Monday, August 11, 2008

this species of Painted grasshopper was obviously not affeceted by the heavy downpour in the last few days as it sat on a shrub in an open patch of grassland in the mahdei forests. I risked my camera equipment in the rains to take this image, as the hues and shades on this individual were amazing. I really dont know the exact species of this grasshopper though, but lesser known creatures like these go on to suggest the vast diversity of lifeforms that the Western Ghats forests support and sustain.

Nagpanchami at keri

this year like every year, i celebrated or rathar attended the nagpanchami festival at Rajendra kerkar(Bhai's) pla

ce.The only difference being the fact that this time around i was asked, actually ordered to perform the puja to the snake motiff and idol by Bhai's mother 'Aai', something which i could not say no to...

for someone who does not believe in idol worship and rituals, this was a diffcult situation, but well, the cobra is known as the flagship species of snakes, and i went ahead and did the puja- was helped alot by the family on a step by step basis as i had never done this before!

and well, it was worth every effort as the post puja lunch was fabulous, and amidst discussions ranging from conservation to folk culture and history, Bhai being the treasure trove of knowledge...i had one of the best Nagpanchami pujas ever. this image was taken by sonal, who not only gave good company but helpedd freeze images of the festival in the villages of keri and morlem too!

Saw this cicada being attacked and then dismembered by a few hundred ants of some species (which i still have to identify-the book on Ants will help for sure). Cicadas are nocturnal creatures of the forest and are ocassionaly seen in the day.the ants seemed to overpower the cicada despite its frequent attempts of flying.The whole drama took almost an hour to finish.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Conserve the Indian Bull Frog

Almost everyone in Goa can recognize frogs and toads, to put it in a better way those that can be eaten and that cannot be…and we all know by now that certain species of amphibians are locally declining in most parts of the state and is a cause of concern not only for herpetologists like me but also for Health officials and medical practitioners as they all know that the frog species in question, i.e. the Indian Bull frog and some other species are primarily responsible for the curbing and keeping in check the larvae of mosquitoes and other invertebrates that transmit water borne diseases especially during the monsoons.

But mass hunting in their niche habitats, fields, lakes, plateaus, etc locals has taken a heavy toll on frog populations especially in the last 5 years as the demand for Jumping chicken has drastically increased all across the state.

That their habitats are also being wantonly altered and destroyed at a rapid pace is another fact and this is further pushing this flagship amphibian species to the brink of local extinction in many areas of the state.

The need of the hour is to understand the importance of the amphibian species like the Indian Bull frogs in our ecosystem and conserve them and their habitats in whatever way possible.

While Frog hunting and serving of frog meat as Jumping chicken is illegal and banned in the state, there is very little enforcement of this ban and the authorities responsible for implementation, i.e. the Goa Forest Department and the Goa Police need to work in unison for the execution of this ban on a war footing.

As for NGO’s and activists are concerned, the networking has died down and so has the interest for this issue, thus making it difficult o reach out to the masses for creating awareness about the practice of illegal hunting.

The initial thrust of the campaign has now died down resulting in Indian Bull frogs being poached all across the state and what now needs to be seen is whether the Goa Government through its various agencies is able to implement the ban on frog hunting and truly celebrate 2008 as the year of Frog till the very end of the monsoons, as declared by international agencies and herpetologists across the world or let hundreds of frogs be slaughtered to satisfy our taste buds and ignore the imbalance it causes to the local ecosystem as well as our lives.

forest tree crab

took this image of a forest tree crab( exact species unknown to me) in the chorla ghats, though i have seen this species in almost all protected areas of Goa. it usually is seen in the monsoons and takes residence in tree hollows, i have observed individuals as high as 15 feet in the tree canopy too! locals believe that this crab can cause food poisoning when consumed and well, i have not tried it out to say the least! also seen larger individuals feed on slugs and frogs of Philatus species.(tree frogs).
Sometimes these crabss are seen foraging in the leaf litter on the forest floor and this specimen was photographed at about 12.50 in the afternoon.

