Please mind your wheels!

Last week we were on a road journey to Tamil Nadu from Kerala. We took the national highway passing through one of the beautiful and biodiversity-rich areas in the Western Ghats. As soon as we were in mid of the forest area we heard a loud noise which was a mix of alarm calls of numerous wild animals. Wondering the same and while making the effort to identify all those calls we had to suddenly pull off our vehicle as we had reached the source of the calls. It was difficult to believe the incident which we were witnessing. A white Maruti 800 car was surrounded by difficult to count but included more than 500 wild animals and insects including bears, deer, hares, birds, snakes, frogs, pangolins. Also, the agitated animals included many insects. These animals were blocking the road over the killing of a King Cobra by a vehicle heading in the middle of the road.

We were surprised because it was the first time we were witnessing any such agitation. We had seen how humans react to road kill by high speed and uncontrolled vehicles but the reaction of animals was surprising. Finally, they have raised for justice and we’re not letting the vehicle go. The insects and geckos had covered all the windows and glasses while hoofed animals had the forelimbs on dashboard making irritating scratching noises. Other small animals and many birds were occupying rest of the visible area of the vehicle including the top. Woodpeckers and other birds pecking on the body of the vehicle were enough to frighten the people in that car as well as the witnesses. Since that route comes under major tourism always there is the high pressure of vehicles and soon we had 8 more vehicles full of more witnesses of this wild animals agitation. We wished to help them but as soon as we saw more animals approaching the spot showing the human character all the vehicles fled from the spot, including us. We don’t know what was the fate of the culprits. What did the agitated group do to them?

This incident reminds me of the stories we used to read in the kid’s magazine ‘Champak’. The administration of Champak Van has its’s own rules, regulations, and law. Maybe a here also the forest and it’s inhabitants have their own ways to handle such crimes. It seems like I was dreaming but I do wonder what if that was real. What will be the punishment for stealing resources from their residence – the forest, how grave will be the punishment for catching wild animals for circus or road shows, what will be the penalty to recovered and compensation for loss of a member of wild animal families? But I am trying to imagine the situation of roadkill. What will be the situation? Who will be on which side in the courtroom?

In roadkill cases of human victims, action taken by public and administration follow activities like roadblock, agitation, burning of vehicles, investigation, compensation, imprisonment. But when the victim of roadkill is an animal, it goes unnoticed. There is reporting of the case when it is a charismatic species and even without any reporting in case of small animal victims like geckos, amphibians, and snakes. What will be the scenario if animals decide to get justice? We don’t follow the rules made by ourselves. Forests are not our property but responsibility and it’s inhabitants too as they are the reason for existence and survival of forest. IMG_20170702_125019

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The Ripple Effect!

It was during a visit to India’s first planned eco-tourism venture site – The Thenmala Ecotourism that created ripples in my mind for this piece of writing. It was a day-long activity in the eco-tour site that keeps the tourists occupied and leaving wonderful experience. The butterfly garden, adventure zone, deer rehabilitation park, leisure zone, Peppara Dam, boating in the reservoir of Peppara Dam will indulge you in wonders of nature. The well-managed ecotourism venture in the vicinity of Thenmala Hill and Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the perfect places for nature learning activities. On holidays one can find more than 500 people in this ecotour zone including school children, college students, families with young and old, couples and groups of friends. They all enjoy the activities in adventure zone concluding with packaged snacks and drinks and thrown around the dustbin instead of in dustbin. Students of all age groups on excursion visit throwing polythene wrappers here and there. These kids can be seen feeding and teasing deer in rehabilitation park.

Although excursion is a leisurely visit for fun it should be educative as well. The present system of education when keeps students sticking with books, table, computers, and i-pads, such activities are a good opportunity for students to have some lessons in real-life conditions. Their activities and experiences during such tours remain with them the lifetime and so does the learning. If they are not told the right way to treat nature properly we will be making a weak future generation. Students learn in class about natural resources, biological diversity, threats and conservation, social and economic problems; they are even good in expressing their learned thoughts in answer sheets, through paintings, through rangolis, in debates and general discussion. But when the time comes to replicate these learning into action, they fail. They fail to correlate the learning with action. As Theodore Roosevelt has said – “Knowing what’s right doesn’t mean much unless you do what’s right”. We not only need to teach the right thing but encourage the right doing and discourage the wrong act then and there. Whatever we do and learn have a ripple effect, whether it is harming nature and its resources or degrading morals of society. The difference is some effects stay for a short time like those formed on the water surface and some last long like the impact of the removal of vegetation cover from the ground. While the human character is like water, the impact of character imposed creates ripples like those formed on land. We have to decide the long-term impact should be positive or negative and so the future human should be moulded.IMG_20171018_164433 (1)

Blooms of a Botanist!

