Amazing Facts About Wildlife

King Cobra

Prashant Mahajan, senior Education Officer, BNHS, Mumbai

King Cobra is a largest venomous and the most intelligent of all snakes. Growing to 5 meter in India (6 meter in Thailand) and living in dense evergreen forests of the Western Ghats, Orissa, Bihar, Bengal and the Andaman, and the northern hill forests. King Cobras are fascinating animals that remain largely unstudied. The name is misleading; King Cobras are a different genus from the cobras. A better name for them is hamadryad. Although King Cobra venom is not rated very toxic, this is balanced by the quantity. An adult snake can yield up to 7 cc\rquotes of venom- enough to kill a full-grown elephant or sufficient to kill 150 people!

King cobras exclusively feed on other snakes. The favourite among the snakes are rat snake, common cobra and water snakes, which are envenomed and paralyzed before they are swallowed. The only enemy of King Cobras is man, who generally shoots when he meets them in the forest or in tea and coffee plantations. When threatened King Cobra puts up a splendid defense by raising the hood (which is longer than the common cobra's and has an 'inverted' marking), growling and charging on the intruders with open mouth if caught or injured. It is the only snake that makes a nest for laying eggs. The female scrapes leaves and humus together with her tail and body and constructs a conical nest about 30 cm high. Having laid eggs at the bottom of her nest, she guards them for about 2 months after which they hatch. During this period, she usually does not feed: it's only when hatching time nears that the female, thin and emaciated hunts again. The hatch-lings disperse soon after they hatch, climbing up bamboo stands and looking for young snakes and probably skunks for food.

 King cobras are threatened by human encroachment. Large tracts of their pristine forest habitat are being cleared and destroyed. Although they are becoming increasingly rare, they are killed whenever possible. In Hong Kong, Cobras are eaten, and in Thailand used for venom extraction in order to produce anti-venom serum for their bite.

Answers To Quiz Of The Month

Correct answers to quiz on tiger

No one got all the correct answers for the tiger quiz. However four members got 9/10. Congratulations to Amitabh Agarwal( Singh ( M.Sandeep ( Jyotsana ( We have a new quiz on 'APES' which is online now. So hurry up and attempt it!!

Correct answers are written in red.

1. The official estimate of tiger population in India is,
O 3000-4000 9000-10,000 500-600
'Project Tiger' was launched in India in the year,
O 1989 O 1950 O 1973
3.In India we have ---------number designated tiger reserves.
9 23 13
4. The Javan and Bali tigers are now
O extinct O endangered O threatened
5. Recently, in Valmiki tiger resrve in Bihar, the forest staff staged a walk out and went on a fast unto death because,
O a tiger had attacked one of them O they had not received salaries for fourteen months O authorities had suspended a staff worker.
6. In Sunderbans man-eaters have been attacking forest permit holders. The maximum casualities during '75-'85 were found to be
O fishermen O honey collectors O wood cutters
7. The Ranthambhore Foundation which aims to restore the relative harmony that once existed between the forests and those who lived around them, was founded by
O Fatheh Singh Rathore O Valmik Thapar O Billy Arjan singh
8. Among the following reasons which one is most responsible for decline in tiger populations
O poaching O scattered and small populations O loss of prey
9. Out of the three prey animalsmentioned below, the most preferred prey of the tiger is,
O wild boar O cheetal deer O rhesus monkey
10. The last recorded white tiger in the wild was in 1951, in ,
O Uttar Pradesh O Bengal O Madhya Pradesh
This month we have put on line a quiz on Apes. The first two all correct answers attempted online before 7th of January will get special gifts.Click here for quiz on Apes

News and Views

December 2001

NEWS ..............

Susan Sharma, Founder,

National Symposium on Elephant Conservation, Management and Research

Project Elephant( Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India), Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun and the Chief Wildlife Warden, Uttaranchal, Dehra Dun were the organizers of a four day symposium held at Hardwar, Uttaranchal. Elephant experts, Researchers,and some NGOs were the other participants apart from Rangers, Foresters etc.

