Archive for the 'Biodiversity' Category

Sunday Article: Vanishing species- Pygmy Hog

Sunday Article by Mohan Pai
Hello friends,

Good morning. A number of my readers wrote asking why the Sunday Articles had stopped.

Unfortunately, I had to undergo an emergency cardiac surgery and hence this long intervening gap.

This Sunday, it’s about the Pygmy Hog, a highly endangered species. In fact it is more endangered than the tiger ! Only about 150 animals survive in the wild only in Assam (Manas National Park).

When it comes to conservation, the flagship species like the tiger, rhino, etc. hog the limelight. The plight of the lesser vulnerable, critically endangered animals gets hardly any attention.

Very best wishes,

Mohan Pai

Pygmy Hog
Sus salvanius

The smallest pig in the world is also more endangered than the tiger !
Only 150 animals survive in Assam.

The Pygmy Hog is critically endangered with less than hundred and fifty thought to be left in the wild. Once native to India, Bhutan and Nepal, these little guys were thought extinct from the 1950s-60s, until a small population was discovered. They can now be found only in the northwest Assam region in India. The pygmy hog is notable as it is the only surviving member of the genus Porcula.

The pygmy hog is a small wild pig weighing about 8.5 kg (10 lb). It lives in dense, tall grassland, where it feeds on roots, tubers and other vegetable matter, as well as insects and other invertebrates. Nests are built and used by both sexes at all times of the year. The pygmy hog is apparently non-territorial. It lives in small family groups of about 4 – 5 individuals, comprised of one or more adult females and accompanying juveniles, and occasionally an adult male.

The pygmy hog formerly occurred throughout the Terai region of India, Bhutan and Nepal. It is now found only in northwest Assam, India. By 1993 it was reduced to only two known, isolated populations in northwest Assam – the Manas Wildlife Sanctuary and the Barnadi Wildlife Sanctuary.

The continuing decline of the pygmy hog is due to the modification and elimination of its limited habitat by human settlement, agricultural encroachment, overgrazing by domestic livestock, commercial forestry, flood control projects, and civil unrest among Assamese ethnic groups.
Pygmy Hogs are about 55 to 71 cm long and stand at 20-30 cm with a tail of 2.5 cm. They weigh 6.6 to 11.8 kilograms. Their skin is dark brownish black and the fur is dark. Piglets are born grayish-pink becoming brown with yellow stripes along the body length. The head is sharply tapered and they have a slight crest of hair on the forehead and on the back of the neck. Adult males have the upper canines visible on the sides of the mouth. They live for about 8 years, becoming sexually mature at 1-2 years. They breed seasonally before the monsoons giving birth to a litter of 3-6 after a gestation of 100 days. In the wild they make small nests by digging a small trench and lining it with vegetation. During the heat of the day they stay within these nests. They feed on roots, tubers, insects, rodents, and small reptiles.

The species was first described as the only member of the genus Porcula (Hodgson, 1847), but was then regarded as the closest relative of the Eurasian pig Sus scrofa and named Sus salvanius The resurrection of the original genus status and the species name Porcula salvania has been adopted by GenBank. The species name salvania is after the Sal forests where it was found.

Status

The pygmy hog is the sole representative of Porcula, making the conservation of this critically endangered species even more important as its extinction would result in the loss of a unique evolutionary branch of pigs. They used to be widespread in the tall, wet grasslands in the southern Himalayan foothills from Uttar Pradesh to Assam, through Nepal and north Bengal. However, human encroachment has largely destroyed the natural habitat of the pygmy hog by development, agriculture, domestic grazing and deliberate fires. Only one viable population remains in the Manas Tiger Reserve, but even there threats due to livestock grazing, poaching and fire persist. The total wild population has been estimated as less than 150 animals and the species is listed as “critically endangered” Their rarity contrasts greatly with the massive population of wild boars (Sus scrofa) in India.

Conservation

Conservation of the species has been hampered due to the lack of public support, unlike that for charismatic South Asian mammals like the Bengal Tiger or Indian Rhino. Local political unrest in the area has also severely hampered effective conservation efforts, but these conflicts have now ceased.

References: Wikipedia, Animal Kingdom, Zooillogix.

Sunday Article: Clouded Leopard

Sunday article by Mohan Pai
 
 Clouded Leopard
 
Neofelis nebulosa
 

Clouded leopard is not a leopard but a relative of the extinct saber toothed tiger.
 

It has long been known that the clouded leopard has the longest upper canine teeth for its skull size of any modern carnivore, causing some people to compare the cat with the extinct saber-toothed cat.

Recent research into the skull characteristics of both living and extinct cats has revealed that the clouded leopard has a skull unlike any other cat today. In a number of respects it bears distinctive resemblance to the primitive saber-toothed cats.
 
The Clouded Leopard is a medium-sized cat found in Southeast Asia. It has a tan or tawny coat, and is distinctively marked with large, irregularly-shaped, dark-edged ellipses which are said to be shaped like clouds. This unique appearance gave the mammal both its common and scientific species name (nebulosus is Latin for “cloudy”). The Clouded Leopard was confusing to scientists for a long time because of its appearance and skeleton. It seemed to be a cross between a big cat and a small cat. The scientific name of the genus, Neofelis, originates from neo, which means “new”, and felis, which means “small cat”, so it literally means new kind of small cat.
 
