Posts Tagged 'Wildlife'



Vanishing Species – Indian Wild Boar

 

An Article by Mohan Pai

Indian Wild Boar
Sus scrofa cristatus

Pic courtesy: Ajay Gaikwad
The ‘Varaha’ of the Hindu mythology (the 3rd Avatar of Lord Vishnu) is the Wild Boar of the Indian Jungles.

You would do better to be on your guard against this animal when in the jungle. This is the species that has the guts to challenge even the tiger. With typical pig-like features, an average wild boar rises to a height of 90cm, and weighs more than 100 kg, although some can weigh as much as 225 kg. The most distinctive feature of the wild boar is a pair of elongated canines that grow upward and outward. It wears a greyish-black coat that is scantily covered with thick bristle-like hairs arising from its nape and winding their way to its posterior. The wild boar has an incredible sense of smell, although it has fairly average eyesight and hearing. Its body is well built, but what really makes it stand out is its courage and determination to live and to win the wild bouts. Its thick coat with its layer of fat helps it recover even from the gravest of injuries. It is not an unusual sight to see a herd of 5-6 animals grazing silently in the middle of the forest, but come nightfall, and the herd becomes really confident. Wild boars are known to raid and damage crops of the farmers living on the peripheries of National Parks and Sanctuaries. Amazingly, wild boars do not have any fixed cycle for breeding. But whenever it is the mating season, a fair and formal contest decides the dominant male who gets to mate with the female boar. After a gestation period of four months, the mother gives birth to 4-6 cubs. Thanks to poaching and the loss of habitat, the number of the wild boars is fast decreasing. Once there were 6-7 species found in the sub-continent, but today only two species survive. The widespread Indian Wild Boar(Sus scrofa cristatus and the very rare and recently rediscovered Pigmy Hog (Sus salvanius) which occurs in northern Assam.

Wild boar is considered to be the wild antecedent of the domestic pig of the Indian subcontinent. It belongs to the Suidae biological family, which also includes the Warthog and Bushpig of Africa, the Pygmy Hog of northern India and the Babirusa of Indonesia. Indian wild boars are also quite closely related to peccary or javelina of North, Central and South America.
“These creatures, found all over India, have become very wary and are difficult to photograph because of widespread persecution. They are generally classed by States as vermin because of their habit of raiding food crops, and can be shot by anyone at any time. In addition they are much relished as a meal by tigers and leopards and by lions of Gir forests, though a large boar can be more than a match for a tiger or a lion.These are the same animals that are the quarry in the well-known sport of pig-sticking, which still takes place in north India where there is flat, grassy terrain suitable for horses to gallop over.” E. P. Gee.

Physical Traits

The thick coat of the wild boar of India is grayish-black in color and is covered with bristle-like hair. It can grow up to a length of 6 feet and may weigh as much as 440 lb (200 kg). The features of a wild boar are quite similar to that of a pig. It has a prominent ridge of hair, which match the spine. The tail is short and straight and the snout is quite narrow.
The most noticeable as well as most distinguishing feature of the wild boars comprise of a pair of extended canines. These canines grow both upward as well as outward. Indian wild boars possess an acute sense of smell. Even their eyesight and hearing power is fairly strong.

Behavior

Wild boars can be found roaming around in groups, known as sounders. The number of sows, in a characteristic sounder, is two or three and rest of the members are the young ones. A typical sounder comprises of 20 animals on an average. In exceptional cases, the membership of a sounder may go up to 50 also. Adult males join a sounder only during the mating period and for the rest of the year they prefer to stay alone. Indian wild boars are basically nocturnal creatures, which forage from dusk to dawn. When surprised or attacked, they may get aggressive.

Diet

Wild boars eat anything and everything, including nuts, berries, carrion, roots, tubers, refuse, insects, small reptiles, etc. Young deer and lambs may also form a part of their diet.

Habitat

Wild boar is found inhabiting the woodlands of Central Europe, Mediterranean Region (including North Africa’s Atlas Mountains) and most of Asia (including India).

Mating Behavior

There is no fixed mating period of the wild boars of India. However, whenever it takes place, it results in a formal contest between the males to decide the dominant male. The winner gets to mate with the female boar. The maturity period is one year and gestation period lasts for four months. A female wild boar usually gives birth in the spring season and the litter normally consists of 4 to 6 cubs.

Status

The population of Indian wild boars is declining at a fast pace. The reasons for this are large scale poaching as well as habitat destruction. At some point of time, Indian sub-continent consisted of 6-7 species of wild boar. However, today only two of them are left.
Subspecies Sus scrofa scrofa (North Africa, Europe, and Asia) Sus scrofa ussuricus (North Asia and Japan) Sus scrofa cristatus (Asia Minor to India)Sus salvanius (Pigmy Hog) – (India) Sus scrofa vittatus (Southeast Asia to Indonesia)

The Pigmy Hog

The Pigmy Hog is so secretive and limited in distribution that it was thought to be extinct until 1971 when an animal was authentically sighted and then specimens were captured. They are diminutive in size, adult male weighing about 9 kg and standing 23 to 30 cm at the shoulder, while adult female weighs about 6 kg. They are shy and secretive, with family groups spending the day burrowed under a nest which they construct of piled-up chopped sedge and grasses hidden in some thicket. They move with lightning rapidity through the thick vegetation and when confronted are bold, aggressive and can inflict severe lacerations with their razor-sharp incisors. The entire world population is presently believed to survive along a narrow foothill belt in the extreme northeastern border of Assam. Recent studies have shown that females produce only one litter a year and that is born in April or May during the dry season.

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Vanishing Species – Striped Hyena

An Article by Mohan Pai

The Striped Hyena

Hyaena hyaena

Scavenger by profession with a weird, laughing chatter.

A scavenger by profession the hyena seeks its food by scent. Sight plays little part in its search; hearing none at all. They are not hunters. They live chiefly on the carcasses of animals, more truly on what is left of a carcass after a tiger or panther has done with it and the vultures and jackals have eaten their fill. The hyena’s share is then mostly bones and coarse remains. The powerful jaws of the hyena and its large teeth are admirably adapted to bone crushing. These scavengers help clean up the ecosystem by removing dead and rotting carcasses.Striped hyenas usually weigh 30 to 35 kg, and like brown hyenas, stand roughly 70 cm tall at the shoulder. Also like brown hyenas, striped hyaenas are primarily scavengers of a wide array of vertebrate remains, supplemented by fruits, invertebrates, and occasionally garbage from human settlements. Striped hyenas also apparently hunt small vertebrates. Hyaena always forage solitarily, usually at night, but may lie up during the day in pairs or groups of up to four individuals, although such groups never contain more than one adult female . Stories about the hyenas robbing graves or stealing children are greatly exaggerated.

Striped hyena belongs to the Hyaenidae family and is scientifically known as Hyaena hyaena. Strongly related to the Brown hyena, it is basically a solitary creature. The average lifespan of striped hyenas hovers somewhere around 10 to 12 years in the wild. When kept in captivity, they can live longer also.
Physical Traits

The body coat of a striped hyena is covered with grayish-brown fur. Its legs, torso, head and back have black vertical stripes all over, while, muzzle and ears are totally black. There is also a medium sized mane on its neck, shoulders as well as the back. When threatened, a striped hyena erects the hair on its mane, making itself look 30-40 percent bigger than it actually is. This activity is also used in displays against other striped hyenas.
The underside of its neck is covered with a black throat patch. The legs are quite long and the tail is feathery, reaching the hocks. Striped hyena of India may grow to a length of 4 to 5 feet (1.2 to 1.45m). It stands tall at a shoulder height of 2.2 to 2.5 feet (66 to 75cm). Striped hyenas weigh between 57 and 90 pounds (26 and 41 kg). The size of a male and a female striped hyena does not differ too much. Quite similar to a number of other hot climate animals, their ears also radiate heat.
Natural Habitat

Striped hyenas are found occupying the tropical savanna, grasslands, semi-deserts, scrub forests and woodlands. In the Indian subcontinent, they inhabit open country, seashores as well as forests. Their geographical range also stretches on from Morocco and Senegal to Tanzania, across Asia Minor, the Arabian Peninsula, all the way to Iran and Pakistan, apart from India. Striped hyenas are believed to have become extinct in Europe. However, they can be sporadically spotted in Anatolia and Turkey.
Diet

Striped Hyenas are mainly carnivores, but may eat fruit also. Their prey includes insects and small animals like mice, mammalian carrion, tortoise, porcupine and wild pigs. They may also hunt domestic animals, like goats, sheep, donkeys, and horses.
Behavior

Striped hyenas are nomads by nature and move from one water hole to another. Still, they never venture more than 6 miles from their previous water hole. Hyenas are not gregarious creatures and live mostly in isolation. At times, one can find them congregating in small family groups. Striped hyenas of India can be frequently seen seizing and shaking each other by the neck in mock fighting rituals.
Mating BehaviorFemale striped hyenas attain maturity when they reach 2-3 years of age. Their estrous cycle lasts for 45 to 50 days and they can mate throughout the year. The gestation period is 88 to 92 days and the number of young ones may be anywhere from 1 to 5. The usual number of cubs is two and they start eating meat after 30 days.
Relationship with other predators

Striped hyenas of India are basically scavengers, which thrive on the kills of other predators. This habit of theirs results in a confrontation with the other predators. In India and the Middle East, the striped hyenas may, at times, enter into a conflict with the wolves also.

