The Small Indian civet is a mysterious creature of the night, spotted very rarely in the jungles behind Sukhna lake. Due to a highly-adaptable nature, civets can dwell in human habitation such as attics or drainage pipes and are, on occasion, discovered by bewildered people. They are mistaken for cats though a close examination of body structures would reveal material differences. This is precisely what happened when a civet with an injured jaw was discovered sitting on a doormat outside an office in Shahpur Jat, Delhi. A kindly gentleman from the office staff, Jitender Sharma, summoned the NGO, Wildlife SOS, for its rescue thinking it was an odd cat. Another one was rescued by Wildlife SOS from Parliament House!
Also known as the Common Ring-tailed civet, the creature possesses characteristic scent glands. It was maintained as a pet and its waxy secretions from the glands collected for use in medicines and perfumes. Hence, its Hindi name, ‘Kasturi’. Civets prey on rats, squirrels, birds, lizards, insects; relish roots/vegetables and are partial to `Ber’ fruit.
However, as is the case with other little-understood creatures of the night such as owls, civets, too, suffer the brunt of human ignorance and freely-loaded prejudices.
“Civets are victims of superstitions and false beliefs, and people consider them a bad omen. Contrary to this belief, civets play an integral role in the ecosystem by controlling rodent populations. They are prime contributors to dispersal of seeds as they feed on fruits, berries and coffee beans,” Wasim Akram, Deputy Director (Special Projects), Wildlife SOS, told this writer.
Birds nail lurking invaders
Birds as diverse as House crows, kingfishers and cormorants have been photographed at Sukhna lake gobbling fish. Clear photographs are of immense help to fisheries experts in determining diversity of fishes. Sometimes, birds nail alien-invaders, or those non-native species dumped thoughtlessly in the Sukhna by aquarium owners. Aliens, particularly dangerous to native fishes, are the Sailfin catfishes of the Amazonian basin. Due to their popularity in the Indian aquarium trade, they have been imported and many dumped in Indian rivers and wetlands such as the Sukhna.
Though birds have done their job of exposing these lurking monsters, which can be harmful to birds also as they are not easy to swallow, the UT Forest and Wildlife department is none the wiser. In February 2022, a photo from the Sukhna showed a migratory Great cormorant struggling to gobble an Amazonian monster. That was brought to the notice of the department but no follow-up action has been taken. In recent weeks, more records have surfaced. A cormorant caught an alien while a crow was photographed slobbering over a dead alien on the Sukhna bank right under the walking promenade.
These Amazonian catfishes belong to the genus, Pterygoplichthys, of which 22 species have been described. They are also known as the Sucker-mouth Armoured catfishes typified by ossified or very rigid plates through their bodies. These aliens have been discovered all over India, including the Ganges. “They are highly invasive owing to their broad environmental tolerances, such as to oxygen-poor environments of polluted waters. Being algae-consumers, it is feared they will outcompete native fish who wield similar feeding strategies. The aggressive nature of the aliens makes it an efficient territorial species, which drives away natives from preferred habitats with reports of it devouring native species’ eggs. These aliens are capable of high reproduction rates that help outcompete native fish. These are serious concerns when habitat degradation and river fragmentations have wreaked havoc on native fish diversity,” intrepid field explorer and Senior Research Fellow at Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, Aashna Sharma, told this writer.