-John Eickert


14,000 years ago, ice dominated the mountains here in Montana. Thick blankets of ice covered the valleys and filled the canyons. Time changed and this part of the world warmed again, once being a vast inland sea and then ruled by dinosaurs. With the retreat of the glaciers came a unique forest, a fire forest. Ancient species of coniferous trees, long lost relatives to those trees fringing the primeval inland sea, took hold in the thin post-glacial soils and thrived. True to their heritage, these trees were eager and aggressive, so much so that their habitat competition slowed individual species progress. Nature has a way. These thick coniferous forests became dependent on lightning strike fire to thin their stands and release nutrients. The forests expanded and where once the glacier dominated now it was the time of the evergreen.

Man came to the landscape and brought change. We cut the largest and most stable of these forests, not knowing or concerned for consequences. This continued for decades. Early timber users viewed forest fire as a foe to their needs and suppressed all fire. The forests, denied an important ecosystem element, stopped their advance. Their time of domination in the mountains was over. Mankind dominates and dictates.

Nature has a way. Over the last twenty years and accelerated in the last ten, the annual temperature here has warmed. This year, the temperature has held near twelve degrees F above average, night and day. The means of moisture has also changed. Once, most of the annual moisture fell as snow, with that snow covering the forests until late June. Now more moisture falls as rain and the forests become snow free in April. Without that protective cover, the forests, the organic debris, and the soil dry. Fire comes again to sculpt the land, but now, due to generations of misuse, we can only watch.

The hand of God is evident and nature fascinates. The smoke from burning forests has choked the air here, creating an effect of morning fog along the Ganges. The air is thick and stings the eyes, burns the throat. These conditions will persist until the snow falls, a condition still months away. The adventure lies in the mind and coping with dense, thick air. Our days grow dark by mid-afternoon and interior home lights come on. The mind worries, will the sky come again? Of course, this season of firestorm will pass and the sky will come again, setting the table for further adventure. In time, fire will clear the forests and pave the way for the next ecosystem to emerge. The trees, which remain after this process, will set the tone for the next millennium. The adventure continues.

In India, the monsoon will end and the rivers will subside. In Montana, the fire season will end and the sky will clear. There is no perfect place or time. I am already planning my next adventure, what is yours? Cheers.



This awesome picture was taken in the Bitterroot National Forest in Montana on August 6, 2000 by a fire behavior analyst from Fairbanks, Alaska by the name of John McColgan with a Digital camera.


Burning Issues

Toying with Innocense

                                         TOYING WITH  INNOCENCE


--Shivani Thakur



              Recently Mattel Inc. recalled back about 1.5 million toys in one day from the markets worldwide. Mattel Inc. is world’s biggest toy manufacturer. The toys had been manufactured  in China. This recall was because of excessive lead used in these and rising health and safety concerns forced the company to take these necessary steps.  Any global brand with its credibility at stake usually does that but what about all those unbranded toys which gain entry without any checks in the Indian market?


           Toys are used for overall development of a child. In earlier times clay, wood and stones were used but today plastic rules. Not only are they light to hold and mouldable but also are attractively colored to draw attention of a child. Most of the toys available today are made of Polyvinyl Chloride or PVC.  PVC on its own is unstable and requires lead and cadmium.  Phthalate, another compound, is added to make the toys soft and pliable. These three compounds are majorily responsible for creating health problems. A child when chews on these toys,  PVC releases its metal stabilizers as surface dust which is injested by the child leading to lead poisoning. Dr. Abhay Kumar of NGO Toxic Links says that India has no standards to regulate the content of toxins like lead and cadmium and whatever tests are conducted are done only for the export market.


             Lead and cadmium affect the nervous system, kidneys and the reproductive system. Whereas phthalate can affect the liver.  According to WHO about 15 to 18 million children below  12 years in  developing countries suffer from permanent brain damage due to lead poisoning . Cancer, anemia and dermatitis are some other affects of this. Lead is also known  to stay in the body for years.


             In India 70% of all toys come from China of which 45% is unbranded.  In China  lead is used excessively to give the toys a glossy finish to make them attractive. According to Ashok Jain of All India Toy Manufacturers Association, “ there is no authority to monitor quality of toys entering the Indian market.”  Apart from China indigenous toy manufacturers churn out toys from harmful recycled plastic. These toys cost anything between Rs 10 to Rs100  catering to the lower income group.  The lack of regulatory authority in case of toys like the Bureau of Indian Standards  means no check on such companies.  NGO Toxic Links last year conducted a survey of toys in Delhi,Mumbai and Chennai found that out of 111 unbranded toys 88 had high levels of lead and cadmium. 


           Most Indians were not even aware that these toys could be dangerous till they heard Mattel Inc had recalled major consignments of Chinese made toys.  Many experts see no reason to panic, as toys are just one more source of lead poisoning in India. But safety concerns are still high as we could be playing with the health of our children. 





