The Green Trail

When I think about the rainforests, tall, lush, green trees flash in my mind. In school, we are taught that rainforests are unique, they sequester carbon and support rich biodiversity. Yes, those primates and flying squirrels. To me personally, rainforests are the artsiest landscapes on this planet. By simply walking down a moist evergreen forest, I get all my inspiration to paint and sketch. Would you agree with me if I said that the unique structure of the trees and the colours make the evergreen forest an artist’s paradise? Let me paint a picture for you – the South Indian Jewel Orchid, Anoechtochilus elatus, is a ground-dwelling orchid that caught my eye on the Green Trail. It bears white flowers in the months of November and December. This orchid is characterized by golden veins on bottle green leaves. I saw three such leaves shooting up from the forest floor. 

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Leaves have fascinated artists for centuries. My eyes chanced upon the colours on the forest floor. There was a carpet of red, yellow and brown leaves on the floor. Some were decaying. I picked up a red leaf and it immediately broke down into smaller pieces. The floor was cushioned with all such leaves and pieces. The thick layer of leaves under my feet felt more like a soft mattress. Ever wondered why there are so many shades of browns (in other words- leaves) on the forest floor? Evergreen trees do not simply shed their leaves. There has to be a reason for all the shedding. As I contemplated these deep mysteries of the forest, I turned around to find a primitive tree. Nageia wallichiana or the naked-seeded tree (gymnosperm) was standing right behind me. It was flanked by a bright orange mushroom that I failed to identify. I have known that leaves in the rainforest have pointed tips – otherwise called the dripping tip. These dripping tipped leaves allow rainwater to drip down to the ground much faster. But there are those trees that break this rule. For example, the Calophyllum austroindicum. This tree is a tall tree like every other tree in the forest and has tiny, sclerophyllous leaves. The leaves are thick, not pointed and instead have an elongated heart-shape. Why it doesn’t follow the dripping tip pattern is something that I have not yet understood. Is there anyone who understands the philosophies of the rule-breakers?

The rainforests may be appealing to the eye but danger lurks behind every tree. When I walked the pristine, evergreen forest at Kakachi of Kalakad–Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR), I quickly realized that this forest like any other wild patch is not forgiving. The forest is ruled by vipers, elephants and tigers. Despite the dangers, each tree had something magical going on. The long buttresses for example! They were nothing like I had ever seen before. If they were to suddenly come to life, they’d swallow me whole. In short, they were huge and if I wanted to, I could climb on them. A number of lichens grew on the trees and the buttresses. Palaquim elliptium is a dominant tree in the forest. Its wood is unique and is extensively used to make shingles and other building material. Similarly, Cullenia exarillata is another tall, evergreen tree. This tree has characteristic scaling on its bark. It bears dark-brown, spiky fruits that are food to arboreal mammals like civets and bats. If you look carefully, you’d also see squirrels take a bite. The tree is recognized as a keystone species and is majorly pollinated by macaques and bats. Experts have told me that the occurrence of bats in the forests of Kakachi is rare, therefore this tree is pollinated majorly by macaques. The Lion-tailed Macaques use their sharp canines to break open the fruit. The reward is 8 to 9 delicious seeds. The macaques also feed on the flowers of this tree. I was surprised to know that birds do not feed on these flowers. The reason is that these flowers are not typical flowers with free-flowing nectar – something that birds find interesting. Instead, the flowers have a musty odour and a large basal part. The nectar is contained in small pockets called nectaries. Birds cannot get their way into the nectar but macaques and other mammals can.

Appreciating these subtle nuances of the forest have left a deep impression on me. Before I knew it, I’d spent more than 3 hours inside the jungle looking at it from a wide lens of ecology and art. By now it was noon, time to start walking back on the Green Trail. As I prepared myself to leave the forest, I craned my neck to look above at the canopy one last time. I saw the dense canopy part slightly to give me a glimpse of the clouds – I was standing at the edge of the forest.

I might be leaving, but in the enchanting forest, the magic continues…

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PS: This article was first published in the Agasthya Newsletter by ATREE, Bangalore. Don’t forget to check out other interesting pieces from the Newsletter – A Deluge of a Different Kind and Privilege of Being an Ecologist are my favourites.

The Green Trail is named after noted biologist Stephen Green who studied the critically endangered Lion-tailed Macaques.

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Quirky and Thoughtful Moments From My Trip to Yunnan, China

I spent one and a half months in Yunnan, China. Here are some of my favourite photos from the trip.

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People and Life!

I love how people in China follow discipline. But I have often wondered to what extent should rules be made – who should make them and if it’s okay to force people to follow them?  

