Tuesday, February 26, 2008

That once upon a time... a Gharial lived..

Remember when you were young, and you read about gliding and swimming 'Dino descendants' in stories ,or when you heard of them?
Not all of those are our "regulars", the Marshies (Marsh Crocodile or Mugger).. those particular long snouted ones you came across, are what are known as Gharials. They are, the longest living Crocodilians today. And they just got upgraded from "Endangered" , to "Critically Endangered" by the IUCN [International Union of Conservation of Nature] in its Red Data Book.
And unfortunately for them, and, eventually us, very very few of them remain. Out in those rivers which they called home since time immemorial, they are now confined to the scarce remaining clean blue patches of fresh water. Once their range extended over Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and India - basically, the Indian Sub-Continent excluding Sri Lanka. Today, they are chained to whatever remains of this habitat. They have already vanished from Pakistan, Bhutan, and Bangladesh, and are on the verge of disappearing from Nepal and India as well. India, however, is that silver lining that every cloud is supposed to have.
For the Gharial, India is the last remaining stronghold of their wild population. As for the captive populations and the breeding programmes, there is an on-going machine in the form of the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust and its fore-runner - Romulus Whitaker; who, with his team is putting every effort possible into keeping this Croc safe. Unfortunately, a certain crisis seems to have hit the already dangerously low population of the Gharials. This crisis, is a medical one which has given the species a death toll of 103 which, for this particular species, is a very tragic story.
As the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), India, along with veterinarians and Herpetologists from across the globe tries to figure out solutions and comes down hard on those taking the issue lightly, the common people, who have no less important a role to play in protecting the specie are being approached by students and volunteers who have worked on and understood this concern, and its immediate need for help.
"The Chambal Expedition - January 2008", was an expedition to the Chambal river to survey the density sites of the Gharials. The river is a 450km long stretch of India's cleanest waters. North India's fastest flowing river, the Chambal holds all the hope. It alone, is home to approximately 68% of the world's wild Gharials, giving it the status of an open treasure chest. Whether to safeguard that treasure or to let it be looted, is now in the hands of those who work for the Gharial's survival. This expedition was done by a team of 7 students who surveyed a 100km stretch of the river which is the initial part of the river. They walked for 10 days, covering around 10km a day, along the river, recording whatever sightings of Gharials they had, and plotting on digital maps their data. In this way, the team came up with 3 High Density Areas where groups with 9 or more than 9 Gharials were found. This expedition was a first of its kind and Tiger Watch, an NGO working un-compromisingly for the Tiger and the Moghiya community, very generously and encouragingly initiated as well as made it possible! The members of this team are - Pritish Panke , Sohini Vanjari, Digvijay Sabne, Sanket Deshpande, Neeraj Gade, Ruchik Pande, and myself- Apoorva Joshi. The pillar behind the sole existance of this team- Dr.Dharmendra Khandal, is a man of great will and even greater passion and zeal. He's the best any team can have. The absolute best! Fateh Singh Rathore, our present Tiger Man, also had another inexplicable role to play. It is a great feeling to see such support for the Gharial.
What we really need now, is a strong and well focussed group of people who will pledge themselves to the very survival of this specie. Who will work, survey, write, photograph, collect data and information, document it, everything! We need to monitor these few remaining animals so as to ensure their safety and get a clear record of the habitat, and any bad signs if seen. WWF's effort is commendable to the extent that they even have a daily update of the deaths recorded or peculiarities encountered, on their website.
The Gharial really does need your help today. With only a 182 surviving, and fighting, it becomes a priority concern with an animal which is 20 times more endangered than a Tiger! So if you want your next generation to see a Gharial instead of having to refer to a history text book to show it to them, then, come on! Take that effort, and move ahead. Contribute. Because every little bit DOES matter!
Next article on the Gharials- Coming Soon... :)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Conservationists reduced...to mere specks..

