Giant Storks Of Assam, And Their Protectors

If you saw some of the work that came out of Seth’s bird-focused interactions with children in Ecuador, and in Costa Rica, this might not seem so surprising. But in every case when kids are enlisted to help ensure care of bird populations, the result is noteworthy. And of course, when a community of women decide something is important, watch and learn. Carla Rhodes, a wildlife conservation photographer, shares this remarkable story from Assam:

A Biologist, an Outlandish Stork and the Army of Women Trying to Save It

In the Indian state of Assam, a group of women known as the Hargila Army is spearheading a conservation effort to rescue the endangered greater adjutant stork.

Students are given coloring pages featuring greater adjutants.

Life can change in an instant, as I experienced when I first laid my eyes on a tall and bizarrely striking bird known as the greater adjutant.

It was India in 2018, in the northeastern state of Assam. I’d ended up there partly because of absurd circumstances, which involved being filmed for a reality television pilot while navigating a motorized rickshaw through the Himalayas. Continue reading

Pygmy Hogs In Assam

The pygmy hog is still endangered but a reintroduction programme in Assam, India, has given it a greater chance of survival

A highlight of seven years living and working in India was a brief visit to Assam to review the land holdings of an investor who was considering having us assist with the development of a conservation-focused lodge. I did not know about this endangered species at the time, but its current status brings a good vibe to my day for more than one reason:

Pig in clover: how the world’s smallest wild hog was saved from extinction

A pygmy hog enters the wild from the release enclosure in Manas reserve. Photograph: Goutam Narayan

The greyish brown pygmy hog (Porcula salvania), with its sparse hair and a streamlined body that is about the size of a cat’s, is the smallest wild pig in the world, and also one of its rarest, appearing on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list as endangered. Continue reading

Foodways As Tangible & Intangible Heritage

In the 1960s, the Green Revolution placed a premium on high crop yields over factors such as crop diversity and soil preservation. Photograph: Rupak de Chowdhuri/Reuters

2010-2017, from our base in Kerala, India one of our primary activities was food heritage preservation. And it is a constant theme in these pages. Along the way it became clear that both foodstuffs, the tangible things that are used to make food, and foodways, the intangible knowhow for using foodstuffs to make food, are equally worthy of our attention. Thanks to the Guardian for sharing this:

‘Mind-boggling variety’: the food crusaders preserving India’s heritage

A rich range of native crops and seeds is being nurtured in an effort to halt the country’s rapidly vanishing food diversity

Babita Bhatt left a career in software to launch her own business in natural products grown in the Himalayas. Photograph: Handout

A small army of botanical heritage enthusiasts is spearheading a movement in India for the revival and preservation of the country’s rapidly vanishing food biodiversity by bringing back the rich crop varieties that thrived in the past, but are now on the verge of extinction.

Babita Bhatt, a 43-year-old former software professional, is just one of these crusaders, who are eschewing established careers and fat pay packets to become farmers, activists and entrepreneurs.

Fear of feeding her young daughter foods covered in pesticides was the trigger for Bhatt to move to the hills of Uttarakhand. Trading a steady income for the financial insecurity of an entrepreneur, she launched Himalaya2Home, a self-funded venture, in 2018. Continue reading

Transport To Manipur

A buyer makes her way through the open market’s labyrinthine lanes.

Thanks to Trishna Mohanty for another transporting article in this well-conceived series:

THE WORLD THROUGH A LENS

A Portrait of a Market in India Run Solely by Women

Nupi Keithel, or Women’s Market, a 16th-century bazaar in which all of the vendors are women, is a fountainhead of social and political activism in the Indian state of Manipur.

The perimeter of each shop is marked by the seller’s wares and belongings.

