Posts Tagged 'Indian Wildlife'

Sunday Article: Indian Chameleon

Sunday article by Mohan Pai

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


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:, 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
 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

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.
 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,
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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.


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

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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Vanishing Species: Hanuman Langur

Sunday article by Mohan Pai

Hello friends,

Good morning. This sunday’s article is about the Hanuman langur, a very bold and rowdy primate.
Hanuman langur is associated with Lord Hanuman of Ramayana and is revered by the Hindus, it is seldom molested and they have lost all fear of man. It’s also known as the temple monkey. Considered as a single species earlier, 7 distinct subspecies are now recognised in India. Hanuman langur is widely distributed over the subcontinent.
Ms Sucheta Chatterjee (facebook) has provided link to a very lucid essay by Steven Weinberg:
Very best wishes,
Mohan Pai.

Hanuman Langur
One of the rowdiest primates, even the Indian Parliament is not out of bounds for them.
Hanuman Langur is believed to be one of the Old World monkeys, belonging to the Semnopithecus Genus. They comprise of 15 subspecies and are terrestrial in nature. Earlier, hanuman langurs were believed to comprise of a single species. However, now they are recognized as seven distinct species. Hanuman langur is also known by the name of Gray Langur, Entellus Langur and Common Indian Langur. Venerated by the Hindus and seldom molested, they have lost all fear of man.
This is the long-limbed, long-tailed, black-faced monkey, seen as much about towns and villages as in forests of India. Animals from the Himalayas are more heavily whiskered and coated, their pale almost white heads, standing out in sharp contrast to the darker colour of the body. The contrast is much less apparent in peninsular animals. Langurs living in the rain-swept hill regions of the Western Ghats are generally darker then those from the drier eastern zone.

Species list
Nepal Gray Langur, Semnopithecus schistaceus
Kashmir Gray Langur, Semnopithecus ajax
Terai Gray Langur, Semnopithecus hector
Northern Plains Gray Langur, Semnopithecus entellus
Black-footed Gray Langur, Semnopithecus hypoleucos
Southern Plains Gray Langur, Semnopithecus dussumieri
Tufted Gray Langur, Semnopithecus priam

