Live Wire, Fried Wings

Will the Great Indian Bustard be the first species to go extinct in India?
Originally published in the Outlook magazine (2, October 2015)

By ILCW member (India) Prerna Singh Bindra

On the afternoon of 15th September, a farmer in the Karamba village in Solapur, Maharashtra, a state in western India, was grazing his cattle when he noticed a large, severely injured bird on the ground, its wings singed. Hovering by, helping death to strike were a few feral dogs. As he edged closer, he saw a black mobile like device on the prone creature.  He knew the bird, a frequent visitor to his fields from the adjacent Nanaj Wildlife Sanctuary, and immediately informed the forest department. Within minutes, a rescue team reached the spot, gathered the inert bird and rushed it to the veterinary hospital at Solpaur. But it was too late, ‘Alpha’ was dead.

Who was Alpha, and why such a hullaballoo about a bird?
Alpha was the rarest of the rare—a Great Indian Bustard, that unfortunate bird usurped of the India’s National Bird status by the glamorous peacock as bureaucrats fretted that ‘bustard’ would be likely misspelt, causing considerable embarrassment!

The GIB, as it is a called, is listed as Critically Endangered with a global population of less than 150, almost exclusively in India. Once found in the dry bush and grassland sweeping across the Indian subcontinent from Pakistan in the west upto West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu in the south, it’s now been wiped out from 97 per cent of its range—even in sanctuaries created for its protection, like Gaga-Bhatiya in Gujarat, Rannibenur in Karnataka, Sorsan in Rajasthan, Son Chiraiya (Karera) and Ghatigaonin Madhya Pradesh. Its two most viable populations are in and around Desert National Park in Rajasthan at about 100, while Naliya in Kutch counts about 30. The rest are sparsely scattered in a few other pockets in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka.

Alpha was special. As his name suggests, he was the dominant male, ‘productive’ and had successfully mated this April.  In fact, so enthusiastic was he about this whole affair that the forest staff (devoted to their task and the birds) nicknamed him ‘Vicky donor’(A hyperactive professional sperm donor in a popular Bollywood film)!!

Alpha was one among the three GIBs in Maharashtra (besides the odd transient ones). The other male was younger, and imaginatively called Chotu (usually an affectionate nickname for the youngest son). Both had been tagged by wildlife researchers, to understand the mystery that surrounds the birds, like where they migrate to during the non-breeding seasons.  Interestingly, Chotu, who was fitted with a GPS transmitter in April 2015, revealed the great distances these birds fly, and the large areas they use. Writes Vaijayanti Vijayaraghavan, a researcher with the Wildlife Institute of India, working in Nanaj, “As the monsoon commenced and the breeding season set in, Alpha drove Chotu, out of Nanaj, propelling his journey across the landscape.” Chotu was to fly over 1,200 km, across districts, and to the neighbouring state, Karnataka border in the three months he was monitored.

Alpha is dead now, electrocuted on 15th September, 2015. The same morning Alpha was seen displaying, strutting his feathers, in a bid to impress the lady. He then took wing, flying for about 15 km around Nanaj before he hit a power transmission line. The post mortem indicated charring due to electric line collusion.
GIBs are tall, standing up to four feet, and amongst the heaviest of flying birds, and so fly at low heights. Coupled with their relatively small binocular field, they are more prone to such collisions.  In the past decade, six GIBs have died as a consequence of collision or electrocution by electric lines. Alpha is the seventh.

With so few remaining, the loss of every bird is catastrophic—pushing the species closer to the brink.

It’s imperative that transmission lines in, and around, at least 10 km of bustard areas simply must go, and be replaced with underground cables.

