Archive for April, 2019

Mr Gay India

April 25, 2019

My friends Stephen and Gordon sent me this link to Franklin’s interview of Samarpan Maiti:

http://www.khabar.com/…/mr-gay-india-samarpan-maiti-breaks-…

My response to them:

Samarpan comes across as such an honest person. The social stigma across the spectrum continues, since the British infected us with their Victorian prudery and morals. Somehow, I feel, before the British came over, we were far more accepting of all kinds of orientations.

I have gay friends here who are still very much “in the closet” or who are open but oh so prickly (er, rather a terrible word to use!) about themselves; I have one friend who finally moved to Germany, married and who says he will not return to India to live, because of the difference in the attitudes of acceptance. I do not know even one woman who is openly gay. Apparently they do not exist….not in my middle-class world, anyway.

In India, we actually go a few steps further. Open expressions of heterosexuality are also frowned upon (except in urban pockets). The front of the bus is for only women and the back of the bus is for men. (I am not joking.) We like to pretend that sex, of any kind, does not exist…our storks are overworked … bringing all those billions of babies to our country!

Looking forward to animated discussions when you come here. Hugs to all of you, since you are all in the US right now! Steve, Gordon, following all your posts on FB, and I wish I could attend the events on Vashon! …and I follow Franklin’s posts on FB, too…I enjoy his sense of humour very much.

Franklin, thank you for a well-conducted and articulately-written interview.

Why I write about my walks..and Lalbagh, 140419

April 16, 2019

I just got this heart-warming compliment from someone named Malu, regarding the descriptions I write (of the bird/nature walks I go on):
“So heartening to read the write up of your sunday outings. Gives people like me a vicarious pleasure in seeing these birds and animals through your words… thank you very much.”

My reply:

To you, and the many people who have written to me ( and to those who, I realize, may not have written but have still read my bird walk reports…because I recently got a query from someone asking where my writeup was !). Thank you for your kind words.

I used to see terse bird reports (not everyone has the time to write!) which went like this: “I went to X place. I saw..” followed by a very interesting list of birds. This always left me thinking about what the person did before, between, and after those bird sightings, and during them. Was there disappointment at not seeing a bird, or a thrill at seeing an unexpected one? Did they pant in the heat, shiver in the cold, or drip in the monsoon rain? That’s when I started writing “with the details”…I hope you are enjoying what I write, as much as I enjoy writing it!

Here’s the last one:

Bangalore may have entered grishma ritu, but in the open spaces, such as Lalbagh, it’s still quite pleasant in the mornings; so some of us decided to go there ahead of the usual 7.30am meeting time at the Glass House. On the lake bund, we enjoyed the blazing blooms of the Gulmohar, and watched the waterbirds going about their business of catching breakfast, and it was nice to see several Checkered Keelbacks resting in the water just at the corner of the fence and the footbridge that cuts across the lake.

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Not so pleasant was the sight of some visitors stoning these creatures, and I am afraid I gave them a piece of my mind!

The young Crested Hawk Eagle that added an unusual touch to our Lalbagh birding has, it appears, left for other destinations. Some of us had visited Lalbagh the previous day, to conduct a nature walk for schoolchildren, and since, most unusually, we did not sight a single keelback, our conclusion was that the eagle had finished them all off and departed. So it was pleasant to see that we were wrong about the “snakes in the lake”, if not about the eagle. I wonder if the Booted Eagle has also left.

Another rather disturbing sight was that of three Red-eared Sliders on the stones in the lake. Dr Suresh, of Wildlife Institute of India, Dehra Dun, told me that these turtles (native to north America) are very invasive,when I had sent him a photo of one that I’d seen in the lake. Is there any way of netting and sequestering these turtles so that they do not take over the lake? Perhaps, like many lakes now have separate areas for the “visarjan” of idols, we should also have an area where people can release their unwanted pets in a humane way.

