Wooden Cars


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj
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Morgan Aero 8 (Source: Brian Snelson/flickr)

Morgan Aero 8 (Source: Brian Snelson/flickr)

I came across the following on BBC TopGear’s front page:

Morgan

Morgan

An antidote for anyone who despairs at the loss of innocence. How sweet it is to think that there’s a shed in the Malvern hills in which a dedicated bunch of artisans is hard at work hand-building sports cars with wooden chassis. What’s more, with the Aero 8 and forthcoming hybrid LifeCar, it looks like they’re here to stay.

This aroused my curiosity about wooden cars.

The Morgan Motor Company, is a family owned British motor car manufacturing firm founded in 1909 by Henry Frederick Stanley Morgan that specializes in hand-assembled cars. The company, based in the Malvern hills, an area of Malvern, Worcestershire, England to the north and east of Great Malvern employs around 163 people. In 2007, Morgan produced 640 hand-assembled cars.

In their FAQs page to the question “Is it still made with a Wooden chassis?” they answer:

“The Morgan car has always been built around an ash-frame , and a steel chassis. The new Aero 8 also has an ash frame. This gives unique strength, flexibility and surprisingly, research showed that the frame made the car safer on impact tests.”

A year ago, in May 2013, I came across a news item in the media about Istvan Puskas, a 51-year-old Hungarian farmer. He lives in Tiszaörs, a village in Jász-Nagykun-Szolnok county, in the Northern Great Plain region of central Hungary.

Istvan Puskas

Istvan Puskas

Farmer Istvan Puskas, is also skilled in woodcraft. He loves to create unique articles with wood that would interest people.

A year earlier, in 2012, he created a unique motorcycle entirely of wood. a one-of-a-kind chopper made almost exclusively out of wood.

In 2013, Puskas created a unique wooden vehicle powered by a Polish-made Fiat 126 engine. The vehicle resembles a tractor.

Though a steering wheel salvaged from an old Mercedes-Benz came in handy, he made the frame, wheels, axles, suspension and gearbox out of wood. He used an old beer barrel for the fuel tank. His object was to use as much wood as possible.

It took him four months to finish building his vehicle.

Even though the current Hungarian laws make it impossible for Istvan Puskas to officially register and drive his unique wooden vehicle on the road, the local policemen impressed with his efforts allow him to drive it on the local lanes in his village. So far, touch wood, he has not run into any accidents.

Since Istvan had no garage to park his wooden vehicle, he had plans to put his creation on the market, as a collector’s item, or as a vehicle for someone who prefers to drive slow. He said that he intends to use the proceeds to fund his next project – a three-wheeled vehicle.

Recently, I came across the following video on YouTube of an amazing, beautiful custom-built 2009 wooden car Uploaded on October 13, 2010 by mrantisocialguy.

This custom hand-built wooden car mounted on a 1986 Toyota truck frame is powered by a Chrysler 318 engine. Driven by an automatic transmission it had 1,800 miles registered on its speedometer at the time of shooting this video.

The following video titled “wooden car Amazing Invention – HD” uploaded by Mohammed Rashed Ul Haq on Jan 13, 2011 is a four-minute long documentary on the manufacture of a wooden car.

Today, I read an article in the Deccan Chronicle, Chennai edition, titled “Wooden car awaits licence“.

Appar Lakshmanan, a hereditary master wood craftsman belonging to the Viswakarma community, has built a wooden car, which is probably the first eco-friendly vehicle made in the state of Tamilnadu, India.

Like Istvan Puskas in Hungary, Appar Lakshmanan too finds it difficult to meet the high criteria set by the Regional Transport Officer (RTO), Chennai.

Appar Lakshmanan drives the car he made almost entirely with wood (Source: DC)

Appar Lakshmanan drives the car he made almost entirely with wood (Source: DC)

The writer of the article J.V. Siva Prasanna Kumar quotes Appar Lakshmanan as saying:

“If its strength of materials and ability to withstand combustion in the event of an accident or collision, then test my car and see the results… The officials seem to raise several questions, including how the wooden frames were fixed together. My father used bamboo pegs as rivets and they stood the test of time. Would anyone believe that?”

Appar Lakshmanan says the wood he used to make the car was not inflammable. Nevertheless, his efforts to convince the RTO authorities and obtain a licence did not yield the desired results. The one among his woes is that he could not get an engine or chassis number for his wooden car. A real paradox indeed!

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The Refracted-Light Lamp of Alfredo Moser Brightens Millions of Homes


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 Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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“Alfredo Moser has changed the lives of a tremendous number of people, I think forever. Whether or not he gets the Nobel Prize, we want him to know that there are a great number of people who admire what he is doing.” – Illac Angelo Diaz, MyShelter Foundation, Philippines.

 

Alfredo Moser

Alfredo Moser

The creative mind of Alfredo Moser, a  Brazilian mechanic, came up with a cheap way to illuminate his house during the day without using electricity. His “Lamp Moser” is just a plastic bottle filled with water and a little amount of bleach, added to prevent the growth of algae.

Alfredo Moser lives in Uberaba, a city in the west of the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil. In 2002, there were frequent power outages in his home city. While talking to the media Moser said: “The only places that had energy were the factories, not people’s houses.”

During the power outages, Moser and his friends were discussing a hypothetical situation of a small plane coming down and the survivors had no matches to light a fire to signal the rescuers. Moser’s boss suggested filling a discarded plastic bottle with water and using it as a lens to focus the sun’s rays on dry grass to start a fire.

This simple idea germinated in Moser’s mind and motivated him to develop the “Lamp Moser” – a cheap source of indoor lighting during the day. The lamp has an intensity around 60 watts.

