Mohammed Dilawar: World Sparrow Day March 20th
By Bhavani Prakash
Who would have thought that the humble and ubiquitous house sparrow (Passer domesticus), normally taken for granted in urban surroundings is actually now an endangered species? According to Veterinary World , in most of Europe and countries like India, sparrow populations are rapidly declining – with bird counts showing a drop in London alone by 71% between 1994 and 2002. (In Singapore however, the local species of sparrow – the Eurasian Tree Sparrow has shown an increase from 1996-2005 according to Nature Society Singapore)
Concerned about the apathy towards this disturbing trend especially in India, ornithologist Mohammed Dilawar has emerged as a champion of the sparrows. He was featured as one of the Time Heroes of the Environment in 2008 and has set up Nature Forever Society, which raises awareness about the issue, and also distributes nest boxes to encourage the public to bring sparrows into their homes and neighbourhood.
Nature Forever Society (NFS) launched World Sparrow Day in 2010 on 20th of March, along with Eco-Sys Action Foundation (France) and Avon Wildlife Trust (UK), and other national and international organisations. Mohammed Dilawar spoke to us about his passion for the sparrows and how we can get involved to help protect them.
BP: How did you get interested in the conservation of sparrows?
MD: I’ve always been crazy about birds and animals from a very young age. After television in India opened up to foreign channels in the 1990s, I used to watch Discovery Channel which gave me a lot of exposure to documentaries based on research projects. This inspired me to study zoology and environmental sciences.
At Nasik where I used to teach at college, I was going through some literature in 2005 when I happened to come across something that caught my attention – that house sparrows were declining in the UK. It occurred to me that we are often engrossed in what happens to bigger, more glamorous species such as the tiger, whereas common species are often ignored.
Except for one report by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research documenting a drastic drop in sparrow populations in southern India, I found that there was no research on house sparrows and that really got me motivated to support their cause.
BP: Why are the house sparrows disappearing?
MD: There is no single reason for their disappearance – in fact a newspaper in the UK offered a cash prize to anyone who could solve the mystery of why sparrow numbers have declined. The award is still to be claimed.
There are various possible reasons. One main reason is that modern buildings are made like matchboxes with little or no nesting holes for sparrows. The rampant use of pesticides means less insect food for sparrow young. The microwave pollution from cell phone towers all over the country could be another factor as it disturbs their navigational skills. Even the rangoli that women used to put outside their homes is no longer made from rice flour which the sparrows eat, but from chemicals. There used to be abundant food grains for sparrows from small shops and godowns which were not well protected before. But now we have airconditioned shops with little spillage of grains. Homes would have hedges as borders with bushes of local plants like henna that sparrows could use to make nests. Now most homes have concrete walls and barbed fences with exotic plants.
[For further reading on decline of sparrow populations, read the Veterinary Society report]
BP: Why do we need to protect sparrows?
MD: We’re connected by 10,000 years of companionship – in fact more than with cats and dogs. The sparrows are an important bio-indicator of the health of the urban environment , like how the canary is to the mines. The disappearance of sparrows is a serious reminder that something is seriously wrong in our urban habitat. They are ambassadors for urban biodiversity as everyone knows the sparrows. They are also an umbrella species – in protecting them, we’ll be saving other flora and fauna too.
BP: How do you engage people with Nature Forever Society ?
MD: I think there is apathy towards conservation of common flora and fauna. That’s why it’s so important to engage the common man in conservation. After all, house sparrows are dependent upon human habitation. It is important for them to become stakeholders in conservation. Rather than seeing pictures and presentations, it is only when people get emotionally attached that they are likely to champion their cause.
For this we came up with the “Adopt a Nest Box’ idea. When people actually see sparrows make a nest and have chicks, they develop a bonding with the birds, even considering the sparrow chicks as their own babies. Then it becomes easy for them to become sparrow supporters.
We have distributed thousands of nest boxes throughout India. It earns us a small revenue to keep our work going. Our sparrow mentors have spread throughout the world. We welcome people from all walks of life to become sparrow supporters.
BP: Tell us about World Sparrow Day on March 20th, 2011
MD: Even though I believe every day should be a sparrow day, it’s good to declare a day because it brings together various people all over the world on a common platform to talk about the issue and concentrate on the cause. This year Nature Forever Society teamed up with Burhani Foundation to distribute 52,000 bird feeders on March 6, in the run up to World Sparrow Day.
Our annual World Sparrow Day event will reinstate the significance not only of the sparrow, but all the common birds and biodiversity which are often overlooked and abused by virtue of being too commonplace. In 2011, we got feedback from all over the world and decided to celebrate the day not only for the house sparrow – but the 26 species of sparrows found across the globe.
By participating in World Sparrow Day we hope to create awareness, and also to persuade policy makers to take action for the conservation of the various species of sparrows.
How you can help World Sparrow Day and Nature Forever Society:
- Share the World Sparrow Day link on social media – tweet the event, share on facebook
- Arrange a picnic, community gathering, walk, birdwatching, or trek in support of sparrows. Use your imagination to organise an event and register it on the World Sparrow Day website
- Participate in the online BiodiverCity Photo competition for World Sparrow Day
- Get a nest box/bird feeder for the sparrows ( If you’re in India you can order one from Nature Forever Society
- Volunteer your efforts for NFS if you can promote nest boxes in your area or community, any technical help for maintaining website, making videos etc.
- Make a financial contribution to NFS or get organisational sponsorship for their efforts. (NFS is not funded by any government or non-governmental organization and they rely on public support and generosity for conservation activities). You can donate by sending us a payable at par cheque or a DD in the name of “Nature Forever Society”. You can also deposit or make an E-Transfer directly into their account. The bank details are: Bank of Maharashtra (Savings) A/C – 60035270083 IFSC code required for RTGS and NEFT transfer is MAHB0001435. NFS is registered with Income Tax Department under section 12A. (Registration no – PRO/12AA/2010-2010/8/36) )For further info, connect with Nature Forever Society by email firstname.lastname@example.org and on Facebook
BP: What is your hope for the future?
MD: What gives me hope is the sparrows. I feel happy and blessed whenever I see them. I get new energy and inspiration being with them. Even when there are roadblocks, there are always ways to go around them. Solutions are far more superior to problems.
The sparrows have also put me in touch with so many wonderful human beings throughout the world. There is so much positivity out there. It gives me hope that we can empower people to save sparrows. We have to, otherwise we’ll have a big hole in the web of life and if it collapses, we will be cursing ourselves. Instead, it makes sense for more and more of us to connect to do the best we can.
About the interviewer:
Bhavani Prakash is the Founder of Eco WALK the Talk .com and is a sustainability writer, speaker and trainer. She is passionate about the role of individuals and communities in bringing about the much needed change we need to see in the world. She can be contacted at bhavani[at]ecowalkthetalk.com. Follow Eco WALK the Talk on Facebook,Twitter, Linked IN and YouTube
Further links you may be interested in:
India Together: How Dilawar’s box is bringing back the sparrows
YouTube: The Great Sparrow Mystery
Short URL: http://www.ecowalkthetalk.com/blog/?p=6014
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