Press on Environment and Wildlife
A baleen whale at Colaba, Mumbai (February Week 3 (2006))
MARINE scientists have confirmed the mammoth 30-foot-long ‘fish’ that washed up at Colaba on Tuesday was not a fish. It was a whale, reports The Indian Express. .
The incident that occurred late Tuesday night had left residents and civic workers in the area around Navy Sailing Club on Pilot Bunder Road, Colaba, puzzled. The decay forced them to dispose off the carcass at the earliest on Wednesday morning.
‘‘The carcass was still being transported when our team reached the spot, but we’ve been able to establish a few facts,’’ said Dr V Deshmukh, scientist-in-charge, Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), Churchgate.
One of the CMFRI scientists who went to the site and took a sample from the carcass detailed what has been established so far. ‘‘There were bones protruding from the mouth and ‘rorquals’ or grooves, under its throat. Both are characteristics of whales,’’ said
Dr Miriam Paul.
Paul said the observations established that it was a baleen whale, that is,‘‘one with plates in its mouth’’ as opposed to a toothed whale, but added that only laboratory tests could determine further details.
‘‘Even within the category of a baleen whale, it could have been a Fin whale or a Brydes whale, we will know in two weeks,’’ she said.
Deshmukh reiterated the rarity of the event of a whale straying into shallow waters while migrating, especially compared to sharks. “Sharks are still found every 4-5 years. These whale samples have been sent to our Cochin office and will aid our research,’’
Other whale casualties
* 1849: Stranded in the waters behind Colaba Church
* 1934: In Colaba
* 1965: Two Fin whales stranded within a months of each other, one in Virar, other near Napean Sea Road
* 1986: In the waters around Bombay High
* 1988: Two stranded in South Mumbai
There are 86 species of whales: 32 have been recorded in waters around the Indian subcontinent
No life lost to elephant menace in 2005 (February Week 3 (2006))
Amid concerns over the conflict between elephants and humans at Valparai, wildlife biologists heave a sigh of relief, because, for the first time in a decade, there was no loss of life in 2005, reports The Hindu.
This is significant in the backdrop of the death of 28 persons since 1994. The Valparai plateau is witnessing a huge loss to property due to elephants moving through the labour lines.
Wildlife Warden K.R. Varadharajan says increasing awareness among the people and the methods adopted by the Forest Department personnel in tackling elephants that enter human habitations may be the reasons for the year passing without any death.
However, it is not proper to jump to a conclusion going by the trend in just one year; it needs further study, he admits. M. Anadhakumar of Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore, says three herds of 41 elephants use the plateau regularly.
The elephants may have lost their habitats, what with the plantations obstructing their migratory path. Mr. Anandhakumar suggests measures to be taken by the planters, Government agencies and conservation organisation to avert the conflict.
The regular routes of elephants through the plantation landscape should be set aside. At least 30 metres along the Sholayar, Nadu Ar and Sirikunda rivers should be restored with natural vegetation. This is possible if the Government provides incentive for planters.
Avoid rice storage
It is pointed out that most of the deaths occurred between November and February every year, and the most affected were ration shops and noon-meal centres. The storage of rice, a favourite item for the pachyderms, should be avoided.
India needs digital herbarium to preserve natural wealth (February Week 3 (2006))
A digital herbarium that can preserve detailed information about plants will help to preserve the natural wealth of the country, S. Nagarajan, Chairperson, Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Authority, Government of India, has said in a
report published by The Hindu.
A traditional herbarium was a collection of plants, stems, flowers and other natural substances documented and kept under the charge of the curator. However, the material tended to degrade.
"Preservation is possible with the digital camera and modern techniques that make it possible to record information about seed characteristics. We can process and store data on different varieties and species, do statistical analysis and compare new species.
We want to promote the idea and motivate people to examine the possibilities," he observed.
Farmers' Rights Act
He said that the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act 2001 safeguarded the rights of farmers, researchers and plant breeders.
"India has a diverse climate and qualified human resource. We should be able to nurture seed companies that can grow globally. We are opening up an opportunity for entrepreneurs to invest in plant breeding," he noted.
Under the provisions of the Act, farmers could cultivate, harvest and sell whatever crops they wished to grow but they could not brand their agricultural produce, label them or sell seed.
