18 November, 2009

The WABA (Wear A BeArd) Foundation

People everywhere keep asking me why I have a beard. My extended family, friends I haven't met since high school and even new acquintances, all wonder about it. The answer is I have a beard because most men naturally have a beard! What's so complicated about that to understand? It's just like hair on your head; it's already there, one doesn't have to do anything for it. Why don't people shave their heads as well, as a corollary? The beard, being a great insulator, also keeps my face warm during winters and cool during the heat. It's also totally eco-friendly because it can be maintained simply with a pair of scissors, without having to use and dispose metal and plastic razors. Also, it makes me look wise beyond my years. (I think!) :-)

03 October, 2009

Of forest dwellers and such...

The talk about 'alternative development' or 'sustainable development' is quite interesting these days. The NGOs that usually make recommendations to governments about what can be done so that rural communities continue to lead their relatively simpler lifestyles that are directly dependent on the wilderness areas around them as a means of promoting the protection of these wilderness areas through stakeholdership will recommend that funds be donated/allotted and/or legislation be passed to secure that community's way of life, and they will lobby for rights to the community over the forest that they are stakeholders of. The point that they miss completely is that even though current stakeholders might be interested in safeguarding their forests and making sure only sustainable quanta of non-timber forest produce (NTFP) is harvested from them, there's no guarantee that future generations who inherit this stakeholdership will do the same. Another moot point is also that if an ad-hoc village committee is in charge of the forest around their village, it is a possibility that bad management decisions can be made with the best of intentions. Unlike the evolved system of centralised and state-owned forest management, village committies will not have access to research and data to base their decisions on (this is not to say the centre doesn't screw up. They do, and big time at that. But there are certain safeguards and corrections can be made with higher intervention). And even if they do manage to set limits to NTFP harvests in the name of sustainability, it is only so that humans can continue to sustainably harvest material with nary a care for the wildlife inhabiting the forest. (A good example would be honey collection from wild beehives in southern India. Even though there are ancient laws passed on from father to son about what kind of hive to harvest and what kind to leave untouched, most of the extractable honey is collected and sold into the free market with little of it left to bears - whose main diet during the nonfruiting season happens to be honey. Bears are also further affected by collection of deadwood. Deadwood is essential for the existence of termites in a forest. Termites feed on the dead and fallen wood and return organic matter back into the soil. Termites also happen to be another major part of bear diet. No deadwood, no termites, no bears. Only a small example.)

Beyond all this talk of sustainability, one also forgets about the people concerned. Do they want to continue with their way of living or do they want healthcare, schools, electricity, food and water security, toilets, pukka roofs that don't need to be replaced every year, insurance, access to the internet and telecommunications, news, information and entertainment? Why should someone who has access to (and is a user of) all this make recommendations that basically dictate the absence of these very things from a community of people who happen to be physically and financially far off from these things? Why not ask them what they'd like first? As long as human communities continue to have access to the 'free' market of the open world (most 'tribals' do, only a few like the Jarawas of the Andamans continue to live disconnected from all but the most primitive technology - one reason why their population hasn't exploded like the rest of the world and they can actually be said to be living 'with' nature), continue to change their environment to raise animals and crops, get diseases and need cures, get bitten by snakes and need antivenin, they cannot be given special permissions and rights to the forests they live in. With the little forest we have remaining, we cannot continue to add infrastructure and services into it. People can adapt to a change in lifestyle but animals and the forest cannot. I sit in a coffee shop as I write this, a place where I can buy the cheapest item on the menu and meet with a dozen of my friends until it's closing time and use the internet for free. I can walk down a few blocks into a multiplex and expose myself to a plethora of cinema from various corners of my country and the world. Why would I not want the 'tribal' people to have access to the same if they chose so?