Transmission lines, though, are just one among a medley of threats.
Historically, widespread hunting, accelerated by vehicular access to hitherto remote areas, for sport and food precipitated the bustard’s decline. The rampant hunting (and the abundance) is indicated by records in The Oriental Sports Magazine of one Robert Mansfield who bagged no less than 961 GIBs in Ahmednagar district, where none exist now.  Poaching appears to be a serious threat in Pakistan’s Cholistan desert–birds fly across the two countries, irrespective of hostile borders, and Pakistan has a small resident or transient population. According to a report, 49 of the 63 GIBs sighted in four years between 2001-2004, were hunted (Khan et al, 2008).

But the key cause of the near-extinction is the steady annihilation of its habitat, grasslands, a vital, vibrant ecosystem harbouring rare and endemic wildlife such as wolves, caracals, blackbucks, rhinos, pygmy hogs and, of course, bustards. Yet, grasslands and deserts are the most neglected ecosystems, as per a report (Sept., 2011) of the Task Force on Grasslands and Deserts appointed by India’s Planning Commission. Officially, grasslands are designated wastelands; and therefore degraded, diverted, destroyed for real estate, industry, roads, mining, canals, agriculture. ‘Greening’ deserts by planting exotic trees, and well-intended schemes like the Indira Gandhi Canal in the Thar, change the ecology of the region, rendering them hostile for its xeric biodiversity.

Pesticides and changing crop patterns—a shift to mechanised farming and cash crops—have taken a toll too. Bustards are ground nesting birds, and hence very vulnerable to predators, and any other disturbance.

A relatively new—and perhaps unexpected–threat comes in the form of wind and solar farms, which have taken over swathes of bustard habitat in both Thar and Kutch, further crunching vital breeding areas, besides causing bird mortality. Renewable energy is critical in an era of Climate Change, but its placement must undergo scrutiny for biodiversity impacts.

It is almost too late for the Great Indian Bustard.  Alpha’s death serves as a grim reminder of the extreme vulnerability of the species. Former Additional Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests& Director of Wildlife Preservation, MK Ranjitsinh fears its imminent extinction, “Were this tragedy to occur, the GIB would be the first species in the history of India to have been allowed to go extinct,” he says.

I am reminded of this book I read Witness to Extinction. It’s about the baiji, the Yangtze river dolphin, a species as old as 25 million years, extinct in 2002. Writes the author Samuel Turvey, “All that’s left on stage are the commemorative baiji statues. As for the baiji itself, it looks like it is the only thing not made in China anymore. Poor old Baiji. You deserved better.”

‘Our’ Great Indian Bustard deserves better too. RIP Alpha. Here is hoping that your death is not in vain, and stirs urgent action to save your kin.

To save the GIB:
    Designate well-protected core breeding areas, with a landscape conservation strategy where the bustards’ ecological needs are factored in with low-intensity livelihood concerns. Enlist support of local communities and other relevant departments.
    Conserve grasslands. Curtail detrimental infrastructure and other projects in GIB priority areas
    Policy changes regarding land use and prioritisation of ‘Bustard-friendly grazing’ and cropping policies. Controlling feral dog populations in and around critical GIB areas.

Prerna Singh Bindra is a former member of the National Board for Wildlife and trustee, Bagh. She focuses on the conservation of endangered species and wild habitat. Her area of expertise is conservation policy and communications.
She is a writer and is currently working on a children’s book on tigers.

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The War on Trees

By ILCW member (USA) Elizabeth Carothers Herron

Drinking tea in bed on a rainy night (the cat
curled next to my hip), I lean
to the warm cup on the bedside table

and then, like the glimpse
of a young girl running through a far woods,
almost beyond sight, almost lost, caught
with the surprise of a sharp pain —
a thought, a memory

like waking at night and tripping
over the stool left mid-rug, losing your balance
in the dark. And so we fall

toward what hurts – all the losses, and listening
to the worrying, the constant effort
to make up for old failures.

Still I wasn’t quiet. I didn’t quit fighting.

Under the alder branches, hummingbird nest a thimble
of lichen in leaves, now you see it now you don’t sway
of spring. Going back and seeing
they’d cut them, my beloved alders, guardians,
of the path to my door.
Where did the hummingbird go to make her nest?

