Till the fateful year of 2010, Sukhna lake’s regulator-end was a complex of reeds, grasses, silt banks, ponds and swamps. Its hospitality attracted a diversity of resident/migratory birds and other manifestations of nature’s bounty. One of these was the ‘’vulnerable’’ species, the Bristled grassbird. The bird was first spotted at the regulator-end on July 17, 2009, by Narbir Kahlon. However, after the de-siltation exercise of 2010, to render Sukhna ‘’beautiful’’ for walkers and tourists, this bird lost its habitat as grasslands were crushed like illegal shanties to make way for unfettered expanses of ‘’sterile waters’’. Nothing is known of the few grassbirds observed at Sukhna till 2010.
The grassbird is a species found only in the sub-continent and that, too, in shrinking patches. According to BirdLife International, ‘’This grassland specialist has a small, rapidly-declining population owing to loss and degradation of its grassland habitat, primarily through drainage and conversion to agriculture.’’
The good news is that birders, Chetna Sharma and Geeta Goswami, discovered a few grassbirds at Jawaharpur near Dera Bassi on August 21, inciting a flight of photographers to the spot to click a ‘’lifer’’. The Dera Bassi area was once dominated by grasslands and ravines. Old shikaris will recollect that a shoot of flying partridges would secure 50 for the bag if the pellet guns (shotguns) swung well in high winds and undulating terrain. However, colonisation has set in and the grassbird may soon be evicted from here, too.
Says birder, Rajive Das: ‘’It seems that land mafia is reclaiming grasslands in Dera Bassi as we have seen bulldozers/tractors mowing through reeds since last year. I also found the Bristled grassbird breeding at Nawanagar near Baddi a few weeks back.’’
OLD WHINE IN A BOTTLED TIGER
Like some couples, this one shares a unique chemistry. Or better put, a relationship that survives on the riddle of tolerance-intolerance. Meet tigress, Chirag (8), and her white tiger suitor, Laksh (3), who have been trying to make their arranged marriage work at Chhatbir zoo. But the couple is faced with a marriage malady. If you look at Chirag’s belly, it droops like that of a fat milch cow. She is a food junkie and suffers from obesity. Chirag has not gone into ‘’heat’’ for the last three months. Otherwise, she is a fearsome tigress and mere mortals will quake in their shoes when she snarls hard and lunges forward from behind the bars that imprison the fury of bared canines. But she plays even harder to get when it comes to her lovey dovey hubby, Laksh.
Whenever he tries to mount her and administers tender love bites, she lashes out and inflicts wounds on him. Laksh can vouch for the fact that she is not the proverbial ‘tigress in bed’! Block officer Harpal Singh says the lack of mating is an irritant for conjugal bliss.
The couple reside in chambers away from public view and rival tigers. ‘’It is time to release them in a public view enclosure but every time I feel they are ready, Chirag does something unpredictable. We tried to match four other males with Chirag but they rejected her and Laksh is the first one to accept her. He is patient and does not retaliate when she inflicts wounds, ensuring that the relationship does not turn hazardous,’’ explained zoo keeper, Sonu Singh.
Sonu keeps a hawk’s eye on the couple as he must separate them quickly if they turn dangerously violent. His subtle observations are relied upon by Zoo field director, Manish Kumar and Harpal, when pairing tigers. This is a time-consuming process fraught with risk as a mismatch can lead to an infighting death. The pairing is initiated by placing the prospective couple in chambers separated by one chamber, then adjoining chambers, and finally a shared one.
‘’They make a purring sound and unusual movements of whiskers/face when they like each other’s smell and sight. The female will urinate into the male’s face and he will gulp it and even lick urine off the floor. They will rub bodies through the bars. However, if they are incompatible, the stronger tiger will try and break down the bars to kill the other, scratch the floor violently with claws and the hair on the nape of the neck will bristle with territorial tension and rage,’’ says Sonu.
The zoo management is keen to get this marriage working and add to the successful matching of Diya and Aman in January. Harpal and Sonu are working on new tactics, diet (lesser red meat for Chirag) and surroundings hoping it will trigger sexual receptivity. But the relationship of the sexes is an enigmatic one and often not amenable to the ministrations and counsel of the priests of love. Tigers are no exception.