BLISS AT SISWAN
A three-member team from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), Dehradun, along with Punjab chief wildlife warden Dhirendra K Singh carried out a field appraisal of the Siswan dam and its rich jungles this week and found it fit for declaration as a community/conservation reserve. The WII team, led by the head of department of eco-development planning & participatory management, Dr Anil K Bhardwaj, included Ajay Shrivastava and Bivash Pandav. As compared to declaring a wilderness area a sanctuary or a national park, reserves do not exclude local people from using resources in a regulated manner and are less restrictive on activities such as recreational angling.
“The Siswan dam is a fine wilderness area and has two water bodies. In our forthcoming report to the Punjab government, we will suggest the following measures: (i) that number of tourists allowed entry must keep in mind the reserve’s carrying capacity (ii) locals be involved in the reserve’s economics by way of tourism --- guides, boating, homestays etc -- so that they develop an interest in its preservation (iii) feral dogs be dealt with through relocation as we were witness to their predation of sambars (iv) setting up camera traps to ascertain Siswan’s faunal diversity and (v) a ban on commercial fishing,’’ Dr Bhardwaj told this writer.
One of the finest nature trails in the tricity region has been developed over a 5.5km hilly route from Siswan dam to Mirzapur rest house. Siswan sports birds, butterflies, and animals, including leopards and migrants such as Pied avocets. Rare birds of prey such as the Pallas’s fish eagle, Red-headed vulture and Cinerous vulture have been photographed at Siswan. Existing community reserves in Punjab are at Lalwan and Keshopur Chhamb.
SILENT GUNS & ROSES
Way back in the summer of 1999, the slopes of Drass were pounded by Pakistani shells, the meadows pockmarked and smeared by Bofors deployment and exchanges of artillery fire. Now peace reigns, and you can hear the buzz of bees on blooms due to a ceasefire that has held good from Zojila to Siachen and the Saltoro ridge. Prashant K Awale, an instrumentation engineer with the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai, has a passion for wild flowers. Nearly 800 photographs clicked by Awale enrich the database of Indian wild flowers.
He offered a unique floral tribute to the memory of India’s soldiers who laid down their lives in the Kargil War defending those slopes and meadows. ‘’You can’t help but turn emotional when visiting the Drass War Memorial. What a contribution our soldiers have rendered. On a recent family trip, I clicked wild blooms from Zojila to the Nubra valley and remote regions of Ladakh and these are my floral tributes to our soldiers,’’ Awale told this writer.
Awale remarks that on the rock-strewn, brownish soil of the Drass slopes, the pink blooms of wild roses (Rosa webbiana) cast a magical spell of contrast. These are the same roses, which lend the Siachen glacier its name: ‘Sia’ means roses in Balti language and ‘chun’ signifies ‘place of’. The velvety Irises (Iris hookeriana) in the Drass meadows provide another glimpse of life’s effervescence. ‘’Life survives under very difficult conditions in Drass as it one of the coldest places on earth. To see these wild blooms is to get a feel of how life struggles and finally raises its dainty head, just for a few months, from an inferno of ice,’’ adds Awale.
PELLETS IN PARADISE
Violent clashes in Kashmir have left in their wake much confusion over weaponry. Even old shikaris may not truly understand which is the weapon at the centre of a raging debate, referred to as the ‘’non-lethal pellet gun’’. In the 2010 agitation, there were six deaths from these pellet guns, and currently the focus is on permanent eye damage to many protesters and bystanders some of whom singly have been hit by a 100 pellets. The pellet guns are actually variants of .12 bore single-barrel pump-action shotguns. This shotgun is in vogue for duck shooting in the US, and was used by a section of Indian sportsmen in the old days. Pump-action shotguns were used by shikaris in Kashmir for shooting waterfowl on its famed wetlands like Hokersar, and currently, after the hunting ban, by chronic poachers. This weapon facilitates quick loading and spread of pellets, provided cartridges do not jam in the tubular magazine under the barrel.
The central armed police forces and Kashmir police deploy shotguns manufactured by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) for what is described as ‘’anti-insurgent applications’’. Gun geeks reckon OFB shotguns are modeled on the Mossberg 500 shotgun manufactured in the US. A breach-loading weapon, the OFB shotgun holds four cartridges in the magazine, is chambered at 70 mm and deploys a barrel length of 18 inches.
Cartridges used by security forces in Kashmir are normally numbers 6 to 8, which is actually bird shot and were once used in the plains of Punjab and Haryana to down fast-flying partridges. For example, the OFB’s number 6 KF cartridge of 2.5 inch length will carry 292 lead pellets, which tend to spread fast in an assured pattern that nails flying quarry. The lower the cartridge number, the lesser and larger will be the pellets and higher the striking power. So, while a rifle slug used in a shotgun to down quarry like tiger/bear/leopard/boar will load a single projectile, buckshot cartridges come with 5-7 fat pellets.
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