Ten times four seasons – prayers
of leaf buds unfolded into pairs of green wings
as if for a while the bare branches were filled
with tiny green birds fluttering in the spring breeze.
catkins with their blessing of pollen
smeared the sidewalk chartreuse.

(the tea cup warm in my hands, the sleeping cat)

All the slain trees I’ve loved — Why this war? The lies
told to cut them down. The arborist knowing to say
one is diseased so others can be saved.
And what of the souls of trees?

What of their generous spirits, welcoming
branches open to the rain, the wild waltz to winter winds?
How they cooled the house through hot summers.

What is this war on trees?

The thought of some things hurts so
the mind stumbles
and falls into the still-howling self —
what is beloved and taken by malice or caprice.
Some trees.

Now two hawks swim through winter oaks, gone in a blink.
Fifteen years here and those alders from the old place
come back and back. (the cat purring, warm)

Was I so lonely?
The great tenderness of trees.

How the alders grew, and the ginkgo by the kitchen —
so slowly yet one day it reached the second story window,
my writing room, and how I watched its leaves toss
in October, a shudder of yellow fans
and then the puddle of gold they made around its trunk.

The quiet comfort, the small steady joy of some trees (some animals).

Happy Earth Day

Friday April 22 is the 46th anniversary of the founding of Earth Day. Countries all around the globe will celebrate by bringing awareness to recycling, the importance of clean water, reducing pollution and the protection of wildlife and wild lands. Send us your stories, video clips, poem, or short paragraph of how people in your country celebrated Earth Day.

Posted April 22, 2016

Eco-Grief and Ecofeminism

ILCW member (US) Heidi Hutner did a TedxTalk on “Eco-Grief and Ecofeminism.” It is the story of her journey into environmental teaching and activism, after her cancer diagnosis at 35, and after the loss of her parents, both to cancer. This inspiring talk moves from grief to hope, and calls on each of us to act. She draws on a history of women scientists and environmentalists for her inspiration. If we do act, as Heidi says, “we can fix this thing.”
Dr. Heidi Hutner is the director of the Sustainability Studies Program at Stony Brook University. She teaches and writes about environmental literature and film, environmental justice, ecofeminism, ecocriticism, and media. Hutner writes for magazines and literary journals such as Ms. Magazine, Yes!, Spirituality and Health, Tikkun, American Society for Literature and the Environment, Proximity, Florida Journal Studies, and more, and she has contributed articles to environmental anthologies published by Oxford University Press, Palgrave, and others.
Currently, she is working on two environmental memoirs entitled Inspiring Green Minds: Memoirs of An Eco Professor and Nowhere: Memoirs of an Atomic Family.

 

Two Young People Raise $10,000 for Mali Elephants

Sixteen elephants were slaughtered by poachers in the northern regions of Mali in January. The Mali elephants have recently changed their migration route and are now staying close to communities who support their wellbeing. Evidence supports the fact that the elephants do know where they are safe. Two children, Abby and Theo have raised nearly $10,000 to assist the elephants and offer this good advice: 1. Complaining is not productive. 2. Relationships are at the root of the problem and the solution. And, 3. You’ve got friends: use them. The Mali Elephant Program is a project of the WILD Foundation.
Read the full story.

Animal Wall Art Made by Special Effects Makeup Artist

Proceeds go to their protection
HawksbillTurtle
PacificWalrus

Wilde Animals is a group that make beautiful wall art OF endangered and vulnerable species to raise awareness that over half of the world’s animal species could become extinct within the next 100 years. Lauren Wilde is a special effects makeup artist and has united this talent with her love for animals. It’s a creative way to start the conversation on saving these species. The Wilde Animals are made from all vegan materials and are mounted on recycled, refurbished plaques and frames. 15% of every sale is donated to an organization actively helping the animal that was purchased. View art samples and to learn more

