Month: August 2009

Saving Wild Ferns

Saving Wild Ferns

The whistle of the pressure cooker was yet to blow and it seemed an endless wait.

In the meantime, my cell phone rang. Divya Calling……

Divya: Hello…

Me: Yes Divya, tell me..

Divya: Hey, where are you man?

Me: I am at home, tell me..

Divya: See, near the 30th hairpin bend, people from the Highways department are slashing plants along the road side. There are some beautiful ferns too. I requested them not to cut any rainforest plants and ferns but it is better we not take any chances. Why don’t you go and collect those ferns and save them?

Me: Oh ok..I will be there..

Divya: You have to be really quick otherwise they will all go.

Me: Alright I’ll be there as soon as possible.

I looked at the pressure cooker for the last time again. There were no signs of any whistle. I put off the stove and dashed with my camera and a few bags towards the 30th hair pin bend in my vehicle. It was a wet morning with a light drizzle and it restricted me from driving fast. Slashing of plants along the roadside is not new to us. It is a periodical ritual executed under supervision from the Highways department to get rid of so called ‘unwanted plants’. Although, some of them might grow again, this kind of removal will pay way for weed infestation in that area.

Men at work
Men at work

I was gradually approaching the men at work and could see the wild ferns and other rainforest plants by the roadside. A worker had just begun to chop them from one end.


I slowed down the car and tried to locate the plants that Divya had mentioned in our telephonic conversation but failed to see them. Perhaps in spite of all my best efforts, I was a little too late.

An unfortunate fern 🙁

While I was still in the vehicle and in the process of pulling over, I saw a worker cutting a fern. I hurried towards the worker who was about to lift his sickle to strike again. I intervened and asked him not to cut the rest of them.

He looked at me and said “Ok sir, but tell me which are the ones that I am supposed to cut?”

Ideally, I didn’t want him to cut any of the plants. But that decision didn’t really lie in my hands. I indicated to him some lovely ferns, beautiful impatiens and few other rainforest tree saplings and requested him not to cut them.


He, in turn, asked me to report this to his supervisor or else he will be questioned about this later. And saying this, he pointed towards the direction where the supervisor was working. I looked in the direction.

The supervisor, too, was engaged in clearing up grass near the culvert. I repeated to him the same request that I had made to his subordinate. He obliged me and promptly turned towards to his workers and instructed them not to cut tree saplings and ferns. He assured me that he would make sure that his workers didn’t cut the plants which I had specified. He added that he would exclude those plants for the time being but in case instructed by the officers-in–charge, he would not be able to turn it down.

I started walking towards my vehicle when I saw another worker in his chopping spree about to cut a fern. I rushed towards him and requested him not to cut it but uproot it for me instead. Contrary to my earlier decision of taking selective ferns, I decided to take back with me as many I could. The worker cheerfully agreed and helped me to collect the ferns and said that,

“Sir, it is better you take them away. There is no guarantee that we will not cut them. If not me, some other person will surely cut it later or our officer might ask us to remove them.”

While we were still collecting the plants, the supervisor called out to him and said,

“Hey collect some Elephant nettles and give it to Sir to take home”.

That came as an unexpected but a surprise to me and I broke into a smile. I laughed and told him that I knew what Elephant nettle was and he grinned at me awkwardly and thereafter resumed work. I thought it was time to leave.

One of fortunate ferns
One of the fortunate ferns

As I write this small blog, the rescued ferns are in my house, sheltered in small pots. I water them regularly, hoping that they will grow well. But I am pretty sure that they will not like to be confined in small pots. Soon, I have to return them to where they belong – the wild.

Volunteer jottings…

Volunteer jottings…

First week of August, I was at Valparai for few days to plant saplings as part of the restoration work that Divya and Sridhar started almost a decade ago. The first day, I was in Varattuparai estate with Anand and team. I asked Anand, ‘How does it feel?’ I was pleasantly surprised when he replied that in all the research work he has been doing, this was the most satisfying activity of the year he partakes in. I had sort of expected this because I felt a tinge of it even before starting any work. What better way to practice conservation than planting saplings that may become trees that will tower the canopy of a rainforest in the future.

