Saturday, February 26, 2011

Its always a female to lure a male

They tried with Kartik the elephant and failed, but it seems to have worked with T7, the nomadic tiger from Ranthambhore who landed up in Bharatpur!

The use of feminine charm to lure the "errant" male!

Elusive Bharatpur tiger netted
Truant T-7 lured by the recorded call of female tigers

The elusive T-7 which was ruling the roost in the Keoladeo National Park (KNP) bird sanctuary near Bharatpur for the past four months has been captured by the wildlife authorities.

The tiger, tranquillised by a team of experts from the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), the Sariska Tiger Reserve and the KNP around 4 p.m. on Wednesday, was taken to Sariska by road an hour later.

Now T-7, a habitual wanderer who left his original home at the Ranthambore National Park for the Kaila Devi Sanctuary in the neighbourhood and later to Dholpur and Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, is heading for Sariska as per the announcement made last month by Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh during a visit to Keoladeo.

Difficult customer

Curiously, T-7, which proved a difficult customer for the experts during the past eight days, was finally caught after it was lured by the recorded call of female tigers. “We have been after the tiger since February 14, but it proved very elusive. Then we thought of trying this technique,” Keoladeo field director Anoop K.R., who was travelling with the caravan headed for Sariska, told The Hindu on Thursday evening.

“We requisitioned recorded calls of the female, and once I received them through e-mail, we played it on Wednesday inside the park at four different places on loudspeakers. To our surprise, the tiger responded and appeared from the thicket of juliflora some 100 metres away,” Mr. Anoop said.

WII's P.K. Malik shot the tranquillising dart and the animal immediately plunged into the thickly wooded area. “It was a great relief to find him unconscious across the road,” Mr. Anoop said.

The team on the spot, which comprised Sariska field director R.S. Shekhawat, forester Narain Singh and researcher Shubheep besides Mr. Anoop and Dr. Mallick, soon transferred T-7 into a wooden cage. The cage has been used earlier to shift big cats —five till date — from Ranthambore to Sariska as part of the now well-known rehabilitation plan for tigers.

Except for one, all other tigers from Ranthambore were airlifted by Air Force helicopters to Sariska. T-7 is the first tiger caught outside Ranthambore to be moved to Sarika, which lost a tiger CP-1, last year.

“Now T-7 will be referred to as ST-6 or CP-6, the sixth tiger to be introduced to Sariska,” said Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) Rajasthan P.S. Somasekhar.

“We may keep the animal in one of the enclosures in Sariska for two or three days before releasing it in the park,” he said. “We hope it soon gets a real call from the three females there.”

A happy ending to this story. Lets hope T7 now to be known as CP6, will thrive in Sariska!

An escape story that ends sadly and badly

We saw the Top Slip elephants on our Pongal trip to Parambikulam. I asked if they were sad to be chained. I wonder which one of the magnificent elephants we saw was Kartik.

Elephant escapes from Top Slip camp, search on
TNN, Feb 24, 2011, 05.38am IST

COIMBATORE: A 35-year-old tusker has escaped from the elephant camp at Top Slip near Pollachi in Coimbatore district.

It slipped out of the camp on Monday night and is hiding in the bushes near Sethumadai, a little away from the reserve forest area. The tusker, Karthik is going through "must" and may have gone in search of a female companion, S Thangaraj, a forest ranger at Top Slip, told The Times of India.

Normally, the elephants at the training camp are not bound by chain at night. They're let loose in the forests. In the mornings, they return to the camp. "Elephants have never slipped out of the camp in the last decade," said Thangaraj.

The mahout and forest guards launched a massive search for the animal on Tuesday. They spotted him at a tribal settlement in Saralapathy near Sethumadai on Wednesday morning. When the mahout Murugan walked closer to the tusker, the animal ran deeper into the jungles. His female companion, Sivakami, and another tusker were brought in to lure him back into the camp. "But he is refusing to come out of the bushes," Thangaraj said.

By dusk, the "rescue operation" was called off. Now, forest officials are trying to trap Karthik with two other female elephants in the camp. "He relates well to our camp elephants Vijayalakshmi and Selvi. We hope Karthik will come back tomorrow," the official said.

Karthik was born in the Top Slip camp to Alamelu, who died a few years ago. When wild tuskers stray away from jungle, Karthik usually goes as a kumkhi elephant to drive them back. There are 20 elephants in the Top Slip camp.

