's figures. According to Dr. A.A Mahashur who did the study, greening has a dampening effect on the pollution effects on humans.

 

 
One of the lakes which supply water to Mumbai City

News and Views

SARANG-The Peacock

Web Of Magic

'It was a poem on celluloid with a very clever choice of an engrossing and colourful subject. The visuals, the music, the script all blended so well to weave a web of magic around the viewers.'

Padma Ramasubban
General Manager, State Bank Of India, Singapore.

Soul Stirring Music

'The music was soul stirring and I was distracted from the visuals. I was most fascinated by the informations provided. The links between ragamala paintings, peacocks and sarang raag was effectively enumerated. I was attracted to the shot of peafowl and the snake. But most absorbing part was survival of the two left over chicks. The entire project, one felt was thoroughly researched, conceived and executed keeping in view perfect balance of presentation.

R. Mohan,
Chief Manager , Times Music.

India's Wildlife Interests Artists.

India's rich and abundant wildlife has inspired poets, musicians and painters. Traditional Hindustani music sounds derived from the sounds of the peacock, elephant, deer etc.

A deep interest in music and a deeper interest in the natural world and its conservation has been the motivation for Dr. Susan Sharma (susan_sharma@hotmail.com) to conceptualize a series of wildlife documentaries linking the two. The first in the series is 'Sarang-The Peacock', which has been aired on India's TV channel and also participated in the Mumbai International Film festival.

Wildlife film News Vol. 12 at wildlife-film.com

Read synopsis and see pictures by clicking here.

Story Of The Month

Rebirth of River Aravari


Loving care of villagers of Alwar district in Rajasthan brings to life a dry water source.    

In 1987, Tarun Bharat Singh (TBS-an NGO), took the initiative to rejuvenate the streams of River Aravari by constructing a johad at Bhavta village.  Johads are small water harvesting structures built by the villagers. In Gopalpura, where village check dams were in a state of disrepair, TBS got the technical support of the area's Block development Officer and the Junior Engineer. The water levels in the johads rose within two monsoons and remained intact for a longer period. This motivated other villages to follow suit.The water in the johads helped raise the water-table of the river's catchment area and also enriched the surrounding forests.  The forests and scrubs, in turn, helped retard the run -offs from monsoon rains.  Within a decade Aravari came to life and it now flows throughout the year.  

What motivated the villagers to show this extreme patience and tenacity?

says Rajendra Singh, General Secretary of TBS         

' We make the villagers stake-holders in whatever activity we undertake and that itself ensures its survival and long term sustainability'. 

With the river coming to life, there has been qualitative changes in the life of the villagers. The women no longer walk miles to fetch water.  Children splash about the river. In a place where a leisurely bath was a luxury, even animals now get a ghat to bathe and drink.  

Things have improved to such an extent that people who had earlier migrated to the slums of Delhi and Ahmedabad are returning to their villages.  Even the river has come alive with fish that are 2 feet in length and weigh upto 10 kg.  

 This year's Ramon Magsaysay Award was given to Tarun Bharat Singh for his watershed management projects in Alwar. His efforts benefited 750 villages spread over 6500 sq.km.

The beginning of a good future for a country periodically besieged by droughts.

Understand The Animals

River Dolphin

River Dolphin or Susu or Hihu or Platanista Gangetic (Scientific name):

The river dolphin is practically blind. The eyes does not have a lens so is incapable of forming images on the retina. However, it can sense light levels. It is believed that the loss of sight in the river dolphin is related to its habitat, the water in which it lives is so muddy that the vision is essentially useless.

The river dolphin ranges from 2.3 to 2.6 meters in length. Females are larger than males. Color varies from lead-gray to black. The undersides are lighter in colour, some almost pink. The rostrum is long and the forehead is steep and rises abruptly from the base of the snout. The neck is visibly constricted and the blowhole is longitudinal slit. There are 28 to 29 teeth on either side of the jaw.

Young are born year-around in this species, but most births occur between October and March. A significant birth peak takes place in December and January, at the beginning of the dry season. Gestation lasts eight to nine months. The young are weaned and solitary before they are one year old. They reach sexual maturity in ten years, and individual dolphins studied have shown growth past the age of twenty-six.

Although the schools of three to ten individuals have been reported in particular parts of river systems, these animals are not gregarious and spend most of their time feeding and traveling solitary. They swim all day and all night and continually emit sounds. One study showed that 81% of the sound are echolocation and 5% communication. Echolocation is used by the dolphins in the foraging and it helps these animals to sense objects; they can detect a wire one millimeter in diameter. The river dolphin is found only in fresh water and may migrate locally to tidal waters during the monsoon season. During the hot, dry season the species disappears from the areas of river systems where temperature, salinity, food limitation may cause conditions to be too severe.

The main threats to river dolphins are fragmentation of their habitat, increasing levels of pollution, depletion of their prey for human consumption, boat traffic, and the perils posed by fishing equipment. In addition, river dolphins are sometimes killed for their product.Their meat is also used as bait for fishing, some people regard their oil as an aphrodisiac. In 1982, the total population of Ganges river dolphins was estimated to be 4,000 – 5,000 animals. There are no recent estimates available.

( This report was sent in byArjit Purkayastha, General Manager Tours, Net work Travels, Assam.)


photo Courtesy 'Outlook' September 10th 2001

The fresh water dolphin is an endangered species. Bihar's rivers are home to about 1000 dolphins. Prof. R.K Sinha ( rksinha@mail.girija.net.in ) runs the Dolphin foundation with a six member team. The foundation educates and convinces people about the harmful fallout of killing dolphins. Prof. Sinha had a role in setting up of the Vikramshila Dolphin Sanctuary in Bhagalpur.

The river dolphin is found in India, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh in the Brahmaputra, Ganges, Meghna, Karnaphuli and Hoogli river.



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