Barely five feet tall and hunched over, Anjana Devi, who is in her 80s, bellows instructions at two men as they unload crates of fruits from a mini truck. All around her, hundreds of women — most of whom are over 60 — mirror her actions. Farm-fresh produce surrounds them. The air is full of heady aromas: incense and fermented fish, jasmine buds and pungent spices. Continue reading

Farming & Influence

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Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Ellen Barry, somehow, has not shown up in our pages before today. Strange, because she was based in India during our years there. Her audio adaptation of a dream-like experience, The Jungle Prince of Delhi, ranks with the best serialized podcasts out there. After her time in India she became New England Bureau Chief of the New York Times, a transition I will presume to understand: India can be so transformative and so profound an experience that landing back in familiar territory is a great next step. And today she shows up on my screen with a topic so different from that, and so related to my recent interests and activities that I finally must add her work to our recommendations:

In a Wistful Age, Farmers Find a New Angle: Chore TV

It’s hard for small farmers to earn a living selling their products. Enter the “farmer-influencer,” who can earn more by streaming farm life, in all its comforting monotony, to a growing online audience.

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Hilary Swift for The New York Times

PEACHAM, Vt. — The sweet smell of hay rose off the earth on a recent evening, as Morgan Gold strode across his farmyard in heavy boots. He crossed the paddock, scanning for new eggs, water levels, infected peck wounds, rips in the fence line.

But mainly — let’s be honest — he was looking for content.

Though Mr. Gold sells poultry and eggs from his duck farm in Vermont’s northeast corner, most of what he produces as a farmer is, well, entertainment.

Mr. Gold, who is short and stocky, with the good-natured ease of a standup comedian, does his chores while carrying a digital camera in one hand and murmuring into a microphone.

Then, twice a week, like clockwork, he posts a short video on YouTube about his exploits as a neophyte farmer, often highlighting failures or pratfalls. Keeping a close eye on analytics, he has boosted his YouTube audiences high enough to provide a steady advertising revenue of around $2,500 to $4,000 a month, about eight times what he earns from selling farm products. Continue reading

Heroics & Urban Birds

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A black kite, a carnivorous scavenger, flying over the Ghazipur area of New Delhi. Black kites are a common sight in the city, but are often fatally injured by the flying of paper kites.

We will take heroics wherever we can find them:

Meet the Bird Medics of New Delhi

Two brothers have given everything to treat raptors injured by a popular pastime.

By Photographs by 

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Kite-flying became a symbol of national pride after India gained independence from Britain in 1947.

NEW DELHI — Sitting in his basement, below the crowded dirt roads of Wazirabad village, Mohammad Saud leaned over the body of an injured black kite.

The room was cramped, its walls chipping blue paint, the noise from the streets above drowned out by the whir of a fan. Mr. Saud stared at the bird in front of him for a couple of seconds, then gently folded its wing over with a gloved hand. At least two bones, four tendons and two muscles had been snapped. The bird’s head tilted back limply, eyes cloudy. Mr. Saud adjusted his glasses with the crook of his elbow, then stated the obvious: “This is a gone case. Nothing can be done.”

Mr. Saud placed the kite back into a thin cardboard box. As he did so, Salik Rehman, a young employee of Mr. Saud, reached into a different cardboard box and pulled out another black kite. This bird’s right wing was wrapped in a gauze bandage stained with dried blood and pus. Mr. Saud examined it briefly. Another gone case, he concluded; it would have to be euthanized. Continue reading

Life In Southwest India

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An elephant eats jackfruits in the backyard of a house in Valparai, Tamil Nadu. COURTESY OF SREEDHAR VIJAYAKRISHNAN

Thanks to Yale e360 for this reminder of the amazing nature we witnessed from 2010-2017 while living in the Western Ghats.

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The Anamalai Hills in India’s Western Ghats region, shrouded in mist. COURTESY OF GANESH RAGHUNATHAN

The Young Writers Awards, presented by Yale Environment 360 and the Oak Spring Garden Foundation, honor the best nonfiction environmental writing by authors under the age of 35. Entries for 2020 were received from six continents, with a prize of $2,000 going to the first-place winner. Read all the winners here.

Song of the Western Ghats: A Green Island in a Crowded Land

For a young ecologist, the mountains of the Western Ghats are a respite from India’s intense urban life — a lush land of monsoon rains, elephants, king cobras, leopards, and a spectacular assortment of birds — and a place where wildlife and villagers still largely manage to coexist.