The average Clouded Leopard typically weighs between 15 and 23 kg (33 to 50 lb) and has a shoulder height of 25 to 40 centimeters (10 to 16 inches).This medium sized cat has a large build and, proportionately, the longest canine teeth (2 in, about the same as a tiger’s) of any living feline. These characteristics led early researchers to speculate that it preyed on large land-dwelling mammals. However, while remarkably little is known about the natural history and behavioral habits of this species in the wild, it is now thought that its primary prey includes arboreal and terrestrial mammals, particularly gibbons, macaques, and civets supplemented by other small mammals, deer, birds, porcupines, and domestic livestock.
 

 

 
Clouded leopard – Range map
 
As might be expected from the fact that some of its prey lives in trees, the Clouded Leopard is an excellent climber. Short, flexible legs, large paws, and sharp claws combine to make it very sure-footed in the canopy. The Clouded Leopard’s tail can be as long as its body, further aiding in balance giving it a squirrel-like agility similar to the Margay of South America. Surprisingly, this arboreal creature can climb while hanging upside-down under branches and descend tree trunks head-first.
 
Behavior
 
Like all wild cats, clouded leopards are carnivores. They are thought to hunt a variety of prey including birds, squirrels, monkeys, deer, and wild pigs. It was once thought that clouded leopards hunted while climbing. Current thought, however, is that while some hunting may occur in the trees, most likely takes place on the ground. Trees are thought to provide resting habitat during the day.

Virtually nothing is known of the social behavior of wild clouded leopards. They are likely solitary, like most cats, unless associated with a mate while breeding or accompanied by cubs. Likewise, activity patterns are virtually unknown. Once thought to be exclusively nocturnal, evidence suggests that they may show some periods of activity during the day as well.

Reproduction

Clouded leopards are sexually mature around the age of 2 years. Mating can occur in any month, but in captivity most breeding occurs between December and March. The gestation period is between 85 and 93 days with 1 to 5 cubs produced per litter. Cubs are independent at approximately 10 months of age. Females can produce a litter every year.
 
 
 


 
 
References, Wikipedia, S. H. Prater (The Book of Indian Animals), iloveindia.com
 
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Sunday Article: Indian Chameleon

Sunday article by Mohan Pai

INDIAN CHAMELEON
Chamaeleo zeylanicus
                                     Photo courtesy Amrut Singh, Goa.
 
 
The Amazing Chameleon !
 
Apart from changing colours, it can focus each of the two eyes in different directions and observe two different objects simultaneously!

 The Indian Chameleon, Chamaeleo zeylanicus is a species of chameleon found in India, Sri Lanka, and other parts of South Asia. Like other chameleons, this species has a long tongue, feet that are shaped into bifid claspers, a prehensile tail, independent eye movement and the ability to change skin colour. They move slowly with a bobbing or swaying movement and are usually arboreal.

The ability to change colours has made these lizards famous. Strangely, they do not choose the background colour and may not even be able to perceive colour differences. They are usually in shades of green or brown or with bands. They can change colour rapidly and the primary purpose of colour change is for communication with other chameleons and for controlling body temperature by changing to dark colours to absorb heat. Though many lizards can change colour, chameleons have made an art, and we see them go from brilliant yellow through shades of green and brown, all the way to dark purple.
 
There is only one species of chameleons found in the Indian subcontinent, scientifically known as Chamaeleo zeylanicus. The term ‘chameleon’ is a combination of two Greek words, ‘Chamai’, meaning ‘on the ground/earth’ and Leon, meaning ‘lion’. Thus, ‘chameleon’ means ‘earth lion’. The foot structure, eyes and tongue of all the chameleons are the same.

Physical Traits

The body of the chameleon lizard is covered with granular scales and measures upto 37 cm in length. Its feet are split into two main fingers, each of them attached with sharp claws that help in climbing trees. The bulging eyes are nearly covered by eyelids. The upper and lower eyelids of a chameleon are joined and there is a small pinhole through which the pupil can be seen. The chameleon can focus each of the two eyes in different direction and observe two different objects simultaneously.

One of the most interesting features of an Indian Chameleon is its extremely long tongue, which at times may exceed its body length also. The tongue is sticky at the end, which helps the reptile in catching prey. The moment the tongue of a chameleon hits a prey, it forms a small suction cup and draws the prey into the mouth. Chameleons do not have ears and vomeronasal (bone forming part of the middle partition of nose) organ.

Mating Behavior

The breeding season of the chameleon lizard falls around the month of October. Ten to thirty eggs are laid at a time and the gestation period is 3 to 6 weeks. Before laying eggs, the female chameleon digs a hole in the ground, between 4 to 12 inches deep, and deposits her eggs in that hole. The eggs hatch after a period of 3 months. Like all other lizards, they do not look after their young

Diet

Chameleon lizard survives on a diet of locusts, mantids, crickets, and other insects.

Geographical Range

Chameleons are seen inhabiting almost all the parts of south India and west of the Ganges. However, they are rarely seen in areas that receive heavy rainfall. Chameleons are mostly arboreal and are found in trees or on smaller bushes.

 
References: iloveindia.com, Wikipedia.
  
