From The Economist:
The worst of the hazards travellers encounter in the mountainous rainforests of southern India is not the elephants, though they occasionally kill people; nor the creepy-crawlies, though the sudden appearance of a foot-long red-legged millipede can startle; nor the spiny-stemmed palms, though they shred unwary walkers’ clothes. It is the leeches.
If you pause on a walk through the forest, within a minute up to 20 of these brown slimy tubes, ranging in size from minuscule threads to fat worms four centimetres long and a quarter in diameter, leap onto your boots. Attracted by heat, they loop swiftly upwards like caterpillars on speed, scaling a Wellington in as little as 15 seconds. Leech socks—thick canvas affairs tied tightly at the knee—stop those that climb into boots from attacking your feet. But others continue upwards, and, however assiduously you pluck them off, some inevitably make it onto bare skin and sink their teeth into your flesh. As they do so, their salivary glands secrete hirudin, an anticoagulant so effective that the pharmaceutical industry synthesises it as a blood-thinning agent. Even if you locate them and pluck them off—tricky, given their strong grip and slippery surface—your blood flows from their bites for hours.
Not surprisingly, Kerala’s rainforests are thinly populated. Only the very determined, with a clear purpose and considerable resilience, venture into them. Among those are Sathyabhama Biju Das, an amphibian researcher at Delhi University, his students and his growing band of followers. More:
Shoba Narayan in Mint Lounge:
Here is how a tiger is killed in Ranthambore. First, the poachers lay leg traps on the tiger’s usual routes. They scatter small stones around the trap, knowing that the fastidious tiger will try to avoid these tiny stones. Its leg gets caught in a trap; when it moves, the second trap snaps shut. Now the tiger is in pain so it sits down. The poachers tie a spear to an 8ft-long stick and appear. When the tiger roars, they spear its mouth so it begins to bleed. It roars again. More bleeding. When the tiger’s pain gets too much, when it tires from the roaring, they beat its forehead with a stick strengthened by pouring lead on it. They may use a small knife to blind the tiger so that they can spear it to death more easily. The tiger dies an agonizing death.
For the poachers, too, it is a life-and-death game as this magnificent animal—the Panthera tigris—is a killing machine. If a trap gets loose, it is a quick death for the poachers, who are usually Moghiya tribals. The poachers will do anything not to spoil the skin of the tiger, which can fetch $20,000 (around Rs9 lakh) across the border. “In India, they export tiger bone and skin to the Chinese,” says Dharmendra Khandal, conservation biologist with Tiger Watch, an NGO. “The Chinese use the tiger’s penis and liver but that they get from the Russian market, which has figured out how to export the flesh of the tiger as well.” More:
Eminent wildlife activist and author Billy Arjan Singh died at his home in Lakhimpur Kheri late on Friday night. He was 93. Rohit Brijnath in Hindustan Times on his legacy:
In the forests of India there is mourning. Billy Arjan Singh, an old tiger, is dead. Fortunately, he has gone to his own paradise, an animal heaven where only some humans are allowed entry. And so there he is, reunited finally with his dog Elie, leopards Prince, Harriet and Juliet, tigress Tara, monkeys Elizabeth Taylor and Sister Guptara, his fishing cat Tiffany. With them, Billy will be home.
The two-footed Billy, 92, spoke for the four-footed unheard. He argued on behalf of those who inhabited the jungles and asked only to live. To say he was India’s finest tiger conservationist (winner of the World Wildlife Fund gold medal), sounds silly because it is not a contest. It is a calling, an empathy for the natural world. There is a wonderful photo of him, wearing a cap, with a bird sitting on it. Was the bird tired, disoriented, who knows, but maybe it knew: this man I can trust.
Billy was extraordinary, a writer of books who seemed to emerge from one written by Hemingway. We were distantly related and I went occasionally to Tiger Haven in Uttar Pradesh’s Dudhwa National Park where this fascinating character lived. A bow-legged, badly-dressed, wind-breaking, well-read hero. A committed man with a Charles Atlas handshake, courteous with women, brusque with the ignorant, owner of a humour dryer than London gin, cornering me about boxers and batsmen because he admired athletes. More:
It was fabricated in England and built on site. An entry in Wikipedia says it is India’s oldest surviving cast iron building. Barney Henderson reports from Mumbai in the Telegraph, UK:
Designed by Rowland Mason Ordish, who is known for his detailed work on the single-span roof of St Pancras station, and named for its original owner, John Watson, it was the height of colonial opulence.
“Watson’s is supremely historically important,” said Abha Narain Lambah, a conservation architect with the Urban Design Research Institute in Mumbai.
Mark Twain stayed at the hotel in 1896, where he wrote about Bombay’s crows from his window in *Following the Equator*.