In religion and mythology
Hindus revere the Hanuman langur as associated with Lord Hanuman, an ardent and loyal devotee of Shri Rama an incarnations of Lord Vishnu. An army of monkeys or the vanara sena under the leadership of Hanuman was instrumental in the defeat of Ravana by Lord Rama. Other notable vanaras who feature in the epic Ramayana are Sugriva , Vali and Angada.The Hanuman langur has a black face because according to the mythology, Hanuman burnt his hands and face while trying to rescue Sita. The langurs often live in and around Hindu temples, where they are fed by devotees. The Jakhu Hanuman temple in Shimla is a famous example. It is often referred to as the ‘monkey temple’ because of the countless monkeys it houses.
Bold & rowdy
This is the one of the rowdiest relatives of mankind, at least in India. Hanuman langurs are experts at depriving you of your food. and those living near temples are particularly adept at this art. Not just temples, even the Indian Parliament is not out of bounds for them. For the past few years, the parliament has been losing a ‘few important files’, thanks to these simian creatures that react quite adversely if left unfed during the lunch hour. But when threatened, they retreat immediately.
Physical traits
The fur of the gray langur of India may be gray, dark brown or even golden in color. The face is black and the size varies from one subspecies to another. Male langurs grow to a length of 51 cm to 78 cm and weigh about 18 kg. The female langurs are smaller, with a length of 40 cm to 68 cm and weight of about 11 kg. The length of the tail is between 69 cm and 101 cm.
Common Indian langurs survive on a diet comprising of leaves, fruit, buds and flowers. The exact diet, however, changes from season to season. During winters, they survive on a diet of mature leaves. In summer season, they mainly survive on fruits. Insects, tree bark and gum also supplement their diet. Hanuman langurs can easily digest seeds with high levels of the toxins and can eat even soil and stones.
Natural habitat
Hanuman langurs are found inhabiting tropical, dry thorn scrub, pine and alpine forest as well as urban areas of the Indian subcontinent. They spent a major portion of their time on the ground, with the exception of their sleeping time. Presently, common langurs are found in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Burma.
Gray langur of India can usually be found living in large groups, dominated by a male langur. The membership of the group may be anywhere between 11 and 60. However, they hold the dominating position for a very short period only, which may stretch upto 18 months. Whenever a new male takes over the group, all the infants of the previous alpha male are killed. Entellus Langurs of India may form bachelor groups also.
Mating Behavior
Female langurs attain maturity at 3 to 4 years of age, while males achieve the same in 4 to 5 years. However, they start mating in the 6th or 7th year only. The gestation period is 190 to 210 days, after which a single infant is born. Only in very rare cases does a female langur give birth to two infants. Where there are a number of males in a group, only the high-ranking males can mate with any female. The other males get a chance to mate only if they manage to sneak by the high-ranking males.
The inveterate enemy of the Langur is the panther. The sight of one, or of a tiger that rouses suspicion produces the guttural alarm note which sends the whole troop bolting. Quite distinct is the joyous ’whoop’ emitted when bounding from tree to tree or otherwise contentedly occupied. An interesting relationship has been observed between herds of Chital deer and troops of the Northern Plains Gray Langur. Chital apparently benefit from the langur’s good eyesight and ability to post a lookout in a treetop, helping to raise the alarm when a predator approaches. For the langur’s part, the Chital’s superior sense of smell would seem to assist in early predator warning, and it is common to see langurs foraging on the ground in the presence of Chital. The Chital also benefit from fruits dropped by the langurs from trees such as Terminalia bellerica. Alarm calls of either species can be indicative of the presence of a predator such as the Bengal Tiger.
Common Indian langur is listed in the lower risk category by the IUCN

Pic Courtesy: Animal Diversity Web

References: S. H. Prater The book of Indian Animals), Wikipedia, Animal Diversity Web,

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Vanishing Species – The Lynx

An article by Mohan Pai
The Eurasian Lynx
Lynx lynx isabellina

This cat appears in India only in the far north, bordering Tibet. Its recent records are only from Ladakh, where the species may not survive for long.
The Lynx, which occurs within our limits in the upper Indus valley, in Gilgit, Ladakh, and Tibet, is a race of the Lynx of northern Europe and Asia. It is distinctive in its pale sandy-grey or isabelline colouring, hence the racial name Isabellina.
The long erect tufts of hair on the tips of its ears distinguish the Lynx from other cats; From the carcal the Lynx is distinguished by its short tail reaching only half way to the hocks, and by distinct ruff or fringe of pendant hairs framing its face. In summer its coat shows a sprinkling of spots which may persist, but which usually disappear in the heavier winter coat.

Postage Stamp from the Soviet Union 1988

The Lynx shelters in the dense cover provided by willow scrub patches of reeds, and tall grass. It hunts such animals and birds as it can overcome, hares, marmots, partridges, pheasants, and takes its toll from flocks of sheep and goats. In summer it covers a wide range of altitude having been seen at levels between 9,000 (2,745 m) and 11,000 feet (3,355 m).
Its keen eyesight and hearing is proverbial. It is said to have 2-3 young, the mother usually hiding her litter in a cave or a hole among rocks. Half grown cubs have been seen in August.

Range map of the Lynx (IUCN)

It is a medium-sized cat. The Eurasian lynx is the biggest of the lynxes, ranging in length from 80 to 130 cm (32 to 51 in) and standing about 70 cm (28 in) at the shoulder. Males usually weigh from 18 to 30 kg (40 to 66 lb) and females weigh 18.1 kg (40 lb) on average. The Eurasian lynx is mainly nocturnal and lives solitarily as an adult. Moreover, the sounds this lynx makes are very quiet and seldom heard, so the presence of the species in an area may go unnoticed for years. Remnants of prey or tracks on snow are usually observed long before the animal is seen.


