Wildbuzz: Demonising the gharial

  • Vikram Jit Singh, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Mar 13, 2016 00:28 IST
One of the last records of a gharial shot in India before hunting was banned in 1972 is of a specimen 17 feet 1 inch and weighing 1,000 pounds . I t was shot on the Pilibhit -Kishanpur strecth of the Sharda river(UP). According to the American magazine,’Outdoor Life’, Marc Penchenart and his Parisian wife, Martine, were shooting tiger and sambar along the Sharda. They took a break at noon under some shade by the riverside when Penchenart spotted a gharial on the opposite bank. He grabbed his, 300 Holland rifle and shot the gharial through the head head at a range of 200m. (Dallas Safari Club )

Uncertainty again looms over the project to re-introduce the critically-endangered Gharial into Punjab’s Beas waters at village Karmowal, upstream and outside the limits of Harike wildlife sanctuary. The Punjab government had secured the approval of the government of India to procure 30 Gharials from the Eco-centre at Deori (Morena, Madhya Pradesh). Though Gharials were scheduled for release in February-March, the irrigation wing’s plans to clean the canals branching to Rajasthan from April 22 have introduced the first obstacle.

In a parallel development, a section of the local populace instigated by vested interests, has lobbied with top politicians to stymie the project citing exaggerated fears of Gharials gobbling their kids. This, despite the proven fact that fish-eating Gharials do not attack humans and the forest department having secured panchayats’ consent for the project through a public discourse exercise in 2015.

A powerful lobby out to sabotage the project is the fishing mafia, aided by corrupt local elements within the department. This lobby fears that Gharials will hit their catch, improved scrutiny by the department and wildlife NGOs over the Gharials will disrupt their illegal forays into sanctuary waters, and that migrant fishermen labour will refuse to enter the river citing ‘magarmachh’ threat.

Another complication is the controversial noting of the WWF-India ‘technical’ representative on the department’s Gharial committee, who advised against shifting Gharials to Punjab from Morena in March citing a 10 degree celsius differential and consequent injuries to Gharials during transportation as the reptiles would be active and thrash about in the warm weather. However, this objection has been over-ruled by Punjab chief wildlife warden Dhirendra K Singh on the advice of Gharial specialists, who foresee no such injury threat. A pre-release enclosure for the Morena Gharials is being built at the department’s office complex at Harike to keep the reptiles till release time. The Gharials can also be kept at Chhatbir zoo, where 11 hatchlings from the zoo’s own Gharials have already attained a desired release length of 1.2 m.


In February-March when the Silk cotton (semul) tree’s fiery blooms tower over the jungle and crown it with a queen’s tiara, a ‘madness’ seems to engulf award-winning painter Sabia Khan. This Delhi-based painter and teacher in a Darya Ganj Government school says the blooms’ beauty and the tree’s minimalist gigantism overwhelm her. She paints the semul and its nectar-seeking tenants with a smouldering intensity.

Her semul obsession or fecundity has spawned over 500 paintings and drawings, including canvases of 6 x 8 feet featuring specifically 108 birds or 108 squirrels. ‘’108 takes from the number of beads in a ‘mantra mala’ and adds to ‘9’ symbolising the cosmos,’’ says Sabia. In other semul canvases, birds, squirrels, butterflies, and others, perch among blooms and look at her straight in the eye, reflecting trust and openness. The eye to eye contact, according to Sabia, is the essence of love’s unspoken dialogue and its pre-condition.

Sabia’s painting of a kingfisher looking into her eyes amid semul blooms (Sabia Khan )

‘’We come from nature, and will ultimately return to it. Unlike humans, nature’s creatures do not betray our trust. They take feed from you, remain loyal, and go their ways,’’ Sabia told this writer.

An ‘Award of Honour’ was bestowed upon Sabia in 2015 by ‘WE: A Group of Contemporary Women Artists, Chandigarh.’ Her paintings are displayed at exhibitions held at Punjab Kala Bhawan, the most recent being from March 4-8. She earlier won the National Cultural Scholarship (1993-’95), 10th Yuva Mahotsava Award (Sahitya Kala Parishad, 1996) and the 44th National Academy Award (Lalit Kala Akademi, Delhi, 2001). Her solo/group shows in India and abroad, publications, collections, are too numerous to detail in `wildbuzz’s’ snappy space!


Thankfully, the Chandigarh municipal corporation (MC) is restoring humanity’s wrecked honeymoon with honey bees. Bee ‘’attacks’’ take place mostly in spring, which is the swarming season. For the last few years, MC or fire brigade employees have not deployed diesel-fueled flame throwers to burn down hives and kill bees but have merely smoked out ‘troublesome’ bees. This smoking method does not kill them. On Thursday, bees stung many people at the Manimajra police station, while on Monday bees disrupted a cultural event at the Sukhna lake promenade but the bees were not annihilated.

A 15-year-old bee hive torched by the municipal corporation employees in a Sector 4, Chandigarh , bungalow in 2009. (Vikram Jit Singh )

The MC’s chief sanitary inspector Om Prakash says the evolving policy is to convince people not to shoo away ‘’environment-friendly’’ bees. If the city is to revel in an abundance of petals, then these ‘’bee beasts’’ are natural attendants to blooming beauties. Some people are convinced by this argument to live with bees, and this number of tolerant humans is slowly increasing via positive information disseminated through media, reveals Prakash. If people are adamant, or the situation is sensitive like a hive in a school compound, then employees smoke out bees, which often return to the spot. However, rogue actions of burning hives by a section of employees in certain situations or by non-government agents cannot be ruled out.

E-mail of the writer: vjswild1@gmail.com

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