Researchers could conduct experiments on plant physiology and cross-fertilize varieties to produce new ones.
However, researchers needed permission to repeatedly use the same variety.
Mr. Nagarajan said that the rules and guidelines framed in 2003 under the Act were aimed at promoting innovation.
"We expect more creativity and better varieties," he said, adding that India was the only country to have protected the rights of farmers in this manner, mainly because over half the people in the country depended on agriculture for their livelihood. In European
countries, only two per cent of the population were farmers.
By encouraging competition inside India as well as from outside the country, breeders would be motivated to provide high quality planting material.
He suggested that the University offer a one-credit course to all students of agriculture, to familiarise them with national policies and international laws governing plant protection. "Just as in computer science and engineering, agricultural graduates should
think and act globally," he said.
After the progress made during the Green Revolution, a decline in productivity had set in owing to depletion of natural resources, loss of micronutrients in the soil, shortage of water resources and a widening gap between agricultural production and consumer
preferences. More information was available at www.plantauthority.in, he said.
Torture season begins for elephants (February Week 3 (2006))
Festival season is celebration time for humans, but for elephants it is a season of torture. Unscientific training methods, mindless torture and poor upkeep are telling on the elephant population in Kerala and their behaviour, reports The Hindu. .
As the curtain goes up on festivals and percussion ensembles drum up excitement, the State makes yet another painful and dangerous tryst with exploitation of elephants.
The pachyderms are made to walk long distances on tarred roads and stand unendingly on concrete surfaces.
As a result, most of them have pockets of infection under their feet or toenails, veterinarians say.
Section 12 of a Government Order (No 12/2003/F&WLD) dated February 26, 2003, prohibits `marching an elephant over tarred roads for long, during the hottest period of the day, for religious or any other purpose'.
The order also prohibits `making the elephant stand in the scorching sun for unreasonably long duration, and bursting crackers when the elephant is around'.
"Elephant owners and mahouts care two hoots for the law," says K.C. Panicker, veterinarian and secretary of the Kerala Elephant Welfare Association.
Elephants are sorely uncomfortable on tar and concrete. "Blisters are unbearable for the animals. If one foot gets infected, the elephant would repeatedly shift all the weight to the other feet. These legs too would then feel tired," says P.C. Alex, veterinarian
with the Kerala Agricultural University.
Feet are the gauge of an elephant's overall health. Use of custom-made boots for the animals is recommended.
"If the feet get infected, rest is essential. But the owners, who are eager to send the elephants to the maximum number of festivals and earn more, give the animals no rest," says Dr. Panicker.
The elephants are also mostly ill-fed and not given enough water. An elephant normally drinks between 200 to 250 litres of water every day.
Training is torture
Training elephants mostly involves physical abuse and complete domination of the animals. "Training the pachyderm requires a great deal of patience. Mahouts are impatient with slow learners. Torture accompanies lessons. Groups of people sometimes beat up a
chained elephant in a practice called `Nunachattam' when a new mahout takes charge. The practice rests on the belief that a bond develops between the elephant and the mahout when it is nursed to normality. The method is unscientific and resembles a scene from
an absurd play," says V.K. Venkitachalam, secretary, Kerala Elephant Lovers' Association (Ana Premi Sanghom).
Belief also goes that when a male elephant is in musth, it can be controlled only if it is made weak through torture and poor feeding. `Musth' is a Hindi word meaning `intoxicated'. When a male elephant is in musth, its level of testosterone will rise dramatically
by a factor of 20 or more.
`Musth' might last up to 60 days as the male elephant wait for mating. The animal displays aggressive behaviour during this period. The elephant will dramatically reduce his food intake and burn up much of his fat reserves.
The temporal gland between the eyes and ears swell and discharge a viscous secretion. There is continual dribbling of urine too. "Despite several programmes to create awareness among mahouts, elephants are tortured when they show signs of `musth'. Mahouts have
a wrong notion that they can control the elephants only if the animals are weak," says Dr. Panicker.
The elephant retaliates when the torture is unbearable. According to the Elephant Lovers' Association, the number of mahouts killed by elephants rose from 18 in 1997-`99 to 46 in 2003-`05.
The number of elephant deaths rose from 137 in 1997-`99 to 384 in 2003-`05.
