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Wildbuzz | Gharial, on history’s verge

punjab Updated: Nov 19, 2017 19:50 IST
Vikarm Jit Singh
Vikarm Jit Singh
Hindustan Times
Wildbuzz,Gharial,Vikarm Jit Singh

Dr BC Choudhury (extreme right) with teams of WWF-India and Wildlife department on the Beas bank at Gagdewal, on November 17.(Photo: BALJEET SINGH)

The Gharial is a crocodilian species, which has gone extinct from two of the three main river systems of India. While the species has been successfully re-introduced on the Ganges system, Gharials are still missing from the Indus and Brahmaputra river systems. However, the good news is that this critically-endangered species is nosing towards its first re-look on the Indus system with the Punjab Forest & Wildlife Preservation department determining the first site for its release on the Beas river at Gagdewal rakhh, 70 km upstream of Harike barrage.

The suitability of the site was determined by WWF-India scientists, led by the redoubtable Dr BC Choudhury and included Dr Suresh Babu and Dr Asghar Nawab. The team conducted a feasibility survey from November 16-18, 2017, in furtherance of the project first initiated by Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh in April 2005.

“The habitat of the Indus dolphin, which is only found on the Beas in India, is similar to that required for the Gharial. I am very keen to re-introduce the Gharial on the Beas because it will constitute a historic landmark for conservation. Since many decades, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has sought the Gharial’s re-introduction on the three river systems. The Pakistan government is also working to re-introduce the Gharial at the Indus’s Sukkur barrage. However, India has taken a lead and Harike will mark the Gharial’s first re-introduction on the Indus system. I have cleared the proposal to re-introduce the Gharials at Gagdewal in December,’’ Dr. Choudhury told this writer.

Dr Choudhury’s tour of Harike-Beas was facilitated by his old student and DFO (Wildlife), Neeraj Gupta, and his involvement links up with a seminal episode of wildlife protection history. It was in April 1975 that the then PM Indira Gandhi initiated Project Crocodile, with the Gharial the most vulnerable of the three crocodilian species found in India, the other being the estuarine crocodile and the mugger. Gandhi’s personal efforts resulted in the Australian crocodile expert, Robert Bustard, coming to India and spending eight years helming Project Crocodile. November 19 marks the birth centenary of Gandhi, an Indian PM peerless in her love and successful initiatives to safeguard nature for the generations to come.

One of Bustard’s four Indian students was Dr Choudhury, who went on to become an eminent conservationist himself. He headed the department of Endangered Species Management at the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, and has also been the regional chairman, West Asia, of the IUCN’s Crocodile Specialist Group.

“The Gagdewal rakhh is flanked by the government forest lands on both the sides of the Beas, which will afford enhanced protection to Gharials. We will station a permanent team at Gagdewal. The first batch for release will come from Morena (Madhya Pradesh) where a team from Chhatbir Zoo had earlier selected 25 Gharials. The zoo team will leave next week to bring 25 Gharials to the zoo and then onto Gagdewal. Dr Choudhury also gave the green signal for turtle hatching and Sarus crane re-introduction programmes for Harike,” Punjab PCCF (Wildlife), Dr Kuldip Kumar, told this writer.

Sparrows cluster on a wire at the Ridge, Shimla. (PHOTO: SANTOSH THAKUR)

DARLINGS OF SHIMLA MALL

If you truly love House sparrows and miss their presence in your homes, subject yourself to a litmus test. The next time you go to Shimla for a summer holiday, sacrifice an hour from your afternoon/evening stroll on the Mall. Kick yourself out of bed early and hit a deserted Mall Road between 6-7.30am. Your efforts will be duly rewarded by flocks of petite avian darlings. Indeed, a search for sparrows in Shimla has ended on a note of positivity and brought cheer to the hearts of sparrow conservationists. Sat Pal Dhiman, a keen conservationist and joint secretary, forests, Himachal Pradesh government, conducted a survey along a 4 km transect starting at Talland and traversing through Himland, Kamla Nehru Hospital, the Mall and ending at Kalibari temple. He sighted 325-350 sparrows in 6-7 flocks.

“In the morning, sparrows can be seen in a flock of up to 60 birds near the Clarkes Hotel on the Mall. They feed at road sides on food scraps and leftovers. Flocks can also be observed along the Mall at the ‘Lift’, the Police Control Room and Kalibari temple. During the day, sparrows take shelter in bushes, hedges, shrubs, trees, etc, which provide them protection from natural predators. They still find nesting places in the buildings of the area,” Dhiman told this writer.

Dhiman’s suggestions to bring the sparrow back into our lives centre around affording them nooks and crannies in our homes and not shutting them out with concrete bars. In the alternative, provide predator-proof nest boxes and feed of millets and bajra. Planting native vegetation instead of exotic flowers helps sparrows. Avoid insecticides and sprays in gardens as these finish insects, which are the essential protein source for sparrow chicks.

(The author can be contacted at vjswild1@gmail.com)

First Published: Nov 18, 2017 23:27 IST