Creatures big and small

Print edition : February 19, 2016

A photograph of lion-tailed macaques from the book. Photo: Ashok Mahindra

A book that encourages people to care for conservation through excellent photographs and valuable information.

CAPTURING Wildlife Moments in India, a coffee-table book by Ashok Mahindra, with a foreword by Dr Asad R. Rahmani, Director of the Bombay Natural History Society, is another recent addition to Indian wildlife literature.

Mahindra, a qualified chartered account from England and Wales and a former treasurer, trustee and vice-president of WWF-India, is now a wildlife photographer. He visited about 40 wildlife sanctuaries in India, such as the Corbett, Kaziranga and Ranthambhore Tiger Reserves and other little-known places such as Bera in southern Rajasthan and Amboli in the Western Ghats, to capture photographs for this book.

His gift to conservation efforts is the creation of the Hem Chand Mahindra Wildlife Foundation (HCMWF), which, along with Saevus, a wildlife magazine, gives annual awards to wildlife warriors selected from the staff of Indian protected areas.

Asad Rahmani, who champions the cause of little-known creatures, is extremely pleased with the book as it has photographs of not only the charismatic tiger, the elephant and the rhino but also of the Malabar gliding frog, the mudskipper (an amphibious fish) and the house sparrow. Nevertheless, the cover picture in the book is of the tiger Ustad (T24 of Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve), which, after it reportedly killed four humans, was translocated to Sajjangarh, a glorified zoo, on May 16, 2015.

Stars of Ranthambore

Of the 120 photographs in the book, 11 are of tigers and, of these, three are of Ustad and two are of Machili, or T16. Machili, who lived a little over 16 years, raised nine cubs, fought a 14-foot-long crocodile and is said to have contributed $100 million to the national exchequer over a period of 10 years by attracting tourists to Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve. A photograph of her taken towards the end of her life, with all the canines worn out, which implied that she would find it difficult to hunt natural prey, clearly reminds us that nothing is permanent in nature.

The book provides considerable information to wildlife photographers: interesting places to stay, wildlife hot spots in the country, tips on cameras and techniques to take photographs. The author also gives the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) status for about 30 species (such as whether a species is critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable or near-threatened) and suggestions for special concessional packages for schoolchildren.

Some of the photographs are excellent, such as the picture of the alarmed hog deer stag (page 60), painted storks (pages 58 and 59), a crocodile walking and a chital moving nearby without getting alarmed (page 56), Indian skimmers (page 31) and a pair of blue jays (page 44). The royal grace of Ustad, the only aggressive tiger Ranthambhore has seen so far, is captured well on page viii.

As a wildlife biologist, I would like to add some information which readers of the book may find useful. Habitat loss and poaching, more than hunting, contributed to the decline of the tiger all through its range. Young elephant bulls are driven out of the group by mature cows in order to prevent incest. In Bandipur Tiger Reserve, I once saw an adult cow raising her right hind leg high to kick a young tusker hard on the shoulder as he made advances to a young female elephant. The young bull elephant immediately left that area.

The black bears living in the lower reaches of the Himalaya do not hibernate. People in northern India suffer considerably as a result of the problems caused by the rhesus macaques (page 13). Especially in the lower Himalaya, crop depredation by the macaque is so serious that the poor are abandoning cultivation. In India, the elephants as such are not endangered. However, the bulls, particularly the tuskers, are endangered because of poaching and conflict with humans.

Jackals (page 22) scavenge, but they are also excellent hunters like dholes. Rhinos (page 24) were reintroduced in the present-day Dudhwa Tiger Reserve (Uttar Pradesh) in the mid-1980s, where they had become extinct 150 years ago. Five were brought from Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam (six were captured but one male escaped from the stockade in Pobitora itself) and four young females from Chitwan National Park in Nepal in exchange for 16 elephants. The rhino population in Dudhwa Tiger Reserve is a little above 30 now. One of the major functions of the large ears of the black-naped hare (page 30), richly supplied with blood vessels, is thermoregulation as the hare stays hidden in “forms” (a small depression covered with scanty vegetation) on the ground in daytime, as the temperature can be exceedingly high in most places in the range of the hare in summer.

Not only the Nilgiri langur but all the langur species (18 South Asia, 44 in Asia) primarily feed on leaves. The lion-tailed macaque’s (page 43, 129) distribution extends from northern Karnataka to the Kanyakumari Wildlife Sanctuary.

Unlike the gharial, which has weak legs and therefore cannot lift its body off the ground, the mugger has powerful legs and is able to walk from one waterbody to another. Cattle egrets follow large ungulates like rhinos, elephants (page 62) and cattle (which gave them the name) and this provides them with greater opportunity to catch insects flushed out by the ungulates. In addition to the barasingha (page 90 and 91), the hog deer has also suffered enormous habitat loss. Both are dependent on moist tall grassland habitats which are being lost to agriculture.

In the mutually beneficial association between the hanuman langur (page 93) and the chital, the former warns the chital of the presence of predators, while the latter benefits considerably by feeding on the food remains dropped by the langur.

Ashok Mahindra suggests 13 ways to save Indian wildlife and writes that his endeavour as a photographer is to encourage people to care for all threatened species—from the smallest insects to the biggest cats—before it is too late.

Capturing Wildlife Moments in India is a book that wildlife lovers would like to possess for the information and the photographs.

A.J.T. Johnsingh is with the Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore, and WWF-India.

A letter from the Editor


Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.

Sincerely,

R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor