Mediapersons may not have asked as many questions and engaged so keenly with the soft release of 10 vultures as Haryana chief minister ML Khattar.

At one point during an audio-visual presentation on the vulture crisis at the Jatayu Conservation Breeding Centre at Bir Shikar Gah, Pinjore, on November 13, Khattar even challenged Dr Vibhu Prakash of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS). Dr Prakash declared that vultures in India numbered four crore in the 1980s, but fell to a lakh by 2008. However, Khattar remarked that as “per my information, four crore was the world population”! Anyways, that issue was settled in Dr Prakash’s favour.

Khattar also lent his weight to reining in errant mediapersons, who swarmed inside the pre-release enclosure. As is their wont, mediapersons, with their competitive juices flowing, wanted the best action shots of vultures being freed from boxes. However, the posse of mediapersons partially obstructed the vultures’ flight path after release. This enraged BNHS personnel, who feared the vultures could die of trauma and heart-attack. Sparks flew between a section of the media and the vulture caregivers. Khattar even ticked off two mediapersons, saying the BNHS personnel had “full rights to seek the media’s withdrawal”.

However, at the root of the tamasha lay the entry of mediapersons and Khattar’s entourage into the enclosure. The apt protocol would have been for mediapersons to click the releases from outside the enclosure, and for the CM to symbolically release one vulture and step out. However, the many VIPs, as is their wont, each wanted to have a go at the 10 vulture releases

Antique collector Opinder Kaur Sekhon was pleasantly surprised to wake up one fine morning in her Sector 2 kothi (Chandigarh) and find her pet dogs bathed and dolled up. Sekhon says normally she has to chide her Nepalese domestic helps to undertake the daily doggy duties. But that day, the secret lay in the charismatic Nepali festival of Kukur Tihar. This is part of a five-day Diwali festival that pays tribute to the interconnectedness of the human and animal worlds. Dogs are regarded as guards of Yamraja or the mythological lord of death. The day before Diwali is earmarked in the tihar (festival) for dogs (Kukur).

I quote Sekhon’s rambling narrative to get a glimpse of her personal experience: “There is Kukar Tihar in Nepal, which thanks dogs for their loyalty and friendship. I was wondering how come without my instructions the dogs were given a bath, otherwise I have to remind servants and maids to give them a bath. My servant told me that it is Kukar day. First, they gave bath to all dogs, then ‘tikka’ was applied to their foreheads and were garlanded with marigolds. They were served rice and curd in their individual utensils. The dogs, too, behaved nicely on being pampered. They all looked so cute in garlands and tikka. If dogs are thanked for their loyalty, then our dogs, too, displayed their loyalty to the core by keeping their garlands around their necks. We felt so happy that our Nepali servants did all the dog rituals out of their love and dedication to them.”

One of the migratory raptors seen in the tricity region in winter is the Eurasian hobby, distinguished by its black-hooded face. I was delighted to get a view of this raptor while teeing off at the 15th hole at the Panchkula Golf Club (PGC) on November 1, 2014. The bird flew over us at quite a low height and made for the thick roughs right-flanking the previous hole. This winter, I kept a special watch for this dapper raptor, hoping to mark its arrival around the same time as in 2014. I was not overly disappointed because I saw two hobbys, sweeping low and to the left of the PGC’s 17th hole tee on November 7.

It is named ‘hobby’ as it derives from an old French word, ‘hobe’, meaning ‘to jump about’, for its agility in capturing insects on the wing. The other prey of the hobby include small birds, termite swarms, butterflies, bats etc. The hobby summer breeds in Asia and the higher Himalayas and winters across the sub-continent.

India’s leading authority on raptors, Rishad Naoroji, describes the hobby thus: “Hunts primarily on the wing, usually close to the ground at no great height, tactics varying with type of prey”. However, the hobby is susceptible to the ill-effects of Punjab and Haryana’s pesticide-laced agrarian eco-systems.

The hobby, a member of the family of falcons, was trained and used to hunt quails and larks in Europe and for similar sporting pursuits by the sub-continent’s falconers.

Source: November 14, 2015, Hindustan Times