Monday, December 04, 2006
Thursday, November 23, 2006
The commonest Cycad is a gardener's favourite, Cycas revoluta.
Odd looking creatures that resemble stunted palm trees, the cycads are often mistaken for palms. They have male plants and female plants that produce the most fascinatingly unusual male and female 'cones' for reproduction.
Along with other rare and beautiful species (like tree ferns - see Cyathea, below) that occupy the understory of 'old' forests, the cycads are dying out due to deforestation.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Friday, November 03, 2006
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
There's sun on the river and sun on the hill . . .
Friday, October 13, 2006
Very early on there were indications that this was to be an exceptional morning. We had hardly started when we almost ran into a solitary, large, sloth bear (Melursus ursinus). He had been digging for juicy roots and the ground was littered with fresh piles of upturned earth.
Around ten, we had covered 5 km of fairly easy walking when the distinctive smell of slightly decaying flesh brought us to a grinding halt. We cast around and finally located a fairly recently killed Sambhar Deer (Cervicus unicolor) hidden under a thorn thicket. Studying the ground, our guide (an excellent tracker) showed us where the deer had been ambushed and pointed out the rear hoofs digging deep into the earth where a tiger had landed on his haunches, where he fell, and how after a brief struggle on the ground he was dragged under the bushes where the tiger completed a meal of the shoulder portions. The deer was a large male and it would have taken a tiger in its prime to bring him down.
Unfortunately we could get no very clear pug marks to help identify which of the 42 bengal tigers known to frequent that forest this one was. There was rising ground some 3 km off and as tigers prefer to go to a vantage point from which to sleep off a meal we thought (without any real hope) that we would give it a try. Soon we were toiling up a dry stream bed and seemingly going straight up. The surrounding scrub was too thick and thorny to break through.
We were in single file with our guide in front. he kept exclaiming at this or that sign, shushing us and commanding that we walk quietly and I was sure that it was the usual hype - "Sir, the tiger definitely passed this way this morning..."
We stopped and bunched up when we came to a series of rocks that would have made a lively waterfall in the rainy season. Broad flat rocks that almost seemed to be a series of made-to-purpose steps. At the top there was one long step and three of us took that step almost simultaneously and FROZE. There, not ten feet from us, was a huge male tiger in repose. He jumped to his feet, tail slightly twitching and stared at us. We were well and truly horrified, I know I was holding my breath. Each of us carried a camera but that was completely forgotten. The tableau held for an instant or two and then - a reddish streak, he went vertical, springing effortlessly up fifteen feet onto a big boulder, another huge leap and he disappeared into the scrub.
After a few still moments, we slowly, very slowly looked around and then, in silent excitement, cautiously came back down to the plain. Only when safely out of the deep scrub did we start jumping up and down in excitement and talked and talked about those fantastic, incredible few moments, and then we talked all the way back to the camp.
I know people that have lived in these jungles for years and never seen a tiger! It was an incredible bit of luck - and a truly blessed few moments!
I was in this same forest recently and traced out our tribal guide to see if he had seen any further signs of our handsome young man (estimated age then around 4 years, about ten feet from toe to tail) and the word was that he had been spotted, even bigger, in a completely different zone of the forest, a couple months earlier.
Well, the Bengal Tiger is highly endangered. The census that year (2003, 3 years back) identified 42 tigers. Now the count is down to 36. The population is not sustaining itself and the major reason is poaching. A tiger skin is reported to fetch upwards of 400,000 Rupees (about 10 years wage) in the local market. Other parts of the tiger are also considered very valuable and if a tiger is 'judiciously disposed of', the total for the poacher will be a million Rupees or more.
So, you will forgive me for not identifying our trekking route or the area of the forest any more clearly than I have. I have also deliberately not named my companions or our guide and they will understand.
Friday, October 06, 2006
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Bugun liocichla is colourful. Initially it was mistaken for a Chinese species, the Omei Shan Liocichla, and it was assumed that a different race of that species had survived in a pocket over a 1000 km South of its known range.