Moser installed the bottle lamps in his house and in the houses of his neighbours and also in the local supermarket.

Though he does earn a few dollars installing his creation, it has not made him wealthy, but has given him a great sense of pride. He still lives in his simple house and drives his old 1974 car.

In the Philippines, where electricity is relatively expensive, a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. Alfred Moser’s idea of the refracted-light bottle lamps have been installed in more than 200,000 homes and benefitted more than a million people.

Illac Angelo Diaz

Illac Angelo Diaz

Illac Angelo Diaz is the executive director of the MyShelter Foundation in the Philippines that specializes in the use of sustainable or recycled materials such as bamboo, tyre, paper, and discarded plastic bottles as alternative construction materials. They built walls with plastic bottles filled with mud and windows with bottles filled with water.

Diaz came to know about Alfredo Moser and admired the simple principle embodied in the refracted light lamps that provide indoor lighting during the daytime.

In June 2011, MyShelter started making the refracted-light bottle lamps, following the Moser method. Diaz says that one can find Moser lamps, even on remote island communities in the Philippines. He adds that the light provided by the refracted-light bottle lamps help people in poor areas to grow food on small hydroponic farms.

The Foundation now trains people to fabricate and install the refracted-light bottle lamps to earn a small income.

The idea has also caught on in about 15 other countries, from India and Bangladesh, to Tanzania, Argentina and Fiji.

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The Pallikaranai Wetland: Part 2 – The Once Pristine Idyllic Wetland Is Now a Wasteland cum Concrete Jungle!


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj
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Why am I interested in wetlands? Because I am concerned. My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai wetland in Chennai, Tamilnadu, India.

 My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai marsh.

My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai marsh.

Pallikaranai marshland (Photo : T.V. Antony Raj)

Pallikaranai marshland (Photo : T.V. Antony Raj)

Four decades ago, this pristine idyllic wetland had a water spread of approximately 5,500 hectares estimated on the basis of the Survey of India toposheets (1972) and CORONA aerial photographs (1965). It serves as nature’s primary aquifer recharge system for Chennai city. It harvests rain water and the flood water during monsoons and thereby mitigates the desolation and suffering that floods could cause in low-lying areas in Chennai.

A large area of the Pallikaranai marshland is now a dump yard (Photo:  anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)

A large area of the Pallikaranai marshland is now a dump yard (Photo: anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)

Lamentably, over the years, the Chennai Metropolitan authorities without giving any thought to the future recklessly chose to dump over one-third of the garbage, almost 2,600 tonnes per day, of the ever-growing metropolis here in this climactic wetland.

Pallikaranai marsh (Photo: Simply CVR)

Pallikaranai marsh (Photo: Simply CVR)

At present the water spread has shrunk to one-tenth its size due to indiscriminate dumping of city refuse; discharging of sewage; disgorging toxic waste products, etc.

Many nature lovers have photographed the current palpable and saddening state of the Pallikaranai wetland. On June 8, 2013, The Hindu published the article The mired marshby Shaju John. This article was augmented by photographs  captured by him in the post Photo file: The mired marsh.

A significant chunk of non-biodegradable waste is lost in the heaps.( (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

A significant chunk of non-biodegradable waste is lost in the heaps.( (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

Thousands of tonnes of trash of all sorts containing non-biodegradable waste find their way to the wetland amidst the dumped refuse.

Fires, lit to dispose off the garbage, are a regular and major health hazard.  (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

Fires, lit to dispose off the garbage, are a regular and major health hazard. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

While traveling along the roads around the Velachery wetland one encounters the unbearable stench emanating from the decaying garbage hillock. Despite the widespread clamour to stop burning rubbish in the dump yard that stifles the air and impairs visibility of commuters, the incessant burning goes on.

The smoke from the garbage heaps chokes the air for miles around.  (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

The smoke from the garbage heaps chokes the air for miles around. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

Despite the toxic smoke rag-pickers, mostly children living in inhospitable slums frequent the garbage dump.

The burning continues despite widespread clamour for alternatives. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

The burning continues despite widespread clamour for alternatives. (Photo: Shaju John/thehindu.com)

Continual inhaling of the ever-present malodorous germ and virus bound air, the stifling smoke, polluted and poisoned ground water subject the people living miles around the Pallikaranai wetland to major wheezing and carcinogenic health hazards.

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The incredible rate of development, such as the rampant construction of sanctioned IT parks, the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) campus, Hospitals, Colleges, high-rise office and residential buildings, the Velachery MRTS railway station, the flyovers, the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram, etc., in the midst of the marshland also have immensely contributed to the shrinking of the water spread.

A high rise building (Cognizant Technology) on Velachery Tambaram Road.  (Photo - T.V. Antony Raj)

A high rise building (Cognizant Technology) on Velachery Tambaram Road. (Photo – T.V. Antony Raj)

One of the flyovers constructed  in the midst of the marshland (Photo credit: N. Lalitha and C.R .Sivapradha)

One of the flyovers constructed in the midst of the marshland (Photo credit: N. Lalitha and C.R .Sivapradha)

Velachery MRTS Railway station (Photo - Simply CVR)

Velachery MRTS Railway station (Photo – Simply CVR)

With policies in place to crackdown on poaching, encroachment and illegal waste disposal, there is yet hope for the Pallikaranai wetland.

Pallikaranai marsh, which was once a scenic wetland has lost its charm, mainly on account of rapid urbanisation. (Photo:  M. Karunakaran)

Pallikaranai marsh, which was once a scenic wetland has lost its charm, mainly on account of rapid urbanisation. (Photo: M. Karunakaran)

In 2007, to protect the remaining wetland from shrinking further, 317 hectares of the marsh were declared by notification as a reserve forest by the State of Tamilnadu.