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A dhole, or wild dog, in the Western Ghats. COURTESY OF GANESH RAGHUNATHAN

What is it that draws us to the quiet, to the green? To the mist-curtained mountains, where everything is crystal clear – leaves in high definition even against an overcast sky. Where leopards leave their mark in soft mud, and you smell where an otter has walked. Continue reading

Tiger Census as Bright Star

 

photo credit: Dr. Eash Hoskote

Tigers and other megafauna felines have frequently held pride of place on this site, beginning long before our company was based in India.

Thank you to NPR for reporting on the good news of this census, although in full disclosure their choice of cover photos is quite disappointing and we are happy to highlight a stunning photo by Dr. Eash Hoskote, one of our regular nature photography contributors instead.

Census Finds Nearly 3,000 Tigers In India

In 2010, India sought to double its tiger population by 2022. But on International Tiger Day, the country announced it met its goal four years earlier than expected.

Nearly 3,000 tigers now reside in India, that’s more than 70% of the world’s tiger population.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi released the 2018 All India Tiger Estimation count on Monday, attributing the figures to India’s hardworking wildlife officials and advocates.

“Once the people of India decide to do something, there is no force that can prevent them from getting the desired results,” Modi announced at a news conference. “Today we reaffirm our commitment towards protecting tigers.”

He added that India now takes the lead in being the biggest and safest habitat in the world for tigers. The population, now at 2,967, is up from 2,226 since 2014.

“There are several plants and animals out there that need our help,” Modi said. “What is it that we can do? Either through technology or human action to give them … a life so that they can add beauty and diversity to our planet.” Continue reading

Aana Art Equaling Life-Sized Conservation

Elephants have held highest honors in our family for decades, as symbols for the importance of Nature Conservation, and later infused with the power of Ganesh when we lived in India.

Elephant conservation has taken many forms over the years. When writing about the recent Real Elephant Collective collaboration exhibit that took place in Cochin a few months ago, I realized that art installations using elephants as symbols for big picture conservation have existed for some time.

Having been unable to attend the exhibit personally, Anoodha and the Curiouser team make me feel that I was there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Misunderstandings That Become Taken For Granted

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The Atlantic’s website helps me ensure that I do not miss any intriguing episodes of Gastropod, which I listened to more frequently before we moved back to Costa Rica. Especially when we were in the process of developing 51, a restaurant in the colonial spice-trading district of Fort Cochin, in southwest India. This current headline in the Atlantic, which took me back to those years when delicious misunderstandings were the daily fare, was one I had to surrender to:

The Word Curry Came From a Colonial Misunderstanding

No Indian language uses the term, and the closest-sounding words usually just mean “sauce.”

And over at the Gastropod website, this ensured that I would listen all the way through:

9780465056668_custom-faec8d5203f296c0cc17efb91baa211c41c48a88-s600-c85…According to Lizzie Collingham, food historian and author of Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors, to trace the origins of curry, we need to go back to when the Portuguese first set up shop in Goa, in the early 1500s. “And they’d say, Oooh, what are you eating?” said Collingham, “And the Indians replied using a word like khari or caril.” At the time, Collingham explained, those words likely referred to a particular spice blend, as well as the finished dish it was used in; the same words are still in use, but they now mean sauce or gravy. Today, that’s Raghavan Iyer’s definition: he authored a doorstop of a cookbook called 660 Curries, and he uses “curry” to refer to “anything that has a sauce or gravy—it can be with or without spices.”…

Flamingos In The City

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Flamingos eat plankton in front of an industrial area at Sewri mudflats, Mumbai. Photograph: Divyakant Solanki/EPA-EFE

Payal Mohta reported from Mumbai for this story in the Guardian that caught our attention with images of urban flamingos. An unusual beauty can be the result of a common problem. As it is important to understand nature in wilderness areas, which is our strong preference, it is also important to understand these man-made phenomena:

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People watch flamingos from a boat during the Bombay Natural History Society’s flamingo festival. Photograph: Hindustan Times/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

There is an air of anxious excitement among the urban professionals and tourists on board our 24-seater motorboat as we enter Thane Creek.

A chorus of “oohs” and “aahs” breaks out as we spot the visions in pink we came to see – hundreds of flamingos listlessly bobbing in the murky green water – followed by the furious clicking of cameras.

