BCIL ZED Foundation conducted an International Sparrow Conference on 20 March, to raise awareness about the fall in the House Sparrow population in Bengaluru. 20 March is celebrated as the International sparrow day. As part of the conference there was a panel discussion on the birds, held at the Xavier Hall of St. Joseph’s College, Lalbagh Road.
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The first to speak was Dr. Abraham Verghese, of the Indian Institute for Research, who touched on how, several decades ago, places like Rajaji Nagar were just open land helping sparrow population. He added that several factors, like loss of habitat, food material, and roosting/nesting spaces contributed to the decline in the numbers of the sparrows. He also mentioned the importance of work done by stalwart birdwatchers like Dr.Joseph George, Dr M B Krishna and Dr S Subrahmanya.
Surekha Aithabathula, from Doordarshan, Hyderabad, talked about reporting on wildlife as a necessary alternative to reporting only on politics, and said that even here, the media had the power to distort reports and facts. She stressed the importance of responsible reporting when reporting any news on birds or wildlife. She mentioned that The Independent, a London newspaper, offered a prize of £5,000 in 1998 for a proper scientific explanation of the house sparrow’s widespread disappearance from many of our towns and cities. This prize still remains unclaimed.
Karthik K, who works for Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), talked of the fact that no scientific data has yet been compiled on the efforts to conserve the sparrow, or the results of such efforts. He said that it was not enough to distribute sparrow nests; it was necessary to build up a monitoring system for these birds.
Murali H R, of the Namma Cycle Foundation, said that no large public gardens had been created in the past several decades in Bangalore. He said that fewer glass façadedbuildings should be built, as these result in birds hitting themselves fatally against the glass. They also have no niches for the sparrows to nest, and thus contribute to the decline of the sparrows. He also added that perhaps, four more gardens like Lalbagh should be commissioned.
T B Dinesh, of the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), Servelots, spoke of the "birds and bees" and mentioned how lack of greenery led to lack of bees for pollination and hence to lack of food for birds. He mentioned the great extermination of sparrows in China. This was the campaign against the ‘Four Pests’, initiated in 1958 as a hygiene campaign by Mao Tzedong, who identified the need to exterminate mosquitoes, flies, rats, and sparrows. Sparrows were included on the list because they ate grains, robbing the people of the fruits of their labour. This resulted in the near-extinction of the birds in China. He also mentioned the cultural underpinnings of this social bird, in our stories and songs.
The Deputy Mayor, S Harish, who was also present, said that the Government would certainly support all measures to conserve the sparrow population and augment it.
I was also part of this panel discussion as an amateur birdwatcher. I spoke for the laypersons, who may not be ornithologists, but can do their bit for the sparrow population by both encouraging nesting and feeding, and documenting the presence of the birds.
Dr Chakravarthy, HoD, Department of Etymology, Gandhi Kisan Vikas Kendra (GKVK) , moderated the discussion.
Several members of the audience also contributed with their inputs. There were suggestions for field trips, even a plea to leave the birds alone to make a resurgence by themselves. Hoping that the points raised in the discussion would be translated into action, the audience and the panelists then dispersed. ⊕