Category Archives: Nature

Indigo researcher digs out nuggets from past

Jenny Balfour-Paul at The Bengal Club. Picture by Sanat Kr Sinha

• A famous tea company in Calcutta traded in indigo in British India. That’s how its office on RN Mukherjee Road, Nilhat House, got its name.

•Opium and indigo growers were locked in constant rivalry before 1859

• Evidence of indigo dye has been even found in the remains of the Indus Valley civilisation

Calcutta:

Such nuggets from history made up writer Jenny Balfour-Paul’s hour-long Bengal Club Library Talk, organised in association with The Telegraph, on November 8.

Balfour-Paul, who has researched indigo for decades, traced its history right from the early evidence to the exploitation faced by farmers in pre-Independence Bengal.

The session was peppered with anecdotes, humour and photographs of travel that she undertook since 2000 to bring together the indigo story.

The highlight of the evening was shots of a handwritten journal by 19th century British explorer Thomas Machell, who got the author inspired in the first place.

Machell had lived in Calcutta and worked in several indigo plantations in the 19th century. His journal traced his experience and the culture of the time, in the form of correspondence to his father in England.

Balfour-Paul shared with the audience how she found Machell’s journals by accident. “I was in the British Library surfing through old books and records when I found this valuable piece of history. It was the word indigo that made me reach out for it,” she said.

One line in the handwritten diary had particularly caught her eye. “I wonder if anybody will find these journals in the 20th century in a dirty library…” Machell had written. “I thought I was meant to find it,” added Balfour-Paul.

The author decided to travel to all those places where Machell had visited more than 100 years ago. She juxtaposed snaps taken during her visits to Calcutta, Bangladesh and also the Marquesas Island in French Polynesia with the British explorer’s illustrations.

Visits to Calcutta brought out some lesser-known facts. “Tea company J Thomas & Co would auction indigo. No wonder their office was called Nilhat House,” Balfour Paul said.

Another story was about her hunt for Machell’s grave. “Two of his journals are missing and I am still putting together the last six years of his life. I was not sure where he had spent his final years,” Balfour-Paul added.

India made Machell ill. He had left its shores for his native Yorkshire only to come back again. “My daughter and I went places in search of his grave, till we realised he had died near Jabalpur. One rainy day in Jabalpur we almost got ourselves arrested as we went grave hunting,” laughed the author.

She has documented many of her tales in her book, Deeper than Indigo: Tracing Thomas Machell, Forgotten Explorer.

source: http://www.telegraphindia.com / The Telegraph, Calcutta,India / A Staff Reporter / Saturday – November 11th, 2017

A north Bengal forest ranger people love to call ‘Singham’

In 2016, Sanjay Dutta and his team seized 14 leopard skins, 500 pieces of leopard and tiger bones, two rhino horns, live geckos, seven skins of clouded leopard and 11 jars of snake venom.

Ranger Sanjay Dutta (in black T-shirt) holding a baby crocodile seized from wildlife smugglers. (HT Photo)

In the forests of North Bengal, timber smugglers and poachers are in trouble. A 39-year-old forest ranger has come to be known as the ‘Forest Singham’ (lion of the forest) after having arrested hundreds of wildlife and timber smugglers.

As a ranger, Sanjay Dutta is in charge of 3,304 hectares of forest in the Belacoba range of Jalpaiguri district. The Chicken Neck area, a narrow strip of land lying adjacent to the international borders with Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan is especially known as a haven for poachers and smugglers. But with 15-20 seizures and 70-80 arrests a year, this has also become a happy hunting ground for the law enforcers.

In 2016, Dutta and his team seized 14 leopard skins, 500 pieces of leopard and tiger bones, two rhino horns, live geckos, seven skins of clouded leopard, 11 jars of snake venom and a cache of arms and ammunition.

In April this year, Dutta was made the head of a special task force set up to check wildlife smuggling in the forests of all the eight districts of north Bengal.

“Dutta has made numerous seizures and nabbed many offenders. He must have set a record by now. He is hardworking and brave and he has developed a network. Also, he maintains a very cordial relation with local people,” said M R Baloach, additional principal chief conservator of forest, West Bengal.