While China and Russia had annual commercial exports of thousands of skins in the 1970s and 1980s, this trade has ended in recent years. However, illegal skin trade remains the leading threat to the species, together with habitat loss and prey base depletion.

References: S. H. Prater (The Book of Indian Mammals), Wikipedia, IUCN.


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Vanishing Species – Indian Amphibians

An article by Mohan Pai

The Indian Amphibians

‘Frog’ Thai woodcraft – pic by Mridula Pai

The First Land Animals that have survived five mass extinction cycles.
The term Amphibia means ‘having two lives’; an apt description for a class of animals who live an aquatic fish-like existence when young, and become terrestrial when adult. Thus the term ‘Amphibia’ is applied to a class of vertebrates that fall between the fishes and the reptiles. Amphibians differ greatly in form, and range from the legless worm-like caecilians to the lizard-like salamanders and newts. Some of the major differences that separate amphibians from the other vertebrates are: a body covered with generally moist skin without scales, fur or feathers; soft toes with no claws; a two chambered heart in the larval stage and a three chambered heart in adults; external fertilization of eggs; and the process of METAMORPHOSIS.
The first records of the Amphibians are from the early Devonian (over 300 million years ago) and early Silurian times. These remains are associated with freshwater fish-like animals. The rise of the Amphibians from their fish-like ancestors required radical changes. For instance, the evolution of limbs from fins, a breathing apparatus that could function effectively in air, and a skin that could remain moist.
The early forms were all four-leggedand tailed but were mainly aquatic. The habitat of Eogyrinus, one of the earliest known amphibians, seems to have been temporary pools in arid areas, where the drying of the pools would have caused it to make overland journeys to other pools. From these modest beginnings, amphibians have evolved to occupy all known habitats except some of the more climatic extreme, such as the polar area.
At present the Class Amphibia is represented by three Orders: the Apoda, which encompasses the worm-like CAECILIANS, the Caudata or ‘tailed amphibians’ that are represented by NEWTS & SALAMANDERS, and the Salientia which includes FROGS & TOADS.

Mating tree frogs, Mahadayi Valley. Pic by Mohan Pai

In most amphibians eggs are fertilized externally. The female may lay eggs individually or in strings. The eggs absorb water rapidly after they are laid, and after a certain stage cannot be penetrated by the sperm. This requires sperm to be in contact with the eggs immediately after laying. The familiar clasp or embrace of mating frogs enables the male to release the sperm almost directly the eggs are released.
On hatching, a larva emerges from the egg. In the frogs and toads, this is the tadpole. Most amphibian larvae usually start off with external gills but tadpoles generally have internal gills. The next major changes in the tadpole are usually seen when the adult stage is reached. Tadpole demonstrates the most striking changes with the appearance of limbs and disappearance of the tail. The major changes in the tailed and legless at metamorphosis is usually the disappearance of the external gills. Before metamorphosis, the lungs develop and are functional by the time the gills begin to disappear.

Of the three living orders of amphibia, only two have been known to produce any vocalization – the frogs and toads, and tailed amphibians. All the amphibian calls one hears on the Indian subcontinent come from frogs and toads.Although calls to attract mates (mating calls) are the commonest uses of voice in amphibians, there are five other conditions which may give rise to sounds. These sounds are called release calls, warning sounds, rain calls, screams, and territoriality calls.
Amphibians are subject to enormous predation. From the egg to adult, they forma part of the diet of innumerable enemies. Very few individuals from a single brood live to reach maturity. The eggs are eaten by insects and even by some salamanders. The tadpole stage falls prey to dragonfly nymphs, water-beetle, giant water-bugs. Fishes, birds and crustaceans. When emerging as froglet there is heavy predation by birds and by larger frogs. The adult frogs are preyed upon mostly by snakes, monitor lizards, birds, and carnivorous mammals.
The length of life in the amphibia has been recorded to vary from as short as two years in the spadefoot toads to as long as fifty years from some salamanders; the larger animals live longer than the smaller ones.

Out of the 219 amphibian species in India, 134 species (i.e. 61%) are endemic to the country. The Western Peninsula harbours highest number of endemic species (92) followed by the Northeast (29). Besides these, Andaman & Nicobar Islands have five endemic species while the North has three, Deccan Plateau three and the Gangetic Plains two.

The status of most of the species of Indian amphibians is unknown as no population studies have been properly conducted. In 1997, the amphibian experts of our country, under the guidelines of the IUCN met in Bhubaneshwar to assess the status of the Indian species. They concluded that out of the 207 amphibian species then known from India, nine were critically endangered, 42 endangered, 39 vulnerable, 74 in the lower risk category while for 43, the data was deficient for determining their status. However, only four species, the Garo Hills tree toad (Pedostibes kempi), the Malabar black narrow mouthed frog (Melanobartrachus indicus) and the Himalayan salamander (Tylototrition verrucosus) are protected under Schedule II of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and the frogs of the genus Rana under II Schedule IV of the Act.

The amphibian species are not evenly distributed throughout India.The highest concentrations of species are found in the Western Peninsula followed by the Northeast. Interestingly, all the three living orders of Amphibia, viz., Gymnophiona (limbless amphibians), Caudata (tailed amphibians) and Anura (tailless amphibians) are distributed in Northeast India. The Western Peninsula has Gymnophiona and Anura while the remaining geographical regions of India harbour only Anura. The order Gymnophiona include worm-like fossorial limbless amphibians living a subterranean mode of life. These are very rare and secretive, as a result of which very little is known about their habits and life history. Twenty species occur in India. The only representative of the order Caudata in India is the Himalayan salamander.
The Himalayan Salamander
Tylototrition verrucosus. It is semi-aquatic and found in the hilly lakes of Sikkim, Northern West Bengal, Khasi hills of Meghalaya, Lohit district of Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur between altitudes of 1330-2220 metres. But its population is dwindling.
Since amphibians must breed in water, their permeable skin and eggs are particularly sensitive to pollution and other changes in water quality. Therefore discharge of pesticides, fertilizers, detergents, domestic sewage and toxic industrial effluents into the water bodies take a heavy toll on the numbers of the amphibians. Besides, habitat destruction in the form of draining and filling up of wetlands, clearing of land for agriculture and felling of natural forests (canopy opening) has devastated the amphibian population of our country. In the last few decades, a large number of frogs were captured and their limbs exported as part of the frog-leg industry to gain foreign exchange. However, this activity resulted in a tremendous increase in agricultural insects/ pests. Realizing this, the Government of India banned the export of frog-legs since April 1986. Since then, the trade has declined but some illegal export still takes place through the neighbouring countries.
Small wood frog
Amphibians are considered to be the best indicators of environmental health. A decline in amphibian populations indicates ecosystem deterioration that might affect a wider spectrum of the earth’s biological diversity. During the last 12 years there has been a great concern, worldwide, about the rapid decline in amphibian populations. Many reasons have been attributed to the loss of amphibians including habitat loss, UV-B radiation, global warming, toxic chemicals, pathogens that destroy eggs and larval stages, direct harvest and other. Of these, loss of habitat seems to be the most significant factor, at least in tropical countries.species known in India.
From IUCN Red List of Threatened Species:

The state of amphibians in IndiaIndia has the third largest amphibian population in Asia. The amphibian fauna of India comprises of 272 species of which 167 (66.3%) are endemic to the country. In spite of its broad variety of species, India holds second place on the list of countries having the most number of threatened amphibian species in Asia, with 67 (25%) of its species facing possible extinction. Out of the 38 species of amphibians in Asia that are confirmed to be extinct, by the Global Amphibian Assessment (GAA), 1 is from India. In addition, 13 species are listed as Critically Endangered, 31 as Endangered and 23 as Vulnerable. A further 95 species are listed under the data deficient category indicating the number of threatened species may be much higher once information becomes available.ThreatsLoss and fragmentation of habitats is the immediate threat to amphibians in India. A vast majority of Indian amphibians occupy regions that are increasingly being used for agricultural purposes. In addition to this, a vast majority of amphibian species dwell in regions that are undergoing urban development, logging and industrialization that have resulted in a drop in stable amphibian habitats. Pollution plays a major role in creating an unstable environment for amphibians in India. Excessive use of pesticides such as DDT, Dieldrin and Malathion have been shown to affect the immune systems of certain amphibian species while use of herbicides such as Atrazine has an affect on their reproductive ability by inducing sex reversal. The building of dams and water management systems disturbs stable environments by altering the natural river flow in areas populated by amphibians. Some species face a dramatic drop in number due to the introduction of alien species such as mosquito fish Gambusia affinis that destroy amphibian eggs.

Among the key findings in 2008 are: Nearly one-third (32 %) of the world’s amphibian species are known to be threatened or extinct, 43 % are known to not be threatened, and 25 % have insufficient data to determine their threat status. As many as 159 amphibian species may already be extinct. At least 38 amphibian species are known to be Extinct; one is Extinct in the Wild; while at least another 120 species have not been found in recent years and are possibly extinct. At least 42 % of all species are declining in population, indicating that the number of threatened species can be expected to rise in the future. In contrast, less than one percent of species show population increases. The largest numbers of threatened species occur in Latin American countries such as Colombia (214), Mexico (211), and Ecuador (171). However, the highest levels of threat are in the Caribbean, where more than 80 % of amphibians are threatened or extinct in the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Jamaica, and a staggering 92 % in Haiti. Although habitat loss clearly poses the greatest threat to amphibians, a newly recognized fungal disease is seriously affecting an increasing number of species. Perhaps most disturbing, many species are declining for unknown reasons, complicating efforts to design and implement effective conservation strategies.

References: Encyclopedia of Indian Natural History (BNHS), IUCN Red List, Envis Newsletter (Oct-Dec 2001)


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Vanishing Species – Hispid Hare

An Article by Mohan Pai
The Hispid Hare or Assam Rabbit

(Caprolagus hispidius)

Hispid hare is a rare and endangered species
almost on the verge of extinction.

During the mid-1960s there was speculation that the Hispid Hare had gone extinct, however, the capture of a live specimen in 1971 in the Barnadi Wildlife Sanctuary, northwest Assam, confirmed that the species was persisting. Though there is no information available on exact number of individuals in any areas of the range of the Hispid Hare, little doubt exists that the species has experienced a dramatic decline due to habitat loss in recent years.

What we call in Hindi as Khargosh and Khargorkata in Assamese is not a rabbit but a hare. True rabbits (Oryctolagus) do not occur in the Indian subcontinent. Hispid Hare, also called Assam Rabbit distributed along the foothills of the Himalayas from Uttar Pradesh to Assam and is a is a rare and critically endangered species.
A large grassland logomorph it has black hair predominantly brown dorsal coat and white belly. It has shorter or more rounded ears, and smaller hind legs and a much shorter tail than the Indian Hare.

Very little is known of the habits of this species though it has been reported sporadically from the grass jungles of Terai and Duars in Assam..The Hispid Hare was formerly widely distributed but its habitat is much reduced and degraded by deforestation, cultivation, and human settlement, and now it is confined to isolated regions in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam.

