A Grave Odour
An odour is leaking out from the graves of the Sukhna Lake’s domesticated geese culled on December 18. For starters, neither has the UT advisor nor the inspector general of police replied to the letter sent by the secretary of Animal Welfare Board of India, C Kalyansundaram, on December 19 protesting against the violation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, and the guidelines of the World Organisation of Animal Health. The board deplored the neck dislocation method adopted to cull geese.
It wanted the geese to be anaesthised prior to the neck dislocation so as to minimise suffering and pain. The board also cited the central government’s action plan on avian flu, which recommends drugging.
However, this is where the board errs despite its noble intent. The action plan cited by the board was of 2006 vintage. This has since been replaced by the action plan (revised- 2012) which lays down neck dislocation without drugging as the most pragmatic method for a cull. One of the principal reasons why there is a sharp focus on the method of culling is because during some avian flu-containment operations across India, birds were buried alive or thrown into a fire while still writhing in agony.
Though the UT administration and scientists of the Regional Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (RDDL), Jalandhar, can legitimately take refuge in the 2012 action plan, eyewitness accounts of the Sukhna cull reveal some problematic actions. Errant geese that fled the site were brought to heel with some sound blows of sticks. Some geese had their necks sliced. Geese are strong birds with willowy necks and some specimens are not easily controlled. Also, the figure of 75 geese cited by UT forest and wildlife officers is suspect as the culled geese were - conservatively estimated - not less than twice that number.
RDDL scientists say the drugging method would have delayed the culling operation. To the administration and the RDDL’s credit, the operation did take place in the least possible time as the go-ahead came late on December 18. It was imperative to speedily stamp out the disease at its origins. The cull commenced after 4pm and came to an end at 11:30 pm amid adverse weather. Senior personnel leading the cull left the lake only at 1:30 am on December 19. The board is further taking up the current culling method with the central government, so that a less-painful method is arrived at for future culls.
Indians love a mythological twist to our plants, birds and animals.
Prof SP Khullar holds a leaf of Ficus krishnae. Photo credits:Vikram Jit Singh.
It can be viewed at the PN Mehra Botanical Gardens, Panjab University (PU). One commentator has described the origins of this quaint name thus: "The story goes that Lord Krishna was very fond of butter and would even steal it. Once, when he was caught by his mother Yashoda, he tried to hide the butter by rolling it up in a leaf of this tree. Since then, the leaves of these trees have retained this shape!" And to maintain the butter reference, a white latex oozes from the base of the leaf when snapped from the branch/stem!
The question that would intrigue non-believers is: does the leaf curl serve any function for the tree? It cannot store water because leaves face downward.
So, I asked the PU’s former head of botany department, Prof SP Khullar, who incidentally had introduced me to this wonderful tree. “The curl has no function for the leaf. This tree is believed to have mutated from Ficus benghalensis (the Bargad or Bhor) since it resembles that tree except for the curl.Moreover, not all leaves of Krishna katori have this curl. Since this tree has not been collected from the wild, it can be presumed that it arose in a private garden through mutation or what is also known as a sudden.
Where Eagles Dare
A Steppe eagle soars above village Gurra. Photo credits: Munish Jauhar
Old timers will recall the magnificent Golden eagle that adorned the label of a popular beer brand. Or, the severely hooked and adversarial beak of the eagles that graced the coat of arms of the nobility of yore. Well, the imposing Steppe eagle has graced the crumbling cliffs of village Gurra in the Shivaliks, a mere 25-minute drive from the heart of the City Beautiful.
There are nine of these massive eagles feeding on a cow carcass along with a lone Himalayan vulture and house crows here. The cow, whose skin was stripped by a village tanner, displayed glistening beef that lured these eagles as they prefer fresh carrion. The eagles feed morning and early afternoon at Gurra and take to cliff perches by early evening.
These eagles migrate in winter to India from summer breeding grounds in Central Asia and regions eastward of that. As at Gurra, wintering eagles in India comprise a sprinkling of adults with majority being juveniles and sub-adults.
Hitherto, sightings of these eagles from the tricity region were confined mainly to the Morni hills and the Chakki mor-Bhojnagar hills. Alas, studies by the Bombay Natural History Society indicate that along with vultures and some other raptors, these eagles are vulnerable to poisoning from feeding on cattle injected with the veterinary drug, diclofenac.