Category: Kolkata


Wings of Hope

I have been involved with environmental activities for quite some time now. I guess, it’s a much needed catharsis after the crazy schedule of the week. Recently, I came to know about this NGO, NEWS from a friend. A Saturday afternoon couldn’t have been more well spent!! They have been doing phenomenal work since 1991 in the field of environment & ecological conservation in the Sunderbans.

I happened to catch up on one of their recent studies & here it is – quite heartening facts about the almost extinct Bengal vulture.

Introduction

Vultures inhabit the lowest rung in the food chain. They act as scavengers, primarily feeding on dead carcass and thus performs the important function of cleaning up the eco-system.

But nature’s most efficient scavengers are on the verge of extinction. Nine species of vultures have been recorded from the Indian subcontinent of which five belong to the genus Gyps. The White-backed vulture (Gyps bengalensis),Long billed vulture (Gyps indicus), Slender-billed vulture (Gyps tenuerostris)were the most populous species. But a rapid decline was noticed in their population in the last decade. The worst affected species was that of the Bengal Vulture or The White – backed Vulture ( Gyps bengalenesis). <!–[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 <![endif]–> In the last 12 years, a shocking 92% decline in their population was observed, leading conservationists to declare them as a rare & threatened species.

Bengal vultures are easily distinguished due to their white ruff of soft feathers around the base of the neck and a broad whitish band along the underside of the wings and an overall heavy brownish – black appearance. These are usually seen in small groups , perched hunched up on tree-tops. Usually late risers, very often seen asleep on a branch with head tucked under the wing till the sun is well up. This is possibly due to their dependence on thermal currents for gliding.

The breeding season stretches from October to March. The nest is an untidy mass of twigs and sticks along with leaves. Normally one egg is laid in a nest. Incubation period lasts for about 45 days. The young is fed on regurgitated goblets of meat. Both sexes share their domestic chores.

A study was conducted by a team of bird – watchers from “Nature Environment & Wildlife Society”(NEWS) on a group of vultures that were sighted within the premises of the Victoria Memorial and on two trees near the Race Course.

Duration of the Study

Field observations were made on the bird community from last year, 18th of April, 2008 to be precise and continued till date.

Site of Study
In and around Victoria Memorial and The Calcutta Race Course.

Observations

  • When the study was started , the NEWS team spotted a total of 19 bengal vultures (Gyps bengalensis)in the area around Victoria Memorial.
  • 3 vultures died thereafter. The Forest Department carried out a post mortem on the bodies of the vulture, it revealed the presence of bits of glasses in the stomach of one vulture. The other vultures were found to have empty stomachs. Previous studies attributed the cause for the decline of the vulture population on the use of Diclofenac. But along with that, food shortage also seems to be a problem.
  • There were sightings of a nest in one of the trees within the campus of Victoria Memorial . But the nest fell down during a storm.
  • Two new nests were again seen around end of December. On the 28th of December, a vulture was seen brooding in one of the nests.
  • Around 15th of February a new census revealed the existence of 14 bengal vultures in the same area.

On the 26th of February , a baby vulture was seen, its white head drooping down along a twig.

  • On the same day, another vulture in the other nest on the same tree was repeatedly attempting to chase off any crows that came in the vicinity of the nest and seemed to be brooding. After some time its mate was seen coming out of the nest after which it went into the nest. So, another baby is expected to be seen within the next few days.
  • On the 28th of February, a new chick was seen in the other nest at 5 pm in the evening. It was energetically attempting to bite at the crows that were pestering it. Perhaps, it would need that sort of verve to lead the population into the future.
  • On the same day, a new census revealed 23 vultures. That was really heartening!

Discussion –

It seems that the White – backed vulture or the Bengal Vulture ( Gyps bengalensis )is thriving as of now in this area in and around the Victoria Memorial. However, the source of their food remains a mystery , since the pilkhanas has been shifted from in and around Kolkata. So it is assumed that they must be flying long distances and then coming back to roost. Or it might be that they are surviving on the bits and pieces accumulated from dustbins or streets.