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Flamingos at Sewri. Photograph: Hindustan Times/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

Then, almost as one, the birds skim the water and take off in sync. “They always stay together,” says Prathamesh Desai, who has been organising birding excursions in the city for seven years. “They are an extremely gregarious species.”…

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Flamingos at Sewri. Photograph: Hindustan Times/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

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Flamingos flock to Mumbai between September and April, but this year there are almost three times more birds than the amount that usually flocks to the area.
Bachchan Kumar/Hindustan Times via Getty Images

That story continues after the jump below. First, thanks to National Public Radio (USA)’s Audrey Nguyen and Sarah Oliver for producing and bringing this story to our attention with this opening line (which goes on to credit the Guardian story as its source):

Around this time every year, tens of thousands of flamingos flock to Mumbai to feed. But this year, there are almost three times more than the normal amount in the city — about 120,000.

The reason for the influx is currently a mystery. But some scientists believe that pollution in the birds’ natural habitat might be one factor at play… Continue reading

Elephants By The Sea

100 life-size lantana replicas of wild elephants will travel across three continents spreading the message of peaceful coexistence with nature.

The beautiful herd of Asian Elephants calmly drinking from this watering hole poses no threat to any onlooker. They’re actually sculptures made from the invasive lantana, introduced to the Indian subcontinent as an ornamental shrub by the British. The harmless looking plant is a scourge to native flora, animals and people of the regions where it’s taken over, as it literally poisons its surroundings so nothing else can survive there, destroying the natural biodiversity of the area.

30 of these extraordinary, life-sized works of art have been on display in Kerala, at Kochi’s South Beach, coinciding with the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. The outdoor exhibit, entitled Co-Exist: Matriarchs for a Whole Earth, is on display for only until the end of February, after which it will travel to Bangalore and New Delhi. In 2020, the elephant models will be taken to England where they will be displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Parks, both in London. In 2021, they will travel by truck across the USA, where they will finally be auctioned, the proceeds of which will go to preservation of wild animals.

The project is a collaboration between multiple organizations, designers and indigenous community artisans. Members of the Ashoka Trust Trust for Research in Ecology & the Environment (ATREE) devised a way to safely craft with lantana as a raw material and support for the making and display of lantana elephants is through the NGOs Elephant Family, The Real Elephant Collective (TREC), and The Shola Trust.

Fort Kochi To Have 100 ‘Lantana’ Elephants. And Here’s Why You Need To See Them

Highlighting the cause of nature and wildlife conservation at a global scale, the Lantana elephants are part of a greater initiative to raise funds for conservation and help people and elephants live together more harmoniously.

On February 7, if you are wandering around the popular South Beach in Fort Kochi, you are sure to come across a magnificent herd of 100 Asian elephants.

If you are wondering about the possibility of such a huge congregation of these beings at one place, let us break the news.

These are beautifully sculpted life-size elephants that have been made by tribal artisans from Thorapalli in Gudalur using Lantana camara or Lantana, a toxic invasive weed.

Lantana elephants are part of a greater initiative to raise funds for conservation and help people and elephants live together more harmoniously.

“Our vision is to bring Asia’s elephants and the issues they face out of India and the shadow cast by the African ivory crisis. With Asian elephants numbering only a tenth of their African counterparts, the importance of this unique migration cannot be underplayed. The survival of a species is at stake,” says Ruth Ganesh, principal trustee and the creative force of Elephant Family.

She had conceptualised the Lantana herd along with Shubhra Nayar of TREC. Modelled on real elephants from the Gudalur-Pandalur region, in its bid to raise awareness and funds for the conservation of Asian elephants, this unique project is also clearing the harmful Lantana from the Nilgiri forests while providing livelihoods to about 70 artisans from the Paniya, Bettakurumba and Soliga communities.

With their inherent knowledge of wild elephants and their exceptional crafting skills with Lantana, these artisans are bringing life to the elephant forms, while earning a dignified income. The elephants are designed by Shubhra Nayar and Tariq T of TREC, with Subhash Gautam overseeing the process. Continue reading

The Art of Inclusivity

 

A visitor takes a close look at “Missing Route 4,” a hand-stitched embroidery by Bapi Das.Credit Atul Loke for The New York Times

The history of our work in Kerala, and specifically in Kochi, has long been intertwined with Art, and how the surrounding community interacts with it. Biennales, by nature, often blur the line between street art and gallery space, as multi-dimensional and multi-media installations begin to appear on walls, pop-up spaces, cavernous warehouse buildings, and classic museum halls.