Status

Striped hyenas are included in the list of ‘Near Threatened’ species. The exact population of the striped hyenas of India is not known.
Threats

Striped hyena faces no threat from natural predators, since it does not have one. Their main threat is from humans, with whom they constantly come into conflict. Striped hyenas may make human beings, mainly children, and livestock their target. This is the main reason why they are poisoned and trapped by people. Striped hyena of India is also poached since its parts are believed to have curative properties. Last but not the least, it is facing the threat of habitat destruction.

Reference: The Book of Indian Animals by S. H. Prater

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Vanishing Species – Nilgiri Tahr

An Article by Mohan Pai

Nilgiri Tahr
(Nilgiritragus hylorcrius)

Pic courtesy: Dhaval Momaya
Uncontrolled hunting & poaching had
brought the tahr to the point of extinction.

Nilgiri Tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) is an ungulate living in the ranges of Western ghat mountains of Kerala, most of them are seen in Eravikulam National Park. They are also found in small groups at Nilgiri hills, Siruveni Hills , Elival Mala, Nelliampathi Hills, Top Slip & Parambikulam, Eastern Slopes of Ananmala, Grass hills of Anamala, Swamaimala …etc. Nigiri Tahr is declared an endangered species in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Mammals with surviving number estimated just below 2000 animals. It is also called Nilgiri Ibex and ‘Varayadu’ in Malayalam and nicknamed the ‘cloud goat’because it is often seen moving in and out of mist, fog and cloud. They can climb steep rocks easily. Adult males are much larger and darker in color than females , weigh about 100 kilograms and measure 100 centimeters at shoulder high when fully grown up. Both males and females have horns which are bigger in males at about 40 centimeters. They move in small groups and prefer to graze in high grasslands of Rajamala and adjoining mountains.

Physical characteristics

Male: A fully grown male Nilgiri tahr stands about 100 cm at the shoulder and weighs about 100 kg (Schaller, 1971). The overall coloring is a deep chocolate brown. This is particularly dark almost black on the front of the fore- and hind legs, the shoulder, the side of the abdomen, side of the face and the front of the muzzle. This contrasts sharply with the white facial stripe which drops from the forehead towards the corners of the mouth just anterior to the eyes, the white carpal patches on the front and outside of the forelegs, and the silvery saddle. The side of the neck where it meets the shoulder is also sometimes lightened as is the flank posterior to the saddle, and an area around the eye. Long black hairs form a mane and mid-dorsal stripe. The horns (in both sexes) curve uniformly back, and have twist. The outside and inside curves are constant. The tips diverge slightly due to the plane of the horn being divergent from the body axis posteriorly, and tilted slightly so as to converge dorsally. This means that the tips continue to diverge the more the horns grow. The inside surface is nearly flat, and the back and outside are rounded. There is a distinct rib where the inside and front of the horns meet and the horn surface covered with numerous fine crenulations amidst the more slightly more evident annual rings. The horns of males are heavier and longer than those of the females reaching a maximum length of about 40 cm.Female: Female Nilgiri tahr are shorter and slighter than their male counterparts. In contrast to the striking pelage of the male, the female is almost uniformly gray. The carpal patch is black against this light background. The facial markings are present, but only faintly, and the area around the eye and the cheek below it are brown. The mane and mid-dorsal stripe are also present, but much less conspicuous. The horns are slimmer and shorter, reaching a maximum length of about 26 cm.

Habitat

The Nilgiri Tahr’s domains are the hills of Southern India, ranging from the Nilgiri to the Anamalais and thence southwards along the Western Ghats. The Nilgiri tahr prefers open terrain, cliffs and grass-covered hills, a habitat largely confined to altitudes from 1200 to 2600 m. Their habitat extended far and wide all along these hills in the past, but hunting and habitat destruction have decimated them to such an extent that they now exist only in a few isolated sites – the Nilgiri hills, the high ranges in Central Kerala and the Anamalai hills about 100 Kms to the South and some pockets in the Southern tip of the peninsula. The ancestors of the tahr are supposed to have originated in the later stages of Pleistocene period, which ended 10,000 years ago. Forests covered much of the plateau in the past, with grasslands only in boggy hollows and on steep slopes. Annual fires during the dry seasons in January and February and grazing by domestic buffalo belonging to the original inhabitants, pushed back the forests slowly until only patches of it remained when the first Europeans looking for areas to plant tea reached these areas in the early years of the 19th century.

ON THE BRINK

According to reports, the Tahr appears to have roamed at will in vast herds all over the grassy uplands of the higher plateau of the Nilgiris. By the closing years of the 19th century, uncontrolled hunting and poaching had however, reduced the tahr to such an extent that their numbers probably did not exceed a hundred. But survive they did – on the perilous western edge of the plateau, an area remote from human habitation where the huge cliffs and inclement weather naturally protected them. Some 1500-2000 Nilgiri Tahrs now survive.
The Nilgiri Tahr is a grazer needing a constant supply of food. They enjoy the grasslands that hug the rocky cliffs above 1200 metres. But they also prefer the sholas which they share with, elephant, gaur, sambar and barking deer. For most of the year they live in segregrated groups. Adult males live in bachelor herds and the females and young in separate groups. Only during the breeding season (June-September) do the two groups mix. The gestation period is six months. If a female’s offspring dies, she quickly conceives again. And probably it is this ability that has played a vital part in the survival of this species.

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Vanishing Species – Lion-tailed Macaque

 

An Article by Mohan Pai

Lion-tailed Macaque
Macaca silenus
On the brink!
The rarest and the most

threatened Primate.

This is an endemic and one of the most endangered primates in India which came to lime-light when the controversy over the Silent Valley hydro-electric project in Kerala was raging. Its range in the Western Ghats is limited to Kudremukh, Nilgiris, Anaimalai, Silent Valley, Cardamom hills and Periyar sanctuary. The population of this primate in a recent study (1998) has been estimated as around 1000-2000 numbers in Karnataka, 2,000 individuals in Kerala and a smaller population in Tamil Nadu. The total population is estimated to be about 4,000. It is a delightful little creature with black hair, a well-developed grey mane, a tail like that of a lion with tufts of hair at the end that gives it the name.
It has a baboon like appearance and inhabits dense, tropical evergreen forests spending much of its time feeding in the upper canopy. The large cheek pouches serve as food containers until the food can be chewed at leisure. It has a varied diet of fruits, seeds, buds, nectar, gum and resin, mushrooms, lichen, insects, snails, lizards, small mammals and birds. The diverse diet means that lion-tails have a different kind of stomach from other macaques; it can digest sugar and carbohydrates but not leaves. This adaptation explains why the species survive only in tropical forests, where its mixed diet is readily available. Lion-tails live in troops of 15-35 individuals covering a range of 1.5 – 5 kms.
A troop consists of 5-10 adult females and their offspring of various ages, ruled over by a single adult male who will mate with any receptive female. Females give birth once every three years, a much lower rate than other macaques, and will probably produce four young in a lifetime.

Physical Characteristics

The fur of the Lion-tailed Macaque is dark-brown or black. Its outstanding characteristic is the silver-white mane which surrounds the head from the cheeks down to its chin, which gives this monkey its German name of “Beard Ape”. The hairless face is black colored. With a head-to-tail length of 45 to 60 cm and a weight of 3 to 10 kg it ranks among the smaller macaques. The tail is medium length with a length of approximately 25 cm and is a black tuft at the end, similar to a lion’s tail. The males tail-tuft is more developed than that of the females.Gestation is approximately six months. The young are nursed for one year. Sexual maturity is reached at four years for females, six years for males. The life expectancy in the wild is approximately 20 years, while in captivity up to 30 years.

Behavior

The Lion-tailed Macaque is a diurnal rain forest dweller. It is a good climber and spends a majority of its life in the upper canopy of tropical moist evergreen forests. Unlike other macaques, it avoids humans. In group behavior, it is much like other macaques: it lives in hierarchical groups of usually ten to twenty animals, which consist of few males and many females. It is a territorial animal, defending its area first with loud cries towards the invading troops. If this proves fruitless, it brawls aggressively.Lion-tailed macaque behaviour is characterized by typical patterns such as arboreal living, selectively feeding on a large variety of fruit trees, large inter-individual spaces while foraging, and time budgets with high proportion of time devoted to exploration and feeding The Lion-tailed Macaque primarily eat indigenous fruits, leaves, buds, insects and small vertebrates in virgin forest but can adapt to rapid environmental change in areas of massive selective logging through behavioural modifications and broadening of food choices to include fruits, seeds, shoots, pith, flower, cone, mesocarp, and other parts of many non-indigenous and pioneer plants

Population

According to the IUCN, only approximately 2,500 of these animals live scattered over several areas in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The Lion-tailed Macaque ranks among the rarest and most threatened primates. Their range has become increasingly isolated and fragmented by the spread of agriculture and tea, coffee, teak and cinchona, construction of water reservoirs for irrigation and power generation, and human settlements to support such activities. They don’t live, feed or travel through plantations. Destruction of their habitat and the fact that they avoid human proximity, has led to the drastic decrease of their population.During 1977 to 1980, public concern about the endangered lion-tailed macaque became the focal point of Save Silent Valley, India’s fiercest environmental debate of the decade. During 1993 to 1996, fourteen troops of lion-tailed macaque were observed in Silent Valley National Park, Kerala, one of the most undisturbed viable habitats left for the lion-tailed macaque. A self-sustainable single population of 32 groups of lion-tailed macaques occurred in Sirsi-Honnavara, Karnataka, the northernmost population of the species. A local census concluded in 2007, conducted in the Theni District of Tamil Nadu, put their numbers at around 250, which was considered encouraging, because till then, there had not been any records of Lion-tailed Macaques in that specific area. Many zoos take part in breeding programs which help to secure the survival of this species. Over 500 of these Macaque are reported to live in zoos.

