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From trigger happy to a bigger picture

19/11/2012

When I first started photographing, I did it for the sheer joy of being in the jungle and the gratification of reliving the moments after getting back home. To be honest there was some kick in having your photograph up on the internet and having people look at it, comment on it. The recognition was also sub-conisously driving me to produce more content. But intrinsically it was some sort of selfish joy all through. And over time the interest in observing animals and their habitat increased. My curiosity made me more a naturalist than a photographer.

(Pic courtesy: Amit Rawal)

If you do anything for a longer period of time, the question of why you are doing what you are doing strikes prominently at some point. And of-course it did. That’s when I slowly started thinking about the larger picture and what I wanted to do.

We all agree that awareness is the key to a better planet, and as photographers we try to bring about a real picture of our world. But all through, one thing that bothered me was that the content I was publishing was mostly for people who are interested in it and more importantly people who had access. And at this point I started thinking about how to take the story to a new audience.

I identified two sets of people. One who did not have access to mass media and internet and the other which wasn’t interested in wildlife content and documentaries in the serious or academic form. This is when I started my  work with CEE (Center for Environment and Education) and addressed the first issue. We did a lot of work with the forest department in wildlife reserves and nearby villages, setting up interpretation centres and teaching photography to folks from the forest dept. were a few of those initiatives.

With CEE and MOEF (Ministry of Environment and Forests) one of the most fulfilling projects I worked with was the Science Express. This train, a mobile exhibition of  bio-diversity hotspots of India toured across the country, showcasing Western Ghats among other hotspots through photographs to people all over India. Children from local schools and people who might not have ever known of the existence of western ghats could finally see and partly get an idea of the natural wealth we have. Over 2 million people have over a year seen this mobile exhibition.


While these are projects I continue to do, I now wanted to focus on the second problem. Taking the content to mass media in a not-so-serious way. The though was to take the content to people in ways that they are already comfortable with and like. Music was one such medium. With the launch of Karnataka Anthem, which was broadcasted over 6 kannada channels and got a viewership of more than 2 million, we were able to showcase our rich bio-diversity to people across Karnataka in their local channels through an Anthem, in the hope that they will remember the natural wealth every time they hum the song. The most common response we heard was that people wouldn’t  believe that all the animals show on the video were found in Karnataka!

This was the essence of the article in Education times today. Working on a very interesting project on the same lines. Watch this space for more soon!

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Why the blanket ban on tourism in tiger reserves is a bad idea

28/07/2012

For someone who fell in love with wildlife at a Tiger Reserve, the Supreme Court’s ban on all tourism activities in the core areas of the Tiger Reserves comes as a huge shock. My tryst with wildlife started at the Nagarhole National Park and at Bandipur National Park, both Tiger Reserves. I spent 6 months volunteering as a naturalist at Bandipur, which quickly became my second home. Over time, the increase in crowds to these parks due to Tiger tourism and my own need to explore different habitats, made me travel lesser and lesser to Tiger Reserves and more to the unexplored and lesser known rainforests of the Western Ghats. Tiger tourism is different from tourism in Tiger Reserves. While one focuses on promoting the spotting of the big cat, the other is tourism in Tiger Reserves to see the different kinds of flora and fauna. While I completely support the idea of very restricted and well controlled tourism in these areas, I think a blanket ban is a bad idea.

The Supreme Court says no to tourism in “core areas” of Tiger Reserves. To rephrase this correctly, it means almost no tourism in any Tiger Reserves. Most of the buffer zone in which tourism is now intended is usually the neighboring village settlements and secondary forests and in most of these buffer areas one hardly gets to experience the full richness of the bio-diversity. Like most extreme measures this too has its own set of problems. Most of the conservationists, researchers, wildlife photographers and filmmakers I’ve met, first fell in love with the Jungles through the eyes of Jim Corbett and Kenneth Anderson followed by frequent trips to the wild to spot elephants, tigers and leopards. Since spotting animals in the Indian jungles is difficult, some slowly started looking up at the birds, some below to snakes and frogs; and some to the plants and trees around. Controlled wildlife tourism has been a powerful tool to increase the awareness among people about our bio-diversity leading to conservation.

I have been involved in teaching children about bio-diversity and can confidently say that the love and connect happens when they see and experience these animals for real and not on television or Ipads. The sparkle in the eyes, the racing heartbeat and adrenaline rush when someone spots an elephant herd or a tiger is hardly the same as watching a documentary. So how will the next generation of researchers, conservationists, photographers, filmmakers and policymakers fall in love with our bio-diversity? Like Baba Dioum said “In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” So who are we protecting our forests from? Poachers, land sharks and development or our future. In the last few years of my time in the wild, I’ve come across very few cases of poaching in tourism areas. Poaching tends to take place in areas where there’s little or no access. A few tourists with cameras have in fact served to document our rich biodiversity not to mention irregularities and administration failures in National Park. In fact, our under-staffed and under-equipped forest department can use tourism to their advantage.

Most tourists who travel to these exotic wildlife destinations spend anywhere between Rs. 5,000 – Rs. 20,000 per person per day to get a glimpse of the rare cat or spot some animals and birds. Until now there was a simpler, more controlled mechanism for everyone to travel through governed bodies to these National Parks. Now with the ban, the pressure on the forest department to utilize forest guest houses for entertaining those with the ‘connect’ will only increase. The already lean staff force who are neither trained nor equipped to handle tourists will now be burdened with aspects of hospitality when their time can be better used for the protection of forests. Those National Parks that have not yet been declared Tiger Reserves and don’t come under the ban but do have healthy animal populations and are also fragile habitats will now be under extreme pressure and will lead to more drastic problems.

