The Jaguar


The Jaguar

-John Eickert



The small thin red-brown man sat on a skeletal fiber mat, his eyes closed, his chin sank until it rested on his chest and then he became a jaguar. The jaguar ran past me and out into the night jungle behind. I sat across from the now still form of the man whose spirit had left his body, then blinked to clear and steady my mind.

I met and befriended a Peruano man in Lima. The Lima man had a brother who worked on the eastern frontier and could show me the real Amazon. The man in Lima was named Jeff. Ten days later, I met Jeff’s brother, Antonio in Puerto Maldonado, a small boomtown on Peru’s frontier with Bolivia and Brazil. It was very hot. Antonio worked for an oil exploration company. He took time off from work, arranged for a canoe to take us down river and then up a tributary where few ventured, sounded like fun to me. The next morning we slid down the brown jungle river while large raucous scarlet macaws winged overhead. As the day grew so did the river traffic, we dodged different boats carrying tourists, geologists, smugglers, and military. The rivers of the Amazon create a travel corridor; I soon tired of the traffic and hoped for some peace and quiet. Be careful what you ask for.

After several long insect filled sessions playing hide and seek with drug smuggling gangs and their attendant militias, our boat swung up a small, clear river. We parted branches and ducked larger ones as we made our way up this free flowing tributary. At last, four weeks and thousands of miles from my home, we came to an open village area. Children wearing gold and navy blue University of Michigan sweatshirts, and nothing else, ran down the bank to greet our boat. I stayed at the village with my guide Antonio for ten days. One night we were invited to “drink from the sacred vine” and eat a bitter dried fruit. At first I became very sick, but soon calmed and sat on my fiber mat with heightened senses. The village shaman went into a trance and soon, while I sat lucid and keen, left his physical self to roam the jungle as a spirit jaguar.

The well dressed over fed man sat across from me on a very fancy comfortable chair and laughed when I recalled this story at a dinner gathering here in Montana. This man, who by his own admission had never been anywhere outside of the United States, called into question my mental state and the credibility of my travelers tale. I did not respond, but smiled and soon the conversation went on.

It is easy to sit back and judge the lives of others. It is hard to go and see for yourself. Life is full of adventure big and small. In each of us beats the heart of a jaguar waiting to be set free. What are you waiting for? Cheers.


Spot ‘Puerto Maldonado’  in the map of Peru!

Common Birds of India

Indian Robin. ( Saxicoloides fulicata )





Indian Robin. ( Saxicoloides fulicata )


-Ragoo Rao


The Indian Robin is the Bird of the month for our readers.  The loveable little bird of suburban and rural areas. As urban areas are being expanded a lot of Indian robin territory is being destroyed. However the little bird thrives well in rural areas specially in scrub jungle areas.

A sparrow sized black bird with a white patch on the wings and a rusty colored patch at the base of the tail which is constantly twitched, is the Indian Robin. A mature male is more iridescent on the neck and head with glistening black feathers. The female is a dull brown with slightly darker wings and about the same size as a male. About five races have been identified with a slight variation in coloration depending on the habitat.

Distribution is throughout the country upto an altitude of 5000 ft. These birds are peace loving but are very bold. They come into compounds in the rural areas and approach very close to humans to pick up morsels of food from the ground. Scrub jungles around villages is their mainstay and are not seen in very heavily wooded areas. The fence lines are the favourite perches for the males to sit and give out their cheet.....cheet...cheey...calls twitching their tails after every note. The females will be closeby and are very shy of humans.


Main food is insects and their eggs. They are specially fond of migrating termites and will keep hunting them even at twilight. Their typical habit is to keep hopping on the ground looking for insects and whenever they find a rock or a termite mound to hop on it and sing a chee...chee...chee song all the time twitching their tails and again continue foraging.


The breeding season is from April to June in the Southern part of the country. A male selects the nesting site usually in earth banks, rocky crevices and very often inside the pots kept as scarecrows by the farmers. The nest is made up of grass roots, and a central cuplike pads of grass. Feathers are lined for softness and some nests have also had shed snake skin.  2 to 3 creamy white eggs tinged greenish and speckled with brown patches are laid.  Only the female is observed to incubate but the male shares all other domestic chores.


A very bold loveable bird, the Indian Robin needs its own space to thrive.  As urban expansion grows their territory is getting smaller. But the rural folk never harm these birds. In fact some farmers even provide them nesting sites by keeping an earthen pot with a hole to enter on fence posts and some even put up a post and place an earthen pot for these birds to nest.


Let us do our might to keep these Birds along with us for a long time.


I hope the article is well timed as a lot of Indian Robins are found nesting these days. Any of our readers, if they have a dwelling close to the suburbs and if they find these birds around could provide them a nesting place by keeping an earthen pot with a hole on a small post about 4 to 5 feet tall. It is sure to be chosen by these birds.



Did You Know ?

Nature and Ancient Indians – Part V

Indian Classical Music

Geeta Verghese


Ancient Indians believed that depending on the time of the day or night, our body and mind undergoes subtle changes, which arouses and stimulates different moods and emotions. The Ragas in Indian Classical Music are based on this daily cycle of changes. Each Raga is associated with a definite mood or sentiment that nature arouses in human beings. The ancient musicologists were interested in the effects of musical notes, how it effected and enhanced human behavior. Music had the power to cure, to make you feel happy, sad or disgusted. The ragas, which have evolved over centuries, help us rediscover some of the subtle states that are part of our natural world - both outside our doors and inside ourselves. It is this unique blending of the vibrations of ragas and nature that helps give Indian music its magical quality.

