Cities and Biodiversity Outlook

Welcome to the photo gallery!

Take part of local people's own captions as they explore the scope for nature in Bangalore's urban landscape and around the city's Kaikondarahalli lake.

A new hope

A new hope

Photo by ©Jatin Maria. All rights reserved.

White-throated Kingfisher

The King decides what to fish for

Photo by ©Rajesh Balakrishnan. All rights reserved.

Spot-billed Pelican

Agape at the sight of an urban 'crane'

Photo by ©Rajesh Balakrishnan. All rights reserved.


The city's potential

Photo by ©Harini Barath. All rights reserved.

Black Kite

Urban opportunists

Photo by ©Aniruddha Gupte. All rights reserved.


A breath of fresh air

Photo by ©Aishwarya Belliappa. All rights reserved.

Building homes

Building homes

Photo by ©Hayath Mohammed. All rights reserved.


Dangling, dwelling

Photo by ©Sumit Sinha. All rights reserved.

Fishing bird

Whose catch?

Photo by ©Sumit Sinha. All rights reserved.

Heritage trees

Ancient roots

Photo by ©Anand. All rights reserved.

House sparrow

Thrived but not thriving

Photo by ©Aditya G. Kamath. All rights reserved.


Seeing the light

Photo by ©Vanila Balaji. All rights reserved.


Love is everywhere

Photo by ©Dhruv Ashra. All rights reserved.

Manini Bansal


Photo by© Manini Bansal. All rights reserved.

Nature in my backyard

Nature in my backyard

Photo by ©Amitabh Mukherjee. All rights reserved.

Paper Wasp

The Paper Wasp

Photo by ©Santhosh Krishnamoorthy. All rights reserved.


Urban fishermen

Photo by ©Vanila Balaji. All rights reserved.


Green patches

Photo by ©Mohammad Safeer. All rights reserved.


Expect the unexpected.

Photo by ©Jennifer Burley. All rights reserved.


What challenges to expect?

Photo by ©Mainak Mukherjee. All rights reserved.


Different users, different interests.

Photo by ©Anand. All rights reserved.


Remember me.

Photo by ©Roheen Malu. All rights reserved.

A new hope. Bangalore

is India’s fifth largest city and one of the most rapidly developing. The fast urbanization has been posing major challenges for managing ecosystems and biodiversity but it can also present opportunities Bangalore's natural environment. Green areas still cover a significant part of the city's area, protected by institutions such as the military and public sector companies. As the city grows, it becomes increasingly important to maintain, protect and provide access to the city's natural areas and resources, underpinned by biodiversity, for the well-being of the city's inhabitants not only today but also in the future.

The King decides what to fish for. ...or maybe he

doesn't. This White-throated Kingfisher and its prey remind us of how species are parts of ecosystems, and how the systems are interdependent. Focusing management of urban areas on supporting connectivity and interdependence of species and ecosystems, making them an integral part of the development of cities, allowing people to directly interact with nature in cities, can make cities dynamic hubs for human and ecological well-being. In contrast, focusing only on saving green areas where birds nest, while simultaneously encroaching on lakes and thereby destroying sources of food for the birds, is an example of development that does not support well-being for ecosystems and removes crucial support for human well-being.

Agape at the sight of an urban 'crane'. “I have visited

on Pelicanry in the Carnatic, where the Pelicans have (for ages I was told) built their rude nests, on rather low trees in the midst of a village, and seemed to care little for the close and constant proximity of human beings”, Thomas C. Jerdon wrote about the spot-billed pelican already in 1864. Now, in 2013, we must ask ourselves though, to what extent these birds uncaringly can keep up with us. The photographer of this image hinted a presentiment of danger in describing it as: “The Pelican is agape at the sight of the urban crane…”

The city's potential. Grey Imperial Pigeons

rises from Bangalore’s impressive state library, in a fitting metaphor of knowledge and ideas letting us take off towards an emerging better tomorrow. As centers of human innovation, and perhaps the most active frontier of our impact on the planet, cities offer enormous opportunities to reimagine and invent a different kind of future with room for humans and other species to thrive. The Grey Imperial Pigeon, for example, has adapted so well to the urban environment that it is rare to come by in the wild. Cities may well be the ground where we secure a globally sustainable future – one that establishes responsible environmental stewardship at the heart of human well-being.

