Burning Issues

Rhesus macaques (Macacamulatta) creating menace for birds and humans in Pachmari.

Rhesus macaques (Macacamulatta) creating menace for birds and humans in Pachmari.

-Ajay Gadikar

In my last article (published in the March ezine) I tried to share how the ever growing population of Rock Pigeons is causing serious issues to bird diversity in cities.

This time I will try to focus on the Monkey menace and how the Monkeys have became a major threat to many species of birds and also to humans in general.

The monkeys are causing a great disturbance to the birds in the Pachmari and nearby areas.  Pachmari hill station is part of the Pachmari bio-sphere which has got sprawling flora and fauna. 

I frequent Pachmari and the Satpura tiger reserve which lies adjacent to each other for my bird watching excursions. 

In my recent visit to this place I came to know that the bird (especially raptors) population is dwindling in this region.  While talking to local bird watchers and guides, I came to know that monkeys are the major reason for this. They destroy the nest of the birds both on trees and on the ground. They fiercely compete for food (figs) with birds, during the fruiting of local trees in the month of March-April, they eat most of the fruits leaving behind very little for the birds.

In recent years reports of increasing monkey aggression and burgeoning monkey populations have been on the rise in Pachmari.  Urban sprawl and deforestation are largely to blame for the increase in monkey-related strife, as buildings and other development take over an ever-larger share of the habitat of native animals. India’s monkeys especially Rhesus macaques (Macacamulatta), roam free in the streets and temples which are in abundant here. They traditionally enjoy a large measure of respect and indulgence from the populace that stems from their association with the Hindu deity Hanuman.

Monkeys are upheld by Hindus as a model for all human devotion, and monkeys are, by extension, considered sacred. They have been allowed to go about their business unmolested;  in Pachmari you will see that many people leave fruit and other food out in public spaces for the monkeys, which encourages them to congregate at these places.

In Pachmari these monkeys now attack hotel workers, screech, and wreak havoc with their kitchen material. They have snap power and cable lines. On the streets, they snatch food from people, pick pockets, they have bitten people and threatened visiting tourists.

Monkey numbers would soon outnumber humans here. 

So far there has been no fully viable, effective solution to the monkey overpopulation and aggression crisis.  Even though, as one Indian animal-rights spokesman pointed out, humans are as big a problem for the monkeys as the monkeys are for humans.  There is no end in sight to human population growth in India.  Forest land will continue to be turned into human habitat, and monkeys will have nowhere to go, but into the cities. 

Due to lack of primary predators in this semi urban environment, monkeys will continue to increase in number and it would be difficult to dislodge them from urban spaces. 

The forest department should start preparing a comprehensive plan to deal with the monkey menace and also check their growing population which is posing a threat to lives and livelihood of citizens.

A regular census should also be done to know their relative rise in population.

(Ajay Gadikar is a naturalist and bird watcher from Indore)

Corporates and Environment

Lakes of Bengaluru

Lakes of Bengaluru
-Susan Sharma

Unbelievable things have been happening to Bengaluru's  lakes recently.  
Bellandur lake burned for hours on the evening of 16 February 2017. (A similar event took place in 2016 too).  
Dead fish washed up on the banks of Ulsoor Lake in 2016. 

By the year 2020, 93% of Bengaluru’s landscape would be filled with paved surfaces. This drastic reduction in open and green spaces would make the region rich with green house gases, water-scarce, non-resilient and unlivable, depriving the city-dwellers of clean air, water and environment.

In the 1970s, there were still 285 lakes in the city, making it self-sufficient in its water needs. Today, however, there are just 194 lakes, and the large majority of them are sewage-fed. The rest have been lost to encroachments. 

Most of the lakes have vanished due to encroachment and construction activity for urban infrastructure expansion. The city once had 280-285 lakes of which 7 cannot be traced, 7 are reduced to small pools of water, 18 have been unauthorisedly encroached by slums and private parties, 14 have dried up and are leased out by the Government. 28 lakes have been used by the Bangalore Development Authority to distribute sites and build extensions for residential areas. The remaining lakes are in fairly advanced state of deterioration.
Some of the major lakes that disappeared over the years are:

