THE POWER OF MYTH
Conservationists have recruited popular mythologies to save the three Gyps vulture species verging on extinction. Scientists of the Bombay Natural History Society running the Jatayu Conservation Breeding Centre (JCBC), Pinjore, have woven the myth of the Jatayu vulture into their public awareness campaigns through distribution of posters and talks at the grass-roots level. A painting in florid style depicting the Jatayu myth was commissioned by the Haryana Forest department and occupies pride of place at the JCBC’s very modern and tech-savvy interpretation centre. In the Ramayana, Jatayu is depicted as swooping down on Ravana to stop him from abducting Sita. But Ravana chopped off Jatayu’s wing. The wounded Jatayu lived long enough to inform Ram of the abduction before dying in his lap.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi made an eloquent reference in his Dussehra speech when he stated that Jatayu was the first sainik to combat terror to protect a woman’s honour. In Gujarat, vultures face Ravana-like assaults as glass-coated kite strings slice off their wings. A white-backed vulture with one wing sliced off was sent to the JCBC for treatment. That vulture recovered though it cannot fly, and is performing a constructive role by acting as a decoy bird for wild vultures in the JCBC’s pre-release enclosure.
‘’A creative re-interpretation of our mythologies, which are embedded with messages of wildlife conservation and sanctify the act of saving creatures, has worked well with the masses. In Gujarat, we got a respected seer and Ramayana kathakar, Morari Bapu, to address kite flyers. Bapu had also helped in whale shark conservation. His message was that we can pay homage to sacred Jatayu by saving vultures and not killing them like Ravana,’’ BNHS Principal Scientist, Dr. Vibhu Prakash, told this writer.
SPOT THE ANIMALS
How intolerant modern India is of big cats was evidenced in horrific fashion on November 24 when a mob of 1,400 villagers lynched a leopard in Mandawar village near Gurgaon and a similar hacking of a tigress took place in Assam’s Jorhat district. While mob behaviour defies sane analysis and leaves one wondering who are the real animals, the Haryana Forest department also needs to get its act together. The key to rescuing leopards from irate mobs is a speedily-despatched tranquilising gun. But Haryana has one gun for six districts. Two successful rescues of leopards from Panchkula homes in past years were possible because a well-trained tranquilising team from Punjab’s Chhatbir zoo was requisitioned in good time by Haryana.
There could be no better contrast to ‘mob machismo’ than the traditional leopard tolerance of Warli and Mahadeo koli tribals, whose houses/temples carry big cat paintings and motifs. Instead of the snarling, biting leopards of mainstream media, we see leopards lounging on trees bearing an utterly peaceful disposition with tribals going about their daily chores. Leopards are ‘ghosts’, as they live in proximity to humans and yet are not discovered. Wildlife conservationist, Nayan Khanolkar, brought this co-existence to public light in elegant fashion after he set up nocturnal camera traps in a Warli colony outside Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Mumbai.
Photographs showed leopards wandering in colony lanes and verandahs. The Warlis were least perturbed because they were ‘’our leopards’’. Khanolkar won the 2016 NHM BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Award for his startling photograph, ‘The Alley Cat’.
MY SECRET GARDEN
Most of us dream of owning an alpine cottage sheltered by the boughs of high firs and far from the madding crowds. For migratory birds landing at the Sukhna Lake, disturbance from competition rowers is a daily feature in the afternoon. Yet, some of these birds have found a hidden haven: a small wetland tucked deeply into reeds and scrub on the lake’s northern banks. Here, birds share space with sambars that graze, bask, drink water and let Rufous treepie pick their ticks. A quiet human observor can glimpse wild boars grunting and rooting in the marshes and engaging in boorish squabbles for territory with domineering sambar herds. Snakes like the Russell’s viper, Checkered keelback and Rock python slip by in utter peace, taking care to avoid sambar and boar trails.
The bird that most prefers this shallow wetland is the migratory Common teal, whose drake is a subtle, exquisite blend of deep and dull colours. The teal just love the muddy waters as they feed by dabbling or up-ending. They also graze on the shores and are vegetarian. At night, the teal can fly to cultivation for feeding. The teal at the Sukhna’s hidden haven are confiding and are not unduly perturbed at a human’s presence, provided their space and sensibilities are accorded the respect due.