Now in it’s 4th edition, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, has grown continually in both the breadth of the artists involved, and the depth of its work toward community outreach. This sense of inclusivity extends to gender equality, a longstanding issue that India as a country has battled with;  the curator and more than half of the artists are female.

As with the previous editions, the installations are thought provoking and moving, at times asking viewers to acknowledge and honor the difficult history of a colonial past.

In India, Building Bridges Between Life and Art

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale, South Asia’s biggest art show, uses interactive exhibits and live performances to help Indians connect with contemporary art.

KOCHI, India — Clad in a simple striped shirt and the white mundu of the city’s fishmongers, Bashir stood out from the well-heeled throng at the warehouse galleries and tree-filled courtyards on the first day of India’s biggest contemporary art show, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

Bashir, a fishwrapper who works nearby, visited the Kochi-Muziris Biennale on opening day because entry was free. He lingered over the photographs, including these photo essays by Chandan Gomes, a Delhi photographer. Credit: Atul Loke for The New York Times

Keeping to himself, he moved from room to room, stopping to study moody landscapes by the Delhi photographer Chandan Gomes that were paired with imaginary scenes drawn by a girl who died at age 12.

“I don’t understand the inner meaning of the art,” said Bashir, who uses one name and makes a living wrapping and delivering fish. “I just like to see beautiful things.”

Bashir’s willingness to engage with the artwork, no matter how challenging, was a victory for the show’s organizers. The southern state of Kerala, and India as a whole, have very few public venues to see art. So the organizers of the biennale, which runs until March 29, strove to create an event that would appeal to everyone — from untutored day laborers to veteran museum curators.

“We are making a cultural festival,” said Bose Krishnamachari, a painter from Kerala who co-founded the show eight years ago. “We have tried to penetrate to the people’s minds so that they feel that it is their biennale.”…

Continue reading

Urban Tree-Huggers

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Women demonstrators protest a plan to to cut down more than 14,000 trees for a redevelopment project in New Delhi in June 2018. CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Thanks to Yale e360’s Mumbai-based Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar:

In India’s Fast-Growing Cities, a Grassroots Effort to Save the Trees

In India’s burgeoning urban areas, residents are rallying against the widespread destruction of trees to make way for development. The recent protests highlight a global issue: densely populated megacities in the developing world, which are most in need of tree cover, often have the least.

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Thousands of trees have been cut down in Mumbai in recent years to make way for new housing, wider roads, and a $3.3 billion subway line. COURTESY OF ZORU BHATHENA

The funeral cortege was small. Six people shouldered the bier and others followed, clad in the traditional Indian white. As the group filed past the state assembly building, the armed guards did not give it a second glance. In a few minutes, however, the security forces caught on. The procession winding its way through Mumbai’s government district was not a real funeral: It was a protest. The shrouded body held aloft was not a human — it was the trunk of a tree, one of many, including grand old banyans, cut down for the construction of a $3.3 billion subway line.

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A protester hugs an old tree in Mumbai to prevent it from being cut down for a subway project. COURTESY OF ZORU BHATHENA

Mumbai’s old trees have borne the brunt of new development in the booming city, including road widening, transport projects, and housing construction. The new subway alone is destroying or damaging 5,000 trees, from hundreds of old street trees in the dense parts of the historic island city to more than 2,000 trees in a mini-forest in suburban Aarey Colony, where a rail car shed is to be built. A less visible loss lies in defunct industrial areas, where large plots with old trees and ponds are being redeveloped into residential and commercial towers. “Developers are supposed to replace the trees but no one really checks,” says Stalin D., head of local environmental group, Vanashakti. Continue reading

A Photographic Big Year

It’s a relatively small world among the birding /photography community in India, and once I saw Gururaj Moorching’s photographs I reached out for an introduction to ask him to contribute to our Bird of the Day series. He started his own birding journey in 2012 after a trip to Kaziranga and another trip to the Rann of Kutch where he came across the two books “Birding on Borrowed Time” and “Lifelist” by the late Phoebe Snetsinger. We’ve been publishing his gorgeous photos for over 3 years, and I was thrilled when he shared his plan for a Photographic Birding Big Year.

