BORN NOT TO BE FREE
If you plod along the dusty 'Bird Walk' that commences from Sukhna Lake's regulator-end, look carefully. You will see flashy turtles. These are red-eared sliders (RES), imported as pets and then discarded in urban wetlands. It is ranked among the 100 most invasive global species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). RES have established a breeding colony at Sukhna, warns wildlife photographer Narbir Kahlon. Though the UT forest department is seemingly unaware of RES's presence, and no study on the lake's turtles has been undertaken, there are photographic records of native species at Sukhna (brown-roofed turtle and flap-shelled turtle) whose habitat the RES could usurp. There is also a photo record from March 2013 of an RES from Dhanas lake by Dr Deepak Subramanian.
RES were mass bred in American farms for export. Being small and cheap, kids readily took RES as pets only for their parents to later dump them as these grew, lived long and turned unmanageable or were freed in pursuit of religious beliefs.
Dr BC Choudhury, an authority on Indian turtles, suspects worse. "Invasive turtles are being released by the forest department (across India) in our water bodies and what and how they will react with native species is unknown. We need to decide on an action plan on this," he told this writer.
The IUCN states: "The RES competitive advantages may include lower age at maturity, higher fecundity, and larger adult body size. Turtles may compete for food, egg-laying sites or basking places. The RES has been considered occasionally aggressive towards other individuals. Continuous releasing of exotic pet turtles in natural ecosystems increases risk of parasite transmission to native species. The RES is known to carry nematodes. Reptiles, including turtles, are well-recognised reservoirs for salmonella and a source of human salmonellosis."STAMPS THAT CHARM
As kids, many of our generation were infatuated with stamp collection, before we started peering over the boundary wall at convent girls! We would barter such prized possessions as hardbound 'Hardy Boys' books for stamps, and even pick fights in our classrooms over a 'rare stamp'!. African stamps charmed kids who were keen on wildlife as these were glossy and reproduced gorgeous bird, fish and animal images. Keeping this love for nature in mind, Kyrgyz Express Post (KEP) from the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan this month issued a fascinating set of stamps dealing with falconry, an art of hunting recognised by UNESCO in its 'Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity'. Falconry has deep resonance in Kyrgyz culture and indeed in the history of the Sikh Gurus and Mughal nobility.
Intrigued by these falconry stamps, I sought information from KEP's spokesperson Iana Perlova, who said the falconry stamps were by Vladimir Melnic, an artist well known in former USSR countries as a stamp designer and residing in Chisinau (Republic of Moldova). "KEP has an interest in wildlife-related stamps because protection of environment and animal world is very important issue for modern life. All people are responsible for nature conservation and KEP is proud to make its contribution by issuing stamps. Also, animals are such beautiful creatures and many philatelists collect wildlife-related stamps with pleasure," said Perlova.
Since ancient times, hunting was one of the main occupations of Kyrgyz men. Using hunting birds such as falcons, hawks and eagles, as well as their training, became an essential part of Kyrgyz culture. Kyrgyz history implies falcon to be not only a hunting bird, but also a totem and an object of reverence. The sacred, white Gyr falcon is the devoted companion of Manas, the character from an epic Kyrgyz oral poem. Perlova hastens to add: "Falconry is a national hunting in Kyrgyzstan, recognised by the government, but it is not only a way to hunt; it is a part of Kyrgyz culture and traditions."
The Indian wolf snake triggers alarm when discovered inside homes, a favoured habitat for this shy creature. It introduces even more concern when confused with its lookalike, the common krait, India's most venomous land species encountered frequently in the tricity region at night, lurking in homes and often climbing beds with shrieking, if not deadly, side-effects! The snake in the accompanying photo surfaced in a Kansal bunglow on May 26 and sent many tremors down the internet-powered and smart phone-driven SOS lines of communication before it was correctly identified as a non-venomous wolf snake. Rest assured, it relishes 'aunt lizzie' (house lizard) waddling along the walls! Phew!