The Hindu: Sleep Deep

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HANG OUT: Time to rest.   | Photo Credit: MAIL PIC

Check out these animals as they grab a shut eye. Not all of them need a bed!

“O bed! O bed! delicious bed! That heaven upon earth to the weary head.”

Thomas Hood rhymed in his cautionary tale of Miss Kilmansegg and Her Precious Leg. While she wanted a precious golden leg, we all want our precious golden slumbers. One can live without love, but sleep? Nah… What is life without those forty winks, the short naps, the afternoon siestas, the long deep night sleep and, well, those open dripping-mouthed snoozes. Ah…such comfort. In the first part of this article, we spoke about the REM (rapid eye movement or deep-wave sleep) and non-REM sleep; how humans need to have both while some animals don’t.

You would have seen mammals and birds sleep. Insects, fishes and reptiles too need their brains to rest in some or the other form. The little kankhajura would even risk falling prey to a hungry vagabond crow while he dreams of the multi-legged beauty who preferred to hang out with the Centi-the-senti-pede instead.

A few more snoozing secrets

Saddle up

Horses get most of their sleep while standing. They have a mechanism called “stay apparatus” where their ligaments and tendons allow them to remain upright with ease, even while sleeping. They do occasionally lie down to get REM sleep, but only for short periods. As they are standing, they can just bolt away if a predator attacks, even if they are asleep. No wonder, our wars have been fought and won on horses.

Don’t bat an eyelid 

Standing up and sleeping is fine, but can you beat sleeping upside down? Bats are masters at that. Unlike birds, they can’t take off in flight. They have to fall in it. This is because their wings are not strong enough to alight in flight and their hind legs not sturdy enough to bear their weight in an upright position. The special tendons on their feet let them hand effortlessly while they sleep. They are so effective that even a dead bat can continue to hang!

Power naps 

A study on fire ants showed that they take up to 250 naps a day! Each lasting around a minute. But those are the workers. The queen, of course, takes lazy long naps. The research suggested that queens dream while sleeping and move their antennas while they dream. RAM instead of REM, get it? Rapid Antenna Movement instead of Rapid Eye Movement. They live almost 10 times longer than the worker ants do. And they ask me why I’d like to be a queen!

The animal world is full of sleeping wonders: Our hairy cousins — the great apes like orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos — make mattresses to sleep on. Sea otters occasionally wrap themselves up in seaweed, float on their backs and at times hold each other’s paws so that they don’t drift away while sleeping.

While elephants can do with three hour sleep a day, an edible dormice can sleep for nearly a year! You may like to hibernate like dormice but I am more like a giraffe who sleeps for five minutes at a time, on an average 30 minutes a day. As the quote collector, Terri Guillements says, “I’ve had such bad insomnia the sleep cops have issued a warrant for my rest.”

The writer is an author of fiction and non-fiction books and Ex-Hon. Wildlife Warden, Udaipur

The Hindu: Love them all

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LOVE them all!


Today is World Wildlife Day. A day for us to rally together and address ongoing major threats to wildlife including habitat change, over-exploitation or illicit trafficking.

Baba Dioum, a Senegalese forestry engineer, summarized it to three simple lines, “For, in the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.” We, the most evolved of apes, are the reason behind the Sixth Age of Extinction, after the dinosaurs. So, we are more potent than an earth-shattering meteorite; and that is not a compliment. However, we will always try to save those whom we love. On World Wildlife Day, let’s say hi! to a few animals in India that may not be with us in the near future, unless we begin to love them hard.

Ganges Shark

Along with our mighty river, its creatures are also in danger. This stocky shark, which lives in the Ganga is under threat of being wiped away from planet earth due to pollution of her home river, construction of dams on it, overfishing and so on. Really…? Blood…gore… We’re talking about saving Jaws? Yes, now even they require rescuing from the greatest of apes.

Ghats Warts Frog

It likes to hang out in moist tropical forests at an altitude of around 2,200m in the Western Ghats. It seems no princess has kissed this frog. Warts, you think? Nah…warts are no competition for elfin green money. It faces threats from commercial timber plantations and loss of its home due to agriculture.

Sangai or Manipur Dancing Deer

According to the 2016 census, there are 260 deer left in the wild, a slight increase from 2013. (Imagine if only 260 humans were left in the world! What…students of grade 6,7,8 of your school put together?) The Manipur zoo is successfully breeding the dancing deer maintaining our hope for the survival of the species.

Himalayan Wolf

The evil wolf of Red Riding Hood…wish it had more cunning than humans! The Himalayan Wolf is under threat of extinction, only 300 or so left in the wild, due to human activity. Darjeeling zoo and Kufri zoo are breeding these wolves in captivity. You might hear people talking about banning the zoos. What is the alternate plan to save various critically endangered species? Banning zoos, for all we know, might accelerate their extinction. Zoos give us an opportunity to see varied animals at close quarters and offer a large vista of possibilities to educate and sensitise people. Almost 50 million people visit zoos in India every year! Although it may seem ‘cruel’ from human perspective to encage animals, there are many advantages in it for the animals. The lifespan of most species is more than doubles in captivity. This is due to an abundance of food and water, no threat from predators and medical care.