Another factor that might be an imminent threat to the thriving vulture population is the omnipresence of its scavenging competitor, the crows. Due to the greater number of crows in the city, the vultures might be losing out on food and to a certain extent, shelter. Even if they are 4 times larger, one does know how much of a pest the cunning crow might be when it comes to snatching food from the vulture’s nest or biting the young vultures.

Whatever might be the fact, whether the population grows or not is something that conservationists shall have to wait and watch.

Investigators – Sanjib Banerjee & Tiasa Adhya.

Comments
The forest department has set up a vulture breeding centre at Rajabhatkhawa which is yet to prove itself. But this is great news for the conservationists that they have bred in the wild and successfully given birth to chicks. Now, it is the responsibility of the forest department to handle these nature-born chicks!

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A Bong & his Bitchings…

Many of the readers out here have pointed out my apparent proclivity to comment on the Bong & his idiosyncracies…I am not refuting that, but then their idiosyncracies have a strange way of getting at me. I am not complaining either…as long as they warrant a blog action.

     The Bong & his inquisitiveness towards a colleague’s pay-check & material wealth is not new to many of us.  Well, on these lines, the most recent that I have been party to, also happens to be (quite annoyingly) one where I have been at the receiving end.

    A colleague-friend of mine, a die-hard Bong (one who swears & lives by his umbrella on any given day of the year) happens to be amongst those one-in-a-zillion mortals who gave up a fully funded post-grad course abroad & came back coz he was missing his room & home ambience out here in Kolkata. I remember gaping at this individual when he first told me of his trysts out there. You wouldn’t miss him in a crowd….a smooth talker, one who quite literally has the gift of the gab & quite a pleasing personality..well, not always!
 

      At work it so often happens that batchmates & peers do have a significant salary differential…I guess it’s nothing untoward in this age where compensation is quite directly proportional to performance. Now, it happened to be that we are not at par vis-a-vis our official remuneration! This friend of mine quite jittery at the fact & having felt let down…decides to vent his ire on me. Now, the term ire in this context should not be taken literatim. For quite some time now, I am having to put up with ridiculous queries as to how much I am saving & why I should not be saving so much by doing this(read ENJOYING LIFE)..that & GOD knows what! My dear friend even thinks that I am on the verge of a geriatric breakdown – something which according to him octogenarians experience! Get a life, dude! And to add to that, there are quite a few of his tribe who have added to my misery!! I keep wondering what is it that they want….is this the Bong’s way of expressing envy or going green with jealousy?
   Wish I knew….the old & time-proven adage of “A Bengali is one who thinks he is the smartest & poorest at the same time” just couldn’t be more apt…talk of a regressive society that is thriving in the “cultural capital” of India.

A Rendezvous with History

                                                     

A Saturday afternoon after a sterile week is not exactly the time when one would suddenly have the urge to visit a cemetery out of all places…but this is exactly what I did yesterday, & here I am penning down my thoughts on it. Yes, I do love visiting cemeteries, more so when it has a lot to tell..!!

         I am sure not many of us were aware that Kolkata is one of the two cities in India & probably in Asia(the other one being Imphal, Manipur) which boasts of a Commonwealth War Graves cemetery outside Europe.  Me & a friend of mine were among those once-in-a-blue-moon visitors to this place eliciting curious glances from folks, starting off with the cabbie who took us there. 

For the uninitiated, The Commonwealth War Graves  is the resting place of all those defence personnel who lost their lives serving under the British Crown/Allied Supreme Command during both the First & Second World Wars. The CWG in Kolkata was initially a civilian cemetery a section of which later was demarcated as the resting place for the Allied personnel who lost their lives in the Burma Front during the Japanese Invasion.  The place is immaculately maintained by the authorities – the Commonwealth War Graves Commision, UK is responsible for the general upkeep of this section. A must-visit for anyone interested in the history of this city & its role in the great wars.