Sanjay Dutta receiving an award from chief minister Mamata Banerjee. (HT Photo)

A resident of Jalpaiguri, Dutta had to abandon his dream of becoming a police officer when his father, also a forest ranger, died at the age of 48. Dutta joined the department when he was only 18.

Ten years ago he was shot by timber smugglers while he was chasing a gang along the Teesta canal. One of the guards accompanying him was killed.

In 2016 Dutta became the only Indian recipient of the Clark R Bavin Wildlife Law Enforcement Award given by Animal Welfare Institute of Johannesburg. But Dutta missed the ceremony because he could not afford the trip to South Africa.

In view of the threat to his life, Dutta, a father of two, is provided with security personnel but that has not deterred him from staying in touch with people. He has set up a primary school in the Lodhabari forest area. He partly funded it with the Rs 25,000 cash award he got from the state government. Dutta arranged for another Rs 1.2 lakh from the joint forest management committee and started the school.

Over the years, Dutta, has helped many poor people, cancer patients and school children. Local people try to return the favour and love. Jyotshna Roy, head of a self-help group for women in Lodhabari said, “We have never seen a forest officer like him. He does not mind taking loan to help people in need. On Bhaiduj he was given ‘bhaiphota’ by 50 women.”

“With Dutta around, we know the forests are safe,” said Tula Mohammed, president of Hiramari Joint Forest Management Committee.

Visitors to the forest are frisked by state armed police (SAP) personnel. Fifteen of them work with Dutta. Shiv Sambu Som, an assistant sub inspector of SAP, said, “Working with Dutta is a new experience. He takes care of the staff and other employees. We don’t mind putting in extra hours to assist Dutta in nabbing offenders.”

“Dutta always leads an operation from the front,” added Lalit Tiwari, a forest department beat officer.

The Forest Singham however remains grounded. “I am no hero or celebrity. I love to work for the people and that’s what I do,” he told HT.

source: http://www.hindustantimes.com / Hindustan Times / Home> Cities> Kolkata / by Pramod Giri, Hindustan Times / November 07th, 2017

Sculpture garden inaugurated in Kolkata on Wednesday

Kolkata :

A sculpture garden on the history of Bengal will be inaugurated by minister Firhad Hakim at New Town’s Eco Park on Wednesday.

The garden will have 12 murals that will focus on important individuals and their contributions to the country and society, as well as on different phases of the history like Shri Chaitanya, Battle of Plassey, Raja Ramohan Roy, renaissance in Bengal, Bankimchandra, the awakening of Bengal in India, Swami Vivekananada and his activities, Santhal rebellion, Indigo Movement, Subhash Chandra Bose and the Azad Hind Fauz, Shri Arobindo, Lalan Fakir, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Rabindranath Tagore and the Visva Bharati movement, Satyajit Ray and his world of films

The garden will also have 52 portraits, including Shri Chaitanya Mahapravu and Begum Rokeya and will have a light and sound show explaining the story in each of the relief panels.

The show will keep the audience moving from one panel to another in groups. There will also be benches for the elderly and children.

source: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com / The Times of India / News / by Suman Chakraborti / TNN / September 21st, 2017

Henry’s Island: A quaint getaway in West Bengal Spending a laid-back weekend close to Kolkata

Long, white beaches and a clear blue skyline is Henry’s Island’s distinct feature

Among the numerous beach destinations close to the eastern Indian metropolis, Kolkata, Henry’s Island is an offbeat choice for those looking for tranquillity.

In a lazy, white sand beach, where red crabs crawl, one could expect to find solitude and solace. Located at a distance of around 130 km from the bustling city of Kolkata, Henry’s Island is home to one such place. An area where government fisheries can be found, this tranquil destination is located close to another popular beach spot, Bakkhali.

Henry’s Island is still undisturbed and unspoilt by the markers of human civilisation – plastic packets, blaring sound systems or abandoned bottles. Pristine white sands are often hued by shifting tinges of red, owing to the crawling crabs, with the occasional fisherman walking by – this is the image that Henry’s Island leaves behind. The entrance to the beach involves a walk through a swamp of sorts, with a line of trees that hides the beach from the rest of the world.

