Wildlife wish list for 2015

India’s top wildlife biologists, marine scientists and photographers list their best moments of 2014 and their conservation goals for 2015

Photo: Sandesh Kadur
Photo: Sandesh Kadur

News on the environment front always seems depressing. I started 2015 by reaching out to an army of people—photographers, wildlife biologists, marine scientists, birders—to ask what their best moment was from 2014 and what they hoped to achieve this year as far as the wild world was concerned.

As I started getting inputs from this green army, I found my spirits lifting, knowing that there are men and women out there working to protect the planet and, through them, living their best moments out in the wild in 2014. The range of animals, birds and habitats they work on creates hope that in spite of all the pressures of our modernizing economy, there is still a lot of biodiversity in India and much to save! So here’s a personal account of India’s top wildlife biologists, scientists and photographers, their best moments of 2014 and their conservation goals for 2015.

1. K.S. Gopi Sundar, director, SarusScape program, International Crane Foundation

The highlight for us was the resighting of a Sarus that I banded as a very young chick in 2000. Fourteen years later, this bird has a partner of his own (he is a male!) in his own territory which is barely a kilometre away from where he was born. Male cranes are known to return to close to their natal territory, and this sighting is the first confirmation that this behaviour occurs in Sarus too. In 2015, I hope to visit and establish long-term work in many more wetland areas, see the black-necked cranes in the wild, and hopefully visit Australia to see the Brolgas.

2. Aparajita Datta, wildlife biologist, Nature Conservation Foundation

My best wildlife moment from 2014 was watching a pale weasel (also known as mountain weasel) hunting a pika in Ladakh on a trip in May 2014—along the Leh-Hanle road. Watched the animal for more than half an hour, hiding and peeking out of crevices below a culvert, scampering about and then suddenly bringing out a pika, carrying it in its mouth, crossing the road and running up a steep rocky slope. Although weasels are known to hunt and prey on pikas and voles, it was quite amazing to see this little creature, which weighs about 200-300 grams, carrying a pika, which was probably around its own weight. What made it extra special was watching it with my 5-year-old son, who was a bit sad to see the pika being killed. My wish list for 2015—a concerted effort at recovery of the Great Indian Bustard population. It would be criminal if such a magnificent species is lost. Finding a way to halt/slow down the conversion of natural forests into oil palm and rubber plantations in some north-eastern states like Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh (is another item on the wish list).

3. T.R. Shankar Raman, scientist, Western Ghats

Best wildlife moment 2014: Being back in Dampa Tiger Reserve, Mizoram, after a span of nearly two decades, and hearing and seeing bazas and hoolock gibbons and peacock pheasants from Dampatlang, along with Kimthanga and Zakhuma and other friends, old and new, in the very same place. My wildlife wish list for 2015: To revive and rediscover the daily joy of birdwatching, just about anywhere, and to compile and make available all my bird data and observations from the last three decades by uploading them to sites such as eBird (ebird.org), in tandem with Bird Count India initiatives (birdcount.in), and to other open access data repositories.

4. Divya Mudappa, scientist, Western Ghats

It is very difficult to pick out one moment or experience from the times I spend outdoors. I learn something new each time I step out or each time I go to a new place. My most memorable moments last year were both in the North-East—first, watching a clouded leopard trying to hunt Assamese Macaque in Dampa Tiger Reserve in Mizoram during a short visit there, and then the spectacular congregation of the Amur Falcons in Nagaland on their migration. Both were to me examples of how good management and people’s cooperation could help in protecting and conserving a place or species. My wish list for 2015 is more difficult to dream of. On the conservation front, there is much to be desired. But my primary effort would be to start restoring 100 hectares of degraded rainforests in the Anamalais in addition to assisting the authorities in adopting the right practices of habitat management within the Anamalai Tiger Reserve.

5. Sandesh Kadur, National Geographic emerging explorer

My best wildlife moment is from coastal Karnataka where I had a sighting of golden yellow toads. I was over a hundred mountain kilometres away when I got a call from a friend that they had been spotted. But I didn’t want to leave a single stone unturned. I rushed to the spot, a tad sceptical about the effort to get there, but hopeful that it was something exciting. There was a deafening loud, monotonous croak emanating from the freshly filled stream bed. I saw what looked like bright yellow leaves mixed with the wet brown leaves from a distance, except the yellow leaves were animated and turned out to be bright golden-yellow toads croaking loudly to get the females’ attention. There wasn’t one or two individuals, there were over 200 bright yellow males ready to mate with the drab brown camouflaged looking females, which were far fewer in number, or perhaps much less visible! It was a natural history scene that I had never encountered before and something that certainly tops the list of my top 10 wildlife experiences ever! My wish list for 2015: I’d personally like to head out there to see a snow leopard in the wild. I’m also looking forward to heading off on an expedition to a part of Africa that I’ve always wanted to go to. Can’t say more than that for now…for fear of jinxing it!