Urban opportunists. With the increased

contact of humans and wild animals due to the dramatic rise in urban sprawl, certain animal species have been successfully adapting or even profiting from these new, highly urbanized environments. The Black Kite, for example, is found in densely populated areas in India. As an opportunistic hunter, it has been known for not only taking birds, rodents, bats, or fish, but also household refuse and carrion from butcheries and dumping grounds. Many species, however, are much more reliant on natural resources and react strongly to habitat changes, which commonly occur as a result of urbanization and how land is used. We therefore need conscious urban development that protects and supports both the species that we see and those that avoid us when they can.

A breath of fresh air. Urban green areas and trees

are becoming increasingly important in the face of climate changes to provide regulating ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, temperature moderation, and air purification in urban environments. Providing a breath of fresh air in the midst of an otherwise often rather unclean, loud, and hectic city life, retaining the green lungs of Bangalore, or the “Garden city”, must be a top priority on the city’s pathway towards sustainability.

Building homes. Bangalore's wildlife

depends not only on natural green spaces but also on the built fabric of the city. Indeed, some species are almost entirely confined to the habitat provided by built structures, or spend a substantial part of their lives in, on, and around them. It is therefore important that management of the existing built environment takes account of wildlife as well as that new developments are built with biodiversity in mind. As a first principle, new developments should of course avoid damaging crucial sites, but biodiversity can also be incorporated into development through wildlife-friendly landscapes and features such as green walls, roofs, and balconies or nesting and roosting spaces.

Dangling, dwelling. Compact living

is becoming increasingly common as Bangalore's population is growing. The former garden city characterized by bungalows now sees a rapid expansion of high-rise buildings. Done consciously, with urban green areas and the native biodiversity conserved, the densification of the city can be important for a sustainable growth. Done without human and ecological well-being in focus, however, the densification of the city can lead to eradication of green areas, degradation or encroachment of the water bodies, and built-up areas that don't meet the needs of the people. This photograph of a truly impressive dangling bird’s nest was taken at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore. Research and education are vital to the task of acquiring knowledge on ecosystems and capacity to manage them in ecologically sound ways. That knowledge and capacity is, however, not only acquired in formal education establishments but also generated through a wide range of informal modalities of learning. Cities are exceptional sites of continuous exchange of practical, traditional and scientific knowledge that all can be critical in encouraging changes in behavior to create a more sustainable future.

Whose catch? Urban lakes in

Bangalore have changed from community-managed spaces used for primarily for fishing, grazing of cattle, provision of irrigation and drinking water, to urban ecosystems governed by the state, either without active management, or managed and maintained primarily with the purpose of recreation. The Lake Development Authority, established in 2002 as an autonomous body responsible for the maintenance and restoration of Bangalore’s lakes, implemented new public–private-partnership approaches. A few lakes in the city, including Hebbal Lake (pictured), were leased to private companies for management periods of up to 15 years. The step has been extremely controversial and met with widespread resistance from civil society, environmentalists, and activist groups. It has been pointed out that privatization, on the one hand, poses a threat to biodiversity –particularly the birdlife– and, on the other hand, leads to exclusion of visitors belonging to lower income groups traditionally using the lake for domestic uses, fishing, and other vital activities.

Ancient roots. Heritage trees

and other sacred trees in India are massive, often centuries old trees are still quite common in densely congested urban neighborhoods. India has had a long and rich tradition of biodiversity conservation associated with cultural and religious beliefs. Heritage trees are very important, not least in urban contexts, acting as keystone species and providing biodiversity support for urban wildlife. Traditions are still prevailing, such as taboos associated with hunting, and the the act of feeding of wildlife during specific seasons. Although disrupted by urbanization, many of these practices continue to survive in Indian urban areas. Such traditions shape and sustain biodiversity and can be very influential in providing a unique, India-specific path for sustainability in an urban future.

