SHY, LOVELY REDHEADS
In birds, the problem is that one has to compare the handsome males with beautiful women. A migratory bird that is a favoured muse of naturalists is the Red-crested Pochard, which flies down from Central Asia every winter. While the female pochard is a demure, drab damsel, the male turns heads.
The male conjures visions of a Russian flame-haired beauty with her locks slicked back to perfection, attired in a black turtleneck cardigan and white slacks. And, brown knee-length boots, and a beak sensuously dashed with rose-pink lipstick!
The accompanying picture of a male pochard was clicked at the Yamuna Khadar, Delhi, by Dr Surya Prakash, who also greatly favours this pochard. It is a rare picture as these pochards are seldom seen out of water. Dr Prakash has been spotting pochards at the same spot on the Yamuna river every year on virtually the same dates. (PHOTO : SURYA PRAKASH)
His avian “girlfriends” do certainly know how to keep a date! Says Dr Prakash: “Watching pochards doing all sorts of activities is mesmerising. We spent four hours on pochards and an hour on the rest of the birds of the Yamuna. I captured all the moods of the pochards.” A flock of 21 pochards has also descended on Sukhna Lake. I suspect it is the same flock that has been coming to the lake for the past few winters. But pochards are reclusive creatures like the legendary Hollywood beauty, Greta Garbo, who was famous for shunning the limelight. At the Sukhna, the pochards stick to the middle of the water, away from humans. They are very unlike the migratory Common Pochards, Eurasian Coots and Tufted Ducks, who shed their natural fear of humans and slide up to the shore like beggars waiting to pounce on food scraps thrown by tourists.
ON THE WATER'S EDGE
Unlike most so-called “anglers” at the Sukhna Lake, who use improvised wooden/plastic sticks to catch fish for self-consumption and illegal commercial sale in slum colonies, this trio is different. Angling is a passion for them and the fish they hook is for the table at home. Robin Paulus is a school music teacher, Jeet is an auto-mechanic who also repairs boats at the Lake Club, and Pradeep makes money by renting out a paying-guest accommodation.
They also venture out to Ropar and the Bhakra dam to fish, as these places harbour the prized Golden Mahseer and a wider variety of fresh water fish. Paulus says the catch has gone sparse at the Sukhna in these cold climes as water temperature inhibits fish from getting active and falling for dangling hooks. Fish tend to lie low. As warmth will seep into the season, fishing will get better.
But Sukhna is also a watery grave of suicides and murders. Anglers often come across bodies floating in the lake and inform the cops. Paulus recollects that once a young lad walked up to him and asked for a ‘bidi’ to smoke. Paulus could not oblige the lad as he did not himself smoke ‘bidis’.
(Robin Paulus, Pradeep and Jeet; Photo: Vikram Jit Singh)
The lad went away and started playing with the water. A few hours later, the lad committed suicide at the lake. That sensitised Paulus and after that he has kept a careful watch on those lonely people at the water's edge. Paulus' companion once prevented a suicide as a young girl jumped into the water from the lake's infamous suicide point tower. The angler raised an alarm and rushed to rescue the girl as most anglers are good swimmers. Cops also arrived speedily and a young life was saved from self-destruction.
CRIMES IN FORMALIN
Agra is the main source of illegal wildlife specimens preserved in formalin and possessed by schools in the tricity. There are more than 50 scientific material suppliers based there. Zoological materials are dispatched from Chennai to Agra by poachers via transport companies in large non-transparent drums which are usually labeled “scientific/educational materials”.
The UT chief wildlife warden (CWW) on December 18 issued notice to schools asking them to surrender such specimens to his office. The CWW has also undertaken to alert the national law enforcement authorities about names of illegal suppliers in Agra. The cover was blown off Agra as the hub of zoological trade by a valiant young Indian Forest Service officer, SP Yadav, who was posted as DFO, Agra. Currently holding the post of joint director, National Tiger Conservation Authority, Delhi, Yadav was recently honoured with the Rajiv Gandhi Wildlife Conservation Award for having seized 30,000 zoological specimens from Agra firms. Says Yadav: (PHOTO SP YADAV)
“Despite prohibition on hunting, killing, trade, possession and transportation of wildlife without proper permission from competent authority, all such activities were going on unabated in the name of zoological specimens for educational purposes all over India. Unfortunately, no significant action was taken to stop the killing of thousands and thousands of lesser known wildlife species, although these are very important in the ecosystem.’’
Laments Yadav, “Mostly attention is given to larger wild animals like tiger, leopard etc by authorities.’’