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A tribute to Agumbe



Fig 1: Lion-tailed macaque
Imagine yourself sipping a cup of coffee (or tea if you don’t like coffee) sitting on a wooden log in a thick rainforest, counting the number of Malabar Giant squirrels and an outburst of chirping by a group of birds near you with occasional sights of flying lizards (Draco). If you are puzzled by the names, do not panic. I was as clueless about Draco as you are now! Seems like a distant dream in the rainforests of Amazon, right? No, you are wrong, it’s an eight-hour bus journey from Bangalore to Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS) along the western ghats,  founded in 2005, by a leading Indian Herpetologist Romulus Whitaker. Whitaker saw his very first king cobra here in 1971 (Thanks Wiki!).
As a kid, I used to pass by Agumbe several times during summer vacation to meet my grandmother, without understanding the ecological importance it holds. The place where Malgudi days was shot was the only place which amazed me in Agumbe, the ghats however gave me a chill every time I had to pass through them. My uncle’s brief interaction with Romulus Whitaker never bothered me much. Why am I talking about Agumbe in the first place, all thanks to PRiMER (Primer to methods in ecology and research) 2019 conducted by Gubbi Labs, this nature trip has changed my perspective to reptiles in particular. I have a lot to talk about the place now!
Giving a little introduction about PRiMER, I would like to term it as a week-long surprise or in short, the surprise week. It consists of an intense course on Ecology and its research methods.
Mind you! ecology and conservation are not the same! (It also does not mean ecologists are heartless.)
My main objective to attend this course was to understand the statistics used for ecological data, to understand what are ecological problems and ways to address them. To add to this; it also connects you with amazing people.
Of course, I learnt way more than that. Here, in this blog putting it in words just makes all the lessons etched.

Fig 2: Green vine snake
Day 1 involved introduction to research, day 2: statistics; day 3: visualisation and mapping; day 4: data collection and sampling methods; day 5: research writing; day 6: putting the learning into practice.
The mentors of Gubbi Labs make this course a worthwhile experience. The whole team included people from various backgrounds, and hence consisted of a holistic team.
Statistics class did teach me that rarer things occur rarely; remember the normal distribution Bell curve. But when it comes to uniqueness of people, I guess we don’t follow a Bell curve.
Fig 3: Roux's forest lizard
The whole process made me understand the beauty of research. Research tells a story about the data characters and how the data led its life to enlighten humans about things which he/she would not have found out by himself/herself. It is a combination of science, art and technology. If the process of research is followed in a right way then, no observations are considered wrong.
As mentioned, the whole week was full of surprises be it having dinner on the same table where the King Cobra was laid a few minutes earlier or looking at flying lizards everywhere, understanding that the research done on frogs is very little and coming to terms with the fact that male king cobra eats the female cobra (Yes! You heard it right!).

Fig 4: Malabar gliding frog
The night trail was the one which excited me the most. Those walks were never burdened with the tiredness which we used to experience after going through the intense course. If you can read Kannada please read this article by Mr. Keshavamurthy C. G.-one of the participants here. The walks actually gave me an experience of enjoying the present moment. The variety of species found in the rain forest is mind blowing. The most interesting species which I found there was the Slender Loris, a mammal which is really shy and comes out during night. It can be rarely spotted on high tree tops with big round glowing eyes. I have not seen it fully other than its glowing eyes so my quest to see it continues!
The last day was for presentation on a project derived from the week long course. We had to come up with a topic which should be a valid research question and give a proposal on how to make it possible. The topic that I chose coming from a Geoinformatics background was: Vegetation Structure Distribution using L-band SAR image for Mangroves. Please write to me if you want to discuss about it.
I was totally confused about the topic and I could not actually come up with an ecological research question. But I did understand the importance of it. While pursuing a career of research we actually need to be very aware of the research question and we should constantly be conscious of the methods, its feasibility and the available time. A valid research question which is not a replica of any previous study has a great potential to pave ways for many more research questions. Conducting the research is not more important than finding a good research question. For finding a good research question just do one thing: take a break and read many journal papers (Sounds easy? Sure, not😊).
Unfortunately, I cannot remember the names of all species which I saw but I think I am now able to understand research in a better way and moreover I am able to understand the correct methods to follow for a successful research to manifest.
Cheers to the whole team, Gubbi Labs and Agumbe (ARRS)! Now that everything's written, it would be even better if I am able to actually practice it. Kudos to all involved! The purpose is served!
A special thanks to ILK Labs without whom this experience would have been impossible (I mean it!).

Fig 5: Draco/ Flying lizard/ Gliding lizard
Thanks, Harsha (harsha.jt94@gmail.com) for sharing these amazing photos and their names!
PS: I do know that we saw some important species like cobra, pit viper, giant squirrels, Draco, Malabar gliding frog, grey hornbill, tarantula! All these have taught me a very subtle message which is: we need to be aware of the surrounding while maintaining the inner peace! If you feel information about any species is incorrect please enlighten me at adithi@ilklabs.com.


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