Treasure Island in Mumbai

One will wonder where is this treasure island. I had an incredible experience a couple of weeks back. In my last post I had mentioned about a course in Biodiversity course by Bombay Natural History Society(BNHS).
Since I had enrolled for the course I decided to make the journey to Mumbai.

After reaching Dadar, I made a new friend Damodaran who was also going to the BNS centre. We boarded a local train to Goregaon. For the first time I was amazed to see the local trains announcing the next stop.
At Goregaon we boarded bus number 333 to reach Film City which is slightly in the outskirts of Mumbai. This was around 10 PM at night and we failed to convince the lonely auto to take us to the CEC centre of BNHS. So we decided to walk and soon we walked into a vast forest area that was quite dark and scary.

After wandering off the main road a couple of times we finally reached the Center. A couple of guys already arrived before us and for the first time we came to know that we were in leopard territory. Infact someone spotted one just about 30 minutes back. That was splendid as well as fearsome. We were in the midst of a jungle that seemed to be just a stone's throw away from one of the biggest human settlements.

DAY 1 
Next day early morning I decided to checkout the periphery of the CEC BNHS centre. It was quite an exotic location and everything surrounding it suggested a vast expanse of a formidable forested area. I decided to wait for the experts before venturing out further.

After an excellent breakfast we set out on the Nature trail. This was with Dr. Parvish Pandya who explained to us various aspects of the wild. We were also continuously guided by Ms. Priti Choghale who is our course  mentor and coordinator.

Back to the main campus after an enlightening walk and talk we learnt a bit about Biodiversity and then we set out with Mr. Kaustabh Bhagat for a walk on plants.

The day was rounded off with a night trail where we chanced upon a pit viper in the dark. At the centre a light trap was arranged to study insects. 

A quiz was arranged and we all shined with our interest.


The second day was for insect study and Dr. V Shubhalaxmi explained to us the importance of that. We went on an insect trail with Mr. Hemant Tripathi who talked about the various aspects of the insect life.

In the afternoon we saw a wonderful presentation on butterflies by Mr. Isaac Kehimkar.

Finally a presentation on the wuadrant study of the day completed things.

The trip to the treasure island came to an end. I wish everyone near or residing in Mumbai makes a visit to this place.

- Please plan ahead and reach the center at daytime as it is indeed in leopard territory
- Wear good shoes , there are snakes
- Be careful when you walk as there are hairy caterpillars and insects of various kind 


There are a few eco indicators that we came to know about –

Lichens –Cannot survive SiO2 in the atmosphere. Hence they are an indicator of pollution levels in the atmosphere
Woody Liana –Indicator of good forest
Giant Squirrels – Indicator of good canopy cover in the forest
Macaque – Indicates evergreen forest

We came to know about why we call some animals as domestic, some as tame and why some are wild.
Tame – Something that responds to a human command. Only birds and mammals have brains that can support this. Hence only birds and mammals can be tamed.
Wild and Domestic- Thousands of years of evolution have separated wild varieties to domestic varieties. For example the wild turmeric may not be edible but the domestic turmeric is used in food and for medicinal purposes. Wild varieties are generally more resistant and can survive in the forests.
Food Web – There is a complete food web in an ecosystem. There are lower species that feed on plants, leaves, and seeds etc which in turn are fed by other predators. At the end there are fungi and lichens that feed on the dead and release the natural elements into the atmosphere.
Exotic species – These species are artificially brought into an ecosystem by some human being either purposely or accidentally. Since these species do not belong to the food web of that system they can cause havoc. Birds or insects do not feed on their leaves or seeds. As a result they outgrow other species in that region.
Endemic Species – Certain species which are available only to a particular country or ecosystem
Gene Bank- Few animals of that species in the wild
Endangered Species – Species that faces threat of extinction if not conserved

We also got an idea about the formal techniques of studying using the quadrant study technique and the light trap technique.
We also saw an excellent presentation on butterflies, went on nature and insect trails with experts.
We attended a wonderful biodiversity related quiz event too. We came to know about how common names emerged and why scientific names are more common for insect study.
In the initial study we understood why India is a mega diverse nation and the importance of hotspots. The quadrant study and presentation identified the importance of species diversity.


We came to know about exotic plants and the plants associated
There were different types of trees, shrubs etc
Helicterus Isora – The extracts of this plants are used for items like gripewater, stomach medicines.
Soccer ball fruit – Looks like a soccer ball
Mohua – Used as an intoxicant
Karvi (Strobilanthus karvi) – Flowers once in 7 years. Karvy honey is famous.  Digestive juices of bats and birds help in quick germination of the seeds.
Aloe plants – Considered to be useful plants
Crab’s Eye/Devil’s Eye – Seeds are poisonous, but leaves are edible
Ghost Plant – Bark looks whitish and easy to identify in a forest.
Milkweed (Dancing dolls) – Found in Periyar Tiger reserve. The Tiger caterpillar feeds on this plant leaves.
Wild turmeric – A wild variety of turmeric
Fungi – Plants without chlorophyll
Lichens – A combination of algae and fungi. The algae is the green part and fungi is the root part forming a mutual obligatory co-existence.
Wild Grapes, Guavas -
Mushrooms (Saprophytic) – Feeds on dead plants
Monkey Biscuit – Monkeys feed on this
Teak – A very important tree in India
We also came to know about the importance of fig trees.
Ashok Tree


Moth Caterpillars and butterfly caterpillars–Butterfly lay the eggs on which the caterpillar is going to feed. The eggs are laid in the under surface of the leaves to protect them from predators like birds.
Toad -

Butterflies – We came to know why caterpillars metamorphose to butterflies. It’s because butterfly eggs are small and for insects the chiten size remains constant. As a result eggs hatch to caterpillars which grow in size. As the proper size is reached it becomes a butterfly.
Common Jezebel (Butterfly) -

Crickets and Cicada noise – The sound in the forest in daytime is because of cicadas whereas at night time we hear sound of crickets. While the cicada sound is a mating call made by male cicadas the sound made by crickets is because of flapping the wings very fast.
Bonnet Macaque – We did not see any but its found in the park, it hovers on the ground and uses a gland below the throat to store food temporarily.
Bird Calls – Puff throated babbler,Tailorbird, kingfisher, pied cuckoo, and we saw a couple of drongos. We understood why the birds make sounds to protect their nesting territories very vociferously.
Pit Viper – Semi-poisonous
Red cotton bug –
Different kinds of Spiders – Also understood the differences between insects and arachnids
Pagoda Ants – extremely ferocious ants
Spit bug – Nest looks like spit
Calottes’- Some lizard
Leopard video and exploits of dog meat – We saw a video of a leopard around CEC and we also saw remains of a meal suggesting a dog was eaten there.

Threats or Issues

Exotic species – Introduction of exotic species purposely or accidentally results in uneven competition in the forest especially for endemic species. The exotic species generally grow unhindered and often cause havoc with unusual growth patterns and different behavior unexpected in an ecosystem.
e.g. Lantana Ghanarie in South India
        Eucalyptus trees

Loss of Habitat – For example the Great Indian Bustard requires grasslands to survive. Planting trees caused their population to dwindle.
Poaching and demand for banned items– Poaching of animals for their body parts like rhino horns for medicinal purposes, elephant teeth for ivory, big cats for their skin and claws result in loss of lot of species.

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