Peacock Tarantula

This beautiful spider sports a brilliant metallic blue body. We are cutting down the forests where they live. Little Miss Muffet should never venture in the small forested area in Andhra Pradesh where this spider is surviving. But for how long?


One of the longest of all living crocodilians, Gharial is found in our part of the subcontinent. Less than 235 of these long-nosed crocodilians are left in the wild due to…you don’t need a wild guess for that: human activity. Fishing, loss of river habitats, less fish for them to eat. And we don’t even seem to shed crocodile tears for them.

Okay, we might not have heard about the muscular Javan rhinos, or the cute little Forest Owlet, or the white toothed shrew (which is not shrewd but sweet Mr. Shakespeare), or the swarthy Leatherback Turtle, or the Kashmiri Stag with the most incredible horns, or the proud, straight-eared caracal or the desert-smart wild ass; all these and more who are on the verge of extinction from India. But what about the sparrows whom we don’t see in our garden any more? Or those formidable vultures no more circling our skies? Let’s just do what Roosevelt said, “The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must and we will.” For what would life be with a sunset where birds didn’t fly back to their nests? Not wild, for sure.

The writer is a columnist and author of fiction and non-fiction books. Her latest book is Wild in the Backyard.

The Hindu: Hit that Snooze Button!

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Hit that SNOOZE button!

Talk at BMICH: Mysteries of the Jungles

Friends in Sri Lanka, my talk at BMICH next week organised by #TheWildlifeAndNatureProtectionSociety #WNPS on my father’s encounters with the unknown in the jungles. Do drop in if interested.
Talk: Mysteries of the Jungles 
Venue: BMICH
Time: 6PM 
Entry free




My Sessions at The Hindu Lit for Life

Friends in Chennai, The Hindu Lit For Life #LFL2017 is right around the corner!


The Hindu - Jungle Books poster.jpg

Arefa Tehsin

Arefa Tehsin has been shortlisted for The Hindu Young World-Goodbooks Best Author Award 2017 for her book Wild in the Backyard.  Her picture book The Elephant Bird was read at 3200+ locations in India from the slums to the Presidential library on the International Literacy Day, 2016 and translated in 25 languages by communities. She is the author of several fiction and non-fiction books on wildlife. She was appointed as the Honorary Wildlife Warden of Udaipur and has pursued nature conservation through her writings and columns. Arefa is also an avid traveller and contributes travel pieces for various publications. @ATehsin



My Upcoming Sessions at The Hindu’s Lif for Life

telling talesVikram Sridhar with his rapt audience

The Hindu Lit for Life includes an exclusive literary festival for kids

The Hindu Lit for Life festival (January 14-16 at Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall, Chennai) celebrates books, literature, authors and creativity. The seventh edition promises something extra — a children’s literary festival, where little ones can appreciate the magic of storytelling through a variety of workshops. “ The Hindu has consistently catered to the interests of children through its publications such as Young World and The Hindu – In School , believing that youngsters need to be exposed to the magic of books and the practice of reading outside classrooms. With this children’s festival, we hope to build on that,” says Nirmala Lakshman, festival director and director of The Hindu group of publications.

Children between the ages of five and 12 can look forward to sessions on storytelling, theatre and creative writing, a science laboratory, Zumba session, an open-air library and more, which will be organised at two themed venues — Enchanted Land and Magic Burrow. Here’s a glimpse of what to expect:

Stories on stage

The only thing better than reading a story is watching it being enacted. City-based theatre group Crea Shakthi will organise a workshop titled Stories on Stage. “All our stories are becoming 140 characters. Kids have wonderful ideas, but they are not able to dig deeper,” explains Dushyanth Gunashekar, creative head of Crea Shakthi. “The session will begin with an interactive performance that will help children come up with their own ideas as to how they’d like to take the story forward. This will start them off on a process of questioning things and becoming curious about the world,” he adds.

January 14, noon to 1 p.m. (age group 5-8) and January 16, 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. (age group 9-12)

Let’s make a story

At a time when most children are exposed to stories through Disney animations and books written by western authors, Vikram Sridhar plans to keep it local. “I’m a Ramu-Shamu rather than a Harry Potter, so I will focus on localised stories (based in Alwarpet or Teynampet) based on reality,” says the 33-year-old Bangalore-based storyteller. He will perform a story for the younger children and help them develop a tale of their own; the older ones will get to dabble with theatre.

Have Fun with Stories: January 14, 9.45 a.m. to 10.45 a.m. (age group 9-12); Let’s Make a Story: 11 a.m. to noon (age group 5-8), and noon to 1 p.m. (age group 9-12); Also sign up for Bangalore-based writer Andaleeb Wajid’s creative writing workshop, The Never-Ending Story, on January 14, 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. (age group 5-8), and 11 a.m. to noon (age group 9-12).