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Elephants of Jinghong Town

Elephants are powerful, sacred, worshipped and wild. They are one of the most threatened, large animals living on this planet. In Yunnan, they were like magisterial titles – found everywhere – on roadsides and on footpaths. Beautiful, aren’t they?

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Of course, there were other animals in Jinghong town! 

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Canopy Walk Near the Town of Mengla

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I walked above the canopy. I realised that even if we, as humans have (technically) put ourselves above nature, none of us are mentally above it. Even the most enlightened ones have prayed and bowed down to mother nature. They sit ‘under’ the Bodhi Tree. Then why are there people who think it’s okay to destroy nature and that humans are superior?

What really makes us superior, intelligent and powerful? 

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Forests 

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I think trees are the most beautiful and unique entities of this planet. 

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Historically, forests have been used for human needs. Humans have extracted whatever they need from the forests. Plants, animals, fruits and nuts. Some people think forests are their rights, some others think forests belong to the wild animals and there are those who think forests and animals can be managed to gain what they think is the most important!

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So why do we need forests, or shall I rather ask what are our greatest needs?

Subsistence, consumption, recreation, luxury, or biodiversity…

What do you think?

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Colourful Nights at the Bar 

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I have always loved meeting people who share the same values as mine – nature conservation and sustainable living. Unfortunately, there’s no sustainable way to have the ‘occasional drink’. Even the most ambitious conservation leaders like to intoxicate themselves and unwind with music and deep conversations.

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Sustainable Cycling! 

Cycling slows down my life. In this fast-moving world of progress and development – cycling through the mountains of Yunnan in Mengla was just like meditation. I thoughtlessly cycled long distances and watched the trees along my way. Somedays, I parked my bike and lay on the grass with my binoculars to look at birds and stars. 

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One last question, so are the planet’s forests meant for the wild animals or the timber or the fruits or for human recreation – should we sustainably manage the forests for our needs or leave the forests alone – who should decide and when? 

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How to Catch Frogs for Scientific Research? #Video

I spent the last month in Borneo with the EDGE of Existence Program by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). It was indeed one of the best experiences in my life. Just that #BorneoFeeling. Being in Borneo, on that remote, unique island of life has taught me so much about life. It has changed me positively in so many different ways that I cannot (correctly) put everything in words. I have found myself smiling randomly.

I created a video with NatGeo’s #sciencetelling Bootcamp. I hope you enjoy it. I purposely refrained from catching live frogs. However, when I start my project, I assure you that I will make another one that would probably give you an idea of my work with amphibians in the Western Ghats of India.

Till then, I hope you enjoy this video! More on Borneo soon.

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You Can’t Pull Me Down

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By pointing at my grey-hair,
And telling me that,
My skin stopped glowing.
By showing me my pimple scars,
And pointing at my thinning hair.

And then telling me that it’s out of concern
It’s not a concern, my friend.
It tells me who you really are!
You’re like those thousands
of people who think women
must be beautiful.

Oh! According to your standards of beauty.

Shiny voluminous hair
that’s always picture perfect.
That sits in place how you’ve left it.
A face that glows,
doesn’t matter if the glow is fake.
Eyes lined and lashes curled.

No, they don’t care if it’s fake.
If it’s carcinogenic,
If it’s harmful,
If it’s objectifying you.
No, they just don’t care.

How you look today is what matters,
If you’re pleasing to my eyes,
Long hair, fair skin and oh! that glow.
Scars, marks and tan is not beauty for them
And if you’ve got greys, your life is ruined.
Not married yet? Oh no, what a shame!

It’s not the end.

I have more to say,
More to write,
More to do,
More to beautify.

I work on my mind,
I read more and polish my brain with words.
I practice how to answer your questions,
So that you cannot break me
by your micro-mini standards.
So that you cannot pull me down!

I am a woman of substance,
I beg to differ!
I like my greys,
They are a sign of my intelligence.
They tell you how many books,
I have read.

My ageing skin of wrinkles,
And lines.
And those slowly developing crow’s feet,
They scream mindfulness,
They show compassion.

My brain explodes with mixed feelings.

And about your concern towards me,
Let me tell you, you’re least concerned.
If you really were, you’d ask me about my,
Work. About my pain,
about my challenges.

You’d give me tips to overcome them.
You’d not be commenting on my beauty.
Because if you knew me the least bit
You’d know what my life is,
What I work towards,
What my values are!

My life is about my values
It’s about the forests,
It’s about words and flying long distances,
Using my paraglider.
My life is of discipline,
Disciple of my mind.

Still, my heart is weak.
It allows me to break rules,
To not follow my own discipline.
My heart breaks from time to time
As a response,
Tears flow down my eyes.

I cry inside when another woman,
Points a finger at me – A woman!
When another woman asks another woman of her beauty,
Asks her to dress up,
Wear a saree, line eyes and apply lipstick
Are we objectifying ourselves?