Road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram over Pallikaranai Marshland, Chennai, (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

Road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram over Pallikaranai Marshland, Chennai, (Photo: T.V. Antony Raj)

Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve  showing the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh

Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve showing the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh

Nevertheless, it is the opinion of the scientists and researchers involved in the study of the wetland that an additional 150 hectares of undeveloped region located on both sides of the road connecting old Mahabhalipuram Road (OMR) and Pallavaram that bisects the marsh should also be declared a forest reserve.

However, even now, dumping of garbage by the Chennai metropolitan authorities goes on unabated.

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The Pallikaranai Wetland: Part 1 – Flora and Fauna


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj
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Last Sunday I posted an article titled “February 2, 2014 is World Wetlands Day.”

Why am I interested in wetlands? Because I am concerned. My home in Jalladianpet is just 2.5 miles (4 km) from the Pallikaranai wetland in Chennai, Tamilnadu, India.

A wetland is technically defined as:

“An ecosystem that arises when inundation by water produces soils dominated by anaerobic processes, which, in turn, forces the biota, particularly rooted plants, to adapt to flooding.”

The primary factor that distinguishes wetlands from other land forms or water bodies is the characteristic vegetation that adapts to its unique soil conditions. Primarily, wetlands consist of hydric soil, which supports aquatic plants

There are four main kinds of wetlands: marsh, swamp, bog and fen. Sub-types include mangrove, carr, pocosin, and varzea. Some experts also include wet meadows and aquatic ecosystems as additional wetland types.

The Pallikaranai Wetland 

City in the background of Pallikaranai wetland (Photo:  anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)

City in the background of Pallikaranai wetland (Photo: anidiotstraveldiaries.blogspot.in)

Historically, a large part of South Chennai was a flood plain composed of the large Pallikaranai wetland, smaller satellite wetlands, large tracts of pasture land and patches of dry forest.

The Pallikaranai wetland is a freshwater marshland spanning 31 square miles (80 sq Km). It is the Chennai city’s natural primary aquifer recharge system.

Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR)

The original expanse of the marsh, estimated on the basis of the Survey of India toposheets (1972) and CORONA aerial photographs (1965) was about 5,500 hectares, which has now been reduced to about 600 hectares. Situated next to the Bay of Bengal, about 12.5 miles (20 Km) south of the city centre, it is bounded by Velachery (north), Kovilambakkam (west), Okkiyam Thuraipakkam (east), and Medavakkam (south). It is the only surviving wetland ecosystem of the city and is among the few and last remaining natural wetlands of South India. It is one of the three in the state of Tamilnadu, the other two being Point Calimere and Kazhuveli.

Map of Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve Forest.

Map of Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve Forest.

The Pallikaranai wetland is one of the 94 identified wetlands in India under the National Wetland Conservation and Management Programme (NWCMP) of the Government of India that came into operation in 1985–86.

The terrain consists of fresh/saline water bodies, reed beds, mud flats and floating vegetation.

Flora and Fauna

This wetland is literally a treasury of bio-diversity that is almost four times that of Vedanthangal bird sanctuary in the Kancheepuram District of the state of Tamil Nadu, India, 47 miles (75 km) from Chennai where more than 40,000 birds (including 26 rare species), from various parts of the world visit during the migratory season every year.

The Pallikaranai wetland contains several rare and endangered species of plants and animals. It acts as a forage and breeding ground for thousands of migratory birds from various places within and outside the country. Bird watchers opine that the number of bird species sighted in the wetland is definitely more than in the Vedanthangal bird sanctuary.

Figures of the number of fauna and flora found in the Pallikaranai wetland differ among scholars conducting research here.

Among the many quiet contributors to the mapping of India’s natural treasures is Dr. Jayashree Vencatesan, Smithsonian Fellow and researcher, and managing trustee of Care Earth Trust. She obtained a Ph.D. in Biodiversity and Biotechnology from the University of Madras. She is best-known for her research work on biodiversity, and studies wetland ecology.

Dr. Jayashree Vencatesan

Dr. Jayashree Vencatesan

In 2003, the Tamilnadu State Pollution Control Board assigned her the task of conducting a detailed study of Chennai’s last remaining wetland – the Pallikaranai marsh, which is suffering from degradation caused by human impact. The study had two components — to document the biodiversity and to map the extent of the marsh to define or identify a viable unit of management.

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In her work “Protecting wetlands” published on August 10, 2007, Current Science 93 (3): 288–290, she states that the heterogeneous ecosystem of the Pallikaranai marshland supports about 337 species of floras and faunas:

GROUP NUMBER OF SPECIES
Birds 115
Plants 114
Fishes 46
Reptiles 21
Mammals 10
Amphibians 10
Molluscs 9
Butterflies 7
Crustaceans 5
Total 337

Birds, fishes and reptiles are the most prominent of the faunal groups.

Dr. K .Venkataraman, Director of Zoological Survey of India (ZSI)

Dr. K. Venkataraman

However, on August 9, 2013, P. Oppili reported in The Hindu that Dr. K. Venkataraman, Director of Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) while discussing the diversity of species in the marshland, as nine species of amphibians, 21 species of reptiles, 72 species of birds, five species of mammals, 38 species of fish, nine species of shells and 59 species of aquatic and terrestrial insects had been recorded, besides a good number of plankton.