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Vanishing Species – Fishing Cat

An Article by Mohan Pai
Fishing Cat
Felis viverrina
Pic by Atin Dutt
A medium sized wild cat of the wetlands of south and southeast Asia, the Fishing Cat is another unique example of the great abilities and diversities of the cat family. Found in a range extending from Indochina, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Sumatra and Java it inhabits mainly water bound areas including rivers, mangrove swamps, creeks and thickets up to a height of five thousand feet.
Somewhat similar to other wild cats of this size, the Fishing Cat has a broad head, short tail and sturdy built. Coat is marked by dark spots that may form stripes over spine. Ears are short and round while the nose is of a flattened appearance. Feet are somewhat webbed that enables the Fishing Cat to maintain a degree of traction on slippery muds, though it is now believed the webbing is not of any extraordinary extent. Claws are semi-retractable – again probably an adaptation for a greater hold on the surface. Size varies according to the distribution of the felid. The Indian Fishing Cat is bigger with length around four feet and weight approximately twenty five pounds, whereas the Indonesian cats, in the southeastern part of the cat’s overall global range, are smaller with an average length of three feet and weight nearing twelve pounds.
The Fishing Cat is a hunter mostly of aquatic animals, specializing in fish, frogs, mollusks and snakes. It preys on any animal and birds that it can secure and has been known to kill calves and sheep, to carry off dogs and even children! At the same time it does not spare terrestrial prey including rodents, deer, goats, dogs and even small wild boars! The opportunistic cat has also been known to go after birds and kills of other predators. There is the record of a newly-caught male which killed a leopardess twice its size after breaking through the partition which separated their cages (S. H. Prater). Solitary cats, they come in unison for mating primarily. Pregnancy lasts around two months after which a litter of one to five kittens is born. They are weaned off after half an year at the most and gain independence after one year of age. Life-span is generally around ten to twelve years in captivity.
Distribution:
The fishing cat has a limited and discontinuous distribution in Asia. One major portion of its distribution is found in the Himalayan foothill region of India and Nepal. Also in India, the fishing cat is found in the valleys of the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers, along the upper part of the east coast and possibly in coastal areas of Kerala in southwest India, although it may have disappeared from this region. Recently a fishing cat was found dead 40 km southeast from Nagpur, in central India, an area outside its known range. There also may or may not be scattered populations in Sri Lanka. In Pakistan it is considered very rare and fast disappearing. It is mainly found along the lower reaches of the Indus River, although a few stragglers penetrate the northeast of the country along the Ravi and Sutlej Rivers.From the Indian subcontinent, the second major portion of the fishing cat’s distribution ranges through Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Thailand, to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. There are two records of fishing cats from Peninsular Malaysia, but the origin of these specimens is not clear. If it does occur in Peninsular Malaysia, it does so at an extremely low density. There is no record of the fishing cat from China, but it might be found in Guangxi Province or Yunnan Province near the border with Vietnam. The fishing cat is also found in Sumatra and Java, Indonesia. In Java, the fishing cat appears to be restricted to small numbers in isolated coastal wetlands: there were no records during recent surveys further inland than 15 km and it must be considered extremely rare.

Threats and Reasons for Decline:

Wetland destruction is the primary threat faced by the fishing cat. Causes of this destruction include human settlement, draining for agriculture, construction of aquaculture facilities, and wood-cutting In addition, clearance of coastal mangroves over the recent past has been rapid in tropical Asia. High use of pesticides in rice fields and fishponds results in adverse impacts, since the harmful chemical residues can enter aquatic food chains and affect top predators such as the fishing cat. Destructive fishing practices have also greatly reduced the fishing cat’s main prey base. Finally, the fishing cat is hunted because it is considered edible and its skin is still valued by the fur trade.

Habitat:

The fishing cat is strongly associated with wetlands. It is typically found in swamps and marshy areas, oxbow lakes, reed beds, tidal creeks and mangrove areas. It has been recorded at elevations up to 1800 m (5900′) in the Indian Himalayas, where it frequents dense vegetation near rivers and streams. Some studies show that the fishing cat’s distribution seems highly correlated with vegetation cover and that most sightings of this cat are of animals sitting next to moving water. However, results of the only radio-tracking study up to 2003, in the terai grasslands of southern Nepal, indicated that the fishing cat spent most of its time in dense tall and short grasslands, sometimes well away from water.

Behavior:

The fishing cat is a nocturnal hunter. It is very much at home in the water. It is a strong swimmer, even in deep water, and it can swim long distances. The fishing cat has been observed to dive into water after fish, as well as to crouch on a rock or sandbank near the water and swat the fish out onto dry land with its paw. It has even been seen to catch waterfowl by swimming up to them while fully submerged and seizing their legs from underneath.Social Organization:The fishing cat appears to be a solitary hunter, but otherwise there is little information on its social organization or mating behavior in the wild.

A ferocious predator capable of
killing even a leopard twice its size.

Vanishing Species – The Great Indian One-horned Rhinoceros

An article by Mohan Pai

 

The Great Indian One-horned Rhinoceros
(Rhinoceros unicornis)

A kilogram of Rhino horn was priced at $ 60,000 in the International market in 1994.

No wonder the species is facing extinction.

Rampant killing for superstitious & religious beliefs has driven this largest of all Asian rhinoceros to near extinction. The two-horned rhino (Didermocerus sumatrenis) became extinct in the hill tracts of Assam by the end of the nineteenth century.

When Mary Victoria Leiter Curzon, the wife of the Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, visited Kaziranga in 1904 and having failed to see even a single rhinoceros, for which the area was renowned, she persuaded her husband to take urgent measures to protect the dwindling species which he did by initiating planning for a their protection. On 1 June 1905, the Kaziranga Proposed Reserve Forest was created with an area of 232 km2 (90 sq mi).Formerly extensively distributed in the Gangetic plain to day it is restricted to parts of Nepal (Chitwan), North West Bengal (Dooars) and Kaziranga in Assam. The world’s largest population of this animal is in Kaziranga National Park followed by Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary and a small population in Gorumara National Park in North Bengal. A few have been relocated in Dudhwa NP.

Lady Curzon

Many legends and beliefs are attached to the rhinoceros.
“In Europe, during the Middle Ages, its horn was generally believed to have peculiar medicinal virtues.
In Nepal the flesh and blood of the rhinoceros is considered highly acceptable to the manes. High caste Hindus and most Gurkhas offer libation of the animal’s blood after entering its disembowelled body. On ordinary Sraddha days the libation of water and milk is poured from a cup carved from its horn. The urine is considered antiseptic and is hung in a vessel at the principal door as a charm against ghosts, evil spirits, and diseases. These beliefs connected with the rhinoceros are prevalent in varying forms in Burma, Siam, and China. They set a great value upon the animal and provide the main reason for its persecution.” (S. H. Prater)

In the nineteenth and end early twentieth century, the Indian Rhinoceros was hunted relentlessly. Reports from the middle of the nineteenth century claim that some military officers in Assam individually shot more than 200 rhinos. In the early 1900s, colonial officials became concerned at the rhino’s plummeting numbers. By 1908 in Kaziranga, one of the rhino’s main ranges, the population had fallen to around 12 individuals. In 1910, all rhino hunting in India became prohibited.

Human interference is one of the major factors responsible for putting the life of One Horned Rhinos at risk. Grazing of livestocks inside the protected areas makes the animals vulnerable to several fatal diseases. Unabated poaching activities mainly for it’s horn is pushing this animal to the brink of extinction. The horn is used as a medicine and an aphrodisiac. Medicinal purposes are as a pain reliever and a fever suppressant. For centuries, Asians have believed that powdered rhino horn could cure everything from fevers and nose bleeds to measles, diphtheria, and food poisoning. Many also believe powdered rhino horn helps retain the vigor of youth and contributes to sexual stamina. However, there are no scientific studies that show that rhino horn is affective for any of these purposes. In addition to the horn, rhino hide; blood, urine, and dung also have economic value.Recent media reports from Kaziranga National Park on Great One Horned Rhino poaching are shocking and have put the government on tenterhooks. Given the present set of infrastructure that is available with the officials who stay on guard, they simply stand no match with sophisticated weapons the poachers carry. A drastic remedial step against the menace of poaching is something that has to be sorted out today or tomorrow may just be too late.

