Tuesday, November 14, 2023


It's hard to reconcile when something so formidable can also be so fragile. The Asian One-horned Rhino, built like an armoured truck, is perilously close to extinction, and one of the last places in the Indian subcontinent to see them in healthy numbers is the Kaziranga national park. In the wonderfully protected wetlands of this park, irrigated by the flood waters of the Brahmaputra, you'll see these giants grazing on grass or hyacinth, oblivious both to their celebrity and their precarious existential status.

As it happens in such sanctuaries, the protection of one species affords security to so many other species sharing that habitat. Hog deer, Swamp deer, Otters, Water monitor lizards and so many birds abound here. The rebound of Rhino numbers from the low hundreds during the early 1900s to a few thousands right now is a source of hope. In the first two safaris I came away thankful for the spirit of conservation that's steeped in our indigenous culture that has helped with the success of this conservation effort. And yet, the very next day, which happened to be Diwali proved that cliched adage about India; for everything that's true in this country the opposite is also true. That whole night, crackers went off almost without a pause and from every direction. In the next couple of safaris the following day it was clear that most of the shorebirds and waders had flown away, but the Rhinos were still there, as stoic as ever. 

Wednesday, November 08, 2023

Pt. Calimere

If you pay attention to the coastline of Tamil Nadu you'll see two short arms extending down towards Sri Lanka. The southern one of the two arms is the Ram Setu, important in mythology as the bridge that lord Ram and his army built to get to Lanka in their effort to rescue Sita devi. The stubby arm to the north may not have the same religious significance but may be even more important in its role in bird ecology. Pt Calimere, or to use its more charming local name, Kodiakkarai, happens to have a very important place in the lives of birds that migrate in the Central Asian Flyway. Birds breeding in Siberia, Mongolia, and Tibet and migrating to Sri Lanka, Africa and other warmer parts further south stop over to refuel at Pt Calimere. The relatively undisturbed habitat with nutrient-rich shores are vitally important in the seasonal journeys undertaken by dozens of species in this route.

Bird migration is one of nature's great mysteries and humanity has spent significant effort in understanding how the birds are able to perform these sophisticated feats of navigation. We are far from the answers but we are beginning to understand the details of these journeys through the efforts of researchers who have dedicated their lives to unravelling these secrets. I got a chance to spend time with such ecologists at Pt Calimere, watching the process of painstakingly banding and ringing birds, in an effort to document the migratory behaviours passing through these parts.

I've seen these rings on birds while photographing them at other sites and I've always felt annoyed at the sight. The rings are visually unaesthetic and remind you of human interference, and the process of tagging the birds is probably stress-inducing for the birds involved. We also don't know how the birds feel about having to lug these rings around on their flights. But we are well and truly in the anthropocene and wishing for zero interference from humans is not a luxury we can afford given the urgent need for custodianship that's needed to preserve our ecological heritage and pass it along to the newer generations. I came away with a deeper appreciation for the process of ringing the birds, and in the larger picture, the work of the people dedicated to the protection of these species and their habitat.