Ian Lockwood

MUSINGS, TRIP ACCOUNTS AND IMAGES FROM SOUTH ASIA

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ARKive updates in the Western Ghats & Sri Lanka

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Collage of ARKive photographs highlighting Western Ghats habitats and species. These were taken mostly in the Palani Hills during  the 1990s on color slide film and later sourced through the Natural History Picture Library (NHPL).

This year marks 20 years since the landmark 1992 Rio Earth Summit  and the signing of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) that was signed by most countries. The continuing loss of biodiversity remains a pressing global concern of our times. At my regional level, Sri Lanka and the Western Ghats have been identified as “biodiversity hotpots” and it is worth reflecting on their unique biodiversity. An easy way to do this is through ARKive, one of the most dynamic sites highlighting biodiversity in the world. It is a fascinating  project in its ninth year with support from Wild Screen and the patronage of Sir David Attenborough. It seeks to create a digital reference and archive of all the world’s known species. Each species is highlighted with images and text on status, description, range, habitat, threats  etc.

I have been using ARKive’s digital archive as a reference in my teaching and writing for several years now. A few months ago I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled across a special section focusing on the Western Ghats that features several of my color landscapes in a gallery on the habitat. Most of these were taken on forays into the Palani Hills and neighboring ranges in the 1990s. I also have some images of emblematic  and lesser-known species (Nilgiri tahr, Large Scale Pit Vipers, Giant Grizzled Squirrels, Scaly Lizards, Bronzed Frogs, etc.). A little searching will  uncover some familiar Sri Lankan species (SL Green Pit Viper).The pictures are supplied to ARKive though the Natural History Picture Library where I have been submitting pictures for some time.

ARKive page on Nilgiri tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius). One of 30 or so images on the species. This was taken in 1993 and was aimed at my early articles (published in Environ and Sanctuary Asia) on the conservation and ecology of these endemic Western Ghats mountains goats.

Two pit vipers (Sri Lankan Green and Large Scaled) and a winter view of Pambadam Shola on the border between the Palani Hills and High Range (taken in 1997).

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2012-05-30 at 5:42 pm

Ecological Restoration in the Palani Hills

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Breathing life back into the sholas…spreads from the Frontline (20 April 2012) article.

Last summer while enjoying a holiday in Kodaikanal filled with hiking and outings with friends at the Vattakanal Conservation Trust it occurred to me that it was time to update the status of the ecology in the upper Palani Hills. Some of the observations were published in earlier blog posts but Bob, Tanya and I were also looking to reach a broader audience.  Frontline, with the able support of Vijaykumar has now published a series of my articles on the Palanis (2003), the Kurinji flowering (2006) and Bombay Shola (2010) all geared at raising awareness through text, photographs and maps. It was thus logical to look to them to highlight the current status of the upper hills. We took several fact-finding expeditions during June and July into the hills and the state of remnant montane grasslands was quite alarming. The spread of non-native species into these last outposts was significant.

It took me a while to get the article and pictures together for Frontline but earlier this month it was published as Breathing Life Back into the Sholas(click here for the HTML version). Bob & Tanya, meanwhile worked with various authorities to get permission and raise funds to do some emergency restoration work in the habitats that we had visited. Their field notes had alerted people to the issues that I have highlighted in the article. On our family’s recent visit to Kodai I was thrilled to hear that VCT has the go head and will shortly be organizing a team to spend time doing restoration work in those highly sensitive cliff areas. Above and below are the spreads from the article. In spite of the title, the article is really about recognizing and restoring remnant montane grasslands habitats (sholas, you will read, are actually doing quite well in the Palani Hills).

Breathing life back into the sholas…more spreads from the Frontline (20 April 2012) article.

One of the key recommendations of several conservationists, as well as the article, is that there is an urgent need for an updated and dynamic GIS of the Palani Hills. This may well be in the process with the support of various agencies and NGOs. In the meantime I’m working on a map for VCT highlighting the 1,500m contour (where shola/grasslands start in most areas). This is still a work in progress…

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2012-04-21 at 6:25 pm

Monsoon Vignettes: An Appreciation in Black & White

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IIC Quarterly opening page of photo-essay.

In recent years my explorations in South Asia have brought me into close contact with the meteorological and metaphorical super-phenomenon of the monsoon. My focus areas of the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka are both dramatically impacted by the South West (summer) and North East (winter) monsoons. The significance of these seasonal rains on the landscapes, ecosystems and cultures cannot be overstated. Water is at the heart of the issue. The connection between healthy natural forests in the hills, water and the wellbeing of human communities is a critical link. It is a theme that has been highlighted by conservationists in the Western Ghats for the past three decades.

"Monsoon Vignettes" photo essay pages 63-75.

