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Study reveals lensmen’s unethical practices

Staff Reporter
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Photographers employing cruel methods to get that perfect shot of birds at Hesaraghatta lake

Shocking truth: The study assessed the multiple ecological and physical parameters of the dry Hesaraghatta lake bed.— Photo: Seshadri K.S.
Shocking truth: The study assessed the multiple ecological and physical parameters of the dry Hesaraghatta lake bed.— Photo: Seshadri K.S.

A new report compiled by conservationists and students here has revealed some disturbing truths about how enthusiastic photographers are employing “cruel” methods to land that perfect shot of winged beauties on the city’s outskirts.

Their activities are adversely impacting the ecology too.

The findings of a rapid assessment of multiple ecological and physical parameters of the dry Hesaraghatta lake bed, located around 30 km northwest of Bangalore, conducted in December 2012, have documented some disturbing trends.

The report reveals that frequent vehicular movement in this area has left the 744 hectare-area lake bed spot ravaged with about 43 km of deep vehicle tracks (similar to a kuchcha road in a village). An average of 20 vehicles visited the area every day, and the average time spent by each vehicle “chasing birds”, at speeds no less than 50 kmph, was 3.5 hours.

The study titled ‘Ruining the ecology of Hesaraghatta Lake — the role of bird photographer’ further documents some shocking truths about the pattern of activities carried out here.

Researchers found that most of the methods used by photographers, which include chasing birds till they are so tired they cannot fly anymore, are patently unethical.

Video footage recorded by them shows photographers in four-wheelers chasing a rare bird, the European Roller (listed as ‘vulnerable’ in International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List) “relentlessly as it flushed from one open perch to another”. These lens men also appeared to “hunt” in packs, with four to five vehicles converging on the spot once a bird was seen as worn out.

On one particular day, 10 vehicles bearing photographers were seen encircling a Common Kestrel (in a circle with a radius of 10-15 metres) over a period of five hours. The report mentions that some photographers were reportedly regularly baiting birds of prey with live snakes tied to a peg on the ground. This practice is repugnant and unethical and contravenes the law, the report notes.

Not long ago, even as recently as late 2010, parts of these areas were part of a live water body.

In 2009, two-thirds of this land was water spread area. Google Earth images post 2010 also show it as marshy, so it is indeed shocking that there are wide clear tracks that look like real kuchchaa roads on this expanse of the lake bed, notes ornithologist M.B. Krishna, who is part of the team that carried out the study. The average damage to the vegetation is pegged at around 27 per cent.

“It was shocking, almost comical, to see birds run like grounded animals, instead of flying. This is because through the day vehicles have pursued these birds to land their perfect photograph and tired out the bird. These practices are obviously unethical,” points out Dr. Krishna. He emphasises that though photographers are aware of these practices, many of them are silent about it and do not speak up against it.

Having invested heavily in equipment — some of these lenses cost anywhere between Rs. 1-8 lakh — photo enthusiasts lose sight of the larger picture.

“We did this to throw light on this growing phenomenon, and create some awareness on this. This is happening in such areas across the city’s peripheries, this being one of the spots closer to the city. In fact, we hear of some unethical practices even in the protected area,” says Dr. Krishna.

He hopes that this will lead to self regulation among photographers. “Off road driving on the lake bed damages the habitat and should be stopped. These photographers must be ethical in the pursuit of their hobbies or professions. There are some conscientious photographers too, and they must take the lead in correcting the system,” Dr. Krishna added.

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