Ideally, sustainable societies would not have advanced technology such as computers and the internet, because 'jobs' in sustainable societies would be directly linked to the environment. I can only imagine "technological advancement" being made under capitalism because it calls for bigger, better, faster of everything. But considering where we are currently, it'd be imprudent to call for forest-dwelling peoples to "go back to nature" and avoid what the current world has to offer. Today, the right to internet access is equivalent to the right to information. We cannot keep asking them to be where they are and continue their 'sustainable' (but impoverished and meagre) existence. It would be both, impudent and imprudent of us to ask them to go back to using their traditional systems of medicine for the diseases created by contact with the rest of the world. It would be equally imprudent and impudent to ask them to skip the 'modern' education system and stick to their traditional knowledge, for that would leave future populations at a huge disadvantage versus the rest of the world. What would work best in today's scenario is a system that gives the right to forest dwelling communities to keep ownership of their land (governed by strict land use regulations curbing any commercial activity and/or serious landscape modification) while at the same time providing for them residence and services in nearby towns and cities. It is the only way their children will be brought up at minimal disadvantage vis-a-vis children from towns and cities, while at the same time, exposing them to their homeland (the forests) and making sure they never get alienated from it. This, I think, is much better than the system we use today where we give them 'jobs' in the name of NREGS and other trivial jobs with the hospitality/tourism industry which only makes them reliant on an outsider (a capitalistic outsider!) to continue living in their homeland.

Management of the forests, on the other hand, needs to be taken away from the exclusive domain of the Forest Department (Because, seriously, the FD does not consist of conservation biologists or police. The forests need a combination of the two for proper management and protection.) and must be shared by a committee/board consisting of stakeholders (i.e, the people, not corporations), the Forest Department (whose role would be limited to protection) and conservation biologists who would present all management options. No management decisions would be made without hearings, with opinions drawn from peers and public. That would be my ideal forest.

Tallying pollution

When calculating total greenhouse gas emissions of a country, (the majority of which are emitted by industry), the emissions by export oriented industries have to be debited from the emitting country and credited to the countries who are importing these products. Perhaps they should seriously start thinking about the stuff they consume and the quantity in which they do so, these 'developed' nations.

02 October, 2009

Waiting at the Ramnagar railway station for my train to Delhi. I'm in the waiting lounge, facing the door with my back against one wall that has been decorated with a 12x8-foot print of a tiger. (It's very obvious that Corbett is the reason for Ramnagar's current state of finances.) The tiger has me in its claws and it's hard to escape.

The toilets for men and women are right next to each other with only 'stree' and 'purush' written in Devnagri script on their doors. If I couldn't read Hindi, it'd not be unlikely to find me walking into the women's loo, only to be chased out by overweight sardarnis brandishing sharp stilettos.

25 April, 2009

Do they want me to register or not?

Was trying to register at Mail.com and this is what I got. Tried refreshing the captcha image but it kept spewing out incorrigible ones like this. I'm sure it's a not very subtle way to say they're not accepting new registrations right now.

18 April, 2009

Of fools and gold

If an alien civilisation were to visit earth and observe our goings on, they'd be quite amused by the fact that all trade and finance on earth happens on the basis of gold - a metal quite useless apart from some limited use in the electronics industry. It's amazing how gold developed as the de rigueur measure of monetary exchange across various peoples all over the globe, all independent of each other. Shouldn't we be elevating the value of something else to the level of gold, something that is much more precious? Say, clean air, clean water, fertile soil, healthy forests and freedom of speech, thought and being?

08 March, 2009

Anamalais mammal census trip report

February/March 2009


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Comments welcome!