While the participants debated on the census, sex ratio, distribution and management of elephant populations, the elephant who called at night to cause damage to the dining hall at the BHEL campus where we were staying was a grim reminder of the fact that we were holding a symposium at the very corridor which elephants used to cross over from Corbett to Rajaji in the past.

The fragmentation of populations caused by corridors getting slowly acquired is still the major cause for declining populations , elephant watchers say. The Rajaji Motichur corridor is now occupied by Gujjar (of Kashmiri origin) villages, Forest Department nurseries, Army ammunition dumps, Irrigation department structures erected at the time of construction of Sandle Hydro Electric Project but since forgotten and put to alternate use. Most of the other corridors connecting major forest areas had similar stories to tell.

The symposium resolved to get at least five corridors reclaimed for elephant use in the next five years.

 ...............AND Views

Saraswati Kavule, Member ,


Spare a moment !

 This is not an article per se, but some ideas and thoughts I had wanted to share with others for a long time. As one who finds a sense of belonging with nature, I couldn't but urge my fellow beings to feel the same and to care for nature. the greatest irony of our times is that we all love to go to natural surroundings, the popularity of hill stations and beach resorts and wildlife parks is but a small example. Yet, we don't bat an eyelid to plunder this nature that we crave so much for -in the name of tourism.

If we could come out of our air-conditioned hotels which put a hole in the ozone, and perhaps stay in a cotton tent and manage with the bare minimum necessities, not only would we be able to experience the raw beauty of our surroundings, but also manage to save the snow capped mountains and trees and water from getting evaporating from the face of the earth. the most popular hill stations today are the most polluted as well. Even those who do not take the beaten path but trek in the mountains are no exception to the rule. Treks have become a sport- to show our heroism against the natural odds and flaunt our greatness in front of others!! it is my personal opinion that even this needs to be done with reverence. why is it that we have lost the respect and love which we had as infants in the civilizational time zones ?? the tender innocence that children possess is what we lost as we grew up to become the achievers of the planet. They say that even today when Tibetans climb a cliff - they place a flower and prostrate on the cliff top asking the mountain to forgive them for having stepping upon it, but that it was a necessary step that needed to be taken. This sort of reverence existed in all cultures. Only we now think we have grown up enough not to bother such things any more.

We pray to Ganapati and poach elephants, we pray to Durga and her vehicle the tiger,but kill the tiger for its nails. Lord vishnu's first incarnation was as a tortoise, yet, this species is struggling to survive in our humane world!!! There is a prayer for all living things in Hindu mythology which has granted them divine status. While the prayers continue on one hand, so do the callous attitude to the animals and plants.

Spare a moment to think from your busy schedules!

Story Of The Month

First Ever Mahout Training In Corbett National Park

Parbati Barooah is technical director for Project Elephant.  Recently she conducted a mahout training program in Corbett, she herself being an expert mahout ( 'Queen of Elephants'- a T.V serial in Discovery featured her). Among other things, mahouts were trained on how to capture wild elephants using 'mela shikar' technique.

Mela Shikar: refers to hunting in the open i.e., capturing of elephants in the forests without erecting a stockade. Essentially the method involves the chase of wild elephants by using trained elephants ( koonkies ) and noosing them when the opportunity arises. Mela shikhar is more popular in N.E. India than the khedda.

A standard team for mela shikar consists of a koonki elephant, a phandi ( an expert on noosing a wild elephant), a mahout and a kamla ( i.e., a grass cutter).

Koonkie elephants are specially trained to chase the wild elephants, help in noosing them and drag them to the depot. They are particularly trained to follow 'foot commands' from their mahouts and to move silently during the entire capturing operation.

The phandi and the mahout must have a complete understanding with each other as well as with the koonki under their command. It is the duty of the 'kamla' to look after the feeding and other requirements of the koonki back at the camp.