The hispid hare is also called the “bristly rabbit” because it has coarse, dark brown hair. It’s ears are short, and its back legs are not much larger than the front legs. It weighs about 2.5 kg (5.5 lb). It prefers tall grass-scrub savanna, in flat, well-drained and thinly forested country. It is not gregarious, but sometimes lives in pairs. Its diet consists mainly of bark, shoots and roots of grasses, including thatch species, and occasionally crops.
The hispid hare was formerly found from Uttar Pradesh to Assam (India) along the Himalayan foothills, and south to Dacca in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). In 1964, it was feared by some to be extinct, or nearly so, but by 1966 it was thought still to exist in a few isolated parts of its range along the foothills of the Himalayas in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam. In 1990 the areas from which it had been recently recorded included Assam, northwest Bengal, northwest Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and the Terai area of southern and southwest Nepal.
The main reasons for its decline include habitat (elephant grass land) loss, mainly for cultivation, forestry, grazing and the burning of thatch; human settlement; hunting for food and to protect crops; and predation by dogs. In addition, human-induced changes in seasonal flooding have favored the later stages of vegetation succession which the hispid hare does not prefer.
About Rabbits

0 The Hispid hare is one of the world’s rarest mammals.

0 The Hispid hare is actually a rabbit (see next item).

0 Rabbits (belonging to many different genera) vs. Hares (all in the genus Lepus):

The major differences between rabbits and hares include: 1.) their methods in avoiding predators (rabbits hide in dense vegetation or burrows; hares have longer legs and try to outrun predators), and 2.) the characteristics of their young at birth (newborn rabbits (“kittens”) are born naked and with their eyes closed; newborn hares (“leverets”) are better developed – their eyes are open and they can move around with some degree of coordination)

For an interesting and informative article of G. Maheswaran on the Hispid Hare (Sanctuary Feature) please log on to:


References: Animal Info, IUCN Red List, “The Book of Indian Mammals” by S. H. Prater.

Vanishing Species – The Indian Tree Shrew (Madras Tree Shrew)

An article by Mohan Pai

Indian Tree Shrew
(Also called Madras Tree Shrew)
Anathana ellioti

Pic courtesy: S. Karthikeyan

Is it a primate or a rodent ?
An enigmatic and evolutionarily an unique creature, Madras Tree Shrew is endemic to peninsular India.
There exists a great controversy as to whether Tree Shrews (family Tupaiidae) should be placed in an order with primates or whether they are insectivores.
These creatures are mammals mostly found in south-east Asia. All tree shrews share some common characteristics: relatively small body mass, generally omnivorous (eating arthropods and fruit), the skeleton has an unspecialized placental mammalian pattern, all digits have claws, and the hands and feet are not prehensile. Not all of tree shrews are arboreal, some are mostly terrestrial, and the rest of the subspecies are probably best described as being semi-arboreal. Most tree shrews share many behavioral characteristics with squirrels, so much so that the Malay word tupai is used for both tree-shrews and squirrels.
Tree shrews are also included in the same order with primates by some. Now the characteristics that are shared between tree shrews and primates have been noted as to being primitive amongst placental mammals. Until more evidence can be found the status of where to place the tree-shrew will remain unresolved, so it can not be definitively said that tree shrews are primates. Taxonomists have now assigned it to a separate order – Scandentia.
The Madras Tree shrew (Anathana ellioti), also known as the Indian Tree shrew, is a small mammal that lives in the hilly forests of southern India. The Madras Tree shrew is omnivorous, and has the same kind of unspecified molars as the other Tree shrews in the order Scandentia. They resemble most other tree shrews, however have larger ears, and also are speckled brown, yellow or black over their fur. The main body of fur usually has a reddish tinge and the ventral area is white most of the time – although all these colorations will vary from individual to individual. They are usually 16-18 centimeters in length (6-7 inches) and the tail is usually that same length making the total length about 32-36 (13-17 inches long). On an average they will weigh about 160 grams (5 and a half ounces) although larger specimens have been recorded.
The habitat of the Madras Tree shrew is that of a partially moist to very moist forest habitat, with deciduous trees and shrubs making up the forest floor. However, they can also be found in the southern India slopes, and ravines, along with cultivated fields or pastures. They have proven to adapt to surrounding if the conditions are right and feast on the abundance of insect life in their chosen areas. They eat caterpillars, ants, butterflies, moths, and anything else that will satisfy – they also eat berries and seeds, and have been known to eat the fruit of the Lantana Camara, a very thorny but common shrub. Shrews are mainly nocturnal, but their high metabolic rates can lead to a daily food intake of up to their body weight or more, so they are in constant search of food.
Although the Madras Tree shrew has the word tree in its name, it is in fact uncommon to see one climb a tree, and when they do climb a tree it is usually a means of escape, or of play with younger Tree shrews, and maybe the rare exception of a safe place to self-groom – and to do this they will climb the tree, and then slide down it stretched out. They will repeat this at every angle until they feel sufficiently groomed. The majority of time is spent hidden on the forest floors, travelling under the bush, and inspecting their territories or looking for some insects or seeds to eat.
Madras Trees Shrews also like to build night shelters between soft ground and stones, which can be very complex or very simple. They rarely house more than one, as the tree shrew in general is a solitary species, with the Madras Tree shrew being one that is paired only during certain times of the year if at all. The behavior in regards to mating is not well known, however due to studies of their biology it is assumed that they can produce up to five young at a time. If they are at all similar to other tree shrews they may only spend a short time with their young, and their young will mature rapidly, leaving the nest in three to five months.