Anand & team, after a full day's work
Anand & team, after a full day's work

Well, so Anand quickly explained to me, put fistful manure in the pit that the boys had meticulously dug, tad rock phosphate, cut the plastic, land the sapling in the pit, remove the plastic, cover up the gap and lastly, add some mulch. Not to forget to carry the plastic pieces in a stick to avoid dumping them in the plot. The last step for me was taking out a small sheet of people I was dedicating the plants to, list the species by the name, put a tick, speckle it with mud in the process and put it back in my pocket. After few hours work, I had a stick with about 10 black plastic bits and the boys had many more. On the way back, I couldn’t help but think of Obelix bringing back Roman shields and metaphorise it to these boys with sticks! I also remembered the part when Getafix treats acorns with magic potion and once the seeds are dropped, flooooop, the trees shoot up! Wish we had some of those!

The third day, I felt a bit tired after an hour of planting when I heard nilgiri langurs. When I looked up there was one sitting and observing me probably wondering what on earth I am at. I immediately felt energised, to think that one day the troop need not avoid the canopy-gap in which we were planting, to think that they may feed on the leaves of the Syzigium tree, the sapling of which I was planting.

The four days in Valparai had other highlights too…a night drive full of mammal sightings, an early evening walk looking for roadkills with Dina and a late evening mistnet session with Eleni. Overall, I left Valparai with a burst of positive energy, it seemed like enough to last till the next season of planting. Thanks, Valparai team!

Karthik T

August 2009 Week 1: Valparai

August 2009 Week 1: Valparai

The week began with a meeting with a manager that makes us want to take stock of the direction of the restoration program even more. How can considerations of conservation and restoration, specifically retaining natural services that existing ecosystems provide in these landscapes instead of further converting them to monoculture plantation crops, become a part of routine plantation management decisions and operations?

The peak of the monsoon seems past. Still there is some time and some saplings left in our nursery for a last round of planting in the restoration sites. So we spent the next day sorting saplings—about 100 for each of the four sites this time. We had another enthusiastic volunteer to help, Karthik Teegalapalli, and so we could get going right away. Started with the Varattuparai and Old Valparai sites, then Iyerpadi Top, and finally at Murugalli Candura.



The weather was perfect. Not too much rain while pitting and planting in the mornings, with some showers later in the day. Our team leader Anand made sure that everybody was doing what they should be doing to mark yet another successful and fulfilling planting season.

The team leader

Later in the evening, we drove to the “seen god” place. On the way, a lovely carpet of tiny white orchids on a tree branch and some more interesting epiphytes caught our eye and we stopped to take a few pictures.



Passing a trail through tea fields, we saw a Black-naped hare grazing on the meadow-like turf at the edge of the tea. At the same time, a dash of red caught Jegan’s eye and this turned out to be a Stripe-necked mongoose. As we watched, the mongoose went right past the hare, each absorbed in their own lives, and paying little attention to each other—a case of harmonious co-existence between a small carnivore (predator) and a herbivore (prey).


A lovely play of mist, clouds, and rain in the Sankarankudi Valley made our evening. And on the mist and rain-wetted slope: beautiful Impatiens flowers!



And then, a night drive! We were lucky to spot two brown palm civets, a few Large Brown Flying Squirrels (including two glides and what looked like a young one), an unidentified eye shine in the understorey, a sounder of wild pigs, a herd of gaur and many black-naped hare. The first brown palm civet we saw was resting curled up in the fork of a tree branch. As we watched and took a few pictures, it looked up at us and then, rested its head down again. We left the scene with the civet still resting and glad that we had not disturbed it from its cozy notch.



And then on Friday afternoon, returning from the Iyerpadi Top planting, we watched lion-tailed macaques (LTMs) making their weekly visit to the temple! Our LTM watchers, working along the main road to protect the monkeys from speeding vehicles and educate tourists, told us that these smart animals had learnt to come near the temple every Friday. As people would come for pooja and break coconuts here, some LTM may get a snack. Yet, this is a habit and habituation that is better broken and our watchers, Joseph and Dharmaraj, are trying to educate the temple visitors. There are plenty of jack trees in fruit and it is wonderful to watch the LTM feeding on the jackfruit in their arboreal life.


