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Wild buzz: Patiala pegs and partridge legs

Trapping of partridges by tribal poachers/farm labourers and a section of the police coupled with an excessive use of pesticides by farmers has led to a holocaust of the partridge in Punjab and Haryana (the latter’s State Bird is the Black partridge).

punjab Updated: Jan 28, 2018 12:59 IST
Wild buzz,Patiala pegs,partridge legs
Grey partridges perched on the wall of a vacant plot in the heart of Patiala city. (PHOTO: TARIKA SANDHU)

Punjab chief minister (CM) Amarinder Singh’s family nurtures a long association with those avian icons of the countryside and favoured game meats of yore: Grey and Black partridges. To the extent, that the CM’s personal smartphones are loaded with ringtones murmuring the dewy dawn calls of black and Grey partridges.

“Our late father, Maharaja Yadavindra Singh, never shot deer. The look in the deer’s eyes and its piteous human-like cries on being downed with gunshot wounds dissuaded us. My father would prefer shooting partridges/migratory waterfowl and hunts were organised for distinguished guests by Patiala State,’’ Malvinder Singh, the CM’s brother, told this writer.

He adds that trapping of partridges by tribal poachers/farm labourers and a section of the police coupled with an excessive use of pesticides by farmers has led to a holocaust of the partridge in Punjab and Haryana (the latter’s State Bird is the Black partridge).

Once a keen shikari, the CM’s pursuit of game even took him to England and Scotland for driven pheasant shoots.

The odd thing was he would not relish game meats due to their peculiar, lingering odour though he made an exception for fish!

However, the shikari-turned-conservationist CM alarmed by the deepening silence of Punjab’s feathered folk musicians directed the Punjab forest and wildlife preservation department at the meeting of the State Board for Wildlife on July 14, 2017, to boost captive breeding of partridges and Kaleej pheasants so that they could be re-stocked in the wilderness.

“While the Kaleej is breeding in reasonably good numbers at Chhatbir Zoo, I have held half-a-dozen meetings with the zoo management to boost partridge breeding. I have cleared acquisition of founder pairs of partridges from the wilderness for captive breeding and the zoo has been enabled to acquire an incubator for boosting reproduction cycles. The initiative now lies with the management to take up the CM’s project in right earnest and I will provide full support,” Dr Kuldip Kumar, principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), told this writer.

Punjab has reintroduced the Gharial on the Indus river system at the Beas river despite severe challenges/obstructions, declared four conservation/community wildlife reserves and adopted a policy to free rescued wild species such as leopards, turtles and pythons.

However, the fate of its ambitious conservation projects has been unfairly subject to a vicious, personally-slanted intra-department tussle that injects the virus of negatives into a positive, constructive approach.

Jackal kids zone

A mother jackal feeding pups outside burrow at Bharatpur. (PHOTO: Dr HN KUMARA / SACON)

Some of us who venture into jungles at twilight are regaled with an ‘auditory surrealism’: weird cackles and long-drawn eerie howls of Golden jackals. But the family lives of jackals was least accessible.

However, thanks to years of dedicated studies by SACON’s project investigators, Dr HN Kumara and Subramanian Bhupathy, and spearheaded by field researcher Aditi Mukherjee, humanity has secured brilliant camera-trap photographs and a wealth of behavioural insights.

The evidence came from jackal families delivered in adapted burrows of Indian Crested porcupines at Keoladeo National Park, Bharatpur.

Perched on a nearby machan for hours at a stretch with eyes glued to a pair of binoculars, Mukherjee’s pain-staking observations revealed that pups emerged from burrows and explored surroundings.

They would indulge in nose-nudging towards any inanimate object (wood, stone, bone, stick), touching and sniffing to establish orientation. Mommy jackal fed and nursed pups by regurgitating food when they were about three weeks old. Jackal parents groomed fur or other pup body parts by nibbling gently with incisors, interspersed with wiping and licking to eliminate fleas or other irritations.

At least one parent stayed close to the burrow opening and monitored surroundings when pups were inside. When pups were outside, the parent would stay close with ears forward in alert mode. A parent would curl around pups by lying in a circular posture, legs tucked in close, head tucked, and often with the tail covering the nose!

The cutest were the play sessions of kindergarten burrows. Pups would hold an object (bone, stick) in the mouth while standing or moving around; chasing and blowing leaves, leaping on each other and interacting with inanimate objects (trees, twigs). Much pawing among pups established sibling bonds and nascent rivalries.

Happy Republic Day

The Tricolour flies high on a Ruddy shelduck. (PHOTO: AMISH PATEL )

Nature photographers search for analogies of the Tricolour in wild grasses, butterflies, birds, a ribbony sunset sky and many-splendoured manifestations of India’s natural wealth. Award-winning photographer Amish Patel captured the flight of a migratory Ruddy shelduck with such a feel for colour and moment that the open, beating wings seemed to have acquired the Tricolour’s haute couture.

The shelduck, a visitor from faraway lands, participated in republican India’s flypast as an honoured guest and paid tribute to the Constitution with a wiggle of rainbow wings.

vjswild1@gmail.com

First Published: Jan 28, 2018 12:59 IST