“Howl” to “Woof”

Hi guys, its me your favourite blogger on the block who’s back with yet another cool post. There are about 7.4 billion people on Earth today & over 200 million dogs! So exactly when where & why did warm-blooded wolves join our fold? And who trained who? So are you a cat person or a dog person? Me, I’m completely impartial! Yeah right! I love dogs more than anything in this whole wide universe(Well maybe except my family), seriously what’s not to love? No matter on which side of the furry border you are on, it’s plain to see that the histories of mankind & dogs are intertwined, maybe like no other two species.

If we take domestication out of the human equation, it’s estimated that just 1 or 2 million of us would be around today & of all those animal alliances, our relationship with dogs is by far the oldest. But figuring out why, when & where domestic dogs originated is still a bone of contention.

Why is by far the easiest to answer. Every continent is home to wild canids like the dingos of Australia or the dhole of India(Yes I know that India isn’t a continent but come on, you can excuse me for being a bit patriotic, right?) but thanks to genetic research, we know that modern-day pups haven’t descended from these local species. Today’s dogs all trace their origin back to ancient wolves.

You may have heard that wolves & ancient humans were hunting Bros, using teamwork to bring down bigger prey. That’s a nice story but wolf packs can hunt on their own just fine & usually aren’t to keen on sharing! Plus, early humans tended to kill off most carnivorous competition. It’s most likely that humans didn’t adopt dogs, Dogs adopted us!!

Any wolves “gone mild” that were tolerant of humans could have scrounged our scraps. They didn’t need us, but our leftovers would’ve made their lives much easier. This habit is still very much present in modern-day dogs, as every Trash Can will testify & every dog owner will confirm this fact 😉 ! But a tame wolf, isn’t a dog & scientists are still trying to figure when & where that change occurred.

Studying living wolves tells us that the line that led to our puppies is extinct today, but we can see still find their footprints in modern dog genomes. Looking at DNA in mitochondria tells us that dogs split from their wolf ancestors somewhere in Europe between 19,000 to 32,000 years ago but genome from dozens of living dogs puts the split somewhere in South Asia at around 33,000 years ago( seriously, that’s a lot of yrs ago!!)

It’s tough to pin down because dog genes have mixed so much. Fossils don’t tell the whole story either because bones alone can’t tell us when the thing that looked like a wolf started acting like a dog. But by combining both fossils & DNA, we’re able to get some hints. DNA extracted from ancient dog fossils has suggested a new story, the spilt happened in 2 places, at least 12,000 yrs ago. And then eastern dogs followed people west & became the dominant ancestor of our canine compadres.

Dogs became useful herders, sled pullers & guards against predators & neighbouring human tribes and in a pinch ,they could have served as an emergency food supply( I know right, disgusting!! And this still continues, China hosts an annual dog eating festival, it’s simply horrendous!!! Join Avaaz , an organization which is striving to stop such atrocities throughout the world!!)

Dogs probably saved us more times than we can count & we’re paying them ,pups now have access to insurance , healthcare, some even have more Instagram followers than you or me! From a wolf mould, we’ve crafted over 340 or so dog breeds, even a few weird ones. It’s hard to believe that every domestic dog is still part of the same species, one whose story is so tightly wound to our own ,that we still can’t quite tell where it begins.

That’s it for today, I hope you liked today’s post. Till next time folks, Adios or as Scooby doo would say “Scooby Dobby dobby Doooooo” !!!

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The Rajapalayam Records

Hey guys, Welcome to my favourite type of post, A travel Post!

Today’s post revolves around my awe-inspiring trip (and I was going all alone, no parents!) to a small town by the name of Rajapalayam, about 560 km from my hometown, Chennai.

Many of you may not have heard of this spectacular place nor have any clue as to where it is located. Well if you looked at the emblem of the Tamil Nadu government, you would see the Gopuram (Gateway Tower) of the Srivilliputtur Andal Temple, a renowned temple throughout southern India. Well, Rajapalayam is barely a stone’s throw from this famous (Not just for the goddess but also for a tasty milk sweet called Paal-Guava) temple town.

