Manipal has lost 50% forest area – Ramit Singal5 min read
Manipal: At an age when most youngsters are confused about their life choices and seem least concerned about environmental issues, Ramit Singal a young man from Delhi has chosen to follow his passion for wildlife, despite having an engineering degree from Manipal Institute of Technology (MIT).
As a bird and amphibian specialist, he has authored ‘A birder’s handbook to Manipal’ which identifies 204 species of birds in the vicinity. He is also one of the youngest recipients of the Carl Zeiss Award and has also been involved in various environmental activities in this region.
In an exclusive interview with TMJ, Singal talks about the recently launched Backyard Frog Walk, Manipal as a rich habitat and how bird watching has changed over the years.
As an engineering student, how did you manage to balance academics as well as your passion for bird watching? Did the degree help you propel your passion in anyway?
To be honest, the two barely interfered with one another. Bird watching is not especially time consuming and hence it was never really about trying to find the balance between the two. I use a lot of signal processing that I learnt in my course to process acoustic records of birds and frogs. The understanding of that subject in particular has helped me a lot, but I have also learnt outside of coursework, which has been especially useful to understand research and adopting a problem-solving approach
When and how did bird watching evolve into something more than just a hobby to you?
I still think of it as a hobby! But I only got very regular and serious about it in Manipal. One could explore areas with rich biodiversity in Manipal, with ease. Especially after living in Delhi, this activity converted from one that was a weekend-to-weekend affair, to a daily ritual.
What are you working on currently?
I am currently into the last month of my project named ‘My Laterite: My Habitat.’ It is funded by the Rufford Foundation and aims to look at the faunal biodiversity in the laterite landscapes of southern coastal Karnataka, with a special focus on birds, mammals, frogs and snakes. I try to disseminate the information I collect by conducting workshops, lectures and seminars in schools and colleges, as well as through social media.
What was the inspiration behind the Backyard Frog Walk? Could you tell us more about it?
For the past few years, I have inadvertently trespassed through many of the private properties in Manipal in search for frogs and the right microhabitats. I came across a couple of them, where the habitat is simply brilliant. Since frogs tend to stick to smaller habitats over time, I wanted to come up with a conservation model to protect them.
The model serves a dual purpose. It gives a chance to the people here, to have a look at a wide range of frog species in their backyard. The model allows the owners of the house to be proud of the amphibians that live alongside them. 50% of the participation fees charged go back to the respective household as a token of gratitude. The rest of the amount is donated to local schools to help fund their libraries with books about Indian Wildlife.
What kinds of species can participants expect to see on such walks?
The star of the show is definitely the endangered Malabar Gliding Frog – a rarity in Manipal and surrounding areas. But there are almost 15 other species co-existing, which include Marbled Ramanella, Wynaad Bush Frog, Ornate Narrow-mouthed Frog, several Cricket Frogs, two species of Tree Frogs and the like. We have also seen almost 10 snake species including the Indian Rock Python.
How did you get the locals to support the initiative?
Sowmya Nayak, a local resident was actually very receptive to the idea of a frog walk and honestly, we have had no troubles so far. However, the true test of the initiative would not just be this one-time permit but continued support over the next few years.
What kind of response have you received and how effective do you think you have been in cultivating interest and awareness about wildlife, among the people here?
It’s been mixed. I mostly work with schools locally, and the response during the workshops has always been wonderful – with children undoubtedly fascinated by life forms around them. However, it’s hard to gauge the impact in terms of sustained interest based on just one year of work.
On the other hand, if you take the example of the Manipal Birders’ Club, which I founded 4 years ago has been overwhelmingly successful with the number of active birders in Manipal going up from 1 to over a 100!
What does Manipal have to offer in terms of biodiversity and what according to you poses a threat to it?
Manipal is home to some fantastic biodiversity. Over the course of the year, it hosts over 250 species of birds including several Western Ghat endemics as well as a number of Arctic-based migrants. We have big mammals like Leopards, Jackals, Porcupines, Barking Deer and a good number of snake populations.
I think the biggest threat to Manipal’s biodiversity is that even now people seem blind to it, and it results in apathy towards the rich environment around Manipal. We should be proud of playing host to natural habitats in our vicinity but instead we seem to exhibit irrational fears about co-existing with these animals and there seems to be a fast growing desire for choosing mindless concretisation and development over the protection of our natural heritage. Unfortunately, Manipal now has probably already lost 50% of its forest area over the course of the 6 years I have been here and of late, the development activities seem relentless.
What would you consider to be your most important accomplishment as a conservationist and bird enthusiast so far?
Up till the second year of college, I used to put up posters and distribute hand-written newsletters about my sightings and observations and constantly pester people to come bird watching with me. We grew from a group from 1 to 3, over those two years. Today, our birding trails at times can’t sustain the number of people who come for the walks. Publishing our work on media website such as yours, has also become easier.
Edited by Gargi Kerkar