Battles for the commons

We need water, electricity, roads, buildings, materials to make the things we like and the industries that make them.  ‘Development’, however, has claimed an enormous human and environmental cost.  Not just because dams and roads and buildings are not possible without some loss of forest and displacement of people.  But more because of poor planning, a certain disdain for environmental laws and promises of compensation, a propensity to cut corners when it comes to keeping the air and waters clean, and a tendency to turn a blind eye to peoples’ suffering.  Health and livelihoods are force sacrificed, cultures are threatened.  People have lost faith in governments.

And they are fighting back*.  But only a tiny fraction of these battles are won.  Ritwick Dutta, one of the few full time environmental lawyers in India, said in a talk last year that of 20,000 to 30,000 projects that are ‘legally’ sanctioned every year in the country, only about 50 get challenged and most of these go through anyway.  This is despite the fact that India is unique in the powerful legal machinery available for environmental protection.

There are several stories of local people in rural areas in India taking on multinationals and the government to protect hills and forests, land and water that are integral to their way of life**.  There are several similar battles that are fought in other parts of the world.  The most recent story I read is about tribes deep in the Amazon fighting against a dam that might displace them, depriving them of their land and livelihood.

Loss and pollution of land, water and air is an urban problem too.  The Bhopal gas tragedy is probably one of the most well known cases – the struggle for justice has been going on for more than 30 years now.  Chronic complacency has ensured that other cities like Delhi are struggling to breathe, and those like Bangalore have lost several lakes. There were ‘floods’ last year in Chennai after rainwater, with nowhere to go due to built up catchment areas and clogged streams that would have otherwise drained the water to the sea, inundated roads and homes***.

Perhaps this was good in a way – people in cities seem to have woken up to the reality of environmental unconcern too.  Another recent ‘battle’ I came across is by a group of artistes who use classical South Indian music to decry damage done to water bodies around Chennai, the Ennore creek in particular**** – damage done due to decades of government and citizen apathy.  ‘Ennorila seinji mudichan unnoorila seyya varuvaan’, they warn; ‘They might do to your place what they did to mine’.

Will the warning be heeded? Will urban battles be more successful than rural ones?

* Environmental Justice Atlas (EJAtlas) is a wonderful project that catalogues environmental degradation and peoples’ resistance against it globally. Here is an article about the project.

** EJAtlas has several examples.  Ritwick Dutta in his talk outlines a few cases too (go directly to ~38.30min of the talk for a quick overview of several cases if you don’t have time to listen to the full talk).

*** Here is a post about this and other such catastrophes that happened last year.

**** The story of the Ennore creek here and here.

 

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Wild animals and us

Humans have interacted with wild animals for a very long time  – people have hunted them for food and sport, hated them for spoiling crops, loved them for their beauty, derived inspiration from them…  But there is a section of human society that has probably emerged just over the last few centuries with the rise of increasingly insulated cities that is completely cut off from anything ‘wild’.

An incident last week: At lunch in a canteen in a premier science research institute, I overheard a conversation from a neighbouring table.  ‘It was a cobra.  It was a potential danger, you know… We could actually hear it hissing.  So we just killed it.  What if it had bitten someone…’  A murmur of concern and approval.  ‘I was also one of the people who killed it’, the evidently city-bred speaker added with some pride, grinning broadly.

What do people in cities do when they suddenly come face to face with wildlife?  They fear it.  Then quickly destroy the cause of fear if possible. And then, rejoice.

But people in cities want to see wildlife (so long as they are in cages or in chains).  Hundreds of elephants in Kerala’s temples draw thousands of people every year, making possibly millions of rupees in revenue.  A hundred tigers were (till very recently) kept captive in a temple in Thailand; the temple was a tourist attraction.  People come from around the world to watch the animals decorated and paraded… Maybe they can feed them, and even get blessed.  But the animals themselves often face social isolation, physical pain, undernourishment, exploitation and neglect*.

There are also animals in zoos**.  In ‘good’ zoos, the animals probably are much ‘happier’ than in temples – they have some space and care.  Some of the animals were born captive.  Some people argue they have a ‘good life’.  But what do you do if a human enters the animals’ space? What do you do if someone tries to take a selfie with a walrus… and dies?

How do people in cities regard wildlife? It is probably context dependent. In a religious place, they are probably regarded with awe.  In a zoo, they are regarded maybe with some curiosity.  They certainly are photographed in both places.  They are ‘amazing’ or ‘boring’ for a day, depending on what they do and how they look…

But why are animals even there in temples and zoos?  How are the animals kept?  How are they really, in their natural environments?  How different is a captive animal from one in the wild? What is it to be ‘wild’?

Are people asking?  Are they listening?

* An interview with a filmmaker who feels deeply about the plight of Kerala’s temple elephants here. And here is a report by two NGOs about temple elephants throughout India.

** Should wild animals be in zoos?

 

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The Metal Master

A few weeks ago, we were driving down to Kalakad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR) in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu – some colleagues of mine had to do field work there, and I ‘volunteered’.  Who wouldn’t want to witness a magnificent rainforest like KMTR firsthand? But the region has more than forest that is unique and beautiful – an art.

A few kilometres after the city of Tirunelveli, in a small township called Ambasamudram, there are blacksmiths specializing in making a curious array of cutting tools – there are rows and rows of small shops selling knives, axes and hatchets of all shapes and sizes.  But there is one implement that is very special, that they are proud of, that they make like no other – the aruva.

Yet, even in Ambasamudram, to find an ‘authentic’ Tirunelveli aruva is hard – we visited a dozen shops, we asked a score people, and had almost given up finding an aruva we liked.  Then, as a last attempt, we turned into a small lane and walked, searching.  That is where we found him – the Master.

His name is Murugan.  His workshop is a tiny thatched enclosure.  Most of the space inside is occupied by a crude furnace – a tin box cut out makes one side, and a vertical mud triangle with a hole in the centre another.  A pipe connected to a leather ‘pump’ is let in through the hole, for air to be blown in for the coal to burn.  On one side of the furnace is a long, stone basin with water.  There is a solid wooden bench for Murugan to sit on. The rest of the space is occupied by many bags of coal and dry grass; a few knives lie scattered about.  We peered into the workshop and asked, ‘Do you make aruva?’

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Murugan’s workshop

‘I make only one or two aruvas a week; most of my income comes from repairing implements’, he told us.  The local people use cutting tools for agriculture, for harvesting coconuts, for gathering firewood… There are always broken implements; there is enough work for him through the year.  Murugan is a fourth generation blacksmith.  ‘In those days, they used iron from train suspensions for the aruva’, he said.  Now-a-days, they harvest iron off automobile scrap.

He showed us an aruva he had made – it was beautiful: with curved, heavy, metal blade, brass rimmed buffalo horn handle, and an exquisite metal hook with its end artistically curled, which the locals use to sling the aruva to a piece of cloth tied around their waists.  This was the ‘authentic’ aruva we were looking for.

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The ‘authentic’ aruva

Now, with the aruva, there is one step between choosing and buying – the Master always gives a few final touches, sharpens the blade, makes it last.  But before Murugan could attend to our aruva, there were a few knives he had to sharpen, repair or reshape.  We watched him as he worked.  The knife handles are first wrapped with cloth and allowed to soak in water. ‘This lets you hold the knife after you’ve put it in the furnace’, Murugan explained.  In the meanwhile, someone pumps air into the furnace.  The blade is then put in the furnace and grass is piled on top; in a few minutes the blade glows red hot.  It is then beaten into shape – one stroke with a heavy hammer to flatten the metal, and a lighter tap with a smaller hammer to fine-tune the shape and give the edge sharpness alternate in musical harmony.

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The Master at work

It was then our aruva’s turn.  After the blade is sharpened, the aruva is put in the furnace again, and the red hot metal is quickly dunked in icy water – ‘To give the blade strength’, the Master says.  The edge is made sharper using a motorized grinder (the only modern equipment that’s used in the whole process), heated again in the furnace till the edge is hay-brown, and rubbed with sand.  The aruva glints in the sun, the blade deadly sharp.

‘Our aruva is used only for good things’, Murugan says, ‘Not one has ever been used to do anyone harm’.  The Master cares – it is his aruva!

*Thanks to Dina Nethisa Rasquinha for all the photos!

