The first Royal snake rescued in the tricity was found at the high court in June 2011. Photo: Vikram Jit Singh
The previous week witnessed some rare rescues of snakes in the tricity. Snake-rescue expert Salim Khan retrieved a Black-headed Royal snake from the ceiling of a gas agency's office in Nada village ahead of Nayagaon. This is only the fourth specimen of this snake rescued from the tricity region; the first one was from the ceiling of court room number 26 at the high court in June 2011. The other rare rescue was of the Common Kukri snake, from a kitchen in the Dhanas housing board colony. Khan has come across only two Kukri snakes out of thousands of snakes of many species he has rescued since 2003.
Both these snake species are non-venomous, though the Royal snake hisses fiercely when cornered. According to IndianSnakes.org, the Kukri snake ''slits soft (reptile) eggs with its kukri knife-shaped teeth, enters the egg with its head and takes egg yolk only."
A few or zero rescues of a particular species do not necessarily imply it is rare or non-existent in a region. It may be that a species has, by and large, escaped human scrutiny or got killed and quietly dumped. If spotted, the outcome is increasingly a rescue, relocation and an authentic sighting record.
Shaheens for Chhatbir
A Shaheen falcon preys on a Blue Rock pigeon. Photo: Kiran Poonacha
The long-pending project for captive breeding of raptors at the Chhatbir zoo has received some momentum with the visits of technical personnel from abroad and permission to capture four pairs of Shaheen falcons from the wilderness. The zoo's raptor facility has been inspected by Dr R Suresh Kumar (Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun), Dr Munir Virani (The Peregrine Fund) and Patrick Benson (Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg).
Outlining the zoo's three-phased raptor plan, Punjab principal chief conservator of forests Kuldeep Kumar told this writer: "We have got our zoo staff to manage Shikras as a first step. Second, the Government of India has given us permission to capture four Shaheen pairs as founder birds for the zoo. After that, the third stage will unfold: to procure and breed the Northern Goshawk, which is the state bird."
Raptors enjoy a niche position in Punjab's culture and history, and the zoo can foster conservation awareness with regard to these threatened birds of prey. However, it may not be easy to secure wild Shaheens. Elaborating on this, Dr Kumar told this writer: "I have conducted a survey in Himachal Pradesh and got two confirmed sightings of Shaheen in the Shimla region. However, Shaheen sightings in Punjab are very rare and may possibly be of those birds that migrate from the mountains in winter. I plan to survey Punjab for all raptors from October this year. We would like to source Shaheens from Punjab's wilderness as other state governments may not be willing to let Punjab capture these rare birds from their territory."
Photo: Vikram Jit Singh
Walking down the couple of kilometres from Mirzapur dam to Mirzapur village, one is left charmed by a mesh of trails in the otherwise ugly, dusty, dung-splashed, potholed road. A fertile imagination would compare the mesh to an intricate map of a metro rail layout or an urbane road/lanes grid. These trails are actually of thousands of millipedes that have besieged the village due to an abundance of moisture and rich organic matter in the form of rotting vegetation and buffalo dung. Toxic millipedes have caused intolerable suffering to villagers by invading their living spaces; though entomologists opine that villagers have invited this fate upon themselves.
Changes in villagers' cultural and agricultural practices are believed to have triggered ecological changes leading to a millipede explosion. While it would not be fair to expect the rustics to objectively view these creatures, and admire the aesthetics of the mosaics and designs they weave in the dust, the millipede trails are fascinating. That is, if observed by those not residing in Mirzapur and run over by millipedes!
As vehicles, passers-by and cattle trample upon these creatures, one cannot but help admire how this army of proverbial lilliputians marches on diligently towards its destination: Mirzapur village. It is as if millipedes are the lilliputians that have pinned down the 'village of many sins' as human/cattle-generated filth has overwhelmed this charming hamlet of the Punjab Shivaliks.