The Tons River, Uttaranchal

'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

I’ve sat here for hours going over old tattered notebooks trying to remember where I first read the statement. It seems it was twice long ago, when much of the world existed in my dreams and imagination. I wish I could remember because I have always been compelled towards accuracy, but here goes. “When moisture falls in the Himalayas, it eventually flows into one of two of the worlds oceans. From there, that one-drop of moisture moves about our planet in those broad ocean currents, eventually and on average, seventeen years later it could fall again on that same spot.” Hopefully I haven’t gotten this too far wrong; the statement creates a rich image. Many years ago northern India was the setting for my first overseas rafting adventure. That river is spat from the Garhwal Himal and its name is the Tons.

We stood beside the river, shaken from bouts of dysentery and drinking, but willing and eager. The raft before us had seen better days. It wasn’t a good raft to begin with and was now a patchwork. I wondered if it would hold air. One of the others in the crew questioned if it would even float. It did not matter, we were young, we were eager. We would foolishly try anything, consumed by youth and invincibility. Still, there was the raft and the beckoning roar from the river. The guide for our descent was a small dark glistening man with sparkling eyes and overly large mustache. His name was Kumar. He said he had rafted every river in India and the Tons, his favorite. He told us it was the most difficult river in the world to run. We appraised this small man. We, the young American rafting demigods with inflated egos and bulging biceps, just wanted Kumar to get us on the river. Our guide was older and certainly more experienced than any of us, yet we offered no favor, no respect.

Kumar explained how many days and how many rapids. He explained what he expected from us and how he hoped we would perform. He was kind and full of compliments. He also explained how dangerous the Class V rapids would be and how much fun the lesser rapids would be. He described how he would flip the raft in the smaller rapids. “Flip the raft intentionally!” We almost mutinied. Kumar explained how this was always done for the clients. It added more thrills and adventure. This disturbed our group, we had all been taught to keep the boat open side up and everyone in. I wondered how many had drowned in this river. I wondered if we were doing the right thing. I looked to my companions, but no one was willing to question or back away. With great trepidation, we loaded the raft and pushed off, our descent began.
Next month, the descent of the Tons, one of the wildest rides of my life, until then, take care. Cheers.

Visit or call NumBum Adventurers at 406-777-2228

Answers To Quiz Of The Month

Right answer to quiz on on wetlands

Last month no one have given all right answers. , and have give 8 right answers

Right Answer to Quiz on wetlands

1.57% of mangroves in India are found in the
  • East coast
  • West coast
  • Andaman & Nicobar Islands  

  • 2.Agriculture and aqua culture have destroyed more than 80% of mangroves in
  • Orissa
  • W.Bengal
  • Maharashtra  

  • 3.Wetlands of international importance are called
  • International estuaries
  • Heritage sites
  • Ramsar sites  

  • 4.India has a total of----------------Ramsar sites
  • 19
  • 26
  • 5  

  • 5.The mangroves of Bhittarkanika are famous for
  • rare migratory water birds
  • nesting sites for endangered Olive Ridley turtles
  • prawn cultivation   

  • 6.A larva called " cavaborus" abounds in this lake and eliminates bacteria in the water, thus contributing to exceptional purity of water. The larvae are found in this Ramsar site
  • Bhoj wetland in M.P
  • Deepor Beel in Assam
  • Sastamkotta lake in Kerala  

  • 7.One of the most important mangrove forests in the world which is both a Ramsar site and a World Heritage site is,
  • Sunderbans
  • Keoladeo National Park
  • Both the above  

  • 8.The most important factor which will decide the fate of mangroves is,
  • Local enforcement protecting mangroves
  • Prevention of clogging by crude oil & other pollutants
  • Worldwide reduction in consumer demand for pond raised shrimps  

  • 9.Proposal for the land bridge connecting India and Srilanka is likely to degrade the mangroves of
  • Gulf of Mannar
  • Andaman & Nicobar
  • Pont Caimere   

  • 10.Gulf of Mannar is a major habitat for the endangered
  • dolphin
  • whale shark
  • dugong  

  • Endangered

    Pangolin Or Scaly Ant Eater (Manis carssicaudata)

    compiled by Dr. Susan Sharma

    The pangolin is a slow, shy animal. The word "pangolin" itself has a French origin and refers to the animal's ability to curl up into a ball.