Thrived but not thriving. The House Sparrow

have lived around humans for centuries and have adapted so well to the human environment that it is now difficult to find house sparrows in their original habitats. However, something is threatening the house sparrows globally and they have rapidly started do decrease over the past two decades. Initiatives such as Bangalore-based Citizen Sparrow have emerged in response, in an effort to save this little friend of ours.

Seeing the light. The photographer's

own words about this picture of an urban lake and a housing complex at Kaikondarahalli lake in a twilight moment: "From ‘the Garden city’, Bangalore has managed to become ‘the Garbage city’. However, for Bangaloreans who live deep inside the concrete jungle, going through dry day-to-day life, this lake offers a feast for their eyes. Birds living in this lake remind us that there are other creatures, too, who have to live on this Earth. Bangaloreans should make sure that this lake is protected and alive.” The recreational, spiritual as well as educational experiences that urban ecosystems like lakes can offer, allow for an everyday re-connection of citizens with the biosphere and can further act as incentives for nature protection. Wetlands are particularly interesting as they can efficiently absorb pollution and purify fresh water while also supporting a rich biodiversity. However, they are often overlooked in urban planning and management, often leading to development of the land to make space for built-up areas. A common problem in Bangalore is pollution being too heavy, for example by excess inlet of sewage water, for their capacity to absorb the pollutants and function. The wetlands' role in improving the urban environment is, however, increasingly being acknowledged and the steps to keep them cleaner are often quite straightforward, such as providing a basic, proper sewage system in the city. is crucial in creating cities that support the well-being of humans and nature alike. The Kaikondarahalli lake is one example where conscious restoration of a lake has made it possible for citizens from near and afar to enjoy the lake area, for traditional and modern purposes alike. Perhaps this example can serve as inspiration for future restoration initiatives.

Love is everywhere. Biophilia, a term

that was popularized by Harvard University conservationist E.O. Wilson and literary means "love of life or living systems", is beginning to enter into urban planning. Urban residents need nature more than ever, or so the advocates of biophilic design argue. Cities should therefore provide abundant opportunities for residents to be outside and to enjoy nature through strolling, hiking, bicycling, and exploring; cities should nudge us to spend more time amongst trees, birds, and sunlight; and be multisensory environments where the sounds, smells, or visual experience of nature can be appreciated and celebrated. Perhaps this is something Bangalore can embrace.

Play! Inspiration and joy

can be provided to people by natural areas in and around cities. They give space and a place for children to play, joggers to exercise, botany-interested to garner knowledge, and much more. However, the rapid growth and development of Bangalore has affected the city’s water bodies. Once home to thousands of reservoirs, constituting the backbone of people’s lives, a much smaller number make it to the maps today and many are degrading in quality. The reasons include pollution, encroachment to enable city growth, and the fact that many dry out because the traditional drainage network has largely been destroyed. Yet, a number of restoration projects that have been conducted in collaboration between the government and local communities have stopped or even reversed lake degradation. Some lakes, such as the Kaikondarahalli lake (pictured), have seen a significant recovery with an increase in ground water tables and native biodiversity. Collaborations for lake restoration can also include social groups that otherwise may be excluded from official management of the lakes.

Nature in my backyard. Small and large

green areas, such as the smaller household gardens or individual trees, and the larger urban parks, can complement each other to support a rich biodiversity. The different garden patches and the knowledge and ideas by people managing them makes for a multitude of green areas with their own characteristics. The subsequent rich biodiversity is one reason why bees in urban areas are often found to have a richer and more diverse diet than bees in rural areas dominated by large-scale monocrop cultures. Larger native mammals, like Indian tigers or elephants, rely upon protected areas such as national parks for habitats in or around cities. The Bannerghata National Park is situated 22 kilometers south of Bangalore and covers an area of 100 square kilometers. This zoological park also contains the country’s first ever Butterfly Park, which encloses a vast diversity of flora, attracting over 20 different species of butterflies. Visitors can undisturbed and closely observe and study the animals.

