-John Eickert

Walking the beaches, looking for just the correct vendor, I was on the Andaman Sea island of Phi Phi Don, in southern Thailand and hoped to find someone with a boat and knowledge about snorkeling in these waters. There were plenty of boats and many vendors eager for my tourism, but I was committed to finding someone who also knew the reefs and fishes. An acquaintance sent me looking for a lady who was good with a boat, a good underwater guide, and made a great lunch. I didn’t find her, instead I settled on Pitanu  and he took me snorkeling. We agreed on an adventure and a price, then Pitanu asked me to be at the boat early the next morning and then he warned me about the pirates.

When I think of pirates, I think of swarthy men sailing the high seas in search of helpless maidens and buried treasure. I walked away, certain Pitanu had tried to peak my interest and create an adventure atmosphere to a simple snorkeling expedition.

I arrived on time the next morning and soon Pitanu slid his boat up to a small quiet beach. He secured the boat while I poked around the small island, which was no larger than a soccer pitch. He gave some tips on how to keep my distance from the limestone rock buttresses, why the coral was fragile, and which fish might be dangerous. The water was clear and warm and we saw many fish. I began to like this small man. We boated to other similar sights, Pitanu keeping his eye on the horizon. I thought he was watching the tide or maybe the wind. We stopped for lunch, fruit and rice, and began discussing Buddhism. Pitanu was delighted I knew so much and we discussed the dharma at length.

Our boat slid up to the last snorkeling sight, the sun was high overhead and hot. We made our last trip under the waves and returned to the boat. Something on the horizon caught Pitanu’s attention and he told me to dive, and to hurry. I looked up to see a longtailed, high-powered boat approaching at speed. I jumped.

The pirates took our boat, everything. Gone were my clothes, my sandals, sunglasses, and a bit of money. Pitanu lost his boat. The pirates called to us inviting us to join them on their boat as we swam, but we did not. Not wanting to chase us, hoping to get away with their boat, the pirates abandoned us there in the Andaman. About 30 minutes of swimming took us to a small island where we spent the night. In the morning, Pitanu was able to signal a fisherman who sailed us back to Phi Phi Don.

Pitanu went to the authorities and I went with him. We spent another day giving testimony and filling out statements, through this Pitanu and I became great friends. I still exchange email with him. Oh, almost a year after our day of snorkeling, he got his boat back.



Common Birds of India

Purple Moorhen.( Porphyrio porphyrio.)

Purple Moorhen.( Porphyrio porphyrio.)



To keep the continuity of waterfowl and shore birds, this month I have chosen the shy Purple moorhen.



The marshy lands and swamps attract a lot of birds specialised to that environment. The marshlands and swamps are bordered usually by tall reeds and swamp grasses. This is the perfect environment for a domestic hen sized bird,  shiny Purple in color with  a red patch on the bald head and red beak with long red legs clumsily moving along the shore line or among the reeds.  This is the Purple Moorhen.  The male is a glistening purple color and the female is a little duller than the male with greyish-purple color. This bird can be seen clumsily moving around with calculated gait and the short stubby tail flicking at every step.


It is a very shy bird and hides itself among the cat-tail reeds at the slightest disturbance. Pairs are often seen and sometimes a party of them can be seen foraging at close fields adjoining the swamps. It is in the group of Rails, and has the characters of all rails.


Distribution is throughout the country and an interesting bird to study, which need lot of stealth.  Sometimes these birds are very amusing to watch as they try to clamber up the reeds awkwardly.


They forage on insects, mollusks, water beetles, and water-plant shoots. In their foraging sprees they sometimes invade the close by paddy fields and graze on the tender rice-shoots. This is not much of a problem as the farmer’s presence is enough to send them off scuttling for cover among the reeds.


  The courtship display is more like children playing catch-me-if-you-can game. Their calls are also amusing as they do not keep to any standard call sometimes cackling like hens, sometimes hooting, sometimes hissing and shrieking. The male is seen to entice a female by holding a piece of reed in his beaks and offering it to females.


The nesting season is from June to September. The nest is large pad of reed leaves on a floating mass or hidden inside the reed beds.  3 to 6 eggs are laid with pale yellowish color and blotched or spotted with reddish brown.  Whether both the sexes share all domestic duties is a thing to be studied and discovered.


