The good, the bad & the ugly!
Though the ongoing lockdown has badly affected human life, it is turning out to be a much needed breather for Uttar Pradesh’s wildlife that is busy is reclaiming its ‘lost territories’. Most wildlife experts call it a lockdown affect, saying it a blessing in disguise for the wild animals while a few others term it a behavioural change that has occurred following the lockdown. But a fact that they all unanimously agree is that ‘it’s a change to admire’.
Spread over1200 km2 area in Behraich and Lakhimpur Kheri districts of Uttar Pradesh, the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve was perhaps the first to witness this change post lockdown. Officially, the lockdown was announced on March 24 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in order to break the cycle of the deadly ‘Chinese’ virus. But in Uttar Pradesh, technically the lockdown began from March 22—the day when PM Naredra Modi gave the ‘janta curfew’ call in order to laud the efforts of those engaged in the fight against COVID-19 outbreak. A day after ‘Janata Curfew’ UP government announced three-day state-wide lockdown in around 16 districts of UP to contain the virus outbreak.
Wild animals in Dudhwa having a gala time
And this brought the daily life, and the human interventions in UP’s natural resources, to a grinding halt. The initial days were normal, said the foresters at Dudhwa National Park, Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary and Katraniaghat Wildlife Sanctuary—which comprises entire Dudhwa Tiger Reserve. But then, things began to change. “Yes, initial few days of the lockdown were normal. But things began to change gradually when curious animals, that were yet to adjust themselves to the change, began coming out of the jungle and were seen on the connecting roads,” says Sanjay Pathak, director, Dudhwa Tiger Reserve. Pathak said, “Now since animals are not hearing honking, engine roars and human interventions, they are coming out on roads in curiosity or we can say to reclaim their lost territories.” Pathak, while recollecting one of such incidents he had witnessed a couple of days back, said: “Recently I was returning from Pilibhit via Kishanpur road during the evening hours, I noticed a leopard sitting alongside the road. Generally leopard is a shy animal and it is not at all normal to see a leopard along the roadside. I asked my driver to stop the vehicle so as to avoid any disturbance to the animal. But even after waiting for almost 15 minutes or so the leopard seemed in no mood to get back into the jungle. I had to ask my driver to continue. Pathak is perhaps not the only one to notice such changes. Some wildlife experts, however, term it a behavioural change, saying it’s curiosity that is driving animals out of jungle. “Only a week ago I had seen a group of some 35 elephants that had come out on Gauri Panta road—the road that passes through the core forest area and ends at the Nepal Border,” says Sanjay Narain, a wild life enthusiast, who owns a farm on the periphery of Dudhwa Forest. Gauri Panta, being a highway—passing from core forest area— that connects to international border, sees the movement of more than 300 heavy vehicles on a day. But after lockdown, the movement of vehicles suddenly stopped. “Indeed animals are now trying to re-claim their lost territories,” he added. Initially, the experts say, the animals used to cross the roads only after dark as that was the time when there used to be no traffic on the roads and no sounds of the engines, to which they were always extremely sensitive. “But now since roads are lying all deserted even during the day time, the animals can be seen coming out on the roads even during the day hours,” Anil Patel, DFO North Kheri, forest department.
A blessing in disguise for the winged guests
Interestingly the lockdown affect is also much visible among the birds. The change was so much so that it took birdwatchers of Uttar Pradesh by surprise. UP’s birdwatchers claimed sighting of altitudinal birds during the month of April in the urban pockets. Some birdwatchers, who termed the ongoing lockdown ‘a blessing in disguise’ for the winged guests says these birds generally used to return by March but their prolonged stay is indeed a matter of surprise. And the change was enough to blow their minds. Sometimes referred to as altitudinal migratory birds or altitudinal birds (birds from hills), these birds, the birdwatchers say, generally move to plains or the areas of lower elevations during winters since harsh weather conditions make their stay at the upper elevations tough. And by March, these birds used to return to their native places. But things changed this time when the winged guests preferred to stay for a longer time and that was what left the birdwatchers awestruck. “This is something we had never come across in the past as birdwatchers. Only recently I spotted Thick Billed Flowerpecker—one of the smallest (9mm long) bird, on a silk cotton tree outside my apartment. This is a hill bird which generally used to return home on the onset of summer. Other than this I have also spotted warbler birds as well,” says Neeraj Srivastava, head of Indian Bird Conservation Network (IBCN) UP Chapter and an avid birdwatcher, who had been flooded with calls from the birdwatchers confirming the presence of the altitudinal birds in the urban areas. Another avid birdwatcher Kajal Das Gupta, who hails from Bareilly, too cited lockdown as a sole reason for the change. “Birds are very sensitive to nature. And slight disturbance in the nature badly affects the birds. Since there is no pollution, no engine roars, rivers are clean and no human intervention, the birds are enjoying this environment and hence are staying in plains for a longer period of time,” said Kajal Das Gupta, secretary Rohilkhand Nature Club. Some of the altitudinal migratory birds which can be spotted this time, he says, are Black Redstart, Chestnut tailed Starling, Red breasted Flycatcher, Bluethroat and Yellow Wagtails. Besides, he says the lockdown has also popularised the terms balcony birding or backyard birding among the birdwatchers.