We should be talking about important matters –
Sports, Politics, Feminism, Work, Life.
There’s a lot to speak.
There’s a lot to do,
There’s a lot to focus on.

I gather all my courage every single day,
To explore a new unheard place.
To seek the voices of animals,
That don’t speak our language,
To understand complexities like climate change.

That’s too much for a brain like yours,
(I am sorry!)
A brain that is still focusing on how
women should look…  Err!
Thick, shiny hair. Glowing skin and some natural makeup?

You come to me and tell me that a woman’s life,
Is complete with a child,
That happiness is marriage,
That greatest joy is being with your family,
I must tell you, you’re lucky my friend,
To have it all.

I beg your pardon, I am not like you.

I am not that woman.
I differ!
I don’t think my greatest happiness
is marriage or a child.
A family? Yes, my family!

What’s my other greatest happiness?
It’s for sure exploring the forests,
Hearing the chirps and the croaks
Yes, I am different.
I am free. Liberated!

If by chance, you see my variation from the norms
The norms that you’re aware of,
Thick hair and makeup!
You’ll see where I am coming from,
It’s shocking at first, I understand.
But the day you start appreciating my difference
I promise I will start accepting your standards. Your views!

Right now, am angry and I just think,
By your standards of beauty,
And pointing fingers at me,
You’re trying to pull me down.
You’re diverting from things that matter to me.

I’d like to tell you that I am such a bitch,
That when you point at my grey hair,
I will answer you back and
Tell you that my grey hair is,
More beautiful than your coloured hair.
That my facial wrinkles are nicer,
And that dark circles are just another
Sign of intelligence!

And healthy skin is disease free. It’s not the glow!

My friend, I want to appeal to you,
To start accepting absurd standards of beauty,
like that of mine.
Because difference is what creates this world,
And difference is what makes our lives valuable!

What you say is true.
That maybe you’re truly concerned about me.
And other women…
I am sorry, I don’t believe you!
And you cannot pull me down by your standards.

I will live with my messy hair,
With hair in my armpits #noshave
I will not line my eyes.
I’d want to call myself – a silver vixen.
The society must learn,
Must get comfortable.

Around women who divert from the norms.

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Have you discovered your ‘Rebel Genes’ yet?

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I realised something in the silence of the forest. I cannot change as fast as society wants me to. In this fast-moving world, there is no place for sluggish people like me. Evolution would probably not take my lazy traits forward and a ‘slow life’ like mine would see the same fate as that of a giant ground sloth.

I’m one of the 7 billion homo sapiens living off this planet. I speak a particular language, belong to some caste, some race and that reminds me that I must be married. Else, I will be destroyed by my own creators. When I was growing up in a tiny home surrounded by the forests of central India – spending time with ants, moths and butterflies gave me immense pleasure. Two owlets frequented my backyard. I refused to have dinner without having watched them ‘hoot’. Twenty-four years later, I still absolutely love watching owls and totally love tripping on ants and moths. I have always dreamt of a simple life around animals and trees. I never wanted to attend school but I landed up there every day. Like everyone else I knew, I then proceeded to get my degrees. And now I am doing my PhD; thankfully, after enough battles, I am finally learning and working on something that I love and am passionate about! The wildlife of India, frogs and forests is what keeps me ticking. It’s been a long and a tiring journey and I feel compelled to share some of it with you.

When I went to school, I diligently followed my teachers’ advice. They asked me to sit in a particular way, play certain games and behave in a socially acceptable way. I tried hard to become that ‘good girl’. After school, father said that I must attend college. I put a cover on my camera and kept it away. I picked up books that didn’t interest me. After I finished college, I remember someone telling me – you’re a big girl now – let’s find you a life-partner! A male member of homo sapiens, belonging to the same caste and creed who will work hard and provide bread and shelter to the vulnerable other sex. I didn’t say no to this. Why should I? The only thing I was taught since I was a child was to say ‘yes’ to whatever the elders of my society said. They’re more experienced after all, aren’t they? They began meeting prospective candidates and discussing my future – children, a decent job and family. That’s all there is to life.

That night, I woke up with tears in my eyes. The air-conditioner had frozen my room with artificial, choking cold. I had a lump in my throat and I wanted to shout out loud. I wanted to tell everyone around me that they were wrong and that they were all being foolish. Life is not about children, family and husband. It’s a lot more than that. All this that they were focussing on is just a tiny part of life. But it’s not life in its entirety. No!

I knew what I was longing for. My heart had figured out exactly what was missing. I went up to my terrace and stared at the stars. That night, there was a lunar eclipse. I saw the moon change its colour. In a span of three hours the bright white sphere slowly turned ruby red and then white again. I lay on the cold floor. This cold wasn’t choking me. It was beautiful. Cool, mellow breeze tickled my hair. My tears had now vanished.

