Amazing Facts About Wildlife

Silent witnesses of steamy days

Silent witnesses of steamy days

Reptile fossils are helping map prehistoric temperatures of the Amazon says 

Powerful agencies have started working against the world’s resolve to contain global warming. A belief has grown that the earth has seen warm times in ages past and the results were not catastrophic. And a theory is about that the tropics, which account for 50% of the surface of the earth, would absorb heat and keep the earth’s temperature from getting extreme It is hence important to know how hot the earth did get during the warm phases of its geological history.

There are several indicators of how warm the earth has been at different times.  The temperature range that has been worked out for the tropics, however, seems be too low, considering that the temperature at the poles at the time was like the present-day equatorial belt.  The question was resolved some years ago by Prof Jason Head and a team of researchers in Canada and USA. The team described in the journal, Nature, a piece of evidence of considerably higher temperature in the tropics than had been estimated.

While temperature records have been kept only since a few centuries, we can identify older instances of very hot or cold years, or decades, from historical records or farming and trade documents. And reaching back, even thousands or millions of years ago, we can work out the temperature graph from remains of plants and animals that were common at different times in the history of the planet, and from geological features. 

This collection of evidence has revealed a series of warm periods where the average annual temperature was some 6-7 degrees Centigrade above what we see today. This average, annual temperature in the 1950 – 1980 period was 14°C and 2015, a very hot year in recent times, saw a rise in the average by 1°C.  We can imagine that the extremes at a time when the average rises by 6-7°C would be hot indeed! The trouble, however, is that this estimate of the average is not enough to explain the great increase in the temperature in the Arctic Circle during these warm periods. Fossil records show that there was lush vegetation, with crocodiles and palm trees in Wyoming and Siberia. These regions must have hence known temperatures like the equatorial belt, which is ‘natural’ home to crocs and palms trees. If the Arctic was thus some 30°C warmer than today, then the temperature in the tropics was certainly more than only 6-7 °C warmer than at present.

Reptile evidence   

Prof Jason Head and his team reported a finding in Colombia, which is very near the equator, of a fossil of a snake, Titanoboa Carrejonensis, which was large as 13 metres long and weighed over a ton.   Snakes belong the category of ‘cold blooded’ animals, whose bodies stay nearly at the temperature of their surroundings. This feature, of the body temperature being related to the environment, places constraints on how large an animal can get. The presence of giant snakes in Colombia thus becomes a proxy for the temperature at the time when the snakes were alive.

It was formerly thought that cold blooded animals had no means of controlling body temperature and were known as ‘poikilotherms’, a word that means ‘varied temperature’. The mechanism is now better understood and the preferred term is ‘ectotherm’, or animals that receive heat from outside, rather than generate heat from within. Cold blooded animals thus have a very frugal energy economy and they need to seek out places of optimum temperature to maintain their metabolism. We may have seen lizards sunning themselves on a rock and it is known that fish seek out the depths of water where the temperature is the most suitable. Insects are known to warm the muscles that are used in flight by rapid vibration or by focusing sunlight on the muscles. And cold blooded animals generally tone down their level of activity, even by hibernating, when the temperatures falls.

They are thus more dependant on the environment and, in challenging conditions, are likely to be driven to extinction by more adapted, warm blooded species. But, as they do not use energy to maintain body temperature, they need only 10 % of the nutrition that warm blooded animals need. They can hence drive the latter out where the conditions are right, like in tropical rain forests.

Size and temperature

While cold blooded animals can adapt metabolic rates according to available heat and even store energy for basic metabolism, there are different optimum conditions for animals of different sizes.  Large ectotherms have greater body weight for their surface area. They are thus able to store heat. Sea turtles, for instance, can take in heat at the surface of the sea and make long dives into cooler, deep waters where the hunting is good. Conversely, the large body mass needs more energy for basic metabolism and large ectotherms cannot exist at all unless there is a minimum high temperature source of heat.

We can see that large ectotherms need a higher temperature environment from the fact that larger snakes on the earth are always found in warmer climates and cold countries are host only to smaller ectotherms. In fact, it is possible to link the size of cold blooded animals found in a region with the mean temperature and then to use information about animals in an unknown area to conjecture what the temperature may be.

Giant snake fossils

Prof Jason Head and colleagues used this relationship to derive from the snake fossil discovered in Columbia what the temperature may have been at the time the snakes were alive. The fossils date to 58-60 million years ago, which is in the heart of the last period of great warming of the earth. The temperatures that Prof Head and his team derive turns out to be 5-6° C higher than what other evidence has indicated. 

They estimate an average annual global temperature of 32-34°C, which is a whole 17-19°C warmer than the 2015 average of 15°C. The average annual temperature at Nagpur, the geographical centre of India, is around 27°C. This year, Nagpur experienced a scorching maximum of 47°C. As any relief was welcome, it was ironic that Nagpurians rejoiced when the temperature was 45°C!