Global Warming Explained… in 320 words

By Stephen Leahy ILCW Member (Canada)
One night in a bar a Russian journalist who I’d just met says:  “This global warming is too complicated for people to know if it’s real or not”.
“You don’t think climate change is happening?” I asked with surprise since we were both covering a big United Nations climate conference.
“No one has been able to give me a good explanation to prove it’s real,” said Yuri (not his real name).
“I can explain it to you in less than one minute,” I replied.
Yuri was sceptical but I went ahead and said:
“The moon has no atmosphere so it is scorching hot (+100C) during the day and bitterly cold (-150C) at night. The Earth has an atmosphere made up of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases. Over 150 years ago scientists proved that CO2 traps heat from the sun. We also know without any doubt that burning fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal emits CO2.
Measurements, not computer models or theories, measurements show that there is now 42% more CO2 in the atmosphere than 150 years ago before massive use of fossil fuels. That extra CO2 is like putting another blanket on at night even though you are already nice and warm. The Earth is now 1.0 C hotter on average according to the latest measurements. Heat is a form of energy and with so much more energy in our atmosphere our weather system is becoming supercharged resulting in stronger storms, worse heat waves, major changes in when and where rain falls and more.
That’s it.
After a long silence Yuri says “I guess that makes sense…”.
I’m not sure he was convinced but the truth is that climate change is not that complicated.

Live Wire, Fried Wings

Will the Great Indian Bustard be the first species to go extinct in India?
Originally published in the Outlook magazine (2, October 2015)

By ILCW member (India) Prerna Singh Bindra

On the afternoon of 15th September, a farmer in the Karamba village in Solapur, Maharashtra, a state in western India, was grazing his cattle when he noticed a large, severely injured bird on the ground, its wings singed. Hovering by, helping death to strike were a few feral dogs. As he edged closer, he saw a black mobile like device on the prone creature.  He knew the bird, a frequent visitor to his fields from the adjacent Nanaj Wildlife Sanctuary, and immediately informed the forest department. Within minutes, a rescue team reached the spot, gathered the inert bird and rushed it to the veterinary hospital at Solpaur. But it was too late, ‘Alpha’ was dead.

Who was Alpha, and why such a hullaballoo about a bird?
Alpha was the rarest of the rare—a Great Indian Bustard, that unfortunate bird usurped of the India’s National Bird status by the glamorous peacock as bureaucrats fretted that ‘bustard’ would be likely misspelt, causing considerable embarrassment!

The GIB, as it is a called, is listed as Critically Endangered with a global population of less than 150, almost exclusively in India. Once found in the dry bush and grassland sweeping across the Indian subcontinent from Pakistan in the west upto West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu in the south, it’s now been wiped out from 97 per cent of its range—even in sanctuaries created for its protection, like Gaga-Bhatiya in Gujarat, Rannibenur in Karnataka, Sorsan in Rajasthan, Son Chiraiya (Karera) and Ghatigaonin Madhya Pradesh. Its two most viable populations are in and around Desert National Park in Rajasthan at about 100, while Naliya in Kutch counts about 30. The rest are sparsely scattered in a few other pockets in erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka.

Alpha was special. As his name suggests, he was the dominant male, ‘productive’ and had successfully mated this April.  In fact, so enthusiastic was he about this whole affair that the forest staff (devoted to their task and the birds) nicknamed him ‘Vicky donor’(A hyperactive professional sperm donor in a popular Bollywood film)!!

Alpha was one among the three GIBs in Maharashtra (besides the odd transient ones). The other male was younger, and imaginatively called Chotu (usually an affectionate nickname for the youngest son). Both had been tagged by wildlife researchers, to understand the mystery that surrounds the birds, like where they migrate to during the non-breeding seasons.  Interestingly, Chotu, who was fitted with a GPS transmitter in April 2015, revealed the great distances these birds fly, and the large areas they use. Writes Vaijayanti Vijayaraghavan, a researcher with the Wildlife Institute of India, working in Nanaj, “As the monsoon commenced and the breeding season set in, Alpha drove Chotu, out of Nanaj, propelling his journey across the landscape.” Chotu was to fly over 1,200 km, across districts, and to the neighbouring state, Karnataka border in the three months he was monitored.