The third thing that disturbed me was that visitors seem to think that plucking flowers off trees is a very acceptable thing to do. I went up to a few people who were doing this, but all I got for my trouble was some dirty looks and a “Who are you to tell us this?” manner!

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Visitors treading on flowers that were plucked and thrown on the ground

Well…all this unpleasantness aside…it was a lovely time. There was a cool breeze across the water, and we watched a solitary Grebe, several Little Cormorants

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and Great Cormorants, and the “regular” Darter fishing in the waters; Little Egrets and Purple Swamphens waded at the water’s edge, looking for a snack. Spot-billed Ducks flaunted their colours in the morning sunlight. We went to see the Spotted Owlets, and then shared some pre-breakfast snacks, sitting on one of the lovely wrought-iron seats. Before we knew it, it was time to go the Glass House and start the walk.

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Srinivas and Prasad were there, as usual, and we moved slowly along with them as they pointed out many of the common birds of Lalbagh. A Blyth’s Reed Warbler, some Koels, and White-eyes ensured that our progress down the path towards the Arjuna tree was very, very slow! The Peepal tree had two White-cheeked Barbets going in and out of their nest-holes, and so unconcerned did they seem, that it looked as if one was peeking out from the nest, watching us! This is a new variation of the phrase, “Bird Watching”!

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The Japanese Garden area allowed us to watch several woodland birds, and some White-headed Babblers, the resident Magpie Robin and a Black-rumped Flameback slowed us up considerably.

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Meanwhile, other experienced birders and naturalists who normally participate in the Lalbagh walk, arrived too. MBK brought out information in his usual entertaining way. Prashanth did some excellent sketching, talking to the children (the summer vacation meant we had several on the walk) about the colours of birds.

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As we turned towards the ancient mango tree, we stopped to listen to the Cicadas, and Kesava spotted a Robberfly

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on a Violin-leaf Plumeria plant. Several Common Ceruleans,

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mud-puddling and nectaring on a Cycad, kept us occupied and delighted for a while, too. Several other butterflies were quite active .

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Gardenia sp.

At this point some people asked to see the Spotted Owlet, and I was contemplating taking them to my usual spot, when Srinivas took just a few steps and pointed out one sitting above the netting of the nursery!

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I took the opportunity of asking Srinivas for several plant and creeper ids on the way, and by the time we reached the old mango tree, the call of the White-breasted Iddli had become very insistent in some of us The previous day, I’d found the eatery called “Lalbagh Grand”

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( a very nice alternative to Kamath, where I have been increasingly disappointed with the food)…and off we went to refuel.

The eBird list is

here

I have put up my photos on an FB album

here

The album on Flickr is

here

And….a small thank you to Narahari for the little push that made me write this without further delay!

A Cassowary is a dangerous bird…

April 16, 2019

I got

this newsclip

on my birding/nature egroup. So I wrote:

A colourful bird is the Cassowary
But…dangerous toenails they carry.
A swipe from those nails
Could open up your entrails
So…of the Cassowary…be wary!

On a serious note, breeding of exotic birds can have bad consequences, even if not fatal.

Walk home from A’s, 090419

April 9, 2019

My walk back from my daughter’s home….
A lady skilfully making brooms from the spines of palm fronds.
A young boy trying to make a “puLLi kOlam” under his sister’s tutelage (an unusual sight!).
Yellow carpets of Copper Pod flowers, and the occasional purple of the Jacaranda.
The ground still damp from the previous night’s short shower of rain.
No school buses.
Steam issuing from coffee urns in darshinis, with customers already sipping
The early buses, BMTC and company ones, thundering past.
Peeping past the Metro mess as I cross the road, hoping not to be hit.
Uneven footpaths, potholes to be avoided.
Two boys having great fun splashing a bucket of water on to a car, washing themselves as much as the vehicle.
Young men sorting out a variety of newspapers, before delivering them. Pourakramikas trundling their trash bins.
Such vibrant life around me…there cannot be a single moment of boredom in a city walk!