In our own way we’ve documented his birding travels within our series, and we applaud this amazing achievement of photo-documenting 951 of India’s 1,317 species of birds in just one year (2018).

Gururaj is currently working on a book expected to be published this spring, but he recently spoke with Deepthi Sanjiv from the Bangalore Mirror about his experience.

“When I had a chance meeting in April 2015 with naturalist Marmot Snetsinger in Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh, I was elated. Her mother, the late Phoebe Snetsinger, was a legend in birdwatching circles. She was the first person to have crossed 8,000 birds on her Life List in 1995 and watched 8,398 species of birds across the world.”

When Phoebe took up bird watching, she had a rare type of melanoma and the doctors had given her a year to live. She defied death for another 17 years since her diagnosis. I was inspired and I could especially relate to her as I faced a similar health predicament. Phoebe’s book “Birding on Borrowed Time” inspired me to take up birdwatching and photographing birds with intensity and a sense of urgency…

…Ornithologist Shashank Dalvi, India’s first birder to complete one ‘Big Year’ and record 1,128 species of birds in 2015, mentored Gururaj. He helped Gururaj list out travel plans to get maximum results and devised a calendar plan, based on the seasons and locations across India.

“It is not a mean task to chase 1,317 species of bird found in India, including Adaman and Nicobar Islands. My love to travel, food and meeting new people made the journey interesting in this amazing country of huge diversity. Birding community in India is a well-knit family. I received great support from birders, guides and naturalists who were eager to share any information on bird movement and even opened their homes, kitchen and hearts to me. Rofikul Islam, a gifted naturalist from Kaziranga, stood by me throughout the year, and was the inspiration behind my decision to pursue a Photographic Big Year, which was the first of its kind,” said Gururaj.

“A deep sense of contentment comes over me at the end of this sojourn,” he said.

The entire article can be found here.

 

Tigers, Tales, Illumination

ImpossibleOwl.jpgBrian Phillips has not featured once in our pages until now, nor has The Ringer. If you read his essay below, featured also in the book to the right, the fit with our platform here is clear. Strange, though; I would not have expected to see it featured on a website that looks to be mostly focused on sports.

But it is a welcome surprise. It serves as another welcome reminder of some of the highlights of our years in India. And it provides a reason to track the author. The blurb the publisher chose to accompany the book (click the image to the right) is telling: “…Dogged, self-aware, and radiating a contagious enthusiasm for his subjects, Phillips is an exhilarating guide to the confusion and wonder of the world today. If John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead was the last great collection of New Journalism from the print era, Impossible Owls is the first of the digital age.”

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Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Man-eaters

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Of the twelve tigers I saw in India, one might have been a ghost; two were in water, eight were on land, and one was sleeping in a tree. One stepped out of high grass, crossed the road in front of me, and disappeared into grass on the other side. One walked along a low ridge on the edge of a different road, oblivious or indifferent to the tourists taking her photograph. One looked out from a cover of branches and red leaves, so perfectly concealed that from thirty feet away he kept stereoscoping in and out of sight. Three were cubs, just four or five months old. Three were juveniles, aged around one year. The rest were fully grown. All were tired, because the days were hot, and because the days were dry they moved and breathed and slept in a film of clay-colored dust. Continue reading

Fortune & Misfortune On Kerala’s Backwaters

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Partially submerged houses in Kerala, India last August. REUTERS / SIVARAM V

Any picture of a houseboat reminds me of our good fortune to live among the people of Kerala’s backwaters from 2010-2017. The photo below is no exception and I thank Fred Pearce, writing for Yale e360, for bringing to my attention the scale of misfortune facing our old neighbors from the most recent flooding. I knew about the disaster, but had not read in any detail until now what this implies for the future. Maybe this fortune could be applied to address those challenges:

In India, Nature’s Power Overwhelms Engineered Wetlands

The picturesque Kerala backwaters in southern India, increasingly popular with tourists, form a network of engineered canals, lagoons, lakes, and rice paddies. But a fatal monsoon deluge has highlighted the global problem of how developed wetlands often lose their capacity to absorb major floods.