Soon, I’d packed my bag and vowed to roam the forests, to find frogs and owls. Mother-nature cradled me. I had decided not to live by the societal standards that had kept me tied up for years. I found myself hitch-hiking across the barren mountains of the Himalayas. I was finally smiling 🙂

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Three years have since passed. I have seen most wild corners of the country. Tried to study frogs, birds and what not. Sometimes I’ve found great company – some people have written me poems and someone once composed a song. Sometimes I’ve felt lonely. But I have always worshipped forests and I continue to do so even today. The people I have met have given me the strength to live the way I like. I have found myself sleeping on clean beaches on the west coast and sometimes running into bushes to hide from elephants in the Anamalai. This uncertainty always sends a shiver down my spine as I contemplate exploring a new forest.

I have found shelter within villages that surround protected forests. I have gossiped with people living in these forests. I have lived and experienced the tales of Kenneth Anderson, something that I had only read about as a child – and am now living them myself! Shouldn’t I be proud to have explored so much and that I decided to go against the tide? I probably should! Well, the reality is something else. Every time I see these false expectations imposed by the society upon each and every one of us – I am unwittingly pushed into a miserable state of existence. I know that I should ignore these societal expectations, ignore the need for external validation and instead live life solely by deriving validation from myself internally (and maybe a few more people I trust deeply). But it is tough to do that every single day, to remind myself that validation stems from within and that society can be wrong!

Fast-forward to today – I have often questioned the path that I’ve chosen. At 28, I don’t plan to have babies. I don’t want to live a successful married (read, patriarchal?) life. I don’t want to be that sweetheart girl who’s loved by everybody. There are over 3 billion women on this planet and each one has a unique story to tell, a different set of emotions and opinions. Just a simple Homo sapiens, an animal living off the woods, wasn’t enough. We called ourselves ‘the wise man’? Rational beings, aren’t we all? 

PS: An edited version of this article appeared in WomenForOne, a global community of women truth tellers. 

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Frogs of Manipal – Documentary Film by Saish Solankar

Frogs are known as biological indicator species. According to scientific reports, frogs across the globe are facing extinction four times faster than any other tetrapod (a four-footed animal, especially a member of a group which includes all vertebrates higher than fishes). Threats being – habitat destruction and disturbance, diseases, malformations and climate change. India harbours a rich diversity of frogs within its various landscapes but they currently under grave threat. The university town of Manipal, situated on the laterite plateau, with the Western Ghats on one side and the vast Arabian sea on other forms a unique habitat for birds and frogs alike. Frogs of Manipal is a citizen science initiative started in 2016 to involve students and faculty members from Manipal University, along with the local populace to come together and appreciate the rich diversity of frogs within and around the town. But these citizen scientists don’t just appreciate their beauty, they also gather valuable data about these frogs that facilitates research and conservation efforts to save these tiny croakies 🙂 This video showcases the beautiful landscapes of Manipal with its rich diversity of frogs. Enjoy!

Have a look at Saish’s work on his youtube channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/saishsolankar

To order your own copy of Frogs of Manipal pocket guide please have a look here – FrogsofManipalPocketGuide

Join the community of citizen scientists on facebook – https://www.facebook.com/groups/150338342096186/

Please leave your honest feedback in the comments below. See ya next time 🙂

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‘Frogs of Manipal’ is Now a Book

Dear friends, readers and wildlifers,

Here’s something that has made my new year very special (and hopefully yours as well!). I have published a pocket guidebook to help identify common frogs around the stunning town of Manipal. ‘Frogs of Manipal’ was launched as a campaign in the year 2016 to raise awareness and bring amphibians into the limelight. It was supported by the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) and the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAR). But it is the enthusiastic and nature loving locals and students of Manipal who have taken it to a whole new level. 

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Cover page
Copyrights Madhushri Mudke
Inside

This guidebook has photographs, common and scientific names and habitats for the frogs we find in and around Manipal. It is my sincere hope that the guide shall serve as invaluable in helping everyone identify frogs (cryptic species) in and around their backyards.

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Who it’s for?

  • Locals living in the university town of Manipal
  • Students and citizen scientists living in Manipal
  • Naturalists, wildlife enthusiasts, nature lovers, animal lovers, wildlife/nature photographers, biologists, students, scientists and citizen scientists all over the globe

On a side note: This booklet is relevant to everyone who’s interested (or looking to start getting interested) in frogs! The frogs we find in Manipal are also present at several other places in the Western Ghats.

What’s in it for you to learn?

