I’ve carped long and loud about how it’s pointless trying to breed rare wild animals and birds in captivity if there’s going to be no wild to put them back into.
Well, I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is that if we do put the “wild” back into the wild, and “develop” suitable habitats even out of wastelands, birds and animals will flock to them and need not even have to be captive-bred rarities.
I recently visited one such “development”…and ah, now the bad news — I’m not going to say, just yet, exactly where it is except that it’s 20 minutes away from home. I can well imagine the publicity brochures that must have been put out heralding this development:
“Exclusive, beautiful gated community, thick with tamarisk bushes standing in nutritious, frog-filled muddy water-body, a few-minutes flight from holy Yamuna, very exclusive property; 1,000 happy families have already settled in! Scientifically and ecologically developed with round-the-clock security and monitoring!”
I got a call from the “developers” and went off to check it out. We bumped along to the far side of the “gated community”, left the jeep and then pushed our way through what seemed like elephant grass along a very narrow path — enough of a deterrent for most. Tamarisk bushes and small trees grew thickly around us, in muddy, glinting water, zithering with dragonflies.
“Quiet…we’re getting there — did you hear that?”
A hoarse “quark”, then just above the line of trees, a broad-winged silhouette like that of a big fruit bat flying past. Then suddenly all around us: scraggy, twiggy nests galore, each one occupied with two or three dishevelled, radically scruffy buff-brown glowering chicks, some flapping pathetic wings: black-crowned night heron babies and adolescents. Their parents stood guard wary and stern, sleek in steel grey, black and white, their white-tipped occipital crests drooping behind their necks, plastic ladybird eyes watchful. Some took off and flew in their typical fruit bat-like manner, circling around several times before settling back. Night herons are crepuscular — most active at dusk and dawn, so they were still a little lazy and languid. But they wouldn’t have to fly far to dine or feed their babies on frogs, fish, lizards and such delicacies; dinner was just downstairs.
This little bit of “wild” that has enabled this colony of 600-1,000 night heron families to thrive, has been created from devastated wasteland and is a part of the “development” work done by the Yamuna Biodiversity Park project, which aims at re-creating the natural ecosystems that exist — and existed — in the Yamuna River Basin. (No, their development plan does not include promenades, landscaped parks and shopping malls.)
Before you rush off there to buy up a nesting site, let me say you can only visit by appointment and it’s a long, hot walk, through impenetrable high grass and you can easily fall into the muddy gooey water, and become dinner for crocodiles, who surely should have moved in there by now.
Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and bird watcher