Hecky (Mukul)’s tribute to Jayesh,2018

April 5, 2019

Hecky’s tribute to his dad, when Jayesh quit his job: I have always shared a unique relationship with my father. He has been several things to me over the years and continues to assume different roles, even within the span of a single day.

An assertion of fatherhood takes the shape of two religious phone calls to me daily. He sheds that mould and becomes a friend when he shares his numerous and infamous below-the-belt jokes that I am sure you’re familiar with. A true corporate takeover of the household occurs when he makes excel sheets to explain concepts as simple as tying a shoelace to the family. And a true buddy, when he helps me recover from a crippling hangover.

Among all the roles that he has played in my life, the one that stands out constantly, is that of a teacher. The man is a walking life lesson. Immensely articulate, to my father, a true thing badly expressed, is a lie. He has always set the bar high, a bar that has become my life-long goal to one day surpass.

As my father leaves the role that he has for so long cherished at Fidelity, I want him to know that I love him and that I will always have his back. I want to assure him that despite the greying pastures that abound his head, greener pastures await him in his personal life.

My best wishes to a true renaissance man— renaissance in that everything he does was fresh in fifteen hundred.

I had to take that last jab.

Love you pa,

Hecky

Bear Rescue Centre, Bannerghatta, 230319

April 4, 2019

On the butterfly group that I belong to, one member told us about the Bear Rescue Centre (BRC) at Bannerghatta, and asked for volunteers.It was then decided that several of us would visit the Centre and then decide on who would be able to volunteer. Since the Centre personnel wanted only 15 participants in each group, two groups of 15 members each were constituted. One group visited on Saturday, the 16th of March, and the other on Saturday, the 23rd of March. I was with the second group, and my anticipation was not disappointed.

The visit to the Centre, which is one of ten such facilities run by Wildlife SOS (an NGO started by Kartick Satyanarayan and Geeta Seshamani) started with all of us gathering in the Bannerghatta Zoo parking lot, from where Chiranjib and Prajwal came and picked us up, and took us through the scrub forest of the Bannerghatta National Park to the Centre. Set amidst bamboo thickets and grassland, the low buildings of the Centre blend well into the landscape.

Chiranjib gave us an introduction to the various bear species found in the world, and then narrowed down to the species of bears found in India, and the 77 bears that have been rescued and are now at the centre. A slide presentation showed us some disturbing images of bears that were ill-treated by those who captured them and sold them to entertain others by dancing; other bears were caught in snares for the wildlife trade. Chinese medicine requires the gall bladders of bears, and several bears have been rescued from traps. “We had more than double the number of bears here,” points out Chiranjib.”We have managed to stop the practice of dancing bears, and so we now get only bears that have been injured in the forest. Now, as the bears age and die, the numbers are growing less.” Indeed, as Dr Arun strikingly pointed out, the goal is not to need such a Centre at all…but that is not likely to happen in the near future. The bears are left loose in an area of about 74 sq. km, coming in to their enclosures for food; some, said Chiranjib with a smile, go first to one enclosure, eat the food there quickly, and go to the next, looking for second helpings!

Bears residing in the Pachavati block at BBRC//embedr.flickr.com/assets/client-code.js

Bears playing with the equipment built for them, at the Panchavati enclosure. Photo courtesy: BRC, Wildlife SOS

As we then went to look at the enclosure where food is given to the bears, more facts emerged.

Bears with simple injuries are treated at the rescue spots and allowed back into the forests; but those that have been badly hurt, or have had their diurnal rhythms disturbed (though they are nocturnal animals, they are made to be active and walk through the day by their captors),have to be put in the rescue centres for the rest of their lives, as they can no longer survive in the wild. As Dr Arun, the resident veterinarian who let us look in detail at the Operation Theatre and talked about the difficulties of treating wild and distressed animals, mentioned, the Centre is virtually an “old age home” for bears, where they will live until they die. Hence, the bears have to be given a diet that somewhat approximates what they would eat in the wild, with fruits and honey along with a ragi mixture. Many animals, used as dancing bears, arrive with their molars broken or forcibly extracted, and many also have cataracts, and most commonly, tuberculosis, from frequent contact with human beings who might be diseased and malnourished themselves.