Taxonomy, Ecology and Behavior

In size it is equal to that of the white rhino in Africa. Not including the white rhino, it is the largest of all rhinos. Fully grown males are larger than females in the wild, weighing from 2200- 3000 kg (4,800 – 6,600 lb). Female Indian rhinos weigh about 1600 kg. The Indian Rhino is from 1.7 to 2 m tall (5.7 to 6.7 feet) and can be up to 4m (13 ft) long. The record-sized specimen of this rhino was approximately 3500 kg.The Great One-Horned Rhinoceros has a single horn; this is present in both males and females, but not on newborn young. The horn, like human fingernails, is pure keratin and starts to show after about 6 years. In most adults the horn reaches a length of about 25 centimeters, but have been recorded up to 57.2 centimeters in length. The nasal horn curves backwards from the nose. Its horn is naturally black. In captive animals, the horn is frequently worn down to a thick knob.

The great Indian rhinoceros is active throughout the day, although the middle of the day is spent wallowing and resting in the shade. Wallowing takes place in lakes, rivers, ponds, and puddles, and is especially frequent in the hot seasons to cool off. This activity is believed to be important with thermo-regulation and the control of flies. Drinking occurs almost every day, and mineral licks are visited regularly. Population densities vary from 0.4-4.85 animals per square kilometer depending on the habitat. Only the strongest males breed, and they have home ranges between 2-8 square kilometers in size. These home ranges are not true territories, and overlap each other. When disturbed, these rhinos generally flee, though they have been reported attacking, which they do with their head down. Smell is important in communication, with urine, feces, and glandular secretions carrying the messages. Rhinos have very poor eyesight, but their senses of smell and hearing are well developed.

A 1515 woodcut of One-horned rhinoceros by the famous German painter Albrecht Durer

Distribution

The greater one-horned rhinoceros is commonly found only in South Asia and South East Asia. Historically, the rhinos were distributed in the floodplain and forest tracts in Brahmaputra, Ganges and Indus river valley. Today, however, no more than 2,000 remain in the wild, with only two populations containing more than 100 rhinos: Kaziranga National Park in Assam, India (1,200) and Royal Chitwan National Park (CNP), Nepal (600).

Habitat & Feeding

Alluvial plain is the primary and preferred habitat. Adjacent swamp and forest areas are also used. Rhinoceros are herbivorous in nature. They feed on grass, fruit, leaves, branches, aquatic plants, and cultivated crops. Tall reedy grasses are preferred to short species. When eating aquatic plants, Rhinoceros submerge their entire heads and tear the plant up by the roots. Foraging occurs at night, in early morning, or late afternoon to avoid the heat of the day. Rhinoceros drinks daily and is fond of mineral licks.
Reproduction

Breeding occurs throughout the year. Only dominant bulls mate, and it is believed that they can assess the reproductive status of females through scent. Courtship may seem aggressive. Males chase females and sometimes fighting often ensues. After a gestation period of 480 days, one young is born weighing 70 kg. Weaning usually occurs in one year, although it may last up to 18 months. Females have young at intervals of about three years. One week before the next birth, the female will chase away her previous calf. Sexual maturity is reached at an age of 9 years for males, and 4 for females. The life-span is about 40 years.

Conservation Status and Threats

The great Indian rhinoceros is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) (1996). The main source of danger for this (and all) rhinos is the Oriental belief that its horn, among other parts, has medicinal or magical properties. The Indian rhinoceros was already considered a ‘vanishing race’ by the beginning of the 20th century, primarily due to the conversion of alluvial plain grassland to cultivated fields. Hunting, was also a factor in the decimation of the population. Despite protection measures, poaching remains a serious threat today due to the demand for rhino horn in Oriental medicine; in 1994 for example, a kilogram of rhino horn was worth approximately US $ 60,000.

Pic by Siva A. N.

 
References: The Book of Indian Animals by S. H. Prater, Wikipedia, Arunachal Front – 24/2/2008
 
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Western Ghats, India – Wildlife

From the book  ”The Western Ghats” by Mohan Pai (2005).

 

Vanishing Forests…Vanishing Species

 

“ This universe is the creation of Supreme Power meant for the benefit of all; Individual species must therefore learn to enjoy its benefits by forming part of the system in close relationship with other species; let not the other species encroach upon the other’s right”.
_ Isavasya Upanishad

Over the past century, India’s wildlife has dwindled to a mere fraction of its former strength and the flora and the fauna in the Western Ghats have not fared any better. Reduction in the forest areas means reduction of the wildlife habitat, which due to various factors has become fragmented. Conversion of forests into plantations, roads, railways, agricultural holdings, human settlements, hydroelectric project, irrigation dams, mining and location of industries in forest areas have all contributed to a very sizeable area of forests lost in the Western Ghats. The other factors which contributed to the depletion of wildlife are uncontrolled hunting, poaching and pollution.

Evergreen forests of Uttara Kannada -Pic by Mohan Pai

Deforestation has been one of the major causes for the depletion of wildlife. With the increase in human population and the growing need for resources, forests were cleared or encroached upon for agriculture, for human habitation, for grazing of livestock and for hydroelectric and irrigation dams. Thousands of square km of prime, evergreen forests have been submerged and destroyed in the Western Ghats for the sake of these development projects.

 

Lion-tailed Macaque

Industries also made heavy demand on forest resources such as wood for paper mills, exploitation of gums and resins, mining of forest land for minerals and ores, building materials, etc. Uncontrolled hunting of wildlife for pleasure, food, furs, skins, horns, tusks, etc. posed a serious threat to the survival of wildlife. The illegal trade in animal skins has been responsible for destruction of a large number of tigers, leopards, deer, fishing cat, crocodile and snakes as well as birds with beautiful plumage. Elephants were hunted for ivory. There are laws in the country to prevent such illegal trade, but these are often violated by unscrupulous elements, traders and exporters. Added to this is the practice of trade in exotic mammals, birds and reptiles and use of animals for biomedical research.


Pollution of air, water and soil due to various industrial activities apart from affecting humans affect the well being of animals also. Industrial effluents containing harmful chemicals discharged into the lakes, rivers and oceans adversely affect the aquatic life.
DDT and Dieldrin, used as pesticides also has major effect on birds, particularly sea birds. The egg shells of birds become thin, making them vulnerable to breakage due to the weight of the female while incubating them. Oil pollution is another serious problem affecting the seas through leakage from cargo ships and due to accidents.

Natural Extinction of Species

Despite, the seemingly complex and stable nature of ecosystems, a large number of animals which roamed the earth in early geological periods have become extinct. Extinction is a natural phenomena in the evolution of animals. Certain species disappear gradually as they are unable to withstand the competition from those that are better adapted. Sometimes a whole group of animals have become extinct as had happened with dinosaurs at the end of Cretaceous period, some 70 million years ago. Many mammals like mammoths and mastodons have also become extinct. Countless other forms of animals and plants have flourished and disappeared. We know about them from fossil records preserved in the crust of the earth. Extinction is irreversible. This has been part of the evolutionary process which has produced more advanced forms of life – a process that has occurred over a vast span of time over millions of years. The greatest contribution of Charles Darwin, who propounded the Theory of Evolution, in his logical explanation for evolutionary changes and appearance of new form of life – natural selection – the success of those organisms that are capable of adapting to the environment, to survive and reproduce.
Extinction of species has taken place over millions of years, long before the advent of man. Primitive man lived in harmony with nature and did not cause the extinction of animal species. However, the spread of civilization across the world and the progressive exploitation of Nature have had an adverse impact on wildlife. Hunting for animals, alteration of the environment, habitat destruction, pollution of the land, air and water, the human population explosion – all these have been responsible for the extinction of animal species in recent times. Since the 17th Century about 120 mammals and 150 birds have become extinct. The rate of extinction due to human interference has accelerated since the dawn of industrial age. In India, the Cheetah, the lesser one-horned rhinoceros, the pink- headed duck and the mountain quail have become extinct in the last one century. Many mammals and birds have become rare and endangered and many a natural range diminished in size with increasing deforestation, often confining the animals to small territories.

Animal Association in Hindu religion

The wildlife always had an association with the folklore and the legendary belief of India. Some 30 different mammals are mentioned by name in the Samhita (the four principal Vedas). Among them is the elephant, the favourite of Indra, whose sanctity is enhanced by the belief that eight elephants guard the eight celestial points of the compass. The langur or Hanuman monkey is held in veneration because of its association with the warrior monkeys who helped Rama in his war against Ravana. The lion is one of the many incarnations of Vishnu. The tiger finds mention in the later Vedic texts. The mongoose features in Mahabharata as a teacher of wisdom to King Yudhistira.

The deer is always associated with Brahma, the creator, and is the constant companion of Mahadeva. The wild boar is referred to as ‘Boar of Heaven’. It is told how in the primordial floods Vishnu taking the form of a boar, raised the submerged earth from the waters and supported it on his tusks.