If a fountain could jet bouquets of chrome yellow in dazzling arches of chrysanthemum fireworks, that would be Canada Goldenrod. Each three-foot stem is a geyser of tiny gold daisies……… Where soil is damp enough they stand side by side with their perfect counterpart, New England Asters. The daisy-like fringe of purple petals surrounds a disc as bright as the sun at high noon….. Alone each has a botanical superlative. Together visual effect is stunning. Purple and gold, the heraldic colours of the king and queen of the meadow, a regal procession in complementary colours. I just wanted to know why. Why do they stand beside each other when they could grow alone? Why this particular pair? There are plenty of pinks and whites and blues….so is it only happenstance….? What is the source of this pattern? Why is the world so beautiful? It could so easily be otherwise…. But they’re not. It seemed like a good question to me. But my adviser said, “It’s not science,” not what botany was about. I wanted to know some stems bent easily for baskets and some would break, why the biggest berries grew in shade and why they made us medicines,…..why those little pink orchids only grow under pines. “Not science,” he said. “And if you want to study beauty, you should go to art school.” He reminded me my deliberations over choosing a college between training as a botanist or as a poet. Since everyone told me I cannot do both I chose plants. He told me that science was not about beauty, not about the embrace between plants and humans. Continue reading

I am Nature and Nature is Me!

The day April 22 was designated as International Mother Earth Day in 2009 by United Nations Organization. This day reminds us that our life and its sustenance depend on Earth and its ecosystems. It also calls for a collective responsibility irrespective of literacy, community (both scientific and non-scientific), region (tropical, temperate, alpine, desert), the status of the country (developed or developing) and age (child or old). The call came from the 1992 Rio Declaration, to promote harmony with nature and the Earth. The aim was to achieve a just balance among the economic, social and environmental needs of present and future generations of humanity as stated by UNO.

The sky is the limit for a dedicated nature lover

International Mother Earth Day is an opportunity to raise public awareness around the world to the challenges being faced in maintaining the well-being of the planet and all the life it supports. It is like any other day like Tuberculosis Day, AIDS Day, Deworming Day observed with the grand assemblage of people. On these days, not just the people dedicated to the cause but also public from various sections of society volunteer for their wellbeing. It is not meant just for the scientific community to organize gatherings to discuss the issues and come out with some new resolutions along with assessments of previous ones. One must be self-motivated to be part of these discussions as the center for these discussions is the welfare of the people throttling the natural resources outside the scientific discussion rooms.

Like every year the day is being observed throughout the world and to drive together the theme for 2017 is “Environmental & Climate Literacy”.

A scientific and awareness camp by Ecology and Rural Development Society, Jodhpur (Rajasthan) India

It has been accepted since a long time that Education is the foundation for progress. The brainy community strongly feels that there is need to make global citizens fluent in the concepts of climate change. They should be aware of the unprecedented threats being caused to our planet by climate change. It’s not just the scientific community but responsibility of every motivated and awakens human to empower everyone with the knowledge and inspire action in defense of environmental protection.

The theme ‘Environmental and Climate Literacy’ is being considered as the engine not only for creating green voters and advancing environmental and climate laws and policies but also for accelerating green technologies and jobs. This is what the global leaders of the filed aim and hope this year.

After reading this much anyone can definitely repeat the phrase I am used to hearing in general discussions – “we are aware of the witch-work human are involved in by molesting nature and its resources but we are doing our best to avoid it and save the environment. We are not the only person to exploit the resources; there are hundreds of more, uncontrolled, unbound, illiterate, unaware and full of greed. Someone draining awakening lecture here should go and wake them up.” Yes, I agree there is a huge difference in the ratio of the group size of guardians and foes of nature.  But this ratio needs to be inverted and this is the only option to sustain life on the only living planet known so far, the Earth.

Even before Rio Summit, human beings started realizing their destructive behaviour and the extra pressure being carried by Mother Earth. In 1980 the United Nations General Assembly met and discussed the draft for World Charter for Nature. A set of principles, rules, and implementations (speaking broadly) set to be followed for the sake of saving the planet to save the life, which does include human. It was in 48th Plenary Meeting of UN General Assembly that this Charter was drafted and documented on 28 October 1982. Recognizing the importance of protecting natural systems and maintaining balance and quality of nature as well as conservation of natural resources the general assembly decided the code of conduct of activities of human beings. However, this move was also inspired by the selfish mind of human as he is concerned about its present and future generation, as natural as me and you are concerned about our families.