For the traveller, who is looking for an experience that doesn’t involve heavy activity, Henry’s Island plays a welcome host. A watch tower, above one of the two guest houses on the location, is what visitors to nearby destinations frequent most. Views on a clear sky showcase the Sunderbans mangrove, which are located very close to the beach destination. One could also opt to walk around the beach and villages nearby.

Henry’s Island is also a great place to sample some seafood, which is locally grown and acquired. Locals are used to guests coming in to try the food at the Sundari Canteen, which offers the fresh catches. The Fisheries Department of the Government of West Bengal uses area for pisciculture and also takes care of forest conservation.

Getting there

Located some 130 km away from Kolkata, one would expect to reach the place in a matter of a short time. However, the journey by road takes much longer, owing to a change through a ferry which crosses the Hatania-Doania creek, which involves a long wait. There are also direct buses available, but since these buses ply once a day from Kolkata’s Esplanade bus depot, it is better to enquire a day in advance for seats and timing. To save some time, a local train can be taken from the Sealdah station in Kolkata, with a stop at Namkhana station. After this, a boat ferry, which costs a mere rupee or two per person can be taken, and on the other side, buses are available to drop at a location close to Henry’s Island, or one can opt for vans.

Getting to Henry’s Island is a slow journey, yet it provides the perfect window of transition from the busy city into the tranquil paradise. As a spot to unwind, relax, catch up on some reading or simply a chance to spend some time by yourself, Henry’s Island is a weekend getaway from Kolkata that reinvigorates the senses.

source: http://www.mediaindia.euc/ Media India Group / Home> News-India & You> Tourism / by Mehk Chakraborty / May 08th, 2017

Software for tiger watch in Buxa

Alipurduar :

The Union ministry of environment and forests has launched a software to ensure better monitoring of tigers that will be introduced in the Buxa Tiger Reserve by April.

The software has been made in collaboration with the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Wildlife Institute of India (WII) for all tiger reserves in the country.

“MSTrIPES”, a hi-tech monitoring system, would be introduced in Buxa Tiger Reserve by April and each beat officer will get an Android phone with the software inbuilt that will help to monitor tigers in the habitat, Ujjal Ghosh, the field director of the BTR, said.

There are 42 beat offices in Buxa with one officer each.

MSTrIPES is a GPS-based software that will provide patrolling protocols and record wildlife crimes.

The software will also handle ecological monitoring and store data related to tiger monitoring.

Ghosh said: “The forest guards will have to fill in information about the area they patrolled and number of tigers spotted daily in the Android phones. This information will be passed by the beat officer to the forest range officer who will forward the same to the division officer, followed by the state government. The state will then pass on the information to the Tiger Control Cell of WII in Dehradun. Through this system, there will be a statistical analysis of data regarding protection and monitoring of the tigers.”

According to a forest officer, the BTR is important to the NTCA because ‘Tiger Augmentation Programme’ would be held here this year.

source: http://www.telegraphindia.com / The Telegraph,Calcutta,India / Front Page> North Bengal> Story / by Our Correspondent / Thursday – February 23rd, 2017

Air to water device produces purer drinking water

Kolkata :

The technical report of the functioning of the air to drinking water converting machine have been submitted by state Public Health Engineering department engineers.

Results from the Central Testing Laboratory have shown that the quality of water that is produced by the machine is many times purer and better than the typical water purifier devices.

The Housing Infrastructure Development Corporation (Hidco) authorities are now planning to install a few such machines in different parts of New Town.