Experience shows that some of the common ailments of captive elephants relating to eye, feet and skin are because of filthy and unhygienic conditions of the pilkhana. (stable). Therefore, the pilkhana must be kept clean and well drained. All the leftover fodder and dung should be removed to a distance and burnt periodically. The urine drenched floor should be covered with sand and periodically teated with a disinfectant. The feet of the elephant may be washed with a solution of potassium permanganate at least once a week to guard against fungal attack. Elephants should be given a regular bath and their toe-nails and tusks ( if any) should be trimmed periodically. As a rule, captive elephants should not be made to share their grazing ground and source of drinking water with other livestock to avoid infection and contagious diseases.

Using Gaddi (pad) and guddela (numdah) of improper size on working elephant exposes its spinal cord to injuries.

Hear what Parbati has to say about the image and profession of mahouts in North Eastern India.

" Elephants have been domesticated in N.E. India since time immemorial and both the elephant and the mahout have become a part of the folklore and the folk songs. Stories of brave and expert phandis ( noosers) and mahouts are passed on from generation to generation. In rural Assam mahouts are looked upon with awe and admiration and it is not unusual for village belles to fall in love with young mahouts. An average Assamese mahout is a jolly, good natured person-an accomplished folk singer and very much in demand in local functions and ceremonies. With his capacity to control such a big and powerful animal as the elephant, mahouts are often associated with supernatural powers. Many of the mahouts have made a name for their knowledge of medicinal herbs. "

" Grass cutters, mahouts and phandis form their own close knit society-having their own rules, regulations and code of discipline. They have their own informal 'university' and their own system of 'examination'. A mahout becomes a phandi after passing a rigorous test conducted by other phandis. Only a few phandis can aspire to become Baro-Phandi which is equivalent to a master's degree in elephant management. Phandis and baro -phandis derive maximum respect in the society of mahouts and they are also held in esteem by the elephant owners and government officials. In the elephant catching operation in N.E. India, phandis and baro-phandis are the key persons and they are often known to dictate their own terms. "

Tips On Beauty Without Cruelty

Steam Facial

Deepika Vohra served as the head of the Department of Beauty Culture at the International Polytechnic for Women at New Delhi. She also ran a beauty clinic at Delhi's Vasant Kunj for some time from where she relocated to New York for five years. Exposure to the world capital of beauty and cosmetics gave her an opportunity to compare the Indian beauty industry with the razzle dazzle of the New World. Reading and researching beauty culture has always been a hobby with her. The tips for beauty given below were selected from her repertoire of nature based recipes which are time tested to deliver.

'Nature Never Did Betray the heart That Loved Her.'-Wordsworth

The present times herald a veritable victory over chemical cosmetics in the form of natural beauty aids. Joy, happiness and confidence for sure contribute vastly to your beautiful appearance. A smooth supple skin is of course an added bonus. So, here are some tips to care for your skin through the seasons.

Basic skin types may be classified into five broad categories- normal, dry, oily, combination and sensitive skin. The skin is made up of protective layers of cells supported by nerves, glands and blood vessels. Your skin lives and breathes. Cells move up to the surface where they are shed and replaced. This topmost layer is protected by the body's natural oil and moisture. It is essential to carefully plan out a beauty routine to attain a flawless, petal-soft complexion.

The first step to your beauty routine is cleansing your skin. Cleansers are formulated to remove surface grime and dirt as well as dissolve stale make up from the skin. A gentle massage will help to float out deep down make up and other impurities.

How do you recognize your skin type?

NORMAL SKIN --- is finely textured with no visible pores, spots, or blemishes, soft and velvety to the touch, and unwrinkled. Normal skin has to be treasured and preserved, as it is liable to change, if neglected.

OILY SKIN --- is caused by overactive sebaceous glands that give rise to large open pores. Larger pores, in turn, lead to blackheads, blemishes and acne. The appearance of blackheads and blemishes is due to clogged oil and dirt in the pores which is not removed instantly by cleansing. Oily skin begins to have an oily shine within a few minutes after wash or make-up. This makes it difficult to hold make-up. However, oily skin has an advantage of ageing very slowly, but deep cleansing must be thorough.

