Sabyasachi Patra

IndiaWilds Newsletter Vol. 4 Issue VI

IndiaWilds Newsletter Vol. 4 Issue VI

In this issue of IndiaWilds Newsletter Vol. 4 Issue VI, given the population explosion we look at the various livelihood options like Agriculture and Fisheries impacting our environment. This issue also features an article on Soundscape Ecology: Impact of sounds on wildlife and many more.


Seven billion and counting.

The worlds population is seven billion plus and India contributes a significant chunk of 1.2 billion plus. Do we have enough for everybody to eat?

Speaking to a group of school students, a simple question stumped me. Sir, when there is no tiger in the jungle, the deers will multiply more and then they will eat up all the grass and then come out of the jungle and eat our crops. So ecosystem is imbalanced. But Sir, our population is growing so much like deers, so will we have enough to eat. That set me thinking. The world population is projected to grow to 9 billion by 2050 ie it is going to add population which is equivalent to nearly twice that of Indias present population. Do we have enough to eat? What should the farming community and Agriculture Ministry do to tackle this issue? What is its impact on conservation of our wilderness areas and wildlife?

The Government is planning to enact the Food Security Bill where by it promises free meals to children below 14 yrs of age and various subsidies to people. The idea of removing hunger appeals to all. However, as we have seen in the past, subsidies breed inefficiency. People dont go hungry because of lack of food grains. In his seminal essay titled Poverty and Famine Noble Laureate Shri Amartya Sen had argued that the traditional perception of lack of food being the cause of famine is fundamentally defective. Issues like distribution of food and wages are more important. He has used the Bengal Femine of 1943 where 15 lakh people died as one of the case studies to bolster his theory. It would be pertinent to mention that during the Bengal Famine in 1943, food was being sent out of Bengal when the people were dying due to hunger. Though Prof. Sen has cautioned against focusing on food supply as it often misleads policy, it is precisely what is happening with the Food Security Bill.


A grain-age analysis in the FCI godowns (Cavale, Vasant 2001) had shown that grains as old as 16 yrs old are stocked in the FCI Godowns. Things have improved a bit in the last decade. These days the ministrys general dictat is to follow the first in-first out principle. However, a report from Kerala suggests that it is not the case and stocks from 2008-2009 are still in the godowns. Our entire approach to grain production, procurement, storage and distribution is shockingly inefficient. Whereas PDS stores refuse needy people, the FCI godowns are unable to hold the stocks and they are lying in the open. FCI is planning to increase the capacity of godowns by 2 lakh metric tonnes across the country. As you read this, Governments total food grain stock would be touching 80 million tons which is two and half times more than the required norms.

The total amount of food grains that are produced in the country as well as in the world is much more than the needs of the people.

So we do have enough to eat. However, the homo sapiens as the dominant species on earth have appropriated all the lands, crops and fruits to themselves. Do we need all? Do we need to participate in this mad race to cultivate any field that is available, whatever may be the soil and climatic conditions.

We try to cultivate, use power to draw up water from deep down the earth or build dams and canals to take water to arid regions for our crops which require more water and clearly not suitable to the climate etc, we use synthetic pesticides and fertilisers poisoning the ground water as well as the fresh water streams and ponds. Every day more land is grabbed from our wilderness areas by unscrupulous elements without we even noticing it. Human settlements inside the forests are growing. Together with the efforts by NGOs to provide better health care, hospitals etc to the residents of the villages inside the forests, the increased concretization is leading to further fragmentation and reduction in the quality of the habitat for our wildlife.

The need of the hour is proper planning and analysis. The Government through its National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture has to decide on areas that are suitable for production of certain crops based on its climate and not based on artificial supplies of water etc. The Government should then limit its procurement of agricultural produce to those designated areas. This will ensure that farmers in arid areas dont start planning crops that require more water.

When the cropping pattern changes and farmers start planting crops that are environmentally suitable, the demand for water reduces. That will ensure that in many areas farmers will draw less water there by lowering the demands for new canals and dams or for not insisting on raising the height of dams etc. The interstate fights for water will be avoided. And in places like Keoladeo Ghana, farmers will not stop flow of water to the wetland anymore.