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The Pallikaranai wetland is the home to some of the most endangered birds such as the glossy ibis, gray-headed Lapwings and pheasant-tailed Jacana.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana spotted in Pallikaranai Wetland, Chennai (Photo: Sudharsun Jayaraj)

Pheasant-tailed Jacana spotted in Pallikaranai Wetland, Chennai (Photo: Sudharsun Jayaraj)

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Purple Swamphen-Moorhen in Pallikaranai wetland, Chennai (Photo - Sudharsun Jayaraj)

Purple Swamphen-Moorhen in Pallikaranai wetland, Chennai (Photo – Sudharsun Jayaraj)

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FulvourWhistlingDucks (Photo: GnanaskandanK)

FulvourWhistlingDucks (Photo: GnanaskandanK)

Cormorants, darters, herons, egrets, open-billed storks, spoonbills, white ibis, little grebe, Indian moorhen, Black-winged Stilts, purple moorhens, warblers, coots and dabchicks have been spotted in large numbers in the marshland.

Russel's Viper (Source:  umich.edu)

Russel’s Viper (Source: umich.edu)

The Pallikaranai wetland is also home to some of the most endangered reptiles such as the Russell’s viper.

About 114 species of plants are found in the wetland, including 29 species of grass. These plant species include some exotic floating vegetation such as water hyacinth and water lettuce.

Since 2002,  presence of new plants and  reptiles have been recorded.

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Next → The Pallikaranai Wetland: Part 2 – The Once Pristine Idyllic Wetland Is Now a Wasteland cum Concrete Jungle!

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February 2, 2014 is World Wetlands Day


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj
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Today, February 2 is World Wetlands Day

Logo of Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

Logo of Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On February 2, 1971, the ‘Ramsar Convention on Wetlands’ was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar, on the shores of the Caspian Sea,  to provide the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands. World Wetlands Day celebrated for the first time in 1997 made an encouraging beginning.

Wetland wallpaper

Wetland wallpaper (Photo credit: Jon Rieley-Goddard aka baldyblogger)

A wetland is technically defined as:

“An ecosystem that arises when inundation by water produces soils dominated by anaerobic processes, which, in turn, forces the biota, particularly rooted plants, to adapt to flooding.”

In layman’s words, a wetland is a land area that is saturated with water, either permanently or seasonally, such that it takes on the characteristics of a distinct ecosystem.

The primary factor that distinguishes wetlands from other land forms or water bodies is the characteristic vegetation that is adapted to its unique soil conditions. Primarily wetlands consist of hydric soil, which supports aquatic plants.

A hydric soil is formed under conditions of saturation of soil with water, seasonally by flooding, or permanently by ponding (pooling of unwanted water) long enough to develop anaerobic conditions in the upper part. This term is part of the legal definition of a wetland included in the United States Food Security Act of 1985 (P.L. 99-198).

There are four main kinds of wetlands: marsh, swamp, bog and fen. Sub-types include mangrove, carr, pocosin, and varzea. Some experts also include wet meadows and aquatic ecosystems as additional wetland types.

Marsh is a flat, wetland area, devoid of peat, saturated with moisture during one or more seasons. Typical vegetation includes grasses, sedges, reeds and rushes. Marshes are valuable wetlands and maintain water tables in adjacent ecosystems.

Swamp is a low-lying wetland area, found near large bodies of open water, generally in such places as low-lying coastal plains, floodplains of rivers, and old lake basins or in areas where normal drainage has been disrupted by glacial deposits. Swamps are characterized in the northern regions by an abundant growth of rushes and sedge and in the southern regions dominated by trees, such as the swamp cypress, and high shrubs. Swamps can prevent flooding by absorbing flood waters from rivers and coastal regions.

Bogs and fens (in eastern England) are types of mires – an area of wet, soggy, muddy ground.

Bogs receive their water from the atmosphere. Their water has a low mineral ionic composition because ground water has a higher concentration of dissolved nutrients and minerals in comparison to precipitation. Bogs have acidic soil.

Fens, also known as the Fenland(s), are a naturally marshy region in eastern England. Most of the fens were drained several centuries ago, resulting in a flat, damp, low-lying agricultural region. A fen is the local name for an individual area of marshland or former marshland and also designates the type of marsh typical of the area. The water chemistry of fens ranges from low pH and low minerals to alkaline with high content of calcium and magnesium, but few other plant nutrients because they acquire their water from precipitation as well as ground water.

Laguna de Rocha, the largest wetland in the urban area in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo - Martinsnm)

Laguna de Rocha, the largest wetland in the urban area in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo: Martinsnm)

Every continent has its own Wetlands that occur naturally except Antarctica. The Amazon swamp forests and the Siberian peatland are the largest wetlands in the world. Another large wetland is the Pantanal, which straddles Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay in South America.

The water found in inland wetlands can be fresh water. The water in wetlands along the coastal shorelines are invariably salty or brackish.

Wetlands have many vital and fascinating characteristics that play a number of roles in the environment while also providing recreational opportunities.

Wetland systems improve water quality, control floods, and buffer coastal communities from erosion vital for shoreline stability.

Wetlands are the most biologically diverse of all ecosystems comprising a wide range of plants and serve as home to diverse animal life – fish, birds, reptiles, insects, etc., and provide essential food and habitat for wildlife. More than half of the fish caught for recreational or commercial purposes depend on wetlands at some point in their life cycles. Wetlands are crucial to 75 percent of world’s migratory birds.

Wetlands can also be constructed artificially to serve as a water management tool in the design of water-sensitive urban areas.

Frankly, much of the report compiled by the world environmental agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration  (NOAA) do not portend well.

For example, NOAA has authored a report, “Status and Trends of Wetlands in the Coastal Watersheds of the Conterminous United States 2004-2009,” with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that summarized the status and trends of coastal watersheds.

According to the report, the coastal watersheds of the continental United States lost wetlands at an average rate of 80,000 acres a year during the study period. That’s approximately seven football fields, every hour! It’s a 25 percent increase over the previous 6-year study period.

