Big Cat News From India


A tiger in the Sundarbans National Park, a protected tiger reserve, in the Indian state of West Bengal. SOUMYAJIT NANDY / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Richard Conniff, one of the science writers we most depend on for useful conservation news, shares this interview with one of our heroes from India’s big cat conservation network:

Big Cat Comeback: How India Is Restoring Its Tiger Population


Ullas Karanth

Ullas Karanth has spent a half-century working to protect India’s endangered tigers. In an interview with Yale e360, he argues that with smart planning and the cooperation of its rural residents, the country could support five times the number of tigers it has now.

Ullas Karanth, a senior scientist with the Wildlife Conservation Society, is one of the world’s premier tiger experts and a leader in the effort to restore India’s depleted tiger populations. Raised in the South India state of Karnataka, he has spent much of his professional life studying and working to bring back tigers there, starting in Nagarahole National Park in the foothills of the Western Ghats, and then across a 10,000-square-mile region of that mountain range.

Karanth’s emphasis on scientific methods has frequently brought him into conflict with India’s forest bureaucracy, particularly over its insistence on estimating tiger populations based on footprint counts. Karanth instead pioneered the use of camera traps for population estimates based on identification of individual tigers. That method belatedly became the national standard after a 2004 scandal, when Sariska Tiger Reserve, officially estimated to have 26 tigers, turned out to have none. Continue reading

Agroecology, A Guiding Principle For Food Entrepreneurship

Ryan Donnell for The New York Times

Our attention has been on food entrepreneurship recently, and here we continue the thread. With agroecology, a new word and robust concept, we have new food for thought. And for that we thank one of our favorite food writers, who we have relied since the first year of this platform. Many of the food stories we have linked to over the years have been authored by him. A year ago we linked to this story, which marked the first time we noted him as an activist. We expect, after reading Bringing Farming Back to Nature, which he co-authored with Daniel Moss, that he has found his new calling:

Workers in a paddy field in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. Credit Noah Seelam/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Farming the land as if nature doesn’t matter has been the model for much of the Western world’s food production system for at least the past 75 years. The results haven’t been pretty: depleted soil, chemically fouled waters, true family farms all but eliminated, a worsening of public health and more. But an approach that combines innovation and tradition has emerged, one that could transform the way we grow food. It’s called agroecology, and it places ecological science at the center of agriculture. It’s a scrappy movement that’s taking off globally. Continue reading

The Fairest Of Fair Tigers


A rare ‘pale tiger’ discovered in the wilds of Tamil Nadu state in India. Photograph: Nilanjan Ray

We have heard and read plenty about pale ale, which is often associated with India, but this is the first we are hearing of a pale tiger, in India or elsewhere:

Exceptionally rare ‘pale tiger’ photographed in the wild

Animal spotted by photographer in jungles of southern India may be the fairest known tiger living outside captivity

A rare “pale tiger”, whose fur conservationists say could be the fairest of any in the wild, has been photographed in southern India. Continue reading

Tradition and Memory, Handed Down Stitch by Stitch

If you happen to be anywhere near the Philadelphia Museum of Art, you have a few more days to visit this extraordinary exhibit of Phulkari: The Embroidered Textiles of Punjab.

Thanks to Architectural Digest contributor Medhavi Gandhi for this informative and culturally sensitive article.

Philadelphia Museum of Art showcases the history of Punjab’s rich embroidery craft through ‘Phulkari’

Phulkaris, which literally translates into ‘flower work’, is a unique style or technique of embroidery peculiar to Punjab, and today constitute the lavishly embroidered head scarves and shawls crafted in the region. ‘Phulkari: The Embroidered Textiles of Punjab’ presents phulkaris from the collection of Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz alongside the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s permanent collection, focusing mostly on embroideries from a pre-partitioned Punjab.

The threads of phulkari have since endured much: partition, industrial reforms, changing economic and fashion trends, and the exhibition aptly helps you develop a perspective around all these.