    The pangolin contains one genus and seven species. Among them Indian pangolin (Manis carssicaudata) inhabits the foothills and plains of India and SriLanka. A Chinese pangolin (M. pentadactyla) ranges westward through Nepal, Assam and eastern Himalaya, Myanmar, and China. The Malayan pangolin (M. javania) occurs in Malaya, Java, and Indochina. The Chines pangolin has been reported from different areas of Nepal.

    The pangolin measures 58 cm head and body and 45 cm tail. It has 18 rows of overlapping scales around the body. Females as a rule are smaller than males. The pangolin possesses hair and scales, an unusual combination for mammals. It has a small pointed head and narrow mouth with a fine set muzzle. It also has a fleshy nose bearing nostrils. The eyes and ears are small and the head integrates smoothly into a short neck and later merges directly into the roundish body. The short legs come down the body and are tipped with sharp claws. The forefeet are longer and stronger than the hind feet. The pangolin is a burrowing nocturnal mammal. Mostly pangolins burrow into the ground by means of their heavily clawed fore-foot and make a chamber about eight feet deep. They do so within three to five minutes. After the burrow is made, the entrance is blocked. They are also known to occupy the burrows of other animals.
    Generally a single young is born measuring 18 inches (45 cm) and weighing about 1 lb. At the time of birth, scales are soft and flexible but they harden in two days. The young pangolin is able to walk soon after birth. The young are carried on the mother's tail or back where they hang limply on the root. A threatened mother folds her tail and keeps her young under her body. Male pangolins also exhibit a remarkable parental instinct and share a burrow with females and young ones.

    They are nocturnal, coming out during the night for feeding on eggs and adult termites and ants. It is reported from Kannyakumari district in Tamil Nadu that they also feed on the soft shelled land mollusks found in gardens and cultivated lands. It is not known how they feed on mollusks - they possibly break the shells with their strong nails as evident in the crumbled shells in their hide outs.

    Pangolins Under Threat

    Known by various names such as Bajrakit (Sanskrit), Banrui (Bengal), Sallu Samp (Hindi) and Enampeechi (Malayalam), habitat loss and hunting for meat and scales are the major threats to the species. Pangolin's meat is eaten as great delicacy by hill tribes and their scales are made into a ring as a charm against rheumatic fever. And some hill tribes believe that its flesh has aphrodisiac values. As a result of these values, pangolins are easily hunted and trapped.

    Pangolin scales are extracted after killing and skinning the animal. Scales from one adult animal weigh an average of 1kg. Oil is extracted from the fat of the animal (amounting to 250 grammes per animal) for medicinal purposes. The brain of the animal is used by local medicine men.

    The trade pattern is such that it mostly goes undetected and therefore unrecorded. The reported international trade in its products generally involves two commodities - scales and skin. It is recorded that about 700 skins of Indian Pangolin were exported to the USA in 1983 compared to 5,023 skins between 1980-1982. The price of one pangolin in the USA was about $US6 and 1kg of scales is valued $US18. The prices of scales vary from INR 250-500 per kg at the collection points; INR 500 - 1000 per kg at the main trading centers; and INR 900 - 1500 per kg at the border trading centres. The international market prices are reported to be INR 7000 - 8000 per kg. The traders in all the states are mainly the tribal charmers. Generally they are the direct primary level sellers, though there is sometimes involvement of middlemen or agents. The tribal communities in the rural areas are directly involved in hunting while the middlemen or the agents usually buy the products from them. However, some agents were found to be hunters themselves.( TRAFFIC Report)

    A recent study by Indian Society for Wildlife Research pointed out that Bhubaneswar and Cuttack in Orissa are two main corridors of illegal trading of pangolins. On an average about 22 shops in Badambadi area ( Bhubaneswar) trade in flesh and rings from scales. Hawkers for these are even found in West Bengal.

    The IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals (1996 ) lists as internationally threatened or near-threatened . one species of pangolin (Manidae). At the 11th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES in April 2000, a proposal to transfer Asian Pangolins Manis crassicaudata, M. pentadactyla and M. javanica from Appendix II to Appendix I was put forward by India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the USA. This proposal was rejected despite the fact that the Parties acknowledged that Asian Pangolin populations are increasingly under threat due to domestic and international demand as well as habitat destruction.

    Forest and trees

    Bird Shelters

    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 demand for birds as pets in the west fuels an illegal trade in the wild birds here in India and ever so often we at the Delhi Zoo would be playing host to large numbers of birds caught by customs and the wild life department at the airport. This is not necessarily a one way traffic. Not too rarely, we do get birds meant for homes of the very very rich especially richly coloured parrots and parakeets.