6. Deepak Apte, marine biologist, COO, Bombay Natural History Society

There would be many to state as my best wildlife moments of 2014. But the one which I was extremely excited about was when I saw a live specimen of Nucleolaria nucleus (Linnaeus, 1758), commonly called Wrinkled Cowrie, on 28 December 2014 in Andaman Islands. It is only the second time I have seen this extremely rare cowrie (mollusca: Cypraeidae) especially in Indian reefs. The last time I saw it was in 2005 in Lakshadweep. While we focus so much on charismatic species, several rare species remain unknown by large. It was a perfect finale to 2014. For 2015, I have three things which I wish: see a live specimen of giant clam Hippopus Hippopus, wish Poshitra Port never comes up at Poshitra in the Gulf of Kutch and continue with my mission to be an ambassador for marine and coastal biodiversity.

7. Firoz Ahmed, wildlife biologist, Aaranyak

My best wildlife moment during the year 2014 is a stream-walk in deep forests in Mizoram where we found a species of frogs living in tree holes. This is certainly a new species of tree frogs not known to science and awaiting its scientific description. The frogs live not far from streams and up in the trees in tree holes. These habitat-specialized frogs are more at risk than many others, if the forest is destroyed by submergence by building a dam or by encouraging mining. If we can take care of these animals, we can take care of all other species for future generations. In 2015, I wish to spend some time looking at wild animals in different parts of the country from Kiang in Ladakh to lion-tailed Macaque in southern Western Ghats, and learn about best practices in conservation involving communities. I hope the government understands the seriousness of involving communities to conserve and protect our precious biodiversity and ensures policy decision in this direction in the year 2015.

8. Nirmal Kulkarni, ecologist, Mhadei Research Centre, Goa

My best moments in 2014 were when I initiated and undertook my pet project “conservation outreach road trips (CORTs)” through forest areas across Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra. We managed to do six CORTs and traversed 400km in a Mahindra Scorpio across prime Western Ghats’ forests. During these CORTs, we discovered silent gems of people working tirelessly in environment education, ecotourism and wildlife crime control, witnessed some extreme commitment in field staff of the forest departments of Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra, and walked/drove through some of the most exquisite forests of the northern Western Ghats of India. This was bliss to me. My wildlife wish list for 2015 is to secure and ratify protection of the Sahyadri-Konkan corridor—from Anshi Dandeli forests of Karnataka through protected areas of Goa and connecting with forests of Dodamarg and Amboli to the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve area of Maharashtra. This is more than a wish list…it is in fact a single-minded objective that my colleagues—spread across Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka—and I will pursue by combining conservation science and community outreach in the year 2015.

9. Sathyabhama Das Biju, associate professor, Delhi University

My best wildlife moment of 2014 was announcing the discovery of 14 new dancing frogs from the Western Ghats. Fortunately this discovery received considerable global media (both print and visual) and public attention. The dancing frogs got a double mention in the scientific journal Nature. Nature’s Photo of the Week in May 2014 was a dancing frog, following which dancing frogs were selected among the top 10 cutest animal discoveries of the year 2014! The unprecedented finding of these unique and secretive frogs was a result of extensive field studies conducted across the mountains of Western Ghats, over the last 12 years. It was a great and wonderful moment to see the world celebrate this discovery! I hope I can announce a new discovery about the wonderful lives of Indian amphibians, in 2015, once again highlighting the importance of India as a global centre of amphibian diversity!

10. Kalyan Varma, wildlife photographer and filmmaker

My best moment last year was spending time with elephants in Kabini, Karnataka. I was there to film the elephants during the peak summer, which is when they congregate in large numbers in that area. I saw one of the largest tusked elephants of my life and he stayed just feet away from me as I was filming and he stayed totally calm. Not just him, but the whole herd surrounded the vehicle and suddenly I was in almost touching distance of many of the elephants. It was just amazing to know that they do not see you as a threat and totally accept your presence. For 2015, I am working on looking at the complex relationship that people and wildlife share, especially in India. On the one hand, we are dealing with conflict with elephants and large carnivores and on the other, we are losing key grassland species because of excluding people and shepherding, and the relationship they share with the landscape.

Bahar Dutt is a conservation biologist and author of the book Green Wars.

Photographs by the wildlife experts themselves.

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