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Loss Of Habitat, Mobile Towers Chasing Away Species, Says Sparrow Crusader Mohammed Dilawar

Bangalore: Bestowed with Time magazine’s Heroes of the Environment 2008 award, president of Nature Forever Society (NFS) Mohammed Dilawar has been a relentless crusader for the sparrow conservation movement around the world. A resident of Nashik, Dilawar gave up his lucrative career as environmental studies lecturer to dedicate himself to saving this common bird. In 2005, this Masters degree holder in ecology and environment from Manipal University, stumbled upon a study on the declining population of house sparrows in Britain. Fearing that India was headed the same way, especially in fast-growing urban areas, he began researching the sparrow in India. In Bangalore to give away the Sparrow Award, TOI caught up with Dilawar, the ‘Sparrow Man’.

1 Are we taking the conservation of common species for granted?

In India, the species either has to be big (like the tiger) or endangered for researchers to even think about them. Why can’t we protect these common species when they are still abundant? Unfortunately, we only appreciate the value of things when they become rare. There is an urgent need to review the conservation policy of common species. 2 What are the main reasons, nationally, for the substantial decline in sparrow count over the years?

There has been a steady habitat destruction with a prominent change in the plantation pattern. We’ve lost our native species, most private gardens today boast of exotic plants which don’t attract insects, on which the young ones of sparrows feed. As a result, fewer baby sparrows survive. With an increased use of pesticides even in backyard gardens, there isn’t enough grain for the adults to feed on. Another threat are huge mobile towers in cities. Electromagnetic radiation disturbs sparrows. In technologically advanced countries like Switzerland and China, mobile towers are now stunted, and their number increased. In India, mobile towers are few but powerful, and emit strong radiation waves, which is adverse to the survival of sparrows. 3 Is our urban landscape equally responsible for the decline?

To a large extent, yes. Our modern buildings are like matchboxes, with no cavities in between. They don’t support sparrows which only nest in such cavities in buildings. With these gone, they’ve lost a big chunk of nesting sites. 4 How is your organization, NFS, helping in bringing back the sparrows?

We’ve introduced the Common Bird Monitoring Programme — a long-term project which aims to collect data on sparrows. We’re also looking at creating more habitats for the birds and reducing threats to this species. Research is on to identify plant species which can be placed outside homes and offices to attract sparrows. 5 Where does Karnataka stand when it comes to awareness?

In Karnataka, and Bangalore in particular, the awareness level about sparrows is quite high. This city has many people who adopt birds. They put up nest boxes and bird feeders to attract little birds. 6 Why are you In Bangalore, what are you planning to do here?

Institutionalized in 2010, Wipro has been supporting World Sparrow Day, observed on March 20, and organized by NFS. I’m here for that. The awards were instituted to recognize and draw national attention to the contribution of citizens who are working to make the planet a better place. There are individuals working in diverse fields making a difference.


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