DRY SKIN --- is a sensitive skin type which comes in blotches, tends to peel off easily and feels tight after a wash. Lack of moisture results in dry skin and this skin type is more prominent around the eyes, mouth, lips, sides of mouth, and forehead. Cleansing, toning, moisturizing form an integral routine of this type of skin. Dry skin is highly susceptible to diet, extremes in weather and harsh perfumed skin care products. Dry skin also has another disadvantage. Wrinkles appear faster giving you a prematurely aged look. A generous application of moisturizer will produce a skin which would be on par with the 'enviable' peaches and cream complexion.

COMBINATION SKIN--- As the word 'combination' suggests it is mix of two different skin types on one face. More often this skin type is the result of a badly cleansed and neglected skin. It is easily recognizable as it is oily down the T panel, that is the forehead, nose, chin. The skin gets this oily look down the T panel while the rest of the face appear and feel dry. Combination skin needs scrupulous cleansing. It is a good idea to use a face mask for oily skin down the T panel and a mask for dry skin for the rest of the face. This method of treating the combination skin works ideally to give a perfect, balanced effect.

SENSITIVE SKIN---- This type of skin is extremely delicate and vulnerable. It is easily susceptible to freckles, itchy spots and blotches. Dermatitis and allergies caused by chemical cosmetics are common problems of a sensitive skin. It is best to discontinue the usage of strong and harsh skin care products as well as perfumed creams and moisturizers.


After a deep cleansing routine and a good facial massage, the next step to skin care is steaming. Steaming dilates the pores and deep cleans by bringing to the surface all the hidden grease and dirt. It also brings a glow on your face but should be avoided in the case of a sensitive skin. Steaming can be done with the use of an electric steamer or, alternatively, a basin filled with steaming hot water. You may add herbs/flowers to the hot water. Cover your head with a towel to trap the steam and breathe in the vapours. The aroma of the herbs will stimulate a soothing and relaxed feeling. Once the pores are dilated, wipe the face with a tissue or damp towel. Remove blackheads using a blackhead remover and sterilized cotton wool. Thereafter, apply a face towel dipped and rinsed in ice cold water. Leave on the face for 5 to 10 minutes and apply a good face pack.




1) Ingredients :

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Egg yolk


Extract the juice of the lemon, add olive oil and egg yolk. Mix well.
Apply and leave for 15 minutes and then wash off.

2) Ingredients :

1 Egg yolk
1 Tablespoon milk powder
1 Teaspoon honey & rose water


Mix the ingredients together. Use rose water to achieve a paste form. Apply all over the face and neck. Wash off after 15 minutes using warm water.


1) Ingredients :

2 Teaspoon honey
12 Tablespoons lemon juice
12 Tablespoons fullers earth


Mix all the ingredients to form a paste. After application, wash after 15 minutes with luke warm water.

2) Ingredients :

Tablespoon honey


Mash banana well; add in honey and mix well. Apply well all over face and rinse off after 10 – 15 minutes.

Note:Do not use this pack if you have a sensitive skin.



1 Egg white
2 Tablespoons honey


Mix all the ingredients and make a thick paste. Apply the pack and relax on a bed till dry. Wash off.


Vegetable and fruit based cleansing masks

Extract the juice of potato and add Fuller's Earth to make a thick paste. Apply on face and rinse off.

Cucumber juice combined with Fuller's Earth also helps to cleanse deep down dirt and grime from your skin.

Mashed strawberries have excellent cleansing properties.


Ripe, mashed papaya, leaves skin clean, smooth and shining.


Boiled and mashed turnips combined with a little yogurt also cleanses the skin.


Other natural cleansers include aloe, lemon and ginseng.