Curators Dr. Cristin McKnight Sethi and Dr. Darielle Mason position the craft as art, presenting phulkaris through the historical and cultural lens, thus offering a renewed contact with the old way of life; ceasing to be a commodity of high commercial value but more as a window into the lives of people.

In a brief issued by the Museum, Timothy Rub, The George D. Widener Director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, said: “This exhibition, which examines the artistic, cultural, and political significance of phulkari, is long overdue and will certainly delight visitors who may be unfamiliar with this remarkable art form”. I couldn’t agree more, and here’s why: Continue reading

Rich Versus Ostentatious


Ocellated turkey / Pfauentruthuhn (Meleagris ocellata) | Detail of the side of a male individual.

I am not even a novice birder, which is strange considering that my work is primarily dedicated to birders. But birds are well placed in the pantheon of natural wonders that I worship, and a photo that I just received from a recent guest of Chan Chich Lodge (a photo similar to the one above, which I have commented on before) helps explain why. During seven years in India, where the peacock is the national bird and so is in its natural habitat, I got accustomed to their ostentatious display.

Peacocks are often awkward animals, noisy and bumbly in places and at times (as when in the habitat of tigers) I have wished for silence. Those otherwise annoying behaviors are compensated for by their plumes. The colors in the image above, belonging to the ocellated turkey, are rich but only during mating would these birds ever be described as ostentatious. The more time I spend in Belize, and specifically at Chan Chich Lodge, the more I see the beauty in humble display of rich color.

Song of the Sloth Bear

Much of our efforts on this site go to honoring the efforts of conservationists, in the form of scientists, activists, and writers. A special appreciation go to the photographers, filmmakers and artists whose work brings nature into the lives of many who may not normally be exposed to the incredible biodiversity of our world.

Longtime contributor Sudhir Shivaram is one such photographer, and we appreciate his  introduction to this lovely film Daroji by Sugandhi Gadadhar currently in final deliberation at the 2017 Wild & Green Shorts Film Festival, Montana.

Daroji is a short film for children, introducing them to wildlife, specifically those from in and around Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary in Karnataka, India. Bindu, a female Indian Sloth Bear, tells the story of different families, including her own, and shares a friendly note with her audience, suggesting that man and animal can co-exist in harmony.

We wish Ms. Gadadhar the best of luck!

Yarn Bombing, Indian-style

Elephants, many of whom have suffered serious abuse in the past, photographed wearing the knitted multi-coloured, pyjama-like garments knitted by local villagers Roger Allen

While the concept of yarn bombing (also called guerrilla knitting) is usually a playful way to bring color to an urban setting, this isn’t our first story about altruist knitting in the realm of animal protection.

This story seems particularly poignant considering it weaves together the matriarchal nature of elephants and the communal work of the village women…

Villagers knit jumpers for Indian elephants to protect the large mammals from near-freezing temperatures

Elephants in India are sporting colourful woollen jumpers after villagers knitted the super-size garments to protect the animals from near-freezing temperatures.

Women in a village near the Wildlife SOS Elephant Conservation and Care Centre in the northern city of Mathura reportedly began producing the colourful, pyjama-like garments after staff at the centre warned temperatures were approaching sub-zero at night. Continue reading

Millet, India & A New Green Revolution


A woman farmers harvests pearl millet in Andhra Pradesh, India. Millets were once a steady part of Indians’ diets until the Green Revolution, which encouraged farmers to grow wheat and rice. Now, the grains are slowly making a comeback. Courtesy of L.Vidyasagar

Thanks to the folks at the salt for this note on millet:

Getting people to change what they eat is tough. Changing a whole farming system is even tougher. The southern Indian state of Karnataka is quietly trying to do both, with a group of cereals that was once a staple in the state: millet. Continue reading

A Sensory Experience of South India, through words and photographs

Myself and the Kochi-Muziris Biennale volunteers of The Pepper House.