  
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Sunday Article: Pallas’s Cat

Sunday article by Mohan Pai
 
 Pallas’s Cat
 Octocolobus manul
 

 Pic courtesy: Edinburgh Zoo
 
An exotic and rare feline, Pallas’s cat is a small size predator of Central Asian mountains, found only in the Ladakh region in India.
 
It is named after the naturalist Peter Simon Pallas, a German zoologist and botanist who worked in Russia who first described the species in 1776. Pallas’s Cat is the oldest living species of the modern genus felis .
 
The pallas’s cat is a small, long tailed cat with a broad head, low forehead and short widely – separated ears. Pallas cat is small in size, weighing between 2 – 4.5 kg. and has a grey to ruddy grey coat. Its legs are short and striped. The forehead is spotted and the tail is bushy and striped. Pallas cats are adapted to cold, arid environments and have a wide distribution through Central Asia, but they are relatively specialized in their habitat requirements. Pallas cat is chiefly crepuscular and feeds mainly on pikes and rodents. Birds and insects also form part of its diet. Pallas cats are seasonal breeders, with most litters being born between April and May. Four to five kittens (sometimes up to 8) are born in a litter. Their gestation period is of 66 – 75 days. They are found in stony, alpine desert and grassland habitats but are generally absent from low land sandy desert basins except along river courses. They are found at altitudes up to 4,800 mts. Globally, its distribution spans the cold arid regions of the Central Asia. The northern cold desert region of Ladakh in India is its southernmost distribution
 
          Range map of Pallas’s cat                                                    
 
Pallas’s Cat is the oldest living species of a clade of felids that includes the modern genus Felis. This feline, along with the extinct Martelli’s Cat, were the first two modern cats to evolve from Pseudaelurus approximately 12 million years ago.
 

 
This cat has several features which distinguish it from other felines. Most strikingly, it has round pupils. Its legs are short, its rump is rather bulky, and its fur long and thick. The combination of its stocky posture and thick fur makes it appear especially stout and plushy. Its coat changes with the seasons: the winter coat is greyer and less patterned than the summer coat. The ears are set low and give the cat a somewhat owl-like appearance. Because of its relatively flat face, it was once thought that Pallas’s Cat was the ancestor of the Persian cat breed.
 
Pallas’s Cat inhabits the Asian steppes up to heights of 4000 m (13,000 ft). They are thought to be crepuscular hunters and feed on small rodents, pikas and birds.
 
The Pallas’ cat is similar in size to a housecat. A thick coat of shaggy fur and a long, bushy tail help combat extreme temperatures that reach lows nearing -60°F. Pallas’ cats take shelter in marmot burrows, caves, and rock crevices. 
 
Fact File

Length: 1.5 to 2 ft Weight:2-4.5 kg Lifespan: 8 to 10 yrs in wild Habitat: Mountain regions, including grassland, woodland, and semi-desert Diet: Pikas, hares, and small rodents such as gerbils, voles, and young marmots Status: Species at Risk (IUCN—Lower risk/near threatened )
 
 


 
Pic courtesy: Zurich Zoo
 
 
References: Wikipedia.
 
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Sunday Article: Nilgai

Sunday article by Mohan Pai
 
 
 
Nilgai
 Boselaphus tragocamaelus
 

 
 

 

India’s largest antelope
 

Hindi word Neelgai (Nilgai) refers to the bluish color of the adult male, and therefore Blue Bull is another name for the animal. Neelgai probably evolved in open, dry Indian forests during the Tertiary geological period. Nilgai are classified as bovids (family Bovidae), and with their close relative, the Four-horned Antelope Tetracerus quadricornis, are the only living representatives of the tribe Boselaphini.
 

Neelgai is the largest of the Asiatic antelopes. They have a life expectancy of 20 -30 years, most of which they prefer to spend in open jungles and scrubby grasslands. Adult bulls weigh about 220 kg, while the cows weigh about 180 kg and calves about 7 kg at birth. The blue-gray adult bulls have black legs, and some may be brown-tinged, particularly younger bulls. Cows and calves are fawn or pale brown. All have similar dark and white markings on their ears and legs. Only the males have horns, which are black-coloured, short (about 18 cm), sharp, and bi-curved. The hair of adults is thin in density, wiry, and somewhat oily. Their skin is thick, particularly on the chest and neck of the bulls, where it forms a dermal shield. The eyesight and hearing of Neelgai is quite good but their sense of smell less acute. They have good speed and endurance.

Neelgai make several low-volume vocalizations, including a short, guttural “bwooah” when alerted. Calves may bawl and may make a grunting sound while nursing. In India, Nilgai occurs from the foothills of the Himalayas southward to Mysore. They live on a variety of land types from hillsides to level ground with scattered grass steppes, trees, and cultivated areas, but not in thick forests. Their habitats are characterized by paths, water holes, defecation sites, and resting cover. Neelgai were common in India during
the 1880s and were hunted for sport by the British. Besides man, the tiger is their main predator. In the 1980s Neelgai had drastically declined because of shooting and loss of habitat.