Jumbo that escaped from camp gored to death by wild tusker
Radha Venkatesan | TNN, Feb 25th

Coimbatore: In a fierce territorial fight in the jungles, a male elephant which escaped from the elephant camp at Top Slip near Pollachi was gored by a wild tusker on Thursday morning. The 35-year-old camp elephant, Karthik, was found dead with multiple bleeding injuries at Saralapathy near Sethumadai, about 5 km from the scenic hill retreat of Top Slip.

“His body was covered with bleeding wounds. He was gored to death in a fierce fight with a large wild tusker,” Top Slip forest ranger, Thangaraj Paneerselvam told TOI.

Forest guards who had waited on the forest fringes to bring back the tusker to the camp, could hear loud trumpeting all through Wednesday night. Around 4am on Thursday, the trumpeting stopped.

“We knew Karthik was in trouble. But when we went into the jungles, it was too late,” Karthik’s mahout Murugan said. When a camp elephant strays into forests, it cannot co-exist with wild elephants. “A camp elephant is no match for a wild tusker. The tusker is fiercely territorial and will not allow camp elephants to invade his space,” the forest official said. Karthik was born in the elephant camp about 35 years ago and was a “kumkhi” elephant.

On Monday night, suffering from hormonal surges, he left the camp. Forest guards and mahouts launched a massive hunt in the jungles to locate him.

After a day-long search, they spotted him near a tribal settlement at Saralapatty. However, he refused to respond to the calls of his mahout. So, a female elephant, Sivakami, and another tusker from the Kozhikamudi camp were brought to lure him out of the jungles.

But Karthik stubbornly ignored the overtures of Sivakami and ran deeper into the jungles. On Wednesday evening, the forest personnel decided to bring two more female elephants to draw Karthik back to the camp. “Unfortunately, by this time, Karthik had succumbed in a terrain battle. The tusker which attacked him was also experiencing hormonal surges,” forest guards said.

Two years ago, two elephants in the camp fought a fierce battle and one of them died after suffering severe abdominal injuries. Last week, a tiger and a leopard died in a territorial fight in the Nilgiris forests.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

World Cup fever

There's been a lot of birding activity on the continent these days.

Up north in Bangladesh, did you see the Coppersmith Barbets take on the Indian Fairy Bluebirds, or were they aggressive and comical Purple Swamp hens?

At home in Chennai, a lack of imagination in plumage creation, meant that a look-alike team of Coppersmith Barbets flew in from Kenya took on the sleek and versatile Darters from New Zealand, and came out second-best.

Down south in Sri Lanka, a group of Blue and Yellow Tanagers were an unusual sighting, and thrashed a flock or Red Finches from Canada.

Last night, it was the turn of the Golden Orioles from Australia to dominate the athletic and bright Red Cardinals all the way from Zimbabwe.

More sightings will be reported soon.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

February Rambles

Millingtonia bare
Birds perch
I stare.

Grand teak in seed
Leaves all mulch
earthworm feed.

Green replacing orange-gold
Tiered branch
Almonds in its fold.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Stinging and biting hazards!

When Rom first visited Agumbe in the early 1970s he had some peculiar hippie ideas. He felt that all the trappings of the human world interfered with his ability to find king cobras. So, he discarded his watch and shoes, and stripped down to his loin cloth. Not the best attire for his first brush with the Devil Nettle!

He got it on his arms, chest, stomach and legs. “It was itchy painful,” he recalls. Hives erupted, and to alleviate the pain he dove into a pool. It became doubly horrendous and he jumped out again. That night he shivered uncontrollably. By the next morning, the hives had become depressions and the affected area was constantly clammy. For the following six months, any contact with water was enough to set off the ‘itchy pain' again.
Read more about the Devil Nettle in this delightful essay by Janaki Lenin. It is found in the Western Ghats. The Hindu : FEATURES / METRO PLUS : Innocent plant, deadly sting

I am glad we did not come across these in our walks in the karian shola at Parambikulam. The plant picture in The Hindu essay looks most innocuous!

While we did not get stung by nettle, a few of the group members had ticks on them, while others (including me) had chigger bites! Forewarned about leeches, we were resplendent in our leech socks, much to the amusement of our guides, who mentioned mildly several times, that there were no leeches at the moment since they had had a spell of dry weather.

