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The Zai Whitaker column | A (second) lockdown despatch from the Madras Crocodile Bank

The Zai Whitaker column | A (second) lockdown despatch from the Madras Crocodile Bank
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The Zai Whitaker column | A (second) lockdown despatch from the Madras Crocodile Bank

The Zai Whitaker column | A (second) lockdown despatch from the Madras Crocodile Financial institution

Although the eight months of lockdown have been difficult (particularly financially), the Croc Financial institution managed to “take a look at constructive” and provide you with many new concepts and modifications.

Learn the previous lockdown despatch from the Madras Croc Financial institution, right here.

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Snakebite Footwear

(Alas!) I’m not Imelda Marcos however nonetheless, my coronary heart sang on the sight of these footwear: snakebite-proof gumboots for farmers, created by the Design and Analysis crew of IIT-Chennai. They design specialised footwear for well being and social causes and considered one of these is snakebite. Our Snakebite Mitigation crew’s coordinator has been serving to them perceive the circumstances and statistics round this horrible drawback, which causes 60,000 annual deaths in India. A lot of the victims are barefoot farmers and bites typically happen on the foot or decrease leg.

Due to a donation from Decathlon, we had been capable of distribute 150 gumboots to farmers in Tirunelveli, a snakebite scorching spot in one of many six states with the best fatalities. Although they had been created from rubber and weighed not less than twice as a lot as common footwear, the goal group rapidly noticed the benefit of utilizing them. Most of them had seen the agony, morbidity and dying, that snakebites trigger; and had been keen to decelerate their stroll to the fields, within the curiosity of security. Probably the most enthusiastic customers was a lady farmer Lakshmi, who has grow to be an advocate for the footwear. We knew we had been on the fitting path, nevertheless it was vital to provide you with an appropriate prototype: one which was inexpensive, sturdy, and fang-proof. At 15 mm and extra, the Russell’s viper’s fangs are a formidable syringe and these snakes are frequent in our agricultural panorama.

So, that is why my coronary heart was singing. The event and mass manufacturing of the fitting footwear for farmers would drastically enhance the lives of those courageous hearts of our agricultural sector. The prototype I used to be observing seemed promising. It was gentle, it lined half the shin, it was water-proof however not water-proof, and would thus permit drainage. And, final not least, it had a cool snake-skin sample, and the entire impact was elegant. What a pleasant thought, that our farmers shouldn’t be merely secure from snakebite, however elegant as well! Many due to the idealistic crew at IIT-Chennai, for placing their schooling and brains to good use for this vital and uncared for subject.

New Residence for the Cubans 

The Zai Whitaker column  A second lockdown despatch from the Madras Crocodile Bank

Fancy digs for the Cuban crocodiles. Photograph courtesy MCBT

Loud noise above a sure decibel stage is dangerous to each people and animals. It may end up in critical well being points and even dying. The enclosure of our Cuban crocodiles — that are included within the Critically Endangered class of the IUCN’s Crimson Listing — was in a weak place, within the line of fireside from noisy occasions at neighbouring resorts. We determined to take this lockdown alternative to maneuver them out of there. Fortunately, we had obtained a grant from Cholamandalam Finance to construct a brand new pen and this was the right time to do it: no guests, so loads of time and power to give attention to the duty at hand. This enclosure, and two others adjoining to it, are distinctive. The inhabitants — the Cubans, the slender snouted crocodiles and Ally the alligator — are having fun with their new houses, full with murals of their very own indigenous habitats and co-species. I gained’t say extra and make this a spoiler; so, come and see them for your self! It has been a rewarding expertise for us people too. We learnt, for example, in regards to the hutia, a guinea-pig like animal which shares the Cuban croc’s habitat and is endemic to the Caribbean.

Enriching Lives

The Zai Whitaker column  A second lockdown despatch from the Madras Crocodile Bank

Ally together with her buddy Ajay Kartik. Photograph courtesy Sandeep Varma

The lockdown additionally allowed us time to increase our environmental enrichment programme. This includes stimuli and actions that permit a zoo animal to succeed in its social and cognitive potential. Primates, for instance, may be given their snack or meal in containers with completely different open/shut programs in order that their gray cells are exercised, simply as they’re of their looking/foraging life within the wild. Reptiles are regarded as primitive by nature, however enrichment programmes have proven stunning cognisant skills, the traditional instance being crocodiles recognising their keeper’s voices.

