Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Students are the best medium to send conservation message

Students comprise the best medium to send conservation message. I realised this well when we organised nature camps in Similipal for different groups and got feed backs from the participants. It was always a delighful experience to teach or talk to young students about my life in the forests, the animals, their behaviour, and the conservation actions done to save them.

My interactions at Puri College on 17th of last month was not different. The students and the lecturers/readers all were very patient, enthusiastic and fully attentive during the two hours session about wildlife. I have received some feed backs on the same afternoon and also later.

Delighted, again!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Invitation to Talk at alma mater is a catalyst to medicines

A few days back I read a message: 'you have not completed the purpose of your life'. My last blog was certainly one of the low-moments in one of the many low-days. I cannot take it out. Let it be there. Today I feel a call back to continue doing something for the younger generation. I get a feeling that while approaching 65 after a long innings of strain, work and self-assumed responsibilities, a person needs some medicines as well as some catalysts to pull on. Medicines were alright but the relief and lightness for me is due to a catalyst-- an invitation to give a talk in SCS College, Puri on the occasion of annual seminar of the Zoology Department. SCS College is my Alma mater.

I was a student of SCS College, Puri during 1969-1972, while completing Pre-professional-- after Higher Secondary, and Graduation with Zoology Honours. The buildings of the College have expanded, I have seen these from outside as I drove along the boundary very often in the last 12-15 years.  I was born and educated in this holy city of Puri, with many childhood lessons and memories. For higher studies and professional research career I had to remain outside Puri, with occasional visits to home. A visit or two for marine turtle work on the sea beach with Dr Bustard in 1975-76 or to document the fate of turtle in the Railway Station, before the Sea Turtle Project was launched, is a different story.

I will be visiting my College first time as a Guest to speak from my experience, distribute prizes to the students and to spend time with the faculty. This invitation has put me back on wheel, in good spirit. I still feel, I am not yet finished in sharing my experience with young students, as a few of them may click for wildlife conservation in future. I am preparing to talk on "Wildlife conservation and planning population research". There will be Post-Graduate students, I wish a few get really inspired, and one or two pursue wildlife/biodiversity research.

Indeed, the work of motivating others from own biographical accounts can never end in my life. 

Wildlife studies or simple observations can be a pleasant and rewarding hobby for all, but a profession for just one or two, although scope is vast and unused yet.

Good feeling!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

In coming Years(?) for me

After a long gap, I am using my blog to write something purely personal. These days things are not as spirited or enthusiastic as they used to be. Tasks seem to never end for me. Entire day busy. Tired in the evening. More tired; giving a feeling that years gone by have really taken the best and most out of me, these are gone and will not be repeated. Friends who admired and relied on my writing have requested time and again but I ma not able to settle down for any creative writing. There are piles of unfinished writings-- literary, popular, semi-technical, research-result. There are many ideas but nothing seem to click or nothing seem to be powerful enough to keep me glued to pen-paper or the keyboard. In spite of several friendly requests I am unable to get enthused or have the urge to go to Koraput and talk to students about my work, about wildlife, about management issues, and so on. I cannot oblige my long time friend a write up for his publication. If someone starts to talk with me it continues with no sign of ending. Interest in life, interest in subject seem to be shifting, or slowing down, but the past work, past friends, and previous well wishers have made so much impact, that I cannot get out of the shoes and the history! As I type, I get an optimistic feeling that may be today is a day for return to my creating literary work of 1960s and 70s. Perhaps this is going to take me through the coming days, months or years. I do not know when I will sit with this page again, and with what in my mind. Until then, I will also be keen to know about me and my mood.

Sunday, May 22, 2016


Visitors to Similipal, in spite of its designation as Tiger Reserve in 1973, have always remained sceptical about the presence of tiger in this 'very-rich forest' of Odisha.  Perhaps that seclusion which Similipal provided to Similipal enabled tiger to survive even today as the single largest population in the state.

Thick ground vegetation have rarely rewarded a glimpse of tiger in Similipal. Visitors and some wildlife enthusiasts are loud about their frustrations but the truth is they were (are) not oriented to the science of wildlife signs on the ground.

The truth is--, a tiger is territorial-- its male, female and cub have different dimensions of pugs; when they move they will after all walk on the ground; if the ground is suitable they will leave their pugmarks; and if we have the correct orientation we will observe the pugmarks and only the pugmarks to tell about the composition and spatial distribution of tiger population!