Lord Ganesha, Hanuman, Narasimha, are deities worshipped all over India that have animal association. Different animals and birds are also venerated as vehicles of different deities. Nandi, the bull for Shiva, deer for Brahma, eagle for Vishnu, peacock for Saraswati, tiger for Durga, horses for the Sun God, and so on.

The earliest known record of measures taken for the protection of animal life comes from India. The oldest record which we have today is the Fifth Pillar edict of Ashoka the Great by which game and fishery laws were introduced into northern India in the third century B.C. In this inscription the Emperor had carved on enduring stone a list of birds, beasts, fishes and possibly even insects, which were to be strictly preserved. The mammals named are bats, monkeys, rhinoceros, porcupines, tree squirrels, barasingha stags, brahminy bulls, and all four footed animals which were not utilised or eaten.

Gaur 

The edict further ordains ‘that forests must not be burned, either for mischief or to destroy living creatures’. Centuries later, the Mogul Emperors, sportsmen, men of action and born observers that they were, displayed a deep interest in the animal life of the country.

Their writings are full of descriptions, some in great detail, of the animals, the plants and the flowers of the country over which they ruled.
The animal life of the Indian peninsular region is characterised by the absence of many of the Indo-Malay species which are so abundant in the hill forests of the Himalayas. It is the home of the true Indian fauna of which the spotted deer, the nilgai, the blackbuck, the four-horned antelope, and the sloth bear are typical representatives. They are found no where else. Other species like the gaur, the sambar and the muntjac (barking deer) occur both in India and Malay countries.

The Western Ghats, in sharp contrast to the adjoining dry zone of the Deccan present a region of great humidity and heavy rainfall. The forests covering the western slopes are at times very dense and composed of lofty trees, festooned with perennial creepers. Bamboos form a luxuriant undergrowth. In parts of the range the forests are more open and the banks of clear streams running through them are covered with spice and betel groves.

Malabar Giant Squirrel – Pic by Vivek Kale

The Nilgiris, an offshoot of the Western Ghats, rise precipitously to form extensive grassy downs and tablelands seamed with densely forested gorges or Sholas. They are composed of evergreen trees with dense undergrowth.

Sholas similar to Nilgiris occur in Anaimalais, Palni Hills, Kudremukh and other south Indian ranges. They provide the main shelter to wild elephants, gaur and other large animals of these hills. The most interesting feature of the higher level forests of Nilgiris is their affinity to the Assam hill ranges.

Many of the trees found in these high ranges and some of the forms of animal life are common to both the areas. The forests of the Western Ghats and the south Indian hill ranges have a richer fauna than the remaining areas of the peninsular region.

Tiger 

Among the species limited to these forests are the Nilgiri langur, the Lion-tailed macaque, the Nilgiri brown mongoose and the striped necked mongoose, the Malabar civet, and the spiny mouse. In the higher levels of the Nilgiris and the Anaimalais are found such characteristically Himalayan animals as the tahr, the pine marten and the European otter.

Endemic species of the Western Ghats

One hundred and twenty species of mammals are known from the Western Ghats of which fourteen species are endemic (found only in that area). The mammalian fauna of the Western Ghats is dominated by insectivores (11 species), bats (41 species) and rodents (27 species including porcupine). Few studies have, however, paid attention to the community structure and organisation of these small mammals in the Western Ghats, although there have been attempts to review our understanding of the status and ecology of smaller cats and lesser carnivores.

 

The Great Pied Hornbill


Rare, Endangered Species of the Western Ghats


Endangered animals are those whose numbers are at a critically low level and whose habitat is so drastically reduced or damaged that they are in imminent danger of extinction.

Slender Loris

In animal population, the tempo of decline accelerates after a gradual fall to a low level; once the local population of a species is much reduced its ability to recoup deteriorates progressively, and with the fall in numbers often the factors of depletion gain lethal potency.

Dhole (Indian Wild Dog)Pic by Maximus

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) maintains a Red Data Book providing a record of animals which are known to be in danger. In India, the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, provides four schedules categorising the fauna of India based on their conservation status. Schedule I lists the rare and endangered species which are afforded legal protection. It is revised from time to time representing the exact status of the species. At present estimate, 81 species of mammals, 38 of birds and 18 amphibians and reptiles are considered to be endangered in India. Conservation efforts have restored the status of some of these animals, like the tiger, rhinoceros, crocodile, etc.

Mating Frogs – Pic by Mohan Pai

Note: This chapter is condensed for the blog. The original chapter in the book gives detailed information about the endemic and other species.

 

Vanishing Species – Slender Loris

An Article by Mohan Pai

 
 
SLENDER LORIS
(Loris tardigradus malabaricus)

 
 

 

Hunted, trapped and killed for

medicinal and magical properties!

 
 
 
The Slender Loris is a small adorable looking creature with large ‘dish’ eyes. It’s a nocturnal primate found only in the tropical rainforests of Southern India andSri Lanka. They are able to live in wet and dry forests, as well as lowland and highland forests. They prefer thick thorny vegetation wherein they can easily escape predators and find the large assortment of insects that is the mainstay of their diet.
 
Loris tardigradus malabaricus is a subspecies of the slender loris which is only found in India. Their greatest concentration is found in the Western Ghats.

The Slender Loris is considered highly endangered and is listed in the IUCN Red List

 The slender loris is about the size of a chipmunk, with long, pencil-thin arms and legs. It is between 6-10 in. (15-25cm) long and has a small, vestigial tail. It weighs about 10.5-12 oz. (275-348g). The slender loris’ round head is dominated by two large, closely set, saucer-like brown eyes. They flank a long nose which ends in a heart-shaped knob. The eyes are surrounded by dark-brown to black circles of fur, while the bridge of the nose is white. It has a small, narrow lower jaw. The ears are large and round. Its coat is light red-brown or gray-brown on its back and dirty white on its chest and belly. The fur on its forearms, hands and feet is short. The slender loris has small finger nails on its digits. The second digit on the hand and foot are very short. They move on the same plane as the thumb, which helps them grasp branches and twigs.
 
The slender loris is an arboreal animal and spends most of its life in trees. Their movements are slow and precise. They like to travel along the top of branches. For the most part they hunt by themselves or in pairs at night, although they will come together and share a food supply. They live alone or with a mate and an infant. They will sleep with up to seven other lorises in a hollow tree or sitting up in the angles of branches. They are very social at dusk and dawn, playing, wrestling and grooming each other.Mating occurs twice a year; in April-May and October-November. Gestation is 166-169 days, after which one, and occasionally two infants are born. During the first few weeks mothers carry their infants constantly. The infant will grasp its mother around the waist with both its front and hind legs. After a few weeks the mother “parks” the infant on a branch at night while she forages. The babies move around carefully at first but by two months they are maneuvering around quite well. More mature lorises who sleep in the same tree may visit them at night to play and eat with them. Females will reach sexual maturity in 10 months and 18 months for males. The slender loris has a life span of 12 to 15 years.
 
  The slender loris is for the most part insectivorous. This means they eat insects, but they will also eat slugs, young leaves, flowers, shoots, and occasionally eggs and nestlings. They can stretch and twist their long arms and legs through the branches without alerting their prey. The slender loris eats a lot of noxious and bad smelling insects. They particularly like the acacia ant whose bite can numb a human arm. They also like toxic beetles and roaches. The slender loris will engage in urine washing, or rubbing urine over their hands, feet and face. This is thought to soothe or defend against the sting of these toxic insects. Native people have always believed that all parts of the slender loris have some medicinal or magical powers. This has contributed greatly to the decline of the slender loris. Destruction of their habitat is another reason for their decline.It is not clear how many slender lorises survive in the wild. Because of their small size and nocturnal habits, it has been difficult to do an accurate count. Until recently not much attention has been paid to the plight of the slender loris, but new interest has been shown in their species and studies are under way. The Indian government has laws protecting the slender loris, but its effect is difficult to guage.

