Saturday, January 28, 2012

From residents to refugees

Hard to believe it’s been almost a year since I’ve written! Past year was quite hectic but I should have continued writing. Sorry folks, for the long gap. I will now be a regular, hopefully! Starting with a bit of a news – I have now moved back to Ahmedabad, and loving it! :)

The past year with The Gerry Martin Project was great with a lot of interesting field experiences. I will be mentioning them in the coming articles. Hope you’d look forward to that!

Now back at home, I was remembering the days when we had freshly moved in. This was, I think in 1996. There was just one mud road from Jodhpur village (1 and a half kilometer away, via a crematorium!) and one trail through the fields coming from Vejalpur railway crossing (almost a kilometer away). These were the only access routes to our house. You could see our house from the railway crossing and the houses at Shyamal cross roads from our terrace. 360 degrees of lush green fields and a lot of native trees. Snakes, monitors, scorpions were regular visitors in our backyard. Toads, frogs, centipedes, geckos, and small birds used to live here. Some very smart toads used to live in our bathroom, under the kitchen sink, in flower pots, my shoes, and in my dog’s water bowl!

The 2 Salvadora persica (“Piludi” in Gujarati) in front of our house accommodated so many house sparrows, doves and a lot of bush birds. A Shikra trying to catch its favorite prey – a Calotes versicolor (Common garden lizard) was not an uncommon sight. I used to sip my morning chocolate milk looking at the male peafowls with their impressive long tail feathers and females teaching their chicks to probe the earth for insects.

2012 – Almost all is gone!

Gone where? And why?

Welcome to wildlife displacement! Pushing them out of their habitats – in other words. Guess who’s the cause? Us, ALL of us! I proudly mention how there were so many animals before all these people moved in and ‘developed’ this part of the city. But hey, they did exactly what we did! We encroached in 1996, others followed later.

We have stopped living a simple life several decades ago. ‘Survival’ can no longer be used in to describe our (city dwellers) life struggles. Our life now is comfort and luxury oriented. We started moving in with all our ‘needs’. Electricity, roads, vehicles, concrete, pollution, malls… everything! We can’t freakin’ live without everything.

My backyard was my favorite herping hotspot. Want to see something rare? …just go out a kilometer in the fields! You can’t even walk there safely now without getting run over by a million cars, ..okay, a few hundred cars! But then, what will you go out looking for? Buildings, rash traffic (typical Ahmedabad style), noise, what else? …dogs, feral dogs, a few hundred of them. Not exaggerating. I don’t hate dogs. Folks who know me would know. But, I would hate the incident of feral dogs attacking any wildlife. Be it ground nesting birds or large birds like peafowls, small, or even large mammals cannot match a pack of feral dogs. During my professional days as a wildlife rehabilitator we used to get around 200 peafowls every year. Guess what happened to most?? Yes… feral dog attacks. Reports of feral dogs taking down large antelopes and deer are not unheard of. They have outcompeted jackals, wolves, and many small predators in several places.

"Motu" - our adopted feral dog. She came in as a pup, now 8 years old. It's amazing how they  always win their right to stay in your life.

Cats, what about cats? Must clarify, I’m talking about feral cats. Tremendously sustained populations have wiped off loads of small wildlife. I’m not gonna stretch more on this. There is tons of info on the internet. Please exploit google. Again, I do not hate cats. We’ve created these feral cats and dogs. It is our responsibility to control them and not allow them to ruin what exist naturally.

My backyard looked empty after just 4 cats moved in some 10 years ago. Squirrels often turn in to pests simply because they are so adaptive. I did not see a single squirrel for like two years. TWO YEARS! That’s when me and Akanksha decided to get our much loved animals back. We planted many more trees, put up a lot of nest boxes, water bowls, feeding stations and cat proofed them. Re-introduction of squirrels was a great success as there is a sustaining population now in the neighborhood. We had practically hand-raised the parent stock when they came in as orphans to us. Some of the birds are also doing well. Lots of them come to roost in the hot afternoons. We’ve also managed to raise our gecko population. Our backyard garden comes alive with at least 15 species of birds. I feel happy, and sad. They come to us, but then ours is their only resort!



Left to right - Magpie robin nesting in our nest boxes and a pregnant squirrel eating at our feeding station.

I often wonder how these birds will sustain future populations. One small green patch cannot support all of them forever and nothing else is turning greener anymore. Will they meet the same fate of frogs and toads? There used to be a biggish pond right in front of our house where Bull frogs and Common toads used to congregate in hundreds during breeding seasons. Evening rains only stopped to the calling of these very loud and impressive males. Freshly metamorphosed, the tiny ones always kept us on our toes (literally!) as they were all over. Amazing food source for so many other predators. Half of the same pond got filled up in 2003 and residential buildings came, rest got filled up in 2007. I’m yet to see a frog or a toad since then.

Common Indian toads in amplexus. As a kid I got in to the habit of checking my shoes before wearing only because of a fat female toad at home.

The amphibians were not the only victims, there used to be a small scrub patch that was used by a family of Indian brown mongoose. I’ve seen so many litters grow up. The scrub patch was bought by BSNL, and a wall now envelops the new mobile-phone tower. Fortunately, for some structural reason, they kept a lot of ground level windows on the pond-side wall. The mongooses had their burrows in the compound but had free access to the pond. Sadly, the pond itself was already covered-up with buildings from all sides.

The pond used to be the open area that you can see plus the building area  that you see at the back. The tar road in the front used to be a small mud path. The compound wall with windows on the right is where the mongoose colony was.

Now, the last two mongooses are barely surviving in the compound, raiding garbage thrown in the now filled-up pond. I feel bad for them. I feel bad for all animals that used to thrive here before people started encroaching mindlessly. Whom am I blaming... I started it!


Bhaumik said...

Awesome as always :) Welcome back!

anita karwal said...

sad state of affairs. can we do something to get the sparrows back?

sOhAm mukherjee said...

Food and shelter! :) Just by adding nest boxes and feeding stations, we've maintained them in good numbers.

Romi said...

As always, it's a pleasure to read your blog soham. It is so full of life and vigour! Keep up the good work. :D

Shweta said...

I could imagine each and every thing that you described, as I read this. Its amazing. And the efforts that you're putting in.. are really commendable! I wish everyone could understand the worth of nature as you do. :)

Katie said...

This is really sad...very well written...but sad. Is no one else in the neighbourhood open to the idea of doing the same as you in their garden?

sOhAm mukherjee said...

Nope! Need to start an education program for them soon.