The loss of these valuable wetlands threatens not only the sustainable fisheries and protected species, but also the supply of clean water and stability of shorelines in the face of climate change. Almost half of the population in the United States now lives in coastal counties. Continued loss of coastal wetlands means less protection for those communities in the coastal counties from strong storms, such as Superstorm Sandy.

Key factors in the degradation and loss of wetlands in coastal watersheds can be directly traced to population growth and its associated development — both residential and infrastructure, changes in water flow, and increased pollution.

Imagery from Earth-observing satellites that map changes in wetlands, however, show that while Mediterranean wetlands had been principally used for agriculture, less wetland areas have been changed by agriculture in the past 10–15 years. This  indicates that agriculture expansion is no longer a severe threat and successful agricultural practices can actually support healthy wetlands.

Imagery from Earth-observing satellites that map changes in wetlands, however, show that while Mediterranean wetlands had been principally used for agriculture, less wetland areas have been changed by agriculture in the past 10–15 years. This  indicates that agriculture expansion is no longer a severe threat and successful agricultural practices can actually support healthy wetlands.

Agriculture needs wetlands for water, pest management, pollination and landscape improvement. At the same time, agricultural land acts as a buffer zone around wetlands, protecting them from developing industrial zones and urban areas. This co-habitation shows that wetlands and the agriculture sector are mutually beneficial.

Recognizing this connection, common strategies for wetland and agro ecosystem-conscious management are on global agendas.

Now, 43 years later, the anniversary of the adoption and signing of the ‘Ramsar Convention on Wetlands‘ is being celebrated under the theme ‘Wetlands and Agriculture: Partners for Growth‘.

Paul Ouedraogo,Ramsar Convention’s Senior Advisor for Africa said:

“We need to find the right balance between the economic demands of agriculture and the necessary wise use of wetlands, which benefits both and is indeed essential for each of them.”

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ALEC Says: “If You Install Your Own Solar Panels Then You Are a ‘Freerider’!”


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Solar panels on a home.  ALEC will promote legislation planning to penalise individual homeowners who install solar panels.

Solar panels on a home. ALEC will promote legislation planning to penalize individual homeowners who install solar panels.

While everyone wants to go green, an alliance of corporations and conservative activists in the United States called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), in a sweeping new offensive on clean energy is mobilising to penalize homeowners who install their own solar panels – casting them as “freeriders“.

  • Documents show conservative group’s anti-green agenda.
  • Strategy to charge people who install their own solar panels.
  • Environmentalists accuse Alec of protecting utility firms’ profits
Is this not a shame?

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Hats off to the owner of this house!


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Tree house

I proudly shared the above photograph of a house I came across on facebook.

The owner of the house, I presume, must be a lover of nature and a “Save the Trees” activist because he has built the house including the tree that was obstructing the frontage of his house.

Clever thinking, isn’t it?

Impressed by this builder’s feat, I chipped in and wrote: “Hats off to the owner of this house.”

However, my friend Joe Croos from Germantown, Maryland, USA, cut my ego down to size with his wise quip:

If I were the local thief the owner would be my sweetheart.

I realized my folly for not thinking about the security and safety of the people living in that house and so, I acknowledged Joe’s shrewdness:

Joe, I did not think from your angle. You are indeed a genius …

The Tree house

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November 19, is World Toilet Day!


Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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“Sanitation is more important than independence.”
– Mahatma Gandhi (in 1925).

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World Toilet Day

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If you find the images used in this article nauseating, then I have made my point. For us, Indians and other Asians, this is life. We have to live with it.

In 2001, World Toilet Organization (WTO) declared November 19 as World Toilet Day (WTD). Today, over 19 countries observe WTD with events hosted by various
water and sanitation advocates.

In developing countries in Asia and Africa, poor sanitation and water supply result in economic losses estimated at $260 billion annually.

India has more mobiles than toilets

Though a majority of the world’s population has access to mobile phones, one third of humanity do not have access to proper sanitation, including toilets or latrines, affecting the environment, human health, dignity and security, and social and economic development.

We all like food. We spend most of our income on food. We look forward eagerly to what we would eat today for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But, do we ever give thought to what happens as a result of all that food we consume?

In our society and community, it is a taboo and not polite to talk about toilets. We do not want others to see the cleaning and sanitation products we use. So, we hide them. We even hide the sewer system beneath the ground.

Why?

Because one third of humanity (2.5 billion people), or one in three people living in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, do not have access to clean, safe, and functioning hygienic toilets. Therefore, they do not bother to discuss the problem of sanitation. As such, sanitation remains a neglected issue with meager financial investments in water, sanitation and hygiene sectors.

In the developing countries, the cost of inaction on sanitation is high. Due to lack of toilets, men, women, the young, the sick and the elderly have to defecate in the open, in fields, in vacant lots, and even by the roadside during the day and at night. Almost 1 billion people continue to defecate in the open.

Excreting in India

Lack of access to clean bathrooms in schools deters many girls from pursuing their education after they reach puberty. In some regions, due to lack of toilets, girls do not go to school when they are menstruating. Improved sanitation facilities can have a particularly positive impact on the education opportunities of young girls, affected by the lack of privacy and cleanliness during their menstrual period. Also, lack of toilets in schools affect all learners from concentrating in the classrooms, as they have to wait for longer periods before being able to relieve themselves in privacy in a dignified manner.

Without toilets and proper sanitation the environment around homes, workplaces, markets, and hospitals, become sources of infection and diarrhoeal diseases due to millions of tonnes of human excretion.

