Wildbuzz: Langur snatchers of Kasauli - Hindustan Times
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Wildbuzz: Langur snatchers of Kasauli

ByVikram Jit Singh
Dec 10, 2023 04:23 PM IST

The menace of monkeys in urban areas, which inflicts collateral damage on the citizenry at large, does not seem to have driven sense into people who indulge in the practice of feeding the primates human foods and turning them into a glorified variant of street dogs

The menace of monkeys in urban areas, which inflicts collateral damage on the citizenry at large, does not seem to have driven sense into people who indulge in the practice of feeding the primates human foods and turning them into a glorified variant of street dogs. The Grey langur (also known as the Hanuman langur), which was made captive and deployed to scare away monkeys from urban areas until the method was banned, has also been seduced by the lure of easy foods offered by people who worship it as a deity. The result, as can be seen in Kasauli on the Mall Road near the statue of hockey legend Maj. Dhyan Chand, is that a group of 8-10 langurs have taken to waiting like beggars for food.

Kasauli langurs relish a snatched chocobar and chips. (PHOTOS: DR RAJIV NARWAL)
Kasauli langurs relish a snatched chocobar and chips. (PHOTOS: DR RAJIV NARWAL)

Just as monkeys fled the jungles and turned into mendicants in cities, langurs similarly provisioned with human foods abandon natural habitats as human foods are available throughout the year. Just like stray dogs habituated to being fed by people and sometimes turning viciously on those who do not feed them, the Kasauli langurs have taken to snatching foodstuffs such as ice cream bars and chip packets from people / tourists passing by. Langurs possess an intimidating set of teeth that even the boldest of monkeys fear and resultantly turn tail. Turned onto humans, if there is a clash over food demands or expectations, langur teeth can cause serious injuries.

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Feeding langurs with processed, high-calorie, low-fibre foods marketed for human consumption is not the best idea to further the wellbeing of these magnificent wild animals. This is so because the stomach physiology (actually a specialised gut physiology) of langurs had evolved to ingest a diet of unprocessed foliage in the jungles. The langurs’ tripartite stomach structure is geared for a leafy diet. “Therefore, human-provisioned processed foods could have an inevitable health impact, followed by potential behavioural alteration in these urban-adapted free-ranging langurs,” states a research paper titled, Altered Food Habits? Understanding the Feeding Preference of Free-Ranging Gray langurs Within an Urban Settlement, and authored by Dishari Dasgupta, Arnab Banerjee, Rikita Karar, Debolina Banerjee, Shohini Mitra, Purnendu Sardar, Srijita Karmakar, Aparajita Bhattacharya, Swastika Ghosh, Pritha Bhattacharjee and Manabi Paul.

A Little grebe or Dabchick with a catch. (PHOTO: ANUJ JAIN)
A Little grebe or Dabchick with a catch. (PHOTO: ANUJ JAIN)

Gods forgot the grebes

The Sukhna lake, having turned inhospitable to charismatic species of migratory birds such as Bar-headed geese, Pintails and Ruddy shelducks, lends us an opportunity to delve into the life of a common but overlooked resident avian, the Little Grebe. It is otherwise quite a famous little bird! Those of us, who know the tourist resorts of Haryana, will recall that 31 hubs are uniquely titled after birds and the Palwal one ‘Dabchick’, the grebe’s alternative common English name.

The grebe appears rather drab and diminutive, especially in the non-breeding season having shed rufous flushes to the throats and cheeks when things needed to get a bit alluring and sexy between the couple. The grebe is also a shy creature, keeping to the ‘purdah’ of shore weeds. When out in open water, the second a grebe senses predatory danger or human eyes ogling at it, it dives with scarce a giveway ripple and surfaces a distance away, and after quite some time! Its legs are set far back in the body making the grebe an excellent swimmer / diver but one `quite fishy’ outside water as it can only wobble and waddle on terra firma.

However, when not disturbed or harried, grebes are feisty and vocal. They do not hesitate to advertise their unseen existence by emitting a musical, whinnying trill that sounds quite at odds with the dour weeds. At other times, they emit “sharp squeaks like an unoiled bicycle wheel”!

Grebes make for a well-adjusted couple, parting after breeding season to faithfully unite next year when ‘love is once again in the air’. They look alike so there is no question of the ‘beautiful hubby’ stealing the thunder. Grebes are quite monogamous, pairing for more than one breeding season. After indulging in some intriguing courtship rituals and displays, they make love with the female sitting invitingly on the nest. Grebes have hardly a tail so the male has little dress to lift while setting up the conjugal union. When the female lays a second or third set of eggs, the devoted male looks entirely after earlier broods.

The nest is a floating mat of weeds / rushes anchored to reeds or substrate. The hatchlings are able to swim upon emergence from eggs but dives can be a bit splashy and gasping. “They hold on with the bill to the parent’s flank feathers at the rear and are thus towed along. On scenting danger the parent gives the tittering alarm note, and at the same time partly raising its wings and dipping its posterior. The chicks clamber up the incline and ensconse themselves between the scapulars and are carried away to safety,” wrote legendary birdman Salim Ali.

vjswild2@gmail.com

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