'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

CHEER her! CHEER her! While stopped at a forest fringe for lunch in Manas National Park I was startled by the whoosh of large feathered wings and then that loud obvious call. Both of my guides laughed at my reaction. I produced a piece of paper and asked one of them to draw the bird which had produced the call. It was my first time solo in India, neither of my guides spoke English, but we managed to communicate using drawings and hand signals. He drew a Greater Indian Pied Hornbill, and I am sure I still have the sketch, somewhere. We ate our lunch and then walked up into the forest near the border with Bhutan hoping to find the feeding station or nest of the bird that had called.

That day we did not find the bird or hear it's call again, but I have seen them in peninsular India and in two other Asian countries. Hornbills are fascinating birds. They feed on fig and nutmeg. Both trees depend on the hornbill to spread their seeds. Hornbills are found in most wet forests through Asia, but are not related to the similar toucan of South America. The hornbill once had a broad natural range, but now is becoming rare. Hornbill's nest in the hollow's of old or dead trees, usually fig. The female builds a nest in the tree cavity then the male seals up the nest area with mud. The female remains in the enclosure until the young are ready and then both adults break down the wall. What a great adaptation to ward off predators during nesting! Ah, but this may also prove to be the downfall of the species. Logging has increased throughout their range. Fewer older trees mean fewer hollow trees. The hornbills are dependent on old growth forest for their survival.

In India , the hornbill can be found in the Western Ghats and much of forested Assam . I have not been into Meghalaya, but have been told the hornbill is common there. Perhaps there, in ‘the abode of the clouds' the hornbill has a stronghold in that wettest of wet places. I hope so. Meghalaya then would be the best place for an adventure to view hornbills in the wild. I would think the best time would be as the female bird emerges from the nest and joins the male in feeding the young. This period would create greater activity, which could lead to greater viewing opportunities.

They really are an impressive bird. I have been told they are known to eat squirrels, but do not know if this is true. I hope they survive. You might say I am cheering for their survival the same way that first hornbill cheered for me during a lunch stop those many years ago in Manas.

I hope all of you, my friends, are well and those who celebrate it have enjoyed the festival of Diwali, the fireworks and new clothes. Cheers.

( Picture of Great Pied Hornbill from Birds of Western Ghats , Konkan and Malabar, by Satish Pande published by BNHS, Mumbai)

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Answers To Quiz Of The Month

Right Answers to Quiz on Dolphins

This month has given all right answers!
Right Answer to Quiz on Dolphins

1.Dolphins are
  • fish
  • mammals
  • reptiles

  • 2.Dolphins are found in India …………......
  • from beaches near Kozhikode ( Kerala)
  • While cruising near Goa
  • at both the places

  • 3.The Irravadi dolphin can survive in………….
  • salt water
  • fresh water
  • both are correct

  • 4.The numbers of the Gangetic river dolphin have dwindled to approximately…………...
  • 2-3,000
  • 10-15,000
  • 6-7,000

  • 5.Most dolphins navigate by
  • Sight
  • Echolocation
  • X-ray vision

  • 6.Dolphins communicate by
  • Dorsal fin movements
  • Talking
  • Whistling

  • 7.The largest member of the dolphin family is
  • Narwhal
  • Gangetic Dolphin
  • Killer Whale

  • 8.What is the maximum amount of time a bottlenose dolphin can hold its breath?
  • 15 minutes
  • 20 minutes
  • 5 minutes

  • 9.Dolphins sleep .............
  • Closing one eye at a time, allowing one side of the brain to rest while using the other to watch for predators.
  • Nestled underneath a rocky overhang to protect themselves from predators
  • In groups. Half the pod sleeps while the other half watches for predators

  • 10.The life span of a dolphin in the wild is
  • 30 years
  • 20 years
  • 45 years

  • Please try this month quiz on Extinction of life forms

    Common Birds of India

    Brahminy Kite (Haliastur indus)

    By Ragoo Rao

    Most Indians are familiar with the Garuda. The mythological carrier of Vishnu the supreme God of the Hindus. It is a very revered bird. Bronze idols of a human figure with wings and a beak-like nose are worshipped reverently as Garudavahana in Vaishnavite temples.

    An eagle sized bird, very distinguished looking with a white head and neck with rusty brown body. The white parts are speckled with black. Both sexes are alike.

    These birds inhabit the riversides, lakes and the sea coast. Their distribution is throughout the country except at altitudes above 6000ft.

    These birds are resident in habit and they migrate only locally. Fishing ports attract these birds, where you may find them hovering above, waiting for a chance to dive down and take away a fish. Sometimes during the monsoons these birds come inland in search of waterlogged areas to feed on crabs and fish.