Deepika Vohra can be contacted at

Understand The Animals

The Hoolock Gibbon

The Hoolock/White-browed Gibbon Hylobates hoolock (Harlan, 1834)

 Status: Endangered, Schedule I

The only ape of India ‘the hoolock gibbon’ was formerly widespread from eastern India, through Bangladesh to China and south to the Irrawaddy in Myanmar. In 1967 it was reported to occur in Assam, upper Myanmar, Tenasserim, northern Thailand and northern Laos. By 1987 it had declined drastically, particularly in Bangladesh and India, and was thought to be located in India, the east of Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Yunnan Province in China. Currently it is thought to occur in the forests of north east India, Bangladesh (east of the Brahmaputra River), south Yunnan (China), and Myanmar (WCMC/WWF 1997z). and may occur in Laos (IUCN 1996). In India it is found in all the seven states of north east India, mainly the south of Brahmaputra river. A small population was introduced in Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary in Darjeeling district during 1965.

In India population estimate comes to 6,200-6,700 individuals utilizing about 4,500 sq km of good habitat and 2,500-3,500 sq km of degraded habitats with the density of 1.1 and 0.5 per sq km, respectively.

 Major threats to this species include the rapid deforestation, poor environmental education, the absence of conservation measures agriculture including tea plantations. In recent years, several sanctuaries and reserves that lie inside the Hoolock gibbon's natural range have been created, however the increased problem of habitat fragmentation is still of much concern (Wolfheim, 1983). Habitat destruction through shifting cultivation by hill tribes and logging has created a fragmented habitat.

Gibbons are forced to descend from trees to cross clearings making them vulnerable to hunting and predation. Intense hunting of gibbons by local tribes is reported in Assam. Gibbon meat and bones are of value as a tonic in some traditional Asian medicines. Home range of hoolock gibbon may vary from 18 to 30 ha with a mean of 22 ha (Choudhury, 1989).

 Average life expectancy is 40 years (Rowe, 1996). The hoolock gibbon gives birth to a single offspring. A single young is born every 2 - 3 years. Mating takes place during rainy season. Gestation period varies from seven (7) to eight (8) months. Normally a single young is born, sometimes twins, every 2-3 years. Birth typically occurs from November to March. The estrous cycle averages is of 28 days. After the young is born, it clings tightly to the mother around the waist and remains there for the first few months of its life. Gradual weaning will occur in 1.5-2 years and the young usually reach sexual maturity in 84 months (Rowe, 1996), although gibbons in captivity are known to have reached maturity at 6-7 years of age.

 Like all gibbon species, Hylobates hoolock is monogamous (Nowak, 1999). The mated pair, along with their offspring (typically one or two), occupy a fiercely defended and stable territory. Occasionally, lone adults--usually sub-adults recently forced from their family group--will establish solitary territories. In Assam and Bangladesh, the Hoolock gibbon's average territory size is 22 ha (Nowak, 1999)

Courtship in gibbons is described thus:

'The male initiates a long solo with an elaborate introduction and a short interlude. The female soon joins in for a duet, and the crescendo is reached with the great call. He simultaneously swings hand-over-hand, from tree to tree, over distances of more than ten metres - spectacular gymnastics for an animal without a tail and splendid stereo-surround! Once the female reciprocates, she dominates the rest of the concert. The gibbons transmit, through song, information about species, sex and parental territory. This communication helps the pair bond for life.' ( Sanctuary)

Shy and diurnal, Hoolock Gibon is almost arboreal, mainly feeds above 15m from ground (Choudhury, 1989). Like other gibbon species it is basically frugivorous, only one (1) percent of its feeding time is being spent on insect (Tilson, 1979). It was observed feeding on the fruits of Ficus hispida. It feeds with both hands sitting on a tree branches, or with one hand by hanging from a tree branch. Generally frugivorous, but the diet may be mixed with insects, leaves, and other vegetable matter. Usually ripe, pulpy fruit is preferred, so gibbons compete mainly with squirrels and birds, rather than other primates. Small vertebrates and eggs may be eaten occasionally. Generally, about 35 percent of the daily activity is spent on feeding, and of that, up to 65 percent of the time is spent on foraging for fruit (Chivers, 1977).