Shoolay lake changed to Football stadium
Akkithimmanhalli lake changed to Corporation Hockey stadium
Sampangi lake changed to Kanteerava Sports Complex
Dharmanbudhi lake changed to Kempegowda Bus Station
Challaghatta lake changed to Karnataka Golf Association
Koramangala lake changed to National Games Complex in Ejipura
Siddikatte Lake has now become KR Market
Karanji tank is the Gandhi Bazar area
Kempambudhi is now a sewerage collection tank
Nagashettihalli lake changed to Space department
Kadugondanahalli lake changed to Ambedkar Medical College
Domlur lake changed to BDA layout
Millers lake changed to Guru Nanak Bhavan, Badminton Stadium
Subhashnagar lake changed to Residential layout
Kurubarahalli lake changed to Residential layout
Kodihalli lake changed to Residential layout
Sinivaigalu lake changed to Residential layout
Marenahalli lake changed to Residential layout
Shivanahalli lake changed to Playground, Bus stand
Chenamma tank changed to a burial ground, Banashankari 2nd Stage
Puttennahalli tank changed to J.P. Nagar 6th Phase
Jakkarayanakere has been converted into a sports ground
Kamakshipalya Lake is converted into a sports ground
Baalayyana Kere (kamakshipalya) is converted into a sports ground
Dasarahalli tank is converted into Dr. B.R Ambedkar Stadium
Bagalagunte hosa-kere in sy No 83 changed to residential layout
Bagalagunte Hale-kere in sY No.113 encroached partly, all the side of lake 

There are several invasive species like water hyacinths growing in the lake, thick enough to walk on. People dump solid waste on top of it. Because of the thickness, it creates an anaerobic environment in the water below, where methane is formed. It creates an ideal environment for catching fire.
Sustained inflow of untreated sewage has increased the organic content beyond the threshold of remediation capability of the respective water bodies. Ever increasing summer temperatures has also enhanced the biological activities that lower the dissolved oxygen levels leading to fish death due to asphyxiation.

The froth is the result of chemical waste dumped in the lake, and was toxic enough to crack windshields, wear the paint off car hoods and exacerbate the severe respiratory issues that have plagued citizens in recent years.

Stories of Hope

Jakkur lake, 160 acres, is a story of hope.  
The lake presents an inviting picture.

The lake ecosystem is now conducive to birds fishing and nesting to bring up the young ones.  Locally migratory birds like painted storks, pelicans, cormorants etc are seen in abundance.  Winged visitors from outside are also discovering the lake.

The lake is fed with eight million litres of treated water everyday, which in turn recharges the ground, increases the water table and fills up the bore-wells and the old open wells. The water levels in Jakkur are the best in the city as there has been a very good re-charging.  Jakkur lake is the most prominent lake in North East Bangalore on the way to Devanahalli and the international airport.The lake itself has been fenced all around giving it a clear boundary. The water body also supplies drinking water to the surrounding villages who are very pleased with the quality of the water.

Presence of waste recyclers just across the lake ensures the area is plastic free. 

So is Allalasandra, a story of hope,  a much smaller lake which has been rejuvenated.

Here is a poster which tells the story of the lake's rejuvenation at the entrance to the lake

On a recent visit to Bengaluru, I was appalled at the state of Bellandur lake, Puthenahalli lake, Varathur lake etc.  Blatant encroachment and apathy towards the lakes are apparent everywhere.  A video put together from some of the video clips I took can be watched at 

Share widely to spread awareness.   Becoming aware is the first step to positive action.

Did You Know ?

The oldest denizen of the sea

The oldest denizen of the sea
No  well bred scientist can ask a lady shark how old she is, says S.Ananthanarayanan.

The problem however, goes beyond good manners, for it is challenging to tell the age of some living things that last more than a human lifetime. The legendary Redwood trees are hundreds to thousands of years old. We can work out their age , however, from the ‘growth rings’ once the tree is felled, or even from records of people, long dead, who were familiar with the tree.

But how do you tell the age of an animal, which shows no annual growth markings and does not stay in one place, like a Redwood tree? Julius Nielsen, Rasmus B. Hedeholm, Jan Heinemeier, Peter G. Bushnell, Jørgen S. Christiansen, Jesper Olsen, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, Richard W. Brill, Malene Simon, Kirstine F. Steffensen and John F. Steffensen from institutes and universities in Denmark, Greenland, Norway, USA and UK report in the journal, Science, that they have used a combination of radioactive dating and the growth rate of shark tissue, to find that there are female sharks in the sea which are more than two hundred and seventy years old!

That radioactive dating could be used to tell the age of a contemporary living thing may come as a surprise. This established technique of finding the age of long dead fossils, archaeological specimens, and so on, is based on the decay of the nuclei of radioactive carbon. The normal carbon nucleus, which is stable, consists of six protons and six neutrons, or twelve particles in all. But there is also a tiny percentage of atoms whose nuclei have eight neutrons instead of six. The atom, however, is still carbon, as chemical properties depend on the number of protons, which is the same. But this form of carbon, known as C14, is unstable and one of the neutrons, sooner or later, radioactively changes to a proton and with seven protons, the atom becomes one of nitrogen.