The Kerala Captive Elephants (Management and Maintenance) Rules 2003 state that elephant owners and mahouts should maintain records of elephant disease and treatment. Fitness certificates and vaccination records should be available for verification whenever
the elephant is taken out.
"Most of the mahouts do not carry the records. The rules also state that the fitness of the elephant should be checked every day while it is taken out, by the panchayat or town veterinary officer, but this rule is never observed," says Mr. Venkitachalam.
Some animal lovers are against transporting the elephants on trucks.
"Being isolated can make the elephant aggressive," says Mr. Venkitachalam.
Awareness programmes alone will not alleviate the plight of elephants, animal rights activists say.
Only comprehensive and effective legislation will.
Tibetans burning animal skins: Experts (February Week 3 (2006))
The Times of India reports that people in Tibet have started burning the skins of animals like the leopard, otter and fox following the Dalai Lama's call to stop using wildlife products in their attire, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) officials said on Monday.
"For the last five days, during the great prayer festival of Molam Quinmo, people from Huangnan Rebgong area launched a campaign to burn Tibetan garments made from animal furs," said Pasang Lhamu Bhutia, an expert with WTI.
Ashok Kumar, vice chairman of WTI, said villagers of Amdo and Rebgong launched the campaign and placed their own otter, fox and other furs on fires and encouraged hundreds of others to take similar action.
"This is certainly a nice beginning and the initiative of the Tibetans showed that it is not too late to do something for a great cause. If others start following this path, we can still save our endangered wildlife from the jaws of death," Kumar said.
Two months ago, the Dalai Lama had appealed to his Buddhists devotees at the Kalachakra (empowerment initiation) ceremony to stop using wildlife products to either make dresses or as part of their attire.
WTI has been campaigning against the use of animal parts or skins in Tibet.
Grey water recycling needs only simple technology (Issue of the week, February Week 2 (2006))
Widespread use will help cut the demand for water, say experts
• A boon for those maintaining gardens
• Even a small patch of land is enough
• NGOs want corporation to involve them
Nearly 70 per cent of water used in households for cleaning or washing can be treated using simple technology. It can be reused for gardening and groundwater recharge. An even better incentive is that it saves money, says The Hindu.
Speakers at a seminar on ``Wastewater treatment: Opportunities for Chennai's water future'' organised here on Saturday explained that several examples had proved that reusing grey water (term used for water flushed out from kitchen, laundry and bathroom) had
led to substantial cost cutting.
R. Ramani, a grey water reuse expert, said he had been recycling up to 400 litres every day over the past decade and used it for drip-irrigation of his garden. ``For those interested in maintaining gardens, these systems are a boon because one need not spend
money on water." He said he had designed a system for a friend that helped save Rs.36,000 a year that he normally used for purchasing water.
Several grey water recycling designs are available and can be implemented based on the extent of open ground available. It usually consists of a system for collecting water from washbasins and kitchen sinks and some simple filtration chambers. Different types
of filtrations are possible, from using river sand to charcoal to even tuber-plants.
More complex wastewater treatment technologies that can also treat black water (from toilets) are available for commercial establishments and residential complexes. One such system is the DEWATS (Decentralised Wastewater Treatment Systems) technology that treat
wastewater flows ranging from 1 to 100 cubic metres a day, both from domestic and industrial waste.
Indukanth S.Ragade, who has designed grey-water reuse systems for multi-storeyed apartments in the city over the past two decades, said groundwater recharge through treated grey water could substantially improve the quality of bore-well water.
``It is a myth that you need a large open space for setting up such systems. Even a small patch is enough.''
Sultan Ahmed Ismail, Vice-Principal, New College (evening) and managing director of Ecoscience Research Foundation, said used water recycling was an essential part of maintaining an eco-friendly lifestyle. ``With any doubt, the systems require some level of
maintenance on part of the resident. But one must acknowledge that eco-friendly technologies liberates. Modern technologies like reverse osmosis may be convenient but they subjugate you and leave you forever at the mercy of private companies."
Though an amendment to the Chennai City Corporation building rule in 2003 has made grey water reuse mandatory, there has not been much of awareness on various systems of recycling. Chennai Corporation had attempted grey water recycling in some of its parks
last year but NGOs feel that they could have been involved by the civic agency to widen the appeal.