Neelgai segregate into male and female groups except during the breeding season. Bulls do not maintain a fixed territory but defend a space around themselves. Fighting occurs between dominant bulls, and serious injury or death sometimes results. Neelgai make dung piles by defecating repeatedly on the same sites. The social and territorial significance of this habit is not known. Some breeding takes place year-round. At that time breeding groups of one dominant bull and one to several cows are found. The peak calving period is September through November. Neelgai breed at age two to three years, whereas males may not mature until their fourth year. The gestation period is approximately 245 days. Twins are common, and triplets occur occasionally.

Neelgai eats mainly woody plants supplemented by agricultural crops. Their diet includes herbs and plant parts (flowers, seeds, fruit, leaves, stem tips). In the absence of preferred food they readily alter their diet. In India they share certain diseases with livestock and wildlife. Perhaps the most universal of these are foot-and-mouth disease and malignant catarrhal fever. 
  Nilgai pursued by dholes, as drawn by Robert Armitage Sterndale in Denizens of the Jungles, 1886
 

Status 
 
Nilgai antelope has been listed in the ‘Low Risk’ category by the IUCN. The estimated population of Nilgai in India is approximately 100,000. The main threat to the Neelgai is from the destruction of its habitat to accommodate the ever-swelling human population.
 
Tidbits
 Blue bulls generally come to the same place to deposit their droppings.
Blue bull can survive for a long period of time without water.
Nilgai was introduced in Texas in 1920’s.

In India, it is believed that the Nilgai antelope is a sacred animal (precisely a cow) and it is protected against hunting.
 


 
References: Wikipedia, iloveindia.com
 
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Sunday Article: Indian Jackal

Sunday article by Mohan Pai
 
 The Indian Jackal
 Canis aureus
 

  Photo coutesy: S. Das
 
Tabaqui of Kipling’s Jungle book with an eerie howl.
 
Tabaqui, the jackal (Gidur-log) in Kipling’s Jungle Book is an opportunistic associate of Sher Khan, the lame tiger and he is also a mischief maker. Also known as Golden jackal, this animal features in many fables (Panchatantra, Hitopadesha, Jataka Tales) and generally projected as a sometimes conceited, sometimes foolish and sometimes greedy, cunning and shrewd creature.
 
Jackal’s long-drawn eerie howls at dusk or just before dawn are characteristic of the Indian countryside and jungle and has been subject of superstition about death and evil spirits. The other characteristics which makes the jackal infamous is the rabid jackal attacks on people. Just last month (November, 2009) jackals attacked over 50 people in Bargama and other villages of Samastipur, Bihar.
Fredrick Forsythe’s popular book “The Day of the Jackal” where Carlos is the professional assasin has also endowed this animal with some popularity.

Description:

Golden Jackal are 70- 85 cm long and weigh around 8 -10 kg. They are golden yellowish in colour with a reddish tail having a black tip. The tail itself measures upto 9 -14 inches. It has white mark on its throat and the back of the ears is darker in colour. Males are usually larger than the females.
 
 
 


 
Tabaqui’ of the Jungle Book
 
Distribution:

Golden Jackal are found throughout India. Jackals live in almost any environment, in humid forest country, or in dry open plains, or desert. They are found at higher altitudes in the Himalayas but greater number lives in the lowlands about towns, villages and cultivation. In Kodagu and Nilgiris their population appears to be declining. The total estimated population in India is around 80,000.

Diet : Golden Jackal are omnivorous. They feed on small mammals, insects, hares, fish, birds and fruits.

Reproduction: Gestation period rests for nine weeks. Females give birth to 3-6 pubs. During pregnancy males go out in search of food and the females rest at home. They weigh around 200 -250 g at birth. They open their eyes in about ten days. They are weaned in 4- 6 weeks. The females are sexually mature than in less than a year, the males closer to the two years.

Conservation status : Not threatened

Life span : Golden Jackal lives up to 14-16 years of age. 
  
 

 Anubis, the jackal-headed god of the dead

For centuries, golden jackals have made an impression on Middle Eastern civilisations. They feature in many fables, are referred to in the Bible several times, and Anubis, a god of ancient Egypt, was depicted as a man with the head of a jackal.

References: Wikipedia, Jungle Book, The Book of Indian Animals, S. H. Prater.

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Sunday Article: Peacock

Sunday article by Mohan Pai
 
 
PEACOCK
 Pavo cristatus
 
  
 
The icon of beauty, love & romance
 
The male Indian peafowl is commonly called Peacock. This gorgeous and majestic bird Peacock, Pavo cristatus is the national bird of India. It’s a symbol of beauty, joy, grace and love. Indian tradition is full of references to this glamourous bird and it has been repeatedly used as popular art motif. Due to its close proximity to humans for thousands of years, the peacock is featured in ancient Indian stories, songs and poems as symbol of beauty & pose. In two epic poems of Kalidasa (Meghadutam and Kumarasambhava) the beauty of the peacock has been used as an ornate literary tool. The peacock is a prominent motif both in Rajasthani & Mughal schools of paintings. The lovelorn, pining Nayikas in Rajasthani miniatures have the peacock as a companion. The Jataka tales Mahamayur Jataka describes the earlier birth of Bhagavan Buddha as a golden peacock. 
 
