Ecology & Wildlife
As stewards of the local land, we do all we can to create an eco-friendly environment
NEW - Kerala tourism recognised by UN experts
As an article in today’s Hindu (23.03.12) comments, at the recent meeting of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Kerala’s brand of sustainable tourism, with eco-friendliness and inclusiveness as its mainstay, has been hailed as 'a model for India' with equally great potential for replication across the globe.
The accolades for the Responsible Tourism (RT) model came at a recent meeting of UNCTAD in Geneva, which brought together experts, policymakers and diplomats as well as representatives of international organisations and civil society.
"Kerala has become a model for tourism development for the entire India," said Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary General of UNCTAD.
Addressing the meeting, Suman Billa, tourism secretary for Kerala, said the state had turned tourism into a driver of economic growth without compromising on ecology and by integrating the interests of local people.
While four pilot destinations - Kumarakom, Kovalam, Wayanad and Thekkady - were chosen for implementing RT practices in 2007, the next year saw the philosophy spread to Malabar with the opening of Neeleshwar Hermitage.
Our White Bellied Sea Eagles
Among the many birds in and around The Hermitage, the pair of White-bellied Sea Eagles nesting just north of our lagoon has a special place in our affections. They form one of only thirty-eight pairs known in Kerala, and fly south over the hotel together each morning and each evening return. These diurnal birds of prey mate for life and for four or five years keep the same nest, always in a tall tree along the shore or in a sacred grove. Ours nest in a casuarina, a lovely feathery species that is found along much of India’s coastline. It is the disappearance of trees of this size, along with environmental pollution, that is the major cause of the white-bellied eagles’ declining numbers. Indeed according to the Red Data index, they are approaching extinction in the subcontinent, though they are also found on the shores of Australia, Sri Lanka and the Andaman islands.
Just as we renovate our thatching each off-season, so these birds do annual maintenance on their nest by adding new dried twigs, and both male and female birds work together on it. The eggs, white in colour, are laid one or two at a time and take about 50 days to hatch. The young are white, and within two months will start flying to the sea in search of food.
This particular eagle has is considered auspicious in the stories and beliefs of the fishing community in Malabar amongst whom we live. It is generally believed to bring them blessings and it is thought that when it appears in the sky, the person who identifies it correctly will be in for a bumper catch.
The eagle has different names in different places. Just down the coast from us in Mahe it is called ‘Garuda’, after the mythical King of the Birds who is the vehicle of Lord Vishnu. Garuda, who is half-man half-eagle, is often portrayed as devouring the serpent of time, so the connection with an eagle whose main food is the poisonous sea snake is clear.
A local myth says that the bird chants the Kamala mantra into the ears of its prey in order to paralyse it, while near here at a place called Ajanur, there is a traditional healer who chants a particular Garuda mantra associated with the bird to help in the cure of his patients suffering from snake bite.
Whatever the eagle’s prey – snakes, fish, crabs, rodents and even smaller birds up to the size of a seagull – it will be taken to the nest and devoured slowly there. The ground below our locals’ nest is littered with the skeletons of snakes. However, the wily crows are smarter: they will always try to snatch the food from the eagles’ beak and get the benefits of hunting without doing the hard work! Many of our guests have enjoyed seeing the birds and their nest, either by walking up the beach or taking the canoe trip up our undisturbed lagoon (which is a bird-watcher’s paradise) and getting onto the beach that way.
The accompanying photos taken of our local eagles come by kind courtesy of Dr. P. Santhosh, a keen local ornithologist and very talented wild-life photographer.
The 2 images of Kingfishers were taken by photograher friend Ann Brooks,
We operate a ‘no-plastic’ policy. As part of our ‘no plastic policy’ we do not use bottled water, as even a hotel this size could easily generate a hundred empty bottles a day. All our drinking water is purified on site by the most up to date ‘reverse osmosis’ method, and is perfectly safe to drink. This water comes in copper jugs which, according to Ayurveda, give it added nutritional value. Not only is this water safe, nutritious and delicious to drink, but it leaves no plastic footprint.
- We also use bags made of cotton and recycle paper (which gives work to the local people)
- We are a non-smoking hotel
- All kitchen waste is recycled to provide bio-gas for rubbish incineration
- All human waste is purified and used to water the garden
- All garden waste is recycled to make mature compost
- All burnable waste is incinerated on site
- Water is conserved
- The gardens are kept free of artificial fertilisers
- The site has been landscaped to encourage butterflies and a large range of local and migratory birds
In the next phase of our development we shall be setting up an organic vegetable garden and making use of solar energy in the site.
The Malabar Foundation
As part of our commitment to ecological awareness and the fostering and preservation of all wildlife in the area, we have established the Malabar Foundation. This organisation will work with relevant governmental bodies, local NGO's and also other hotels in the region to do everything we can to raise awareness of, and implement genuinely beneficial programmes for, the precious ecology of Malabar.
Our beach at the Hermitage is part of a 12 kilometre stretch on which a rare and beautiful species of turtle is battling for survival. This is the Olive Ridley, named for the delicate olive colour of its heart-shaped shell. One of the smallest of the sea turtles, with adults reaching 2 to 2½ feet in length and weighing 80 to 110 pounds, the Olive Ridley is now an endangered species.
But these amazing figures also tell a sad story: though eight out of ten eggs hatch, only 1 out of 1000 hatchlings that make it to the ocean survive. Birds, large fish, diminishing breeding habitat and food stocks are not their only enemies; humans have traditionally harvested eggs, fresh hatchlings and adult turtles.
Fortunately, at Neeleshwar there is now there is a local volunteer NGO group that collects the eggs [totalling 7000 in 2006], takes them to a protected hatchery 2 kms south along the beach, and supervises the safe return of the hatchlings to the sea.
We are keen to do all we can to help join in the worldwide fight to preserve this rare and endangered species.
The Hermitage is surrounded by rice fields and coconut groves. The nearest belt of forest is some kilometres away and one can see grassland species such as chats, robins, warblers, and species that may be seen in open country such as pipits, drongos, babblers etc.