There are Ragas associated with each of the different seasons. Some of the ragas linked with the different seasons are given below:

                                           Raga          and         Ritu (Seasons): -
                                         Bhairav                     Shishir (winter)
                                         Hindol                       Vasant (spring)
                                         Deepak                     Grishma(summer)
                                         Megh/Malhar             Varsha  (monsoon)
                                         Malkauns                     Sharad  (autumn)


There are also ragas associated with different times of the day, enhancing the mood evoked by the changes that occur as day fades into night. Ragas that capture the mystery and wonder of the pre-dawn hour and Ragas, ideally performed at "the first light of the sun," which encompass the diverse moods of peace, joy and pathos. Ragas performed "when the sky begins to become red in the afternoon," which embody the elegance, beauty and pathos of a day slowly coming to an end.

An Indian musician has to undergo years of practice to achieve a certain level of perfection. Swara, the Sanskrit word for tonal center, forms the fundamental basis for the Indian path of music. Swara suggests tunefulness, a tunefulness that arises from within, spontaneously and without force. There is of course technique, however underlying the technique there must be an internal ease, which is neither too concentrated nor diffused. This is the reason why years are devoted to cultivating tunefulness through posture, breath control, and concentration. The manifestation of swara brings along with it a natural calming of internal movement and a corresponding tuning of our own body, mind and energy as a musical instrument. Without this fundamental relaxation of internal movement and a wider opening to the surrounding space, swara remains as a lifeless corpse.  As the musician no longer tries to improve, modify, control, or in any way alter his natural tunefulness, the swara takes on a life of its own and resonates without any limit in its clarity and power, pervading his entire being and the space around him.


Legends have grown around great musicians who have been able to achieve such tunefulness. It is said that when Tansen the famous musician at Emperor Akbar’s court sang the Raag Deepak it caused a fire in the area of performance. The fire was doused when another musician sang Raag Malhar, which in turn brought rain. Such then is the power of music, which can alter the very course of nature.



 Buy a Music video CD of Sarang The Peacock! This short film is a visualization of two Hindustani ragas “Megh” and “ Sarang”





Story Of The Month


                        Gentle Giants?????     

-Shivani Thakur 


Elephants have been around man much earlier than the Sangam period i.e. third to fifth centuries AD. Their fossil remains are still found in different parts of India. They are generally viewed as wise, gentle and reliable. There are about 28,000 elephants left in the wild and around   3500 in captivity. These giants are mainly found in Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.


      But these giants are in focus again, but not for their poaching deaths but for causing loss of life and property during the annual festive season in Kerala. Although they were the earliest to be protected by law in 1879, it was in 1992 that Project Elephant was set up by the government of India due to their decreasing count. They are also categorised under Schedule I of the Wildlife Act.  Therefore it is illegal for anyone to keep an elephant without the permission of State Chief Wildlife Warden.


     In the wild these beasts are facing a challenging situation .The increasing pressure on their habitat by ever growing human population and deaths due to accidents caused by trains moving through the sanctuaries. Farmers find them a nuisance as they spoil their season’s crops. But a large scale decline in the wild population is due to poachers. Unlike their African counterpart, where both male and female have tusks; it is only the male Indian elephant which has tusks. The poachers, by killing bulls,  create a disparity in their numbers.


   If wild elephants have it tough then the captive ones are in no better condition.  Unlike other domesticated animals it is highly expensive to keep an elephant. In captivity they are used for by private owners, zoos, temples, and circuses and for logging. Earlier elephants were used extensively for logging of timber in areas inaccessible by vehicles. But with the ban on logging in the north east and other parts of the country their use has come down dramatically. In Rajasthan, elephant rides at Jaipur’s Amber Fort were part of tourist attractions.  But the pathetic conditions in which they had to work made Rajasthan government put a ban on these rides. The parchyderms were made to stand in the sun without adequate water, walk long distances on metal roads. A report by Geeta Seshmani of Wildlife SOS indicated that they were suffering from rope soars, sun- burn and footpad wounds.


     An adult bull needs a minimum of 275 kgs food and 250 lts of water everyday. Therefore it is difficult for many to maintain captive elephants  who see them as money spinners. In Kerala too the picture is not that rosy. Recently a mahout was killed by an outraged bull during the annual festive season. For decades the elephants and human have co-existed peacefully but the last decade the attack on humans have increased. The elephant lovers, vets and others agree that the provocation for elephant violence  is invariably from the  humans. They are beaten, chained starved and made to work without sufficient rest, food and nourishment. Also the earlier mahouts knew everything about their elephants, treatments, diets or emotions. But modern day ones see them as money making machines who during festive season can fetch up to  Rs 50,000 for an appearance fee at a temple.

         To keep their numbers from decreasing lot of work needs to be done. More elephant corridors need to be built so as to encourage free movement for them in the sanctuaries. Elephants migrate to areas spread across vast regions. Combining one or two reserved forest would give them the freedom as well as restrain them from entering human habitations. For captive ones an example of Myanmar should be followed where a compulsory use in certain areas of timber operation should be allowed. Similarly vets to keep a check on all privately owned elephants across the   country and mahouts to be trained for their upkeep. And also proper enforcement of law to keep a check on them. But until this is done more tragedies like the one in Kerala will occur and cordial relations between the beast and man will be destroyed forever.    



( Photo: Elephant on a Kerala road by Susan Sharma)


Worried about the future of Asian Elephants? See the film "Wilderness Nepal".  View a clip from the film at

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