In the dry scrub of Gir National Park in Gujarat, B P Pati, Deputy Conservator of Forests, has found what he believes is evidence for homosexual behaviour among Asiatic lions (Panthera leo persica) in the absence of females. Pati, along with a team of dedicated wildlifers, studied a young pair of lions, around six to seven years of age, and they showed tendencies of homosexuality.
Back in 1982, Sanat Chauhan, now Principal Chief Conservator of Forests in Gujarat, had made similar observations on a pair of lionesses in the world famous home of the Asiatic lion. Meanwhile, experts working on African lions have never come across similar behaviour.
Aberrations are far from unusual among animals. Studying the behaviour of animals such as the lion is a painstakingly slow process that can take years of observation and a meticulous understanding of the circumstances that lead to a particular pattern, a choice of action, and a course of life among animals. In other words, cases such as Patis observations are best treated as individual cases without making generalizations for the entire species in general.
This is perhaps why one of the worlds best known big cats experts, Peter Jackson, Ex-chair of the IUCN Cat Specialist Group and Advisor and Editor of Cat News, has expressed a note of caution. He says that close friendships develop between individuals of the same sex in many, if not all, species, including humans. But they are not necessarily sexual and it is essential to find out that mating took place. Pati has given photographic evidence of the finding in Gir, with detailed explanations, but as the pair was observed only for one season, it may be premature to draw inferences on whether it is an acquired habit or mere adaptation to circumstances.
The lions of Gir are famous for their companionship, and it is well known that except during mating, they prefer to associate with members of their own sex. Scientists have observed how two male lions feed simultaneously with their heads touching. Females rubbing their heads together, a gesture normally seen in courting lions, and sharing a carcass are other such observations.
Under normal circumstances, Asiatic lions live and hunt in a group, or the pride. Like human families, a pride is a stable and permanent social group of related adult females and males (whoever is in possession of the group at that time) and their cubs. This family occupies a particular home range or territory. The lions territory is the place of maximum action where hunting, resting, feeding and the rearing of cubs take place. Normally a lioness with cubs prefers to confine herself to a smaller area with protection and food for the cubs. The males occupy a larger area of control, which may overlap with that of more than one female. This provides them an opportunity to mate with as many females of the group as possible.
In normal course, a mating pair stays close together for days, hunting as a pair for a long span before actual mating occurs. This stems from the lioness allowing only one male to form such an association at one time. This prolonged association reassures the female that the preferred male is the right occupant of the territory and not an intruder. On the other hand, males are quite fussy during courting and do not tolerate the presence of alien lions and any intrusion leads to serious fights.
Incidentally, the lions studied by Pati and his team are normal healthy males that prefer each others company but have also sired cubs. Together, they control a 70-square-kilometre territory that has four females. Pati says: The period of study happened to coincide with the prime season of mating, and all the four lionesses of the pride were involved in rearing cubs. He believes this circumstance to be central to the two male lions choosing to remain together.
According to Dr Craig Packer, professor at the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Behaviour in the University of Minnesota who has been working on the lions of Serengeti, he has never come across any prolonged homosexual behaviour in the wild. However, he does mention a couple of cases of genetic mutant males that behaved exactly like males. Packer says that this condition occasionally occurs in dogs too and is due to a defect in the male hormone receptors. Homosexuality in African lions has been observed only in captive lions and has been attributed to that unusual circumstance. However, what triggered this behaviour in the Asiatic lion is difficult to ascertain. The best choice for Pati and his team would be to extend the study and watch out for larger trends. Meanwhile, its a jury that is still out.
When you see a fly-ash brick, you will rarely think of the mother, fly ash dry, polluting, and dangerous. It is almost as though the brick in its utilitarian shape overshadows the malevolence of fly ash.
Useful they may be, but there is a human mindset in place that disallows the frequent and widespread use of these bricks. This was stated by the Union Minister for Power, Mr. Suresh P. Prabhu, at the end of a workshop in Bhubaneswar, Orissa in early December. The workshop focussed on maximising flyash use in the Eastern region of India. The minister also highlighted his government's mission to make people aware of the many uses of flyash.
Though the technology for converting fly ash to bricks is not new, its acceptance is another story. Many research organizations in India such as the CFRI (Central Fuel Research Institute), Dhanbad; the National Council for Cement and Building Materials, Ballabhgarh; the Central Building Research Institute, Roorkee; and the Ahmedabad Electricity Company, Ahmedabad have also developed technologies for the manufacture of fly-ash bricks.
Besides using up fly ash, which is generated in huge amounts in India from the countrys many thermal power plants, these bricks could also give a breather to Indias fertile topsoil, which is currently being destroyed at an alarming rate by the clay brick industry, at 20234 hectares a year. Fly-ash bricks will also fill the gap in supply of bricks to the ever-growing building industry of the country. Energy will also be saved if the CFRI technology is adopted, as fly-ash bricks need not be fired.
The production of over 100 million tonnes of fly ash annually in India is a worry and also an embarrassment for thermal power plants as the greatest producers of electricity and Indias prime engine for development. Estimates are that the producers of fly ash are spending 1.46 billion dollars annually to control it. To prevent fly ash from being air-borne and causing serious pollution, the dumping grounds need to be kept wet all the time, for which either sprinklers are used or agencies hired to water the grounds. Instead of solving the problem, this practice aggravates it because these sites are not lined and seepage contaminates groundwater and soil.
Fly ash is a cocktail of unhealthy elements silica, aluminum, iron oxides, calcium, magnesium, arsenic, mercury, and cadmium, and poses serious environment and health hazards for a large population. But the brick is better off, for fly ash changes into a non-toxic product when mixed with lime at ordinary temperature. The calcium silicate hydrates produced as a result of the mixing make fly ash bricks stronger than good quality clay bricks. Besides, these bricks have a pleasing colour like cement, are uniform in shape and smooth in finish, also, they require no plastering for building work. They are lighter in weight than ordinary clay bricks and less porous too.
Though the scientists at the CFRI, developed and patented the technology in 1970, the first demonstration of its usage began in 1977 in a West Bengal housing project in Asansol. About half a million fly-ash bricks were utilized produced from a 1000-bricks per shift fly-ash brick plant. These buildings have stood the test of time and converted many into fly-ash brick users. The first commercial venture began in 1986. The processes developed by them involve mixing of fly ash, sand and lime, moulding of bricks and then curing the green bricks. In some technologies, gypsum is used as a chemical accelerator. However, the requirement of curing is different for different technologies varying from water curing to steam curing at low pressure or autoclaving at 10-14 kg/cm2.
Despite fly ash being free, the use of fly ash bricks is confined a few pockets. It has grown ten times in the past decade, but compared to France, Germany, and the UK, the growth in India has been miniscule. In states like Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, the acceptance is high. This is because the quality of soil is poor, and clay bricks are low grade.
Fly-ash bricks have also been found successful in places near thermal power plants, as the logistics of carrying fly ash and producing the bricks is profitable enough to compete with clay bricks. However, domestic users still perceive these bricks as ash and are uncertain of their durability. It may be time to spread the good word. The government, meanwhile, says it means business because it is exploring new areas for research and development and a proper economic model for the time-bound implementation of flyash use.