Back in 1975 I didn't have a refined orientation about tiger pug-tracking when I started my crocodile work from river Mahanadi at Satkosia Gorge surrounded by the forests later designated as gharial sanctuary and then Tiger Reserve. Even I had a laugh when Dr H R Bustard showed me a cartoon published in Science Today sometime in 1975/76 where a tiger cub was saying to its mother something like this-- 'I have fooled the enumerators by walking 3 times up and down the road, and they think I have siblings!'.

In 1979 I was a part of the large cat census work in Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary. The field data and evidences in the form of tracing sheets and plaster casts were carried by Mr B. P Das, the Wildlife Warden to Mr Saroj Raj Choudhury - the Field Director of Similipal and the 'guru' of pugmark tracking.

Pugmark tracking was first used in 1972 to determine tiger population in the country. The entire process was designed and coordinated by Mr S R Choudhury who was then Senior Research Officer at Wildlife Division of Forest Research Institute- Dehradun. 

During my stay in Similipal from 1987 the method got refined over many respects. WWF-India head quarters in New Delhi took notice of the work in Similipal and published the pugmark tracking guideline and pocketbook in 1999 and 2000. Before publication these work were reviewed with inputs of a number of "field scientists" from India and neighbouring countries. After the publications were released they were widely followed within India and in the neighbouring countries whose reports are still available.

People who were not oriented to the science of wildlife forensic signs continued to ask for photographic evidences of tiger. Their demand grew more when my study report of 1994-99 got published as research papers and a WWF-booklet to highlight occurrence of colour aberration in tiger over a range of at least 14 body colours including melanistic tigers of Similipal. 
During my wildlife studies in the USA in 1982 I got details about colleague Howard Hunt in Atlanta Zoo, USA (1970-80s) who used trip-cameras to detect predators visiting alligator nests in Georgia Swamps. Back in India in early part of 2000s interests were growing to use camera traps for tiger studies after initiations made by Mr Ullas Karanth in Nagarhole from mid-1990s. By the year 2005 industries were growing around camera trap, software and training of human resource to get and interpret photographic evidences. As the country that held 60-70% of world tiger population administration in India finally got inclined to use these modern development. As national bodies NTCA and WII could make it reach every state. But Similipal officers earlier this month quoted Mr Karanth saying that in Namdapha the staff see pugmarks but were unable to get photographs in camera trap! There is a long way to improve this science and go ahead.

In Odisha state after 12 years (2004-2016) of circumstantial neglect, pugmark tracking still says more about composition and spatial distribution of tiger/leopard population in any forest. 

However, one thing for sure, camera traps have lifted the image of Similipal as photos are now there of some of the tigers in colour range and location ranges. 

Let's not be complacent. Believe me, there are a few more tigers than our eyes or the cameras meet in the forest! We have to simply make the ground soft, keep walking, bent down at places, search the pugmarks, kneel down on the roads and bring these evidences as traces or plaster casts from field to analysis room. Yes, last word, please no goading to hurry up analysis in order to make an administrative announcement. 

Key: Tiger census, camera trap, pugmark tracking, Similipal

Friday, February 20, 2015


My Professor, Basanta Kumar Behura, passed away on 16 February 2015 at the age of 93+. When no one I knew was teaching Wildlife management or preaching their conservation, Professor Behura was asking all of us in his Post Graduation classes in Utkal University to take oath to conserve environment and wildlife....As a Zoologist he was better known as an entomologist and herpetologist.

Grief can be so hard, but our special memories help us cope. My “Professor” was an extraordinary person and he knew who can do what at his best.

Towards later part of 1974 I was yet to get my MSc results. Professor Behura asked me to extend my research of PG-Dissertation to seven species of Aphids as that could lead me to a PhD degree. That was the time when with Dr Murari Mohan Dash we gave my dissertation to five joint research papers. Professor Behura said, without publication results meant nothing for the education system. This exposure and training made me a full time researcher for rest of my life.

Early 1975, Professor Behura motivated me for research on crocodiles, saying that it was a new field of studies, and that I will have the opportunity of working with a “Gora Sahiba” (foreigner). Here he mentioned about his own trip out of the country to Edinburgh for higher studies and that I was getting the scope of ‘overseas guidance within my state’.   