In an ideal world, looking at the devastation caused by the pesticides like Endosulfan, a ban on the specific pesticide would have happened long ago. However, the Government of India is bowing down to the pesticide lobby. The Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers have done many trials of neem based pesticides which have worked well and also has led to regeneration there by obviating the needs of fertilisers. With thousands of crores of rupees at stake, it wont be surprising that organic farming never becomes mainstream and we continue to bear the brunt of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers.


Our marine ecosystem is reeling under the tremendous onslaught of illegal trawling and fishing. Whereas the Government of India, Ministry of Agriculture under which the Department of Fisheries operates, doesnt appear to care about the illegal fishing in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) by foreign ships as alleged by the fishermen federations and investigative news reports (Rohini Mohan, Tehelka, Feb 2012). In fact, its Letter of Permit scheme introduced in 2002 is the root cause of this issue and has become a breeding ground for corruption.

Unrestrained exploitation of marine world

The unrestrained catching of fish in all seasons is severely depleting the various fish species making them vulnerable. The ban on fishing during the breeding season is hardly enforced. This leads to trawlers catching fish and discarding the undersize fish. When these small fish or fish with eggs are caught, it impacts the ability of the species to rejuvenate thereby pushing some of the species towards extinction.

The trawlers also scrap the seabed leads and the environmental damage often takes decades to reverse when left undisturbed. Trawl gear has a direct physical effect on the seabed wherever the ground rope, chains and bobbins, sweeps, doors, and any chaffing mats or parts of the net bag contact the bottom. Ways in which gear affects the seabed can be classified as: scraping and ploughing; sediment resuspension; and physical destruction, removal, or scattering of non-target benthos. The fishing operation further affects the seabed through waste dumped from the vessel. Indirect effects on the seabed are related to the stress imposed on the benthos. These effects include post-fishing mortality of damaged or disturbed organisms, and long-term changes to the benthos community structure. (Jones, J.B, Environmental Impact of trawling on seabed, New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 1992, Vol. 26:59-67)

It is indeed sad that India has such a large coastline, and our people are hardly aware about the importance and the necessity of protecting our marine ecosystems.


Soundscape Ecology: Impact of sounds on our wildlife:

With human settlements increasingly fragmenting wildlife habitats, the Government not being able to cough up money to relocate villages, it is inevitable that the villagers residing within our forests are going to clamour for an increasing quality of life. And quality of life is often mistaken for use of modern gadgets like mobile phones, direct to home TVs, radios etc. These along with the proclivity to use loudspeakers at every function, the silence of our wilderness places are lost forever. To compound the problems tourists flocking to the resorts mushrooming in the wilderness places, insist on TV, discotheques etc changing the soundscapes of our wilderness areas.

The tourists, artists, naturalists who either yearn to soak in the tranquility of our wilderness places are disappointed. However, not many people had thought about the impact of such sound pollution on our wildlife. Vertebrate species vocalisations vary according to their chosen habitat (Baptista and Gaunt 1997, Hopp et al. 1998). However, these sounds not only result in changes in vocalisations but also stress the landscape and its inhabitants (Krause et al 2011). Soundscape of a landscape comprises biophony (sound of living organisms), geophony(sounds of wind, water, rain, thunder, tectonic movements etc) and anthrophony(sounds from machines, tools, tackles, aircraft, ship etc) (Gage et al 2001, 2004; Napoletano 2004).

Fireworks, an example of anthrophony, often causes stress on wildlife

In a recent study by University of Melbourne, it was found that a bird species called Silver eyes have to adjust their calls and songs to be effectively heard over the sounds of urban la
ndscapes. Birds learn to sing and their songs change over their lifetime, where as calls are not an acquired trait. So when bird calls are also changed, it reflects a deeper impact and a fundamental shift in their behaviour. Due to the higher frequency used by these birds in the songs and calls to overcome the anthrophony ie sound produced by human generated gadgets, mechanical devices etc. (Dominique A. Potvin, Kirsten M Parris, Raoul A Mulder, Geographically pervasive effects of urban noise on frequency and syllable rate of songs and calls in silvereyes (Zosterops lateralis), 2012).


