Wild Buzz: Of paradise, paintings, and animals rarer than the tiger

The Manipur brow-antlered deer and the Great Indian bustard number less than 250 individuals each in the Indian wilderness. Tigers are now officially reckoned to be above the 2,000 mark. Yet, the tiger attracts the lion’s share in terms of government and NGO funds, and about 2,000 times more attention.

punjab Updated: May 07, 2016 23:54 IST
Vikram Jit Singh
Vikram Jit Singh
Hindustan Times
tiger conservation,John Cody,Indian Moon moth
Indian Moon moth, which lives only for a week or so. Its sole function is reproduction.(Photo: Vineet Tuli)


If one is lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a moon moth fluttering into the night, it would be akin to being visited by an apparition or a mermaid surfing the air waves. These creatures are the moth kingdom’s riposte to the avian world’s paradise flycatcher and have been described thus by painter, John Cody: ‘’With their tailed hindwings and delicate green, yellow and rose colouration, moon moths are highly popular with lepidopterists and arguably among the most beautiful insects in the world.”

Vineet Tuli, a nature enthusiast and project manager with a national telecom company at Chandigarh, stumbled upon the Indian Moon moth (Actias selene — family Saturniidae) while attending a recent marriage ceremony at the Sherpa Eco Resort, village Dyarag, Solan, HP. The moth (wingspan: 5-6 inches) was observed resting for 4-5 hours on a door by Tuli. Mind you, the moon moth lives only for a week or so and its sole function is reproduction.

I sought the guidance of the Hong Kong-based Dr Roger Kendrick, who is considered an authority on Asian moths. ‘’The individual in the photo appears to be a male: the body (abdominal part) is not ‘fat’ with eggs, and the antennae (the green leaf-like structures) appear plumose. Adult Saturniidae (all members of the ‘Emperor Moth’ family) have no functional haustellum (tongue or proboscis), so they can’t feed in the adult stage of the life cycle. Consequently, the adult phase is brief, limited by the amount of fat reserves accumulated by the larva. So maybe a week for the adult, though often less. Please note that for moth species in other families, life expectancy for the adult phase of the life cycle may well be longer (adults of some species of Erebidae moths will over-winter in the adult phase, so could live for five to six months as an adult),’’ Dr Kendrick told this writer.

Dr Kendrick warns that such ethereal creatures of the jungle’s nocturnal life are under threat. He wants ‘’governments to ensure that habitats which support the Actias species continue to do so for the future’’. Deforestation, forest fires, aerial sprays of pesticides etc threaten moon moths, which are found in several parts of the world.

Jaskaran S Batth with his tiger painting at the Chandigarh Golf Club. (Photo: Vikram Jit Singh)


On the walls of the committee room at the Chandigarh Golf Club hangs a water colour painting of a tiger. It makes for a fine counterpart to the bison head that looms menacingly over the family bar at the same club. The bison head was one of the three gifted to Maj Gen Kuldeep Singh Bajwa (retd) by shikaris of the Hyderabad Nizam’s family, and he in turn donated one to the club decades back. The painting is lesser known to golfers — most of whom trace their valour and lineage to tigers and lions — as the committee room is not very accessible.

The painting is by agriculturist and landlord, Jaskaran S Batth, and he donated it to the club last year. He took to painting and sculpture while studying at Yadavindra Public School, Patiala, and apart from the influence of a sculptor ‘’Phupha ji’’, he is a self-taught artist. Batth’s family were originally settlers on tracts in the Lakhimpuri Kheri and Pallia divisions of the Terai after Partition. Though Batth grew up on a generous dose of shikar in the Terai during school vacations, he displayed this parallel sensitivity for art. Tigers would often cross farms or even breed in the humongous sugarcane plantations of the Terai Sardars.

As Batth’s artistic skills grew, his paintings of zebras and the tiger fetched him handsome amounts and he has held exhibitions at the Government Museum & Art Gallery, Sector 10. Besides painting, he farms and cultivates guavas near Muzzafarnagar, Bijnor (UP), where he faces plundering raids of porcupines, neelgai and boars. He is often seen at the club’s 19th hole for ‘peg-sheg and gup-shup’.

A Manipur brow-antlered deer at the zoo. (Photo: Chhatbir zoo)


The Manipur brow-antlered deer and the Great Indian bustard number less than 250 individuals each in the Indian wilderness. Tigers are now officially reckoned to be above the 2,000 mark. Yet, the tiger attracts the lion’s share in terms of government and NGO funds, and about 2,000 times more attention from conservationists, tourists, animal lovers, media, wildlife paparazzi etc etc. But those who want to have a glimpse of this rare Manipur deer and can’t dream of reaching its last remaining natural habitat of Lake Loktak in Manipur can just visit Chhatbir zoo. On May 5, the zoo welcomed two females and one male as part of an exchange deal with the Delhi zoo.

‘’We have made a special enclosure for this deer with a muddy surface as its hooves are geared for a soft and marshy habitat, and it doesn’t prefer hard ground. Green leafy vegetables and leaves are to be given in higher quantities to the Manipur deer as compared to the zoo’s other deer species,’’ said field director Manish Kumar.

The diet chart of this deer in captivity is listed as: soaked black gram (300g daily), seasonal green fodder (5kg daily), seasonal green veggies/leaves (500g daily), supplements/mineral mixture, and jaggery (100g weekly).

This endangered species has been bestowed the vernacular name of ‘Sangai’ in Manipur. The deer’s delicate hops over floating foliage in its natural habitat lend it the grace of a ‘dancing deer’.

Writer’s email: vjswild1@gmail.com

Also read: Bull of the Baoris, and how water looks to kids!

First Published: May 07, 2016 23:53 IST