    In cultivated areas it is a sight to see the Garuda swoop down on a flushed out snake and carry it away. When a bonded pair are circling the skies, one can hear their hoarse wheezy Keeeeyuv.....kreeeeeyoooooo calls. They do this while selecting a nesting site. Tall banyan, peepul or similar trees are their favourite nesting trees. More so, if the trees are on river banks or lake shores. The nesting season is from December to April. The nest is a platform of loosely arranged twigs and lined with green or dried leaves.

    Two greyish white speckled eggs with dingy brown blotches are laid. Both sexes share all domestic chores. The hatchlings are very voracious and the parents make very frequent trips to feed them with scraps of meat. In about 5 weeks time the young fledglings take their first flight. They fly around with their parents for another two weeks before going on their own.

    It is the reverence the Hindus have for these raptors that has really protected them.

    Did You Know ?

    Getting bedeviled by ants

    By S. Ananthanarayanan

    A species of ant, which lives in a certain plant in the Amazon valley has been found to ensure the prosperity of its dwelling place by poisoning off all other plants in the vicinity of its host, says S.Ananthanarayanan.

    The Amazonian rainforest contains some areas that are entirely of trees of the same species. This is unlike the general structure of natural vegetation, which consists of a variety of species, or ‘biodiversity', for mutual support. These Amazonian exceptions, known as ‘ Devil's Gardens' , are the result of a species of ant, which inhabits these patches, having poisoned off all other plant varieties. Research to show that it is indeed the ants that are responsible has been reported in this week's issue of the journal, Nature.


    The stability and permanence of natural forests is a result of the mutual support that all plant varieties derive from each other. If one variety were to increase in number and dominate the available nutrients, the same species would also become easy prey to parasites. Parasites would then control the growth of the runaway species and the balance would be restored. The parasites of varieties in small numbers would likewise be less active and allow these species to multiply. As different species use different components of nutrients in the earth, low numbers of a species would also find abundant food. Above a low threshold, the survival of any species is thus guaranteed.

    The balance gets disturbed when particular species are bred through cultivation. A pestilence that strikes a strain of wheat, for instance, can rapidly wipe out hundreds of square kilometers of plantation. And agriculturalists then have to fall back on the ‘wild' strains to breed fresh cultivation stock

    Jealous tenant

    The behaviour of the Amazonian ant, myrmelachista schumanni, which nests in stems of the plant duroia hirsuta , has evolved to promote its host plant by eliminating other plant species. The ant achieves this by injecting all but its host plant with formic acid, in its sting. The acid rapidly causes the plant leaves to die and the plant itself then cannot survive. The result is a luxuriant copse, adevil's garden , of only one kind of plant, in the middle of the Amazonian forest.

    Formic acid, which gets its name from formica , the Latin word for ‘ant', is the pain causing component of many insect stings, including the sting of wasps and bees. It is also the chief irritant in the leaves of thestinging nettle . Chemists have known for centuries that anthills gave of an acidic vapour and formic acid was first prepared by distilling ants' bodies! It is now a common organic reagent and is useful as an anti-bacterial, used to preserve livestock feed.

    Is this symbiosis?

    This Amazonian peculiarity is difficult to explain in the light of how plants normally evolve. The mainstay of plants' survival is the mutual support that plant species provide each other, particularly against parasites. The Amazonian ant and its host, it would seem, have ‘painted themselves into a corner', in evolution. Other plants would tend to evolve to defend themselves againstD hirsute (the Devil's garden plant) and would also not be there to defend it against its parasites, should they attack. But it would seem that devil's gardens have not been so widespread as to create plants that can withstand injections of formic acid! And it would appear that devil's gardens are not frequent, again, maybe because they get wiped out before they can go far. But the ant and plant teamwork has kept the plant thriving wherever it manages to grow, despite its being such a bad neighbour!

    [The writer can be contacted at]

    News and Views

    News & Views

    News…………………. has teamed up with Macrographics Pvt.Ltd to bring out some beautiful calendars for year 2006. Right now we are taking bulk orders for corporates and those interested can for further details. We are soon uploading the proposed designs . One of our regular columnists and a painter,Ragoo Rao , has contributed his paintings for use in the calendars.

    A new feature on our website is “Film Corner” wherein we publish screening schedules of nature/environment films in any part of India . The Vatavaran festival which has just concluded will be traveling to 15 other locations and do not miss the well researched documentaries that are on show! I will also request members to send us schedules of screenings in your part of the country so that we can publish it in our Events section.