Whereas the change in the frequency and modification of syllables of songs and calls may impact the mate selection process, it is yet to be studied whether the stress caused by increased anthrophony is resulting in reduced fertility rate. The impact on higher organisms is also yet to be studied in detail.


In the marine ecosystem due to the increased anthrophony ie sounds created by humans through their various devices, tools, tackles, implements, ships, aircrafts, vehicles and navigations aids/systems like Sonar etc, the dolphins and whales etc find it difficult to communicate. Increased noise also impacts fish species resulting in increased mortality of eggs and slower growth rates (Banner & Hyatt 1973).


Wild elephants communicate via physical touch, sounds audible to humans as well as through infrasounds

Infrasonic communication by elephants (below human hearing range ie. below 20Hz) also gets polluted by the anthrophony signatures. This may be one of the reasons why elephants crossing railway lines get nervous as they are unable to maintain their communication, lose coordination and results in accidents. Scientific studies need to be conducted to verify this natural history observation.

This mongoose got disoriented and nervous and tried to backtrack and got runover

Direct observation of mongoose road kills suggested that the mongoose while crossing the road got disoriented and nervous by the sound of vehicle and retreated and got killed by the speeding vehicle. Since, stress due to high noise has also led to premature delivery in humans, it may be expected that traffic noise, bursting of crackers during festivals can have similar impacts on endangered primates like Lion-tailed Macques and Nilgiri Langurs in habitats that are fragmented by plantations and road in places like Valparai.

Looking at such deep impacts due to the increase in noise from human activities (anthrophony) systematic and extensive studies are required to be undertaken in our wilderness areas. To start with Western Ghats being a global bio-diversity hotspot and having a large human population residing in this landscape, systematic studies should be undertaken. This being an emerging field, studies will take time.

However, ecologically fragile areas within this landscape should be monitored for reducing the noise due to human activities.

Other Conservation News from India:

Forest officer P. Dhanesh Kumar single handedly reclaims 6000 acres in three years

A heroic and single handed effort by DFO of Nenmara resulted in saving of amazing 6000 acres of forests.

Preserve Himalayan Ecology: Tibetan religious leaders Dalai Lama & Karmapa

Himalayas: Abode of the Gods

Himalayas, the abode of the Gods is under considerable stress. There have been reports of temperatures rising, glaciers receding, thereby impacting the traditional lifestyles of the people. When logic and love for our wildlife and wilderness areas could not save it, the last hope is perhaps active involvement of religious leaders in preservation of our pristine wilderness areas and wildlife.

Myristica Swamps: A vanishing ecosystem in Western Ghats

The last vestiges of pristine tropical swamp forests of myristica trees – the fossils of which have been found dating back to 44,000 years – are fast vanishing and are restricted to only 200 hectares.

Elephant Deaths: West Bengal scores 63

Tiger Poaching in BRT


Sponsorship for Biologist:

IndiaWilds sponsors biologist for workshop abroad -


Equipment Discussions:

Canon EF 16-35 f2.8 L II USM lens review:

Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 L IS II USM lens review:

Sound Devices SD702T recorder review:

Sennheiser MKH 416 Microphone review:


Wildlife Photography:

Jungle Fowl: Sucheth Lingachar

Nilgai by Mrudul Godbole

Lunch time by Anand Madabhushi

Small blue Kingfisher by Bibhav Behera

Otter by Rajan Kanagasabai

Bamera by Anand Madabhushi

Katydid by Joshi Bhavya

Sun in a Cup by Samyak Lohade

A Lone journey by Jason Mendes


I look forward to your inputs and your support in preserving the last tracts of wilderness and wildlife left in this beautiful country. For other interesting articles and photographs please check:

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