I had an opportunity to visually explore these themes in the summer publication of the India International Centre’s IIC Quarterly. The twelve images are from my work in the Western Ghats between 1992 and 2010. A few of the pictures have been exhibited and published but there were several unpublished images in the photo-essay. The images emphasize natural landscapes and human elements have mostly been left out in this selection. The Quarterly carried essays by Jairam Ramesh, India’s Minister of the Environment and a range of other notable writers and thinkers. I wrote a short essay on the monsoon to accompany the photographs. Here is a short excerpt from the beginning:

…In the summer months, as the earth’s axial tilt and trade winds shift, India impatiently awaits news of the arrival of the season of rain. Its timing, the predictions of its strength and how much water it will grant to farmers make the monsoon a rare geographic gem of interest to a wide segment of South Asia’s population.  The heroes making these predictions are the atmospheric scientists and meteorologists of the Indian Meteorology Department. One imagines them pacing up and down the shores of Kovalam beach looking into the heavens for signs of the shift in weather patterns, though it is more likely that they are staring at computer monitors filled with satellite imagery and mathematical models in their offices in Pune. When it arrives, the monsoon comes after a long period of intense heat, paucity of food crops and general unhappiness amongst people living with the elements. The monsoon’s arrival is often dramatic bringing an explosive rush of gushing rainfall, cool relief and a revival of life to the region. It is metaphorically projected through the exuberant release of passion and erotic energy that are popularly choreographed in innumerable Bollywood dance sequences….


 

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2010-10-27 at 3:07 pm

Central Highlands Recognized and Adorned

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Lead spread of “Montane Biodiversity” spread in Sanctuary Asia (June 2010)

Earlier this year the news came in that UNESCO had designated Sri Lanka’s Central Highlands as a new World Heritage Site. The designation includes the Knuckles Range, Horton Plains and the Peak Wilderness areas, all favorite place for my explorations, student trips and photography. These are symbolic victories for conservationists and draw attention to the fragile montane ecology that Sri Lanka hosts amongst bustling tea estates and vast monoculture plantations of eucalyptus and pinus species. Most of the sites are formally protected by the SL Forest or Wildlife Departments, but recognition by UNESCO will give the areas greater significance within and outside the country. Conservation International has labeled the same areas (and much of the island) a “biodiversity hotspot” together with the Western Ghats. The Central Highlands now join Sinharaja rainforest to make up two “man and biosphere” reserves on the island.  The remaining World Heritage sites are cultural (Polonnaruwa, Galle Fort, Anuradhapura etc.). By coincidence the news came on the heels of a photo-essay on montane forests in the Central Highlands and Sinharaja that I had published in Sanctuary Asia in June.

I will shortly be participating in an exhibition at the India International Centre in New Delhi on the broad theme of forests. My focus will be on similarities and differences in the landscape and ecology of the Western Ghats and Central Highlands. The exhibition will utilize digital color images printed here in Colombo on 20” and 30” paper. I am also working to create a few GIS generated maps and posters using Arcmap 10 and InDesign CS5 (both freshly installed). The exhibition will be in late October as a part of the “The IIC Experience: A Festival of the Arts.”

Last five pages highlighting landscapes and species in the Central Highlands (and Sinharaja).

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2010-09-13 at 5:00 pm

In Geo A Year Ago

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Main Western Ghats article (Geo, February 2009)A year ago Geo published a photo-essay and article of mine in their February English issue. This sumptuous magazine is produced by Outlook India in New Delhi and is the only English edition of the reputable European magazine group. I have now posted PDFs on my High Range Photography site for easy viewing and sharing.

The piece is significant in that I produced all of the black &white and color pictures (and also wrote the text). It’s the first time that I have been able to successfully fuse the two mediums together to paint a more vivid picture of this endangered landscape. Kai Friese’s editorial team did a fine job with color reproductions and the ingenious vertical layout. The text was cut down significantly from the 4,500-word piece that I originally submitted and there are a few obvious gaps. Nevertheless it represents the sort of effort that I am now working on putting into a book proposal for prospective publishers.

Color foldout on endemic species of the Western Ghats (Geo, February 2009).All images by Ian Lockwood

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2010-02-17 at 3:20 pm

Bombay Shola: Fragile Heritage

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Frontline Article Image with Cover 2

Frontline (the news magazine from the reputable Hindu newspaper based in Chennai) has just published my article and pictures on the ecology, threats and restoration potential of Kodaikanal’s Bombay Shola. Thanks to their liberal policy of publishing on the web you can read the article online or as a PDF (as part of the whole issue). For reference, it is worthwhile referring to my 2003 Frontline piece on the idea of a formal protected area for the Palni Hills.

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2009-10-22 at 2:50 pm

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