Due to lack of improved sanitation almost 2,000 children die every day from preventable diarrhoeal diseases, the second leading cause of child deaths in the world. Diarrhoeal diseases caused by inadequate sanitation, and unhygienic conditions put children at multiple risks leading to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, high morbidity, malnutrition, stunted growth and death. Every year 0.85 million children die from diarrhoea. Poor sanitation and unimproved water cause 88% of these deaths. Studies reveal that improved sanitation can help reduce diarrhoeal diseases by about 33%.

Despite the scale of the crisis, sanitation remains a low priority for many governments.

How can we mitigate this situation?

Now, many organisations have started to discuss toilets. Investment in sanitation is becoming a priority in many international communities. Yet, because the topic of sanitation has until now been neglected to a vast extent, they wait for good solutions to the problem. New solutions and approaches to sanitation that should have been tried and tested a long time back, are starting to find support only now.

Progress depends on adequate investment and collaborative action by civil societies, multilateral agencies, academia and the private sector in developing countries by supporting national efforts to improve sanitation for all strata of their society.

To address these issues, in July 2013, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the “Sanitation for All” Resolution (A/RES/67/291) designating November 19 as World Toilet Day, aims to change both behaviour and policy on issues ranging from ending open-air defection (which 1.1 billion people practice worldwide) to enhancing water management.

 Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations,

Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.

On July 24, 2013, Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, issued a statement on adoption of the General Assembly resolution ‘Sanitation for All.’

I am delighted and grateful that Member States have adopted a resolution officially designating November 19th as World Toilet Day. I thank the Government of Singapore for its leadership on a crucially important global issue. This new annual observance will go a long way toward raising awareness about the need for all human beings to have access to sanitation.

Despite progress toward the Millennium Development Goals, one in three people do not have a basic toilet. Almost 2,000 children die every day from preventable diarrhoeal diseases. Poor sanitation and water supply result in economic losses estimated at $260 billion annually in developing countries.

Proper sanitation is also a question of basic dignity. It is unacceptable that women have to risk being the victims of rape and abuse, just to do something that most of us take for granted. It is also unacceptable that many girls are pushed out of school for lack of basic sanitation facilities.

This new resolution builds on the General Assembly’s “Sustainable sanitation: the drive to 2015”, agreed in 2010, and adds momentum to the Call to Action on Sanitation that I, on behalf of the Secretary-General, launched in March this year.

I urge every country to accelerate progress towards a world in which everyone enjoys this most basic of rights. I look forward to working with all partners to make Sanitation for All a reality.

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The lack of access to decent toilet is no joke for a third of the world’s people, but a matter of life and death. No other invention has saved more lives than a toilet. Without access to toilets, many women and girls are too embarrassed to go in the open to defecate during daytime and so deny themselves relief until darkness sets in. But, trips to fields or roadside at night, however, puts them at risk of physical attack and sexual violence. So, having a toilet in or near the home lowers the risk of women and girls getting subjected to violence and rape.

Toilets mean safety.

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Price of Bottled Potable Water Around the World


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Bottled Water

Bottled Water

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Drinking a good amount of water is essential to maintain our health. Water helps us to conserve energy, lose weight, and combat disease by hydration.

Though all bottled potable water cannot be deemed healthier than tap water, in most parts of the world the demand for bottled water is increasing day by day even in regions where tap water is considered safe to drink. New York City offers its residents some of the purest, most delicious drinking water on the planet. Over 1 billion gallons are brought in every day from upstate reservoirs. However, most people in NYC just buy brand-name bottled water.

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Recently, the authorities in the state of Tamilnadu, India, sealed hundreds of plants producing bottled water. Even so, many people in the state still buy bottled waters some of which do not meet the ISI standards and marketed illegally.

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Bottled Water Consumption in Ten Countries (1999 and 2004)

Americans buy an estimated 42.6 billion single-serving (1 liter or less) plastic water bottles each year. People in Western Europe consume almost half of all bottled water produced, amounting to more than 100 liters per person every year.

Bottled Water is already having significant adverse effects on the ecosystem of countries all over the world, especially in developing countries.

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The cost of manufacturing, packaging, and transporting bottled water is more expensive than tap water.

Table 1 lists countries where the average price of a 1.5 liter bottled potable water costs USD$ 1.60 (IND₹ 100.58, EUR€ 1.20) or more. The conversions are at prevailing rates of exchange.

Table 1: List of Countries where price of 1.5 Liter Bottled Water
costs USD$ 1.60 or more.

Country

USD$

IND₹

EUR€

Norway

3.32

208.24

2.49

Australia

2.84

178.24

2.13

Zimbabwe

2.75

172.55

2.06

Finland

2.60

163.03

1.95

New Zealand

2.51

157.36

1.88

Iceland

2.47

154.91

1.85

Venezuela

2.39

149.75

1.79

Guernsey

2.32

145.85

1.74

Sweden

2.29

143.88

1.72

Puerto Rico

1.97

123.61

1.48

Canada

1.92

120.19

1.44

Costa Rica

1.90

119.22

1.43

Papua New Guinea

1.83

114.80

1.37

Hong Kong

1.81

113.32

1.36

United States

1.75

109.80

1.31

Ireland

1.69

106.18

1.27

Brunei

1.61

100.80

1.21

United Kingdom

1.60

100.58

1.20

Table 2 lists countries where the average price of a 1.5 liter bottled potable water costs USD$ 0.50 (IND₹ 31.37, EUR€ 0.38) or less.

Table 2: List of Countries where the price of 1.5 Liter of Bottled Water
costs USD$ 0.50 or less.