Myself and the Kochi-Muziris Biennale volunteers of The Pepper House.

I often struggle to formulate the words to describe transformative experiences. But now, looking at the film I developed from my month in India, waves of nostalgia and inspiration flutter to me. This post is the India I felt, saw, and loved for 30 days.

I have been fascinated by India since I was four years old, when my preschool teacher brought Sri Lankan rice and curry to class. The sensation of spicy food and description of spice plantations soaked deeply into my curious brain. Throughout my childhood I researched India, and fell even deeper in love, imagining my own body amidst the color and chaos. It was not until I arrived in college (this year), that I would have sufficient time for my first trip to India.

Though I studied Indian culture before arriving, no amount of reading or advice could have prepare me for what I would experience. Continue reading

Rapid Radical Progress



In our seventh year based in Kerala, India we have experienced progress each year in the quality of connectivity, but another state to the north may become India’s superstar of connectivity, faster than we can imagine:

One Indian State’s Grand Plan to Get 23 Million People Online

By Hui Wu

THE TRENCH RUNNING along the road linking Kodicherla and Penjarla in southern India is just 5 feet deep and about half as wide. Yet it carries the promise of a better life for the people of those villages, and all of Telangana.

Within the ditch lie two pipes, a large black one carrying fresh water and smaller blue one containing a fiber optic broadband cable. The government of Telangana, a state born of the 2014 secession from Andhra Pradesh after its residents accused the government of systematic neglect, is doing something unprecedented in India: bringing broadband internet to every rural home in the region, some 23 million people in all.

Of the 4 billion people around the globe without access to the internet, one-quarter of them live in India. Continue reading

Carbon Capture In India


Tuticorin thermal power station near the port of Thoothukudi on the Bay of Bengal, southern India. The plant is said to be the first industrial-scale example of carbon capture and utilisation (CCU). Photograph: Roger Harrabin

Thanks to the Guardian’s Environment section for this news:

Indian firm makes carbon capture breakthrough

Carbonclean is turning planet-heating emissions into profit by converting CO2 into baking powder – and could lock up 60,000 tonnes of CO2 a year Continue reading

Origins Of Modern Yoga

9780195395341One of the excellent benefits of living in south India is meeting people who know alot about south India. Sounds circular, but occasionally the people are specialists on topics we have come to care deeply about. We met a group of Sanskrit scholars yesterday quite by chance, one of whom is a leading authority on the texts that are the earliest documentation of what we now call yoga.

When we mentioned our interest in yoga from the lay perspective, because we offer yoga experiences in various properties we manage in Asia and Latin America, it led to a simple question: where can we learn the most, most accessibly, about the real origins of yoga? The answer was this book and this author (incidentally a friend and colleague of the one to whom we were asking the question. So over at Oxford University Press this is what we found.

With a bit more searching we found this excellent BBC Radio 4 segment from just a few months ago that features the same scholar, Mark Singleton, and is worth a listen if you are interested in the origins of modern yoga.  Continue reading

Old World Trade In Spices, Lessons for 21st Century Leadership Thinking


“The Return to Amsterdam of the Second Expedition to the East Indies,” painted by Hendrik Cornelisz Vroom, 1599. CreditPhas/UIG, via Getty Images

Amitav Ghosh, who we think of primarily as a writer of fiction, is also an important non-fiction thinker/author, and most recently published “The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable.” This op-ed in the New York Times puts future trade discussions into perspective in the most remarkable setting we can think of at the moment– the spice trade of centuries past. From our perch on the Malabar coast of India this is a welcome bit of history with which to welcome the new year and the challenges ahead:

GOA, India — For many years the word “globalization” was used as shorthand for a promised utopia of free trade powered by the world’s great centers of technological and financial innovation. But the celebratory note has worn thin. The word is now increasingly invoked to explain a widespread recoiling from a cosmopolitan earth. People in many countries are looking nostalgically backward, toward less connected, supposedly more secure times.