More study is needed to ascertain more life habits of these shy birds.  The only threat to these marvelous birds is the pollution of these still-water bodies as agricultural toxic wastes are led to the marshes and in urban surroundings the sewage water led to such swamps and jheels.




Inside the woodlands of Wodeyars

Inside the woodlands of Wodeyars

 Part I

-Saraswati Kavula  

Is there a conflict between eco-tourism and conservation? This was the big question that bothered me on my recent trip through the forests of the erstwhile kingdom of the Wodeyar Family, more popularly called the Mysore Maharajahs.   

 In a bid to escape the heat of the Hyderabadi summer, I planned a trip to Coorg, in the Nilgiris. But somehow the idea of a wildlife safari also enticed, the place being pretty close to Mysore City. So my first stop after Mysore was the Bandipur Safari Lodge, about 2 kms outside the Bandipur Wild Life Sanctuary.

We hopped onto a Swaraj Mazda that was heading towards Ooty, to get off at Bandipur enroute. “it will take you just two hours and by nine thirty you will reach there”, the man who ran the service told us in Mysore, “Be there by 7 am”.  Our fears of reaching the place earlier than the check in time were unfounded.

 The Mazda did not leave Mysore until 9am and therefore, we were sitting like trussed chicken inside the van from 7.30 until we reached Bandipur after a rickety ride that took nearly two hours of waiting and another two and half hours of drive to cover the 72 kilometers distance from Mysore to Bandipur.   

 We seemed like aliens getting off this “Oh, so poor looking vehicle” in the posh environs of the Lodge. “Posh”, I would say, because actually I expected something like tents or bamboo huts for accommodation inside a deep, deep jungle. The hills around the Lodge were absolutely bare except for a shrub here and there. And the lodge itself was made of steel and concrete, albeit in a cottage style – there were twelve in all, well furnished complete with granite topped wash rooms,12 cottages complete with granite topped wash areas, a generator to back-up for electricity, electric geysers (of course, most of the time, there was a power shut down, so the smoke spewing, noisy generator had to be kept active).  

When I asked the manager about the generator, he said, “We had a noiseless generator, but that is under repair, so we are using this as a standby.” I asked him, could they install a solar power for the back up at least? He asked me to suggest this to the management.  The rooms were cool and thankfully there was no air-conditioning or television.


The most beautiful part was the lifelike painting of the white tiger on the back  wall.   A small restaurant for highway travelers, in addition to a Gazebo serving up a choice of Indian and continental meals for the in house customers, completed the list.  It was very much unlike my past experiences in a forest area. With the YHA treks, all you had was a sleeping bag inside a tent and a backpack carrying your own pots and pans, the forest for a toilet and a very basic meal of chappatis, some vegetables and lentils.   

On the day we arrived, the rain beating down the hillside dashed our hopes. But Gangaswamy who manages the place was positive, “Rain or no rain, we shall take you on the safari”. Sans any expectations, we drove into the sanctuary.  Asides to the two jeeps from the Safari Lodge, there were many more jeeps from other “Wild Life Resorts” at the entrance of the sanctuary.  A little while after entering the sanctuary, each vehicle went on a different route.   

We found some wild boars and chital to begin with, Sambar and peacocks along with many birds.  On our way we met the other group as well, who had seen a group of Bison. But since everyone was looking for the signs of the big cat, Pradeep our driver took us towards a small watering hole in the middle of a bamboo forest.  After a bit of waiting, we decided to leave. “People, make too much “galata” (noise) here, one has to be quite in order to see the animals,” Pradeep rued in Kannada. “It perhaps would have been a better idea to  walk than to come like this in jeeps, too much disturbance to the animals, no?” I replied in my broken Tamil/Kannada mix. Pradeep nodded in agreement.    

At another place, Pradeep stopped and told us to keep silent, “Alarm call, he told us, showing us the perked up ears of the spotted deer that was letting out a sound indicating the presence of a carnivore. “It could be the tiger or leopard”,  Pradeep spoke in hush-hush tones. After what seemed like eternity, we went back on our way to the Lodge, but not before we saw some peacocks and a lovely sunset.  


1.Inside the Bandipur forest

2.Diesel spewing generator

3. Tiger Room

(Text and photographs Saraswati Kavula)


-To be continued


News and Views

Tale of a peahen




Our National bird in the National daily.


The peachicks are out!  Have a look.  This picture appeared in the Times of India of 18 June, 2007. 



