Thar-DESIGNS (Desert EcoSystem Innovations Guided by Nature & Selection) is one of the six verticals of Jodhpur City Knowledge and Innovation Foundation (JCKIF) aligned to The National Mission on Biodiversity and Human Well-Being, Integrated study of the desert ecosystem to propel discoveries, inventions and innovation for mitigating water and health challenges and catalysing growth of industry and agriculture for sustenance and livelihood.

The team members of Thar-DESIGNS from IIT-Jodhpur initiated a citizen science program ‘IITJ-BIOBLITZ’ under the guidance of Prof. Mitali Mukerji, Head, BSBE The project aims to connect and aggregate local ecological information through a crowdsourced approach and at the same time inculcate a spirit of curiosity, appreciation, ownership and responsibility for health of the ecosystem. The inaugural walks were organised on the 25th and 26th June 2022. Prof. Santanu Chaudhury, Director, IITJ and Prof. Sampat Vadera, Deputy Director, IITJ, inaugurated the program and participated in the walk, motivating all the participants. Around 43 staff, their family members and students participated in the walk led by a few volunteers with Dr Manasi Mukherjee, Program Manager, JCKIF, who is an ecologist by training. Participants were guided to spot, identify and learn about the vivid local flora and fauna including the birds, reptiles, and rodents, mammals, native vegetation and their interactions, ecology and behaviours. An app “Prakriti” developed by an IITJ team led by Dr. Suchetana Chakraborty, CSE, was introduced to the participants for acquiring the crowdsourced ecological data for scientific use. Participants were motivated with an Eco-BEGINNER badge that shall be upgraded based on their engagement and contributions to the BIOBLITZ program. To encourage participation and keep up the interest and excitement, Bioblitz is planning photography contests, various awards like Eco-Champ, Eco-Achiever and Eco-Literates and Prizes in future.

The participants of IITJ-Biolblitz were able to record around 15 species of native flora, 26 species of birds, and many other common fauna like garden lizards, monitor lizard, squirrels, Indian gerbil, Chinkara, etc. Participants had fun differentiating between the brown rock-chat and female Indian robin, locating a plain prinia from its call, watching a synchronous flight of Indian silverbill flock, and understanding how galls are formed on Khejri trees. Some behavioural observations like inverted nest making of Baya weavers, mud pellet hanging nests of Dusky -crag martin, alarm calls and hovering behaviours in Indian bushlark, feeding from dump-yards by Common Mynah and martins, most birds bing ground dwellers and insect feeders, grabbed their attention. Participants were excited to notice the garden lizard change its colour from light to bright and dark colours when alarmed or under stress. They also observed how Bistanta mexicana, has an incredible camouflaging body structure and colour, mimicking a dry piece of grass. They were surprised to discover the number and depth of desert gerbil burrows which they had mistaken for burrows of snakes. Newer insights on how various plants are associated with the environment, respective fauna and resident population were discussed on the walks. A group of enthusiasts, who had joined the Bioblitz program for a leisure nature walk found themselves better connected, more educated, intrigued, and highly involved with the process, summing the ultimate goal of the program. All Eco-beginners have shown utmost interest in helping science grow through their observations and participation. As an outcome of the program, a large number of images and corresponding data have been uploaded in the Prakriti app. Discussions amongst participants indicated the presence of white-footed fox, Desert hare, Asciatic wild-cat, Nilgai and Caracal in the campus.

As IITJ-Bioblitz is a continuous program, periodic activities shall continue. Participants have shown interest in further activities including future walks. The event was supported by JCKIF.