Locust In The City

Vijaylakshmi Suman

The rise of the pandemic resulted in people being confined to their homes for months. Since then, a lot of news has emerged where people in the city had witnessed instances of ‘reclamation by nature’. For some, it was a sign of reclamation and recovery, while some quoted this as an absence of threat (mostly human and their activities) which let this flora and fauna to emerge and be more visible than usual. While it was seen as an instance which was cherished by people, it also made us aware of the damage we have been doing to the nature around us.

As a lot has already been reported on the same scenario, I would rather like to draw your attention towards another major development. In the middle of all these happenings, some other creatures also visited a lot of cities in India and were seen as a complete threat. I am referring to swarms of locust which were sighted in several urban areas which are not a usual phenomenon.

Desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) is seen in India, but usually in the month of July-October, as solitary insects or small isolated groups which live and breed in semi-arid/desert regions of Rajasthan. According to news sources,1, on 11-12 April 2020, scientists sighted desert locusts in some cities of Rajasthan. They could become a threat by forming a huge swarm as they can travel up to 150 km per day, eating up every bit of greenery that comes in their way. They feed on a large variety of crops which could also fabricate the issue of food security. One of the reasons given for their sighting in urban areas is the unavailability of food in their natural habitat which happens to be areas of deserts and semi-arid regions. As a consequence, locusts have moved across states attracted by green cover in search of food.

Image: A file photo of a Locust Attack in Africa. Source: UNSOM

As stated earlier, locusts are found in small isolated groups, the sudden large scale breeding and swarm formation indicate that they had a very favourable condition in their natural habitat (desert and semi-arid regions). The habitat should have received enough rainfall to produce enough green which will favour their egg-laying and hopper development. According to some reports, such condition existed since the beginning of the year. Some of the hotspots like Horn of Africa, Yemen, Oman, Iran had recorded widespread rains this year. Consequently, this led to the origin of large-scale breeding of locust which also arrived during the first fortnight of April in Rajasthan. In addition to that, their arrival was also recorded in other eastern parts of the states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra and it was said that this movement was aided by the strong winds from Cyclone Amphan in the Bay of Bengal.

Furthermore, in India towards the eastern part of the country locust are found post-July monsoon, as they confine to the western state of Rajasthan mostly. This year their presence in the eastern states also indicates a lack of food in their usual habitat. They need enough fresh food, almost of their own weight before they mate and reproduce. With no food on the field this year, they have moved to green spaces, including parks or orchards in the city. According to The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organizations, the swarm which flew consists of ‘immature locust’ and possibility they could not be of many treats as they have not laid eggs. Moreover, it is believed that they would retrieve to Rajasthan after July with the changing winds associated with the southwest monsoon.

It could be summarised that their sudden upsurge was driven by meteorological factors like heavy rains and strong wind of cyclone, and in addition to that their movement towards the eastern part of the country was due to search of food. This incident intrigued me to see how our reaction changes so much when we encounter a different kind of elements in nature. The presence of wild animals on the streets were perceived with excitement but the swarm of locust was seen as a threat for human. One of the reason could be because the impact of wild animals in street was not direct and it was not invading in the private spaces of people, however, the locust was directly affecting by storming into house, farms and if not controlled they could be eating away all the crops and impact their livelihood. One could take this scenario as, that nature and its elements like flora and fauna are desirable and appreciated by humans as long as they exist and are restricted in their habitat. The moment they invade into the private spaces, it becomes a threat or nuisance. However, if I turn around the picture a bit, I would also like to think, who is invading in whose private space and creating the threat for whom?

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