Amid the cacophony of noises stemming from controversial politics and volatile economics, the pleasant sound of a birdsong comes like a breath of fresh air. Scientists have discovered India’s first new bird species in a decade in Arunachal Pradesh, called the Himalayan Forest Thrush. Elsewhere in the country’s ecologically rich northeast, researchers have discovered a new genus of tree-hole breeding frogs.
Both these finds carry a message from the deep reaches of nature. The birdsongs in Arunchal’s mountains in differing elevations were at variance while they were seemingly of the same species before ornithological detectives comprising scientists from India, Sweden, China, the US and Russia unravelled the mystery of the differing tune as one emanating from a new species distinct from the familiar Plain-backed Thrush.
Such an enchanting whodunit featuring researchers of politically disparate nations is in itself a celebration of scientific harmony. It is befitting that the new bird species has been scientifically named Zoothera salimalii after India’s most celebrated bird-watcher, Dr Salim Ali. It should likely please the ghost of the late ornithologist, who passed away in 1987, more than the Padma Vibhushan he earned for popularising bird-watching in India. It must be remembered that Dr Ali laboured for love, and was commendably encouraged in the post-colonial years when India struggled through wars, droughts and food crises. The preservation of cultural and natural heritage was a luxury in a demographically exploding democracy, given the pressures on the exchequer.
India, now the world’s fastest-growing major economy, is in a much better material position than it was then, and must do its bit to encourage Indians to take up causes close to nature. The much-hyped Project Tiger has received a lot of attention, but it must be remembered that Indian vultures were almost completely wiped out by veterinary drug diclofenac, banned since 2006.
The vultures, like the tigers, are clawing back from the verge of extinction. The message from the Himalayan birdsong is that a more affluent India, through government efforts and inspired corporate social responsibility, can do what it must to preserve India’s rich biodiversity. There’s more to be discovered, re-discovered, celebrated and cherished.