    The birds going out of the country are always sent in very small containers to save on freight and also to maximize the numbers being sent at one go ( ergo increasing profit margins! ) So much so there is usually a mortality margin of about 20% at the receiving end but since the birds are acquired at a very small cost the mortality does not matter to the traders. The "kabootarwallahs" or birdcatchers are people living at the lowest end of society mostly tribals well versed with the forest. They are paid so very little that too as and when the dealer feels like paying them. These bird catchers are more often given some rice or other cereals which is of the lowest quality. The bird catchers live in constant fear of being caught by forest officials and other law enforcement officials who would be usually more interested in getting bribes rather than enforcing the law. Their work is skilled and very hard as they have to be at it for long hours.

    Among the worst sufferers in the captive population are the munias as these not only suffer greatly due to being cramped up in very small cages but also are coloured by cheap dyes so as to enhance their saleability. After a couple of washes the red coloured munia may turn out to be a house sparrow! More often these birds die soon and the process of capturing, and caging is repeated.

    When most birds are captured they would be kept in pretty big baskets but soon they are shifted to very small cramped cages to await their long flight usually abroad. If the consignments get caught at the airport they end up in holding enclosures which are quite large as it would be cruelty to keep them in small crates for any period of time. This however leads to birds being released from small cages flying around wildly and thus expending a lot of energy- often too much energy and excitement result in large number of deaths at this stage!

    Birds being kept in large numbers have to be closely monitored to see that all are feeding and being watered adequately so that the slightest drop in care could also result in many losses. When faced with a captured consignment of small birds, it turns out to be a challenge and a heart break to zoo managers who have so many other jobs to attend to.

    There is however a good side and a large number of birds like the hill mynah could be used to exchange for other birds which zoos may posses or when exotic birds coming into the country are confiscated –these could be used as breeding stock to increase the variety at the zoo. Again all this entails a lot of hard and dedicated long hours of hard work. Heating or cooling and special conditions of weather have to be created along with the provision of special foods and vitamins and trace element supplements.
    As most of the time these are sent out on the sly there could be even carriers of diseases with which the whole process would become very much complicated and some times result in a complete wipe off.of the birds
    Social and family jobs are neglected and nocturnal outings to look after these “guests” become the order of the day. It however increases the watchfulness of the security staff as they have to be more aware of the “ sahibs “on frequent night prowls and have to forget catnaps of the night.

    The heartbreak comes when the birds die in large numbers despite our best efforts!
    ( Picture of parakeets seized from an illegal trader, by Shailesh Mule of Mid-Day News paper)

    Members Speak

    Some mails

    From The Ranthambhore Bagh <>


    The tiger census in Ranthambhore is going to take place during 1st and 15th May. The forest department is looking for volunteers. We are planning to get together a team of good volunteers for the entire period and make this a good proper census.
    Any takers..........Looking for serious people only.

    Aditya Singh

    From Priya l:

    Dear All

    This is to inform you that there are exciting career opportunities at the Centre for Media Studies. Pls. find below a copy of the advertisement released in the latest EPW. Click here for the advertisment
    Kindly circulate this advertisement among your friends and colleagues.

    Thanking you

    With warm regards

    Priya Verma

    Administration Executive

    From Anil K Bheemaiah (

    FOWL is offering four fellow positions, The positions involve holding workshops to replace animal experimentation in schools. I have attached the recommendation forms and the fellow

    Anil K bheemaiah

    Click here for the advertisment

    News and Views

    News & Views

    News …………………

    Illegal wildlife trade makes sidelines in major newspapers every now and then. "5000 parakeets dead cramped in cages" " "Pythons found in brief case" " Eagles packed and marked as toys" are some of the headlines which have appeared from time to time. What happens to these confiscated animals? Our columnist Toby Ninan has some sad tales up his sleeve. Read this month's Zookeeper story.

    Dr. Ravi Chellam, whose research on the Asiatic Lion is internationally acclaimed, answered queries from members who logged on to our chat session on 18th March 2004. Read a transcript of the chat session by clicking HERE.

    Centre for Media Studies are looking for filling some positions. Read their call for applications.
    Our NGO section has a recent addition. Pampa River protection Society.   The addition of an NGO focusing on water, we thought, is appropriate as the world "celebrates" world water day on March 22nd.. You can also read the synopsis of some short films made on India's water scarcity by going to our video library by cliking HERE.

    …and Views

    'If the wars of this century were fought over oil, the wars of the next century will be fought over water."
    -Ismail Serageldin, Vice President, World Bank, in 1995

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