22 February, 2009

Shendurney bird census, February 2009

Found out quite late about the census, but luckily for me Waders and Warblers of Trivandrum had co-organised this census with the forest department staff, so I got in thanks to Susanth sir. Reached Shendurney close to eight in the evening on Friday, 6th of February 2009. Used the dorm there to sleep overnight and everyone got split up into groups. I got allotted to the Dharbhakulam range of Shendurney WLS. Team members were Rohith, Baiju sir, and Ninad Manjure. We were taken to a range called Rosemala by Jeep from Shendurney early the next morning. The ride was approximately 30km but took nearly 2 hours. The road is an off-road enthusiast's dream come true, river crossings included. Dharbhakulam is about 2.5km from Rosemala but the trek there took nearly 3 hours. It's the closest I've been to climbing nearly vertical.
The forest canopy between Rosemala and Dharbhakulam

The accommodation at Dharbhakulam is unmatched. A green tin-sheet shed stands in a 20x20 metre patch of land facing an emerald green lake surrounded by mountains on 3-1/2 sides. You could almost mistake it for a volcanic crater lake. The shed is surrounded by a 10-foot-deep moat. One crosses the moat using a makeshift timber-log bridge. The local guides who assisted us were from Rosemala and were excellent cooks. All meals were vegetarian, made in coconut oil with plenty of grated coconut added. Rice was brown and paraboiled.

Dharbhakulam shed

View from Dharbhakulam shed

This was the first time Dhrabhakulam was allotted a place in the census and it felt great to be pioneers, albeit not very big ones. Habitat was a mix of dense evergreen, mixed deciduous and degraded grassland/dry deciduous towards the Tamilnadu side, 3km north-west of the shed. Bird-wise there were no surprises. Of note were plenty of Vernal Hanging Parrots Loriculus vernalis flying about noisily and also plenty of Black-crested Bulbuls Pycnonotus melanicterus gularis (a.k.a. Ruby-throated Bulbul), Malabar Grey Hornbill, Orange-headed Ground Thrush, Malabar Trogon (we spotted a female at very close range), Blue-faced Malkoha Phaenicophaeus viridirostris, Black Eagle, Common Kestrel, Great-eared Nightjar Eurostropodus macrotis, Grey Nightjar Caprimulgus indicus, Blossom-headed Parakeet Psittacula roseata, Emerald Dove, Forest Wagtail Dendronanthus indicus, Tickell's Blue Flycatcher, an unidentified Brown Flycatcher, Shikra Accipiter badius, Black-Shouldered Kite Elanus caeruleus (we spotted a sub-adult flying over a gorge), Booted Warbler Hippolaias caligata, Blyth's Reed Warbler Acrocephalus dumetorum, Little Cormorant, Cattle Egret, White-breasted Waterhen, Greenish Warbler Phyloscopus trochiloides, Edible-nest Swiftlet Collocalia fuciphaga, plenty of Asian Fairy Bluebirds Irena puella (m and f), Golden-fronted Leafbird Chloropsis aurifons, Grey Junglefowl, Common Iora, Black Drongo, Rufous Babbler Turdoides subrufus, Hill Myna, Common Myna, Puff-throated Babbler Pellorneum ruficeps, Indian Scimitar Babbler Pomatorhinus horsfieldii, Jungle Babbler, White-bellied Blue Flycatcher, Brown Hawk Owl Ninox scutulata, Purple Sunbird, Purple-rumped Sunbird, Little Spiderhunter Arachnothera longirostra, Plain/Nilgiri Flowerpecker (?) and Black-rumped Flameback Dinopium benghalense.

Snakes spotted were the Malabar Pit Viper Trimeresurus malabaricus and the Nilgiri Keelback Amphiesma beddomei, which was a lifer for me. It's a beautiful snake with dark brown colouration that transluscends to golden brown when backlit. It's the forest equivalent of the Checkered Keelback and is found along forest streams and wet, rocky banks. Diet is mostly toads and is largely terrestrial.

The Beddome's Keelback or Nilgiri Keelback Amphiesma beddomei

A. beddomei in a defensive position

Backlit body

The Nilgiri Keelback moving in habitat

Malabar Pit Viper T. malabaricus on a twig

Other reptiles spotted were a few sightings of Roux's Forest Lizard Calotes rouxii, plenty of Otocryptis beddomii Kangaroo Lizards in various colourations (see montage below), a Hemidactylus frenatus (Asian House Gecko) in an abandoned house, and an unidentified gecko belonging to the Cnemaspis genus from a patch of forest with dense evergreen cover, ferns and a stream running close by. Plenty of Mabuya skinks too.