 
Hindu mythology describes the peacock is to be the vahan or the vehicle for Karthikeya also called Murugan, the brother of Ganesha, the goddess Saraswati, and the goddess Mahamayuri. Indian Peacock (called Mayura in Sanskrit) has enjoyed a fabled place in India since ancient times. In imagery Lord Krishna is always represented wearing a peacock feather tucked in his headband. Peacocks often live in proximity to humans. Ancient kings in India were said to have gardens to raise peacocks where guests were invited to see the famous male peacock dance during the mating season. Due to this close proximity to humans for thousands of years, they have entered ancient Indian stories, songs and poems as symbols of beauty and poise. As the mating season coincides with the onset of monsoon rains and the month of Shravan in the Hindu calendar, many songs of rains have peacock-dance mentioned in them. One possible origins of the name of the famous Maurya dynasty of ancient India is probably derived from the word Mayura as the ancestors of the Mauryas are thought to be peacock-keepers of a royal court in eastern India.
 

 
 The main figure of the Kurdish religion Yezidism, Melek Taus, is most commonly depicted as a peacock. The Yezidi’s claim Indian origins.
 

 
This colourful bird has a fan-shaped crest on its head, a white patch under its eye and a long-slender neck. The male of species is more beautiful with a gleaming blue breast and an iridescent blue-green coloured plumage. The train feathers have a series of eyes and are best seen when the elongated tail is fanned. When displaying to a female, the peacock erects this train into spectacular fan, presenting the ocelli(eye-spots) to their best advantage.
 
Physical Features

The peacock, is one of the most recognisable birds in the world. These large, brightly colored birds have a distinctive crest and an unmistakable ornamental train. The train (1.4-1.6 meters in length) accounts for more than 60% of their total body length (2.3 meters). Combined with a large wingspan (1.4-1.6 meters), this train makes the male peafowl one of the largest flying birds in the world. The train is formed by 100-150 highly specialized uppertail-coverts. Each of these feathers sports an ornamental ocellus, or eye-spot, and has long disintegrated barbs, giving the feathers a loose, fluffy look. When displaying to a female, the peacock erects this train into a spectacular fan, presenting the ocelli to their best advantage.

The more subtly coloured female Peafowl is mostly brown above with a white belly. Her ornamentation is limited to a prominent crest and green neck feathers. Though females (2.75-4.0 kg) weigh nearly as much as the males (4.0-6.0 kg), they rarely exceed 1.0 meter in total body length.
 
Plumage

The male (peacock) Indian Peafowl has iridescent blue-green or green coloured plumage. The so-called “tail” of the peacock, also termed the “train,” is not the tail quill feathers but highly elongated upper tail coverts. The train feathers have a series of eyes that are best seen when the tail is fanned. Both species have a crest atop the head.

The female (peahen) Indian Peafowl has a mixture of dull green, brown, and grey in her plumage. She lacks the long upper tail coverts of the male but has a crest. The female can also display her plumage to ward off female competition or danger to her young.

The Green Peafowl is different in appearance to the Indian Peafowl. The male has green and gold plumage and has an erect crest. The wings are black with a sheen of blue.
 
Social Characteristics

Peacock or peafowl Large bird belonging to the pheasant family, in East Asia being its native region. The crested common peacock during courtship displays his elongated upper tail which converts into a magnificent green and gold erectile train adorned with green blue ” eyes ” before the duller plumaged peahen. The peacock is a ornamental bird and is of quarrelsome nature and does not mix well with other domestic animals.

Habitat & Diet

They are omnivorous, obtaining most of their food by scratching the leaf litter with their strong feet. Indian Peafowl do most of their foraging in the early morning and shortly before sunset. They retreat to the shade and security of the forest for the hottest portion of the day. Foods include grains, insects, small reptiles, small mammals, berries, drupes, wild figs, and some cultivated crops.

Peacock distribution

The peacock is widely found in the Indian sub-continent from the south and east of the Indus river, Jammu and Kashmir, east Assam, south Mizoram and the whole of the Indian peninsula. The peacock enjoys immense protection. It is fully protected under the Indian Wildlife Protection) Act, 1972.
 
Peacock Throne
 
The legendary ‘Peacock Throne’ (also known as Takht-e-Tavous) of Ml Emperor Shah Jahan is a wonder of Mughal Art. It was yet another example of Shah Jahan’s unparallel aesthetic sense and love of art. This is counted as the costliest single treasure crafted in the last thousand years. In fact, the Peacock Throne was twice as costly as the total cost of the Taj Mahal. The original Peacock Throne was built in the 17th century and it was placed in Delhi’s royal court known as Diwan-i-Aam.
 


 
It acquired its name from its unique shape. It had the figures of two peacocks standing behind it, their tails being expanded and the whole was inlaid with sapphires, rubies, emeralds, pearls and other precious stones of appropriate colors so as to represent life. As described by the French jeweler Jean Baptiste Tavernier, who visited Delhi in 1665, the throne as of the shape of a bed (a “takhta” i.e. platform), 6 ft. by 4 ft., supported by four golden feet, 20 to 25 in. high, from the bars above which rose twelve columns to support the canopy; the bars were decorated with crosses of rubies and emeralds, and also with diamonds and pearls. There were 108 large rubies on the throne, and 116 emeralds. The twelve columns supporting the canopy were decorated with rows of splendid pearls, and according to Tavernier, these were the most valuable part of the throne. Among the historical diamonds decorating it were the famous Kohinoor (186 carats), the Akbar Shah (95 carats), the Shah (88.77 carats), the Jehangir (83 carats) and the second largest spinel ruby in the world — the Timur ruby (283 carats). A-20 couplet poem by the Mughal poet-laureate Qudsi, praising the Emperor, was embedded in the throne in emerald letters.
 