This guidebook shall help you understand that a tiny university town on the coasts of India is home to a rich population of amphibian species. Documenting these cryptic species that are generally linked to monsoons is a tough job for scientists. People like you, i.e all environment/nature-loving citizens and locals have made documentation and action-oriented conservation possible. With this booklet in hand, we are now a step closer to understanding the environment that we all share. So grab your copy soon!

Is it helpful?

To understand whether this guide has done what’s it meant to, is a difficult question for me to answer. So I have two requests for you (puppy face):

  1. Leave me a comment and let me know
  2. Help me spread the word so that your friends, relatives and others can help improve the second edition of this guide

I cannot wait to hear back from you. Write to me personally using this form on my About Me page or leave a comment here.

Wishing you a very happy 2018.

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Pictorial Guide to Frogs of Manipal

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Frogs have always fascinated me. Moving to Manipal in the year 2012 exposed me to a new environment and a new life. I explored the forests around the town. I learned a lot about the biodiverse life in these forests from the locals, the growing community of bird watchers and other naturalists. Having explored various multitude of fauna, I introspected where I could have maximum impact in terms of scientific research. As I delved deeper, I realized that there was no debate – it had to be frogs!

In an effort to explain my interest in these species – I immediately penned a blog post on “Why I love frogs and Why you should too” – http://girlgonebirdzz.com/frogs/why-i-love-frogs-and-why-you-should-too/

Early in July 2017, the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles (SSAR) awarded me a grant with funds to carry out my research on the frogs of Manipal. Following this, I enrolled for a PhD with Manipal University to study these amphibians in greater depth under the able mentorship of Dr. Aravind N.A.

In order to spread awareness of these tiny croakers, with people from all disciplines and wakes of life – I have published my notes in a pictorial guide that even the youngest reader would be easily able to understand and use. It lists the 19 most commonly occurring species of frogs found in our beloved university town. What do I hope to achieve with this guide? Everyone who reads it should be encouraged to take part in the Citizen Science initiatives that we at Frogs of Manipal keep conducting regularly. And use it in the pursuit of their scientific endeavours 🙂

A huge thanks (and lots of hugs) to everyone who’s been a part of my scientific journey – each contribution, however little, has helped shape this guide into what it is.

Download a copy here – Frogs of Manipal.downloadable.pdf guide

I’d love to hear back from you folks so that we can make this guide even more awesome! Thanks and love <3

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#FridayFrogFact – One night with the Small-handed Frog (Indirana semipalmata)

Note: This blog post is dedicated to my dear friend Tushar Verma. Tushar, who’s a writer and a nature lover, had come down to Manipal all the way from Raipur to enjoy the beauty of the sea, the frogs and the forests. Vrinda, a core team member of FoM and I took him on a long frog-walk which was a part of my campaign #NotJustFrogs with the Jane Goodall Institute. We trekked up the mountains, cutting through tall trees and reeds on a warm summer evening. And while the seasonal warmth left us sweaty and lost in the middle of nowhere, we were delighted to find ourselves immersed in the wild setting of the scenic lush green mountains of the Western Ghats. The nightjars gave background music and five monsoon monsters allowed us to get close and watch them. With Tushar in town, I felt as if the summers had cooled down a little!

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The Indirana group of frogs is by far one of my favourite frog groups. I am not sure why I have this unfair bias towards the Indiranas but I find them pretty psychedelic (read the last paragraph) in nature. Part of my interest in the Indiranas also lies in their evolutionary history, their overall structure, the habitat that they live in and their exceptional tadpoles (stay tuned- I’m going to write an elaborate post about Indirana tadpoles in the coming weeks). All Indirana frogs are endemic to the Western Ghats. When I come across any of these, my days instantly become super memorable! One day during my surveys in the benevolent mountains, I felt extremely fortunate to have gotten a chance to interact with the Gundia Leaping Frog (Indirana gundia) in the wild, thanks to my mentor – Dr Gururaja KV. On another frog walk, I stumbled upon three individuals of these frogs while exploring the forests of Agumbe.

On 21st March 2017, a warm sunny day greeted the three of us as we explored the depths of a forested patch in Manipal. The greenery around me filled me with joy and soon my eyes caught a glimpse of a freshwater lake that had taken the colour green to match the surroundings. As the birds chirped and flew back to their homes, the setting sun painted the sky in shades of pink and orange. Soon darkness took over. Vrinda and I passionately looked for frogs near the reeds and scanned the fringes of the road in our dim torch lights. It looked like we were crawling on the ground in search of marbles or pebbles like kids used to before the tech era got them searching for virtual marbles. Tushar simply walked along with a wide smile and looked at the two of us as if we were indulging in childlike activities under the dark blanket of the night sky embedded with sparkling stars. Little did he know how important our daily frog walks are to research these dying frog species!