Pictures from


Common Birds of India

White breasted Kingfisher



White breasted Kingfisher. ( Halcyon smyrnensis )




A small bird with a brilliant turquoise blue with brown head, neck and under parts with a white bib and brilliant red prominent beak-rather big for a small bird of this size is the white breasted kingfisher.   A white wing patch can be noticed prominently when the bird takes off and while it is in flight.  Both sexes are alike and their distribution is throughout the country, more in the plains and wooded countryside.  



Although the very name suggests that this bird is a fish eater, it is seen very far away from water sources also. This bird can be noticed sitting on low branches around lakes and jheels staring intently at the water below, looking for fish that come close to the surface. Once the prey is targeted, these birds make a flash dive into the water and come out with a fish in their beaks. The wriggling fish has no chance of escape as the birds beaks are so heavy. it gets clamped on to the fish. Nature has also endowed this bird with fine-tuned eye-sight to see below the surface of water, and its beaks are also aligned to allow for the refraction of light through water.  A marvelous design from nature!


The kingfisher has also been noticed to occasionally have lizards, mice and grasshoppers in its beak, especially when the birds are parenting. The prey is battered to death on a nearby rock or branch before it is swallowed.


The call of this bird is a very harsh cackle repeated several times more in flight.

The nesting season is sometime between March to July, which is typical of most kingfishers.  The nest is a hollow tunnel dug out by the birds in earth banks, canal banks or small cliffs.  4 to 7 white spherical eggs are laid.  Both the parents share all domestic chores including nest tunnel excavation.


A marvelous bird thriving in our country and their only threat is man-with the toxic chemicals invading the water bodies from agriculture.






Inside the woodlands of Wodeyars

Inside the woodlands of Wodeyars 
 Part III
-Saraswati Kavula  

Bandipur is still a free zone for animals. “The deer are eating up all my plants,” complained Gangaswamy at breakfast time after we returned from our trek. He did look absolutely displeased about this fact. But isn’t this animal territory, which we are encroaching upon, making buildings and plying vehicles? Speaking of excluding others, there is this small hamlet a few hundred metres away from the lodge, I was sure it belonged to the local adivasi people, who must have been living there for a long time. Or may be they were removed from the core area of the forest in order to “protect” the animals. When I went past that village on a walk the previous day, I could sense a feeling of hostility and of being watched like an alien by them. I am sure; they feel left out of all

this eco-tourism’s Grand Plans. And the area in which they lived in harmony earlier, must seem like a hostile place. While there is firewood available for the campfire at the lodge, the local people do not  have access to firewood in the nearby shrub forest. “We get the firewood from the yard”, Nataraj told me on enquiry. The locals may not have the means to purchase wood from the logging yard, for their needs. On day three, while we were returning from the Gopalswami betta, we saw some men trying to cut some shrub trees, Pradeep our driver, who earlier worked in the forest department, shooed them away. I suppose it was his basic instinct.


What surrounds the Bandipur periphery area is just shrub and denuded hills, though the cover increases in the interiors of the Sanctuary, it still doesn’t meet up the description of a rain forest. I expected to see thick rain forest there, and on enquiry I was told, “This is semi-deciduous forest, so most of it is just shrub jungle”. I did see really huge trees and a thicker jungle a few kilometers away when we went for the Safari. So, it could not be that much different here. Most of the trees inside the Safari area were not very old, may be a couple of decades - not more than that, and obviously plantations, as one could make out from the unnatural bamboo plantations in that region.

But still the animals were there and that is the thing to be happy about. On the second day afternoon, since the rain had cleared, there were quiet a lot of animals to be seen in the safari, chitals, sambar, langoors, peacocks. The surprise was the sight of a huge herd of Bisons which we chanced upon as we went past in the safari area. The animals were a treat to watch, but everyone was dead silent, since the bison was also a ferocious animal, with 500 kilos of sheer power. “Don’t you use the flash, the Bison doesn’t have good eyesight, but if it senses our presence, we are done for”, Purshottam remarked. After a few quick snaps of the herd, we rushed out of the place soon enough, before the big animals could sense what was wrong. Just then Gangaswamy came up and told us about a herd of elephants that they have seen at close quarters. “I have been trying to tell you over the walkie-talkie about this,” he fumed at Pradeep. Pradeep took the directions and as we tried to  skirt the area, we met with two more herds of Bisons and some real big sized Sambars as well. 



