World Sparrow Day was not initiated by top conservation organisations but a low profile Indian conservationist, Mohammed Dilawar from Nasik, who took it upon himself to conserve the humble sparrow. Today, 30 countries including India celebrate this day by resolving to care for sparrow that is known to be a key indicator of our biodiversity.
When you were a child, did your mother threaten you saying, “If you don’t eat your food, the sparrow will come and eat it from your bowl”? Did you grow up seeing sparrows in your courtyard or chirping on your window sill in the morning? Truly, sparrows were our introduction to nature.
March 20 is being observed as World Sparrow Day for the 10th year and it all started from a small town called Nasik in 2009. Mohammed Dilawar, founder of Nature Forever Society-India was a lecturer in RYK College of Science in Nasik when his guide asked him to research on either tiger or leopard-human conflicts. But he wanted to research on an animal which was not so popular among conservationists otherwise. “I figured out a research done by scientists in London about sparrows and how they are fast declining. This got me easily because I have also grown up with sparrows in Nasik,” he says.
A year later, Dilawar started working in the Royal Society for the Prevention of Birds, UK, and he served for four years before he came back to India to start the Nature Forever Society-India. It is an NGO that focuses exclusively on sparrow conservation. “We don’t want people to do cheque book charity. We want them to spare time and think about reconnecting themselves with sparrows. We have about 50,000 active members of the society now who are from all walks of life. I only ask them to use their strengths and skill set to redevelop the broken emotional connect with the sparrow. We have grown up with them but our children have not. I suggest people should do something meaningful to aid conservation of sparrows or something that will add value to our work rather than donating money. And the donations that we anyway receive is spent on buying bird feeders,” Dilawar added.
Together with his brother Om Dilawar, who is a graduate in commerce and jumped to join his brother’s journey to conserve sparrows, Nature Forever Society has been able to set up over one million bird feeders in all Indian towns and cities and many other cities in the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Australia. The society was registered in 2009 and in 2010, Dilawar and Christian Pilard of Eco-Sys Action Foundation-France were having a discussion over a cup of coffee on how to bring the humble sparrows into the limelight. “And we started the World House Sparrow Day for the first time in Delhi in 2010. In a year, we were encouraged by many organisations, governments and people and from 2011, we called it World Sparrow Day,” he said.
In 2012, the brother also proposed the then chief minister of Delhi, Sheila Dixit, to declare this humble bird as the state bird. “Delhi did not have a state bird and when we proposed this idea, she immediately did so. This not only helped increase awareness about conservation in Delhi but across India. Conservation of sparrows does not require one to go to the forest and spend days or nights and spend money to do all this and much more as in case of conservation of tiger. So people immediately took up conservation of sparrows. We have already created awareness camps for about two lakhs people in India. Cities like Delhi, Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Pune, Nashik, Hyderabad, Bengaluru are at the forefront in conservation of sparrows. The I Love Sparrows Campaign is a hit among citizen scientists, birders,” says Om.
Not just that, the Dilawar brothers have entered the Limca Book of Records and Guiness Book of Records for installing the highest number of bird feeders for free in places where sparrows are found. “We don’t want people to install bird feeders in their homes but also in places where they find sparrows or habitats of sparrows in their surroundings. This increases their numbers and helps conservation,” Mohammed added.
Their NGO not only organises activities on this day in different cities but also hosts the World Sparrow Award which now gives distinguished award for conservationists, animal activists, birders, researchers, citizen scientists and green champions. It is sponsored by Wipro–the Indian IT giant.
Apart from that, Dilawar initiated Project Save our Sparrows in 2011 under which the NGO distributed and installed bird feeders in India and other countries. He also started the BiodiverCity Photo Competition in 2013 and is presently working on the Common Bird Monitoring of India Program which will help in monitoring 18 common bird species of India.
EMR–biggest threat to sparrows
Changing urban landscape and loss of tree cover are the main reasons for the decline of sparrows like any other bird or animal. But cellphone towers emitting electromagnetic radiations (EMR) are the biggest threat of all.
Sparrows are known to be key indicators of biodiversity. It is the only bird which depends on humans for nesting, feeding, etc., and that is why sparrows are found around human habitats, be it urban or rural. This is the reason, says Mohammed Dilawar, that humans need to care for the bird.
“When I wrote the paper Impacts of Cellphone Towers on Wildlife and Bees, it was the era of 2G, now we dwell in 4G and 5G is coming soon. There has been no impact assessment of EMR on humans, forget sparrows alone. We have data and alerts systems for weather and pollution but not for EMR. Electromagnetic pollution is a big worry but there are no norms for that in India. The industry lobby prevents having norms. The humble sparrow is on a fast decline because of EMR. And there is no data on how many of these birds exist because citizen science is still new and getting data is secondary. We spend most of the time running around to save these birds now. If the relationship with the bird is re-established, I believe a lot can be changed on the ground to conserve them. I always say that if we cannot save the sparrow, how do we think we can save the tiger? And if sparrows are vanishing, our turn is next,” he says.
Image credit: www.worldsparrowday.org