A few facts about the Madras Tree shrews
The Madras Tree shrew can be seen as similar to the squirrel, however a difference is that the tree shrew will walk with its tail in an upward curve and a curl that continues but curls the opposite direction.The name Anathana ellioti in which Anathana is the genus comes from the Tamil words Moongil Anathaan, which means â ˜Bamboo Squirrel” while ellioti, the species name, comes from the man who first documented the species – Sir Walter Elliot. The Madras Tree shrew mostly forages in the morning, rather than the evening, as an advantage over other foragers who start later in the day. The Madras tree shrew is listed as Near Threatened (Near Threatened (NT), is close to qualifying for or is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future, or LR/nt), is close to qualifying for or is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future, on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
References: “A Field Guide to Indian Mammals” by Vivek Menon, Wikipedia.


Vanishing Species – The Indian Flying Fox

An article by Mohan Pai

The Indian Flying Fox
Pteropus giganteus

The world’s only true, largest flying mammal with a sustained flight who feeds only on ripe fruits.
A bat is the only mammal with wings, the only mammal which can really fly. There are mammals like the flying squirrels, and flying lemurs, which glide through the air supported by parachute-like extensions of skins on their bodies and allow it only a prolonged glide. Whereas with bats there is true and sustained flight effected by an upward and downward beat of their wings. Fruit bats are larger than the carnivore bats and the Flying Fox is the largest. The wing span of the Flying Fox is about 4 ft.
The Flight clearly distinguishes bats from all the other mammals. Not just jumping, or gliding, but actually being able to fly – like the birds. The entire bone structure of bats is modified for flight, and as we should expect, this is most noticeable in the arms. As the name “Chiroptera” (“hand wing”) translates, the wings are formed by a stretched membrane across elongated finger bones to the sides of the body and all the way down enclosing the legs and tail. The wing membrane is naked, although in some species the body fur may grow somewhat out onto the wing. When the wing is not extended the membrane folds up along countless creases more efficiently than an umbrella.
The world’s only true flying mammals, bats are all gathered into one order, Chiroptera. They probably developed from arboreal insectivores, possibly tree-dwelling animals, 70,000,000 years ago, and possibly as far back as 100,000,000 years. Their species number almost 1000, second only to the Rodents. Bats are found in every part of the world except the polar regions and far out across the ocean. The order is clearly divisible into two very distinct suborders: the Megachiroptera, consisting of 173 species of flying foxes and other large fruit bats; and the Microchiroptera, which contains all the other smaller, generally insectivorous, bats. So diverse are the small bats that they have been sorted into 16 separate families, while the fruit bats are all contained in a single family. The large bats inhabit the tropics and subtropics of Africa and Australia and Asia, while the small bats are found worldwide. Rather than displaying quick maneuvers, flying foxes have a powerful and steady type of flight. They use their acute vision, even when flying at night. The small bats have reasonably good eyesight but do not depend upon it in flight. Instead they have developed a remarkable sense of hearing and guide themselves by echolocation, or sonar. This type of bat constantly emits high-frequency clicking sounds, up to 200 per second, and outside the highest range of human hearing. When the sound waves strike objects