We were then shown the “squeeze cage”, where the animal is put with as little difficulty to it as possible, in an upright position where it can be tranquillized if needed, and treated. Bears in the wild are creatures of uncertain temperament, and this characteristic might predominate in a stressed or trapped bear.

To allow them to forage as naturally as possible, there is a Termite Raising Unit, where termite hills are raised for the bears to raid as they would in the wild.

Termite Raising Unit at BBRC (2)
Photo courtesy: BRC, Wildlife SOS

The kitchen tour was fascinating, as we saw the various millets and grains that go into the bears’ daily diet. Sri Alauddin, when we visited at 11.30am, had already started cooking the ragi porridge for the bear’s evening meal, which would be cooled and given to them at 4.30pm. The diet for each bear is approximately 8 kilos of ragi porridge twice a day, along with two eggs, and approximately 2 kilos of fruits and enrichment treats.

Bears ragi porridge 2 a day, 020419 BRC Bnrghta.
The ragi porridge in the shallow steel containers, that the bears eat twice a day.Photo courtesy: BRC, Wildlife SOS

Honey and milk are added to the porridge, and sometimes they have to be added in front of the bears, to convince them, like one does with naughty children, that they are getting what they want! While we were in the bear cage building, several of the bears were waiting impatiently for their lunch, and one kept banging at the bars of the cage from the outside enclosure, demanding to be let in and fed! Both Chiranjib and Prajwal showed a great affection for these shambling animals as they described how each bear had a different personality and type of behaviour.

We were then taken to the Jambhava area (the other enclosures are Kishkinda,Panchavati,Chitrakuta, and Dr.GKV Block) and from the rooftop, we had a view of several of the bears foraging for the fruits (watermelons that day) that the staff left for them, in the open. It was delightful to see several Chital stags and does also coming for the fruit…and several birds coming to share the feast, as well!

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Tawny-bellied Babbler feasting on the fruit. Pic: Deepa Mohan

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Tailless Line Blue. Pic: Deepa Mohan

Several volunteers come regularly, and help the staff make the exercise equipment that the bears use to climb up and down on, and play with. Old, torn fire hoses are woven into rough thick sheets, and balls and sticks are added. These are made again and again in different ways as the bears’ play demolishes them.These are called “enrichment” too, as they do much to improve the quality of the bears’ lives at the Centre. The photo above gives an idea of the equipment.

We also looked at the differences in design between the older and newer bear pens, and found that changes had been made for the greater comfort of both bears and staff. Surely, this is a not well-known form of architecture and design!

Dr Arun, a veterinary surgeon who started with the main centre in Agra 17 years ago, was soon posted to Bannerghatta (which was established in 2005). He has remained here ever since. He talked with utter sincerity about the bears’ plight, without any sentimentality; his words were all the more effective because of this. “We do not want appreciation,” he says, “because we are quite aware of the work we are doing. What we want are volunteers, who will come and help our work in various ways.” The Centre is planning to have children from neighbouring villages come and know more about the mammals that share the forests and fields of Bannerghatta with them. They would like these children to know,not only about the bears, but about the other fauna, and the flora of the area, too, so that they know, and hence care, about the place they live in, and the treasures it holds.

The whole tour was well-planned and conducted, and was very informative, with an articulate Chiranjib and Prajwal filling us in on details, and Karthikeyan documenting the trip on camera.

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Pic: Deepa Mohan

We were not allowed to take photos of the Centre, but could take pictures of the birds and plants that we found interesting.There were quite a few of such plants and trees!