After some time, all three of us got into a single line to have a look at one of the darkest corners in the forest. Our torches pointed towards the ground as we trekked in search of frogs. Suddenly my torch beam fell on a chunky frog that was sitting in a tiny burrow surrounded by dry leaf litter of the acacia trees. At first, I couldn’t identify the frog so I decided to catch it to examine it closely. But as soon as that thought crossed my mind, the frog sensed our presence and jumped to take cover under some small plants. I jumped straight at the frog and caught hold of it in one go. Over months of running behind these hoppers, I have now mastered a unique skill set. I can hop like a frog to catch my prey and walk like a human to show my intelligence. At this point, Tushar was probably traumatised by my behaviour. He was trying to figure out what exactly happened in the darkness, a few meters ahead of him. I placed the frog in a setting with appropriate lighting and photographed it quickly taking utmost care to not injure it. As soon as I had the pictures I needed, I studied the morphology of the frog and gently placed it back from where I had found it first.

That night, Tushar and I returned home to process the photo and admire the elegance of the Small-handed Frog that we were lucky enough to find! This frog belongs to the family of Ranixalidae, otherwise referred to as the ‘Indian Frogs’. Ranixalidae is an ancient family of frogs that evolved independently in India over millions of years. The family is now known to have two genera – Indirana and Sallywalkerana. The Small-handed Frogs are distributed across the Western Ghats. The overall size of the frog can range from 2.3 to 5.5 centimetres. The one we saw (photographed above) was a male frog of 4 centimetres in size. The presence of a pair of special glands, called the femoral glands, on the insides of the frog’s thigh tells me the gender. Femoral refers to the femur (thigh bone) or the thigh and that’s how they got their name. This gland is considered as a secondary sexual characteristic and is present only in the male frogs. The gland is also known to release pheromones to facilitate mating. Although the function, presence and absence of this gland needs further clarification in the case of Indirana frogs, in the Small-handed Frog, the gland is said to be present in all males but its function remains largely unknown.

It is easy to identify this frog. It is the commonest frog to be found among the Indiranas. The frog dwells on the ground, on wet rocks or leaf litter. It has a very typical rotund structure. The overall coloration can vary but is largely pinkish brown. The frog’s back has longitudinal irregular skin folds. Tiny spine-like structures can be noticed on the sides of the frog. The lower jaw has a leopard-like spotted pattern of alternate dark and light brown markings. And the eyes are very like any other frog (staring right at you) – large and round. Tympanum or the circular ear drum is placed, one on either side, right behind the eye and is almost the size of the frog’s eye. A pair of large, well-developed hind limbs has greenish brown and light brown alternate bands. Forelimbs look unusually small when compared to the body size; maybe that’s why it was christened the Small-handed Frog?!?!

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In conclusion, I have a small experiment for you to try which Tushar and I have tried and tested when we were high (on life) that night. Download the above picture of this incredible frog onto your computer or mobile phone. Then open the file in any photo viewer that you are using; put the picture in the full-screen mode. Now look into the eyes of the frog and you will return to innocence and find love, devotion and feelings! Otherwise, the obvious ‘no-connection’ that human beings exhibit towards frogs will become apparent. Make sure you let me know how you felt when you looked into the frog’s eyes! 

If you have missed any of the previous #FridayFrogFact posts – read them all over here! And if you liked this article, join our growing community of amazing froggers on Facebook. Also please fill out this form and tell me what would you like to read in the next post.

Now go and croak it out (read share this article) to the entire world on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Sharing the #FridayFrogFact with your friends on social media is a great idea to show your love for these species <3

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What India’s Natural Heritage Taught Me About Life

 

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As I reached Coorg at the break of day, I was welcomed by a jeep and the smile of the driver who had rushed to pick me up. My lonely soul immediately filled up with happiness on seeing someone so friendly. The previous night, I had started from Bangalore on a bumpy bus. I reached Madikeri at four in the morning and promptly fell asleep at the noisy bus stop. After about fifteen minutes of my intermittent sleep, I got up to notice that I was attracting a lot of unwanted attention, usually the kind that is given to ‘solo’ women travellers in India. And if caught alone at wee hours in unexpected places, like the bus stop in my case, women are singled out even more! My eyes were tired. With enough ‘jugaad’ (a Hindi word for making your way through), just before dawn, I managed to get onto a sleeper bus to reach Kabinakad. And yet again, I found myself standing alone at a request stop in the early morning engulfed by rains, tea gardens and the mountains of the Western Ghats.