 

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Conflict

The woman was standing in the middle of her green peas field.  I don’t know how to describe the expression on her face.  Was it sadness, or anger…? Or helplessness? Or was it resignation that goes beyond emotion? I asked her what had happened. She simply said, ‘Last night, bharal ate up half my crop’.  Hers was one of the few score fields that form a green mosaic around Kibber, a village high up in the trans-Himalaya.  Green peas is one of the few crops that grow in this harsh, arid land – the peas are delicious, there are no pests that attack the crop thanks to the elevation perhaps, and the villagers depend on it for money to see them through the rest of the year.  Five months post winter are devoted to growing the crop – the men help with the physically more intensive work like ploughing, but the womenfolk are in the fields all day every day: seeding, manuring, weeding, irrigating in the scorching sun and freezing wind.  Kibber is in a landscape that is also home to wonderful wildlife – blue sheep (also known as bharal) roam the rangelands around the village, there are wolves and snow leopards too.  The wolves and snow leopards eat up livestock sometimes, and blue sheep like green peas.  The woman I met had lost her crop the previous year – there hadn’t been enough water, and the peas had failed.  This year, she had worked extra hard to make up for shortage of money, but now, her only source of income was gone again, overnight.

There are similar stories of loss, anguish and desperation from other parts of the country too.  In Valparai in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, elephants are known to trample fields, break into buildings, especially shops and places where food is stored.  Sometimes, people have lost their lives.  Hassan in Karnataka is probably a more extreme case of the same problem.  The eastern state of Odisha faces elephant conflict too.  Stories of loss that people have to tell are heartrending, their ire seems justified*.  ‘A scientist or forester may perceive conflict as a few acres of paddy trampled and a few bags of rice lost… But a farmer may perceive the same incident as a total calamity. Not only would he count the grain he lost, he may also count the days he wilted under the sun to raise the crop… So, what may, to a scientist or forester, be a routine conflict incident with a certain material and monetary loss, may completely miss the human stories that drive farmers to such desperation where they may consider shooting, poisoning or electrocution [of the animals] as proportionate responses’, says M D Madhusudan in an interview.  But stories of retaliation against wildlife and of forceful removal of wildlife from the site of conflict are equally painful**.

Maybe it is loss of habitat that is at the root of the problem, given large scale expansion of agricultural lands, roads and railways that cut through forests, dams that submerge them.  Maybe crops and livestock herds are just easy food for wild animals.  Maybe it is people’s fault after all that there is conflict.  Perhaps better planning of development is a way towards mitigating the conflict problem: there have been recommendations to set up zones that prioritize wild animals such as elephants or humans as a potential path towards addressing conflict.  Maybe official empathy towards people and locally adapted schemes are a big part of the solution: there are insurance schemes and early warning measures that have helped in mitigating conflict, at least to an extent.  Maybe more sound knowledge of the animals and their behaviour would help…  But is conflict an ecological issue?  Or is it a socio-political one?  Is it a combination of both?  Or is the root of the problem something else?

* The first and second parts of a vivid narrative of the Hassan elephant problem talks about the trials of the people in the region.

**The story of the elephants of Hassan here.

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Whose disaster is it?

History, past and current, is full of stories of lives of individual people, and entire cities and civilizations being shattered within days due to terrorism and war.  But we are now seeing more and more of another kind of destruction too: in Africa, in Southeast Asia, in India.

There are pictures of barren land and fields full of stubble where there should have been green crop standing tall, pictures of desperate faces turned skyward, skies an unrelenting blue.  This year, South Africa has seen the worst drought in three decades*.  There’s not enough water for crops, and not enough fodder for the cattle.  As food prices spiral upwards, the less poor sell what they have, and those who have nothing to sell, starve.  About 2.7 million households are reported to be affected in South Africa, and losses due to agriculture alone are estimated to be around 10 billion rand.

Then, from Southeast Asia, there are images of raging fires, of whole forests burning, of haze through which you can just about see the outline of a desperate orangutan or of desperate people. In Indonesia wild lands burned in fires more devastating than any other in over a decade**.  Apart from the obvious damage to Indonesia’s wildscapes, half a million people are in severe risk of respiratory disorders, and agriculture and trade losses could amount to millions of dollars.

There is only one thing that can bring back some measure of happiness to people in South Africa and Indonesia: Rain.

But from closer home, there are pictures of people standing neck deep in water, submerged automobiles, floating furniture, stranded animals.  The south Indian city of Chennai is reeling under the heaviest downpour it has seen in a century***.  As streets and homes flood, and transportation, communication and the city’s economic activities are grounded, people wonder if it is the rain or bad urban planning that is the culprit.  Meanwhile, two million people are affected, more than two hundred have lost their lives, and there are economic losses amounting to crores of rupees.

