Bhimashankar Patrolling-A photolog

Bhimashankar Patrolling-A photolog

by Nidheesh Nair

A hail of pebbles welcomed me when I reached Bhimashankar wildlife sanctuary in mid  August. 

Rocky terrain Of Bhimashankar
Hot humid weather surprisingly changed into a pleasant one. Newly wet  fragrance of mother earth pierced in my nostrils.  I consider myself blessed to have been part of a week -long  volunteers patrolling programme conducted by Indian wild life club.    My fellow-patrollers were enthusiastic, brave and energetic forestry students and a young school principal.  

A group of energetic youngsters
Beauty of Bhimashanker depends upon the seasons.  A monsoon period is entirely different from hot  summer.  During  seven days of our patrolling programme,  we understood well how summer impacts  flora and fauna of the sanctuary.  It was very tough in parts.

Operation clean-up
Only enthusiasm and passion for  nature and the support of Forest officers especially Sunil Limaye,  led us to complete volunteers patrolling programme  successfully.  Trekking to Gorakhgad pinnacle within this time period was another milestone for us.  We also felt happy collecting whatever plastic bottles etc strewn around by others and disposing them off.   Our small contribution to keeping mother nature clean!
Trekkers with the Chief Conservator of Forests, Sunil Limaye and other officials

Bird Watching

A new dimension in White Throated Kingfisher nesting.

A new dimension in White Throated Kingfisher nesting.
By: Ajay Gadikar (Bird Watcher)

In an unusual nesting behaviour, I witnessed a White throated kingfisher (Halcyon symmenis) pair had chosen a makeshift hole of a residential building for its nesting purposes which was in the middle of the town. This typical nesting behaviour was observed by me in last year near my house. First it was my wife who, while walking in our colony garden, saw the pair calling and moving inside the hole of the building and told me about it.

What seems to be an attempt to adapt with the urban lifestyle and in densely populated area, surrounded by buildings, this pair has chosen to make their nest in a hole left in the wall of a building. I think the hole was left behind after some pipe like structure was removed and the hole was left as it is and not cemented later. It had turned into a blessing for the kingfisher family as they found a suitable nest cavity to rear their young ones.

We observe their nesting activity for the full season and didn’t try to approach near the nest by any means following the basic birding ethics which quotes that one should not disturb any birds nesting activities.  Also there was a huge construction work going on so we were more alert as the labourers working there would observe our activity and unnecessarily disturb the nest site.  We used to visit the place early in the morning and come back before the construction work starts at the site.  A makeshift small water body was present on the construction site. The kingfisher was often seen diving inside the muddy water body in search of any insects and fish. This building will surely disturb the next breeding cycle as the topography of the area will completely change over the period of next year.

Generally all of the Kingfisher species are known to live near water bodies and rivers but the white throated kingfisher has very well adapted to living in city surroundings where small makeshift water bodies are present. The kingfisher nests are also very typical and are found near river banks or nallahs. Their nests are horizontal holes dug into the side of an earth cutting or a river bank and are about 3 inches in diameter and often up 1 to 3 feet in length.

Here it had shown a drastically different behaviour.  The nest site (east facing) is a hole on 3rd floor of a residential building at a height of nearly 12 meter from ground and amidst other close buildings and with apparently a very small water body present nearby.

Also in a typical observation I found that though generally this bird nests on the onset of the monsoon but here the bird has stated breeding much before the monsoon.

The male and female were seen for the whole day near the nest site and entering the nest frequently, on continuous observation it was clear that they had laid eggs and were incubating the eggs. Both the sexes were seen performing their parental duties.

We closely saw them bringing different kind of insects and perching for a while near the nest site before entering the hole to feed the young ones inside, also made some videos of the food they used to bring every day.  After a few days of observation, one fine day,  we saw a juvenile bird in the vicinity being fed by the adults and we were happy to see that the adult birds have been able to successfully fledge the future generation.

It’s seems that this bird has also adapted to the nest options available near the human settlements and is able to thrive in urban areas.


The white throated kingfisher has a very prominent beak adapted to catch fish which is similar to other kingfishers, but has adapted well and is able to survive on different other vertebrates found in city.  It feeds on lizards, mice, frogs, dragonflies, grasshoppers, small perching birds found in the urban areas.

Did You Know ?

Mosquitoes can spot malaria

Mosquitoes can spot malaria

A tendency of mosquitoes to prefer infected humans affects how fast malaria spreads in a community, says S. Ananthanarayanan.

This unexpected bias of mosquitoes, which has been recently discovered, is one of the factors that have been considered in developing a mathematical formula of how an outbreak of malaria may progress.

Xiunan Wang and Xiao-Qiang Zhao, of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, Canada, publish in the journal of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, their study of malaria transmission dynamics, or the factors that influence how the numbers of infected persons rise or fall and how mosquitoes flourish or flounder.