Delhi was invaded by Nader Shah in 1738 and the priceless Peacock Throne was one of the rare treasures he plundered from India. The legendary throne was carried to Iran. It glorified the palace of Iran till it was destroyed in the chaos following the assassination of Nader Shah in 1747.
 
 References: Wikipedia, wildlife-tour-india.com
 
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Sunday Article: House Sparrow

Sunday article by Mohan Pai
 
 House Sparrow
 
Passer domesticus
 


 

…there’s a providence in the fall of a sparrow  -Hamlet (Shakespeare)

India’s foremost ornithologist Dr. Salim Ali published his autobiography in1985. He very aptly gave the title “The Fall of a Sparrow”.

Universally familiar in appearance, the widespread and once abundant house sparrow has become a mystery bird and is becoming increasingly rare all over the world. Perky and bustling, house sparrows have always been seen, mingling with finches in the fields in autumn and winter, but now weeks pass without a single one putting in an appearance.

They are vanishing from many big cities, but are still not uncommon in small towns and villages. India has seen a massive decline of sparrows in recent years and on the world map too. Once a commonplace bird in large parts of Europe, its numbers are decreasing. In the Netherlands, the House Sparrow is even considered an endangered species. Their recent decline has earned them a place on the Red List in the Netherlands. Similar precipitous drops in population have been recorded in the United Kingdom. French ornithologists have charted a steep decline in Paris and other cities. There has been an even sharper fall in the urban areas in Germany, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Italy and Finland.

History

It is thought that the House sparrow originated in the Mediterranean and expanded into Europe with the growth of civilization. At the insistence of man did the sparrow make its way across the Atlantic to the United States in 1850.
The house sparrow is an intelligent bird that has proven to be adaptable to most situation, i.e. nest sites, food and shelter, so it has become the most abundant songbird in the world.
 
Sparrows are very social birds and tend to flock together through most of the year. A flock’s range covers 1.5-2 miles, but it will cover a larger territory if necessary when searching for food. The sparrow’s main diet consists of grain seeds, especially waste grain and live stock feed. If grain is not available, its diet is very broad and adaptable. It also eats weeds and insects, especially during the breeding season. The parasitic nature of the house sparrow is quite evident as they are avid seekers of garbage tossed out by humans. In spring, flowers (especially those with yellow colours) are often eaten crocuses, primroses and aconites seem to attract the house sparrow most. The birds also hunt butterflies.

Housing

House sparrows are generally attracted to buildings for roosting, nesting, and cover. They look for any man-made nook or cranny to build their nests. Other nesting sites are clothes line poles with the end caps open, lofts, kitchen garden etc. The sparrow makes its home in areas closely associated with human habitation.

The House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) is a member of the old world sparrow family Passeridae. Some consider it to be a relative of the Weaver Finch Family. A number of geographic races have been named, and are differentiated on the basis of size and cheek colour.
Birds of the western hemisphere are larger than those in the tropical South Asian populations.

In India, it is popularly known as Goraiya in the Hindi belt. In Tamil Nadu and Kerala it is known as Kuruvi. Telugu language has given it a name, Pichhuka, Kannadigas call it Gubbachchi, Gujaratis call it Chakli where as Maharashtrians call it Chimani. It is known as Chiri in Punjab, Chaer in Jammu and Kashmir, Charai Pakhi in West Bengal, and Gharachatia in Orissa. In Urdu language it is called Chirya while Sindhi language has termed it as Jhirki.

Features

This 14 to 16 cm long bird has a wing span of 19-25 cm. It is a small, stocky song bird that weighs 26 to 32 grams. The male sparrow has a grey crown, cheeks and underparts, and is black at the throat, upper breast and between the bill and eyes. The bill in summer is blue-black and the legs are brown. In winter the plumage is dulled by pale edgings, and the bill is yellowish brown. The female has no black coloring on the head or throat, or a grey crown her upper part is streaked with brown. The juveniles are deeper brown, and the white is replaced by buff the beak is dull yellow. The House Sparrow is often confused with the smaller and more slender Tree Sparrow, which, however, has a chestnut and not grey crown, two distinct wing bars and a black patch on each cheek
The sparrow’s most common call is a short and incessant, slightly metallic cheep, chirrup.

Reproduction

The nesting sites are varied – in holes in buildings or rocks, in ivy or creepers, on houses or riverbanks, on sea-cliffs or in bushes in bays and inlets. When built in holes or ivy, the nest is an untidy litter of straw and rubbish, abundantly filled with feathers. Large well- constructed domed nests are often built when the bird nests in trees or shrubs, especially in rural areas.

The House Sparrow is quite aggressive in usurping the nesting sites of other birds, often forcibly evicting the previous occupants, and sometimes even building a new nest directly on top of another active nests with live nestlings. Eggs are variable in size and shape as well as markings. Eggs are incubated by the female. The sparrow has the shortest incubation period of all the birds, 10 -12 days, and a female can lay 25 eggs each summer. The reproductive success increases with age and this is mainly by changes in timing, with older birds breeding earlier in the season.
 

