Every morning and evening with utmost punctuality, a peacock saunters down the road to Meenakshi Aneja’s house (No 534 in Chandigarh’s Sector 16D). The peacock relishes the chikoos that have fallen to the ground from her fruit tree. The bird also likes to nibble at her vegetable patch. Aneja, who is a fine arts teacher at the Sector 16 Government Model Senior Secondary School, has ensured that her family does not disturb the peacock on its greens gobbling burglaries.
PHOTO Courtesy: MEENAKSHI ANEJA
It may be a “thief”but the family enjoys its presence and feels that it has a share in their garden’s produce. The bird prefers to sit on a particular tree and a roof and regales the neighbourhood with its high-pitched ‘miaow’ calls. There is a nursery and a bungalow with lots of trees at the end of Aneja’s road, where peacocks reside and breed. Aneja says that when she wonders about this particular bird she is overcome with a sense of amazement at its meticulous habits, and its sense of familiarity with her house and its inhabitants. This particular peacock does not go to any of the other houses down the road so marked is its preference for the hospitable environment afforded by Aneja’s house.
The decline in migratory bird numbers at the Harike wildlife sanctuary, Punjab, is compounded by the fact that sightings of very rare birds and vagrants has taken a hit. The latest census for water-dependant birds at Harike was conducted on January 25, 2014, which returned figures of 62,065 birds of 71 species. However, a section of the Harike wildlife staff argues that certain inaccessible areas in the sanctuary were left out in the 2014 census leading to a somewhat deflated count. Numbers for 2013 were 72,562 birds of 79 water-dependant species. In addition to this, 80 land or terrestrial species were recorded in a separate census for 2013.
The numbers for 2012 were 1,00,100 birds across 74 water-dependant species. These figures pale in comparison to the Harike all-time checklist of close to 400 migratory and resident bird species. In fact, alarm bells had begun to ring over declining numbers and diversity during the January 2010 census when 152-160 land and water-dependant species and a total of 79,000 birds were recorded. In February 2011, the numbers were 121 land and water-dependant species and 1,01,024 birds. Birds such as Sykes nightjar, Sociable lapwing, Yellow-eyed pigeon and the Indian skimmer have not been sighted at Harike since long reflecting partly adverse local factors such as encroachments, pollution and disturbances by fishermen/poachers. Currently, the syndrome of a virtually absentee DFO (Wildlife) at Ferozepur, who is in charge of the 86 sq km Harike wetland but stays rooted to Chandigarh, compounds the woes.
Serpents and the sprawling bungalow of the Punjab and Haryana high court chief justice (35, Sector 4, Chandigarh) seem to have an enduring alliance. In 2004, when then CJ BK Roy was engaged in a battle with a section of the judiciary and the lawyer community, a ‘Kaala Naag’ (Spectacled Cobra) surfaced in his bungalow. Its appearance was interpreted by his detractors as a grim augury and set tongues flickering furiously among the advocates. Roy’s supporters felt the cobra had been deliberately infiltrated into the bungalow.
Photo caption: Salim Khan with a rescued cobra. FILE PHOTO: VIKRAM JIT SINGH
Snakes kept on surfacing in the bungalow and in the summer of 2011, snake-rescue expert Salim Khan caught non-venomous Rat snakes from the flower pots, the drains and another one that climbed a fruit tree. In recent days, Khan has rescued two full-grown Rat snakes from the back wall of the CJ’s bungalow, while a third one seen near the front gate escaped into the long grass. The bungalow has ample greenery and is close to the reserve forests that run from the Sukhna Lake and towards the Rock Garden. Meanwhile, there was an interesting rescue of another Rat snake from the Government College for Girls, Sector 11, by Khan. The snake had climbed a tree, gobbled a bird’s chick and then hidden in a hole in the tree. Khan had to effect a clever operation to extract the snake from the tree hole. In past years, Khan has caught many Rat snakes and the venomous Common krait from this college.