“Mathematical models provide powerful tools for explaining and predicting malaria transmission trend, and also for quantifying the effectiveness of different intervention and eradication strategies in malaria endemic regions,” the authors say in the paper. As the data of instances of infection is often inadequate, statistical methods need to be employed both to devise and to evaluate strategies for the prevention and then the management of malaria. In the context, it is useful to have an understanding of how the malaria pathogen behaves and adapts in different conditions that we are able to monitor.

We can see that whether instances of malaria in a community would persist depends how soon mosquitoes may pick up the pathogen from infected persons, how soon they are ready to infect others and then also on how fast mosquitoes breed and on how likely they are to bite infected persons, to acquire the pathogen and then to bite susceptible persons.

The model that Wang and Zhao have created takes into account three factors that affect the infection cycle: the first is the climate, which affects the breeding of mosquitoes. The second is the time it takes for the malaria parasite, once it has entered the mosquito’s body, to develop into the form for the mosquito to be able to infect a person. And the third is the recently discovered feature, that the mosquito, in taking a blood meal, appears to select infected persons in place of going for all persons with equal likelihood.

The climate factor, and particularly the temperature, is found to be important, as the breeding time for mosquitoes reduces from 65 days to 7.3 days if the ambient temperature rises from 12°C to 31°C, the paper says. The second limiting factor is the time it takes for the malaria parasite to develop within the mosquito and migrate to the salivary glands, from which it can enter the bloodstream of a person or animal that the mosquito feeds upon. This time, a delay, after the

mosquito picks up the infection, is called the Extrinsic Incubation Period and can range from 10 to 30 days. As the lifetime of a mosquito can be from 3 to 100 days, some of the mosquitoes may not live long enough to be infective, while those that live longer than the incubation period would be infective for the rest of their days.

The third factor, called vector-bias, or the selective behaviour of the mosquito, which is the agent that carries the infective material, has been observed and studied by a number of researchers since the 1980s. Experiments showed that mosquitoes preferred malaria infected hosts at the stages of attraction and penetration, of probing and location of blood, and again of the taking of blood. This was the case with experimental mice and hens infected with malaria and the attraction for infected targets was there even when the mosquitoes were prevented from performing the actual bite. A more recent study, in 2005, was with three groups of children in western Kenya, where one group was uninfected, the second group was infected with the non-infective stage of falciparum malaria and the third group with the active phase of the infection. The third group was found to attract twice as many mosquito bites as the first two groups. A follow-up trial was then conducted after the children were cleared of the infection by treatment, and it was found that mosquitoes now showed no preference, including for the group that had earlier harboured the active infection.

This bias of mosquitoes towards malaria infected hosts appears to be some effect that the malaria parasite has evolved to have upon hosts, to act as a signal to attract mosquitoes. This would be an adaptation by which the parasite promotes its own transmission to new hosts and hence its perpetuation. Here, it should be mentioned that it is the female mosquito, who needs protein for her reproductive role, that feeds on blood meals from people and animals. The male mosquito, in contrast, is content with nectar from plants. While the female mosquito hence needs to get blood, there are features in the blood of infected individuals that make this the preferred nutrition for the female mosquito. It has been found that the feeding time is shortened by a whole minute when mosquitoes fed on malaria infected mice, and there are theoretical bases to hold that the mechanics of blood extraction by mosquitoes would favour blood with a lower red blood corpuscle content, a feature of malaria infected blood.

Wang and Zhao hence factored the preference of mosquitoes to go for malaria infected over malaria susceptible targets into the mathematical model. The model analyses the fraction of the population that is infected, and is hence a source of pathogens, and then the susceptible fraction, which is the field for infected mosquitoes to successfully infect, the lifetime of mosquitoes, the time it takes for the parasite to get active, the breeding time of mosquitoes and then the probability of mosquitoes going for infected or non-infected targets. The model then arrives at an expression that would indicate whether the infection would rise in the community or decline. We can see that with a rise in the number of infected targets, the number of mosquitoes that are capable of infecting targets would increase, but this would also limit the number of those susceptible, for new infections. There would also be the reduction of the number of all targets with time, both by natural attrition as well as a result of the disease. At what level the addition to the numbers infected would stop rising, or would start falling, or fluctuate, would depend on the preference that the mosquitoes show for infected hosts. The net result of the study was then the development of a measure, which is called the Reproduction Ratio, whose value, either less or greater than one, indicates whether the disease would die out or stabilise at a positive, periodic state.

The important things learnt from the analysis are the importance of the ambient temperature and the Extrinsic Incubation Period, the time for the parasite to mature within the mosquito. While the dependence on temperature points to another danger that would increase with global warming, the dependence on the incubation period is an invitation to scientists to develop drugs that infected

persons could take and thereby affect the internal processes of mosquitoes that feed on them – a case of the human hosts becoming the vectors for administering the drug to the mosquito.

The growth of the infection is also seen to depend on the ratio of the preference of mosquitoes to bite infected persons over susceptible persons. If the medium by which this condition is communicated to mosquitoes were discovered, scientists could design ways to steer mosquitoes away from susceptible targets and hence the disease itself towards extinction.

