NABBING THE NIGHT’S PHANTOMS
The common krait is not only India’s most venomous land species but presents many a challenge as it is a nocturnal creature and prone to biting people in sleep. Snake rescue expert Nikhil Sanger is summoned at odd hours to remove kraits from houses. Like ghosts, kraits hide in cracks in the room floor, gaps between gate pillars and compound wall, water pump basins etc, and can stow away for more than a week when threatened. A hiding krait will not come out as long as there is illumination in the room. Even when it does start to emerge and a flashlight is shone on it, the krait will withdraw so quickly that it cannot be caught.
The Nawanshahr-based Sanger put his night-vision device (NVD) to innovative use. The NVD, manufactured by JAKKS PACIFIC and imported from Dubai for Rs 40,000, was initially used for leopard rescues from built-up areas. But Sanger, who has rescued thousands of snakes and was hospitalised in a critical condition after being bitten by a spectacled cobra on September 26, 2014, has re-deployed the NVD to rescue kraits. Sanger’s tactics are to sit very still in darkness and away from the hiding krait. This encourages the unsuspecting krait to move out and Sanger tracks it with the NVD, which has a visibility of 30 feet. After the krait emerges and slithers well away from its hide, Sanger pounces like a leopard in the dark. Ten kraits in different houses have been bagged by Sanger using the NVD.
VULTURES BUOY BUSTARDS
Buoyed by the success of captive breeding of three critically-endangered vulture species at the the Jatayu Centre in Pinjore, a parallel project to build an “insurance gene pool” of the Great Indian bustard against extinction has been initiated. “Not more than 200 bustards remain, and apart from Rajasthan, the population decline is so steep that they are doomed in other states. We plan to start building this year the first breeding centre by selecting one of the eight sites earmarked for us by the Rajasthan government. Rs 80 crore has been budgeted from the CAMPA over the next five years for captive breeding and conservation measures in the wilderness (power transmission wires to be equipped with bird reflectors, predator-proof fences etc). The bustard project is far more difficult than the vultures’ project,” said Dr YV Jhala of the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, who is spearheading the bustard project.
International expertise will be the key. “We are examining the possibility of sending bustard eggs for incubation to the breeding centres run by the International Fund for Houbara Conservation (IFHC) in the UAE. Two experts on bustards, Keith Scotland from the IFHC’s Kazakhstan centre and Spain’s Juan Carlos Alonso, will be involved. Apart from egg removal, we are examining the scope of capturing juvenile bustards for breeding,” added Dr Jhala.
The perils ahead: Vulture breeding pioneer Dr Vibhu Prakash recommends the bustard project should match the scale of the eight vulture breeding centres across India to be successful. A study by the University of East Anglia, Norwich (UK), and Birdlife International warned that bustard captive breeding may divert energy and resources of government away from habitat conservation and taking hard political decisions to stop human encroachment. The study quoted results of parallel models to claim that safeguarding bustard habitats would result in more bustards in the next 30 years than removing wild birds for captive breeding.
THE CHARMING YOGI
Yogi, the charming mascot for the Yoga Festival, is adapted from Chandigarh’s state animal, the Indian grey mongoose. This species has, in turn, adapted well to urban areas. We have a mongoose family in our Sector 19 house, whose pups are bred in burrows dug in our flowerbeds though this does test my wife and gardener’s patience for wildlife conservation. The mongooses find no snakes here but relish squirrels/garden birds and are adept dustbin miners. One of the favoured ambush points is to hide under the car and make a dash for squirrels and birds feeding in the driveway and lawn. One of the mongooses even gave our pet budgerigar, whom we christened Chawli, a huge fright when it laid a siege to her cage.
Chawli, who has inherited the genes of generations of line-bred cage birds, knows little of the perils of Chandigarh’s ‘’wilderness’’. Even if a butterfly floats into her cage, she scatters around as if fearing a Muhammad Ali sting! So, you can well imagine her consternation at this real yogi peering into her cage with a lip-smacking look. On the other hand, Chawli herself is no paragon of virtue. She is a lustful little praying mantis. We have had three male budgerigars for her, and she has enjoyed a frenetic love life with them exciting all three beyond restraint due to her own extra-charged passions. But she has soon tired, and killed all three, one by one, by delivering hard pecks on the vulnerable region above the beak leading to copious blood loss and a place in the overflowing memorial to martyred hubbies!
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