Wildlife Photography Awards 2001
“To feel no surprise at the rarity of a species, and yet to marvel greatly when the species ceases to exist, is much the same as to feel no surprise at sickness, but, when the sick man dies, to wonder and to suspect that he died by some deed of violence.”
-Charles Robert Darwin, The Origin of Species
1. ASHOK JAIN: Black-necked Stork Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus
Found near marshes, lakes, jheels and rivers, the Black-necked Stork is a shy and solitary bird. The head, tail and neck are actually a brilliant glossy purple, metallic bluish-green and coppery brown in colour. Conversion of its wetland habitats by humans and the toxins we pour into water courses has led to a fall in its numbers.
2. M. VENKATASWAMAPPA: Charging tusker Elephas maximus
Wild elephants are fickle creatures. This magnificent tusker obviously decided that the photographer was getting too close and charged. One of the perils of being a wildlife photographer! Habitat fragmentation is bringing elephants into increasing conflict with humans and ivory poaching is aggravating the problem.
3. GOUTAM DAS: Sarus parent and young Grus antigone
This Sarus nourishing its approximately 10-day-old young was photographed in Jalpaiguri, North Bengal. The Sarus is endemic to the subcontinent. Aside from the loss of their wetland habitat, the invisible threat of pesticides hangs heavy over the Sarus.
Our blue planet, so unique, so exquisite, has evolved over countless years, producing in the process the amazing natural diversity that Homo sapiens is privileged to share the earth with. But the machine we call modern development has begun to drive thousands of species into the abyss of extinction at several hundred times the ‘natural’ background extinction rate. Scientists suggest that humans could be the driving force towards the earth’s greatest mass extinction yet. While the plight of larger animals is more easily understood, many of the smaller life forms – invertebrates and micro-organisms – vanish even before they have been discovered or described by science.
4. DINESH SHUKLA: Nilgai Boselaphus tragocamelus and blackbuck Antilope cervicapra
Nilgai and blackbuck are both found in dry deciduous and thorn forest habitats. This mixed herd was photographed near Botad, Gujarat. Cultivation combined with poaching has led to a decline in their numbers in some areas, while in others their numbers have risen to unsustainable levels because their natural predators have been extirpated.
5. NIRANJAN SANT: Wroughton’s freetailed bat Otomops wroughtoni
Found nowhere else in the world except the Barapeda caves in Karnataka, this flying mammal is desperately in need of protection. Despite the fact that it is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red Data List, its habitat, the Bhimgad forests, are yet to receive legal protection.
But extinction has always been an inherent part of the earth’s evolutionary history, so why should we care? Aside from the scientifically-proven value of biodiversity as a critical source of food, medicine, clean air and water, there is another, simpler, more fundamental reason why the loss of species should concern us: the spirit of life that beats within us all. With every man-caused extinction, something of our own soul vanishes. For the first time in the history of the world, however, a species (humans!) can act to halt a mass extinction. All that is asked of us is to appreciate the beauty of the creatures around us and to put an end to the destruction of the natural world. Nature will then repair itself.
6. SAMEEK BHATTACHARYA: Tiger cub Panthera tigris
An uncertain future awaits this five-month-old tiger cub photographed in Bandhavgarh. Female cubs stay with their mother till they are two years old, while males are driven away six months earlier to prevent inbreeding. The problem arises when dispersing cubs are unable to find suitable habitat to establish themselves.
Is this our last chance to see...?
...the Grey-headed Fishing Eagle soaring on the thermals, searching for prey...
...the invisible tiger, stalking its prey from the tall grass...
...Siberian Cranes scouring the marshes of Bharatpur for sustenance...
...elephants at play in the wet of a waterhole...
...the Asiatic lion resting in the shade of an Acacia tree...
...the Three-toed Kingfisher in the shadowy depths of a Western Ghats forest...
7. VARAD GIRI: Deccan Banded Gecko Geckoella dekkanensis
This photograph was taken in Amboli, Maharashtra. This gecko performs a handy role in controlling pests. Vulnerable to habitat destruction, it is no less vital a link in the web of life than the tiger itself.
8. SURESH NANTHENCODE: Slender loris Loris tardigradus
Small and lanky, the slender loris is found in the dense forests and open tree jungles of south India. It prefers to sleep by day among foliage or in a crevice, but is not exclusively arboreal. At night it goes out in search of berries, insects, lizards and even tree frogs. It is threatened by habitat destruction and the pet trade.
9. SHEKAR DATTATRI: Mating rhinos Rhinoceros unicornis
Kaziranga is the last stronghold of the Asiatic one-horned rhino. Its grassland habitat is in decline and a false belief that its horn has medicinal properties has pushed the species to the very brink of extinction.
10. SANAT SHODAN: Lioness with cubs Panthera leo persica
Once found all the way from northern Greece to central India, the Asiatic lion is now restricted to some 300 individuals in the Gir forest. An attempt is underway to establish a second lion population in Palpur-Kuno, Madhya Pradesh.
11. AJIT J. DESHMUKH: Male wolf Canis lupus
This male wolf was photographed in typical scrub habitat in the Akola district, Maharashtra. One of the most persecuted species worldwide, the lack of adequate prey forces them to kill livestock. Estimates place their population at less than 2,000 in India.
Sanctuary Asia, XXI No. 6, December 2001.