Because of problems in getting Dr H R Bustard recognized as a Guide in Utkal University, Professor Behura rescued me by agreeing to be the official PhD guide. It is also very unusual of a PhD guide who allowed all my joint papers on crocodiles to be published with Dr Bustard as I was doing all field work with Dr Bustard. Although I have a range of non-entomological publications, there is just one review article on crocodile farming with Professor Behura. Very few PhD supervisors may fit to the mettle which I experienced in Prof Behura!

For me, Professor Behura is an untiring speaker and also a patient listener. Sometimes he appreciates me lavishly and at other times releases for me a sense of protective-warning. I have never forgotten the foundation he gave and his presence in my conscience whether I was working in Satkosia, or in Chambal or in Similipal.

One would never like a mentor like Professor Behura to physically disappear from us anytime ever. If any day I will want to see him again I will search him in my heart, I will look at my book-shelves, the CDs and the hard-disks, —all those places where I embrace his memories, where I store his work, citations and photographs.

Professor and Madam Behura came to us in Baripada and knew my family closely. My son and daughter came closer to the eldest couple they had experienced ever, when we shifted to Bhubaneswar after my wife’s death during our stay in Similipal. If not at any other time, on days of Kumar Purnima ‘Chanda Chakta’ or ‘Makara Chaula’ we meet the eldest couple whom we admire and revere the most.

Respected Professor!, that is how I used to address him in letters; you are gone to a different world. You and Madam Behura have given me and my children enough consolation and courage when we needed these the most. We will remember this always.

May YOU rest in peace in your chosen abode in the heaven!

KEY WORDS: Prof B K Behura, Odisha Wildlife, Utkal University, Zoology

Sunday, August 10, 2014

MUGGER IN GHARIAL NICHE (Preparing for Man-Mugger interface in Satkosia Gorge of River Mahanadi)

I was first shocked to see a photograph where tourist tents were pitched on Ramgaon sands in Satkosia Gorge during the year 2008-2009, and a large mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) was basking at the edge of water. I had pleaded for relocating the tents to the end of the Gorge at Badmul which is more picturesque. As of 2014 no accident has occurred due to crocodiles, and tent-camping is already abandoned at Ramagaon. Management of a crocodile sanctuary may not be compatible to enthusiastic tourism.

Now I am for a discussion about something more serious for the future. First, I must set the stage.

Because of the restocking programme in Mahanadi we are able to see the gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) even now. It has, however, become clear that mugger crocodile is a lot ahead on its way for completely snatching away the address and a part of the profession of gharial in River Mahanadi.

GRACU with glorious start
Mahanadi bank at Tikarpada has the first Gharial Research and Conservation Unit of the country since 1975. The FAO Consultant for FAO/UNDP/Govt of India Crocodile Project was first stationed at Tikarpada. Croc-planning for the country was generating from here till 1979. The Orissa project has provided a bulk of our knowledge on gharial biology and management. The gharial-restocking programme is going on here since 1977.

My crocodile career had taken a start at Satkosia Gorge from 05 June 1975. In January 1981 I moved to Government of India. Apart from imparting training to in-service Forest Officers I got the opportunity to initiate a Field Camp in National Chambal Gharial Sanctuary from May 1983. It was for research on gharial and all its ecological associates. At that time gharial in India were enjoying the most ideal habitat in Chambal. Back in Orissa the situation for gharial was not encouraging.

Non-survival of Gharial in Mahanadi
Four years after my return to Orissa, in September 1991 Mr C. S. Dani, the Chief Wildlife Warden issued an official instruction that in addition to my primary work in Similipal I should make a study and report on various aspects of ‘non-survival of gharial in Mahanadi’. That was an occasion to scrutinize the issues that affected the first gharial project of the country.

By 1991 more than 700 gharials were already released in Mahanadi but hardly 25 were seen. I discussed the issue of non-survival of gharial from several possible angles namely, (a) evolutionary forces acting against gharials, (b) deterioration of the habitat of gharial in Mahanadi, (c) status of gharial habitat in Mahanadi when compared with the habitat in Chambal, (d) our own limited success in eliminating those decimating factors which were identified in 1975 to be acting against gharial in Mahanadi, (e) modifications in management that were not conducive to effective gharial conservation.