But did such an era ever exist? Was there ever an unglobalized world? Continue reading

National Park of the Week: Gir Forest National Park, Gujurat, India

Photo via

The endangered Asiatic Lion. Photo via

The Gir Forest National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary covers about 1,400 square kilometers in the southwestern region of Gujurat, India’s westernmost state that borders Pakistan and the Arabian Sea. Unlike many of the national parks profiled so far, Gir Forest National Park is not open to hiking on trails, mostly to protect travelers and the wildlife that the Park was founded to preserve, particularly the Asiatic lion, an endangered species found only in this protected area.

Photo via

The main attraction of the Park is this large cat population, which numbers in the hundreds. But leopards, deer, the four-horned antelope, and many interesting bird species can be found here, along with the vulnerable marsh crocodile and the endangered pangolin. Since walking within the Park on foot is not allowed, jeep safaris are the only way to get around and spot wildlife with the help of a guide. With such a high number of threatened species – whether avian, mammalian, or reptilian – Gir Forest seems a place worth visiting before it is too late to spot some of these majestic and beautiful creatures in the wild. Despite only 83 checklists on eBird, the number of species recorded in the Park is 231, with many of the species only just being reported for the hotspot this year!

The endangered Indian Vulture. Photo via

The endangered Indian Vulture. Photo via

The Park closes from mid-June to September for the monsoon season, and the most comfortable temperatures for visiting are during December-March. For the purposes of wildlife sightings, however, April and May are great despite the extreme heat, since this hot and dry period makes many of the animals more predictable in their search for water. While in the region, consider visiting the Somnath Temple to the southwest or Mount Girnar to the northwest.

A Different Type of Hero

The Veerni Institute now makes it possible for 75 girls to continue their education. But the group has to turn away nearly 300 applicants each year for lack of funding. Poulomi Basu for NPR

The Veerni Institute now makes it possible for 75 girls to continue their education. But the group has to turn away nearly 300 applicants each year for lack of funding.
Poulomi Basu for NPR

“It all began with a shawl…” seems like the stuff of fairy tales, but the combined attraction to a handmade textile and the desire to help the woman weaving it proved a pathway to Jacqueline de Chollet’s life work. Over 20 years ago while traveling in a dusty village of India she saw a woman weaving the shawl in her home.

“She had three or four children including a baby she was nursing in her arms,” de Chollet recalls. “And she looked way older than her age.”

Hoping to provide a little help, de Chollet offered to buy the shawl. “And as soon as I gave her the money a man walked in and took the money away from her.”

De Chollet was outraged. “I felt, this woman — nobody cares about her. She’s off the map. She has no rights.”

Although de Chollet came from far different circumstances as this woman, growing up in the 1950s she felt that society dictated her position as a wife and mother. She wanted to make a difference in the world, and felt that addressing the issue of the rights of women and girls in India was an important first step. Continue reading

First-ever Electricity Surplus in India

Unregulated coal mining is polluting rivers in Meghalaya, India (Flickr/ECSP via

We’ve covered a couple examples of alternative energy in India, but in general there’s a long way to go towards providing electricity to even most of the population, which generally suffers power outages. Now, the country has a surplus for the first time, but at what cost? Indian energy is still mostly in coal, and six of the country’s cities are in the top ten worst-polluted in the world. Tali Trigg writes for his blog Plugged In on Scientific American:

Like Germany, India has struggled to achieve power selling parity between its southern and northern regions, but is finally starting to see prices close-to-equal across the country. While India’s achievement is remarkable from one point-of-view, the fact remains that 300 million Indians still do not benefit as they have no access to electricity and most of the added capacity is from highly-polluting coal power causing grievous air quality.

