While the Union Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has placed objections against the satellite tagging of birds citing “security reasons”, a seminal project to study the migration of common cuckoos has yielded the result that some of these birds cross India from China and winter in Africa. This discovery arose from the Beijing Cuckoo Project, which tagged five cuckoos in China with satellite transmitters. While one cuckoo, named Skybomb Bolt, flew 3,700 km non-stop from Central India across the oceans to reach Somalia on October 30, another cuckoo, Flappy McFlapperson, flew 2,000 km non-stop from Uttar Pradesh to reach Masirah Island, just off the coast of Oman, on November 4.
The British Trust for Ornithology fitted the cuckoos (which weigh about 100g) with satellite tags of 4.5g. The results also tell us that Pied cuckoos are not the only cuckoos to migrate to Asia from Africa. The Pinjore-based Jatayu Conservation and Breeding Centre is still awaiting permission from the DoT to satellite tag captive-bred vultures for release into the wilderness.
THE RAGING WHISKERS
Visitors to Chhatbir zoo will observe that leopards are usually calm in their display enclosures and do not lunge at the humans gawking at them. However, the same leopard changes into an aggressive cat when confined in the secluded chambers for feeding and the night retreat. Take the leopard, affectionately named ‘Lemoo’ by his handler, Lajja Ram. Lemoo was brought to the zoo following rescue from Pathankot in 2013. Visitors cannot imagine the change that overcomes Lemoo when he sees a human outside the bars of his small, inner chamber that is restricted to entry. He will forget his feed and charge repeatedly at the bars of the chamber to get at the human, his long moustaches twitching, ears pressed down hard, snarling like a confined dragon and saliva spraying through the bars in fuming jets. I asked evolutionary biologist Dr Vidya Athreya to explain why leopards turn so violent when in close confines and eyeball-to-eyeball contact with humans.
“The leopard probably has bad memories of cages when it was earlier tranquilised, netted or trapped and then shifted in a cage for transport to the zoo. The animal has no way of knowing that the tranquilisation etc was not intended to harm him. So, when confined in a small enclosure later, it suspects that the humans are out to harm it and reacts violently. When out in the bigger public display enclosures, the humans are not so close, the space is not so confined, and the bigger arena does not evoke bad memories of being trapped, tranquilised and waking up to find so many curious humans peering into the cage,” said Dr Athreya.
THE BLOOD ARTS
As an artist specialising in painting wildlife in the ‘miniature realism’ tradition, the Jaipur-based Pappu Chand took his exhibition to Amritsar. The viewers there either showed sparse inclination to appreciate his paintings or displayed crass ignorance by mistaking them to be photographs! This was because his work was so finely executed in the signature style of Jaipur realism. Chand then brought his works to Chandigarh, where they are currently on display at the Punjab Kala Bhawan as part of the exhibition of Rajasthan and Bhopal artists titled, ‘Creative Creators’. Chand is grateful, and emboldened by the response of the City Beautiful’s art lovers, who have had the patience to unravel his paintings’ subtle textures, colours and forms.
So “deep and intricate” are the works of Chand and the exhibition’s other miniature artists that the magnifying lens offered to viewers does not result in a distortion of the paintings’ micro-execution. The integrity of the art holds steadfast, like the finest of spider webs. The dexterity of native painters such as Chand was once harnessed by British zoologists/ornithologists like Thomas Hardwicke and TC Jerdon to illustrate in water colours their seminal, 19th century tomes on the sub-continent’s faunal riches.
Chand’s painting on Ranthambore’s tigers, reveling in the ruins of the erstwhile nobility’s hunting lodges, is a collage of immense romanticism and beckoning charm. It took him three months to conceptualise and execute this one, which he will sell for Rs 50,000 back home in Jaipur to dealers and showrooms frequented by foreign tourists. “I either take pictures of wildlife or study books, and then cast these into paintings with an aesthetic ambience. I have been practising wildlife art for 20 years. Wildlife was a childhood passion for me as I roamed the jungles admiring creatures, plants and scenery,” Chand told this writer. But there is one colour that has not dried, and yet has remained virtually invisible through the history of miniature painting. It is the colour of blood. The blood of squirrels and mongooses, whose tail hair make for the finest brushes. Some artists even deploy a one-hair brush for ultra-fine miniatures. Such is the price that finesse extracts.