“A sample of water produced from the device was sent to the Central testing Laboratory through PHE engineers to find out how pure the water is. The water has been found to have purer quality than the normal water purifying devices. We are planning to install some such devices in Eco Park and other commercial spots,” said a Hidco official, adding that plans are on to install the device at the Mother’s Wax Museum canteen on a trial basis and a few other places like gate No.3 of Eco Park, police outposts, traffic signal kiosks and places inside Eco Park in phases.

source: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com / The Times of India / News> City News> Kolkata News / by Suman Chakraborti / TNN / February 13th, 2017

The Butterfly Brigade of Kolkata

Roy teaching students about nature ina butterfly garden
Roy teaching students about nature ina butterfly garden

Arjan Basu Roy has a dream—to turn the City of Joy into the City of Butterflies. Luckily for Kolkata, it hosts at least a hundred butterfly species. Roy and his band of nature lovers are on a mission to transform, restore and conserve the disappearing urban wildlife in the city. As secretary of Nature Mates, one of Kolkata’s foremost nature conservation groups, Roy has overseen multiple conservation projects, the most prominent of them being Banobitan, India’s first open air butterfly garden.

Arjan Basu Roy
Arjan Basu Roy

Nature Mates was formally launched in 2006, but it started much earlier in 1993 when wildlife enthusiast Roy and his schoolmates set up a WWF Nature Club in their school to pursue their interest in wildlife. As part of the school’s nature club activities, Roy and his friends participated in wildlife rescue missions and wildlife monitoring. Growing up with financial constraints meant that Roy could not visit wildlife reserves, nature parks or forests as a child. “That was when I realised that I did not have to go to a forest to see wildlife. I could find it here, in my city, around me. It was then that I started following urban wildlife,” he says.

The club works in tandem with the West Bengal Forest Department in conservation activities. “A healthy butterfly population is an indicator of biodiversity. They are the best pollinators; birds, lizards and frogs feed on them, so conserving butterflies will give opportunity for an entire spectrum of other species to thrive,” says Roy. “This biodiversity can be initiated by everyone. Any area can be transformed into a butterfly habitat—a sprawling garden, a front yard, a terrace or even a balcony. Placing butterfly-friendly plants in a home or garden will augur these colourful biodiversity agents.”

Roy believes that affirmative action to preserve nature makes a bigger difference than protesting or criticising wrong-doings. According to him, token gestures of planting saplings when a tree is uprooted to make way for construction amount to very little in the big scheme of nature. “We offer assistance to builders in relocating trees that would otherwise have been uprooted and replaced by five saplings elsewhere,” he explains. Nature Mates addresses a wide spectrum of conservation activities, including animal rescue, restoring endangered animal species, cleaning wetlands around Kolkata, working with the forest department to set up butterfly gardens, wildlife surveys, installing bird nests, etc.

One of the key contributions of Nature Mates is the research the group undertakes on biodiversity, wildlife conservation. “We present the data in the form of usable information to guide people. This information is made available in English and Bengali to ensure even rural communities can make use of it,” he says.

Over the years, Roy has noticed a change in people’s attitudes that is positively impacting urban wildlife, “but it is very slow, much slower than needed”. To augment this progress, Roy and his team are continuing their mission to improve biodiversity in Kolkata, one butterfly garden at a time.

source: http://www.newindianexpress.com / The New Indian Express / Home> Magazine / by Venkata Susmita Biswas / April 16th, 2016

Part of history for eight centuries, Sen Dighi faces extinction threat

Kolkata:

Its rippling waters tell many a tale and history – dating back to the 12th century. Possibly the oldest waterbody in south Bengal, Sen Dighi in Boral on the southern fringes of Kolkata has survived centuries of negligence, contamination and encroachment. It has seen change of rule, dynasties, eras and witnessed the metamorphosis of the region from a marsh-infested forest land to a thriving habitat. While more than half the waterbodies in the area have vanished and an expanding city has consumed wetlands, Sen Dighi has existed for an incredible 800 years. The 23-bigha pond, a heritage waterbody, now faces a challenge from immersion-induced pollution and its fragile banks are steadily being eaten into by garbage dumps.

A study of its water revealed that the biological oxygen demand of Sen Dighi is high. The water quality has taken a beating ever since the pond was thrown open to immersions and Chhat festivities, according to locals and experts. Even though idols are removed quickly, the residue is enough to affect the water, they say. Perhaps, a bigger threat to the pond is posed by the eroding banks, made unsteady by devotees who have been clearing vegetation along the edges during Chhat. It has led to the uprooting of two trees and another has been left unsteady. These trees are crucial to the survival of Sen Dighi since they have been holding the banks together.

