Tag Archives: native wildlife bangalore

Cobra incubation

Having been involved in urban wildlife management for close to a decade now, I have been on the receiving end of many cobra eggs. Varying circumstances cause these ‘orphaned clutches’ to land up in my care, either the eggs are forcefully abandoned by rescue of the mother or are clutches from captive cobras in Bannerghatta Zoo handed over to an expert by the Forest Department. Most often, however, they are found by accident while excavating on construction sites.

Naja Naja, or the spectacled cobra, is oviparous (producing young by means of eggs) and lay their clutches in rat holes or termite mounds in the hot pre-monsoon months (April to July). One clutch comprises of anywhere between 10 to 30 eggs of which hatchlings emerge roughly 48 to 68 days later. What has always amazed me is how each hatchling is independent upon birth, with fully functional venom glands that they learn to use by powerful natural instinct.

I have been exposed, on multiple occasions, to the delicate process of captive breeding and egg incubation (of cobras and other reptiles). From these experiences, I observed and learnt about the varying factors that need to be regulated so as to be able to achieve full success in hatching.

Typically, incubation is performed under the accuracy (and assurance) of sophisticated incubators that one uses to design a highly controlled environment for the purpose. Apart from being hard to access, this kind of scientific equipment is not cheap either so I hadn’t the luxury of using an incubator.

New born cobra hatchlings incubated at home

 

Instead, I was handed each clutch in a plain cardboard box, leaving me to conceptualise my own apparatus for incubating these clutches of cobra eggs. What I constructed was a simple set up that consisted of a thermometer, plastic container, hydrometer, vermiculite and charcoal. All my equipment was well researched, peer-reviewed and.. made at home!

Cobra eggs take 70 to 100 days to hatch in an incubator. In this expertly controlled environment, temperature and humidity need to be raised in accordance to one another so as to offer suitable conditions for hatching. As one can imagine, achieving this on a homemade, DIY system threw up new challenges every day, demanding constant improvisation based on my assessment of new developments.

In the process, I shifted the box frequently between rooms to offer variations in ambient conditions, using my discretion and judgement of what works best. Quite often the box of eggs would up in my bathroom where levels of moisture happened to be at its best. On that front, regulating humidity turned out to be the biggest obstacle; trial, error and constant dialogue with experts pushed me to choose a little known but time-tested method to tackle the issue of humidity.

I made a couple of holes in the box, stuffing them lightly with cotton to keep moisture from escaping. I had to repeat the exercise multiple times a day and on a timely basis. I would keep select holes closed during specific time slots in the day, regularly switching the swabs of cotton around strategically, eventually achieving ideal humidity for incubation.

Yet another amusing aspect that added it’s own element of uncertainty to the process was that I never actually knew the age of a clutch given to me. Everyday held the possibility of watching baby cobras wiggle out of the safety of their shells. It surely was an exciting time to be me!

2 cobras
Cobra baby making an entrance, emerging from its soft shell casing

I am happy to report 100% success rate for all the clutches I tended to, a total of 400 baby cobras that I have incubated and released into the wild.

Chameleons

As many as 180 species of chameleon camouflage themselves in varying habitats across the world. The evolutionary adaptations of this old world lizard is fascinating, a genuine testament to the millions of years Nature has invested on its spectacular design and functioning.

DISTRIBUTION: Found primarily on the mainland of sub-Saharan Africa, roughly 50% of all chameleon species exist in Madagascar. They are also native to southern Europe, north Africa, middle east, Sri Lanka, southern India and select islands of the western Indian Ocean.

As a favourite of the pet market, this gentle reptile has emerged as an invasive species in parts of the United States (Florida, Hawaii, California).

HABITAT: Chameleons are almost always found in warm habitats inhabiting every kind of tropical rainforest, savanna available; also seen in desert and steppe.

BIOLOGY: Best known for their ability to change colour, the chameleon’s locomotion is characterised by swaying gait. They have heavily ornamented faces (especially in males) sporting crests, horns, nasal protrusions or a distinctly shaped head. Their eyes are independently mobile but co-ordinate when focusing on prey. The upper and lower eyelids of a chameleon are fused with a tiny pinhole through which their retinas observe the world in 360 degrees.

Mostly arboreal, a prehensile tail enables them to cling onto wiry tree branches as tong-like limbs carry them forward in a manner so theatrical and distinct unto chameleons. A long, slender highly modified tongue is rolled up when not in use and launched to catch prey.

The very anatomy of the chameleon is adapted for climbing and visual hunting.

MASTER OF DISGUISE: Chameleons the world over are capable of varying combinations of colour as striking as turquoise, yellow or purple. This ability functions as camouflage, social signal and to regulate temperature observed in some cases. The darker colours are reserved for agitation or intimidation; males show multicoloured patterns during courtship. This amazing ability to change colour is employed by some, like the Smith’s dwarf chameleon, in accordance to the quality of vision of different predator species.

How do they do it?

Specialised cells called chromatophores contain colour pigments present in the cytoplasm three layers below a chameleon’s transparent outer skin. The first layer is yellow + red; second is blue or white and the third melanin, a dark pigment that controls how much light is reflected. The colour pigment in each layer rapidly distributes and re-distributes to influence the animal’s colour.

FEEDING: Insectivorous, ballistically project their muscular tongue to capture prey at a distance. A chameleon’s tongue to body ratio is 1 : 1.5 or 2 on an average and temperature heavily influences the amount of food it consumes.

More on the chameleon:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H2ACbO6HEq8

Painting a gruesome tale: squirrel poaching

The Indian palm squirrel is adored across the country. From feeding them nuts as children to nursing injured baby squirrels, these cuddly rodents form a familiar part of the urban ecosystem. Common to all Indian cities, especially in the south, squirrels are seen everywhere, but little is known of their plight.

Squirrels are hunted, killed and their tails sold to the paintbrush industry. They are easy prey for old poachers who no longer possess the will nor energy to go after animals that require specialised skill to trap.

Today, towards the outskirts of Bangalore, you might have noticed local people setting up small nets in mango and other fruit orchards. These nets are for catching these timid and harmless squirrels. Easily lured by nuts and food, poachers use calls to draw them near and when caught, their tails are immediately chopped off. Certain local tribes do consume the meat but most often, the body is simply discarded.

As part of urban wildlife rescue and seizures, squirrel poaching has been observed to be rampant in and around Sarjapur Road, Whitefield, Varthur and in the Kolar District (to name a few local sites).

Record shot of poachers' belongings: net traps and dead squirrels
Record shot of poachers’ belongings: net traps, bait, squirrels killed after capture

Role in Urban Ecosystem:

Squirrels are rodents, not scavengers. Their main role being pollination, seed dispersal and a significant place in the food chain, serving as important prey for carnivorous birds and mammals.