The levels of rise in temperature that are predicted if global warming continues unchecked would clearly drive familiar forms of life away from most of the parts of the earth that are now inhabited. Even if the Amazon teemed with vegetation and life during those steamy days, the Amazon got there through evolution over millions of years. In comparison, the earth’s present challenge is to adapt to a large rise in temperature within a human  lifetime!
[the writer can be contacted at]

Citizen Science

Bird Clubs in India

Bird Clubs in India
-Susan Sharma

When Bird Clubs started in India, they were generally seen as hobby clubs for the well to do.  Who else would drive miles every Sunday with expensive cameras and binoculars to click bird photographs?

May be the Clubs started elite but they have now evolved into activist groups and think tanks for environment looking for contributing positively to save the environment.  Birds and wildlife are not vote banks which put them in an area of least concern. Ministries and Departments meant to work towards wildlife conservation often are not sure how to view these citizen clubs which want to do good without any personal agenda.

Delhi Bird Club

Delhi bird is 67 years old!

"We are an interactive egroup which exists to share information about birds in Northern India and the issues that affect them. We seek to help and encourage newcomers to the study of birds and enable birdwatching visitors and short-term residents to meet fellow enthusiasts who live in India.

We use the group to collect and collate valuable bird records from Northern India and to discuss unusual sightings and other identification issues." reads the vision document in the Delhi Bird yahoo group 

The group is supported by regular field outings in the Delhi area and stimulating talks in the Habitat Centre, WWf India etc. in New Delhi. Their website provides the documentation for recent sightings, site and conservation information and identification tips to be presented and consulted by members. 

Active members of Delhi Bird have been filing PILs in court when bird areas faced threats.  A case in point is when the Noida Authority was directed to disburse the project cost of revamp and overhaul of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary in compliance of a Supreme Court of India order, in a case filed by environmentalist, Anand Arya. Arya had filed a case against the denudation and environmental distress caused to the ecology of the Okhla Bird Sanctuary because of the construction of the Noida Park.  

The NGO Delhi Bird Foundation has currently obtained a stay in the proposed construction and demolition (C&D) waste treatment plant, which is supposed to come up at Basai, a wetland rich in bird diversity. 
Despite a request from the Municipal Corporation to lift the stay on the construction of the plant, the green tribunal decided to maintain status quo till the next hearing.

The tribunal was hearing a plea filed by NGO Delhi Bird Foundation, seeking a stay on the project contending that the Basai wetland, though not declared as a notified wetland under the 2010 Wetland (Conservation & Management) Rules, was a valuable water body.

(Photo by Nikhil Devasar)

Appreciating the tribunal's direction, Pankaj Gupta of Delhi Bird Foundation said, "The state government never called Basai a notified wetland because they never took any initiative to do so." Earlier, following the directive of the tribunal, the irrigation and water resources department prepared a list of 51 wetlands in Haryana for identification and notification of wetlands across the state.
The Basai wetland doesn't find any mention in the list, which has been submitted to the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEF&CC).

(Times of India report)

Chandigarh Bird Club

Comparatively new is the Chandigarh Bird Club, which has been taking part in bird census around Punjab and Himachal Pradesh and documenting the results with   Apart from organizing birding trips regularly, the Club has started educating villages around birding areas by distributing water bowls for birds, organizing photo exhibitions etc. 


A unique initiative of the Club is to organize monthly sit down meetings for members where birding is the main topic discussed.  I happened to attend one of these meetings and was amazed at the energy levels and passion of this group with members from diverse backgrounds, young and old.  The meeting decides the activity for the next month. Planning for major initiatives like bringing out 1000 copes of bird booklets for school children is also done in these meetings

Bird clubs are truly evolving as think tanks for nature lovers. 

Common Birds of India

Home sweet home:a family and its struggle

Home sweet home:a family and its struggle
-Devendra Singh

It was towards the middle of March and already summer seemed to have set in with its typical scorching heat. Out early for my morning walk in a moderately forested and relatively isolated trail close to my house, I spotted activity on the upper reaches of a Silk Cotton tree. I gazed upwards. Next, a screeching call attracted my attention and to my pleasant surprise it was a pair of Indian Grey Hornbill(Ocyceros birostris) trying to communicate with each other. Indeed, it was a nice sight to see them together.

In the next few days I would see the same pair flying around, on the lookout for a site to make a nest, most certainly in a tree hollow of the Red Silk Cotton tree(Bombax ceiba). Their painstaking survey was a sight to watch particularly when both would fly over the tree to assess the suitability of the space. I could imagine that the mating season and the imminent birth of the young ones was adding urgency to seek out a space where the children could be kept safe from the vagaries of nature and interference by others.

This search and effort continued persistently for a few days, keenly observed by me daily on my walk, until one day the female ventured to explore and scrutinize the probable nesting site in the silk cotton tree from close quarters. The pair now paid repeated visit to the chosen nesting site on the tree one by one and tried to widen the small entry, their long beak pecking away at the trunk. This continued for a couple of days as the couple were now building their home.  My morning walks now became all the more enjoyable as I would relish this sight of the home makers!