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Vanishing Species – The Dhole (Indian Wild Dog)

An Article by Mohan Pai

 

 

The DHOLE (Indian Wild Dog)
Cuon alpinus

 A predator, par excellence, feared even

by the tiger and the panther

 

The term ‘Dhole’ has its origin in Kannada language, possibly due to the fact that the animal was more common in the Karnataka region in the past. The current world population of the Dhole is estimated to be only about 2,500 animals. While Bandipur and Nagarhole in Karnataka has a fairly good share of the surviving population, Periyar Reserve appears to have a better and more visible population.
The Dhole is a pack hunter and this is where his supremacy lies as an efficient predator. The Dholes hunt together and sometimes merge with other groups to bring down bigger animals like Gaur and if provoked, even a tiger or a panther.
Kenneth Anderson, who was more of a naturalist than a hunter who lived in Bangalore during the last century, gives a very vivid description of the Dholes’ attack on a tiger in his book ‘The Tiger Roars’. It’s worth reading his description which is reproduced below:
“The wild dog of the Indian forest is the cleverest of all hunters and the implacable foe of every living creature. Once a pack of these creatures scents or sees a deer and gives chase, its fate is sealed. They hunt it down mercilessly and intelligently. The main body of dogs run behind their quarry, giving voice to a hunting cry that resembles the high-pitched call of a bird more than anything else, while a few dogs gallop ahead at a terrific speed and on both flanks of the quarry. These flankers then ambush the victim and worry it, if they are unable to bring it down themselves, till the main body catches up and completes the job.
I heard the clashing sound of horns against wood and a splendid sambar stag appeared. Foam flecked his mouth and sprayed backwards to his neck and shoulders, and his eyes were wide with terror as he galloped in headlong flight. The next instant there was a terrific roar and a mighty striped form launched itself through the air an directly on to the sambar’s back.
My earlier thoughts had proved correct. A tiger had been patrolling the parkland in search of meal. He had heard the wild dogs approach and knew they were pursuing a quarry that was coming his way. Ordinarily, tigers avoid wild dogs and fear them for their reckless bravery, their intelligence and their numbers. Probably this tiger would have avoided them too but for the chance that the hunted animal and his pursuers happened to be coming along in his direction. So before he quite realized what he should do about it, he took the decisive step.
The sambar’s back bent to the sudden weight of the tiger and he let out a hoarse bellow of terror. Their tightly entangled bodies sank from view into the long grass. I heard the sharp crack of bone as the vertebral column was broken skillfully by the tiger, and the drumming of the stag’s hooves upon the earth as the twitching muscles and nerves of his four legs continued to respond to the last message to flee. Upon this scene, the next instant, burst the pack of baying snarling wild dogs !
Recovering from their momentary surprise at seeing themselves forestalled, they quickly rallied. In a flash they surrounded the tiger and the body of the quarry they regarded as their own. I counted nine of them. The bird-like hunting call that had been coming from the pack only a moment earlier changed abruptly to a series of long and plaintive notes. I had heard these cries on an earlier occasion, many years before, in the far distant jungles of the Chamala Valley. There a pack of wild dogs had been chasing a tiger and this queer new cry was the same those dogs had made on that occasion. They were summoning reinforcements. Every wild dog within miles would hasten to their aid. It appeared to be an unwritten law of the species that no member dared disobey.
The tiger rose to his feet threateningly and I could see him clearly. His body turned slowly to enable him to see how many enemies beset him. His face was contorted hideously as he snarled and roared with all the strength of his lungs, and his tail twitched from side to side spasmodically, a visible indication of nervous tension, rage, doubt and an unaccountable fear of these unruffled, implacable and cruelly clever foes.
The circle of dogs stood fast, legs firmly yet slightly outspread, each member of the pack now making that loud, shrill summons for help. The roars of the tiger and yelping call of the nine dogs were pandemonium. The jungle echoed and re-echoed with the din.
The tiger realised that every second lost now counted in favour of his foes. In two bounds he charged the dog directly in his path. The dog skipped nimbly aside, while those behind leaped forward to attack from the rear. The tiger sensed this and whirled around, flaying wildly to right and left with his two forepaws. The dogs within reach of those mighty paws fell back helter-skelter, but one was too slow. The raking talons struck the dog’s hindquarters, his body was thrown into the air with one leg almost torn off, and the dogs behind the tiger leaped forward to bite off chunks of flesh from his sides. Once more the tiger whirled around, once again his enemies scattered before him, while those at the back and on both sides raced forward to bite him where they could.The tiger feinted and made a double-turn and the dogs from behind him that had rushed forward could not turn back. They met the full force of his powerful forelegs with their widely extended talons. Two quick blows and two more dogs were torn asunder. One of them tried to drag itself away, but its nearness to the tiger tempted him to make a false move that immediately offset the advantage he had just gained by his clever double-turn. He pounced upon the disembowelled wild dog and buried his fangs in its body.
The dogs from behind and both sides now fell upon him and covered his body, tearing out scraps of the living flesh. The tiger roared and roared again, but now there was a note of fear in each roar.
The huddle of tearing rending beasts disintegrated and the tiger had freed himself for the moment. There were now but six dogs around him and some of them were injured. But the tiger was bleeding profusely from the many wounds he had received. He gasped for breath. The dogs would not relax. From all sides they renewed the attack, yelping and snapping. The tiger roared again, but not nearly so loudly. The will to continue the fight was ebbing. He was definitely afraid.
Just then quite another sound could be heard above the pandemonium: the distant cries of answering wild dogs, not from one direction, but from several, all at once. Reinforcements.
The harassed tiger heard them too, and the fight went out of him. He turned tail and raced away with the six dogs, despite their wounds and exhaustion, after him.
Within a minute the reinforcements began to arrive. First three dogs, then another and yet another. They halted a moment at the scene of battle and sniffed the blood-tainted grass and the three mangled dogs. This roused them to a fury and they growled and snarled. Then they raced in the wake of the fleeing tiger and his six pursuers. Soon a larger pack of about a dozen dogs arrived on the scene. In a few seconds they had taken stock of the situation and followed the five that had preceded them. The fate of the tiger was sealed, for by now there were two dozen wild dogs on his trail. They would not relax their pursuit till they had caught him and torn him to shreds.
The sounds of the chase died away in the distance as I stepped from behind the tamarind tree to look at the three dead dogs and the scene of battle. The sambar stag that the tiger had slain lay untouched a few feet away. After disposing off the tiger, no doubt the surviving dogs would return and eat their fill.”-Kenneth Anderson in “The Tiger Roars”

Fascinating Predator

Arguably the thrill of sighting a Tiger or a Leopard in its natural habitat is beyond words. While every common man on earth has heard of these large cats and their domination in the wilderness, not many even know of the Wild Dog (Cuon alpinus) which is probably the third most feared predator in the jungles of India after the two big cats. Though they closely resemble the domestic dogs, Wild Dogs differ in the behavior, habitat and style of living.
The Dhole was classified as a vermin during the colonial days and bounties were offered for its elimination. Thousands of animals were hunted and killed for several years by the local communities around Indian forests, Wild Dogs are known as blood thirsty predators. Their journey reached a stage where experts believed extinction was bound to happen very soon. Wild Dogs which flourished in the dry deciduous forests of India were nearly wiped out. In Schedule II of the Wildlife Act of 1972 Wild Dogs are a highly protected species and permission has to be obtained to kill any individual unless in self defence or if there has been reporting of them harming humans.

Distribution

Known as Dhole, the Wild Dog population has seen considerable growth in the last decade. While hunting of Wild Dogs has nearly stopped, they are thriving in the forests of Bandipur, Nagarahole sanctuaries and they are occasionally sighted in and around Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary, Silent valley, Periyar and other places around. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources states that less than 2,500 mature individuals remain in the wild and this trend of a decline in population is bound to continue. Wild Dogs feature in the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. Other than in eastern India, the dhole is rare or extinct in Mizoram, Tripura, Nagaland, Meghalaya, and Assam. About 10 years ago, a pack was seen in Goalpara district near the Bhutan-Assam boundary. In 1953, a pack was reportedly seen by forest labourers in Garampani Wildlife Sanctuary, Assam. The dhole is still widespread in the Garo hills of Meghalaya. In the forests of Arunachal Pradesh, dholes are frequently sighted in Nandhapa Tiger Reserve, but are rare in other areas. The dhole is extinct or extremely rare in the hill tracts of Nagaland (Bombay Natural History Society has not received skins from Nagaland since 1931). In West Bengal, dholes are occasionally seen in the Mahanadi Wildlife Sanctuary, the Jhalda-Baghmundi Matha zone of the Pundia forest division, and the Cooch Behar forest division. They have not been reported in the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve. The status of the dhole in the Himalayas is much more precarious. The last skin from Sikkim was collected in 1931. In recent years, the dhole has not been recorded in Himachal Pradesh. In 1977, a pack was seen in the forests around Dudhwa, Uttar Pradesh. Dholes are probably extinct in other parts of Uttar Pradesh. Dholes are rarely seen in Chitwan, Nepal, and Langtang National Parks. The status of the dhole within India has been reviewed recently by Johnsingh (1987). The dhole is extinct in the Punjab, Haryana, and Gujarat. There is no reliable information from Kashmir. The dhole is nearly extinct in Ladakh, a pack of four individuals in Rumbak valley in Hemis High Altitude National Park being the only recent sighting.In southern India, dholes have been sighted in forest areas of Adilabad, East Godawari, Khamman, Kurnool, Mahabudnagar, Srikakulam, Vishakhapatnam, and Warangal districts. The dhole is a common predator in the Bandipur and Nagarhole Wildlife Sanctuaries in Karnataka. In Kerala, occasionally seen in the Wynad Sanctuary, the Nilambur Valley, Silent Valley, the Elical mountain range, the Siruvani mountain range, the Nelliampathi hills, and in parts of the Nettar Wildlife Sanctuary. Dholes are frequently seen in the Periyar Tiger Reserve. In Tamil Nadu, dholes are seen in the Kalakadu-Mundanthurai Wildlife Sanctuaries, the Anaimalai Wildlife Sanctuary, the Nilgiri Tahr Sanctuary, and the Mudumalai-Sigur area.

Appearance:

Wild Dogs are distinguished by its reddish color, hairy black tail and rounded ears at the tip. With less than 3 feet in length and 2 feet in height, the major strength of the Wild Dog lies in its socializing behavior which makes it a highly successful predator. While females weigh as much as up to 10-14kg, the males are larger and heavier who can weigh up to 15-20kgs.

