Mumbai, Oct 7 (IANS) Dilawar Mohammed, one of the winners of Time magazine's Heroes of the Environment-2008, is a crusader for the almost ignored bird - the common sparrow.
He is almost single-handedly struggling to raise awareness about conserving the common sparrow, which he feels is facing a severe threat from humans.
Based in the heart of India's wine country, Nashik, north-west Maharashtra, Dilawar, 28, tends to over 150 sparrows daily, giving them food and water to enable them survive, since he says the bird's natural food resources are being eaten away by massive urbanization.
'The common sparrow is under attack from many quarters. Hundreds of trees and bushes are being cleared and replaced with monstrous buildings, open spaces are being concretized, hundreds of mobile phone communication towers are being erected in cities, towns and villages. All this has hugely affected the tiny sparrow,' Dilawar explained.
He considers mobile phone towers as one of the biggest threats not only to the sparrows, but to all other birds like the tailorbird, mynah, sunbird, as well as the squirrel - and human beings too.
He quoted a recent survey by a New Delhi-based organisation, which found that electromagnetic radiation pollution in Mumbai due to mobile phone towers is 200 percent higher than the permissible limits.
'This means, we are sitting in an x-ray environment all the time. For the common sparrow, it causes irritation, it reduces their reproductive capacity. Even if it lays eggs, the hatchlings are either destroyed or born with serious deformities. Though the species is sturdy, sparrow chicks have a high mortality rate, as high as 50 percent, which affects its overall population,' said Dilawar, a Masters in ecology and environmental studies, specializing in zoology from Manipal University.
Dilawar compares the fate of the common sparrows to that of the 'common man in a democracy - nobody bothers about him'.
Elaborating other examples of depleting space, he pointed out to the menace of corporates, housing complexes and even public authorities obsessed with landscaping using exotic and imported plants.
'They look very attractive but they repel insects and other natural food sources for the birds. In the long run, these landscapes will prove to be green deserts,' he said.
Sparrows, according to Dilawar are nature's bio-indicators. 'They have lived with human beings for thousands of centuries, like squirrels, mynahs, tailorbirds and sunbirds - you don't find them in the jungles. If there is a significant shift in their population, its an alarm signal for us,' Dilawar pointed out.
Explaining the sparrow's characteristics, he said they survive in all temperatures from the humid coastal regions to the hot plains to the chills of Kashmir and beyond to Ladakh, up to 15,000 feet above sea level. In the open, a sparrow survives for around three years and up to 13 years in captivity.
Referring to man's own contribution to the declining population, he said that in the cities, thousands of catapults are sold daily, which are used by children and youth to target birds. 'As per the wildlife laws, selling catapults which can harm or kill creatures is an offence, but nobody has even thought of implementing and banning its sale. It's a lethal weapon which can shoot at a speed of 40 feet per second, fatal even for humans,' he said.
Even ordinary feeding of birds seen in cities is restricted to birds like pigeons and crows, mainly for religious purposes. 'Nobody cares to throw seeds for the poor sparrows'.
He said that Time magazine's honour for him - first time it has gone to any ornithologist - will help highlight the cause of the common sparrow and all other common creatures facing threats of different kinds.
Dilawar got married two years ago to Zainab, an interior designer who also manages to keep an eagle's eye on his uncommon obsession since four years - the common sparrow.