Wild Cats of India

I’m sure many of us aren't aware of the splendid diversity of wild cats we have in our country, apart from the elusive tigers and charismatic leopards of the feline family. So let’s take a tour of these felines in today’s blog post.

Wild felines such as the Asiatic Desert Cat, Pallas's Cat, Jungle Cat, Fishing Cat, Rusty-Spotted Cat, Leopard Cat, Marbled Cat and the Asian Golden Cat are all found in our country. Many of these cats have not been studied in detail and there are some aspects about these cats that still remain unknown. Some of them have been given the status 'vulnerable', i.e., the wild population of these animals are reducing from their habitat. Also, these cats are spread out in different parts of the country. Most of these cats are rarely seen out in the open. We can also say that its easier to spot a leopard or a tiger than many of these mysterious cats!



Moving ahead, apart from the Indian Leopard that we are well-acquainted with, there are two more types of leopards that can be seen in our country i.e., the Snow Leopard and the Clouded Leopard. The Snow Leopard is mainly found in the mountainous range of the Himalayas that include Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Uttarkhand. And the Clouded Leopard is restricted to the north-eastern states of India. 









Caracal and Eurasian Lynx are some more interesting felines that are found in India. The Caracal prefers a dry semi-desert habitat and the Eurasian Lynx is likely to be seen in the Himalayan range of the country.





The Asiatic Lions are found in the Gir Forests of Gujarat. Once, their range included the whole Indian subcontinent, but due to extensive hunting and destruction of its habitat, now they have been reduced to just 411 Asiatic Lions (Census of 2005).






India used to have a good population of Asiatic Cheetahs during the British regime. The ‘Maharajas’ and 'Nawabs' of our country would tame these animals and use them as a hunting tool to capture blackbuck and several other animals. We eventually drove it to extinction due to this extensive habit of taming and hunting the animal. At present, India has lost all its cheetahs and the remaining Critically Endangered Asiatic Cheetahs can only be found in the country of Iran.





And finally, two of the most famous big cats of our country, the Indian Leopard and the Bengal Tiger. The future of both these cats are in jeopardy for various reasons. The Bengal Tiger is still being poached rampantly for its fur and body parts. And the leopards is striving to co-exist among us, despite the fact that we have taken away most of its habitat for our needs.

Despite all this, I'm sure that with little effort from our side, we will be able to see a brighter future for both the wild cats and humans.


Do let us know what you think about today's blog post. Would you like to share some of your ideas and stories with us? Send in your articles and photos and we would be glad to publish them in the next issue of our monthly newsletter - Green Runner!





Urban Birds of Prey (Part II)

Let's have a look at some more raptors that can be seen in our city.


White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster)


The magnificent White-bellied Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster) is an opportunistic carnivore with a diet that includes fish, turtles, sea snakes, birds and mammals. It is also monogamous., i.e. a pair remain together until one bird dies, after which the surviving bird quickly seeks a new mate. Mumbai's coastal areas would be the best place to observe this bird.


Oriental Honey Buzzard
(
Pernis ptilorhynchus)



The Oriental Honey Buzzard (Pernis ptilorhynchus) is a bird of prey from the family Accipitridae. It has a long neck with a relatively small head (resembling the pigeon), making it appear quite distinct from other raptors. It is called the Honey Buzzard as it is known to feed on comb, larvae, pupae and adult forms of bees and wasps. It's diet also includes other insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds and smaller mammals. 




Changeable Hawk-Eagle
(
Nisaetus cirrhatus)




Changeable Hawk-Eagle (Nisaetus cirrhatus) is a bird of prey, more often seen perched on trees instead of flying. It is not a very large bird, but can still prey on animals bigger than its size. Usually it perches on tall trees, scanning the ground from above and swooping down to hunt small mammals, reptiles, amphibians and also other birds.




Eastern Imperial Eagle
Aquila heliaca)



Eastern Imperial Eagle (Aquila heliaca) is from the genus Aquila (that comprises true eagles). It is a large raptor that can grow to about 3 feet in length, 6 feet in width and 3 kilograms in weight, making it capable of hunting on prey very easily. When the eagles are about four years old, they form monogamous pairs and stay together for life. This raptor was initially found in lowland areas, but due to forest degradation and habitat loss it is forced to stay in high elevations.





Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus) is a migratory bird of prey. To avoid the harsh cold winters of its breeding place (eastern Europe and Central Asia), it migrates to India and other countries of southeast Asia every year. At present this raptor is classified as Near Threatened (NT) by the IUCN Red List.


Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus)



Urban Birds of Prey (Part I)



Raptors are ‘birds of prey’ and they are one of the most fascinating hunters of all time. They are found throughout the world and they adapt very well to various habitats. They are known for their stealth, speed and killer instinct. Today let's look at some of our urban raptors (birds of prey).

Black Kite (Milvus migrans)
One of the most common raptors that we see are kites. Here is the Black Kite (Milvusmigrans), a medium-sized bird of prey in the family Accipitridae. When they soar above in the sky you can easily identify them by their slender body and forked tails. The Black Kite can easily be called, 'Raptor of urban skies', as it is very abundant in our city.


Shikra (Accipiter badius)



Next comes the Shikra (Accipiter badius), a small raptor often seen being bullied by the numerous crows found in our city. You will most likely get to see one in Sanjay Gandhi National Park. The bird has a very peculiar call that goes like, 'kik-ki.. kik-ki..'. It is a very skilled hunter and it is known to prey on birds and animals bigger than its size. In Hindi  the word 'shikra' or 'shikara' means hunter; the birds has been given this name keeping the above fact in mind.






Common Kestrel
(Falco tinnunculus)



The Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) is another bird of prey in the family Falconidae. These birds are usually see 'hovering' in heights looking for prey. While they 'hover', their wings remain in motion to keep them stationary in the sky, and their heads remain still which helps them track on the prey movement below. Once a prey is targeted, this bird swoops down in high speed to grab the prey with its sharp tallons and then it perches on a nearby branch to relish the amazing hunt. No wonder they are called 'birds of prey'!





Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)


Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is a fish-eating bird of prey. It is found throughout the world, except for Antarctica  The Osprey is the second most widely distributed raptor species, after the Peregrine falcon. The Osprey's diet mostly comprises fish, and so it is often found near coastal areas. Maybe you could chance upon this bird on your next visit to a beach.








Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus)
Finally, the Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus), a bird of prey from the family Falconidae, found almost throughout the world, making it the most widely found raptor and bird species. While hunting, the Peregrine Falcon is known to dive at a high velocity from skies, which reaches a speed of almost 322 km/hr! Thus, the Peregrine Falcon is also known as the fastest member in the animal kingdom. 


The Day after Diwali


Photo by yanivg


It’s the day after Diwali. Last night a huge number of people all across the city celebrated the festival by lighting up firecrackers. This morning the sweepers have swept away the remains of those crackers, and well, we think that’s the end of the story. But no, unfortunately our episode with the fireworks doesn’t end that easily. Firecrackers leave behind an after-cloud of toxic substances that are harmful in various ways.

So today let’s take a look at the harmful substances that linger on in the atmosphere, long after the colourful fireworks display has died down.

Fireworks consist of gunpowder and some ‘unique’ chemical substances that give them their colour and effect. Some of these substances include cadmium, barium, dioxins, strontium and perchlorates, apart from other chemicals. If you think that use of fireworks doesn’t really cause much harm, let me tell you what these ‘unique’ chemicals alone are capable of doing.

Cadmium: It is widely used in fireworks without any restriction. But this is one of the 6 substances that are banned by the European Union’s Restriction on Hazardous Substances (RoHS) because of its life-threatening nature. Cadmium is a well-known environmental hazard and also carcinogen (cancer causing agent). I do not know why the Indian government has not imposed a similar ban on the use of this substance as of yet?

Barium: It is used in fireworks to bring in a greenish colour when it is combusted. Once combusted, the fumes that come out of barium-induced fireworks are known to accumulate in your lungs and cause Baritosis (symptoms like cough, wheezing, and nasal irritation among others). Barium also affects our nervous system and may cause cardiac problems, weakness and paralysis!

Dioxins: They are highly toxic substances and they are well-known environmental pollutants. Besides, they are also known to cause damage to the growth and immune system of young children. And yes, they are carcinogens too.

Strontium: It is a radioactive substance and it’s known to cause skeletal diseases that include bone cancer. It is a big threat to children as it interferes with their bone growth.