Behavior:

Considered as one of the most social canids, Wild Dogs often live and hunt in packs of 5-12 animals. Wild Dogs are territorial and often work together in every aspect of their existence in the wilderness. Wild Dogs are known to hunt together and sometimes even merge with other groups to bring down bigger mammals like gaurs. With a strong belief in unity, Wild Dogs have occasionally been capable competitors to Tigers and Leopards. Wild Dogs display tremendous care for young ones and often help out pups of other females while feeding and hunting.
Surprisingly, Wild Dogs never bark but their means of communication include growling, chuckling, screaming, whistling and hissing. Usually, Wild Dogs hunt in the day and chances of them encountering cats like Tigers and Leopards are very slim. Wild Dogs live in packs of 10-12 individuals generally. But there have been several packs with sizes more than 20 sighted. Often Wild Dogs merge with other packs and achieve the most difficult of hunting spectacles.

 Pic by Maximus

Sambar deer, nilgai, spotted deer, black buck, pigs and wild boars are commonly hunted species by the wild dogs. When need arises, larger groups dare to attack Indian bisons, leopards and tigers during rare occasions. Wild Dogs swim very well and often drive their prospective prey in to water. Some times Wild Dogs do hunt in pairs or individually when the requirement is much lesser. Unlike the larger cats, there is nothing clean about the way Wild Dogs hunt. With limited physical capabilities Wild Dogs often kill prey like spotted deer by repeatedly biting them in groups and letting the prey die due to blood loss. Chital constitutes as the major resource of food for Wild Dogs while Sambar is their next preferred choice of meal. Wild Dogs do consume rodents and small herbivorous mammals like hares very often.

Reproduction:

Interestingly only one pair in a pack will breed at any given point. One great lesson to learn from this character of Wild Dogs is their sense of understanding and willingness to work as a group. The reason why only one pair breeds at a time is to make sure, the success rate of breeding is high and other members of the pack can provide maximum help and attention to the young ones. Wild Dogs display amazing sense of roles and responsibilities in their daily life. For instance, while a mother is taking care of young ones in a den, there is a sentry on guard outside and others probably are out to hunt meat for the young ones.

Threats:

Some of the major reasons for the decline in population is habitat loss due to agriculture, infrastructure development, killing of Wild Dogs by humans as they are treated as a dangerous predators, diseases such as rabies etc. Other reasons include competition with other species such as Tigers and Leopards.

MY BLOG LIBRARY
For some of my earlier aricles, please visit:
http://mohanpaiblogger.blogspot.com/
http://mohanpaisarticles.blogspot.com/
http://biodiversity-mohanpai.blogspot.com/
http://delhigreens.com/2008/03/10/whither-the-wilderness/
For some key chapters from my book ‘The Wetern Ghats’, please log on to:
http://westernghats-paimohan.blogspot.com/
For detailed blog (6 Chapters) on Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley, please log on to:
http://mohan-pai.blogspot.com/
For the book ‘The Elderly’ please log on to:
http://oldagecare-paimohan.blogspot.com/

Vanishing Species – The Asiatic Lion

An Article by Mohan Pai
The Asiatic Lion
 
 

 

Panthera leo persica

 

Pic: Courtesy, Yogendra Shah
Gir, the last bastion of an almost extinct species.
In 1901, the Nawab of Junagadh invited the then Viceroy Lord Curzon to Gir for a hunt. Lord Curzon backed off at the last moment when as if by providence a letter in a local newspaper criticised the damage a Viceroy’s visit would cause to a species on the verge of extinction. Wisely, he requested the Nawb to protect the last surviving animals in his territory. The total Lion population was around 20 when the Nawab enforced a ban on hunting. This move resulted as the first conservation effort for the continuous well being of the Lions. After India got its independence from the British rule in 1947, the government had come to realise the importance and fragile nature of this last bastion of the Asiatic lion, and the Nawab’s Lion conservation policy was upheld. The Indian government then created the Gir National Park and Lion Sanctuary collectively known as Gir Protected Area covering over 1,000 sq-kms.The sanctuary area is made up of dry scrubland with hills, rivers, and teak forest. In addition to the lion population, the wildlife includes Leopards, Antelopes, Deer, Jackals, Hyenas, and Marsh Crocodiles Naturalists were assigned to study and take a census of the Gir’s lion population, which at that time was around 200 lions.
Gir Widllife Sanctaury is the last refuge of Asiatic lions in India and the lion population residing in the park is about 350. The protected area of Gir Sanctuary is about 560-square-mile (1,450-sq-kms). In India too, the Lions were spread across Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. History bears witness to the fact that this majestic animal is so deeply etched in our minds that King Ashoka depicted them on his rock pillars around 300 BC. Today India’s National Emblem is based on the Lions featured on Ashoka’s pillars.


The Asiatic Lion (Panthera leo persica) is a subspecies of the lion which survives today only in India hence it is also known as the Indian lion. They ranged once from the Mediterranean to India, covering most of Southwest Asia where it is also known as the Persian lion.The current wild population consists of about 350 individuals restricted to the Gir Forest in the state of Gujarat, India.The historic distribution included the Caucasus to Yemen and from Macedonia in Greece to present-day India through Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan through to the borders of Bangladesh.

Lions have gradually disappeared from many regions of the world as a result of habitat destruction and reckless hunting, as well as exploitation for the purpose of public amusement; in the days of the Roman Empire for instance, lions would be imported to entertain the masses by doing battle with either human gladiators or other animals. Eventually they became extinct throughout much of their former ranges. But unlike many of the populations of African lions that continue to thrive today, the formerly vast population of the Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) has now been confined to the Gir Forests. The Asiatic lion is exceptionally rare, and is in extreme danger of extinction. Our Asiatic lions are part of the breeding project of the European Endangered Species Program (EEP).

Asiatic Lions in Europe and Southwest Asia

Lions were once found in Europe. Aristotle and Herodotus wrote that lions were found in the Balkans. When King Xerxes of Persia advanced through Macedon in 480 BC, several of his baggage camels were killed by lions. Lions are believed to have died out within the borders of present-day Greece around AD 80-100.The European population is sometimes considered part of the Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica) group, but others consider it a separate subspecies, the European lion (Panthera leo europaea) or a last remnant of the Cave lion (Panthera leo spelaea).Lions were found in the Caucasus until the 10th century. This was the northernmost population of lions and the only place in the former Soviet Union’s territory that lions lived in historic times. These lions became extinct in Armenia around the year 100 and in Azerbaijan and southwest Russia during the 10th century. The region was also inhabited by the Caspian Tiger and the Persian leopard apart from Asiatic Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) introduced by Armenian princes for hunting. The last tiger was shot in 1932 near Prishib village in Talis, Azerba?an Republic. The principal reasons for the disappearance of these cats was their extermination as predators. The prey for large cats in the region included the wisent, elk, aurochs, tarpan, deer and other ungulates.

Lions remained widespread elsewhere until the mid-19th century when the advent of firearms led to its extinction over large areas. The last sighting of a live Asiatic Lion in Iran was in 1941 (between Shiraz and Jahrom, Fars province). In 1944, the corpse of a lioness was found on the banks of Karun river, Khuzestan province, Iran. There are no subsequent reliable reports from Iran. By the late 19th century the lion had disappeared from Turkey.

Physical Traits

Asiatic Lion is the second largest ‘Big Cat’ in the world, after the ferocious tiger. A fully-grown male tiger reaches a length of 1.7 m to 2.5 m (head and body), with its tail being somewhere around 70 to 105 cm long. The tail of an Indian Lion has a dark tuft of fur at the end. Its shoulder height is around 1 to 1.23 m and the animal weighs between 150 kg and 250 kg. A lioness is smaller in size as compared to the male and reaches a height of 80 to 107 cm. The length of the head and the body is 1.7 to 2.5 m, while the weight is 120 to 180 kg.
The males are orange-yellow to dark brown in color, while the females have a sandy or tawny color. Males also have a mane, which is usually dark in color, but is rarely seen to be of black color. This characteristic mane is absent in the females. The mane of an Asiatic Lion is also shorter than that of an African Lion. However, Indian Lions are much more bushy, with longer tufts of hair at the end of the tail as well as on the elbow joints, than their African cousins.

Behavior

Indian Lions are the only Big Cats that are seen living in large groups, known as ‘prides’. A typical pride comprises of around 15 members, which includes related lionesses, their cubs and a few males. The number of males in a pride is usually around three and one of them dominates the rest of the group, including the other males. In a pride, it is the lionesses that do all the work, right from taking care of the cubs to hunting. The males only make the first claim on the game hunted by the female.
The lionesses as well as the cubs eat only the leftovers. Male lions establish their pride’s territorial boundaries by roaring and scent marking and fiercely defend it. All the members of the pride are closely attached with one another. In fact, majority of the lionesses remain with a particular pride throughout their life. However, a male is expelled from the pride the moment it is 3 years old. The few male lions that do not join any group become a major threat to the ones with a pride. Asiatic lions usually hunt in groups and are rarely seen stalking a prey in isolation.