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Floodwaters inundated much of Kerala’s low-lying coastal plain, including the village of Pandanad, pictured here. MANJUNATH KIRAN / AFP / GETTY IMAGES

In India, they call the state of Kerala in the country’s far south “God’s own country.” That wasn’t how it felt last August, when monsoon floods devastated its densely populated low-lying coastal plain. Around 500 people drowned, in an area best known to outsiders for its placid backwatersa network of brackish lakes, lagoons, and canals where growing numbers of Western tourists cruise the picturesque waterways aboard luxury houseboats.

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A luxury houseboat moored along Lake Vembanad near the tourist town of Kumarakom in Kerala. FRED PEARCE / YALE E360

Now that the floodwaters have abated, questions are being raised about whether the disaster was made worse by water engineering projects in the backwaters designed to feed the state’s population and attract tourists. Increasingly, Kerala residents are wondering if “God’s own country” is damned as well as dammed.

The floods came out of the Western Ghats. This chain of mountains down the west side of India is one of the country’s wettest places, drenched from June to September in monsoon. In early August, the rains there were exceptionally intense and unremitting. The rivers flowing from the mountains west toward the Arabian Sea dumped their water into the backwaters on a coastal plain that is largely below sea level.

Sixty-mile-long Lake Vembanad, at the heart of the backwaters, rose up and flooded surrounding wetlands and rice paddies, cities, and farming villages. A quarter-million people took refuge in 1,500 relief camps; 6,200 miles of roads and 115 square miles of farmland were damaged. Cochin International Airport was awash. Continue reading

Big Cat News From India

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A tiger in the Sundarbans National Park, a protected tiger reserve, in the Indian state of West Bengal. SOUMYAJIT NANDY / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Richard Conniff, one of the science writers we most depend on for useful conservation news, shares this interview with one of our heroes from India’s big cat conservation network:

Big Cat Comeback: How India Is Restoring Its Tiger Population

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Ullas Karanth

Ullas Karanth has spent a half-century working to protect India’s endangered tigers. In an interview with Yale e360, he argues that with smart planning and the cooperation of its rural residents, the country could support five times the number of tigers it has now.

Ullas Karanth, a senior scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, is one of the world’s premier tiger experts and a leader in the effort to restore India’s depleted tiger populations. Raised in the South India state of Karnataka, he has spent much of his professional life studying and working to bring back tigers there, starting in Nagarahole National Park in the foothills of the Western Ghats, and then across a 10,000-square-mile region of that mountain range.

Karanth’s emphasis on scientific methods has frequently brought him into conflict with India’s forest bureaucracy, particularly over its insistence on estimating tiger populations based on footprint counts. Karanth instead pioneered the use of camera traps for population estimates based on identification of individual tigers. That method belatedly became the national standard after a 2004 scandal, when Sariska Tiger Reserve, officially estimated to have 26 tigers, turned out to have none. Continue reading

Agroecology, A Guiding Principle For Food Entrepreneurship

Ryan Donnell for The New York Times

Our attention has been on food entrepreneurship recently, and here we continue the thread. With agroecology, a new word and robust concept, we have new food for thought. And for that we thank one of our favorite food writers, who we have relied since the first year of this platform. Many of the food stories we have linked to over the years have been authored by him. A year ago we linked to this story, which marked the first time we noted him as an activist. We expect, after reading Bringing Farming Back to Nature, which he co-authored with Daniel Moss, that he has found his new calling:

Workers in a paddy field in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. Credit Noah Seelam/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Farming the land as if nature doesn’t matter has been the model for much of the Western world’s food production system for at least the past 75 years. The results haven’t been pretty: depleted soil, chemically fouled waters, true family farms all but eliminated, a worsening of public health and more. But an approach that combines innovation and tradition has emerged, one that could transform the way we grow food. It’s called agroecology, and it places ecological science at the center of agriculture. It’s a scrappy movement that’s taking off globally. Continue reading