Causes of Decline

There are various causes for dramatic decrease in their population, one of the more surprising being the introduction of unleaded petrol, the combustion of which produces compounds such as methyl nitrite, a compound which is highly toxic for small insects, which forms a major part of a young sparrow’s diet. Other being areas of free growing weeds, or reduction in number of badly maintained buildings, which are important nesting opportunities for sparrows. Ornithologists and wildlife experts speculate that the population crash could also be linked to a variety of factors like the lack of nesting sites in modern concrete buildings, disappearing kitchen gardens, increased use of pesticides in farmlands and the non- availability of food sources.

The widespread use of chemical pesticides in farmlands has resulted in the killings of insects on which these birds depend. Seed-eating birds like sparrows have to depend on soft- bodied insects to feed their young ones. The other possibility could be increased predation by crows and cats, while crows have grown in number as a result of garbage accumulation in the city. Changing lifestyles and architectural evolution have wreaked havoc on the bird’s habitat and food sources. Modern buildings are devoid of eaves and crannies, and coupled with disappearing home gardens, are playing a part in the disappearing act.
 
Today, one sadly misses the sight of sparrows hopping from branch to branch in the bushes outside one’s house and their chirping.
 

 
House Sparrow -Native range in dark green and introduced range in light green
 
References: House Sparrow – Declining Population by Kalpana Palkhiwala, Wikiped
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Sunday Article: The House Crow

Sunday article by Mohan Pai
 
The House Crow
Corvus splendens

Photo courtesy: J. M. Garg
 
In India, the crow is considered a spirit of the ancestors. During Shraddha or death ceremony pinda (food) is offered and is considered accepted only if a crow arrives and eats it.
 
The house crow is a widespread resident of India and has a special place in Hindu society. During death ceremonies (shraddha) and Pitru Paksha, the practice of offering food or pinda to crows is still in vogue since crows are believed to represent our ancestors.
 
The House Crow, also known as the Colombo Crow is a common bird of the Crow family that is of Asian origin but now found in many parts of the world, where they arrived assisted by shipping. It is between the Jackdaw and the Carrion Crow in size (40 cm in length) but is relatively slimmer than either. The forehead, crown, throat and upper breast are a richly glossed black, whilst the neck and breast are a lighter grey-brown in colour. The wings, tail and legs are black. There are regional variations in the thickness of the bill and the depth of colour in areas of the plumage.
 
Distribution and habitat
It has a widespread distribution in southern Asia, being native to Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Laccadive Islands, South West Thailand and coastal southern Iran. It has been introduced to East Africa around Zanzibar (around 1897[3]) and Port Sudan, and arrived in Australia via ship but has up to now been exterminated. Recently it has made its arrival in Europe, and has been breeding in the Hook of Holland since 1998. It is associated with human settlements in all of its range, from small villages to large cities.

Due to a human population explosion in the areas it inhabits, this species has also proportionately multiplied. Being an omnivorous scavenger has enabled it to thrive in such circumstances.
 
 

House Crow – distribution
The invasive potential for the species is great all over the tropics. It has as yet not established in the New World. This species is able to make use of resources with great flexibility and appears to be associated with humans and no populations are known to exist independently of human
 
Size: 42 cm Weight: 250-350 gm
Identification: Plumage is glossy black, except for the nape, sides of the head, upper back and breast, which are grey. Bill, legs, and feet also black. Sexes alike.

Food: Omnivorous. Diet includes seeds, fruit, grain, nectar, berries, bird’s eggs, nestlings, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, wide range of carrion.It is a highly opportunistic bird and given its omnivorus diet, it can survive on anything that is edible.

Call: Normal call a harsh qua qua or a nasal kaan kaan. It also has a couple of softer calls when resting or during courtship.

Habits: Highly vocal, gregarious birds, seemingly unafraid of humans. Aggressive, will attack and chase off any large bird of prey. Birds have been reported taking food from school children and killing chicks of domestic fowls. Breeding pairs will repeatedly dive bomb humans near the nest.

Habitat: Wholly dependent on human habitation; consequently found in villages, towns, and cities throughout its range. Resorts to altitudinal and seasonal local movements in colder northern areas in winter. Replaced by Large-billed Crows and Jungle Crows in mountains and forests respectively.

Breeding: Solitary nester except in areas of high population density. Will use trees, buildings, or other artificial structures for rough stick nest lined with coir or other fibre. Four to five pale blue-green eggs, speckled with brown. Breeding season March through July. Incubation 16–17 days; fledging 21–28 days.

Status: Not threatened. Abundant in its range to the point of being a pest and a threat to other bird species.

Photo courtesy Muhammad Mahdi Karim
 
References: Wikipedia, birding.in
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Sunday article – Vanishing Species: Sharks

Sunday Article by Mohan Pai

 
 
Shark
(Selachinmorpha)

The great predator.
 
 
Virtually unchanged for more than 400 million years, shark’s streamlined bodies and amazing sensory systems fit the mold of a perfect predator.
 