Perchlorates: They are the substances that help in the combustion of fireworks. They are known to damage the thyroid gland, causing diseases like hypothyroidism and thyroid cancer. They hinder growth of the body and so they affect infants, children and pregnant women the most.

These are just some of the problems that fireworks cause. Obviously then, fireworks don’t make our celebration a happy one! 

Aristo Mendis 

Bio-indicators in your Locality



Mumbai is the commercial capital of India and it is developing at a very fast rate. But at what cost does this development come?

Our city’s pollution problem is a well-known fact – we are the 10th most polluted city in the country! The pollution problem is currently a very serious one and it is detrimental to our health. In this blog post, we are not going to look at how we could tackle this problem; instead we will consider how to identify if our own residential area is pollution free or not? And we are going to do this with the help of ‘bio-indicators’.

Bio-indicators are basically flora and fauna that can be used to monitor the health of the environment. All plants and animals act as bio-indicators in one way or another. And here are some of the most common bio-indicators that we come across.

Lichens: Lichens are unusual and amazing organisms and they consist of fungus and algae living as one. They are found throughout the world; and in cities they can be seen growing on trees, walls, rocks and soil surfaces. The interesting fact about these organisms is that they get their food from sunlight (algae prepares food for the fungus with the help of photosynthesis, and in return fungus protects the algae). These organisms cannot tolerate living in an environment with polluted air. And so, with the presence or absence of lichens, you can find out that your locality is polluted or not!

Butterflies & Moths: A nice population of different types of butterflies and moths indicate a healthy environment. So if you find them in your locality, it means that the place is suitable for pollination which in turn indicates that there are a good number of plants and trees in your locality. Butterflies and moths also indicate that there is natural pest control in your locality.

Birds: That birds are good bio-indicators is a well-known fact. Birds depend on a varied diet that includes fruits, insects and other small organisms. And these insects/organisms depend on plants and trees for their existence. Plants/trees in turn depend on a healthy environment to grow. So basically if there is a good population of different types of birds in your locality, it indicates that you are living in a healthy environment.

Frogs: They are also known to be good bio-indicators. Frogs depend on healthy land and water habitats to survive and they cannot tolerate toxic chemicals in the environment. They are known to exist since 250 million years, but all of a sudden many species of frogs are on the verge of extinction. This indicates that there’s a problem with the environment we live in. Even you must have noticed that the number of frogs that you see these days is drastically less than what you could have seen 10 years back!

Over the next few days try to observe if these bio-indicators exist in your locality or not – that will give you a good idea of how environmentally healthy your area is!

- Aristo Mendis

Damsels and Dragons of Mumbai



Black-winged Bambootail Damselfly (Disparoneura quadrimaculata)

Today we are going to look at one of the fastest and also one of the most important insects that we find in our city - Odonatans!

Dragonflies and Damselflies are collectively referred to as ‘Odonatans’ and they are found near water bodies and other damp areas of our city. They are known to have excellent flying skills; some are even capable of flying backwards! Odonatans are aerial predators; that means they are capable of hunting while in flight.

Ruddy Marsh Skimmer Dragonfly (Crocothemis servilia)
These insects bear an important significance as they feed on mosquitoes and other pests and thus help in controlling pest populations in our city. Both, the larval stage (young ones) and the adult stage of Odonatans are known to prey on mosquitoes and other harmful insects. In the past, people in Thailand have successfully used dragonflies to control populations of the ‘Aedes’ mosquito which is an important vector in the spread of dengue fever. Maybe Mumbai can take some inspiration from the above example and do something similar to combat the current dengue issue that the city is facing. 

There are more than 500 different species of Odonatans found in India alone and they form a major portion of the diet of many birds and animals. Odonatans help in indicating the health of the forests. So if a forest contains a diverse and healthy population of dragonflies and damselflies, then it indicates that the forest is in its pristine state. 

Keep a watch for these marvelous insects hovering around the water bodies – they are absolutely attractive and amazing creatures!

Pygmy Dartlet Damselflies(Agriocnemis pygmea)




Butterflies: Beautifying Mumbai!



Mumbai is home to about 160 species of butterflies! A little hard to believe this, isn’t it? But it’s absolutely true!