The sun played peek-a-boo with the clouds. Chhrrrr-chhrrrr-chhrrrr went a flock of 100 starlings right above my head as I extended my head upwards to count them. I heard a long shrill of a woodpecker who was flying from tree to tree searching for ants and other insects to feed upon. In the middle of a small agricultural field stood a leafless tree. As I gazed upon it, I thought that it looked really lonely without its leaves, just like I was without my favourite group of Homo sapiens. Suddenly a tinge of yellow caught my eye. Like a magic ray of hope, it circled the tree. Much to my surprise, the tree that I felt was lonely, was now with a beautiful companion – the Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher. The tree smiled back at me and told me that she wasn’t alone, she is into a different kind of friendship. Her relationship with the canary is stronger than her relationship with her own leaves. She went on to say that she has plenty of companions – some tailed, some winged! She’s happy without her leaves as well. I smiled back at her, amazed as the realisation dawned on me – your choice of companionship can vary – it need not be what society deems it should be! In the background, the clouds rolled over lush green mountains. The grey sky took on a deep blueish hue and suddenly burst into droplets that scattered all over the ground. They spread a wave of happiness on the earth. Half drenched in the rains, I stood there with my pink umbrella against the foreboding backdrop of the grey skies. A tiny frog jumped over my feet from the bushes by the side. It took another quick jump to disappear inside a puddle. One last jump to cross the road and it went back into the bushes where it belonged. I realised I needed no human companion to be at peace – not when I had the rains, trees, birds and frogs to love back!

By now the driver had turned the jeep around and I hopped inside. In no time, we were on a road with dense rainforest on either side. From the valley below, towering trees reached out to touch the distant sky. Although I was used to seeing tall skyscrapers in Bombay, these magnificent trees overpowered even those and looked much taller and stronger. They seemed to belong to another world. In this forest, lichens and moss covered the branches of most of the trees. I could neither see the grey clouds nor the mountains anymore – the dense canopy above my head covered everything, making a dark, green roof above us. As I looked through the window of my jeep my heart filled with joy. All the tensions of my life and my quarter-life crises disappeared within the deep crevices of my brain. I had forgotten that there is a world outside of the forest. I smiled to myself and felt blessed for my new companion.

Turning round another hairpin bend on the road, I saw a silver shimmer. Amidst all the peaceful green, I caught a glimpse of fast-flowing water. The shine was nothing less than that of the solitaires that my friends love to wear on their fingers. These diamonds are their most prized possessions but the one I was watching was a different jewel – one whose importance is lost within our busy lives. Our life today is a competitive journey – a rat race. It starts with smaller material possessions in schools and colleges. With a high paying job, our possessions have progressed to greedy demands of big cars and a luxury house. Throughout the journey, most of us fail to see the natural beauty around us. I am specifically talking about the Western Ghats that we have here in India. The only goal of our life is to snag the biggest possible rhinestone ring that we can! They say that the solitaire is a symbol of love and strong companionship. Deep within my thoughts, I had made the forest my greatest companion. I urge you to go see one of these natural waterfalls within the emerald green forests of the Western Ghats. Feel the diamond-like droplets fall on your head. These natural gems deserve to be seen by one and all. And once you experience it, I guarantee you that the masterpiece decorating your body will lose its charm in no time. Although the bigger question here is whether you can imagine a life without these material possessions and instead get close to the real elements of the environment?

“Ma’am, please come!” said the driver, shaking me out of my deep reverie. I jumped out of the car and was greeted by an old couple. They lived within the mountains, coffee plantations and vineyards and earned their living through the organic home-stay that they had opened for travellers. They named it Honey-Valley. With the growing demand, they built extra rooms for their guests. My sojourn was basic and simple with one bed and no bathroom. The bathrooms were constructed separately outside – two common baths for a row of eight rooms. I just loved my space! My room’s door opened to the east with a view of the mountains of the Western Ghats. I quickly freshened up and walked down to the dining hall to have my simple vegetarian breakfast. The dining hall had a very rustic and tranquil feel to it. I rejoiced within as I sipped my filter coffee. My eyes chanced upon a bookshelf in the hall. I ran towards it and scanned through it. I looked at the spines of books from famous conservationists and wildlife lovers; books with birds, insects and mammals from India and abroad. I spent the next half an hour scanning through the library and made a mental list of all the books that I would love to read during my stay at Honey-Valley. Since the glass doors of the cupboard were locked, I sat down staring at each book from the outside!

Mr Suresh, the owner of the homestay asked me politely if I’d like to read any of them. I looked at him with love and greed, “How I wish I had the time to read all of them”, I answered. He laughed as he handed me the keys of the cupboard. I struggled to settle down with one book. I spent the next three hours reading excerpts from ten different books in a corridor overlooking the Western Ghats. Later in the afternoon, I finally managed to get up and stroll barefoot on the non-cemented, natural yard of the resort. Mr Suresh was sitting with his dogs reading a newspaper. I went up to him to have a small chat. Little did I know that he is an encyclopaedia of enlightened thoughts and knowledge about the two things I love – forests and wine!