Continue reading

Honoring World Lion Day


A male Asiatic Lion. Source: National Geographic

In celebration of World Lion Day (August 10th), here’s a motivational and uplifting conservation story of Asiatic Lions in west India’s Gir National Park:

The Asiatic lion once roamed vast swaths of the Middle East and Asia, but indiscriminate hunting and killing to protect livestock led to their mass slaughter. By the late 1800s, as few as 10 of the animals remained on Earth.

Their last refuge became western India’s Gir National Park, a protected area where these endangered animals are now on an upward trend. According to a 2015 census, a little more than 500 lions—the world’s total wild population—live in Gir, up from 411 in 2010. In comparison, about 20,000 African lions remain in the wild. (See a map of the lion’s decline worldwide.)

Continue reading

Waste Not, Want Not

Indian weddings (and other big parties) serve a lot of food — and have a lot of leftovers. Now there's a plan in Mumbai to share the surplus with those who are hungry. Mahesh Kumar A./AP

Indian weddings (and other big parties) serve a lot of food — and have a lot of leftovers. Now there’s a plan in Mumbai to share the surplus with those who are hungry.
Mahesh Kumar A./AP

Living in India provides daily examples of life’s major contradictions: silence and chaos, simplicity and grandeur, lack and excess… Traditional Indian weddings illustrate the examples of abundance – even the most modest of weddings will represent some version of the the proverbial “groaning board” – be it traditional banana-leaf thali of south India or an elaborate multi-course dinner in towering tents. Whenever food is prepared for a crowd there’s potential for waste, even in the so-called “developed world”.

The beauty of this inspiring story is how it taps into Mumbai’s dabbawalla system, taking advantage of the extraordinary logistics of a food distribution system that has functioned well for decades. (If you’ve never seen Ritesh Batra’s beautiful film The Lunchbox, run and find it now…)

India has 194.6 million undernourished people — that’s more than half the world total.It’s what people mean when they talk about “food insecurity:” the economic and social condition of limited or unpredictable access to adequate food.

But in a study published in the August 2015 issue of the journal Lancet, researchers found that India also has 46 million obese citizens.

The dabbawallas — Mumbai’s lunch delivery collective — have stepped in with an initiative they’re calling the Roti Bank. Their aim is to connect the have-nots with the have-too-muchs.

“We deal with food every day, so we’re ideally placed to fix this,” says Dashrath Kedare, a co-founder of the Roti Bank and a leader of one of the dabbawalla unions. Continue reading

Support Conservation In India!


A Royal Bengal Tiger at Kaziranga National Park in India in 2014. CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

Some moderately good news from the home front here in India gets us back in the mood to shout out in the interest of conservation-focused tourism:

Number of Tigers in the Wild Is Rising, Wildlife Groups Say

There are now an estimated 3,890 wild tigers, mostly in Asia, up from a worldwide tiger population of 3,200 estimated in 2010, the World Wildlife Fund and Global Tiger Forum announced on Monday. Wild tigers are considered endangered and had seen shrinking numbers because of hunting, poaching and loss of habitat, such as deforestation, particularly in Sumatra, for palm oil, and paper and pulp industries, the groups said. The official count had declined every year since 1900, when tigers numbered an estimated 100,000. Continue reading

Israel to India, To Build Forests

Sadhana Forest shows local people in India, Haiti, and Kenya how to plant trees in dry regions – and improve their lives. PHOTO: Sadhana

Sadhana Forest shows local people in India, Haiti, and Kenya how to plant trees in dry regions – and improve their lives. PHOTO: Sadhana

Do you believe in a literary cosmos? I do. In the seemingly innocuous collision of two pieces of writing SO removed from each other that they are all that similar. Two articles – one found last evening for work, one chanced upon during the routine Instagram surf on the way to work. One standing out in the mayhem of a news feed; the incredible story of an Israeli man and his wife moving to India in 2003 and buying 70 acres of barren land. To build, sustain a forest. Reafforestation, to be clear. The other titled The Builder’s High. Yes, I’m ‘building’ this up.

Continue reading