Should bureaucrats play God with nature? A land-owner Dicky Bajwa photographed a leopard with a swollen face/neck in the Arniaala-Shahpur Khud in Hoshiarpur on May 17. Bajwa contacted his friend, additional DC (development), Hoshiarpur, Harbir Singh, who pulled strings and got the forest department to launch a mission to “rescue” the leopard for medication. In turn, DFO (wildlife) at Hoshiarpur Satnam Singh asked Chhatbir Zoo to send a team to tranquilise the leopard.
However, this was resisted in vain by the zoo management as the leopard was free-ranging, not in conflict with humans, and the zoo was anyway over-packed with rescued leopards. For four nights in a convoy of four vehicles, the zoo/forest/ADC team scoured the jungles for the “ill” leopard. The zoo team was withdrawn on May 21 under protest. Disturbance to other wildlife at night was a fallout of this "rescue" mission.
“The ADC got in touch with our department's secretary, who asked the chief wildlife warden to intervene. The district administration got involved although the leopard was in its natural state,” said the DFO, adding that he had seen a very recent porcupine kill of the leopard, indicating it was able to take care of itself.
Veterinarian Aniruddha Belsare, who has dealt extensively with leopards, says: “Any capture and handling event of an animal results in severe stress. Every moment in captivity (for whatever reasons, and howsoever noble the intentions) diminishes the possibility of a normal life post-release. Say, it indeed turns out to be a tumor, what can vets do about it? Or assume it is a viral infection, do vets have a plan for such an eventuality? Very rarely, a wild animal will benefit from such intervention. And, please convey to the ADC, that illness/disease could be a natural process and we do not have to interfere.”
Angle in the mangle
How the imagination can run wild and differ so! The Shivalik choes draining into the tricity's hinterland are scattered with driftwood. Vegetation uprooted from higher reaches gets severely mangled after hitting against rocks and getting tossed by currents. A peculiar piece of driftwood I came across in the choe that feeds Perch dam seemed, to my eye and mind, evocative of a Giant anteater from South America. But when I asked SP Khullar, former head of botany at Panjab University, he jocularly suggested: “Looks like a dinosaur whose head has been chopped off (perhaps by the orders of a Mughal King!) Ha! Ha!” Indeed, to Khullar's imagination, the 'creature' was headless. What seemed to me the elongated snout of an anteater was to him the tail of a decapitated dinosaur! Doubtless, imaginative readers will conjure even more ingenious interpretations of this driftwood.
On a more serious note, Khullar told me it was “difficult/impossible to say to which botanical species this (driftwood) belongs to. The flow of water coupled by strong winds result in plants being uprooted. Water tends to loosen the soil, rendering it an easy prey for wind to do the rest. Floods are devastating, too, uprooting almost everything that comes in the way. Look at what happened at Kedarnath.”
Not crying wolf
It augurs well that knowledgeable citizens armed with long lenses are scouring the wilderness. They come up with authentic records that even the experts haven't fished out, and force governments to take measures to safeguard endangered species by placing hard evidence on the plate. Here is a sterling example: the first photo record from Uttarakhand of the Himalayan wolf, whose number in India is just 300-350. On May 17, a lone wolf was spotted by Nitin Bhardwaj of Photography and Wild Sojourns (PAWS) at the Kedarnath wildlife sanctuary. It was clicked by Sheila Castelino (66), a participant in a birding workshop conducted by PAWS.
Bhardwaj's wife, Marina Vukovic, had seen a wolf in the same area in April 2013 but was unable to secure a photo. Bhardwaj is now tying up with the forest department to set camera traps to discern whether there is more than one wolf in that area. Dr YV Jhala of the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, has studied wolves for 20 years. I asked him to lend perspective to Bhardwaj's discovery.
"The wolf was earlier known to be present in Uttarakhand at Askot Sanctuary. This wolf has the oldest living lineage among wolf species, i.e, close to a million years. Kedarnath is lower in altitude to this wolf’s known range. However, I expect the wolf has staged a comeback after suffering long from human persecution and dispersing from its older range. “Asked about the debate over the taxonomic status of the Himalayan wolf, Dr Jhala said: "Till research is completed on its nuclear DNA, it awaits classification as a separate species/sub-species."