We can imagine that any living thing, which contains carbon, would keep showing radioactivity whose rate would gradually slow down, as the number of atoms of C14 gets depleted. The fact, however is that in the atmosphere and the environment, there is also generation of C14 atoms, by the action of cosmic rays, and there is a balance. And as living things keep exchanging carbon atoms with the environment through intake of food and exhalation of breath, the percentage of C14 stays constant in living things too. But once the organism dies, the exchange stops, and as the C14 content depletes, the level of radioactivity starts to fall.

Age of a living thing
This is the way we can tell how long ago it was that a once living thing died, the skeleton of dinosaur, or the wood used to build a temple, for instance. But how do you use this to tell how long an animal has been living before it died? This is also possible, thanks to a part of the body that forms just before the animal was born, and crystallises, or stops participating in metabolism, so that the C14 content in that part started depleting and keeping count of passing time, almost from the moment of birth. Julius Nielsen and others, the authors of the paper in Science, used this method to estimate the age of the Greenland shark, which inhabits the North Atlantic and grows to be over 5 metres long. As the shark shows a very slow rate of growth, less than a centimeter every year, it clearly grows to this length over a very long lifetime! “The biology of the Greenland shark, however, is poorly understood, and longevity and age at first reproduction are completely unknown,” the authors say.

The part of the body that acts as the timekeeper in the Greenland shark is a bit of crystallised protein within the eye lens. “In vertebrates, the eye lens nucleus is composed of metabolically inert crystalline proteins, which in the center (i.e., the embryonic nucleus) is formed during prenatal development,” the authors say in the paper. This tissue thus has C14 content that was the same as its surrounding at the time of the shark’s birth, but has been depleting by radioactivity ever since. Measuring the level of radioactivity at the time of the shark’s death then provides information of how long ago it was that the shark was born.

The team was able to inspect the eye lens centre of twenty eight female Greenland sharks, measuring from 81 cm to 502 cm (the females being larger than male Greenland sharks), which were accidentally caught in the course of fishing during the years 2010 to 2013. Analyses of the eye lens material showed that the source of the carbon was the diet of the mother and the date of the crystallized centre was nearly the same as the birth of the young shark. The ages estimated by the level of radioactivity were seen to agree with the idea that smaller sharks were likely to be younger sharks. This was also in agreement with expected high levels radioactivity in carbon ingested during the period of thermonuclear tests, in the late 1950s - early 1960s – the three smallest sharks were found to have radioactivity levels that corresponded to post-nuclear tests environmental levels, in two, and a spike, corresponding to the test period, in one case, which places the age of that shark as approximately fifty years in 2012. The remaining twenty five sharks showed lower levels, indicating greater age, and corresponding to larger sizes.

Another marker to help corroborate the findings was the Suess effect, or the change in the atmospheric C14/C13 levels as a result of large scale burning of fossil fuels during the last century, which is imprinted in the marine food web. Accordingly, sharks which were less than three metres long and estimated to be less than a hundred years old, showed lower levels of C13, in keeping with the atmospheric trend.

The estimation of age was adjusted for known variation in the environment carbon levels in the last four hundred years as well as the effect of mixing of waters from different parts of the ocean. The statistical method used for this calibration uses a presumed age distribution, which was derived from a formula, known as the Von Bertalanffy equation, to relate fish size, whose increase gradually slows down, with age.

Oldest member
The findings hence place the longest Greenland sharks as at 392 years, with an error margin of 120 years, or at least 272 years old. This is more than the lifetime of the Bowhead whale, which is estimated to live for 211 years. While the only longer lived animal is the ocean quahog, a species of clam that lives for 507 years, the Greenland shark is the longest lived vertebrate. Being 272 years, which is the lower bound of the estimated age, places the birth of the largest Greenland sharks at around 1740, the time of the declining Mughal empire, Nadir Shah’s sacking of Delhi and the beginning of the steam engine and the industrial revolution!

Do respond to : response@simplescience.in

News and Views

News and Views

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We released three short films in Wildbytes Tv channel during March.   

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A few words about Climate Change and Gardeners. 

Anukriti Sud Hittle does research, teach and work on environmental issues, at the intersection of policy, economics and science for international and national issues, especially in the area of climate change.   Her area of focus is Hawai‘i, where she has been involved in conservation work since 1994.

Simplifying the complex topic of climate change for All India Kitchen Garden Association(AIKGA) members, is no easy task.  But her talk in Gurgaon, on 17th March, 2017, addressing the AIKGA members, was not only brilliant but outstanding for the way she managed connecting climate change issues with the grass roots, the gardeners and farmers.

records excerpts from her talk.  Hope this will benefit many many more gardeners.  

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