In our city, many different landscapes are closely intermingled with each other, which lead to the creation of various habitats that are suitable for a rich biodiversity. This has helped the butterflies to adapt to our urban landscape and add much beauty to it. In today’s blog-post we shall look at some of the most interesting and mesmerizing butterflies found in our city of Mumbai. 


The first one that I want to highlight is called the Blue Oakleaf (Kallima Horsfieldi). It usually goes unnoticed due to its resemblance to a dead leaf. Surprisingly, the upper-side of this butterfly is well coloured with shades of white and blue. An interesting fact about the Oakleaf Butterfly is that every individual in this species has a different under-wing pattern, making each and every butterfly unique!



Then there’s the Blue Mormon (Papilio polymnestor) which is supposedly the biggest butterfly to be found in Mumbai. It is a very restless butterfly and seldom does one get to see it still. The best time to see one is during the monsoons and maybe for a couple of months after that.


The Spot Swordtail (Graphium nomius), like the name suggests, has a characteristic sword like tail and this makes it a great sight to see! It is easily disturbed and known to be very agile at all times. It is mostly found in the forested areas of Mumbai.


And finally the Orange Awlet (Bibasis jaina) also known as the Orange-striped Awl is a very rare butterfly that is found in Mumbai. It is crepuscular in nature, i.e. it is active during early mornings and late evenings. If you find one, then make sure to take a photo of it because in general it is a very rare sight.

The above descriptions give you just a glimpse of the variety of butterflies that are found in our city. Begin observing your locality closely; you never know when you might encounter a rare butterfly just next door!



- Aristo Mendis 

The Bird that goes: Tuk-Tuk-Tuk..




Did you know that Mumbai has its own dedicated ‘city bird’?

You might think that this title has been given to the common crow or the blue rock pigeon or maybe even to the house sparrow; because these are birds that Mumbaikars come across all the time. But what if I tell you that none of the above hold the coveted title of being our 'city bird'? 

The city bird of Mumbai is the Coppersmith Barbet and it is also known as the Crimson-breasted Barbet (Megalaima haemacephala). This bird is more often heard than seen and it is known to make a monotonous call that goes like, tuk-tuk-tuk. The call resembles a coppersmith repeatedly hitting a copper sheet and this is how it gets its name. The Coppersmith Barbet is also known to make an early morning call to welcome the sunrise. Haven't you heard this call in your locality?

Coppersmith Barbets can be found near wooded areas, gardens and possibly even in the greener patches around your residence. They often inhabit older trees, wherein they utilize the cavities to build nests and to roost. They are known to feed on flowers, fruits and occasionally on insects too. And another interesting fact about this bird is that it can consume up to 3 times its own body weight for a day’s meal!

At first glance, the Coppersmith Barbet appears to be almost the size of a sparrow with a greenish plumage that helps it easily camouflage against trees, but at closer inspection we get to see a prominent red forehead, yellow colored eye-ring and throat patch with streaks in the underside. Both the males and females look alike, but the younger ones are paler in comparison and they lack the red patch in their foreheads.  Barbets in general are closely related to the woodpeckers.

Some of the factors that have caused the population of this bird to decline recently are human encroachment, increasing population levels and also the use of pesticides (as it feeds on fruits). But with some amount of awareness and support we can easily help in conserving this wonderful bird. For starters, you can look out for the Barbet the next time you visit your local garden and then make sure that the trees in which it nests and feeds are not harmed or cut down without any reason.

So if you haven’t got a glimpse of this bird yet, hope you get one soon!!

And do share with us your photos/articles/experience about the Coppersmith barbet on our facebook page: www.facebook.com/GreenLineIndia





Backyard Wildlife- By Aristo Mendis



Generally when we speak of wildlife, the first image that pops up into our minds is that of a scenic evergreen forest with tall trees and thick foliage, alive with a variety of creatures. While this interpretation is not entirely wrong, the danger is that by imagining that all ‘wildlife’ exists only in some distant forests, we may unconsciously ignore the ‘flora and fauna’ that actually surrounds us – that is found in the vicinity of our homes, workplaces and other public spaces.

In a city like Mumbai, we unfortunately have close to no interaction with nature; because we are too busy fending for ourselves in a never-ending rat race. Actually, given our stressful lifestyles, nature can prove to be a good stress-buster – all we need is just a basic level of interest in these other forms of ‘life’. 