    Development projects in the country are being sanctioned and implemented at lightning speed with the result that the thinking public of the country are taken by surprise and dismay. The river embanking scheme in Bihar which has rendered 16% land in that state waterlogged, is still to receive the attention of developers. The facts of the degrading riverine ecology of Arunachal Pradesh due to diversion of waters from the Ranganadi, is still to be made public. It is no wonder that ouronline chat on 18 November which was meant to sensitize members about the marine ecosystem turned out to be a loud thinking exercise on Sethu Samudram Project. Let me also remind everyone once again that we have provided an ongoing forum for members to air their views and opinions freely at ourblog.

    And Views………………………

    “Some estimates indicate that the 2004 Athens Olympic Games generated half a million tonnes of greenhouse gases on top of what would normally have been generated.

    This is 25 per cent more than a city the size of Munich would generate in a two week period.

    The emissions estimate for 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany is 250,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases from within Germany . This includes international flights, and also factors in energy efficiency and carbon offset schemes that are being put in place.

    That's half of the Athens total, but still a significant addition to the environmental bill.

    Let me give you another World Cup example: each event at a Bundesliga stadium will use approximately 10,000 to 20,000 cubic metres of water. That's as much as eight Olympic size swimming pools.

    Each game will also use between 2 and 3 million kilowatt hours of energy. That's the annual consumption of between 500 and 700 households in Europe .

    It is also estimated that each match will generate 5 to 10 tonnes of waste, as much as would be thrown away in one day by between 350 and 650 households.

    The bottom-line is that sport has an ecological footprint that requires all stakeholders to think about ways of reducing the impacts. “

    -Theodore Oben

    Story Of The Month

    Fair Feather Friends

    By Shivani Thakur

    Parrots or Parrakeets have been extremely popular throughout history appealing to every one with their colours, interesting behaviour and also with their individual personalities. As free birds they are very discreet. Their shrill sounds might perpiate our ears yet they cannot be easily located. Most of us have encountered them as pet birds at some point of our lives. Their domestication can be seen in various Egyptian paintings and hieroglyphics. The Greeks were the ones who discovered their charm and devotion. The armies of Alexander the Great have known to have brought back ring-necked parakeets from India on their return to Europe . In India , the parakeets might not be as vibrant colored as their South American counterparts but they are as lovable as them.

    In India in the wild they usually live in large groups often pairing for life. This pairing makes them the most monogamous of all

    the birds. In the evening large groups can be seen converging on higher branches of the trees making so much ruckus enough to wake up an entire neighbourhood. Although there are many varieties of parakeets found in India, the most common ones are the Ringneck Parrakeet, the AlexandrineParrakeet and the Banded-pink breasted or mustache Parrakeet.Of these the Ringneck Parrakeet is found widely across whole of India with others distributed in different parts of the country. The Alexandrine Parrakeet is as royal as its name. It is the largest Parrakeet found in India mostly in north and central parts. These birds are quiet intelligent and their ability to speak is the main reason for their trade.

    The thriving trade of parrots and parakeets is their ability to mimic our speech and their colorful plumage. In fact a study conducted on African Gray parrots in the US accepted the fact that their brains are at par with that of a four year old. Thus granting them the status of most intelligent of all the species of birds. But this boon has turned into a bane for them. They are caught and sold of as they make ideal cage birds. For one bird making into one household at least six die in the process. The young birds are caught from their nest even when they have not acquired their feathers. In our country where lot of attention is paid to bigger species of animals like tigers and elephants, the state of parakeets is not so good. The illegal trade is done in small hamlets where everyday birds are sold and bought with no enforcement of law. In spite of raids conducted and arrests made the trade continues.

    To stop this trade, we can refrain from buying these birds. If the demand for them falls the supply will automatically stop. The other reason for their dwindling numbers is deforestation. Most of the trees are being cut to make way for agriculture. Very few trees are being planted and that too the ones which can make money. More fruit bearing trees are needed, as parakeets main diet is fruits. A very good example is Jagdish Mohanbhai Patel from Gondal town of Gujarat . His 25 bigha orchard is an exclusive preserve for birds. The field has trees of mango, pomegranate, orange, guava, chickoo meant only for winged species. His observation of depleting forest cover and deforestation got him going in planning this orchard. An industrialist by profession, its easier for him to spend Rs50, 000 a month on maintenance yet his dedication and commitment is commendable. His efforts have made forest department to conduct a full-fledged survey of birds and their environment. Though for him it is just another attempt at restoring the balance of nature. So we all can join hands by not encouraging this trade and planting fruit bearing trees in our back yards to keep their sound alive.

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