Words and photographs: Ambica Gulati
The music going great guns, I drove right past the Asola Bhatti Wildlife Sanctuary (Delhi) on the curvy road from Surjakund towards Tughlakabad. When I reached the crowded Batra hospital, I was sure that I had taken a wrong turn as Paridhi Jain, the education officer at the Conservation Education Centre there, had clearly mentioned that it was near Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range. So turning right back, I drove into the silent road again, asking for directions and was a little more careful now watching the signs as I was volunteering for the Habitat Restoration programme on World Enivronment Day (June 5, 2014). Organised by The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), it entailed cleaning a trail, an AV on saving the Yamuna and about BNHS’ efforts since 1883 on conservation and research.
This was my first step into a conscious understanding of nature. I enjoyed it but to know it intimately and take care it, this was my chance. The Conservation Education Centre has been set up by BNHS at the Wildlife Sanctuary in association with the Government of Delhi.
As Shweta helped us with the basic information, Paridhi gave us a detailed background on BNHS and CEC’s activities. Paridhi has done her masters in zoology from Rajasthan. We were then handed jute sacks, branch cutters and a phawda. The sanctuary has four trails and we were going to be walking the Palash Tree Trail. In the sanctuary laden with keekar, short thorny trees on red rocks, this single tree on that trail sounded like a novelty. Lakhan, our guide, told us that this particular species of keekar had come from Mexico long time back when the drive to make Delhi green was on in the 1970s.
Peacocks meowed, babblers flew and little butterflies twitted over the magenta flowers in the butterfly garden behind the CEC building. Aloe Vera and even a banyan were sown in 2-litre Pepsi bottles. Heads covered with the sun caps, water bottles in hand, we embarked on the trail. Born and living in the area, Lakhan talked about the sanctuary like an old hand. He told us that there were a variety of snakes living in the area and they could be seen crawling around during the rains.
Suddenly a thorny branch was right in our paths, and we were told to cut it. This is called path clearing, after a few attempts, we got the hang of it. A lot of glass bottles and plastic bags were also on the trail. It was sad to see alcohol bottles broken in the sanctuary. Drinking is fun but taking the litter back is better! Stones were put on the side for marking the trail. The CEC has plans of putting arrows to mark the trails soon.
A tiny violet flower caught my eye while I picked glass from the shrubs. It was Little Glory, used in Shankhpushpi, the medicine for strengthening the brain, Paridhi informed. Idea in the sanctuary is to be silent and listen to the sounds around you. And we saw insects on the barks, clinging for their lives in the hot sun.
And suddenly everyone was gazing at a small flash of green in the little shrubs. It was a Praying Mantis and its nest hung on a frail shrub. Jyoti, another volunteer who had worked as a science communicator, informed that it was named like that as its legs were folded like hands in prayer. And the female would cut off the head of the male while mating. Lakhan added that the little nest housed many small Praying Mantis babies.
And then we saw a termite mound with holes. This was the home to termites, rats, snakes, monitor lizards. Finally, we reached the Palash tree, better known as the ‘Red Flame of the Forest’ as its red flowers shine bright during spring. The flowers are used for making colour with which we play on Holi. In ancient times, the leaves were used as plates. The unique bit is that the leaves are found in a cluster of three.
Twists and turns in the rocky walk and we reached the Black Buck enclosure. An endangered species, the sanctuary houses around 50 of them. A herd of females, resting in the shade, walked away on hearing the sound of humans. Brown and supple, they watched us and kept hiding. But the magnificent black male with its horns watched us longer. Ready to run if we went any near, little did it know that we could not walk into the enclosure so it was safe.
We climbed a machan to see the panoramic view of the city. But the sun was hot, even the water in the bottles was boiling, and we made our way back to the office building.
Refreshed with samosas and sandwiches, we watched a movie on Saving the Yamuna and little things that we can all contribute to save the environment. Finally, it was time to plant a neem sapling and all of us got a gift of Aloe Vera sapling to remind us that we were now part of the game of conservation.
Little ways to conserve water, preserve the environment:
- Never leave litter in the forest.
- Polythene bags are not allowed in the sanctuaries. Use cloth or jute bags.
- Use public toilets.
- Do not play loud music in the sanctuary; listen to the sounds of nature. Loud sounds scare the animals and birds.
- Do not break plants or disturb nature in any way.
- Do not throw stones at the animals and birds.
- Do not throw water unnecessarily. Keep taps closed.
- Keep water bodies in the sanctuaries clean.
The Conservation Education Centre offers corporate, college, children and family programmes. To know more, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or Call +91-11-26042010; 91-8800748967/8800741864
Check the website http://www.bnhs.org