Mugger in Gharial River
One of the reasons for non-survival is “Mugger in Gharial's ecological niche”.  It was not the first time that muggers were identified as a factor that may cause problem for gharial. The problem was apprehended since 1979 at Katerniyaghat where it was decided through a symposium and we communicated the decision that mugger crocodiles should not be released in gharial habitats because muggers always had the potentiality to take over the habitat from gharial.

Gharial-rivers didn’t have many mugger crocodiles
Structurally Gharial is adapted more towards living in water or at its edge. It cannot go on long walks away from water as can muggers. By the beginning of 1970s Gharial had got confined to selected perennial rivers of the Gangetic, Brahmaputra and Mahanadi systems. These rivers were better known for gharial than for the mugger. Mugger was secretive, if it occurred. I had taken note of one exception in River Chambal in 1983-85 where the zone expressively occupied by mugger was scarce of gharial and dolphin.

From 1960 Mr L. A. George was in charge of river movement of bamboos on river Mahanadi for the Titaghur Paper Mills. He saw “plenty of gharial together with a few muggers in Mahanadi during 1960s”. I reached Tikarpada early enough in 1975 to meet and interact with Mr George for a couple of years. Reportedly, around 1969 persons from south had killed many gharials and crocodiles with baited hooks.

Retired officers of the state Forest Department have often talked about the abundance of gharial as well as mugger in river Mahanadi during 1930s and 1940s. When we undertook survey of Mahanadi in 1975-1976 we found the river with only eleven gharials and three mugger crocodiles. There were no crocodile nests until we got one with a guarding mother gharial in Satkosia Gorge in 1976.

The survey showed that no crocodilians were left in river Ib, the Hirakud reservoir, in the Mahanadi up to Boudh, and in the tributaries Baghmati and Badanadi.  From Boudh to Satkosia Gorge there were seven gharials and 2 muggers. In Satkosia Gorge there were four gharials and one mugger. Then from Satkosia Gorge to Cuttack there were none. From Cuttack to tidal limits there were no crocodilians except the possibility of presence in tributary Chitrotpala. So, Mahanadi, like other Gharial rivers in the country was indeed very low in number with muggers, and signs of breeding in the wild were not clear.

Compulsion of Manager may become mistake in Conservation!
When I wrote the report in 1991 about non-survival of gharial in Mahanadi 213 muggers were already released in the river. The releases were often defended as a managerial compulsion. The compulsion had arisen because of the project’s own fast-success in captive breeding of mugger at Tikarpada.

Mugger crocodile can live in a range of freshwater habitats and are not very specific in their food habit. As they grow from hatchling to adult food composition may change from insects and fish to live or dead mammals. They can walk on land for several kilometers if the water dries up. They can flourish better than the gharial.

Croc Equation in Mahanadi
From annual survey reports it is gathered that presently a boat trip along the Satkosia Gorge may not show any gharial but will show several muggers of various sizes from hatchlings to adults.
The Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary is now under the Tiger Reserve network. Commitment towards habitat conservation is becoming stronger. The days for mugger in the river are better than the situation in 1960s! So, the species is likely to floursh in Satkosia Gorge and the River Mahanadi, but in the process unintentionally we are at the end of the road towards completely losing the gharial.

Mugger crocodiles are known for peaceful coexistence with people and cattle that use the same water body. But, with increase in numbers of mugger the interface with man is expected to increase. Village impoundments may attract muggers during high flood in Mahanadi.

Thus, there is fear that mugger may create a situation for which in the coming decades the state wildlife administration will have to remain ready. People may wean away their past tolerance to a couple of muggers in the pond they put to their own use.

Precautions needed to reduce possible man-mugger interface
I suggest some precautions for future. These are not complete or only for Odisha (Orissa).

(1.) Do not make special effort to breed mugger unless the habitat for release can accept more. If they are breeding in captivity the process may continue without human interference.

(2.) Do not collect mugger crocodile eggs for captive propagation.

(3.) Do not release any more mugger in River Mahanadi.

(4.) Keep alive the crocodile rearing centres at Tikarpada, Ramatirtha and Dangamal to keep live the art and science of crocodile rearing including capture. Retain the skilled people who can capture crocodiles without fear.

(5.) Do not remove or kill predators of crocodile eggs. Let them defend and balance, naturally!