Sharks are a type of fish with a full cartilaginous skeleton and a highly streamlined body. The earliest known sharks date from more than 420 million years ago, before the time of the dinosaurs. Sharks are found in all seas and are common down to depths of 2,000 metres (6,600 ft), and some live even deeper but they are almost entirely absent below 3,000 metres (9,800 ft). They generally do not live in freshwater, with a few exceptions such as the bull shark and the river shark which can live both in seawater and freshwater. They respire with the use of five to seven gill slits. Sharks have a covering of dermal denticles that protect their skin from damage and parasites and improve fluid dynamics so the shark can move faster. They have several sets of replaceable teeth. Well-known species such as the great white and the hammerhead are apex predators at the top of the underwater food chain. Their extraordinary skills as predators fascinate and frighten us, even as their survival is under serious threat from fishing and other human activities.
 
 Extraordinary Sensory System
Sharks have sensory organs unlike any other creatures. Most sharks can:
* Pick up sound waves from more than 5 kilometers.
*Detect a single drop pf blood in an amount of water contained in an Olympic size swimming pool.
*Register the heightened body tension of a wounded or panic-stricken creature.
* locate prey in total darkness.
 
Unlike bony fish, sharks have no bones; their skeleton is made of cartilage, which is a tough, fibrous substance, not nearly as hard as bone. Sharks also have no swim bladder (unlike bony fish).
 
 Size & Shape
 
There are many different species of sharks that range in size from the size of a person’s hand to bigger than a bus. Fully-grown sharks range in size from 7 inches (18 cm) long (the Spined Pygmy shark), up to 50 feet (15 m) long (the Whale shark). Most sharks are intermediate in size, and are about the same size as people, 5-7 feet (1.5-2.1 m) long. Half of the 368 shark species are under 39 inches (1 m) long.
 
 Sharks have a variety of body shapes. Most sharks have streamlined, torpedo-shaped bodies that glide easily through the water. Some bottom-dwelling sharks (e.g. the angelshark) have flattened bodies that allow them to hide in the sand of the ocean bed. Some sharks have an elongated body shape (e.g., cookiecutter sharks and wobbegongs). Sawsharks have elongated snouts, thresher sharks have a tremendously elongated upper tail fin which they use to stun prey, and hammerheads have extraordinarily wide heads. The goblin shark has a large, pointed protuberance on its head; its purpose is unknown.
 
 There are about 368 different species of sharks, which are divided into 30 families. These different families of sharks are very different in the way they look, live, and eat. They have different shapes, sizes, color, fins, teeth, habitat, diet, personality, method of reproduction, and other attributes. Some types of shark are very rare (like the great white shark and the megamouth) and some are quite common (like the dogfish shark and bull shark). Sharks belong to the group of cartilagenous fish, the Elasmobranchii, that includes the sharks, rays, and skates.
 
Sharks play a vital role in our ecosystem as part of nature’s complex system of checks and balances. Known as apex predators, they are at the top of the food chain. Many sharks prey upon wounded and sick animals, keeping the populations of various species healthy and in balance, while others scavenge the ocean by feeding on dead animals or by filter feeding.
 
According to United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) approximately 100 million sharks are killed each year. This does not include those caught as bycatch (non-targeted animals caught unintentionally and wasted), which is largely unreported. Many sharks also fall victim to finning, the practice of cutting shark’s dorsal, caudal and pectoral fins, then discarding the still-living shark into the sea to die. Sharks play a vital role in our ecosystem as part of nature’s complex system of checks and balances. Known as apex predators, they are at the top of the food chain. Many sharks prey upon wounded and sick animals, keeping the populations of various species healthy and in balance, while others scavenge the ocean by feeding on dead animals or by filter feeding.
 
Most sharks have no predators, but biological characteristics such as slow growth, late sexual maturity and low number of offsprings make sharks susceptible to almost any fishing pressure. Most species are either fished to capacity or overfished worldwide and for products like shark meat, fins and cartilage contribute to their decline.
 
In India, the bull shark is often called the Sundarbans or Ganges shark and it is found in the Ganges and Brahmaputra rivers of West Bengal and Assam in eastern India and adjoining Bangladesh.Sharks of the family Carcharhinidae are the most important group, dominating the fishery all over the world, and this applies equally in India.
 
 
SHARK ATTACKS
 
When some sharks (like the Great White or the Gray Reef shark) turn aggressive prior to an attack, they arch their back and throw back their head. This places their mouth in a better position for taking a big bite. They also move their tail more acutely (probably in preparation for a chase). Sharks do not normally attack people, and only about 25 species of sharks are known to attack people. Sharks attack fewer than 100 people each year. Many more people are killed by bees or lightning.
The sharks that are the most dangerous to people are the great white shark, the tiger shark, the bull shark, and the oceanic whitetip shark. The bull shark is the most frequent attacker of people as it swims in very shallow waters where people swim and is a very plentiful shark. Some of the other sharks that are known to have attacked people include the gray shark, blue shark, hammerhead shark, mako shark, nurse shark, lemon shark, blacktip reef shark, wobbegongs, sandtiger, spitting sharks, and the porbeagle. Some people believe that sharks mistake people (especially people swimming on surf boards) for seals and sea lions, some of their favorite foods.
 

References: Wikipedia, enchantedlearning.com

 

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