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A killer in bed

chandigarh Updated: Sep 16, 2013 16:49 IST


Prior to the opening of the sanitised bypass to Parwanoo, the charms of the Kasauli hills could be sampled by first snailing through hellish Kalka. There was one saving grace: Kalka's blue pottery shops whose quaint colours and shapes were eye-candy for tourists irked by traffic snarls. Nostalgia for Kalka times overcame me while strolling through the HUDA park overgrown with weeds at Saketri behind the Sukhna lake.



I glanced upon a Painted Grasshopper, a glamourous cousin of the green fellows one normally sees jumping about with a queer alacrity. Its body was an exquisite mosaic of blues and yellows, as if nature had turned potter and fashioned a decorative piece for the poisonous weeds. I soon won its confidence and it stopped hopping from one weed to another, allowing me to come within sniffing distance. While grasshoppers are infamous for damaging crops, these creatures also play a positive role as they feed upon harmful insects and leaves of weeds.

Grasshopper excreta and their decomposing bodies improve soil fertility by recycling nutrients and regulating micro-habitats.


There is good news for Punjab's farmers suffering from attacks on crops. The forests and wildlife preservation department has raised the level of compensation to "full damages" from the earlier ceiling of Rs. 4,000 per acre, and this extends to the entire state.

Wild boars, neelgais, sambhars and monkeys inflict damage on crops, especially in farmlands nestled in the Shivalik foothills. This scheme to fully compensate damage at market rates will reduce the hatred farmers nurture for wildlife, which results in retaliatory actions such as poisoning/electrocuting animals.

The government has also modified its scheme for culling boars that damage crops. According to chief wildlife warden Dhirendra Singh, those applying for permits now need not possess a 7-mm calibre rifle. Even shotguns using high-velocity powered slugs will be eligible for permits as also lesser bores like .315 rifles.

All Punjab districts will issue permits through SDMs, once panchayats certify crop damage. Singh says the earlier requirement for 7-mm calibre restricted permits to old shikaris, as only they possessed such weapons, and they monopolised permits and indulged in hunting under the guise of managing farmer-animal conflict. However, shotgun slugs, if not well placed, have a high possibility of leaving an animal wounded.




Recognising the threat to the magnificent Alexandrine Parakeet (Rai Tota) from the illegal cage-bird trade, Birdlife International has after global consultation proposed to elevate the bird from a conservation status of 'Least Concern' to 'Near Threatened' (NT) on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The other bird from the Tricity region, which has been proposed for a similar elevation to NT due to fragmentation of its habitat and predation by man and dogs, is the Great Stone Plover (Thick-knee). Joe Taylor of Birdlife told this writer: ``We have just completed a process of public consultation on our Globally Threatened Bird Forums and, following this, these are proposed changes, subject to ratification by IUCN (in November 2013)."

The consultation reached decisions on status of 79 global bird species, and these include other Indian species such as Manipur Bush-Quail (uplisted to endangered), Blossom-headed Parakeet (to NT) and Yellow-breasted Bunting (to Endangered).




Were snakes to charge out from their hiding places, chase humans like stray dogs, and bite at their ankles, it would have caused unacceptable human losses. Fortunately, snakes seldom bite unprovoked and neither do they run after humans. But what is one to make of this episode from Belijhanghan village near Pathankot. Ratna Devi's husband died in 2005.

The stoic widow battled on till tragedy slithered in last week. It was barely 30 minutes since the widow had doused the room lights. Her daughter, Tamanna, slept next to her while sons, Deep and Prahlad, were in the adjoining bed. Just past midnight, Ratna felt a bite on her cheek, and later heard a very low, 'click-click' hiss. She switched on the lights and to her horror found a Common Krait poised to strike at Deep's face, which was not covered by a sheet.

The widow reacted fast, throwing the snake off the bed, and killing it with a stick as it bolted. Tamanna seemed fine initially, and spoke to the family for 20 minutes before she started vomiting. Ratna discovered that the krait had bitten Tamanna also under the ear. Tamanna died on way to hospital while Ratna was admitted for five days. She is home now, her `Guddi' gone forever.

Being ignorant of the government's Rs 1 lakh compensation for snakebite deaths, Ratna's family cannot claim the sum as it had not prepared the necessary medical documentation at the time of Tamanna's death. The krait, India's most venomous species, accounts for a lion's share of snakebite deaths in the Kandi area. A silent killer, it emerges at night, and most bites are on upper-body portions as it climbs beds seeking human warmth. Many kraits die crushed under vehicles while basking at night on roads radiating the day's heat.