The basics of Environmental and Climate Literacy lie in the five principles of conservation proclaimed in the World Charter for Nature. The charter states that human conduct affecting nature is to be guided and judged by these principles. Let’s see what are they and how much our activities comply with.

World Charter for Nature – General Principles

1.  Nature shall be respected and its essential processes shall not be impaired.

Yes, we do respect nature and that’s why we offer prayers and seek its permission before digging land for constructing houses, before taking water from river Ganga, offering chants from Vedas to please the believed Gods of the five elements – land, water, fire, air, ether. But we have no control over our actions. We are never satisfied with least, we want most. Our needs are increasing; rather we are unable to differentiate between need and luxury. In this process, we are impairing the essential natural processes and trying to mend them as per our own needs.

2.  The genetic viability on the earth shall not be compromised; the population levels of all life forms, wild and domesticated, must be least sufficient for their survival, and to this end, necessary habitats shall be safeguarded.

We are invading across our boundaries, our population is exploding and we are expanding in the territories of other life forms as encroachers. Reading this principle recalls me a conversation with a responsible citizen D of our nature loving society since birds are disturbed by sound and other pollutions and interference due to a mine what can be done for them. D’s suggestion was alternative habitat, I was feeling quizzed as we cannot give the new address to birds, we can just help them finding new resources. D said they don’t need help what you will do to help birds. My reply was to stop the mine if it’s creating so much problem and we have no alternative. D said that’s not possible also in such situation there was no need for this discussion. I was left with a question in my mind why we cannot go for the alternative to the problems caused by mine but we are ready to serve alternatives to birds.

A grasshopper safeguarding a sapling

3.  All areas of the earth, both land, and sea, shall be subject to these principles of conservation; special protection shall be given to unique areas, to representative samples of all the different types of ecosystems and to the habitats of rare or endangered species.

We are ready for that and even working for that but how far it is possible at the current rate of invasions by the human. We are not aware that which is rare, which is endangered, which is unique. What we know is which is important, useful and economic for us. And this is what we are happy with.

4.  Ecosystems and organisms as well as the land, marine and atmospheric resources that are utilized by man, shall be managed to achieve and maintain optimum sustainable productivity, but not in such a way as to endanger the integrity of those other ecosystems or species with which they coexist.

Sustainability, a term well understood when we are talking about the sustainable economic return and least concerned when we are talking about natural resources. During an interaction once a brainy group argued that sitting in an office or conference hall and distributing suggestions to a handful of people is quite easy and quenching. They asked why we don’t go out to tell the common man who is half or even more buried in the filth of selfishness and exploiting natural resources. For such brainy people, my reply will be, when a person tells you to conserve resources and tells you the ways to do so is actually sharing his knowledge and trying to make you aware, at the same time he is also sharing the responsibility to share and aware others. Now, these handfuls of people are equally responsible if an awareness and awakening are not reaching common people. These handfuls of people broke the chain to transfer knowledge and awareness and the first person’s attempt to convey information to the common man failed.

5.  Nature shall be secured against degradation caused by warfare or other hostile activities.

If we follow the previous four principles then this fifth one will be automatically followed.

Nature and Me

In any corner of the planet, any country of any continent and if we ask any person the question, WHAT IS NATURE? The reply will be same, nature is me, nature is you, nature is healing from disease, nature is fresh air, nature is where we live, nature is what we eat, I am a part of nature as I am using its resources and it is keeping me alive, so I am also nature.

By following this charter we can judge our activities; the activities which are affecting nature but affecting us as ‘we are not just part of nature, we are nature’.

Jagnath Wildlife Safari: Land of a hunter turned conservator

I got the opportunity to meet a man who was once a hunter but now dedicated to conserve the wilderness in a small piece of land owned my his family. Although he is running a safari as tourism business but never deviates from his real objective not to hurt the plants and animals in anyway. Jagnath Wildlife Safari is the tourism destination I am talking about. It is a remote private Jungle land of the Songara family of Kaniwara in Jalore district of Rajasthan. The safari is being run by Ravindra Singh Chauhan who is the person I am referring to in the subheading.