Amidst news of dreadful hardship are videos of reporters helping struggling farmers, stories of researchers fire fighting in their beloved field sites, a photo of a man carrying a dog through knee-deep water…

But who is to blame for all this hardship? Some say, ‘It’s El Nino that’s to blame, nothing can be done’.  Some blame it on climate change.  But others blame it on more proximate processes: corruption and the sheer lack of planning and implementation – illegal structures usurping wetlands and improper storm-water management systems in Chennai, and unregulated burning of forests and drainage of peat-lands in Indonesia.  Most are left wondering if these disasters could have been avoided after all…

Future literature will probably refer to 2015 as a ‘landmark year’ for many reasons. But haven’t there been ‘landmark’ droughts and floods and fires that have ravaged countries for centuries?  Landmarks may be for documenting events in history, for recording for posterity.  But landmarks are also to learn from: to find our way to a destination, and sometimes, to never walk down a path again.

*Read about South Africa’s drought here.

**A factual article about Indonesia’s fires, and a researcher’s story of what happened.

***More about the Chennai floods here.

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Conversations on conservation communication (Updated)

I recently read a conversation on how we write about the environment  – about whether it needs to be more ‘animated’, and how one straddles the conservation-development middle ground (and even whether there is one).  The two letters, by Aasheesh Pittie and T R Shankar Raman brought to mind a few questions.  I list them here, with the hope that the conversation continues.

As our country plunges ahead towards an imagined future, there is an urgency about raising our concerns regarding our vanishing wilderness.  But science is by nature slow, deliberate and cautious. How does one paint a picture of what would befall our landscapes without letting uncertainties dilute its vividness?

There is also a problem of disassociation of people from nature.  Forests, farms, climate, plants and animals are unknown entities to many people whose lives keep them cocooned in cities.  How do you make people appreciate the beauty of a poem they don’t understand?

There is also a problem of different priorities.  We may think of countries as being poorer for trading their wild lands for ‘development’, others may not agree.  There may be some cases where the priorities are clearly skewed; there may be others where the choice is much less clear.  What does one do in such cases?

As Shankar Raman says in his letter, there is the need for more voices speaking up for nature, and words, like saplings in a forest, may bear fruit many years hence.  Let us hope there will still be the animals and birds to savour them.

…………………………………..

Update: A very nice article I was reading about effective communication of science in general (though only tangentially related to this post).  It emphasises the need to bring in the ‘human’ component of the science we do.  How often does conservation writing evoke feelings and images that directly relate to the daily lives of the general public, I wonder.  Are we too stuck in our wonderful wild worlds to even realize that what seems beautiful and in need of urgent preservation to us need not capture anyone else’s imagination?

 

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The conservation-commerce conundrum

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has recently withdrawn the greater sage-grouse from the candidate species list for protection under US’ Endangered Species Act.  The rationale behind the delisting seems to be that over the last two years populations of the bird have recovered remarkably thanks to various conservation efforts, and the sage-grouse is not in any immediate danger of dying out.  Moreover, legal protection for the bird would have meant curtailing oil and gas drilling and several other commercial activities on sage-grouse land.  Some conservationists claim that commerce and politics have, ‘as usual’, doomed the grouse to extinction.  With about 80% of the bird’s habitat lost over the last century, populations of the sage-grouse could go below minimum viable levels in 30 years.  But the government claims that the decline in sage-grouse population has slowed down, thanks to the combined efforts of the government, industries, private landowners and many other people; a system of cooperation that would crumble if sage-grouse habitat is closed to commerce*.  Can commerce aid conservation?

The question is even more difficult to answer in cases such as the rhino, where commerce and conservation are directly at odds.  There’s a legal battle in South Africa, where rhino farmers are demanding that the ban on domestic trade of rhino horn in the country be lifted.  South Africa has about 19,700 rhinos, an article says; one of the two litigants owns 1000 rhinos – a quarter of the country’s rhinos that are privately property.  Legal trade will dilute the demand for illegal rhino horn, will create revenue and aid conservation, the rhino farmers argue.  Moreover, rhino horn is a ‘renewable resource’ which can be obtained without hurting the animals, they say.  Rhino farmers have been dehorning rhinos for years, like other farmers shear sheep for wool.  But legal trade will make it even more difficult to track down poached horn, and will reverse all that has been achieved by years of efforts to reduce the demand for rhino horn.  Coexisting streams of legal and illegal trade will eliminate rhinos even faster, the conservationists argue.  Can commerce and conservation ever coexist?