Noted for its external cast-iron frame that was made in England then shipped to India, the 98 x 30 ft atrium served as a home-from-home for European guests. At its peak, the hotel, which had a strict whites-only policy, employed English waitresses in its lavish bars and restaurant, prompting the joke: “If only Watson had imported the English weather as well”. More:
The Gangetic dolphin is one of the few remaining species of fresh water dolphins in the world. With the Chinese river dolphin Baiji recently termed functionally extinct, the Gangetic and the Amazon river dolphins are now the only two remaining freshwater dolphins. Take a cruise in the Brahmaputra and see the Gangetic dolphin. S. Mitra Kalita in Mint Lounge:
As our boat approached the Brahmaputra, an unmistakable hump rose out of the river. In those seconds, the 10 of us on board reverted to childhood mannerisms to express joy: We cooed, squealed, aahh-ed, clapped hands.
For the next hour or so, our eyes darted here and there to catch a glimpse, each sighting greeted as enthusiastically as the last. If we happened to see a nose or rear or even the blowhole, the delight was much more palpable-and loud.
Just an hour outside Guwahati, the Brahmaputra is home to scores of Gangetic dolphins, locally called xihu (the “x” sounds similar to “h”). A few years ago, my good friend Sanjoy Hazarika, the well-known journalist and an expert on the North-East, had mentioned dolphins among the many causes he was involved with and urged me to take my daughter on a dolphin-watching trip. Last month, Hazarika-fresh from the festival-circuit success of Children of the River: The Xihus of Assam, a documentary he had produced- repeated his plea. And this time, I obeyed.
A new breed of volunteering holiday suits parents and kids as Jill Insley discovers in the Sunderbans. Reported in The Observer
The day before I took my daughter to the Sunderbans in north east India, the Times of India reported: ‘A 21-year-old resident of Patharpratima was killed and partly eaten by a tiger in the Sunderbans … Buno Bhakta was part of a five-member group that had gone into the Chulkati forest to look for crabs. The tiger attacked when they were returning with their catch later in the day.’
I discreetly tore the article out of the paper and hid it. Imogen, who is 11, was already alarmed enough about going to an area where the local wildlife regarded mankind as supper. I was more worried about getting Delhi belly and whether Imogen would be overwhelmed by the poverty she would probably see.
In the Sunderbans forests between India and Bangladesh, climate change is pitting people against tigers – with deadly consequences. John Vidal reports on how extreme weather and shrinking habitats are bringing humans and beasts into closer and more perilous contact. From The Guardian:
Tarak Babu could have seen or heard little in the seconds before he died. His village of Jelepara in the far south-west of Bangladesh is desperately poor and has no electricity, and the young fisherman was walking back with food for his family at about 8.15 in the evening.
It was June 20 – monsoon season. Tarak was walking along the high earth embankment that protects Jelepara from the river Chunkuri, and had just passed a small Hindu temple with its gaudy, painted wooden effigies of the tiger god Dakshin Ray. He would not have seen the real tiger that had just swum across the river from the great Sunderbans forest 400 yards away. It hauled itself out of the water and mauled him from behind. No one even heard Tarak cry out.
But that was just the start of the drama in Jelepara that night. According to Selina, a young woman who lives only a few hundred yards from the scene of the killing, the beast then dropped down off the embankment, and silently entered Gita Rani’s family compound in the village. It tried to take a chicken, but Gita came out when she heard the commotion in the hen house and was promptly killed.
The tiger then went into the house where it killed her father-in-law, Aghoire Mandal.
Click here for more and to watch the video, The hunt for a man-eating tiger
British tourists pay 100 pounds to watch endangered lions kill tethered cattle in India’s Gir National Park. Dean Nelson has the story in the Sunday Times.
British tourists are paying more than £100 to watch endangered Asian lions kill tethered cattle at an Indian wildlife reserve.
According to local officials, some visitors eat lunch at dining tables as they watch cows and buffalo being devoured. Animal welfare groups have expressed outrage, saying such gruesome displays break the law and are not only cruel to cattle but also put the lions in jeopardy by bringing them closer to humans. They blame western tourists for encouraging the practice.
According to conservationists, the shows are being organised by tour guides and farmers in collusion with junior park officials. Only about 360 lions survive in India from a subspecies that once ranged from Greece through the Caucasus and into China. It is now confined to the Gir national park in Gujarat, western India, where the incomes of villagers depend on frequent sightings.
This is less than half the number in 2002 when tiger population was estimated at 3,642. In The Times of India:
Only 1,411 tigers remain in the wild in India. That is the stark finding of the National Tiger Conservation Authority’s estimation report which was released on Tuesday. The report confirms the worst fears of experts and conservationists-that the national animal is living on the edge, not all that far from a perilous slide to extinction.
The big cat, which has inspired writers and hunters-turned-conservationists like Jim Corbett since the days of the Raj, is facing its toughest battle for survival yet.
Murals from the 14th to 17th centuries in temples across Tamil Nadu, India, are being painted over or ‘restored’ gaudily (right) by unqualified personnel. David Shulman, renowned Indologist, says in The Hindu that if action is not taken soon, these treasures will disappear. Dr Shulman is currently Professor, Department of Indian, Iranian and Armenian Studies, the Hebrew University, Jerusalem.