Mating Behavior

Male lions attain the age of maturity around 5 years of age, while the lionesses become mature after becoming 4 years old. There is no particular mating season of the Indian Lions. They can mate anytime during the entire year. The gestation period lasts for 100 to 119 days, after which 3 to 4 cubs are born.

Diet

Indian Lions are carnivorous and depend upon hunting for food. Their prey mainly comprises of Deer, Antelope, Wild Boar and Wild Buffalo. At times, lions have also been observed attacking young hippopotamus and elephants.
Geographical RangeAsiatic Lions are highly endangered species and have become extinct from all the countries of the world, except the Indian subcontinent. In India also, the animal is found only in the Gir forests of Gujarat.

Current Status

The last census on the Asiatic Lions was carried out in the year 2006. It revealed the population of the species to be somewhere around 359, including over 50 lions kept in captivity.

Trivia

Asiatic lions form prides (groups), in which all the work, including hunting, is done by the lionesses. The only work that males do is to make the first claim on the prey hunted by the females. Apart from that, they just laze around and do nothing.

Reintroduction

The Asiatic Lion Reintroduction Project is an effort to save the last Asiatic lions from extinction in the wild. The last wild population in the Gir Forest region of the Indian state of Gujarat is under threat from epidemics, Natural disasters and Man-made disasters. The goal is to establish a second independent population of Asiatic Lions at the Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. It is important to start a second population to bolster the population of Asiatic Lions, and to help develop and maintain genetic diversity enabling the subspecies to survive.Wildlife Institute of India researchers confirmed that the Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary is the most promising location to re-establish a free ranging population of the Asiatic lions and certified it ready to receive it’s first batch of translocated lions from Gir Wildlife Sanctuary where they are highly overpopulated. There are large scale deaths in the population annually because of ever increasing competition between the human and animal overcrowding. Asiatic lion prides require large territories but there is limited space at Gir wildlife sanctuary, which is boxed in on all sides by heavy human habitation.Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary was selected as the reintroduction site for critically endangered Asiatic lion because it is in the former range of the lions before it was hunted into extinction in about 1873. It was selected following stringent international criteria and internationally accepted requirements & guidelines developed by IUCN/SSC Reintroduction Specialist Group and IUCN/SSC Conservation Breeding Specialist Group[5] which are followed before any reintroduction attempt anywhere in the world.Twenty four villages of the Sahariya tribe, which had lived in the remote core area set aside for the reintroduction of the Asiatic lions in Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, agreed to move out.] They were rehabilitated by incurring an expense equal to millions of dollars under a Central Government of India sponsored scheme so that they can have access to basic amenities and infrastructure like roads, schools, hospitals, communal housing and security.They were also allocated housing and agricultural land at Village Agraa outside the sanctuary in order to create a safe home and an inviolate space for the translocated prides of critically endangered Indian lions.

Inbreeding

The wild population of more than 300 Asiatic Lions has been said to be derived from just 13 individuals, and thus was widely thought to be highly inbred. However, this low figure, quoted from 1910, may have been publicised to discourage lion hunting; census data from the time indicates the population was probably closer to 100.Many studies have reported that the inbred populations could be susceptible to diseases and their sperms were deformed leading to infertility. In earlier studies Stephen O’Brien, a geneticist, had suggested that “If you do a DNA fingerprint, Asiatic lions actually look like identical twins… because they descend from as few as a dozen individuals that was all left at the turn of the 20th century.” This makes them especially vulnerable to diseases, and causes 70 to 80% of sperms to be deformed – a ratio that can lead to infertility when lions are further inbred in captivity.Indian scientists have since reported that the low genetic variability may have been a feature of the original population and not a result of the inbreeding. They also show that the variability in immunotypes is close to that of the tiger population and that there are no spermatazoal abnormalities in the current population of lions.[15]Recent information from the Central Zoo Authority of India (CZA) reports that “the Asiatic lions and Indian tigers are not as inbred as previously reported by S.J. O’ Brien and do not suffer from inbreeding depression”.

Threats to the last wild population

Although the Gir Forest is considered to be well-protected, there have been incidences of lions being poached, and claws regularly are found missing from their carcasses. Lions have also been poisoned for attacking livestock. Some of the other major threats include floods, fires and disease. In addition, with the lion population of the Gir Forest having reached about 350, the local population is increasingly strained by its relatively small environment, which is surrounded on all sides with areas inhabited by humans. Severe local overcrowding in Gir wildlife sanctuary has been causing very high annual death rate in the last critically endangered Asiatic lions leading to accelerated Genetic erosion in their already limited relict gene pool left surviving here. Asiatic lions’s natural habitat of grasslands, scrub and thin forests closely resembles surrounding farmlands and orchards where being highly territorial excess lions are being pushed out on a regular basis hence several have migrated out of Gir into unprotected farmland and orchards, where they have come into severe conflict with humans.Over the decades hundreds of lions have died, drowned or broken bones by falling into the 20,000 open wells dug by farmers in and immediately around Gir Forest within an 8km radius. Open wells are now a documented threat to the Asiatic Lion population, though they remain legal. Non-governmental organisations seek to work with the farmers and educate them to construct drilled tube wells instead, which pose no threat to wildlife.Farmers on the periphery of the Gir National Park have been known to illegally use homemade electrical fences to protect their crops from raiding wild animals, specially from herds of Nilgai and connect high voltage overhead power lines directly to these fences. This has on several occasions led to the electrocution of lions and other wildlife.

The biggest threat faced by the Gir National Park is the presence of Maldharis. These communities are vegetarian and do not indulge in poaching because they are basically pasturalists, with an average of 50 cattle (mainly “Gir Cow”) per family. So during grass-scarce seasons Maldharis, even from outside the sanctuary, bring their cattle into the park in the guise of selling them and take them away after the monsoon season. So eventually it has become grazing ground for a large number of cattle, not only of the Maldharis but also for those living in an area of say 100 km around the park. These people are legally entitled to live in the park but slowly the area around the nesses (small hamlets where Maldharis live) is becoming denuded of vegetation. The population of Maldharis, as well as their numbers of cattle, is increasing and some Maldharis have houses outside the forest but still keep their cattle inside the forest to get unlimited access to forage. One of the outcomes of this is that the natural population of the wild ungulates of the protected area, which forms the prey base, has suffered.

The famous original sandstone sculpted Lion Capital of Ashoka preserved at Sarnath Museum which was originally erected around 250 BCE atop an Ashoka Pillar at Sarnath. The angle from which this picture has been taken, minus the inverted bell-shaped lotus flower, has been adopted as the National Emblem of India showing the Horse on the left and the Bull on the right of the Ashoka Chakra in the circular base on which the four Indian / Asiatic lions are standing back to back. On the far side there is an Elephant and a Lion instead. The wheel “Ashoka Chakra” from its base has been placed onto the center of the National Flag of India. Found famously on numerous Flags and Coat of Arms all across Asia and Europe, the Asiatic Lions also stand firm on the National Emblem of India. Narasimha (“man-lion”) (also spelt as Narasingh, Narasinga) is described as an incarnation (avatara) of Vishnu within the Puranic texts of Hinduism and is worshiped as “Lion God” thus Indian or Asiatic Lions which were commonly found throughout most of India in ancient times are considered sacred by all Hindus in India. Singh is an ancient Indian Vedic name meaning “Lion” (Asiatic Lion), dating back over 2000 years to ancient India. It was originally only used by Rajputs a Hindu Kshatriya or military caste in India since the 7th Century. After the birth of the Khalsa brotherhood in 1699, the Sikhs also adopted the name “Singh” due to the wishes of Guru Gobind Singh. Along with millions of Hindu Rajputs today, it is also used by up to 10 million Sikhs worldwideThe island nation of Singapore (Singapura) derives its name from the Malay words singa (lion) and pura (city), which in turn is from the Sanskrit siṃha and pura. According to the Malay Annals, this name was given by a 14th century Sumatran Malay prince named Sang Nila Utama, who, on alighting the island after a thunderstorm, spotted an auspicious beast on shore that his chief minister identified as a lion (Asiatic Lion). Recent studies of Singapore indicate that lions have never lived there, and the beast seen by Sang Nila Utama was likely a tiger. The Asiatic lion makes repeated appearances in the Bible, most notably as having fought Samson in the Book of Judges. The Asiatic lion is the basis of the lion dances that form part of the traditional Chinese New Year celebrations, and of similar customs in other Asian countries.

 

MY BLOG LIBRARY
For some of my earlier aricles, please visit:
http://mohanpaiblogger.blogspot.com/
http://mohanpaisarticles.blogspot.com/
http://biodiversity-mohanpai.blogspot.com/
http://delhigreens.com/2008/03/10/whither-the-wilderness/
For some key chapters from my book ‘The Wetern Ghats’, please log on to:
http://westernghats-paimohan.blogspot.com/
For detailed blog (6 Chapters) on Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley, please log on to:
http://mohan-pai.blogspot.com/
For the book ‘The Elderly’ please log on to:
http://oldagecare-paimohan.blogspot.com/
 

 

 

 

 


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