With similar interests, we soon became good friends. He told me that the place I am standing on, was once a vineyard and that he used to make honey wine. The earliest description of honey wine can be found in rigvedas. Otherwise called ‘mead’, the wine is an exotic drink made out of fermented honey and water. This is how the homestay got its name! We then spoke a bit about the adventures of Kenneth Anderson ghooming with Byra in the Ghats and the five-game sanctuaries in India. “Hunters have taught us a lot about the forests”, he exclaimed. We smiled at each other, nodding our heads in agreement. When Mr Suresh smiles, his laugh lines become deeper. His forehead wrinkles to form five bumpy lines. These lines on his face are not those of aging but of knowledge that he has gained over the years while exploring India’s natural heritage. He roamed around in the Ghats for years observing the natural beauty and the diversity of fauna. He wanted to escape from the hassles of city life and the demands exercised by his family members. He came to the mountains and built a single room house in 1994. The house served as a base camp for trekkers and backpackers to trek to Karnataka’s third highest peak – Mount Tadiandamol. This mountain is covered with patches of the epic rainforests and shola forests of the Western Ghats. Even today he believes in simple organic living, minimising demands and promoting tourism in a responsible and sustainable way. He tells me with great sadness that he’s not met a lot of people who like the forests or enjoy living a simple life.  

The reason why we are losing our natural heritage and in this case the Western Ghats, is because everyone today is given to luxury. The Western Ghats is one among the eight ‘hottest hotspots’ of biodiversity in the world. The benevolent mountains were also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012. Although with growing demands, this treasure of India has been facing several threats. Ignoring their importance is a crime. For many of us life has become a fruitless journey. Living within ‘four walls’ will completely destroy us! Home and office, in the modern times, are a set of four walls strategically brought together to provide us with luxury and comfort. We juggle between the two in cars or other closed vehicles. Laptops, mobile phones and televisions make up our world irrespective of where we are – trapping us within them. The day passes by as we live within these gadgets, stuck in four walls – both literally and metaphorically! It is something that keeps the mind shut by implementing boundaries. I stood there and thought about everything that Mr Suresh was saying. Indeed, these four walls have caged most of us! These are the walls that we refuse to get out of. Mr Suresh claims that people have lost interest in outdoor activities and the forests. They come to his homestay for the sake of travelling or for a change from their daily routine. They have no feelings and no respect towards the forest, nor the creatures living within. People never explore or get out of their room because of the bubble of fear that encircles their life. And this is because of the four walls that they have surrounded themselves in.

It is a well-known fact that Indians have been very protective about their forests. We worship animals and trees. We conserve them by calling them ‘sacred groves’. When out in the open, say in a forest, there is no comfort, there are no walls. The forest teaches to live together in harmony with other animals who share the space on our only planet. It teaches us the importance of sharing space without any boundaries. It forces us to take risks every single day and pushes us out of our comfort zones. When staying close to the forest, life isn’t a journey anymore, it is about rejoicing the rising sun, the rain and the rivers. It is about finding peace while looking at the numerous flowering plants, huge trees and lush green mountains that show us our true value in this world. A human being is a tiny speck within this huge ecosystem of the natural world. When living in the forests, demands go down immediately. Life is more than just a journey to get somewhere. Life becomes analogous to art. The art of living with enlightened and happy thoughts. It is just about celebrating the rainbow, the clouds, the birds and the wind. These are all the things that the forest has. If we decide to live with these physical universal elements, they will never change! Because they are no one’s possessions. These are shared equally by every creature on earth. And that’s what makes a healthy ecosystem. The only question that man has to answer is whether he can imagine a life without his possessions!

I urge you to go spend time experiencing the natural heritage of India. Observe these little things and find joy in them. We Indians are still very lucky that we have ‘the big-five’ and two biodiversity hotspots still alive each with its own unique music. When I walked the mountains and sat under a tree, I saw my life differently. Life is never about the journey you take to get there, life is about listening to the music in the forest and rejoicing about the little things. The huge mountains of Western Ghats taught me to see my true self. It taught me to live without luxuries and demand less. Most important of all, it taught me to be less greedy and helped me develop feelings of compassion – compassion towards animals other than human beings. This is the power of the natural heritage of India. Today my life starts and ends within forests, for if there are no forests there would be no life.

PS: This entry was one of the top 12 entries in the Nature Writers Competition 2017 organised by the UNESCO Category 2 Centre for World Natural Heritage Management and Training. Here’s a link to the online souvenir – http://wii.gov.in/images//images/documents/unesco/unesco_nature_writing_competition%20_souvenir_2016-17.pdf

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