What a spectacle it was! The female entered the hole. To my naïve eye, it seemed too small for her size but in a whisper, and seamlessly, she vanished inside while the male perched himself close by overseeing with a keen eye. She must have arranged the house inside with love and affection as all ladies do. After some time she decided to come out and it was a treat both to the eyes, mind and soul, in the manner that she maneuvered out through the small hole and came out literally part by part with very finely tuned skills. It was  certain that this was home to the pair of Hornbills and it was now timefor them to start their family. 

I wondered as to how a tree, that too a Silk Cotton , would have a natural hollow  midway in its trunk which could be utilized by the Grey Hornbill to make a home to rear the new ones.Then came the thought, which flashes in my mind every other day, that actually we know so little about our surroundings and nature… 

Well, to return to the homemakers, they made innumerable rounds to the tree trunk to put it in order. One could hear some cacophony sometimes when common Mynas would be making rounds of the same tree but the Grey Hornbills were successful in shooing them off.  Time was ripe for mating and making babies. They mated, which could luckily be captured by the camera.

( To be continued)

The author is Devendra Singh, a Naturalist, Bird watcher and Civil Servant with Indian Railways at Delhi.  The pictures were taken at Rail Eco Park, North central Ridge, Chanakya Puri, New Delhi.


Rangoli-A nature inspired art form

Rangoli-A nature inspired art form
-Susan Sharma

According to Anita Wagh, Rangoli Expert from Gurgaon, Rangoli designs are made with natural materials to usher in an auspicious occasion.    In the North of India colourful rangolis welcome festivals-religious, cultural and special occasions.  In the South, Rangoli making or Kolam is an art of meditation, performed daily by many.  

Participating in a rangoli workshop by Anita, I got in touch with the many rangoli designs which  I had documented.  It also got me in touch with how nature also makes new innovative designs when seasons change.  Here is a slide show I created with some of the photographs.  

Man animal conflict

Reducing Human Elephant Conflict

Reducing Human Elephant Conflict 

-Susan Sharma

The Gajanana campaign for wild elephants crowd funded Rs 73,122.   The campaign is now closed.  WRCS and IWC thank all members of IWC who contributed to the cause.

How will the money be used?

Wildlife Research and Conservation Society(WRCS) has been advocating and training villagers on the periphery of forests with elephants to use natural methods for mitigating human-elephant conflicts.  
Man and elephant co-existence dates back to over 4000 years ago when elephants were integrated into cultural, religious and social lives of humans. Elephants require large areas for food and shelter. However, with increasing human influences in forest areas, the elephants are left with little choice but to come near human habitations and feed on luscious crops on the forest boundary causing serious social and economic damage to the farmers in the region. In such areas, local farmers perceive elephants as their enemy and want to get rid of them. 

Since 2010, Wildlife Research and Conservation Society (WRCS) is implementing community-based conflict management approach in North Kanara District in Karnataka wherein local farmers are trained in using simple and low cost crop protection methods. Till date, over 400 farmers are using the methods to protect their crops from elephants. Alongside, they are also training the local women in making elephant-themed  handicraft items. WRCS is helping in marketing the products and the proceeds of the sale are directed to the women’s groups.  Through this initiative, local communities are able to generate income through elephants and have begun to view elephants as a friend and not as an enemy. This positive image makeover of elephants is proving to be most useful in securing their future in human-dominated areas.

This mother and calf were captured from a region prone to human elephant conflict. They will never live freely in the forests - both will always remain in captivity.

At WRCS, they build the capacity of farmers in protecting their own crops using simple low cost methods such as the trip alarms and bee hive fences, so that elephants do not enter their farms and damage their crops. The equation is simple: Safe Crops = Happy Farmers = Safe Elephants.
The money raised in the Gajanana campaign will be used to purchase crop protection measures such as sirens, powerful torches and trip alarms that will help the farmers in securing their crops. This will prevent elephants from getting into conflict with farmers and save them from being captured or electrocuted.

The farmer is holding a trip alarm bell. If elephants enter the farm at night an alarm bell is triggered by a trip wire placed in its path. The farmer quickly rushes to the farm and drives the elephant away, and his crops are protected for one more day.

This a bee hive fence on the boundary of farms. Each log has a bee colony and is protected by a roof. Elephants are afraid of bees. These fences protect the farms from damage by elephants

The photo shows lovely and talented ladies of North Kanara district working on elephant-themed handicraft items. WRCS is training them in making elephant themed handicraft such as tote bags, canvas bags, t-shirts, keychain, pillow covers,, soft elephant toys The finished goods are marketed by WRCS so they get the proceeds of the sale. Elephants are now viewed as income provider for the local communities. This way it helps to offset any losses they incur due to elephants. 

Update in 2018

Watch our short film on human elephant conflict at the link

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