in their path an echo is returned to the bat. It can then judge distances between itself and an object, such as a stone wall or a tiny insect, and so it literally hears its way around. Since bats in flight perceive insects in this manner, this accounts for their sudden darting twists, turns, and dives while in pursuit. If bats are indeed evolved from insectivores, then echolocation as a means of finding flying insects in the dark probably developed very early on. Bats eat all types of nocturnal insects, but beetles and moths probably top the list. Yet some species of small bats have forsaken a diet of insects, and feed on ripe fruit, while others feed on nectar and pollen.
The Indian Flying-fox (Pteropus giganteus) is a species of bat in the Pteropodidae family. It is found in Bangladesh, China, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The Greater Indian Fruit Bat lives in mainly forests. It is a very large bat with a wing span of around 80 centimeters. It is nocturnal and feeds mainly on ripe fruits such as mangoes and bananas and nectar. This bat is gregarious and lives in colonies which can number a few hundred. Their offspring has no specific name besides ‘young’. They reproduce sexually and give live birth. They have one to two young.
Range and Habitat: Pakistan, India, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. They roost in trees (especially banyans, figs and tamarinds) or clumps of bamboo. Habits and Adaptations: Flying foxes live in colonies of several hundred to several thousand individuals. Each bat has a specific resting place. There is a rank structure among males based on size and strength. No male-female bonds are formed. The bats fly to their feeding sites shortly after sundown. They spend most of the night feeding, returning to the roost at about 4 a.m. During the day sleep is interrupted by short periods of watchfulness. The colony is never completely still. Flying foxes do not echo-locate, like insectivorous bats. They fly entirely by sight. During hot weather these bats fan themselves with their wings and spread saliva over their bodies to help keep cool. Diet: Almost exclusively juice from fruits, including mangos, bananas, papayas, figs, sapotes and guaras. The pulp and seeds are usually spit out. Blossoms and nectar are also eaten.
Breeding and Maturation: Courtship consists of the male shrieking shrilly into the female’s ear until she allows copulation. Flying foxes are seasonal breeders, with young being born when food is most plentiful. The time of birth varies from January, in parts of India, to June in Sri Lanka. The single young is born after a 140-150 day gestation. The young weigh about 75 g. at birth. They first begin to hang by themselves at about three weeks. They begin to fly when around 11 weeks old, and are weaned by five months. Sexual maturity occurs at about 18 months.
Miscellaneous: Bats, due to their nocturnal nature, are high in spook hierarchy of folk tales and horror films. According to Indian folk medicine, a wing bone from a flying fox tied to the ankle with a tail hair from a black cow results in painless childbirth. The captive longevity record is 31 years.
Painting of the Flying Fox by Bhawani Das of Patna, circa 1778-82 on sale at Christies’s last year. Estimated price $ 3,32,114.

“The Book of Indian Animals” by S. H. Prater, Wikipedia, Minnesota Zoo – Animals, America Zoo


For some of my articles visit:
For some key chapters from my book “The Western Ghats”, please log on to:
For detailed blog (6 Chapters) on Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley, please log on to:
For the book ‘The Elderly’ please log on to:
You can also access my blogs on Sulekha & WordPress:
For my book “The Flight of Gods – Hindu Temples & Shrines of Goa” please log on to:

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