-John Eickert

There is a species of fish indigenous to the Amazon basin of South America. It is common in clear running water, but the knowledge surrounding its natural history or lineage is brief though there are many legends and stories concerning these fishes. Much of the Amazon is subject to seasonal flooding which forces this fish out of its preferred habitat and into sediment-laden waters. Displaced into the maelstroms of floodwaters this species seeks its own and forms small schools, sometimes the receding floodwaters trap these schools, forcing the species into cannibalism, as all prey is exhausted and setting the table for hyperactive feeding should any land animal enter into one of these backwater pools. I have listened to more than one tale of piranha’s stripping the flesh from an unwitting cow or horse, or even from man. They say this complete consumption can take place in a few moments of furious feeding, leaving the backwater pool stained red from the blood of the hopeless victim. It is hard to imagine a more horrible way to die, man or beast, attacked and eaten while still living.

I sat in a hand made dugout canoe, which glided, along the slow, quiet, brown river beneath a complete green canopy, an umbrella alive with raucous macaws and monkeys. I sat in the floor of the simple canoe, my pants soaking up water from the splashes, which came over the side, as there was little room between the side of the canoe and the river. A local man sat in the front and paddled, while our local guide paddled and steered as he stood in the rear. Ahead of me, also seated on the bottom of the canoe, were two other intrepid tourists. We sat in silent awe hoping to see more wild pigs, a tapir- a small, stocky animal that makes a person think of an elephant when you see one though they are not related, or maybe a jaguar or at least its track. As the sun rose in the sky so did the temperature and soon is was very hot and humid. We stopped at a place where fresh clear water ran down from the near mountains and into the discolored mainstream.

Our break finished, we prepared to reenter the mainstream, but our canoe was stuck in thick river grass and mud. As I was the heaviest and eager to help, I jumped out and gave the canoe a push before anyone else moved. The boat freed easily and I jumped back in, covered in thick black mud and thin stemmed grass. The paddler in the front made a hurried statement to our guide, who laughed and said, “We are lucky today, the piranhas are not hungry.” The others looked at me in horror while I peered over the side and into the dark waters, but saw nothing, not even a swirl. I survived without a scratch and now can tell I swam with the piranhas in the Amazon!


Common Birds of India

Grey Pelican { Pelicanus philippensis }



Grey Pelican { Pelicanus philippensis }





At the onset of winter, just after the rains come to an end, a vulture sized squat bird with the most graceful flight arrives to all the lakes and water bodies.  A grey boat shaped bird with an enormous flat long thick beak, a long neck and short thick legs is really a sight to see both in flight and landing on the lakes in slow motion and gradually folding the wings to the body-Arrive the Grey Pelican. It is also called a Spot-billed pelican as it has spots on the beak. The typical mark of a Pelican is the loosely hung enormous pouch of skin from it's lower beak. This gets exaggerated when the bird scoops up fish from the water and holds it in the pouch for a while before swallowing it with head upturned.


The birds are normally greyish white with blackish wing quills; a slightly brownish tail indicates it is the male. Distribution is throughout the Country in well- watered tracts. These birds are locally migratory and resident in some localities.


When the Pelicans arrive at a lake they all land in a semicircle and they seem to hunt fish co-operatively. They all start swimming in a semicircle and close in to a shallow bank, driving the fish towards shallow waters and scoop them up with their beaks, their beak pouches acting as fishing net.   It is really nice to watch pelicans buoyantly floating in the water with a stiff neck with apparently no signs of movement, seriously driving the fish towards shallow waters, to finally scoop them up with their enormous beaks.


  When they are not foraging, they flock together or solitarily on mud-banks or among short reeds and preen themselves. These birds are quite tolerant of each other and do not seem to squabble when they are preening and sunning themselves. The birds are very cautious and the slightest intrusion makes them glide into the water and swim for a little distance before they take off with their squat bodies effortlessly from the water. They take off and circle around for some time to see what disturbed them.


The nesting season is between Nov to April. These birds nest in colonies not far from the water bodies, in tall trees and even on coconut palms. A large twig platform reminiscent of an Eagle's  nest is their home for raising the clutch. Three chalk-white eggs are laid and the chicks are raised with fish regurgitated from their gizzards. The chicks are voracious and the parents have to make frequent fishing trips.