(6.) Tourists going for boating in Mahanadi need to be educated.
  • People must not hang their feet or hand out of the boat into water when the boat is moving.
  • They must not throw unused meat or fish at camping places.
  • They must not feed muggers. They may create nuisance muggers for future.
  • Nuisance muggers will shed fear for people. They may become bold enough to approach boats and camping places for food. Nuisance animals are created by people who feed them without realising the consequences. This is our experience in temple campuses.
  • Fishermen should be careful when fixing or removing baited hooks in water, and when cleaning their utensils away from normal bathing ghats.

Future of captive mugger crocodiles at Tikarpada
Now there are only two mugger crocodiles and nine gharials maintained in captivity at Tikarpada. These are for educational purposes of the public and students who visit the place.

People who have mastered the art of rearing and capturing crocodiles are valuable to us. Crocodile rearing including their capture and handling is a skill that has been learnt and perfected with experience continuously and gradually over the years. Losing such people and the skill will take us back to 1975.

Gharial for Tikarpada and Satkosia
The restocking programme involving gharial has to be kept continued with young ones brought from captive breeding programme at Nandankanan. That way sighting of Gharial in Mahanadi can be continued and people will not forget gharial for which the project started. The scope for education, research, photography and ecotourism keeping gharial and mugger in focus can be kept continued.

The exercise will also help to keep sharp the skill and technology of rearing gharial both at Nandankanan and Tikarpada. It will help to reduce pressure on captive stock at Nandankanan.

Tags:  compulsion of wildlife manager, conservation mistake, enthusiastic tourism, Gharial non survival in river Mahanadi, man crocodile interface precautionary management, mugger crocodile management, Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary

Sunday, July 20, 2014

AMARENDRA LAL BOSE - Journalist with difference

After return from deputation to MOEF-Govt. of India and Wildlife Institute of India, from 19 November 1987 I started living with my family in the campus of Crocodile Research Centre at Ramatirtha on the outskirts of Similipal Tiger Reserve. Within two weeks, Mr Amarendra Lal Bose (ALB) came with his family to meet us at Ramatirtha. A short, soft-spoken person wearing spotless white dhoti and kurta, Amarendra Babu talked about a range of subjects relating to wildlife and the founder Field Director of Similipal—Mr Saroj Raj Choudhury. I took the family around the crocodile project, and the family left Ramatirtha in the evening for Baripada to their ancestral home. I learnt from the Range Officer that ALB was the main person who introduced Mr Choudhury and his pet tigress Khairi to the world through a series of popular writings in Calcutta-based newspapers. I collected some of the press clippings. Amarendra Babu’s pen was really mightier than a sword when it concerned the safe future of Similipal.

In 1987 Amarendra Babu’s family had invited us to visit them at Baripada but we couldn’t do that until 1995. After my father’s death at Ramatirtha, we shifted to Baripada in November 1994. From that time onwards I found a real ‘friend’ with whom I could discuss research. ALB used to get information about my activities and reach me for answers to a series of questions. Sometimes I felt Amarendra Babu was the only academically-oriented person with whom I could discuss my research at length. It gave me satisfaction and his reports in media were well researched.

When I completed the first ever draft of Project Elephant document for Orissa and discussed the same at a state level meeting on 10 August 1989 in Bhubaneswar, Amarendra Bbau recognized the conservation material in entire exercise and gave it for national readership through Times of India. Similar releases were about research findings related pugmark tracking, melanistic tiger, elephant movements, designing of the first ecodevelopment scheme, the biosphere reserve planning, the sighting of sub-Himalayan Red-breasted Falconet, etc. In his late sixties ALB was able to move in his bicycle and was competing with young persons for reaching a report first.  

Once Amarendra Babu visited us with his wife and suggested to my wife Puspa for daily chanting of Gayatri Mantra for tiding away the difficult times in life and health. After my wife’s death in June 2003, we shifted to Bhubaneswar bringing an end to direct field studies in Similipal. But from my location in Wildlife Headquarters I was able to know about Amarendra Babu’s assuming position as Honorary Wildlife Warden ofMayurbhanj, and then his selection for the award of State Biju Patnaik Prize for Wildlife Conservation in 2010.

On 15th July Similipal lost for everone of its old supporters, I lost a family and academic friend, and Odisha lost one of its wildlife award winners. May the soul of Amarendra Babu rest in peace and his family members have the strength to tide over the loss.


Amarendra Lal Bose, Similipal, Khairi, Baripada, S R Choudhury, Project Elephant Orissa.