On our return to Madras, I was absent-mindedly scratching my ankles, and looked down to see some red, mosquito-like itch marks. Sheila also said she had some and then husband and son also had these marks. However, we did not see any insect biting us, though we peered closely and examined our limbs thoroughly - I only found more unwanted warts and moles that I never knew I had!

Sheila's sister then mentioned to her that they may be "chigger bites", so off we went to figure out what this was (Google zindabad!) and discovered that chiggers were the larvae of a type of mite, and they were almost microscopic! To our relief (I had heard some worrying stories about tick bites and mysterious fevers), these were not ticks, and besides the itching, we could ignore it.

That is what we did - tried not to scratch, kept the skin clean, and now two weeks later, those little welts have dried, and the itching is gone.

Mites are arachnids, like ticks, but are much, much smaller, almost microscopic. Ticks are larger - I remember the ones that use to plague our dogs. If I'm not mistaken, ticks feed on blood of the host, while mites feed on lymph tissue, if they are parasitic. Ticks are also more troublesome in that they carry diseases, and so one has to keep a close eye out for them. Mites, it appears, lead to allergies, but many, (like the ones we were bitten by), can be ignored in that the discomfort is temporary and without any other implications.

Here are some other arachnids we saw in the Parambikulam area.

Argiope anasuja. Photo by Junior, with his 35mm Nikon camera and manual focus

And then we saw this "exoskeleton". Actually Pranav did, and showed it to all of us. So, the spider does not have an internal skeleton but one like an external shield. And when it grows, it bursts out of the old one and grows a new one!

I've often wondered why we find spiders on their backs, with their legs curled up. Check out this link for the reason.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Happy and free. Chained and sad?

As I saw the wonderful scenes of jubilation in Tahrir Square in Cairo, I once again appreciated my basic civil liberties. Would I rather live in chaotic, inefficient but democratic India, or controlled and advanced China? Would I enjoy being a princess in a gilded cage- like castle or an ordinary citizen free to roam the streets and markets of my land?

Similarly, would the elephants prefer the freedom of the forests to the luxuries of being fed and bathed (never mind the chains) of camp life? On our recent visit to Parambikulam, I saw elephants in the wild, and they were definitely smiling I tell you. And then, there were the sad eyes of the Top Slip elephant camp inmates.

I dont like zoos and I dont like elephants in camps. The worst off are the temple elephants. I saw a couple of temple elephantsa few months ago...and my heart just went in to my stomach on seeing their plight. Instead of praying, I silently asked for that magnificent creature's forgiveness.

It is no wonder that in their collective unconscious these animals are angry at us...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Wild boars of Parambikulam

So, what is a social group of wild boars called?

"Sounders", says Wikipedia!

Everyone had good sightings of sounders of wild boars at Parambikulam. One lot trudged past our dormitory morning and evening, their snouts in the ground foraging for anything they could find to eat. They really do eat anything edible I believe - omnivores of the highest order!
Nice mohawk isn't it?
Occasionally, they would lift their snouts and sniff out our alien presence, which I thought was rather endearing.

They are fierce creatures, though, and I've heard stories of MNS members being charged by them. Sudhakar gave us a particularly graphic account of being stuck in a nullah within eyeball distance of one, with both man and boar wanting to flee. (He straddled the walls of the nullah and the boar went charging through the tunnel of his legs!!)

Wikipedia says:
If surprised or cornered, a boar (particularly a sow with her piglets) can and will defend itself and its young with intense vigor. The male lowers its head, charges, and then slashes upward with his tusks. The female, whose tusks are not visible, charges with her head up, mouth wide, and bites. Such attacks are not often fatal to humans, but may result in severe trauma, dismemberment, or blood loss.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The greatest headbanger of them all

Having just seen all those woodpeckers in Parambikulam crazily banging their heads, I thought this article was very well-timed!

Woodpecker's head inspires shock absorbers

"A woodpecker's head experiences decelerations of 1200g as it drums on a tree at up to 22 times per second. Humans are often left concussed if they experience 80 to 100g, so how the woodpecker avoids brain damage was unclear. So Sang-Hee Yoon and Sungmin Park of the University of California, Berkeley, studied video and CT scans of the bird's head and neck and found that it has four structures that absorb mechanical shock.

These are its
hard-but-elastic beak;
a sinewy, springy tongue-supporting structure that extends behind the skull called the hyoid;
an area of spongy bone in its skull;
and the way the skull and cerebrospinal fluid interact to suppress vibration."

Read the article for more details.