‘Birds’: Concern for our habitat

We often take our flora and fauna for granted, and in fact in spite of the phenomenon of climate change which is having impacts the world over, most of us do not actively think about what’s happening to the environment

“Birds have always held a fascination for everyone, and children especially are attracted to them, so it’s really a good starting point for their education about life in general. Who does not remember listening to the songs of birds at dusk, when they home in to nest in trees by the hundreds? At least for my generation, that evening symphony used to be a delight, and it is something that is sorely missed now, and fondly remembered and recalled. Our expanding urban environment has taken a toll of trees, with hardly any left for birds to build their nests on – very sad indeed…”


‘Birds’: a simple title to indicate the contents of the book, but the larger message that it carries is about our habitats and environment, which are as vulnerable as some of the birds that are depicted in this book. Of the 66 birds that are featured, seven are extinct, but as regards the ‘threat status’ of the others, 42 come in the categories ‘Least concern’ and ‘Near threatened’, and the others comprise the remaining categories of ‘Critically endangered’, ‘Endangered’ and ‘Vulnerable’.

The author, Mrs Rambha Beejadhur-Treebhoobun, is a well-known artist who is widely travelled, and has held several painting exhibitions in the island. The latest one was in June this year, held at the Blue Penny Museum at Le Caudan, and it was the collection of her paintings of birds, which have now been showcased in this book, also launched at the same venue last Tuesday. In the words of the author: ‘There was no better way to develop this idea than through an illustrated book, not only to display my work but also make the readers appreciate some of the most beautiful and unique bird species of Mauritius and elsewhere.’

The book is beautifully produced and in coffee table format, with one of the birds on the cover against a white background, so it’s very attractive. I had attended the exhibition earlier and was very happy to add this book to my collection so as to go through the pages at leisure and learn more about each species. There have been earlier books published on the birds of Mauritius, but these were of a technical nature. This one, being an emanation from an artist if I may put it this way, brings an altogether different dimension for, to put it mildly, the paintings are delicately exquisite.

We often take our flora and fauna for granted, and in fact in spite of the phenomenon of climate change with impacts the world over and has entered into current jargon, most of us do not actively think about what’s happening to the environment. And yet we are nested in it, and if we do not care for it and take cognizance of the consequences of neglecting it, our very survival as a human species is threatened according to scientists. So every effort to flag concerns thereto is to be welcomed.

Behind the feast for the eyes that this book is, therefore, a larger message about our common future, that of all of us living beings because we are interdependent, even though we may not know how this is the case. But scientists and other observers of nature do, and they have been sounding an ever louder warning ever since the first global meeting about the environment which was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, when for the first time the expression ‘sustainable environment’ was introduced by Mrs Gro Harlem Bruntland, who later became Director General of the World Health Organisation.

And so it is salutary to have an artist contributing to raise concern about our environment, and that is the important message, to my mind, this book carries. As the author points out, ‘… most of our native bird species are threatened with extinction. This book is an attempt of an artist to raise awareness on these birds, their splendor and their fragility’.

With the essential details that are covered as to the ‘description, distribution, voice, behaviour, breeding and feeding habits, and habitat as well as status and population size, threats that they face and their conservation wherever possible’, this is an ideal book to gift to children instead of showering them with all kinds of electronic and mechanical gadgets which are helping to dehumanize them and increase the gap between them and parents.

There’s nothing like sitting with children at a young age and taking time to go through a beautiful book with them, more so when the book is about living things. It’s a very subtle but powerful way not only to bond with them, but also to arouse their curiosity about the habitat and gradually to inculcate notions about how we depend on it for our own living, so that they grow up conscious of its importance and that they have an interest therefore in its preservation.

Birds have always held a fascination for everyone, and children especially are attracted to them, so it’s really a good starting point for their education about life in general. Who does not remember listening to the songs of birds at dusk, when they home in to nest in trees by the hundreds? At least for my generation, that evening symphony used to be a delight, and it is something that is sorely missed now, and fondly remembered and recalled. Our expanding urban environment has taken a toll of trees, with hardly any left for birds to build their nests on – very sad indeed.

On the other hand, we also recall the time when we used to try and imitate bird sounds, and some of us have accounts of birds that used to respond and to come at ‘appointed’ times for this kind of to-and-fro play of sounds, My own favourite was the conde – the Mauritian bulbul in the book –, whose call I could imitate by whistling, when they used to perch on the cherry tree outside a window in my room. Fortunately I still do see some of them around, happily running from branch to branch on the tall bottlebrush trees that I have in my yard. Their gay chirpings bring a lot of pleasant memories back! But I have noticed of late that I cannot whistle with the same vigour as before, which I think is because the muscles concerned the act in my cheeks have now weakened to some extent because of age. But I still like to give it a try for old time’s sake!

While hiking on Sunday mornings in the past, my friends and I have many a time sat at the edge of the gorges of Sept Cascades, and in silent contemplation watched with awe our iconic paille-en-queues soar high and then glide against the backdrop of the clear blue skies above. In such moments our feelings echoed what Mrs Rambha Beejadhur-Treebhoobun has expressed about ‘Mon Parcours En Tant Qu’artiste’ in her book : ‘Je perçois le monde comme un paysage ethnique où le ciel et la mer sont le reflet du paradis’.

If our birds can help us bond to make this island truly the paradise that we vaunt it is, this book can surely put us on that path! There’ll be no better Christmas or New Year book for our kids in particular – it will without doubt give them an early start to the development of an aesthetic sense, to make them appreciate the painstaking effort and patience that go into the creation of something of beauty, to stimulate their curiosity and creativity as they will surely want to take pencil and paper to try their hand at reproducing the pictures of birds – and who knows, perhaps even awaken stirrings in the heart of a budding artist! By the by they will also come to understand that besides art for art’s sake it can also serve as an instrument to further the common good. But there is so much more as well – and this gem of a book will open the door to many enjoyable, shared moments of expanded learning.  

 


* Published in print edition on 21 September 2018

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