Wild

Red-breasted parakeets (Psittacula alexandri) are widespread, and common where they live. But in Manas National Park I got my first good photo. I’d first seen them four years ago in Kaziranga. The red beaked individual is the male. These are sightings of the extreme north-western population of a subspecies called Psittacula alexandri fasciata. It can be seen across mainland Asia all the way east to Vietnam and southern China. To see the other subspecies you have to do some island hopping from the Andamans east to Sumatra, Java, and Borneo. I hope to do that some time. Seeing animals, even common birds like crows, in their natural habitat is a beautiful experience. When you pay attention to them you see how they are wonderfully tuned to the surroundings they evolved in. In these surroundings you see not just one species, but a web of life.

Strangely, a friend sees red-breasted parakeets more or less daily from her bedroom window in Mumbai. A feral population has established itself in the city, as well as in a few other cities in India and across Europe. This is a reminder of the illegal wildlife trade that underlies the (unfortunately, legal) “exotic pet” trade. When I searched for this species on the net, most of the hits were from such sites. I was reminded of a book I’d read as a child, Bring ’em Back Alive by a person called Frank Buck, who gave hunting as his profession. The book introduced me to wildlife and opened my eyes to what a wonderful biosphere India and Asia have. But looking at the book again I realized that Buck was just a pet-trader in the times when it was legal. The slave trade was abolished more than two centuries ago, but it took another fifty years to stop slave ships. This animal slavery was banned in 1976 by the CITES treaty. Almost fifty years have passed since then, and the trade is still flourishing.

Threatened

Just as we were about to leave Bhandup pumping station, there was a ripple of excitement. A golden jackal (Canis aureus) had been spotted. It stood at the side of the road far from us and looked at us warily. I couldn’t believe that jackals still coexist with us in the middle of the city! These waste lands run all along the eastern coast of Mumbai, and connect to the wildlife refuges nearby, so I guess there is a constant flow of wildlife through this area.

Golden jackals are not usually considered to be threatened species. But a recent study of reports published in media revealed that there is a large cryptic trade in jackals. This is largely fueled by superstitious beliefs about jackal skulls. Most conservation efforts in India concentrate on tigers, rhinos, and elephants. The public is aware of the dangers these species face, and there is a strong opinion against trade in these animals. The authors of the study point out that the data on jackals indicates that similar threats to less charismatic species often escape public consciousness.