Whether both the parents share all domestic chores is to be ascertained through a study. The birds’ nesting in colonies makes it difficult to identify individual bird to study unless they are tagged for study and observation.


Some Villages in Karnataka, where Pelicans arrive in early November to nest are really a sight to see. The villagers even consider this a Good Omen for the village for prosperity. These have become tourist spot and also a good place to study the Parental behavior of the Birds. One such famous village is " Kokkre Bellur" midway off the Mysore- Bangalore highway. "Kokkrey" meaning Pelicans in Kannada language and Bellur is the name of the Village and hence " Kokrey-Bellur. 


Corporates and Environment

Brick Green



-Shivani Thakur


A very old English movie “How green was my valley" showed transformation of lives of people and the town from green to dark owing to coal mining. But in our times where climate and ecology have become a daily point of discussion “how green is my building” is the latest mantra.


Very few of us are aware that the places we work and live in also contribute to green house gas emissions. The buildings also let out emissions. The amount of energy consumed in the form of lights, air-conditioning, water usage, besides the materials used are also contributors along with burning of fossil fuels.


The building sector is the third largest consumer of energy after industry and agriculture. Hence, this sector needs to play a proactive part in energy conservation. Therefore more buildings need to go green in the future.  Most of the existing buildings are not environment friendly and their energy consumption is high. If the green buildings come into existence, the negative impact on the environment would be reduced by 40 per cent. 


But what exactly is a “Green Building?” A green building is one, which depends on clean, renewable solar power for its energy. The buildings are designed to use optimum use of natural light, use water efficiently by treating and recycling it, put up rainwater harvesting units, creating gardens on terraces to prevent formation of heat islands, landscaping to prevent soil erosion.  Apart from these the construction materials are also eco friendly. Instead of normal clay bricks, fly –ash bricks (a residue from steel mills), non-toxic materials,  paints and finishes to improve air quality, are used as resource efficient methods.



It is a surprise though, that while many consider ‘green building” a  very western concept,  the number one building rated by an international agency on eco –friendliness is in India. The CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre in Hyderabad was rated as the winner by the US Green Building Council. The building has been designed by Vadodra based architect Karan Grover. The building is so revolutionary that the council had to upgrade its rating system to recognize its unique features. The India Green Building Council here too got around 100 buildings to go green. The ONGC office in south Delhi might just be the first one to go green. Delhi Transco limited and The Thyagraj sports complex would follow the code and be ready and functioning by 2010.


The Union Government along with TERI (the Energy and Research Institute ) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding where by the builders can adopt  greener construction of residences and commercial buildings.   Although this would be on voluntary basis,  top builders like Omaxe and DLF have assured the ministry of implementing the system. The adoption of green technology by the builders  could get them incentives like preferences in land allocation and tax rebates.  Adopting green building practices could open up new opportunities from construction industry, architects, materials and equipment manufacturers.   Finally, it is hard work and determination in equal measures, that can achieve quantum leaps for humanity! 



The Indian Gharial: Going, Going, Gone?

The Indian Gharial: Going, Going, Gone?


-Govind Singh


After years of conservation activity and having been literally brought back from the brink of extinction, the Indian Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) is in serious trouble yet again.


                    Gharial  from Chambal taken from the boat


The Indian Gharial (which derives its name from ghara, an earthen pot that resembles the bulbous nasal appendage present on mature males) with its characteristic elongate, narrow snout; is one of the two surviving members of the living fossil family Gavialidae. The species has a riverine habitat and is better adapted to an aquatic lifestyle in the calmer areas of deep, fast-moving rivers. It does not prefer land since it is poorly equipped for movement outside the water and leaves the water only to bask and to lay eggs. Consequently, it does not go further away and prefers to both bask and nest closer to the river on the sandbanks. Adults are exclusively fish eaters while the juveniles feed on smaller invertebrate and vertebrate prey such as insects and frogs, respectively.