It is one of the best locations one can visit to learn tools and techniques for flora and fauna study. I reached there to attend a field training organised by Ecology and Rural Development Society of Jodhpur on ‘Wildlife Biology-tools and techniques. It was a lifetime opportunity for me to visit such place and meet wonderful people from different streams with like mind. While wondering in big nature reserves we never even hear about such small conservation reserves which is being maintained with personal interest in conservation rather than tourism enterprise far beyond policy and polity.

History of Jagnath 

These jungle lands were gift of the Royal Family of Marwar region seven generations ago to Songara family. They have naturally preserved a large amount of these lands (around 400 hectares). The total wildlife habitat is 180 square kilometre in area.

The wilderness campsite

Jagnath will remain a memorable stay and experience with its granite hills and variety of flora although sparse due to arid terrain but shows variety. The campsite is peaceful although interrupted by the blasts in nearby mines. But most noticeable thing is even the blast sound echoes among the hills surrounding the conserved area. Beautiful landscape filled with raves formed by sand dunes and hills which are extensions of the Aravalli. Some of the plants in the region belong to rare category and animal sighting is easy which shows how free the animals are wandering feeling safe.

Science lovers catch

For science lovers it is an opportunity to visit the ecotone-the junction of Thar Desert and Aravalli Hills. The effect of this junction can be witnessed by flora as well as fauna, as components of both the ecosystems are visible in the conservation area. This is the reason the small area harbours diversity of flora and fauna. In the Aravalli you will find mainly Anogeissus pendula and Bauhinia retusa. The sand dunes are nature library to study the diverse species of Acacia. For fauna experts you will find beautifully patterned praying mantis, camouflaged stick mantis and insect to the giant predator Leopard. Most sighted are Chinkaras and Bluebulls, but definitely sighting a Zerd is going to be tough here. Some other wild animals who have found shelter in this small land are Desert Fox, Porcupine, Desert and Jungle Cat, Hyena. In my experience I found favourite food of all kinds of animals in the area was Wild Plums (Zizyphus nummularia).

Nothing less for adventure lovers

It is must for every visitor to climb the Aravalli extensions to have a panoramic view of the area. Even nearby villagers and far off Jalore city is visible as bird’s eye view. Without climbing these rocks you will miss the real beauty of this place and views too. Enjoying a sunrise as well as a sunset cannot be possible without sitting on one of the hill tops.

First night in Jagnath must be a ‘lie down and watch up night’ to sooth your eyes with the clear sky embellished with constellations and if you are really lucky then you can sight meteors too. The night safari is also available which earns you sighting of nocturnal animals, must say all the animals here are nocturnal. Definitely don’t need to mention not to forget good cameras, good amount of batteries as well as memory cards and lots of concern for nature. Cameras to capture the moments, batteries will not let you down and miss any moment you wish to frame to kindle others and concern so that you can help in conservation by playing role of a true nature lover. Ravindra Singh Chouhan and his staff are conserving an important landscape and do take care that the visitors should also follow the dos and don’ts tourists must follow in nature reserve. Jagnath is in true sense an ecotourism destination in the must list of all nature travelers. I am thankful to Dr Sumit Dookia, Dr Amit Kotia, Ravindra Singh Chouhan and Dr Mamta Rawat from Ecology and Rural Development Society, Jodhpur for giving us such an opportunity. Thanks to all Mohit Verma, Azaad Ojha, Atul Gupta, Anurag Kushwaha, Mayank Bohra and Vigil Wilson for sharing pictures for this article.

Visual aids for conservation awareness – Documentary Movies

Awareness among public including all age groups and gender are need of today. from primary to graduation including the professional courses have a compulsory subject and examination on environmental awareness. The subject specifically carries general explanation and understanding for students of all subject streams not just science. The reason is to create understanding about their role in making and sustaining the Earth as living place for long time. Understanding the consequences of their activities they can be self motivated to save nature and natural resources. Including awareness and understanding of environment and biodiversity in course is just one medium of knowledge and awareness dissemination, however it involves several medium for teaching the same.
For adult and children who are not much exposed to learning through books thematic audios and videos are playing important role. Nowadays numerous videos in the form of small movies and documentaries are available in shown in television channels like National Geography, Discovery, History, Doordarshan. But what percentage of viewers are watching these movies and even out of them what percentage of the viewers who watch them are able to assimilate the learning or message in action. It will be really difficult to provide definite statistics in this regard. Everyone likes to listen the visual narration (whether live or animated or visual effects) of natural and human activities bringing change in nearby locality. But how many of them start searching the activities affecting their locality negatively and initiate movement to reverse it. If this is not happening then definitely the message delivered through best documentary movie will be in vain.
It’s not the responsibility of just the movie makers but people also to make any movie successful. In my words it is almost similar to any successful leader. A leader who is capable of bringing change in society is considered powerful and successful, here role of his followers is also important who help to disseminate leader’s message among masses. Similarly like minded people who understand the importance and message delivered through a movie try to disseminate the message through movie among masses.
In schools and colleges as well as public libraries routine shows and discussion sessions should be organised. Instead of merely watching the movie at the end of the session opinion and discussion session should be organised. The topic of discussion should be the message and its relevance and implementation to the locality of movie watchers and how they are connected with the story instead of the discussion on making and editing of the movie. The movie makers of such documentaries are people with sound knowledge of these issues and they want to share their knowledge with common people. This is the reason these movies are available in You Tube and other open communication media rather than theatres where you have to pay to get entertained.
Watch and enjoy science and related documentaries but do try to assimilate the message if you really like them.