Alpha is dead now, electrocuted on 15th September, 2015. The same morning Alpha was seen displaying, strutting his feathers, in a bid to impress the lady. He then took wing, flying for about 15 km around Nanaj before he hit a power transmission line. The post mortem indicated charring due to electric line collusion.
GIBs are tall, standing up to four feet, and amongst the heaviest of flying birds, and so fly at low heights. Coupled with their relatively small binocular field, they are more prone to such collisions.  In the past decade, six GIBs have died as a consequence of collision or electrocution by electric lines. Alpha is the seventh.

With so few remaining, the loss of every bird is catastrophic—pushing the species closer to the brink.

It’s imperative that transmission lines in, and around, at least 10 km of bustard areas simply must go, and be replaced with underground cables.

Transmission lines, though, are just one among a medley of threats.
Historically, widespread hunting, accelerated by vehicular access to hitherto remote areas, for sport and food precipitated the bustard’s decline. The rampant hunting (and the abundance) is indicated by records in The Oriental Sports Magazine of one Robert Mansfield who bagged no less than 961 GIBs in Ahmednagar district, where none exist now.  Poaching appears to be a serious threat in Pakistan’s Cholistan desert–birds fly across the two countries, irrespective of hostile borders, and Pakistan has a small resident or transient population. According to a report, 49 of the 63 GIBs sighted in four years between 2001-2004, were hunted (Khan et al, 2008).

But the key cause of the near-extinction is the steady annihilation of its habitat, grasslands, a vital, vibrant ecosystem harbouring rare and endemic wildlife such as wolves, caracals, blackbucks, rhinos, pygmy hogs and, of course, bustards. Yet, grasslands and deserts are the most neglected ecosystems, as per a report (Sept., 2011) of the Task Force on Grasslands and Deserts appointed by India’s Planning Commission. Officially, grasslands are designated wastelands; and therefore degraded, diverted, destroyed for real estate, industry, roads, mining, canals, agriculture. ‘Greening’ deserts by planting exotic trees, and well-intended schemes like the Indira Gandhi Canal in the Thar, change the ecology of the region, rendering them hostile for its xeric biodiversity.

Pesticides and changing crop patterns—a shift to mechanised farming and cash crops—have taken a toll too. Bustards are ground nesting birds, and hence very vulnerable to predators, and any other disturbance.

A relatively new—and perhaps unexpected–threat comes in the form of wind and solar farms, which have taken over swathes of bustard habitat in both Thar and Kutch, further crunching vital breeding areas, besides causing bird mortality. Renewable energy is critical in an era of Climate Change, but its placement must undergo scrutiny for biodiversity impacts.

It is almost too late for the Great Indian Bustard.  Alpha’s death serves as a grim reminder of the extreme vulnerability of the species. Former Additional Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests& Director of Wildlife Preservation, MK Ranjitsinh fears its imminent extinction, “Were this tragedy to occur, the GIB would be the first species in the history of India to have been allowed to go extinct,” he says.

I am reminded of this book I read Witness to Extinction. It’s about the baiji, the Yangtze river dolphin, a species as old as 25 million years, extinct in 2002. Writes the author Samuel Turvey, “All that’s left on stage are the commemorative baiji statues. As for the baiji itself, it looks like it is the only thing not made in China anymore. Poor old Baiji. You deserved better.”

‘Our’ Great Indian Bustard deserves better too. RIP Alpha. Here is hoping that your death is not in vain, and stirs urgent action to save your kin.

To save the GIB:
    Designate well-protected core breeding areas, with a landscape conservation strategy where the bustards’ ecological needs are factored in with low-intensity livelihood concerns. Enlist support of local communities and other relevant departments.
    Conserve grasslands. Curtail detrimental infrastructure and other projects in GIB priority areas
    Policy changes regarding land use and prioritisation of ‘Bustard-friendly grazing’ and cropping policies. Controlling feral dog populations in and around critical GIB areas.