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Bauhinia racemosa. Pic: Deepa Mohan.

The Centre has much to be proud of. Over the years, the dependency on power from the grid or generator has been reduced by the addition of solar panels. Everywhere I found plastic bottles recycled to hold fruits or food, or used in other ways. Trees have been planted, greening the area, but the grassland has been left alone in its natural state, with bamboo and other kinds of grass providing shelter to other wild creatures and birds.

Indeed, we found so much of interest that we did exceed the time schedule and we finally had our lunch at the bus terminus area at about 3pm instead of 1pm as we had thought. Such was the care and affection lavished on the bears, that we joked to the staff that if provided with so much nutritious food along with milk and honey, we wouldn’t mind coming here ourselves in our old age!

We ended the tour with a group photograph taken by Prajwal (I clicked the group too) and returned to the outside world, very impressed with the work that is being done at the Bear Rescue Centre, and determined to work out how we could pitch to help the lot of the unfortunate animals who live there, and the dedicated human beings who try to make their lives as comfortable and forest-like as possible.

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The group on 23rd March. Pic: Deepa Mohan

We were able to do a bit of bird-watching, too. The bird lists

from the Zoo parking lot while we waited to be taken inside, is

here

and from BRC area is

here

*************************************************************

Facts and figures

Questions to Wildlife SOS:

1. How many centres of Wildlife SOS in India?
We operate ten wildlife rehabilitation facilities across India:
 Elephant Conservation & Care Centre, Mathura.
 Elephant Rehabilitation Center, Ban Santour, Haryana.
 Agra Bear Rescue Facility (for Sloth Bears)
 Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Centre, (for Sloth Bears) Bangalore.
 Van Vihar Bear Rescue Facility, (for Sloth Bears) Bhopal.
 Purulia Bear Rescue Centre, (for Sloth Bears) West Bengal.
 Manikdoh Leopard Rescue Centre, in Junnar, Maharashtra.
 Pahalgam Rescue Centre (for Asiatic Black Bears & Himalayan Brown Bears), J&K.
 Dachigam Rescue Centre (for Asiatic Black Bears & Himalayan Brown Bears), J&K.
 Wildlife Rescue Centre, Haryana.
 Human Primate Conflict Mitigation Centre in Farah, Uttar Pradesh.
2. How many kg of ragi, fruit, milk, etc each day per bear?
The diet for the bears comprise of approx.8 kilos of porridge twice a day along with two eggs
and approx. 2kilos of fruits and enrichments treats.
3. Where does the funding come from?
We are a non-profit organization and are wholly dependent on donations from supporters and
grants for our funding.
Rescuing and caring for animals is always a financial challenge whether it is buying food or
medicines for the animals, treatment costs, field equipment, vehicle fuel and maintenance or
even staff salary. We are a non-profit charity and operate from donations and grants. We
request people to support our efforts by making donations to http://www.wildlifesos.org and by also
becoming monthly donors and sponsoring the care of our rescued and rehabilitated animals.
4. What are the names of all the enclosures?
Panchavati
Chitrakuta
Kishkinda
Dr.GKV Block
Jambhava
5. When was the Bannerghatta Centre started?
The Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Centre was established in 2005.
6. What is the area of the BRC?
The Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Centre is spread over 74 acres.

The schedule of our visit was as follows:

10:10 AM – Starting for the Rescue Center.
10:25 AM – Reaching Rescue Center. Orientation.
10:50 AM – Enclosure tour and feeding.
11:15 AM – Center schedule and Types of Bears.
11:25 AM – OT tour.
11:45 AM – Squeeze cage and Termite Raising Unit.
12:00 PM – Bear Kitchen tour.
12:15 PM – Jambhava Enclosure tour and sighting from top.
12:30 PM – Going back to office area.
12:40 PM – Refreshment and Group photos.
12:50 PM – Sign-off.