“Over the years, much of Sen Dighi has been lost through encroachment. It is important to protect the pond from pollution and infringement since it is part of our history. We must ensure that Sen Dighi retains its size and its water remains unpolluted,” said Dipayan Dey, chairman of SAFE, a green NGO that is now studying the pond’s water quality.

Around 20 km from Kolkata, Sen Dighi was dug by Ballal Sen, the second ruler of Bengal’s Sen dynasty, in the late 12th century. It must have measured close to a hundred bighas then and was the principal source of water for a large swathe of area to the south of Kolkata, according to Madhu Basu, who has chronicled the history of Sen Dighi. “The city didn’t exist then and it was a practice to dig huge waterbodies that would be taken care of by locals. Almost every house had a tank attached to it. But Sen Dighi stood out due to its size and the fact that it was maintained by the local Tripura Sundari temple that still survives. It is one of the last symbols of the region’s past prosperity,” said Basu, who runs an NGO called Economic Rural Development Society (ERDS).

Over the years, numerous archaeological relics of the Gupta, Maurya, Pala and Sen dynasties have been excavated from Sen Dighi and the areas around it. In the mid-Eighties, Sen Dighi was dried up and cleansed by ERDS. A local body of businessmen took the pond on lease for pisciculture. A part of the money earned from the lease goes to the Tripura Sundari trust. “We dug up numerous relics from the pond. They are now conserved at the Tripura Sundari temple, Ashutosh Museum and a few other places. That was the last time the pond was cleaned,” said Basu, who has penned a book on the history of Boral titled ‘Itihasher Darpane: Boral’.

Locals, on the other hand, pointed out that Sen Dighi is diminishing in size, bit by bit. Documents held by the Tripura Sundari trust mentions the size of the pond as 45 bighas. Less than half of it remains. “Immersions have led to the felling of trees and litter has filled up a portion along the northern bank. If this continues, the pond will get further reduced in size,” said a member of the local Boral Parliament Club that helps the temple trust in maintaining the pond. Basu, who is a resident of Boral, agreed. “Encroachments have always been a threat. With real estate activity being brisk in the area, the future is uncertain for Sen Dighi,” he said.

Till a hundred years ago, the pond would be surrounded by brick kilns. Legend has it that a trader named Maheshwar Shau from Odisha had introduced fish cultivation at Sen Dighi. “Locals got jealous of him and he was killed and thrown into the pond. For many years, people would keep away from Sen Dighi and believed it was haunted,” said Basu.

Green actvists believe immersions should be stopped and Sen Dighi should be cleaned to save it. “If it has to survive, Sen Dighi shouldn’t be used for bathing or washing. Once the water has been cleaned, a pump could be used to pull out water, which can then be used by locals. It would be a shame if Sen Dighi degenerates into a stinking pool like so many around it already have,” said environmentalist AK Ghosh.

source: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com / The Times of India / News Home> City> Kolkata / by Prithvijit Mitra / TNN / February 10th, 2016

ZSI celebrates a century of magic finds

Kolkata :

Scientists at the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) have discovered 176 new animal species in the run-up to their centenary year that kicked off on Wednesday.

Speaking to TOI, ZSI director K Venkataraman said 93 new species of insects were recorded by the team last year along with 24 species of amphibians, 23 species of fish and two species of reptiles. The other new finds were 12 species each of arachnida and crustacea, one type each of nematoda, trematoda and mollusca.

“It has been an exciting year with our scientists contributing to the inventory of animal species on the planet. Apart from the new finds, 61 species of animals that were found elsewhere in the world were also found and recorded in the country,” Venkataraman said.

Of the new insects discovered, several were found in Bengal. Agricnemis kalinga was found in Panchala, Howrah; Amemboa bifucrata in Kalikhola, Jalpaiguri; Amemboa mahananda in Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary, Darjeeling; Onchotrechus dooarsicus in Buxa Tiger Reserve, Jalpaiguri; Pleciobates bengalensis in Alipurduar; Calvia explanata in Darjeeling and Forcipomyia parasecuris in Burdwan. In addition, several other species were found across the state.

