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Volunteering at the Zoo

Every Sunday, volunteers from the local Roots and Shoots chapter visit the Nehru Zoological Park and station themselves near the cages. They talk to visitors, keeping them from feeding or troubling the animals. Since the park receives (roughly) ten times the number of visitors on Sundays as all the rest of the days put together, this action is very impactful.

Today, as part of an initiative at work, a few colleagues and I joined the R&S volunteers for a day at the zoo.

But before we kick off, a word on the zoo itself. Known locally as the Joo Park, Hyderabad’s zoo is to it what the Marina beach is to Chennai – the one place where every local family and their non-local extensions heads for some R&R. Hyderabad empties itself into the Joo Park on Sundays (similar to how Cyberabad empties itself into Shilparamam on Saturdays and Sundays). The Zoo is by no means small – it is indeed one of India’s largest – but on Sundays, it quickly starts resembling the Black Hole of Calcutta. Given that there are thousands of children and only two medium sized slides, the lines for each is roughly about 2600 long and full of angry parents yelling, “My son was here before your son” at each other. Of course, someone has to back down, and all of them storm away into the zoo to take out their frustrations on the poor animals. Which is where we come in – we try and stop them from behaving inappropriately with the inmates. read more

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Jungle Lodges – KGudi

We just came back from a short, but nevertheless long-anticipated-with-relish, holiday to Bangalore and the Jungle Lodges Resort at Kyathadevarayangudi – KGudi for short.

The resort itself is right inside the Biligiri Ranganna Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, about 86 kilometres from Mysore. Its setting is quite picturesque – it has its own waterhole, and the tented cottages and log huts blend in perfectly with the surroundings. Since the resort itself is plonked right in the middle of the jungle, quite a bit of animal and bird life can be spotted right from one’s balcony.

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Vedanthangal

Sunday before last, I went on a half-day trip to Vedanthangal and Karikili. To the uninitiated, they are two bird sanctuaries located about 60 kilometres south of Chennai. There were three of us: Vasumathi Sankaran, geographer and all round nature specialist, veteran of hundreds of sanctuary visits, the one who, along with Theodore Baskaran, initiated me into the mysteries of birding and wildlife watching. Recently, her age and health have prevented her from visiting as many places as she would like to, but it was a great experience going birding with her again. The other person who made up our party was Deepu, who has proved to be an enthusiastic companion for any birding trip, and a reluctant one for any other! Vidya was too zonked from the previous night’s party to do anything, so she gave it a miss.

Vasumathi, Murugan and Deepu

We made an early start, for a change, leaving home at 5:20 a.m. Deepu had stayed over and that was helpful, and we had picked up Vasumathi and were on our way by 6:00 a.m. The drive was quite enjoyable – good roads and almost no traffic. Crossing the Palar Bridge was quite eerie – there was thick fog and we couldn’t see more than fifteen feet ahead of us. It looked like the bridge across forever, and only when we reached the other side did we breathe easy! We finally reached Vedanthangal at about 7:00 a.m.

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Murugan the Bird Tracker

At Vedanthangal, we met Murugan, the Bird Tracker. He is a local who has been trained by the forest department to be a bird tracker. His combination of local knowledge and scientific ornithology is quite fascinating, and his keen eye was able to spot the single spoonbill out of a forest of herons and storks. He is constantly retrained, the latest sessions focussing on the avian flu and how to spot it.

He told us that this year was extremely good in terms of arrivals, though the painted storks had arrived very late – only on December 21st. That was why they were still incubating, while most other juveniles were already learning to fly. He also pointed out two newly hatched painted storks – the first of the season – to us. read more

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