Now that would be very unusual. The other possibility, that the species had spread South from the Shan would be even stranger!
With the world warming rapidly we are seeing the opposite! Temperate species are creeping North as the winters become milder while tropical creatures are extending their ranges. The nightmare for medical authorities in temperate countries is that very soon, tropically transmitted diseases, such as Malaria and Dengue will be commonplace in North America and Europe. The reason being that their vector - the mosquito - is already establishing populations much further North than ever before - simply because winter has become so much milder. In fact, the trend is so pronounced that the hottest specialty in medical colleges is now...Tropical Medicine!
Getting back to Bugun, the new species has coexisted with a small tribe of the West Kameng district, quite naturally called the Bugun (or Khova) and hence the new name.
We have a common, noisy and gregarious cousin of this rare "babbler" in my area and we call that "the seven sisters" as they are always found in hyperactive bunches.
My own fascination for birds bloomed very late and I have to thank many people for having introduced me to the "world of birding"not least of whom is the amazing Dr. John R.W. Stott
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Horrifying, but not nearly as bad as this statistic: The proportion of women and children among civilians injured or killed in war is approximately 80% (according to Unicef).
In countries like India, where industrialisation is growing apace, the greater danger comes from poverty. Society is becoming more stratified.
The absolute number of kids getting a primary education seemingly increases as a result of the 'growth' of the middle class.
But, the poor are getting poorer - and sending their kids out to work. Staying alive has a higher priority. Privatisation of education only means that the government, which should be helping the poor, quietly turns a blind eye.
Getting back to the question of who really suffers in war, one wonders, do the perpetrators of war ever think through the consequences?
What benefit is there in supposedly engaging one enemy but ending up killing only women and kids?
- stop fighting me...
Remember: Modern warfare kills 10 TIMES more civilians than combatants!
Sunday, September 10, 2006
Will we never learn? In the dry season and during periods of drought, many parts of India resemble a desert. But if it should rain, behold we have floods. The photos compare the Mahanadi estuary just one month apart. About 2 million people were displaced over that one month along the course of just this one river - 2,000,000!
Climate change has been rapid in India what with the massive elimination of forests over the last century. The land's ability to ameliorate the extremes has disappeard. The water table has dropped precipitously making it unlikely that the forests will ever come back even if we do try to allow aforestation. We replant with monocultures promoting bioinversity, we pollute. Is there anything left for us to make worse?
the people suffer
The government builds mega dams and the flooding worsens. The likelihood of catastrophic earthquakes increases - Latur, Bhuj and Kashmir all in the space of 10 years are not enough of a warning.
the people suffer
Saturday, September 09, 2006
A little research on our wasps revealed that these were members of the family Vespidae, subfamily Polistinae and probably of the Polistes genus (though no entomologist am I).
The adults feed on nectar while the young are given a diet of other insects' larvae making the wasps very important both as pollinators and as pest controllers.
After a week we realised that the wasps were not causing any problems - no one had been buzzed and though the bathrooms were in use, the wasps seemed to be minding their own business. As days went bye, we spent more time just watching them work. Superbly organised, there was daily progress on nest construction and we started to notice the young ones emerging and merging with the family community. there was even a powerful but gentle discipline maintained by the senior wasps. Juniors who did not get on with their work could be seen sitting just outside the nest area facing away from the nest for a few hours at a time till one of the older ones would come and nudge them gently back into the mainstream.
My son (about 13) had always been terrified of anything that carried a sting. Even he came round to taking bath without an upward glance! Soon he became the resident expert in capturing and releasing the few wasps that got confused at night by the tubelights and ended up in the living room or in one of the bedrooms.
When we shifted out after about 4 months of peaceful cohabitation, we (carefully) covered the vents up from the inside to try to protect the nests from whoever came in after us. The attempt was unsuccessful. When I returned to pick up the last few odds and ends after about a week, I found the netting removed, no wasp nests, and evidence of fire on the walls round the air vents.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required--not because the communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich." from JFK's inaugural address!
That America no longer exists...
"Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power. These regions include Western Europe, East Asia, the territory of the former Soviet Union, and Southwest Asia...we must maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role." (Paul Wolfowitz, then under-secretary of defense, way back in 1992)In the context of the future of our world, alignment with perpetrators of war will result in terror. Just yesterday India's Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh , issued a warning that India was going to be targeted by terrorists. He went on to say that he had reliable information that our nation was riddled with secret terrorist cells that are just waiting for a chance to create mayhem. I have no doubts as to the origin of that"intelligence" and even less doubt that it will soon be backed up by some attempt to drive us in fear to the neocon doorstep!
A country that is willing to do anything in order to hegemonise the world's oil supply...
Here then is the NEOCONONIAL vision for Asia
Common sense should tell us that those who find it easy to kick their 50-year-old most favored ally + bosom buddy (Pak) out overnight are not fit to be considered as potential friends.
I like Manmohan Singh and he has been a good Prime Minister - so far. But, the day that our government decides to align with the creators of 'the war on terror' is the day that we destroy India's security. There will be no peace of mind, there will be no peace. We will henceforth become paranoid for that is the price of being allied to:
- A country that 'renders' human beings to torture.
- A country that raises taxes for the poor while lowering taxes for the rich.
- A country that promotes racial profiling.
- A country that maintains prisons outside its own jurisdiction deliberately to avoid due process.
- A country that believes it can preemptively strike anytime, anywhere.
- A country that denies its own citizens of the freedoms guaranteed by its constitution.
- A country that spies on everything including what its own people do.
- A country that hires mercenaries to do its dirty work.
- A country that provides its ally with cluster bombs to murder civilians.
- A country that is committed first to its corporations and considers its citizens as the fodder of big business.
- A country that allows thousands to die in a hurricane because they are poor.
- A country that lied to create a war.
- A country that encourages global warming.
- A country that systematically coerces other nations to either support it or shut up.
- An administration that repudiates the Geneva Convention and is desperately trying to legalise torture
Whatever inducements the U.S. has used, whatever be the cost of refusing their allures, please say NO!
"We in this country, in this generation, are -- by destiny rather than choice -- the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore that we may be worthy of our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time the ancient vision of 'peace on earth, good will toward men.' That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain"
Let's pray that the most powerful country on today's earth does come back to its roots and regains its sense of equilibrium!
Wednesday, August 30, 2006
The tables have been turned. For those, like myself, who are citizens of nations that survived our colonisation by GREAT Britain, it's ironic to see the ridiculous and comical turnaround that has occurred over the last 5 years.
Can't really blame Tony. He had inherited a castrated nation and desperately needed to be leashed to the neocon HE-men of America in order to distract his people from their own desperate straits.
Margaret Thatcher was the much loved and therefore much reelected Prime Minister who knocked the final few nails into the coffin of British world hegemony. She has never recovered and now has to kow-tow quite shamelessly to the likes of GWB.
A globalised economy, the almighty dollar, a resurgent Euro (ever wondered where the vaunted Sterling is hiding?) and the loss of Hongkong (not to mention the Falklands war) had left Britain tottering.
From all the former colonies around the world we watch with somewhat mixed emotions as the new handler slaps his dog into complete, obsequious, submission. A former colony has in turn colonised (or is it neocononised) the once proud owners of an empire on which "the sun never set".
The Magna Carta (of 1215) says "No Freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or be disseised of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any otherwise destroyed; nor will we pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful Judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the Land. We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right."
But in today's England, the neocononial tsunami that began with the secret "renderings" has washed away all traces of justice and liberty.
Those who came seeking asylum from the terror at their backs are falsely accused and imprisoned as suspected "terrorists". When finally acquitted by the highest courts are nonetheless being forcibly deported to the control of Secret Police in countries that are known for their torturous and murderous treatment of dissidents.
And the tragicomedy continues to play out...