Most resorts near the Tiger Reserves have provided excellent employment for locals. A lot of the hunter/gatherers in neighboring areas have now stopped venturing into the forests because of wildlife tourism. This also means that there is lesser human activity in the jungles from local settlements to gather firewood etc. The ban can suddenly change the whole balance in these areas, with thousands of people losing jobs, many who can then potentially indulge in activities that could be illegal/detrimental for the survival of the very animal that this ban is trying to prevent.

Wildlife tourism also brings in large revenue to the forest department, most of this goes directly to the local range in which tourism happens. A significant part of these funds are also used for betterment of local communities in the surrounding areas. Some of the resorts also assist the forest department with their jeeps and man power for maintenance work in the National Parks. These resources have come in extremely handy in times of forest fires and have possibly saved hundreds of acres of forest.

Why must all our steps be extreme? Africa has some of the greatest wildlife sanctuaries in the world which are extremely well preserved and protected. At the same time their major source of revenue is tourism. They use tourism and the revenue it generates to maintain the parks, rehabilitate poachers as guides and workers. Some wildlife reserves in Africa are now facing unique problems because of thriving Elephant population. The solution lies in striking the right balance. Controlled, regulated tourism can be a great tool in preserving and conserving our forests and its bio-diversity. I completely agree with this article “Come clean or clear out”, it brings together some great points on how we can regulate and keep our forests clear of the mayhem we create. As history teaches us, most extreme measures have been recipes to disaster.

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Hide and Seek

3/10/2010

Leopards are masters of stealth and that’s what helps them hunt and survive in the thick forests of southern India. They are known to hide and ambush than chase and hunt. These are some pictures of leopards from different trips, which show the brilliant stealth capabilities of the leopard.

This Leopard came running across the jeep track and hid between the tree stumps beautifully and then ran inside the bushes and watched us for a while.

The same leopard above which went into the bushes and watched us.

A leopard in the paddy fields near Daroji, hiding but still wants to watch.

Leopard in Kabini watching us from inside the thicket.

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Evolution

31/08/2010

Evolution is what has kept many species from disappearing from the planet. Some have evolved in the right way quickly and have managed to share this world with their predators and other threats.

Here is a brilliant example of evolution. What you see is a caterpillar of the butterfly Blue Mormon, its very difficult for caterpillars to survive to become butterflies, given their susceptibility to predators. But this caterpillar in particular has developed different strategies to survive.

The eyes you see are false eyes and helps the caterpillar look like a snake. The face in totality looks similar to a snake, you would think this is enough to keep the predators at bay. But wait until you watch the video below.

This is how the caterpillar behaves when it senses threat, it pops out a ‘Y’ shaped organ that resembles a snake’s tongue. Called Osmeterium looks like a snake’s tongue to prevent a predator attack. That’s not all, this organ emits smelly compounds believed to be pheromones which are highly pungent in nature even to humans.

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The monsoons are here

15/06/2010

The monsoons are back and so are the lush fresh greens, the ticks are gone and the leeches are here.

The frogs start out calling for their mates, Alice night frog (Nyctibatrachus cf. aliciae) waits for its mate

Millions of butterflies start migrating from the wet, cold ghats to the warmer plains and thousands end up getting killed on the road.

A road passing through a forest almosts fragments the forest into two, causing road kills and also fragmenting the habitat. Each day hundreds of animals, thousands of insects and amphibians get killed on the road all over India. You can read up further on the study done on insect roadkills here and amphibian roadkills here

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Musician of the western ghats

29/10/2009

The call of the Malabar Whistling Trush, is one of the most melodious pieces of music I’ve ever heard in nature. I’ve always wanted to photograph this bird for a long time. Photographing them can be quite challenging given that they make their homes in the deep forests of western ghats and that they are shy. Valparai is one of the best places to photograph them, as they are all around the town.

Click the play button to hear the call of the Whistling Trush

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What’s their future?

25/08/2009

Its been a lucky season. I’ve been fortunate in seeing and photographing young ones of a few key species found in India. The Joy of seeing a new generation of these animals in times which are hard for their survival has been an overwhelmingly emotional experience.

After a really long wait, I finally managed to be there at the right place at the right time to photograph the Baby King Cobras which had just hatched in a nest close to Agumbe.

I also made a short trip to Nagarhole where 2 leopard cubs abandoned in a sugarcane field close to the Nagarhole forest by the mother and have been rescued by the forest department.

The one question that came across my mind each time I saw them was “What’s their future?”

16 Comments

Leopard tales

8/08/2009

Not many times in life does one come across opportunities like this. Wildlife is full of surprises, and one rewarded and when least expected. Having spent almost 2 weeks in the summer in Kabini and having had no luck with photographing any cats though sighted a few, I didn’t expect I’d get to shoot much in the monsoons. But I was in for a pleasant surprise. I was to see two leopards!

38 Comments

A new journal

17/07/2009

So I did try be lazy and pushed the unavoidable but anyway here it is my new journal http://amoghavarsha.com/journal

I will still cross post to LJ until it works.

Also I haven’t put up any images lately though I’ve shot a ton. Here’s one for starters

In the summers, elephants spend a lot of time close to water. When we came to a waterhole expecting a tiger, we saw this guy playing without a care in the world. He was no farther than 200ft.

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Blue winged leaf bird

14/04/2009

Leaf birds are one of the most difficult birds to photograph because of the green foliage it roosts in and its own color which blends with the background. Lucky to have it sitting like this.

See here if you can spot the same bird

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