Crazy Characters

Give children crayons and they will tell you stories. In his workshop, Bangalore-based illustrator Vinayak Varma will help them express themselves better. “I will first help them to imagine a character using words and then I’ll draw it. Then I’ll get them to do the same. This will give them an insight into how one goes from descriptions to an image,” shares the 34-year-old. “And if I can get them to extend the idea into something they can create at home or school later, that will be great.”

January 14, 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. (age group 5-8).

Jungle Book

Arefa Tehsin believes that a curiosity to know about the wild must be instilled in children when they are young. Especially since we are now in the “midst of the sixth mass extinction after the Ice Age”. “Children, especially in cities, are almost completely alienated from Nature. The bond with the wild needs to be re-established, not by preaching, but by using an interesting medium like stories,” says the novelist and ex-Honorary Wildlife Warden, Udaipur.

Her workshops will be structured as talks. The first, Snake – a Foe or a Friend?, will discuss the vilified creatures, while the second, Jungle Book, will discuss interesting facts like whether an Elephant Bird really exists.

Jungle Book: January 14, 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. (age group 9-12); Snake – a Foe or a Friend?, on January 15, 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. (age group 9-12)

Fun with Science

“We want kids to say ‘Science is awesome’,” says Supreetha Gonsalves of ScienceUtsav. Expect the workshop to be conducted in the form of a magic show, with experiments called Chemical Chameleons (involving changing colours) and Hovering Balls (dealing with aerodynamics). There are several themes, including Magic Potions and Khatron ke Khiladi, where children will see a few dangerous experiments. “We love kids more than science, so yes, safety is our priority,” she assures us.

January 15, 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. (age group 5-8) and 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. (age group 9-12).

To register log on to The fee is Rs. 1,000.

“The bond with the wild needs to be re-established, not by preaching, but by using an interesting medium like stories”

The Hindu: More Terrors of the Deep

More terrors of the DEEP

Arefa Tehsin


The ocean depths hold secrets and horrors that can send a shiver down your back. Last month, we mentioned a few and now here are some more.

You must have heard of the Komodo Dragon. I’ve seen one in a zoo and it is a stud! Ask a water creature how terrifying it finds a Komodo Dragon to be and it’ll huff and say, “Hah! It’s nothing but an upmarket lizard!” Most land creatures we find petrifying will make water creatures giggle. In the first part of this article, we spoke about a few terrors of the deep. Let’s take a peek at a few more here.

Goliath tigerfish

The locals who live around the Congo River Basin believe that the evil spirit mbenga enters the river and attacks people. Their imagination is not too far fetched. The monstrous Goliath Tigerfish, that sports 32 razor sharp, dagger-like teeth, and which can grow up to five ft and 70 kgs lives up to its moniker. This fish can attack and tear up small crocodiles and is a formidable killing machine. It is supposed to be one of the hardest game fishes for anglers on planet Earth. Match that.

Gulper Eel

With the body of a snake and massive jaws, the gulper eel is one of the most bizarre looking fishes of the deep. It is also known as the pelican eel and can swallow prey much larger than its size through its pelican-like big mouth. We haven’t been able to study much of its habits as it lives in the great, dark depths of the seas. It doesn’t have man-eating livers, but this sea-serpent-meets-Jaws is enough to give one nightmares.

Goblin Shark

This slow swimming shark, also known as a “living fossil” has a super fast jaw mechanism. Its long snout hides its needle sharp teeth and a jaw that can be thrust forward at a speed three meters per second in a dramatic, heart stopping motion! Once it has caught its yummy morsel of fish, it fits its protruding jaw back under its flat snout. This rare deep-sea creature with a lineage of 125 million years is one jaw dropping fish!


Enjoying life? Bah! Anglerfish has reasons to be cross. It lives in the dark, unfriendly depths of the ocean and beats the most hideous of creatures with its looks. A few of the 200+ kinds of anglerfish live in shallow waters too. Its crescent shaped mouth bear fang-like teeth. It is called an angler because the ladies carry a ‘fishing rod’ like appendage with a luminescent fleshy tip to lure the prey. Wouldn’t you be attracted to light in the fathomless dark? The lady anglerfish’s witchy looks hold unending fascination for the much smaller gent. Latching himself to the body of the lady with his teeth, he slowly dissolves — all of his body but his testes. Now that’s taking “two-bodies, one soul” to another level! A female carries four to five males on her body.

There are enough and more absurd beasts of water that humans know of, and many, many more that still remain to be discovered from the endless depths. They can scare even the brave-hearts out of their skins, not to mention those of us who find even the pimples on our cheeks terrifying.

The writer is an author of fiction and non-fiction books and Ex-Hon. Wildlife Warden, Udaipur