And we don’t need to look too far; our own surroundings have a relatively good variety of trees and animals that just go unnoticed. Common examples can be that of birds, butterflies, frogs and trees that exist in our residential colonies, public gardens, along roads and other nearby areas.

Praying Mantis- Seen near Don Bosco, Naigaon. 

So how do we go about getting in touch with our ‘backyard wildlife’? For starters, we could become a little more observant, just looking at the trees, birds, butterflies, insects, etc. that we constantly see around us. We could then go a step further by setting aside a few hours, possibly on weekends or holidays, to engage in casual bird watching, or attempting to identify the common trees/insects/animals in our localities. And for those of us who want to get a bit more professional, we could begin maintaining our ‘nature journals’ – jotting down our observations and findings.

Well, my suggestion is that you give it a try. Over the next week, look carefully at every tree that you pass by; observe the birds and insects that are flying around. I can assure you that you will be amazed by the amount of ‘backyard wildlife’ you discover. It’s exciting, it’s fun, and it’s a fantastic learning experience!

And yes, it would be great if you can share your discoveries on this blog.  We would love to hear of your discoveries! 

Green School Campaign 2012-13:ACTIVITIES

So we're back with another edition to the Green Schools Campaign. This year we have about 46 schools on board and we're already halfway through completing the first sessions! Till now we've been having a great time and hope you are too!

We left you with quite a few activities to do... and also have mailed you handouts on how to carry out the activities.
The activities are:
1. Green Mapping and Listing trees (Group Activity)
2. Adopt a Tree & Story of My Tree (Individual)
3. Green Wall (Group Activity)
4. Paper Drive (Group Activity)

GREEN MAPPING:

1. Decide on an area which you need to map. It can be your school and school vicinity, the area around the school, your neighborhood, society etc. Remember, you have to carry out this activity in your school as well as an area outside your school (Ex. A housing society, a nearby garden etc.)
2. Before you start mapping, make sure you write down the name of the area on the top of the map.
3. Draw an initial map of the building/area. For street lengths and shapes, you can walk around the area a few times or refer to Google Earth or Google Maps.
4. Make sure the drawing is a proportionate representation of the area.

5. Label and color code the building. Use one color for similar areas such as Grey for Buildings, Green for gardens, Brown for playgrounds and so on. Use LIGHT colors so that your markings and labels are visible.
6. Go around your campus and make a list of the type of trees & shrubs. List down ONLY trees & shrubs and NOT herbs.
7. Use the data sheet at the end of this hand out and list down the details of the tree. Designate the trees with DIFFERENT & DISCTINCT symbols. Fill the data sheet as shown


GREEN WALL



1. Take a USED empty cold drink bottle. Wash it well and using scissors or blade make a cut as shown.
2. Using a sharp pointed object make two holes on each side of the bottle.
Make sure the holes are small enough for a string to pass through and that they are in line with each other or your bottle won‟t look even.
3. Pass the strings through the holes as shown in the fig below:
Make two knots at the bottom, so that the bottle doesn‟t slip.
4. You can use a metal ring (available in most hardware stores, they‟re often used to support screws) to support your bottle better. This will support the bottle if it gets heavy.
5. Fill the bottle with garden soil and plant your sapling!
6. Don‟t hang more than 4-5 bottles in each column. Make sure the string/rope can take the weight of the bottles.



If you have any problems regarding any of the activities... don't forget to send us an email!!!
Good Luck!



Green School Campaign 2012-13: A glimpse

We've started with the Green Schools Campaign 2012-13! 
Here's a glimpse of few of the schools that are a part of the campaign this year. 


Auxilium Convent, Bandra

Cambridge School, Kandivali

Divine Child, Andheri

Dominic Savio, Andheri

Don Bosco, Naigaon

Don Bosco, Matunga

Durello Convent, Bandra

Fort Convent, Colaba

Holy Family, Chembur

Our Lady of Dolours, Marine Lines

St. Andrews, Bandra

St. Annes, Colaba

St. Annes, Malad

St. Blaize, Andheri

St. Josephs, Juhu

St. Josephs, Wadala

St. Mary's, Dahisar

St. Pauls Convent, Dadar

St. Paul's, Dadar

St. Theresa's, Bandra
...And many more to come!
Good Luck for this year Guys!