[the writer can be contacted at]

News and Views

News and Views

News ...and Views


We would like to remind all our members that we upload every week a gist of environment related news that appear in popular newspapers.   Please go to our link to read the latest weekly report and the archives.


World Wetlands Day was celebrated on 2nd February 2017.  Many of our members must have renewed their pledges to save wetlands which are a natural safeguard against disasters.   We have uploaded an educational film on wetlands in IndianWildlifeClub you tube channel. 

Try and watch it on a desktop or laptop so that the annotations are also visible. Would like to hear comments on the video from our members.  

After a long gap we plan to have an online chat on 19th February 2017.  The topic"Dragonflies and Damselflies", which incidentally abound near wetlands.  How much do we know about them and their roles in keeping the environment clean and healthy?  Do participate in the chat on 19th by clicking on the link

Keep sending in your articles on wildlife related issues.  Limit it to about 1000 words or so with up to five photos to illustrate!

Wilderness Volunteers

A write-up on the ongoing Joint patrolling program at Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary, Maharashtra

A write-up on the ongoing Joint patrolling program at Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary, Maharashtra
-Dr.Susan Sharma,

In 2013, we conducted an online survey on the volunteering space in wildlife conservation in the Indian context.  The survey was administered to individual IWC members and to NGOs/Others in the space interested in recruiting volunteers.  We received 496 responses in all.   
The salient features which came through from the respondents’ comments are,
1.Many well known institutions take in paid volunteers (volunteers pay for the privilege of working with them).  This model may not exactly suit Indian volunteers.  Paid volunteerism in India is not well documented or followed up.
2.India has always had good environment laws and wildlife laws but the implementation on the ground has been lacking. 
3.Concerns expressed by many potential volunteers we surveyed included lack of transparency in recruiting and deployment of volunteers and lack of follow up action on work done by volunteers. 
4.70% of respondents were willing to volunteer for free
The graphs below are self explanatory. 

Wildlife Research and Conservation Society (WRCS), an NGO from Pune contacted us asking if we can provide volunteers for their project in Melghat Tiger Reserve (MTR).   With active inputs from Shri.Jayant Kulkarni of WRCS, we created an online platform to recruit volunteers online for the MTR project.  For this one year project, IWC provided 70 volunteers over a period of one year.
In the words of the Directors of WRCS
"We believe that the volunteer patrolling program helped in improving protection of forests and wildlife. There was no incidence of poaching in Jarida Range during the implementation of the program. The Forest Department staff also, by and large, welcomed the program because it helped them in protection of the forests and wildlife."
Jayant Kulkarni, executive director of WRCS, said, the volunteering program developed good relations with the locals and the latter were inspired to work for the environment, too.  Moreover, with the “Volunteers extra manpower, frequency of patrolling also increased."

Efforts made by IWC in promoting the volunteer space
In addition to online chat sessions for potential volunteers, IWC resource persons also visited colleges in Delhi ( IIITD, St. Stephens)to give presentations about the need for volunteering.

Bhimashankar Joint Patrolling Program
In 2015, the forest department of Pune started a volunteer patrol programme at Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary to give civilians a taste of what it entails and to involve them further in conservation activities.   The initiative aimed to deepen the connection between forests and civilians and also to enable greater understanding of the work that the department does.  With the active involvement of CCF Wildlife Shri Sunil Limaye assisted by Smt. Kirti Jamdade ACF, we created a platform where volunteers can apply online and submit the documents required by the Forest Department.  The program for joint patrolling was rolled out in October 2015.    

The August 2016 batch of volunteers with CCF, Sunil Limaye
Photo credt-Nidheesh Nair

Over a period of over one year since the start of the program  51   volunteers have applied for the program.   25 have completed the patrolling program and received their certificates.   Mr Yogesh Alekari,  is helping in co-coordinating the program from Pune.

Feedback from Volunteers
  "By far the best thing happened in 2015 was :  One week of volunteer patrolling with forest guards in Bhimashankar Wildlife sanctuary."   Wish I could live in the wilderness forever... — Kevin Bhide , Bangalore 
“It was an amazing experience to work with the forest department. Definitely things seem completely different when we put ourselves in their shoe. Working in such a diverse forest as Western Ghats with highly experienced and motivated people was something I will cherish over a life time. I'm grateful to Indian Wildlife Club, Co-ordinator of the programme Mr. Yogesh Alekari and the team for allowing me such an opportunity. I wish to stay connected and be part of programs by Indian Wildlife Club in the future and pay my contribution towards environment and society.”
 Sudarshan Kalwale, Pune
“During patrolling, the information on various flowers/trees and their use, characteristics received from forest guards was very useful. The program could been more systematic if IWC and Forest Department could have provided us a more detailed schedule for seven days to avoid randomness and coordination related issues.  Overall a mesmerising experience in the lap of nature and I strongly recommend this program for all the nature lovers out there.”
-Jayashri Dumbre, Navi Mumbai 

We have also carried trip reports/blogs by participants which can be read in our earlier e-zine issues.  

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