FOOT SOLDIERS' CHAMPION
Not many would care to thumb the dusty, moth and mouse-eaten visitor's books dumped in forest rest houses (FRHs) of British India vintage. These yield many a nugget of natural history for those who may take the pains, and do not flinch from the prospect of carrying an oldie odour about them despite a good scrubbing afterwards! One such gem was a notice discovered in the book of the Mundiapani FRH falling under the Kalagarh Forest Division (Uttarakhand). Bearing a date of December 8, 1928, and signed by the then Kalagarh DFO, Fred Champion, it was directed at ‘shikaris’/sportsmen staying there. The late Champion was a pioneering wildlife photographer and author, who led the way in 'shooting not to kill', and together with Jim Corbett founded the Hailey National Park (now Corbett National Park).
Champion's notice appealed to ‘shikaris’ to contribute to the ''upkeep of libraries'' maintained in FRHs and the Canning Benevolent Fund. The latter, according to Champion, was a "Service Fund utilised to help widows and orphans of lower-paid members of the Forest staff, who die in service. Such people obtain no pension from government and often suffer great hardships when the bread-winner dies, frequently as a result of living in unhealthy jungles''.Not only does Champion's appeal reflect empathy for the field staff, who are the foot soldiers deployed at the cutting edge of conservation, but it bears a resonance for contemporary India. The recent killing of forest guard Rampal Saini by a tiger (Ustad) at Ranthambore while on foot patrol sparked off a vicious and frenzied debate after the tiger was externed.
At around 10pm, CID head constable Varinder Singh was stirred by fearful shrieks emitting from his neighbourhood in Sibbochack village in Hoshiarpur. Suspecting a possible crime, Singh rushed outside. He found that his neighbour, Jaswant Kaur, had discovered a snake right next to her in the fodder while she was checking her cattle before turning in for the night. As luck would have it, Singh harbours a passion for snakes and wildlife, and has undertaken many snake rescues. He charged gallantly into the dimly-lit shed to tackle the intruder and found a highly-venomous Russell's viper, which was now crawling along the legs of a resting buffalo. The viper had not bitten the buffalo, and Singh was able to capture it and release it in jungle thickets a kilometre away. Singh suspects some mysterious cattle deaths in his area were due to snake bite as he often found vipers and Common kraits in and around sheds.
Studies estimate that 1 lakh animals die across the globe annually due to snake bite. For example, a cow was bitten by a viper, and the snake itself was crushed under the cow. Both cow and viper died in that incident of 2008. The dead cow was taken to the department of veterinary pathology, GADVASU, Ludhiana, for post-mortem. In a study on that case (cited as: Banga HS, Brar RS, Chavhan SG, Sandhu HS, Kammon AM. Pathology of snake bite in cow. Toxicol Int 2009;16:69-71), it was found that the dead cow had been bitten in the oral cavity, which harbours a concentration of blood vessels."The putative effects of snake bite depend upon size and species of the snake involved, size of animal bitten and primarily the location of the bite particularly with reference to thickness of hair coat and quantity of subcutaneous fat. Farm animals are more likely to be bitten on the jaw...cattle and horses seldom die due to their large size, except when bitten on head (muzzle/lips/neck)," the study stated.
How long will the rich bird life of Sarangpur hold out to the surging JCB machines of development? Just beyond the PGIMER, the highway is flanked to the right by a grid of scrub jungle, roads and a few waterholes. It is a favoured spot for Sunday rambles by tricity bird watchers.
Amid a symphony of bird calls that float from summer's abundant greenery, there is a clear, fluty whistle that goes `peelolo...peelolo.' It is the male Indian Golden oriole. Nesting time, too, for 'Mr & Mrs Mango Delight' as seen in the accompanying picture.