Enrichment and coaching additionally make husbandry procedures safer for keepers. Our Komodo are studying to affiliate meals with a goal persist with a vibrant ball on the finish — and have learnt that leaping on the keeper is just not a productive train. Certainly one of our smartest animals is the alligator Ally, who responds to a number of instructions together with Up, Come, Down, and Water. However like all college students, she has her good and unhealthy days, and the worst days are often after we are attempting to indicate off her expertise to company.

Sensible Replica

The Zai Whitaker column  A second lockdown despatch from the Madras Crocodile Bank

Assistant Curator Ambika with one of many yellow anaconda infants. Photograph courtesy Gnaneswar Ch

The zoo has been so quiet throughout lockdown: no music from exterior, no visitors, no guests. It was a superb time to roam round, having fun with a number of the fascinating issues that reptiles stand up to. Certainly one of these is sperm retention, the flexibility that some animals have of storing sperm inside a particular a part of the reproductive tract earlier than the egg is fertilised. Our yellow anaconda (Eunectes notaeus) has produced infants for the final 4 years despite not having even whiffed a male throughout that point. She gave delivery once more not too long ago and the infants are brilliant and feisty (and comfortable to chunk the hand that feeds them). Certainly one of our Ganges softshell turtles (Nilssonia gangetica) has completed even higher. She has produced viable eggs for 10 years with out entry to a male.

Snakeman Comes Residence

The Zai Whitaker column  A second lockdown despatch from the Madras Crocodile Bank

The unique Snakeman with its Tamil and Kannada counterparts. Photograph courtesy Faiz Ansari

Snakeman, my biography of Rom [Romulus Whitaker], had a productive time throughout lockdown and — due to a beneficiant donor — is now out there in Tamil and Kannada. The translators, Kamalalayan V and SV Sreenivasa, have by all accounts completed a brilliant job as have the publishers Vanathi Pathippagam. In as of late of wide-ranging environmental emergencies, it’s extra vital than ever to create a second line of conservationists in India. The experiences of Rom and his ilk present that quite a bit may be completed with meagre monetary sources. It makes us so comfortable, that the e-book will now be out there to non-English readers in these two states the place he has completed a few of his most vital work.

Return of Hamadryad

The Zai Whitaker column  A second lockdown despatch from the Madras Crocodile Bank

(L-R) The primary subject of Hamadryad…and the weighty scientific journal it morphed into

Little acorns make massive oaks. Hamadryad began as a small 10-page publication for reptile conservation in 1976, “printed” by an outdated cyclostyling machine on the Madras Snake Park. We’d take turns at manoeuvring the lever which rotated the curler which inked the stencil which had been hammered out on the outdated Godrej typewriter. Graphics needed to be hand-drawn on the stencil with a stylus, a pointed metallic instrument that seemed extra like a weapon than a  software. The curler needed to be smeared with a tube of pulpy ink, which acquired on one’s arms, elbows, brow, and wasn’t straightforward to scrub off. The “printed” pages then needed to unfold out to dry earlier than being stapled. The content material consisted of stories and notes about herps on the subcontinent and really rapidly gained a large readership in a number of international locations and created a community of reptile-angled naturalists. This turned an enormous assist throughout subject surveys, knowledge assortment, and cross-country initiatives such because the gharial ecology venture. College students all in favour of herpetology talked about how encouraging it was to see their article or notice printed in Hamadryad. Nicely, it went on to grow to be a shiny herpetological journal however in 2018 we needed to cease its publication due to rising prices of printing and postage. The lockdown gave us the time to scratch our heads and take into consideration the way it might be introduced again to life. Plans are actually underway to create a brand new avatar of Hamadryad on-line, with herpetologist Yatin Kalki as editor. That’s so thrilling.

So all in all, although the eight months of lockdown have been difficult (particularly financially), the Croc Financial institution managed to “take a look at constructive” and provide you with many new concepts and modifications due to the good crew we now have on board. A giant due to our employees and trustees and the numerous donors who stored us going.

Creator and conservationist Zai Whitaker is managing trustee — Madras Crocodile Financial institution Belief/Centre for Herpetology. Learn extra of her columns for Gadgetclock right here.

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