My visit was from 27th of September to 2nd October (celebrated as Gandhi Jayanthi in India). Though it may seem as a short time span, trust me it was totally worth it & we would have stayed longer if not for the fact that school (damn!) came calling the next day. I travelled here with a 14-member team of MNS (Madras Naturalist Society) an organization in which I am the youngest life member. Our hosts were Mr.T.S Raja of WAR (Wildlife Association of Rajapalayam), Cool name right! and his team comprising of Mr.Gandhi, Santhosh Anna, Mr.Vishnu Shankar & Mr.Pranav  – they were absolutely amazing people who genuinely loved what they did & it was their company that we treasured the most during our stay.

So let’s begin the trip shall we? It all started at the Koyambedu Private Bus Stop in Chennai. The Departure time was 7:45 pm, seems simple enough doesn’t it? Well for me that time was like a timer on a time bomb! Why? I had sort of, kind of bungled up my packing time which resulted in me getting stuck in the middle of one of Chennai’s legendary traffic snarls. And to rub salt in my wounds, it was pouring cats & dogs. My phone showed that it was 5 minutes to board. Terrified, I leapt out of the car & then began a series of panic-stricken running towards the Bus depot, while carrying 2 massive pieces of luggage in one hand, babbling on the phone with the bus driver, trying to hold the bus as much as possible, all this in the middle of the thunderstorm of the century!Finally, thanks to the fact that Chennai’s traffic was as slow paced as a sloth,  I was able to catch the bus. Needless to say that I was drenched from head to toe, causing some of my fellow passengers to crack jokes on my part.

(Disclaimer: You are going to read a lot of scientific gibberish so if you have a spinning head at the end of each para, don’t worry, it’s completely natural. Also these name of the species changes almost every year so don’t worry if a streaked fantail warbler become  a zitting cisticola)

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Day 1: Ayyanar Kovil

The 14-member team of MNS gathered at 9 am at Hotel Anandas, Rajapalayam to head towards Ayyanar Kovil, which is one of the key locations on the Western Ghats that skirts Rajapalayam. The trek started at the temple & was about 8 kms in distance. Near the temple was the residences of the forest natives (now more or less assimilated with “modern civilization”). We were accompanied by Mr.Karuppaiya, whose very spirit was interlinked with the forest & its residents.

Now Rajapalayam’s virgin forests were simply bursting with wildlife and a specific spot near a water stream had once recorded 231 species of butterflies (if that doesn’t seem astounding, well consider the fact that Tamil Nadu itself has only 306 butterfly species!). Among the species spotted by us, the presence of the Great Orange Tip, Common Banded Peacock and Blue Mormon (India’s 2nd largest butterfly) made this tiny piece of land seem like the famed Gardens of Paradise. As we moved on, our team could see different dragonflies and damson flies which were happily sculling near the water streams. The team stopped to take a detailed look at the symmetrical leaves and discussion on the significance of Maha Vilvam tree (a sacred tree dedicated to Lord Shiva).

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Now we naturalists are a peculiar bunch, something as tiny as a Pill Bug invokes a passionate discussion on its distinction with similar looking Wood Louse but the pug marks of a dhole/Palm civet doesn’t really make the crew jump up & down in excitement (to be fair, the group consisted of mostly bird & butterfly lovers). So anyway, after a series of slips & slides, we reached a pristine stream at the top of the mountain. At the sight of water, the group went berserk, each one trying to be the first to fill their bottles / swim / explore in the magical waters.

From there, we headed to a school named Chinmaya Vidyalaya run by Ramco Group
(now you know that I am not the most school friendly person on this planet but this school actually surprised me with its emphasis on nature & modern technology, two things which I feel are indispensable in today’s world), is spread over 36 acres. We were stunned by the presence of  800 yr. old African Baobab tree at the school. This behemoth of the forest stood at  80 ft. & had a diameter of 25 ft.

Later in the evening, Mr.Ramachandra Raja, MNS Life Member and a Senior Director of the Ramco Group hosted us with a fabulous dinner which was followed by naturalist Mr.Santhosh sharing his experience and photographs of birds and wildlife he has captured over a period of 3 years.