 It survives only in undisturbed forests and occupy upper canopy. This species sleeps and rests in the emergent trees (Leighton, 1987). All gibbons are arboreal and diurnal. The hoolock gibbon is a good swimmer and frequenty uses riparian habitats. It takes shelter in the shady trees during the hot hours of the day while at night it sleeps in the top canopy of tall trees. This species lives in undisturbed primary forests, evergreen forests, mixed evergreen forests, scrub forests, subtropical monsoon forests, and humid mountainous broad leaf evergreen forests throughout their natural range. The tall trees of deciduous species in semi-evergreen forests provide it vantage place for sub-wasking. Hoolock gibbons usually prefer undisturbed forested areas and are found at elevations ranging from 152 to 1370m (Wolfheim, 1983).

 Hoolock Gibbon is the state animal of Mizoram. The singing and whistling Hoolock gibbons are now under serious threat from extensive deforestation and hunting of apes.


A Lined love that Lasted

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!

 A love affair is very private for most people. But I have gone through private affairs that have been very public indeed; so public that they have been prominently displayed in newspapers.

 It was quite common for people meeting me at different functions or ringing me up to say- Oh it was certainly very sweet to see you being kissed by Pinky Rita or Rosy, depending on whether it was an Orang, Chimpanzee or a tiger who was pictured with me in the local newspapers. More often than not this was the handy work of a lens man who, since he did not get a good picture for his editor could always present something which might have been of some interest at least it was for all my friends. It entailed a lot of leg pulling to which I soon developed a very thick skin. In the process it has saved the bacon for many a photographer.

   Well, among the many heart breaks one went through, Rosy the tiger stands out as a high point in my love life.

   She came from another zoo as a four month old cub.  I used to make eyes at her or purr and say "phrr" "phrr" in trying to get her attention. A lot of "phrr" "phrrings" and moving close to her enclosure for tickling her later, I finally made friends with her. Every morning, the high point of my life was a kiss from Rosy which I got infallibly.

 This went on for a couple of weeks until I decided I would go in along with her. She had been very nice to me but there were always bars and mesh between us. If she suddenly thought of spurning me it would have meant a long stay at the hospital as she was nearly eight months old.

 I had of course put in plenty of hard work and my daily rounds had grown threefold and Rosy seemed absolutely o.k.

 The sliding door which had been well oiled for fast opening and closing was slowly opened and I went in- no more bars and wire mesh to keep her from me. Rosy took it in her stride and did not think it very unusual. She calmly walked up to me and brushed her side and purred like the big cat she was with a clear loud "phr" "phrr". The message was loud and clear-'you are always welcome here' 'why did you have to delay so long "

 Soon she was standing up against me and though I used to wear a leather jacket she would never bring out her claws. Not once did I have to contend with torn clothes or much less bruises. I got a nice collar and a strong chain made for her and soon we were taking walks around the zoo together. It did cause some consternation among the spotted deer and other herbivorous. Monkeys would be reduced to hysterics and visitors would give me a broad leeway.

   When Rosy was about two and a half years old, a friend working in the UNICEF sent Liv Ullman, the Hollywood actress and "Ambassador at large", to the zoo for a visit. This V.I.P had to visit Rosy as she was given a glowing account about me by the lady at the UNICEF.

To cut a long story short, I introduced Rosy on a chain to the actress. She (Rosy) took such a liking for the pretty lady that she stood on her hind legs and put her front paws on Ms Ullman's shoulders. The lady fell backwards on the lush grass and sure enough Rosy gave her two smacks with her tongue on both cheeks.

 This whole drama took just about a few seconds but Ms Ullman did not lose her cool and as soon as Rosy released her ( with some help from me ), she got up, shook off the grass from her dress a little shaken but very much impressed.

 I took her home and gave her some hot strong coffee to revive her spirits.

Rosy, though a little boisterous, had been on her best behavior to impress one whom she knew was a friend of mine.

 Toby Ninan can be contacted at

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