The question brought to my mind a story that I have heard many times during the Ravi Sankaran Memorial Lecture, a yearly feature of the Bangalore edition of the Student Conference on Conservation Science.  Indian conservationists fondly remember Ravi Sankaran’s efforts towards a sustainable solution to conserving the Andaman and Nicobar Islands’ edible-nest swiftlet**.  These cave dwelling birds make nests entirely from saliva. The nests are considered a delicacy, and over exploitation of the nests, a lack of concern for whether nests had eggs and fledglings or not and irresponsible harvesting had put the bird population in dire straits.  Ravi Sankaran developed a model for conserving the species, a key component of which was that local people would guard nests through the breeding season and harvest them when the birds left the nests; the nests are a ‘renewable resource’ after all.   Conservationists fought for reducing the legal protection for the species, since that limited the sale of the nests, and won.

But how does one replicate this model, and create more such win-win situations where conservation and commerce coexist? Are there lessons from the swiftlet for the rhino?  Are rhino horns comparable to swiftlet nests***? Can one compare the people of the Andamans to the game farmers of South Africa, or indeed the oil and gas companies in the US?

* From an article in the New York Times, and literature on the US Fish and Wildlife Service website.

** More about Ravi Sankaran’s work here, and here is an article by Manchi Shirish and Ravi Sankaran about their swiftlet work.

*** A kilogram of rhino horn fetches $65,000 in the black market, a National Geographic article says.  In comparison, about 6 years to a decade ago, a kilogram of edible nest cost about $300 in the Andamans.  Today, edible nests of the Thai swiftlet (if that is any comparison) can be bought online for anywhere between $600 and $5000.

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Stories from the hills

Last month, I did the trip I’ve come to look forward to every year – to Kibber, a village perched 4200m above sea level in the Spiti valley in Himachal Pradesh.  The day-long journey to the Spiti valley from Manali is like watching a much loved film yet again, waiting eagerly for the best parts.  We drive through the Rohtang pass at sunrise: golden-tipped peaks glisten above hills and valleys cloaked in mist and cloud.  We drive along the Chenab: the sparkling waters run through a brown valley dotted with boulders the size of small houses, a landscape like from another planet.  We drive into the Spiti valley: it is like driving into a masterpiece that’s come to life.  I’ve never seen skies so blue, clouds so white, or so many stars at night anywhere else!

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Clouds mask the hilltops as we climb up from Manali

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Goats of nomadic Gaddi herdsmen on the banks of the Chenab

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Prayer flags at the Kunzum pass

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The Kee monastery on the way to Kibber

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Kibber!

This incredibly magical, yet unyielding, harsh land belongs to a people who are as soft-natured and kind as they are tough in body and spirit.  Their friendship over the years has allowed me a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage that permeates their daily living.

I was helping one of my friends in the village in his kitchen one day; he had guests coming for lunch and the rest of his family had work in the fields.  We were talking about their foods and their kitchenware when he pointed to me a couple of huge vessels made of solid stone on a rack in the kitchen.  They were pitch black.  ‘My mother used to tell me they were brought from Baluchistan centuries ago.  The oldest families in the village all have them’, he told me.  A few years ago, a trader appeared in the village.  He was offering shiny, new aluminium vessels in exchange for these heavy, cumbersome stone ones.  The vessels I saw were two of the very few pieces of the kind still in Kibber.  ‘We don’t use them for cooking anymore, of course’, my friend grinned.

A morning a couple of years ago, as I was strolling along the winding mud roads of Kibber, I heard a high pitched song that echoed across the hilltop fields to the edge of the village.  Slowly, I could discern many voices singing the same song, some faint and far away, some distinct, close by.  The mismatched chorus somehow blended beautifully with the brown and grey and white mountains, the drab mud houses and colourful prayer flags of this little village high up in the trans-Himalaya.  The farmers sang it as they led their yak round their fields.  It was their ploughing-song, a song that is centuries old.  Unfortunately, fewer and fewer people know the songs and stories with every passing generation.  Theirs is a way of life that’s fast changing.  ‘We’ll probably get a tractor some day to do the ploughing’, my farmer friend told me one day.  ‘Then, we’ll not hear the ploughing-song anymore.  Only the monotone of the tractor’, he said after a moment’s reflection.  There was hope in his eyes.  There was profound sadness in his voice.