Country

USD$

IND₹

EUR€

Sudan

0.50

31.37

0.38

Vietnam

0.50

31.37

0.38

Turkey

0.49

30.93

0.37

Afghanistan

0.49

30.50

0.36

Thailand

0.48

30.03

0.36

Hungary

0.45

28.29

0.34

Egypt

0.44

27.34

0.33

Iran

0.41

25.54

0.31

Syria

0.40

25.10

0.30

Indonesia

0.39

24.77

0.30

Tunisia

0.36

22.75

0.27

Nepal

0.35

21.91

0.26

Algeria

0.34

21.31

0.25

Bangladesh

0.32

20.19

0.24

India

0.32

20.00

0.24

Table 3 is an alphabetically ordered list of 122 countries showing the average price of 1.5 liter of bottled drinking water.

Table 3:  Price of 1.5 Liter of Drinking Water across the World

Country                                                        USD$                IND₹                EUR€

Afghanistan 0.49 30.50 0.36
Albania 0.67 41.80 0.50
Algeria 0.34 21.31 0.25
Argentina 1.28 80.60 0.96
Armenia 0.62 38.61 0.46
Australia 2.84 178.24 2.13
Austria 0.67 41.80 0.50
Azerbaijan 0.79 49.40 0.59
Bahrain 1.33 83.19 1.00
Bangladesh 0.32 20.19 0.24
Belarus 0.70 43.92 0.53
Belgium 1.27 79.42 0.95
Bolivia 1.08 67.69 0.81
Bosnia And Herzegovina 0.68 42.67 0.51
Botswana 1.17 73.52 0.88
Brazil 0.88 55.02 0.66
Brunei 1.61 100.80 1.21
Bulgaria 0.55 34.21 0.41
Cambodia 0.55 34.51 0.41
Canada 1.92 120.19 1.44
Chile 1.36 85.14 1.02
China 0.66 41.20 0.49
Colombia 1.30 81.61 0.98
Costa Rica 1.90 119.22 1.43
Croatia 1.05 65.80 0.79
Cyprus 1.28 80.26 0.96
Czech Republic 0.66 41.63 0.50
Denmark 1.43 89.65 1.07
Dominican Republic 0.91 57.00 0.68
Ecuador 1.00 62.74 0.75
Egypt 0.44 27.34 0.33
El Salvador 0.80 50.20 0.60
Estonia 1.07 66.88 0.80
Ethiopia 0.65 40.91 0.49
Finland 2.60 163.03 1.95
France 1.07 66.88 0.80
Georgia 0.60 37.65 0.45
Germany 0.67 41.80 0.50
Ghana 1.00 62.74 0.75
Greece 1.33 83.60 1.00
Guatemala 1.01 63.62 0.76
Guernsey 2.32 145.85 1.74
Honduras 1.00 62.74 0.75
Hong Kong 1.81 113.32 1.36
Hungary 0.45 28.29 0.34
Iceland 2.47 154.91 1.85
India 0.32 20.00 0.24
Indonesia 0.39 24.77 0.30
Iran 0.41 25.54 0.31
Iraq 0.75 47.06 0.56
Ireland 1.69 106.18 1.27
Israel 1.13 70.79 0.85
Italy 0.53 33.44 0.40
Jamaica 1.44 90.06 1.08
Japan 1.33 83.75 1.00
Jordan 0.58 36.57 0.44
Kazakhstan 0.78 48.97 0.59
Kenya 1.00 62.70 0.75
Kuwait 0.53 33.14 0.40
Latvia 0.85 53.54 0.64
Lebanon 0.80 50.20 0.60
Lithuania 0.77 48.43 0.58
Luxembourg 1.07 66.88 0.80
Macao 1.16 72.85 0.87
Macedonia 0.55 34.42 0.41
Malaysia 0.63 39.41 0.47
Malta 0.73 45.98 0.55
Mauritius 0.80 50.43 0.60
Mexico 0.92 57.42 0.69
Moldova 0.61 38.22 0.46
Monaco 1.05 66.05 0.79
Mongolia 0.51 32.23 0.39
Montenegro 0.67 41.80 0.50
Myanmar 0.53 33.36 0.40
Namibia 1.27 79.62 0.95
Nepal 0.35 21.91 0.26
Netherlands 1.33 83.60 1.00
New Zealand 2.51 157.36 1.88
Nicaragua 1.00 62.74 0.75
Nigeria 0.93 58.62 0.70
Norway 3.32 208.24 2.49
Oman 0.51 31.98 0.38
Pakistan 0.42 26.30 0.31
Palestinian Territory 0.85 53.09 0.64
Panama 1.15 72.16 0.86
Papua New Guinea 1.83 114.80 1.37
Peru 1.00 62.70 0.75
Philippines 0.69 43.56 0.52
Poland 0.64 40.21 0.48
Portugal 0.67 41.80 0.50
Puerto Rico 1.97 123.61 1.48
Qatar 0.55 34.47 0.41
Romania 0.75 47.20 0.56
Russia 0.93 58.08 0.69
Saudi Arabia 0.53 33.46 0.40
Serbia 0.54 33.97 0.41
Singapore 1.20 75.60 0.90
Slovakia 0.80 50.16 0.60
Slovenia 0.80 50.16 0.60
South Africa 1.17 73.44 0.88
South Korea 1.15 72.32 0.86
Spain 0.67 41.80 0.50
Sri Lanka 0.56 34.88 0.42
Sudan 0.50 31.37 0.38
Sweden 2.29 143.88 1.72
Switzerland 1.08 67.97 0.81
Syria 0.40 25.10 0.30
Taiwan 1.02 63.91 0.76
Tanzania 0.94 58.83 0.70
Thailand 0.48 30.03 0.36
Tunisia 0.36 22.75 0.27
Turkey 0.49 30.93 0.37
Uganda 1.00 62.57 0.75
Ukraine 0.73 46.02 0.55
United Arab Emirates 0.54 34.16 0.41
United Kingdom 1.60 100.58 1.20
United States 1.75 109.80 1.31
Uruguay 1.35 84.44 1.01
Uzbekistan 0.53 33.54 0.40
Venezuela 2.39 149.75 1.79
Vietnam 0.50 31.36 0.38
Zimbabwe 2.75 172.55 2.06

Source: Know : Price of 1.5 Liter of Drinking Water across the World

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Are There Snakes in Hawaii?


