23 Jan 2012

Emu Farming and India

I have followed with interest (and some trepidation) the media coverage of commercial Emu farming that is gaining popularity around the country. The volume of information obtained by an internet search on the subject is indicative of the marketing activities focused at luring farmers to easy money.

Over the past couple of days I have also searched the internet, albeit without success, for endorsements and environmental clearances from appropriate Government departments on Emu-farming. I am left wondering whether appropriate ecological impact analysis was carried out before Emu-farming was commercially introduced into the country.  

This brings forth my nagging fear about the bird going feral in the Indian hinterland. The Emu is an exotic species without any natural predators in our ecosystem. Accidental or intentional release of mating pairs of these birds in the wild could establish a feral population in the wild. They would ravage crops and fruits, as well as populations of indigenous insects and small amphibians, already reeling under the indiscriminate use of pesticides.

I have blogged in the past on the environmental and economic impact of invasive species. We are acutely aware of the detrimental environmental, health and economic impact of invasive species such as Parthenium and Lantana in our country. Nations across the globe also bear the economic burden of managing feral animal populations. In Australia in particular, rabbits to camels (and many animals in-between) have been released from livestock into the wild by early settlers - out of love or ignorance. Exploding populations of these feral animals have necessitated allocation of large government funds for pest management. While contributing to the national GNP and creating exotic professions such as feral boar-hunting, such funds could definitely be put to better use elsewhere in the economy. Emus have been known feral culprits in the Australian outback, necessitating culling on war footing.

There are thriving Emu farms in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Emu meat reportedly sells at around Rs.450/= per kg in Bangalore, way above the price of the pale poultry. Manifestos have been written on the virtues of the fat-free Emu meat. It is also claimed that almost every part of an Emu can be commercialised, creating a lucrative picture for Emu-farming to the debt-ridden Indian farmer, currently contemplating a rope from the branch of the nearest tree.

But do we have the capability (and appetite) of controlling this (and other) alien species ? The glimmer of my hope lies squarely on the hungry millions in India, capable of decimating any avian population, feral or otherwise. Though bigger than a goat, an Emu is a bird, nonetheless. The flight fancy of the flightless wonder might well remain unrealized in India.

That is, if the animal rights brigade doesn’t clamour a prohibition to such jolly hunting and feasting !

10 Jan 2012

Pictures and Memories - The Ladakh Journey - V

Leaving Leh around 8.00am, we travelled the Leh-Manali Highway to Upshi, crossed the Indus at the Mahe bridge and drove along the Indus towards Puga. We reached the Puga Sumdoh (literally meaning ‘the crossing at Puga’) in the afternoon. The sumdoh near Puga village is an important 3-way intersection, leading to Leh, Tso Moriri and Tso Kar (and onward to Manali via Rohtang). Of course, there are no road signs and nor many souls to seek directions. We reached Tso Moriri late early in the evening.
(Click images to enlarge)
Flocks of Bar-Headed Geese rested with their chicks along the water’s edge. The geese lay eggs and raise their young here during the summer and migrate to the Indian plains in winter. I have myself seen Bar-Headed Geese at the Veer reservoir near Pune (Maharashtra) and at Kaziranga (Assam) during the winter. Marshes on the periphery of the lake support rich avifauna and is now protected as a wetland bio-reserve.

The next day, we retraced the road till Puga Sumdoh and turned to Tso Kar. There are geo-thermal springs near Thukjey village not far from Puga and the smell of sulphur filled the air as we neared. In the wetlands to the left of the road were flocks of water birds, mostly waders. In the distance were two pairs of black-necked cranes, too far out to be photographed. We stopped more than half an hour to watch the cranes waltzing and feeding. Native to the Tibetan plateau and revered by locals, these cranes are now endangered due to loss of habitat in their homeland and poaching during their winter migration to the Indian plains.

There were marmots (the Long-Tailed Marmot and the Himalayan Marmot) aplenty on the way, as well as packs of wild yak. Near Polokongka La, we saw the first lone kiang – the Tibetan wild ass. The valley was strewn with clumps of wild summer bloom.
We drove past settlements of the Changpa nomads at the pass and the valley around. These nomads raise yaks and graze their flocks of sheep in the rolling arid valleys.   
We reached Tso Kar in the afternoon.
The water of Tso Kar is crystal-clear and brackish. There is a dusty trail on the edge of the lake.  
As we drove around the lake, a herd of about 11 Kiangs galloped across the trail ahead of our vehicle, They stood in a line, alert and watching us from a distance. After sometime, they adjudged us harmless and dispersed to forage. The wetlands on the water’s edge had plenty of waders.
Next morning we took the Leh-Manali highway driving across the large plateau called the More Plain, to reach Pang.
Pang is a cluster of tents in summer where bikers rest overnight on their drive to Leh.
The tents at Pang offer the basics of life to the traveller, including a cot and blankets at Rs.100/= per night.  
Lachulung La at 16,616 feet is the last of the high altitude passes en-route Manali.
The air is chilly and sheet ice glistens under the midday summer sun at the pass.
Landslides on the mountain roads are constant reminders of our struggle against the forces of nature. Road repair crews from the nearest Border Roads Organization (BRO) staff lines appear almost from nowhere to clear debris and keep roads motorable. Once again, hats off to the BRO and its incessant efforts, that we managed to adhere to our travel plan. 
(Travelogue to be concluded)