At the cutting edge of wildlife conservation are the common people. It is they who come in contact with wandering wild species and it is their reaction that determines life or death for the cornered creature.
episode on the Amritsar-Faridkot highway serves to illustrate the reactions to a 24-kg, 12-foot-long Rock python that was discovered in the fields of Mahinder Singh of Gohalwarh village.
Wildlife ecologist Navdeep Sood's team rescued the non-venomous python after they got information from multiple sources that the serpent had been surrounded by people and commuters, creating a "mela" (commotion) beside the road. The python was moving slowly as it had eaten something and was in the extended process of digestion.
Two rows of people were standing on both sides of the python as if some fight between "goondas" (hoodlums) was taking place. In Sood's words, the reactions were thus: "Some people favoured life for it, others wanted to cut it to pieces with a 'kai' (instrument to dig mud).
An onlooker suggested pouring pesticide over the python as it is common Punjabi wisdom to kill snakes whenever seen. Whether killers or saviours, everyone wanted to click pictures. They were calling others on cellphones and informing them about the presence of the massive serpent. Youths were most excited. But they were not interested in knowing about the python. Instead, they were learning about different mobile applications from each other, how to share the python pictures etc.
I asked for a pipe and a gunny bag to rescue the python but no one was willing to oblige by leaving the 'tamasha'. People had thrown pebbles on the python and were enjoying that sport. When they saw me with a camera, everyone left the serpent and were curious to see a 'pattarkaar' and asked me, 'Kehra akhbaar? After the python was finally rescued, I took pictures of the public. Everyone came running to tell me their names hoping for publication and a moment of fame. Only one person was curious to know what will be done to the rescued serpent."
This female leopard was just an overgrown cub, and yet to step into adulthood as cubs normally stay with mothers for 2.5 to 3 years. When it wandered out of the jungle to Badog village in Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh, people surrounded the hapless cat.
The leopard climbed a mango tree, and trembled at the sight of humans underneath. Villagers wanted the leopard shot. They had faced a man-eating leopard earlier and were fearful for the lives of their children, who walk to school.
Fortunately, an alert forest and wildlife department team led by Bilaspur district forest officer (territorial) VK Babu reacted swiftly and tranquilised the leopard when it came down from the tree after villagers pestered it relentlessly. The leopard was sent to Gopalpur zoo, Palampur.
What is revealing are the hyper-reactions of people: Firstly, they want all leopards to be killed which are found near human habitation, irrespective of the threat they actually pose.
Locals also falsely believe --- and this is a worldwide syndrome in man-animal conflicts --- that surplus leopards were freed from zoos and left secretly in nearby jungles by officials. Experts, who have studied such conflicts, say that it is not only the actual damage which wildlife causes that leads to such negative reactions.
There are political, social and cultural reasons also. People's deep-rooted antipathy towards the government can catalyse extremist demands that require officials to kill leopards indiscriminately. Opposition politicians can abet this process by accusing government of not safeguarding people. Age-old mythologies such as vampirism fuel antipathy towards bats. All this becomes evident when the conflict is brought under control but people's resentment towards animals persists.
The lost migratory pigeon of Punjab has for the fifth year in a row chosen to repose faith in the hospitality offered by Tal Chhapar Wildlife Sanctuary in Rajasthan's Churu district. This year, the Yellow-Eyed or Pale-Backed pigeon has broken the record for early migration from Central Asia to India and landed at Tal Chhapar on September 16.
Since 2009, when these pigeons first visited Tal Chhapar, they arrived in the first 10 days of October. Range forest officer SS Poonia explains the early arrival of pigeons to avian migration being early this year for other species, too, such as Demoiselle cranes. Fifteen pigeons flew in on September 16, and were followed by a large flock on October 7. Poonia says the September 16 arrivals flew into the sanctuary at night.
At the crack of dawn, the leader of the group did a recce of the sanctuary before the thirsty flock alighted at a waterhole, keeping a wary lookout for humans. Tal Chhapar also holds the record - ever since such observations were recorded by British naturalists in the 19th century - for the last sighting of the pigeon on its return migration in spring from India: May 16, 2012.
Colloquially called the `Salara' in Punjab, these pigeons were last seen at Harike at the beginning of this decade. The shift from pulses and mustard to the wheat-paddy cycle robbed pigeons of a suitable habitat in Punjab. The pigeon's worldwide population is 10,000-20,000 mature individuals with hunting pressures in its breeding and wintering grounds contributing to a drastic decline. Black clouds of these pigeons once frequented Punjab in the early 20th century.
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