Day 2: Sastha Kovil

Sastha Kovil (yes another temple, this one in honour of Ayappa) was the starting point for our next trek, this was as long as 16km! The Forest Guard who accompanied us kept repeating the same thing throughout the trek “you should have come during Monsoon, you’ll see everything

Contrary to his statement, we did see quite a few bird & butterfly species, one of which, the Autumn Leaf Butterfly, caused quite a stir at it was the first time it had been spotted in Tamil Nadu!

In the night, some of us took the night walk, where we were fortunate to spot the Indian Night Jar and Mottled Wood Owl.

Day 3: Shenbaga Thoppu/Kattalazhar Kovil

This was an unusual trek as along with our team of 14, several locals were attempting the back-breaking trek to Kattalazhar temple to seek the blessings of Lord Vishnu, as Puratassi (the month in the Tamil Calendar) was sacred to him.

Brain Fever Birds welcomed us from all directions, which later was beaten by the Bonnet Macaque and Langurs. We also spotted some Grizzle Giant Squirrels which were endemic to the area. The Southern Birdwing, which is the largest butterfly in India was a sight for sore eyes as we completed the gruelling trek.

Energy & waistline lost during the trek was replenished thanks to a full banana leaf meal at the 100+ yrs old Hotel Kathiravan.

With due pomp & ceremony, we bid adieu to Rajapalayam at 5:30 pm via the Silambu Express, but the memories we made there can never be forgotten.

Well, that’s all for today folks, thanks for joining me on this massive blog post & I Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did, until next time, Goodbye.

 

 

 

The way of the Sea

Good day to you, dear reader. Today it`s all about the big, beautiful yet sadly, highly endangered Olive Ridley Turtles. Now you might be wondering “What’s the big deal of turtles, they’re just, well, turtles! Well, I’m here to show you are mistaken, for these creatures have a tragic tale to tell. These turtles once roamed the entire world, but due to our recklessness, their numbers have dropped from 98,00,000 to 6000 in 2 oceans.

These turtles mate during the months of March, April and an occasional mate  happens during June. And for the rest of the year they spend their time in the depths of the ocean. But sadly their mating season is what has made them endangered. Now you’ll be wondering, Hold it I say! I’m confused, first you say it’s because of us, now you say that it’s their own breeding season to be the cause for their plight!

As the turtles come near the shores, they are often caught in gill or ghost nets which are used by a lot fishermen. Almost 60% of the females die because of this. But even those who make it are not safe. The are vulnerable to attacks of stray dogs & used to be consumed by humans as a delicacy before the awareness programmes. Their hatchlings are also not safe. They may be eaten by the dogs or by monitor lizards and sometimes even by ravens. But light is their biggest danger. The moment the turtles hatch, they instinctively head towards  any source of light, thinking it to be the ocean glitter. But some stray towards the roads as they are attracted by city lights and get run over.

The life of the Olive Ridley Turtles life is full of tragedy, but there is a ray of hope for these wonderful creatures.

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What kids need to know about the animal kingdom?

Good evening to everybody out there in the big wide world.

Today it’s all about those poor stray animals we each see every day. What!

Those dirty useless things, they spoil our food and even sometimes try to hurt us and you want us to help them? No way.

English: "The Barnum & Bailey greatest sh...

English: “The Barnum & Bailey greatest show on earth Wonderful performing geese, roosters and musical donkey”. Chromolithograph. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That’s a thought some of you may be thinking. But still they have sad tale to tell. In the monsoon, when it’s pouring cats and dogs,we are all inside our cosy, warm homes,protected from the rain by a strong roof,watching tv, playing games,reading books,eating etc,those poor strays will have to run hither and thither to find even the least bit of shade. And by the time they find it,they’re soaking wet. Suppose you yourself were a stray dog running to find shade in the constant rain, saw other dogs inside cosy kennels being fed mouth watering food, feel jealous and sad that you did’nt have the same fate as them.Won’t you feel the pain I ask you?

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