Purshottam told Pradeep to take us to Veerappan’s valley. “Last time we went walking down that valley. We may not be able to do that this time, since it has rained and would be slippery”. As we went deeper into the forest towards the valley that rests between the Karnataka and Tamil Nadu borders, we suddenly came upon a Sloth Bear waiting on the dirt road. “It is really a rare sight to see the sloth bear” Pradeep remarked. Every one got excited and before the flashbulbs of cameras could work, the animal scooted. The view of the valley from the gorge was a fabulous sight. “That other side of the valley is TamilNadu and this side is Karnataka. Veerappan used to habit the valley. So when any

police had to nab him, they had to come down the the gorge, which was quite steep, but also seen from the valley below. The moment he saw anyone coming down the valley, he would shoot them down.” Purshottam recounted us the times of Veerappan, the famed Sandalwood smuggler, who now rests  in peace.


On our return we saw a very poignant film by Shekar Dattari on the loss of the habitat inside the Madumalai Biosphere, which disrupted the movement of the elephants through the Elephant corridor spanning the three states – Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala; due to the massive growth of coffee plantations in the area. The area has become a famed tourist destination, “Coorg” which is flocked by people (like me) wishing to escape the summer heat. The elephants now have to cross the plantations in order to reach the watering holes of Kabini River on the other side of the biosphere and in the process are either scared with the use of firecrackers or worse, shot at by the plantation owners.


What a thing to do, watching such a film, inside a “touristy” wild life resort, educating ourselves about the problems of the Grand animal, due to coffee plantations, while sipping coffee!   During our post film discussion, one of the lodgers mentioned of this place inside another  National Park (can’t recollect the name now) where one can stay

inside tree houses and get to watch the animals uninterrupted. The icing on the cake was his remark, “It is owned by the nephew of the Nawab of Pataudi, in case you know him personally, do go there. Though it is meant for hiring out, most of the time, his friends keep taking up the accommodation. I heard it is a fabulous place. Absolute five star facilities inside those tree top houses!” Wow! 

   What is it that makes us want to take our comforts with us while we want to watch nature and our fellow species, without disturbing them? Or is it that, like everything else, wildlife tourism is meant for a kick of doing something different, a game, a sort of an entertainment? Looking around me, I felt that must be the case. Seeing wild animals is also something to tick each other off with, “Oh we saw the tiger so close by!” (By God, what an adventurer I have been, while you are such a sissy, partying and going to the beach!)

    More than that, how come, the nawab’s nephew gets to set up a resort bang in the middle of a wild life park, while Bandipur Safari Lodge owned by the Karnataka forest department is set outside the sanctuary area; more so, while most tribals are thrown out of their ancestral homes inside the forest, in order to “Protect the Wildlife from human activity?”


 ( Photographs in order from top: Elephant ride in Bandipur, Veerappan’s Valley, Coffee plantations in Coorg)           





News and Views

News and Views



SIGNATURE CAMPAIGN to Stop Reopening Tiger Trade in China.



Copying below is a letter being sent  to the PM.


Anyone who would like to sign on, please send an email with name and designation as you would like it included , to Joanna  Van Gruisen at   email id

Please reply before 5th December 2007 


Honourable Prime Minister

Dr. Manmohan Singh

South Block, Raisina Hill

New Delhi

Honourable Prime Minister,

In preparation for your forthcoming engagement with China’s political leaders, we the undersigned respectfully request that conservation of wild tigers be included on your agenda for discussion.

The Government of China is currently under pressure from a handful of businessmen to lift China’s domestic tiger trade ban and open trade in factory-farmed tiger parts and products. Thanks to India’s leadership, the 171 CITES member countries have recently taken an emphatic stand against the factory farming of tigers for the trade in their parts and derivatives.

We recognize and commend you for your commitment to saving wild tigers. It is critical to wild tigers that this be mirrored by your counterparts in China, as reigniting demand among China’s 1.4 billion consumers would stimulate demand for the purported superior quality of wild tiger parts. Sadly, China has lost all but perhaps 50 of its wild tigers. Any reopening of tiger trade in China would doom India’s own wild tigers to a similar fate.

A recent survey shows that a majority of the Chinese public is in favour of keeping China’s tiger trade ban in place, for the sake of wild tigers and China’s image. In January 2008, the traditional Chinese medicine community will host an international meeting to discuss its success in finding effective alternatives to tiger bone as its contribution to tiger conservation. Furthermore, China’s leadership is not aware of the potentially devastating fallout for wild tigers from reopening trade of any kind from any source.

It would be shameful to lose the wild tiger to the greed of a few. We request that you alert China’s leaders to India’s concern for the survival of wild tigers. We urge you to make the submission that China’s tiger trade ban be made permanent. You have it within your power to open the way for India and China, together, to fully and effectively enforce existing international and domestic laws and stop the killing of wild tigers.

We thank you for your consideration of this request and stand ready to assist you with any further information you may need regarding this issue of grave importance to the future of wild tigers in India.

With our sincere gratitude for your attention,

Govind Singh has added some pictorial travelogues under " Destinations".  Read about the Mandakini Magpie Birdwatchers Camp and the Kedarnath Musk Deer Sanctuary at the link

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