And finally, at the end of the week, we had to go for another meeting… but the one hour long drive was nice. To be woken up by the sound of the wing beats of the Great Hornbill, watching them duet and feed each other, the Nilgiri langurs, a black eagle, a crested serpent eagle, and more impatiens adorning the rock faces and mud banks…encouraged to grow by the water seepage…




brahminy kite


What lessens our enthu are the meetings and the pointlessness of planting a few 1000 trees when about five times that is being cleared or degraded at the other end at the same time, or when we find a dead animal like this sambar floating in the reservoir without actually becoming a meal to a hungry predator which pulled it down….

Sambar in reservoir

What keeps us going is the possibility of the wildlife sightings whenever we go out.


Of course, the usual melodious Malabar Whistling Thrush at dawn and on cloudy days through the day, the Rufous Babblers coming to roost in the mango tree in our neighbour’s yard, and the sawing sound of our friendly neighbourhood leopard at nights are testimonials to a not-so-bad an environment we are living in. 🙂

The Valparai Times

The Valparai Times

This is an update on the happenings and indulgences of the indigenous people of valparai rainforest restoration research station.

Everybody in town from bus drivers, doctors to vegetable vendor have been asking me the same question – “Where is Swati?”.

Swati is finally back…..and no one is more glad than Anand. Since the Rufford grant has been transfered into her account Anand has been complimenting her (mostly on her new hairstyle) even when she is not around. Anand is at the verge of starting a marriage bureau to fund his elephant project. While Swati is carefully using her grant money to develop sophisticated equipments for her research.

A scat drier custom-made by Swati for “Swati's lab”

The look alike of Shankar Raman is currently out of range to really say what he ‘s up to. The Ubuntu King is off to Chennai to probably colonize the computers there with Ubuntu. He is the only person talented enough to show us a hippo in Sholayar dam. Jegan on the other hand is on his solo honeymoon at his native land, courser country. So we really don’t know when to expect him back or to expect him at all. Elani is recovering from the Greek dinner party she threw, which i must say was amazing!

Mutual admiration – Kalyan and Harsha
Mutual admiration – Harsha and Kalyan

World famous when not doing the above, is busy looking for his foot wear all around the world and dodging pit vipers. Of course in his spare time he is doing what he does best. Meanwhile, Divya the local ‘world famous’ is busy getting her perfect silhouette shots, fighting crime and knocking thugs on the head.

Krishnan and Denesh, our field assistances have been collecting rainforest seeds for the nursery. Now they have found a new source of seeds in dairy milk’s fruit and nut chocolates.

Ninja has been taking tap dancing lessons lately on our roof, she is also busy defending her territory. Coming to pets, our base camp has a new pet – He’s a toad living in our back yard and can beat any thorny devil at eating ants. We plan to translocate him to our ant-infested kitchen.

When i am not scratching or inventing new species of bougainvillea or blue poppy here, i try to get students to draw leopards, hornbills or any animals present in this landscape.

A drawing of a Leopard and hornbill by a student of the govt. school i mentioned in my previous post
A drawing of a leopard and hornbill by a student of the govt. school i mentioned in my previous post

The highs and lows of a roadkill survey

The highs and lows of a roadkill survey

I had the pleasure of accompanying Eleni during a couple of mist-netting sessions in the past week. Its monsoon now, and every place is teeming with life. Its a good break for me to look at live animals and cheer up my spirit, also a great chance to explore new places.

Calling frogs and this huge malabar pit viper, safely crossing the road just made my night.

frog calling

Malabar pit viper
A meter long malabar pit viper.

The last couple of days i have come  across a few unusual deaths. Like this beautiful green vine snake that was intact and an striped coral snake. The most common snake road kills are shieldtails that are so camouflage on roads, that its hard to predict their presence. But this green vine snake sadly seems to have been killed during broad day vine snake road kill

Mid way, on one of my road kill transects is a primary school that always has little inquisitive faces peeping out of doors and windows, following my every move. On my first few transects, i found these children stealing out of school and watching me from a distance. As i get a little closer, they move further away and watch.

Shy children running out of frame
Shy children running out of frame.

Some persuasive talking helped get rid of the shyness. In the following days they started hanging out with me on reaching the part of the road near their school. After getting invited to a couple of their cricket and chat sessions, i felt compelled to add their school to the list of schools for conservation education. These children are extremely inquisitive and not to over-look naughty, with an enthusiastic set of teachers at school. The 1st program at their school is scheduled for monday (10.8.09). I look forward to future on-road and off-road interactions with these children.