Coming back to our previous topic of the "lack" of funds for NGOs and individual conservationists who put everything they have into their work, the situation has just turned sadder. How is that possible? Well, welcome to India!
Sadly, our people are accustomed to being outspoken. No, thats not the sad part. The thing is, they are outspoken about everything. One should realize when to keep shut and when to blurt out stuff. We are all very good at making statements. But hardly any of us are capable of giving them any justice. When Project Tiger and Project Crocodile were launched, the enthusiasm and dedication were in volumes! With time, they died down in most people's hearts and multiplied in others'. But with time, the graphs showed drastic changes. Both projects reached a peak at one point of time, and today, both stand at a miserable edge, with the fear of losing the very species they were initiated for!
There are, today, countable people who are working endlessly, day in day out, so that the Tiger may get one more day to live. every day. Even fewer people who are working for the mythical creature, the Gharial and sadly even fewer (if that's possible!) who know what a Gharial is! We teach our kids everything. We teach them that if they do bad things, God will punish them. This very fear of "God" leads them to grow up into being ardent worshippers. But then again. We only say- don't do bad things. We usually forget to add- but that doesnt mean dont go and do good things! A child needs to be taught from the very beginning, that plants, animals and the child himself are all inter-related. That respect needs to be inculcated. Tell a kid- that money is best spent if you donate it to a charity or a church or temple or whatever! And the kid never knows that had he donated his first savings to an NGO serving Mother Nature, maybe the kid himself, will see a new day, every day. Otherwise, as the Tiger keeps going, so will our kids... so will we. We will end up with a shameful reputation if we leave our future generation a world without glaciers, clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, trees to give them oxygen and protection, and forests and animals to keep them save and healthy. And believe me, i really dont think we will have a chance to anything then! The dead dont get second chances!
So while we have the time, make good use of it. Tell climate change, that our brains have woken up finally. And we choose not to bow down!
Any organisation which is slaving to pull these animals out of death's dungeons, should be patted on the back and goaded on till those dungeons close for millenia to come. Whether the organisation is small or large, doesnt matter. The work it is doing matters. Whether one stands up and raises his/her voice against the poaching of animals, or steps out and gets hands on experience of studying some spectacular species, or simply sees to it that the rampant corruption in the administrative departments of the country is reduced and eventually done away with, it is ALL credible work!
We stand today, get up and go to work, sleep peacefully, eat well, while one tiny group of people is out there. Fighting. If not for the ethical reason that we ought to conserve our biodiversity, then for the selfish reason that we , ourselves, get to live. Those of us who sit on a couch, watch TV and criticise the Forest Department, should one day, take a hike and go see what it is to patrol Kaziranga National Park on foot and have gun fights with poachers who are far better armed than any of the Forest Officials. These people should try spending an evening in an evergreen forest just listening to the forest and its inhabitants communicate. These people should remember, that while they sit and grow fatter by the second, these guys, work their asses off to see to it that the country retains at least some of its respect. Yes. There is corruption. But, there are also these gems that out their lives on line for that one golden cat or that one Crocodilian, who, if not helped today, will never be around, to help.
So if you are a couch potato, get up. Go out, smell the air. And if it smells pathetic... clearly, you know how the future looks. Dream. Of waking up and going out and smelling fresh, clean air and looking over clear, blue water.. but remember. Dont let the dream remain a dream. Do something. Put your foot forward. Join the revolution. Turn the specks, into stars. Every Conservationist deserves applause and needs to know that he or she IS making a difference, for the better...
For, if we stay still today... Tomorrow is a decade away..

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

All in "God's" Name!!

India. A country of festivals, colour, culture, people, and diversities of sorts. A country where every God is highly respected and highly worshipped. Where even the worshippers and believers are worshipped and believed!
Today, all the money that a place of worship gathers as donations, is much more than the amount that an NGO gathers as funds for a good cause. So and so temple in so and so place meausres the highest donations in its history so it gets a gold throne made for the idol it houses. But so and so animal faces extinction in so and so place, so it is allowed to fade away and become another tiny speck in Indian history to be showed to generations to come.
If the Tiger is in urgent need of help, or the Gharial is in even more urgent need, the minimal funds that do get produced for efforts that go into saving them, are roped in from abroad. From countries that do have an outlook to such things; that do keep funds for causes like these. Any wonder then, that we are indebted to more countries than we know today!?
What if the Tiger goes extinct tomorrow? For the Indian Parliament, the concern is- "oh god! we'll have to sit and look for a new National animal!" And if we dont already know why we really need that cat around, then i suggest we stop being so outspoken bout our general knowledge, which in fact, unfortunately, happens to be only that- General!
What if the Gharial konks off too? People, lets get out of the "what if" phase, and get down to reality. If we do keep going, then that 'if' , isnt going to be necessary! When NGOs that work for Wildlife, or Nature, and their conservation, ask for funds, and corporates turn them down saying that funding such activities "drains their funds", it shows nothing but absolute negligence and stupidity. When these NGOs release news that shatters human faith in a system, then the world comes running, but what about the time when these NGOs are in their initial stages? You dont really expect them to come up with secret bank accounts do you? Thing is, if at this point, when Planet Earth is in a terribly fragile situation, we dont start taking the lead and trying out things that are good for Mother Nature, I presume we are never going to get the "second chance".
In our country, we take the liberty to divert all the possible money for election procedures, rallies, religious festivals, riots, their management, corruption, and more spiritual stuff. Maybe there are a lot of things about the West that we dont like. But if you can see the bad points, you better be able to accept the good ones too. Those guys there, as nutty as they may be, are still smart when it comes to- how to use money. Have u heard of them falling short of funds? If yes, then they make sure they get them from somewhere. They dont scrap projects for the "lack of funds". Here, we hardly have any money left after all those above "requirements" have been tended to. So no question of funds for the good here. And those little that do come in from somewhere, go into big projects.. leaving the little ones bone dry and mega-dependent.
We have to learn. The wise use of money. Call it what you want. But, we really have to understand that there is no use spending on something that cannot give you anything in return. Think. Evrything u spend on, gives u smthing in return. Not necessarily material satisfaction. But it does give u smthing!
So when you can donate to a cause or an organisation that is working for the betterment of the Environment, and eventually, mankind, why hesitate?? If you are looking for something you'll get out of it, then its good. Think. The answer is atrociously simple. And if you still dont find it, come back here in a while. The next article will give you a lot more on that.
For now - Lets do our part. Be the difference you're looking for elsewhere.