Prerna Singh Bindra is a former member of the National Board for Wildlife and trustee, Bagh. She focuses on the conservation of endangered species and wild habitat. Her area of expertise is conservation policy and communications.
She is a writer and is currently working on a children’s book on tigers.

………………
The War on Trees
By ILCW member (USA) Elizabeth Carothers Herron

Drinking tea in bed on a rainy night (the cat
curled next to my hip), I lean
to the warm cup on the bedside table

and then, like the glimpse
of a young girl running through a far woods,
almost beyond sight, almost lost, caught
with the surprise of a sharp pain —
a thought, a memory

like waking at night and tripping
over the stool left mid-rug, losing your balance
in the dark. And so we fall

toward what hurts – all the losses, and listening
to the worrying, the constant effort
to make up for old failures.

Still I wasn’t quiet. I didn’t quit fighting.

Under the alder branches, hummingbird nest a thimble
of lichen in leaves, now you see it now you don’t sway
of spring. Going back and seeing
they’d cut them, my beloved alders, guardians,
of the path to my door.
Where did the hummingbird go to make her nest?

Ten times four seasons – prayers
of leaf buds unfolded into pairs of green wings
as if for a while the bare branches were filled
with tiny green birds fluttering in the spring breeze.
catkins with their blessing of pollen
smeared the sidewalk chartreuse.

(the tea cup warm in my hands, the sleeping cat)

All the slain trees I’ve loved — Why this war? The lies
told to cut them down. The arborist knowing to say
one is diseased so others can be saved.
And what of the souls of trees?

What of their generous spirits, welcoming
branches open to the rain, the wild waltz to winter winds?
How they cooled the house through hot summers.

What is this war on trees?

The thought of some things hurts so
the mind stumbles
and falls into the still-howling self —
what is beloved and taken by malice or caprice.
Some trees.

Now two hawks swim through winter oaks, gone in a blink.
Fifteen years here and those alders from the old place
come back and back. (the cat purring, warm)

Was I so lonely?
The great tenderness of trees.

How the alders grew, and the ginkgo by the kitchen —
so slowly yet one day it reached the second story window,
my writing room, and how I watched its leaves toss
in October, a shudder of yellow fans
and then the puddle of gold they made around its trunk.

The quiet comfort, the small steady joy of some trees (some animals).
………………
Global Warming Explained… in 320 words
By Stephen Leahy ILCW Member (Canada)
One night in a bar a Russian journalist who I’d just met says:  “This global warming is too complicated for people to know if it’s real or not”.
“You don’t think climate change is happening?” I asked with surprise since we were both covering a big United Nations climate conference.
“No one has been able to give me a good explanation to prove it’s real,” said Yuri (not his real name).
“I can explain it to you in less than one minute,” I replied.
Yuri was sceptical but I went ahead and said:
“The moon has no atmosphere so it is scorching hot (+100C) during the day and bitterly cold (-150C) at night. The Earth has an atmosphere made up of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases. Over 150 years ago scientists proved that CO2 traps heat from the sun. We also know without any doubt that burning fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal emits CO2.
Measurements, not computer models or theories, measurements show that there is now 42% more CO2 in the atmosphere than 150 years ago before massive use of fossil fuels. That extra CO2 is like putting another blanket on at night even though you are already nice and warm. The Earth is now 1.0 C hotter on average according to the latest measurements. Heat is a form of energy and with so much more energy in our atmosphere our weather system is becoming supercharged resulting in stronger storms, worse heat waves, major changes in when and where rain falls and more.
That’s it.
After a long silence Yuri says “I guess that makes sense…”.
I’m not sure he was convinced but the truth is that climate change is not that complicated.
One additional thing to know is that CO2 is forever. Every little CO2 molecule we add to the atmosphere will continue to trap the sun’s heat for hundreds and thousands of years.
………………