ZSI deputy director Dhriti Banerjee said Bengal has one of the richest faunal diversities in the country due to its diverse climatic zones. “Of 96,000-odd recorded animal species in India, 11,042 species, or more than 10%, are found in the state. Different climate zones — alpine temperate forest in Darjeeling, tropical forest in north Bengal, desiduous forest in south Bengal, dry grassland in the middle and mangroves in Sunderbans — support the varied animal life,” she said.

In fact, north Bengal, particularly Darjeeling, is considered a animal diversity hotspot by zoologists as the Eastern Himalayas is the gateway for faunal elements coming to India. “Any experienced scientist can confidently set out on a trip to Darjeeling and find a new species. The insect and ambhibian population in Darjeeling is very high,” Banerjee said.

While new species are being discovered in the state, several species have become extinct, including Javan rhinoceros, Asiatic two-horned rhinoceros, musk deer, monal pheasant, mombin quail, pink headed duck, marbled cat, golden cat, three-banded palm civet, mock viper and gore’s bronze back viper.

While ZSI has traditionally focused on surveys, collection of specimens, identification, naming and preserving, it has now started working on a GIS platform so they can be spacially and temporally mapped for reference. An ambitious programme to digitize the specimens is underway.

“A databank of high resolution photographs of type specimens, along with their full profile — what it looks like, where it was discovered, where it is found now and its DNA bar code — will be created,” Banerjee said.

Banerjee is heading the Rs 3 crore project to digitize information on 7,286 species, most of which are 100-200 years old.

source: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com / The Times of India / Home> City> Kolkata / TNN / July 02nd, 2015

India’s only double coconut tree artificially pollinated

The palm species bears largest seed known to science

A double coconut tree stands at the Indian Botanical garden at Shibpur in Howrah district.— Photo: Sanjoy Ghosh
A double coconut tree stands at the Indian Botanical garden at Shibpur in Howrah district.— Photo: Sanjoy Ghosh

Scientists at the Indian Botanical Garden in West Bengal’s Howrah district have carried out artificial pollination of the only double coconut tree in India, which bears the largest seed known to science.

One of the rare and globally threatened species of palm, the double coconut ( Lodoicea maldivica ) tree was planted at the botanical garden in 1894 and the artificial pollination is a result of decades of work by scientists of the Botanical Survey of India (BSI).

“The tree took almost a hundred years to mature and when it started flowering, we started looking for this particular palm species in this part of world. We collected some pollen from palms from Sri Lanka but could not successfully pollinate it. Finally, with the help of pollen from another tree in Thailand, the pollination process was successful,” BSI Director Paramjit Singh told The Hindu .

Longest surviving palm

The Double Coconut tree not only bears the largest seed known to science — weighing around 25 kg — but this unique species is also the longest surviving palm which can live for as long as 1,000 years, he says. The palm tree also bears the largest leaf among palms and one leaf can thatch a small hut.

“Successful pollination means that we can have another Lodoicea maldivica in the country. In fact we have two fruits and it might take them another couple of years to mature,” said S.S. Hameed, BSI scientist who has been working on the pollination project since 2006.

This species of palm is diecious (where male and female flowers are borne on different plants). “Fortunately at the Botanical Garden, we had the female plant which can fruit and produce seeds,” Mr. Hameed said. The Indian Botanical Garden which serves as the repository 12,000 trees from 1,400 different species is careful in nurturing the palm.

The palm tree is located in the large palm house of the Botanical Garden which has the largest collection of palms in South East Asia with around 110 palm species.

This rare tree can be found in only two of the 115 Seychelles islands and is also called Coco de Mer (coconut of the sea), says Mr. Hameed

Legend

Legend bestows the seed with the power to bring good fortune to its owners. “There has also been a tradition of making kamandals [drinking vessels] from the double coconut by bisecting the shell. It was believed that those who consume water from these kamandals will be protected from poisoning,” Mr. Hameed said. Subsequently, sadhus started using Kamandals and it got its place in religious rituals.

source: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com / The Times of India / Home> National / by Shiv Sahay Singh / Kolkata – June 13th, 2015