After evading extinction in the early 1970s, conservation programs brought them back from the brink. It was a great relief to everyone as the efforts seemed to be working and the gharial number went up. However, by 2005 it became clear that something had again gone wrong and in 2006 it was estimated that the wild gharial adult population had come down to less than 150.


In 2007, the Indian Gharial became the only crocodile to be re-classified “Critically Endangered” (CR) by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). The IUCN Red List put the number of breeding adult gharials in Nepal and India at 182. This was a clear decline of 58 % as the same figure a decade ago was 436. At the same time, the Chambal River seemed to be the gharial’s last stronghold. Clearly, the Indian Gharial did not seem to be having a good time.


As if all of this wasn’t enough, the December of 2007 came as a shock to wildlife biologists, conservationists and to the Gharial Multi Task Force (GMTF) that was set up in 2004 as an independent conservation organization with a multi-pronged approach to gharial conservation. While the Government count said 64, the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) declared that close to 100 gharials had died in the stretch of Chambal River across Madhya Pradesh in less than a month. With eyewitness reports suggesting suffocation to be the main cause, bodies of dead gharials were recovered from the river and were also seen lying on the sandbanks.

It should be noted here that both wildlife experts and the media had been raising the issue of a vulnerable gharial population in the Chambal River since the beginning of last year. While Bahar Dutt, of CNN-IBN exposed the rampant illegal sand mining, a fraudulent Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report and the cases of illegal fishing and poaching in Chambal, (Link to ) wildlife biologists such as Mr. Faiyaz A. Khudsar of the University of Delhi have been warning about the rampant illegal fishing which brings the Indian Gharial (that exclusively feeds on fish) in direct conflict with the fishermen. 


Mr. Sitaram Tagore, a Research Scholar from Jiwaji University who is studying the impacts of sand mining on the banks of the Chambal River informs that while the people who carry out sand mining activity have no intention of killing the gharials, any gharial that comes in their way is not spared. Also, the very sand that is mined overlaps with the habitat and the nesting sites of the gharials. Construction of dams, barrages and canals that lead to an excessive irreversible loss of riverine habitat are also a problem for the gharial. Net fishing is another major threat to the population when Gharials become entangled in gill nets and drown or are killed by the fishermen.



Rajghat near Morena in Madhya Pradesh. The tractors are carrying out sandmining



(More on the problem and solution in Part II of the article, in the next newsletter)



Upcoming Events

21 April 2008, at 7.30 PM invites you to


“A Tale of Two National Parks”


Screening of two films at the Epicentre, Gurgaon, on 21 April, 2008



Venue: Epicentre,

Apparel House, Sector 44, Gurgaon

Date: 21 April, 2008 (Monday)

Timing: 7.30 PM to 9.00 PM


Entrance is free


Films: “ Living with the Park”-Ranthambore National Park

“To Corbett with Love”-Corbett National Park


Both the films are directed by Dr.Susan Sharma who will introduce the films and interact with the audience.






Join thewomen only group

leaving on 22 April

returning on 25th April

for Hatu Peak andPinjore Gardens

11,150 feet above sea level, and450 kms from Delhi, near Narkanda.


 Kurukshetra Krishna Museum and Braham Sarovar

     Stay at Pinjore Gardens

      Stay at Narkanda and beyond in tents

     Trek to Hatu Peak and enjoy 300 degree view of Himalayas

      Motivational talks and fun activities

      Accommodation is twin or multiple sharing accordingly to availability/tent size

      Healthy vegetarian food

      Travel in Innovas/ Taveras


Travel, stay and activities cost Rs. 8000/- per head.

The more the merrier! If you bring a friend along, the trip will cost second person Rs. 7000/-.

Be a part of the women who show the way.

For details please contact:



NEW DELHI 110003

TEL: 9810621356

(List of items to carry will be conveyed once you confirm your participation)


Aquaterra Adventures.  Zanskar Aug 09-20

Aquaterra Adventures' August Zanskar expedition is slated from Aug 09-20, 2008.
Here is a personal message from Vaibhav

"The expedition is already more than half full up.A lot of you had expressed interest to join this expedition to Ladakh and its remotest region, Zanskar. The expedition will fill up soon, so if you do wish to join us, get that leave sanctioned and drop us a line ASAP."

Trip preview i available at



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