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Studies show that an invertebrate successfully colonized Hawaii once in every 70,000 years, a plant once in every 100,000 years, and a bird once in every million years.

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The Hawaiian Hotspots. (Image from Tasa Graphics)

The Hawaiian Hotspots. (Image from Tasa Graphics)

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Officially and technically, Hawaii doesn’t have any snakes.

Why?

All Hawaiian Islands are volcanic in origin. Over the past 44 million years the islands rose up from the ocean floor due to erupting volcanoes. Even today, the youngest island, Hawaii, is still growing from under.

Hawaii map - Distance from other countries (Source:  Padi.com)

Hawaii map – Distance from other countries (Source: Padi.com)

Hawaii is the most isolated archipelago in the world. The nearest continent, North America, is over 2500 miles (4000 km) away.

The extreme isolation of the Hawaiian archipelago makes it difficult for plants and animals to colonize its islands. The only way for wildlife species to reach the Hawaiian Islands from the rest of the world is to fly or swim across the Pacific Ocean. Chances of surviving the long journey over Pacific by air or sea is virtually small. It would indeed be a miracle to establish a reproducing population on these islands. Since there are no natural predators and diseases in Hawaii, many native plants and animals needed only a few natural defenses to evolve. Studies show that an invertebrate successfully colonized Hawaii once in every 70,000 years, a plant once in every 100,000 years, and a bird once in every million years. This is why it took over millions of years for a very distinct flora and fauna to evolve in Hawaii.

Map of the Pacific Culture Areas (Author : Kahuroa)

Map of the Pacific Culture Areas (Author : Kahuroa)

Before humans set foot in the Hawaiian paradise, there were no large animals to eat plants. Harm to the flora and fauna on the islands began about 1500 years ago when settlers started arriving from Polynesia. Mammals such as pigs, dogs, goats and plants brought by them literally devastated many native ecosystems.

It is illegal to own snakes or transport snakes of any kind to the Hawaiian islands. Anyone possessing a pet snake face up to 3 years in jail and $200,000 in fines. In Hawaii there no natural predators for snakes and large lizards, therefore, if allowed, they could pose a threat to Hawaii’s ecosystem by competing with native animals for food and habitat. Some snake species prey on birds and their eggs, and hence could pose a threat to endangered native birds.

Blind Snakes

Hawaii doesn’t officially have snakes. However, there is one snake that does live in Hawaii, the Blind Snake (Ramphotyphlops hatmaliyeb) likely an import from the Caroline Islands located in Micronesia, an area north of the equator and far west of Hawaii.

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Addison Wynn, a herpetologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History who studies the blind snakes on Caroline Islands says:

“They eat termites and small ants, and there are about 240 or so known species in the world. They spend their lives burrowing so their head is blunt and pointed to push their way through the soil. Their rudimentary eyes can only differentiate between light and dark and exist as pigment spots underneath scales on their head.

These new species extend the known range of blind snakes some 2,000 kilometers out into the Pacific Ocean, into areas where we didn’t know they occurred or could ever occur. We just didn’t expect to find blind snakes out there (Caroline Islands) in the middle of the ocean.”

Some other studies that the blind snakes found in Hawaii could have come there from far off Philippines, about 5300 miles (8530 km) away.

So, other than the blind snakes, it is widely assumed that there are no snakes in Hawaii. Sadly, this is not totally true. According to a few reports some snakes have been seen in Hawaii.

Ornate Tree Snake

The Ornate Tree Snake captured at Hickam Hickam Air Force Base. (Photo by  Dr. Allen Allison, Bishop Museum

The Ornate Tree Snake captured at Hickam Hickam Air Force Base. (Photo by Dr. Allen Allison, Bishop Museum)

On May 23, 2013, Military personnel at Hickam Air Force Base captured a foot-long mildly-venomous Ornate Tree Snake (Chrysopelea ornate) in a maintenance bay near the airfield.

Since the Ornate Tree Snakes have the ability to spring from tree to tree, they are also known as ornate flying tree snakes. These snakes are native to South East Asia and related to the brown tree snakes which have devastated the ecosystem in Guam by virtually wiping out the native forest birds. Their diet consists of lizards, mice, bats and birds.

Boa constrictor 

This was a snake found ran over on the mainland. (Photo: National Parks Service)

This was the five-foot long boa constrictor found run over on Pali Highway (Photo: National Parks Service)

On September 22, 2013, a five-foot long Boa Constrictor was run over on the Pali Highway by a motorist. Several inspectors of Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) went directly to the area where the snake was found. However, they did not find evidence of any other snakes. Russell S. Kokubun, chairperson of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture said:

“Any snake found in the wild in Hawaii is of serious concern. Boa constrictors may grow up to 12 feet, which is particularly troubling for nearby residents and for the environment.”

Rainbow Boa Constrictor 

A non-venomous rainbow boa constrictor

A non-venomous rainbow boa constrictor

At about 7 am on November 5, 2013, Victor Palmeri, found a live two-and-a-half foot long non-venomous Rainbow Boa Constrictor on the Nuuanu Avenue sidewalk fronting the Kukui Plaza condominium. Native to Central and South America, rainbow boas can grow up to six feet long. Rainbow boas are known for their attractive iridescent sheen on their scales in the sunlight. Their diet consists of rodents, lizards, aquatic animals, and birds.

It is not known at this time how these snake found their way to Hawaii.

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