Read the story so far:


It is that time of the year when peahens lay their eggs and incubate them for about 29 days before the eggs hatch.  The little chicks are timed to come out just as the monsoon arrives in North India. 


As if to prove what great adapters they are, the peahens in Delhi’s Lodi Park, finding the Lodi lawns lacking the privacy and security needed for eggs, started looking around for safe perches.  The nearest large green space happened to be the India International Center (IIC) Lawns! But here again the lawns are manicured and tended to by the ‘Malis’ all the time.  So, where next?


 Fly right onto the ledges provided on each floor of IIC for keeping a pot of green ferns. 



Lay the eggs one by one and incubate them.   The ledge happened to be next to the dining hall of IIC.  But the peahen was lucky.  The waiters at the dining hall ensured that the curtains were drawn all the time so that curious diners did not distract the peahen.




The nature group at IIC were informed.  Rajesh Bedi ( of Bedi Bros ) installed a close circuit TV in the dining hall so that the activities of the peahen can be monitored (without her knowing about it)





Best of Luck Mrs Peahen!!


Mr.Samar Singh of World Pheasant Association took the opportunity to educate the nature group more about the National bird.  A slide presentation on the Blue peafowl by Hemant Misra  and  a screening of “Sarang the Peacock” by Dr.Susan Sharma was organized to a group of enthusiastic nature group  members of IIC, on 27 May 2007.



( Photographs of peahen and eggs by Hemant Misra)





12 blogs in Wildlife Poaching !!!

Read them at




Own an enameled silver peacock, exclusively carved by artisans from Rajasthan! Buy this piece online at



Story Of The Month

Living on the Edge

Living on the Edge


--Shivani Thakur



The most famous resident of Rajasthan and also its State Bird, the Great Indian Bustard, is on the verge of extinction. After the great debate on tiger conservation in Sariska and Ranthambore, the Great Indian Bustard or Godawan has also become a priority for the state government. 


Listed on the endangered red list of IUCN, the Great Indian bustard is the most endangered member of the bustard family in the world. This tall majestic bird was almost hunted to extinction by game lovers in its natural habitat.  Found mainly in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh the total population is now estimated to be around 1000; with about 30 in Andhra Pradesh and rest in Rajasthan and Gujarat.


The Great Indian Bustard is a tall long legged bird .The under parts and neck is white. There is a black crown on the forehead and the underbody is brown. This bird nests in open ground and the males takes no part in incubation or care of the young ones. Only a single egg is laid at one time. The fledglings tend to remain with their mother until the following breeding season. The bustard feeds on beetles, grasshoppers, seeds and groundnuts.




 These birds are locally extinct from 90 per cent of its former range and rest are found in the three sanctuaries, the Desert National Park (Rajasthan), the Lala-Parjau sanctuary in western Kutch (Gujarat) and Rollapadu in Andhra Pradesh. The birds also come under Schedule I of Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.   Decline in safe living areas and choice of food and poaching is pushing it on to the edge. The wildlife in Desert National Park is dependent on the vegetation of the Oran-Gochar – a land with natural forests and planted forestry.   Its water bodies are all neglected and sources of water dry.   The land has shrunk due to loss of community control, land improvement measures, frequent droughts and famines.  


The Bombay Natural History Society has formed a four-member task force for the bustard’s conservation at DNP in Rajasthan   which favors a Project Tiger sort of structured approach for saving the bird.


Andhra Pradesh is now planning to start a captive breeding scheme to help the birds bounce back from the brink of extinction. The state government has sought permission from the Ministry of Environment and Forests to take up breeding. The Dean of Biodiversity Research center at Srisailam wants the breeding programme to be started soon. The breeding is crucial because of rapid changes around Rollapadu. The birds are not only losing their habitat but also being deprived of their staple food such as millet and rabi.


Similarly the Gujarat Ecological Education and Research  (GEER) Foundation, Gandhinagar has started a project on this bird. A grant of Rs 5 lakh from central governments Ministry of Environment and Forests has given it the necessary push. The GEER foundation director C N Pandey says that the project’s main objective would be to get information of the population of the bird where it was recently spotted mainly in North Gujarat. The project would get help from state forest department and local NGO’s who would redo the census thrice a year depending upon varying seasons as the birds change their habitat with changing seasons.


 Hope arises from all these projects.   If the efforts pay the Indian Bustard would again roam freely in these lands.


(Photograph of the Great Indian Bustard courtesy BNHS)


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