System redundancies. The Paper Wasp

may be one of the more commonly occuring species in Bangalore but, same as with many insects, perhaps not the first one to be highlighted when the importance of biodiversity is highlighted. The paper wasp is, however, fascinating as it has a highly evolved system of social organization and possesses the capacity to produce water-tight paper out of dead wood and plant stem fibers, used to make their nests. While certain sub-species within the paper wasp family can be aggressive around people, they also act as pollinators, a vital ecosystem service.

Urban Fishermen. Food security

is increasingly important to plan for as the world's population is growing and cities expand, often on the most fertile agriculture land. Other essential services provided by ecosystems include for example timber, herbal medicine, and food. The depicted men are catching fish in the once highly contaminated Kaikondarahalli Lake in Bangalore. Food produced by urban ecosystems often constitute a large part of the diet of the poor populations. Bangalore's ancient lake system brings an enormous potential to increase the production of fish and agriculture crops in the city, thus enhancing food and nutrition security for example amongst the most vulnerable urban population groups.

Green patches. Despite the extensive

clearing of vegetation in many parts of Bangalore, the city still supports substantial vegetation and a diversity of green spaces like parks, gardens, wooded streets, wetlands, and patches of remnant forests. A major problem, however, is the ongoing fragmentation of green spaces that forces migratory birds and other species to move between small, scattered habitats of various quality. Current greening efforts in the city often focuses on planting ornamental species and short-growth trees with small canopies that are easier to maintain than the traditional large-canopy trees but have less capacity to provide ecosystem services such as shadow and habitats for biodiversity.

Expect the unexpected. Embracing nature

in cities can take creative forms and only imagination sets the boundaries. Nature in cities can encourage people's use of their imagination, spur ideas, and perhaps help people use their resources in novel, more efficient ways. In poor areas and slums for instance, innovative methods of gardening are widely found with tiny kitchen gardens being planted in plastic bags, paint cans, or buckets, indicating the importance given to planting in environments with limited finances. The recycling element, accommodating plants in something that would usually be considered garbage, like this flower pot that once thought of itself as a porcelain throne, symbolizes a closed life cycle of giving and taking.

Different users, different interests. Sustainable planning and

management of ecosystems, including Bangalore’s, build on involvement of a multitude of groups associated with the resources. A network of official governance institutions, civic society groups, and individuals can contribute to informed decision-making and effective implementation. Clear and distinct yet overlapping responsibility areas of the official governance institutions are needed, with social and ecological well-being as the main focus. India has a rich culture of people from all levels in society, from wealthy neighborhoods to slums, working in groups or organizations for example with rainwater harvesting or lake restoration. The initiatives could, however, be much more influential if the initiatives received more support and were scaled up to a national level.

What challenges to expect? As with other

parts of the globe, Indian cities are beginning to witness and deal with the impacts of climate change. The high population density in many Indian cities and towns creates particular challenges. One main difficulty will be to manage scarcities and excesses of water in urban areas. Cities like Bangalore that are situated in semi-arid areas and dry lands, already have to deal with problems of water scarcity due to unpredictable rainfall, compounded by the pressures of urbanization. These challenges will become intensified as climate change accelerates. In the coming decades, it is therefore expected that rising temperatures and scarcity of clean water will pose significant challenges for the city. The loss of urban green spaces, wetlands, and lakes will most likely exacerbate the challenges. The city’s poorest inhabitants will be hit hardest by the changes.

Remember me. Identity, belonging, memory

are all feelings and features that can be supported by nature. This example shows bamboo stems in an urban park in Bangalore, where visitors can spend time together away from the city's busy streets. Plant and tree stems often entice people to engrave their names, prayers, significant dates, love notes, or similar things into their bark, thus making a permanent mark and in the process connect to that very place. It is a way of expressing and eternalizing something personal and meaningful, something that shall remain and endure. The plant becomes the timeless and trustworthy keeper of secrets and wishes.