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Conservation questions

A workshop on conservation philosophy in the 2013 edition of the Student Conference on Conservation Science, Bangalore, started off with a discussion of the question, ‘Why conserve?’  Most participants said, ‘Oh, I love this species so much… it’s so beautiful! I can’t imagine a world without it.  So the species must be conserved.’  Questions that would naturally follow are, ‘Why should public money be spent on something you find beautiful?’; ‘What if someone (say a farmer who loses his produce) hates the same animal you love?’  What if someone feels, in a country struggling for land for food and shelter, the Taj Mahal is a waste of real estate?

There’s also the question of what to conserve.  Humans in general appreciate beauty, and several ‘charismatic’ animals, and ‘iconic’ birds with rare and colourful displays, are protected for their looks, by their looks*.  For instance, a lesser prairie chicken conservation biologist says**, ‘Watch them for a morning… Then tell me whether or not they should just disappear from the landscape’.  For some species, there’s a philosophical connect; a species can be an epitome of lofty values and emotions, or a symbol of the magical and mythical, like the ‘Asian unicorn’, the saola***.  The quest to find it may be analogous in ardour to the search for enlightenment.  But the question then is, what will you sacrifice to protect a beautiful species? A less beautiful one? Sometimes, to protect grassland species like the Indian gazelle, or the chinkara, and the Great Indian Bustard, grass seeds are brought from elsewhere and sown, black soil which is supposed to be good for the new grass is procured in truckloads, fences are erected to ward off other herbivores that might eat up grass that is painstakingly cultivated.  But what if all this kills off the last surviving population of a species of grass?  How much alteration can one make to a grassland while also ‘conserving’ it?

Some questions need to be asked.  Some questions need not have answers.

* A very useful trait for a species in the modern times would be ‘visibility to humans’.  Striking animals like the tiger or the sage grouse score (as against a species of herb growing in a forest understorey, say, or a tiny mushroom growing under logs); so would animals that are extremely numerous (we notice the decline in house sparrow numbers, for instance).

** In an article in Science about efforts to save this species of bird, declared ‘threatened’ after numbers plummeted following a severe drought, and the potential of these efforts to inform other endangered species conservation strategies.

*** A book by William deBuys describes a journey to find the saola.  I recently read a review in Science, and an interview with the author.

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Vanishing waters

A few days ago, newspapers in Bangalore carried a rather shocking news report – Bellandur lake, the city’s largest water body, caught fire.  The lake has also been Bangalore’s largest dumping place for sewage.  Methane that built up over months on the lake burnt spontaneously, the reports said.  To me, it was cremation of a dead lake.

To Bangalore’s citizens like me, dying lakes are not news.  But it was only four years ago, when I actually went searching for lakes, that I realized how bad the situation was.  It was my first year of PhD, and I was going to do a small project on the aquatic carnivorous plant, Utricularia, commonly known as bladderwort.  Small insects that happen to brush past this tiny plant are pulled in with a jet of water, and swallowed up.  The insects are duly digested, and nitrogen from their bodies sustains the plant.  Now, generating the force needed to pull in and break down an insect would come at a tremendous cost to the plant, and if the substrate on which the plant is growing happens to be nutrient rich already, the plant would save energy and stop eating insects, I reasoned.   To test this, I had to hunt for bladderwort to experiment with, which meant I had to hunt for lakes.  I went to Bannerghatta, where I was told there are a number of lakes.  I found a few (which didn’t have bladderwort, by the way), but most were covered over by water hyacinth.  The taxi driver I had hired to take me around was very helpful, and offered to take me to a few more places which had lakes.  But of about ten lakes we visited that day, eight were hopelessly taken over by weeds.  Bangalore has more than 250 lakes and tanks, some estimates say.  It certainly has a score places with names ending in bhaavi, or kere or eri, all words indicating the presence of a water body in the area*.  But where are they?

On my way back to Bangalore from Ooty a few days ago, we had to cross Kengeri.  The infamous Kengeri stench greeted us as we entered the city.  I saw a large hoarding advertising new flats; ‘Lake view homes right here’ it said.  The lake itself came into view as we drove further; it was green… like death.

* Maybe places ending with ghatta or katte can also be added to the list.  In addition, there are many lakes in places whose names do not carry a suffix suggesting the presence of one, like in Agara and Ulsoor.  Much money and effort is put into restoration of these lakes, but a few years later, weeds take over the lakes again.

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