Balcony birding emerges as a new fad
Some birdwatchers said balcony birding emerged to be a major term among the birdwatchers who watched birds to beat the lockdown blues. “Indeed lockdown has introduced the lesser familiar terms to India birding community. In my three decades of bird watching, I never thought that it could be so interestingly engaged while staying at home. It not only keeps you engaged for hours but also helps in relieving the stress,” claims Kaushalendra Singh, an avid birdwatcher and wildlife enthusiasts who hails from the state capital. Singh said he had never devoted so much time in bird-watching as he was doing during the lockdown period. Red-whiskered Bulbul, Red- vented Bulbul, Ashy Prinia, Common Tailorbird, Purple Sunbird, Oriental Honey Buzzard are a few resident birds that are easily spotted in garden spaces, he said. Not only the professional birdwatchers, the birding community also saw the entry of the budding bird-watchers, who too are tried keeping themselves engaged during the lockdown period. While giving advice on bird-watching, Neeraj Srivastava, head of Indian Bird Conservation Network (IBCN) UP Chapter, said the most important thing for the budding bird-watcher was to be observant and “that is a key to bird watching”. “Then comes record maintaining. It is again one of the most important aspects. I suggest the new bird watchers to maintain a diary and to write about the birds, habitats etc. And then come patience and persistence. In the beginning, they can use mobile phones to capture the images of the birds in order to maintain a record,” Srivastava said. Besides, he said there were many bird watching groups on social media. “They can learn about bird-watching while being a member of the group,” he further added. He also said that bird watching was also a good stress buster, especially during the lockdown phase. He said as a hobby it also helped from preventing one into becoming a lazy couch-potato or spending hours in watching television or on mobile phones.
Frozen meat finds no favour with Lucknow Zoo inmates
However the caged animals seem not as lucky as their ‘counterparts’ in the jungle as the lockdown has badly affected them. Carnivores inmates of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah Zoological Garden or Lucknow Zoo top the list of animals affected during the lockdown. Officials of one of the oldest zoological garden say the lockdown has force them into feeding frozen meat to carnivores inmates. “Supply of fruits, veggies, fodder and meat to the zoo that houses no less than 1000 animals including birds and reptiles got affected following the lockdown,” officials with the zoological garden said. Thought the zoo management has managed to restore the supply of fodder, fruits and vegetables, the supply of meat is yet to be restored. Of the total animals lodged in the zoo, around 45 animals are carnivores. Officials with the zoo management say its takes around 200 kg meat a day to feed the animals that feed once a day. The supply of meat first got disrupted on March 22, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi gave the ‘janta curfew’ call in order to laud the efforts of those engaged in the fight against COVID 19 outbreak. “On that day, we somehow managed. But a day after (on March 23) UP government announced three-day-lockdown (till March 25) in around 16 districts of Uttar Pradesh in order to contain the virus outbreak. And a day after our PM had announced the national lockdown. Hence all the local meat suppliers were unable to meet the whooping demand of 200kg meat a day. “After the local suppliers denied continuing the meat supply, we tried contacting a few slaughterhouses in neighbouring districts. We managed to find one such slaughterhouse in Unnao that agreed to supply us frozen meat. It indeed turned out to be a saviour,” said RK Singh, director of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah Zoological Garden. Some officials said the animals seem less excited to eat frozen meat. Mubarak Ali, one of the oldest zoo staffer who has been feeding carnivores for almost 30 years now, too believes the same. “These animals are habitually fresh meat eaters. They have never been introduced to frozen meat so far. Obviously they are unhappy,” he adds.
Birds face shortage of feed at Nakkhas bird market
The lockdown has also increased the woes to one of the oldest bird market, a part of Nakkhas market. Though there is no official record to suggest how old the market is, the historians say the market is over 150 years old. The bird sellers, who are engaged into the ‘illegal’ trade of bird selling, say, following the lockdown, they are unable to feed their birds. “Since most of the shops are lying closed we don’t have enough feed left to feed our birds that are dying of hunger,” said Rashtrapati, a local bird seller at Nakkhas Bird Market. “Nakkhas Bird market is as old as the Nakkhas market which is more than 150 years old,” said Yogesh Praveen, Padmashree and one of the renowned authors who has penned several books on the history of Awadh.
Poultry farmers forced to bury hungry birds
Similarly, poultry farmers too feel the brunt of the lockdown. “It was not the brunt it was even more than that. It was so much more that we were forced to bury the birds in the ground since the farmers didn’t had any money to feed the hungry chickens,” said Arun Gulati, convener Poultry Farmers Broilers Welfare Federation, who owns a breeding farm, hatchery, in Banthra area of Lucknow. According to the records of the Poultry Farmers Broilers Welfare Federation—a national platform for poultry farmers – there are more than 12 lakh families engaged in poultry farming in UP, whose turnover is Rs 2,50,000 million annually. And the monthly turnover is Rs 21,000 million. “Our industry is perhaps the most affected industry during the Covid-19 outbreak. In February, there was a rumour that consumption of chicken or eggs may cause corona virus infection and following this, the industry witnessed a 70% dip in the consumption of chicken,” said Gulati. The situation got worse after the infection outbreak began in India as the consumption of chicken further down to 80% and its price reduced to Rs 20 per kilogram. “The lockdown proved to be the last nail in the coffin, for after the lockdown, all the birds were shut out on the farms. Since farmers didn’t have much to feed the birds (that would further add to the cost), the birds began dying of starvation. Farmers didn’t have any option but to bury the hungry birds alive,” added Gulati.