In praise of the Cobra

To a Goan the word Cobra or Nag in a conversation instantaneously draws a response which varies amongst people right from fascination and awe for this reptile to veneration and respect granted to it not only by Hindu mythology and religion, but the Goan Society at large. The Cobra, although venomous in nature, is loved, revered and respected by all in our state and beyond.
While 3 subspecies of the Cobra are found in India- that is, the spectacled cobra, the monocled cobra and the black cobra, we in Goa come across the widely distributed Indian spectacled or Binocellete Cobra (Naja naja) and are locally known as Nag, Parro, Pandhro, Sorop, Vodhlo, Motelo, etc. in local vernacular language.
Distinguished unmistakably for its unique ability to raise the anterior quarter of the body together with the spreading of the ribs in the neck region into a well described hood to display those exquisite markings, when exited or disturbed, it is perhaps this quality of the Cobra which has been the source of the fascination and reverence for ages together.
We, Goans, by large do not venture out purposefully to attack or kill a Cobra as the belief of Zagekar (territorial Cobra) is firmly rooted in Goan society and almost every neighborhood has a Cobra and a special place or tree dedicated to the species, which is often worshiped and given respect especially in the villages and hinterlands.
And while Goans firmly believe in the majesty of this snake, there exist traditions in the Talukas of Sattari, Sangeuem, Quepem, Canacona etc. where the Cobra is venerated with great respect as one of the folk deities, the Goddesses Brahmani Maya is depicted holding 2 hooded Cobras which serve as her weapons and flank her on both the sides. Similarly the guardian spirit deity of Vetal has a hooded cobra on his headgear, which is why the cobra is offered a sacred seat in the temple worship system. And many villages like Coppaddem in Sattari are known for their strict laws pertaining to the protection of the Cobra, other villages like Vaddem and Netravali in Sanguem believe of the ability of the cobra to be in the disguise of their ancestors, thus never harming a Cobra in the process.
The festival of Nagpanchami is celebrated in Goa by praying to brightly painted clay idols or drawings depicting the snake and Prasad is offered to the same. This year this festival of paying homage to the Snake God will be celebrated throughout the State on the 6th of August, and rituals often include keeping a fast for the day and abstinence from working in the fields. The day is also marked with favored snake habitats like termite mounds, banyan and peepal trees, etc being offered sweets, made exclusively by the women folk of the house. While it is believed to be the symbol of fertility by Goans in the Talukas of Sattari and Quepem, Goans at large attribute the snake with Lord Shiva and so take care not to harm this reptile.
Today however, this relationship appears cracking as in urban areas, despite religious taboos, cobras are often wantonly killed without realizing the importance in the modern society as a rodent controller in our environment and thus working for the human benefit. That Cobras venom is used as an effective pain killer like Cobroxin etc. against diseases like neural leprosy, epilepsy and arthritis is not know to the average Goan who thinks some time that the poor snake is more often nuisance than a boon to the human race. And while other religious protection is still offered in many a Goan neighborhood, the common cobra is now also protected under the Wild Life Protection Act of 1972, thus giving this reptile the highest form of protection- one that is offered to a reptile known for its cultural as well as its biological importance. There is thus an urgent need to understand the role of this important flagship species of snakes in our ecosystem and give it its rightful respect and protection in the state. Keep the faith.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Came across this nest of wasps under a leaf on one of my jaunts in the wilderness yesterday, its been pouring heavily here, in the chorla ghats, and having taken the risk of puuling out my camera for this image was worth the efffort.
being territorial in nature, these wasps were alert after i froze a few frames and i hope to get some time to identify the species properly, soon!
It is these smaller wonders in nature that keep me in awe of the forests of the Western Ghats, no wonder the region has been identifed as a Mega Bio diversity Hotspot of the world!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

July- meeting up with wildlife pals.

The month of July was well spent, the highlights being various outdoor trips with pals, acquaintances and fellow researchers in the field.That the monsoons around this of the wilds, the Mahdei region in particular and the state of Goa in general helped me and my fellow wildlifer friends see the diversity of this region at its peak was not only a blessing but a signal as well, that these forests were under constant threat and required serious work in terms of wildlife research as well as creating awareness amongst the masses.
July was a time when Jerry Martin and his group of herp speccialists drove down to Chorla, from agumbe, and amidst pit vipers and travancore wolf snakes and caecilians, we spoke of long term cconservation initiatives that would transcend into a sound foundation for our upcoming Conservation and Research facility in the chorla ghats.
With Prerna singh bindra, acclaimed wildlife journalist and close friend dropping by for monsoonal vist of the Mahdei region and a trip to Cotigao-had me all rambling into some of the best wlidlfe locales in the state. Paresh was at his best-as usual!his work in Cotigao with the communities as well for the sanctuary is amazing to say the least and it does speak for itself. our trip to the Kuske waterfalls was a stark reminder that places like these exist in our forests that are unique and yet very delicate in nature....places that need the efforts of officers like paresh and journalists like prerna to come together for their protection and conservation.
July also saw the visit of S Karthikeyan i.e. karthik to us all, an iconic researcher and naturalist for all those who love small things in the wild...butterflies, beetles, spiders etc. A visit to Bondla and then to the Mahdei with Karthik revealed species of insects and arachnidae that i had never ever observed before and made me stare in awe at natures rich tapestry of colors and shapes. alongwith his wife Priya, we not only managed to get a staggering diversity of plant hoppers and bettles, we also caught up on activities related to eco tourism and need for proper documentation!
And with chance meetings with Parag Rangnekar, the author of Butterflies of Goa and a dear pal, with Ajay Gramopadhaye (ex education officer of WWF Goa) and Bhai Kerkar, July was a month of intense discussion, lots of learning experiance and of course field trips where I was not only able to marvel at the creatures of the Western ghats but also note and document their importance in our lives.
With the beginning of August, and Nagapanchami just around the corner, I hope this month too is packed with fieldwork and research oreineted visits....keep the faith.