Hello ! Is anybody in?

Yes I am knocking at the burrows in grounds to just check if we have someone there to help us in helping ourselves. We all know that these burrows are occupied by microorganisms to insects as well as large reptiles which may be fearful for us but definitely important part of the ecosystem we live. They dig holes and survive under our feet helping in soil conditioning, improving water percolation, nutrient retention in soil and controlling the counts of several insects through prey and predation link of food webs. But how we are offering our regards and thanks to these creatures? Do we even realise what consequences we may have to face if they are not there?

By concreting the floor around our houses we turn many lives homeless. The same way human settlements are removed for urbanisation. But the difference here is in that case human encroachments are removed and in this case human encroach on land of our helper creatures. It not only reduces surface area to allow water infiltration but also reduce burrowing area for our helper reptiles and insects like mouse, snakes, ants, crickets, termites. Although these names appear harmful but their role in maintaining our surrounding is irreplaceable.

We must therefore leave some ground open and without adding any insecticides or pesticides so that we can share the land with other animals also which is their right. Definitely keeping concrete walkways, decorated houses and ensuring safety from the mini-fauna is important but an ant won’t bite unless you disturb it. Similarly follow the right for personal space for the insects too and enjoy yours being friendly with nature.

Forests and Energy

Another year and we are observing International Forest Day.  But what is surprising this year – world is promoting fuelwood as renewable source of energy. The title of this article is the theme of International Forest Day 2017. We are teaching children that burning wood as fuel reduces forest and increases pollution,  and what the scientists and laurates are telling that forests have 40 % of the renewable energy capacity of the total energy obtained from the renewable energy sources solar,  wind and hydel power.  One will easily make a joke of this theme saying that scientists also change their perception and analysis according to need of human beings,  but this one person is definitely the one who is seeing the world with just one eye.  Yes it is proven truth that burning wood for fuel increases pressure on forest and adds up pollution in air we breathe.  But another truth is anything used sustainably pays off in the long run.  Similarly the heat energy obtained by burning wood if used efficiently then it can serve multiple purpose reducing the wood load on wood klins and ovens.
With the help of modern engineering and technology in Europe and other cold countries such ovens have been developed which can heat huge quantities of water, keep house warm through insulation at the same time while the food is being cooked.  This method and technique has reduced the wood lot needed for each family to survive the winters which extend for even more than six months. In such countries fuelwood is need without any alternative. There is nothing less for residents of tropical countries too.  It has been suggested to plant more and more trees strategically in cities and towns to reduce daily temperature cooling the cities and serve as oxygen houses. Of course it needs not to mention that along with strategic plantation by selection of right species of trees we can reduce air pollution as some trees like Willows,  Oak,  Mulberry,  Casurina, Poplars absorb pollutants from air,  water and soil.  Additional benefit is supply of feed and shelter for all kinds of organisms belonging to Kingdom-Animalia.
Although fuelwood has been suggested and is being promoted as renewable energy source it has to be taken care that the source of the fuelwood is following the rules and guidelines of Sustainable Forest Management. In this way the path of fuelwood as renewable energy source becomes tough, specially for our country and state. The reason why I opine this is when we are unable to control illegal felling of trees how we can ensure that the source of fuelwood is following the norms of sustainability. We must consider this theme as an opportunity to take some firm steps towards control of such crimes and make strong and positive result oriented moves towards sustainable forest management.
Do remember that when you are going to hug a tree to save it please don’t step on seedlings and saplings of trees which are raising heads under canopies.