When did you last spot a common sparrow in or near your house? Chances are, quite a while ago. But Santosh Martin is on a mission to help increase the population of these endangered birds again, at least in Karnataka’s Ballari district.
Residents in a few colonies in Ballari have initiated the process of conservation of sparrows. And one man has pioneered these efforts.
Meet Santosh Martin, an engineer turned conservationist, who has made people in his area more aware on the need to make the world a better place for animals and birds.
He is an active bird watcher. He also is an amateur pre-historic archaeologist, interested in conserving early human migration sites dating back almost 85,000 years.
Santosh became interested in wildlife at the young age of 15. Visiting parks with his uncle, who was a forest officer, became a weekly ritual for him. Though he studied engineering and taught at a local college for many years, he realised that conservation was his true calling.
He has been in active wildlife conservation for the past 15 years and was the honorary wildlife warden of Ballari district for two consecutive terms. Due to rapid development in the region, the number of sparrows in his area kept declining until there were only two left. This is when he decided the situation was dire and he needed to do something about it.
As reinforced cement concrete roofs have replaced wooden beam roofs in urban areas, there is no place left for sparrows to nest and breed. According to Santosh, this kind of development has resulted in sparrows vanishing from the cities.
Santosh and his daughter Sunaina, who also has a deep interest in conservation, encouraged the residents of their city to set up small nesting boxes in their homes.
This small act worked wonders and, as a result, the sparrow population multiplied in the city. In fact, some of the colonies in the city are now sparrow sanctuaries.
“Back then, we considered ourselves lucky to see even one sparrow in the city. Now, we get to see them in groups, flocking on top of the buildings and bushes. They fly around freely. We get to hear them chirp. People are happier as well. They feed the sparrows. The boxes kept by us have helped them breed,” Santosh says.
Santosh sourced these nesting boxes from Mumbai-based Mohammed Dilawar who spearheaded the Save the Sparrow campaign in India. These nesting boxes are small but have large holes in the centre, and can be fixed on the terrace, balcony, and other open spaces.
“Today, there is a wonderful bird population in Ballari. It’s amazing how a small deed by everyone can make such a big difference,” says Santosh.
But Santosh’s work doesn’t end with protecting sparrows. In fact, he has a long legacy of contributions to wildlife he can look back to.
Ballari district is home to the 5,500 year old Neolithic hills of Sanganakallu. This site dates back to 3,500 BC and is where the hunter gatherers had settled to take up farming and domesticating animals. Sanganakallu was probably the earliest stone tool making factory in southern India.
However, in recent years, this site has undergone massive destruction, owing to the presence of 20 stone quarries. Santosh took up the issue with the local government. He managed to stop the mindless quarrying. Today, the site is protected by the Karnataka State Archaeology Department.
Santosh also led the team that rediscovered the Great Indian Bustard in 2001, along with fellow conservationist Samad Kottur.
Two birds were spotted by members of the team in an agricultural field. After this, the team continued searching for the bird. It was finally successful in discovering a group of six Great Indian Bustards in 2006.
“This discovery was very important for conservation as the birds were earlier declared extinct in Karnataka in 1998 by the Forest Department. Now, the state and Central governments plan to take up the conservation of these birds,” he says.
Along with Sunaina and Samad, Santosh also launched a movement to rediscover vultures in Karnataka in 2006. Vultures had become virtually extinct in Karnataka, with only a small pocket thriving in Ramanagara district. The initiative to rediscover the bird in the rest of the state took the group to Raichur.
There, the team found a colony of 13 long-billed vultures. This was documented by Sunaina in 2012.
Sunaina is now studying neuroscience and ecology at UCLA in the US. Though she lives abroad, she still takes an active interest in conservation activities in India.
“She is also working on other projects such as discovering caracal in southern India. When she is here on a break, she also takes up the project of rediscovering honey badgers in the area,” says Santosh.
Santosh can be contacted at email@example.com