Roux's Forest Lizard, Calotes rouxii

Unidentified Cnemaspis gecko

Closeup of the Kangaroo Lizard O. beddomii

O. beddomii
for size

A montage of different individuals of the Western Ghats Kangaroo Lizard Otocryptis beddomii, also known as the Indian Kangaroo Lizard.

Butterflies we got to see were plenty of Southern Birdwings including a mating pair; Tamil Lacewing; Malabar Rose; Red-spot Duke male basking; a few Clipper sightings; Bamboo Treebrown; Blackvein Sergeant; Suffused, Immaculate and Water Snow Flats; Fulvous Pied Flat; unidentified palm darts; Red Helen; Commander; Cruiser; Tamil Yeoman; Common Albatross; Gram Blue; Angled Pierrot; Common Cerulean; Tiny Grass Blue; Southern Rustic and Common Evening Brown. Common Rose, Blue Tiger, Glassy Tiger, Dark Blue Tiger, Double-branded Crow, Common Crow, et al were also commonly seen.

Gram Blue Euchrysops cnejus mudpuddling

Tiny Grass Blue Zizula gaika

Unidentified Flash

An unidentified species of crab was also seen in a shallow, fast stream. Also sighted was a Bottle-green Scorpion, about 15cm in length.

One unidentified frog near a marshy pond.

Baccaurea courtalensis (mooti pazham in Malayalam). The fruit is edible and is harvested by the Rosemala dwellers.

Unidentified flora:

Other critters spotted were Red Cotton Stainer bugs, shield bugs, and a species of harvestmen of brown colouration (Opilionidae).

Red Cotton Stainer bugs (nymph)

A Harvestman (class: Arachnida order: Opiliones)

No direct sightings of mammals. Elephant trumpets were heard twice, once from north-east of the shed on the 7th afternoon and from the north-west on the same evening. Dung was found in plenty, but was more than 3 weeks old in all cases. Also spotted scat of a leopard, again older than 4-5 weeks. One spot had been dug up, appearing to be the handiwork of a bear. No signs of wild boar, gaur, spotted deer. Sambar prints were found along a dry rivulet.

Misc images:

11 February, 2009

The Continuing Story of Dhingu

... continued from my older post Yarn.

soon the sleep over came dhaval and, dhaval's eyes shut. when dhaval wake up all jungle gone. gone. "gone?" you ask. yes, gone. dhaval could'nt explian it. now, how could whole jungle just poof? in it's placing dhaval was middle of desert, with sand and well, sand. now dhaval thinking he in pickle. what he do in desert? but dhaval resuming journey thinking there be different kind of beest in desert. dhaval not thinking about water because dhaval hate washing face. dhaval think it waste of time. soon dhaval meet the desert llama. llama say to dhaval to walk east to go to vilage where there be lotsa beest. dhaval insist he not interested in domestified beasts, he wanna see wild beests. llama scratch his chin where he would have a beard and think for sometime. soon, light in llama head glow and llama say to dhaval to head west, to africa, where wild'beests grew in the thousands. dhaval like the sound of it so headed for nearest vilage. there dhaval mount domestified beest of the desert and make journey to nearest town. there dhaval catch bus (not easy task, but dhaval very great and adept at all things) and head to nearest city. from the nearest city dhaval head to a city far far away and then hop on to sheep (not of desert) to catch the westward wind and sail to africa. dhaval thought it be prudent to read up on the good doctor's writings. dhaval dug into his pack to find book but to his dismay found a copy of dr. zhivago instead. dhaval slap his forehead and tell to himself that next time he not entrust buying book and packing bag to his mother.

... to be continued.