Posts Tagged 'Wildlife'

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: http://www.physlink.com/Education/essay_weinberg.cfm
Very best wishes,
Mohan Pai.
 

Hanuman Langur
Semnopithecus
 
 
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.
Diet
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.
Behaviour
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.
 
Status
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, iloveindia.com

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Vanishing Species – Indian Giant Flying Squirrels

An article by Mohan Pai

 
Indian Giant Flying Squirrels
Petaurista philippensis

 
The Flying Squirrels are actually gliding mammals incapable of sustained flights.
 

The term flying is somewhat misleading, since flying squirrels are actually gliding mammals incapable of sustained flight. Steering is accomplished by adjusting tautness of the patagium, largely controlled by a small cartilaginous wrist bone. The tail acts as a stabilizer in flight, much like the tail of a kite, and as an adjunct airfoil when “braking” prior to landing on a tree trunk.

 
Though their life expectancy is only about six years in the wild, flying squirrels often live between 10 and 15 years in captivity. This difference is due to these creatures being important prey animals. Predation mortality rates in sub-adults are very high. Predators include arboreal snakes, raccoons, nocturnal owls, martens, fishers, coyotes, and the domestic house cat. They are also nocturnal.
 
Indian Giant Flying Squirrel is the common large flying squirrel found over most of peninsular India – all other flying squirrels are restricted to the Himalayas and the Northeast and one is restricted to the Western Ghats. Its coat varies from coffee-brown to a predominantly grey colour.
 
Habitat
Deciduous, semi-evergreen and evergreen forests of Goa, Maharashtra, parts of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala.
 

Red Giant Flying Squirrel
Petaurista petaurista
This dark red species is also called the Indian Flying Squirrel. Its elastic skin, which it uses to glide, is attached from wrist to ankle. It has large black-ringed, liquid brown eyes. The long slender tail is furred but not bushy and is carried curved on the back.
This squirrel runs up to the top-most branches of a tree before launching into a glide that can easily extend up to 100 m. While passing overhead it makes a noise like rushing wind. It has a monotonous call, which sounds like someone exhaling sharply.
Habitat
Restricted to forests only, this squirrel is not found near human habitations. It inhabits the Himalayan foothills from J&K to Assam and Manipur.
 

Wooly Flying Squirrel
Eupetaurus cinereus

This is a high altitude flying squirrel with long silken hair, rather than wooly hair as its name suggests. Larger than the genus Petaurista, it also looks bulkier because of its dense fur. Its blue-grey coat is uniformly coloured, except for a paler tip on its long, heavily furred tail.
The Wooly flying squirrel does not hibernate like the other Himalayan flying squirrels. It reportedly prefers rocky caves to trees.
Habitat
Coniferous, dwarf rhododendron and juniper forests, and the mountain steppe in northern J&K (Hunza, Gilgit) and Sikkim (2,800 m and above).

 
Reference: A Field Guide to Indian Mammals by Vivek Menon, Wikipedia
 
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Vanishing Species – Sambar Deer

An article by Mohan Pai

The Indian Sambar Deer

Cervus unicolor niger

The largest Indian deer that carries the grandest of horns.

 

The Sambar is the largest Indian deer and carries the grandest horns. Height at shoulder can be up to 150 cm. A full grown stag weighs between 230 – 325 kg. The male members of this species have antlers that can grow up to a length of 1 m. The coat is coarse and shaggy, males have a mane about the neck and throat. The general color is brown with grayish tinge. Females are lighter in tone. Older stags become very dark, almost black.Sambar is found in the wooded areas of India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka. It is the most common deer species in the world, covering many countries in Asia. It is also one of the larger members of the deer family. Their population is large and spread to almost every corner of India.

Habits:
Sambar prefers staying in the forested hill-sides preferably near cultivation. They are almost nocturnal, feeding mainly at night and retiring by daybreak. Their diet is mainly grass, leaves, various kinds of wild fruit. The capacity of so heavy an animal to move silently through dense jungle is amazing. Sambar takes to water readily and swims with the body submerged, only the face and the antlers showing above surface. These animals have a life expectancy ranging between 16 – 20 years.
 
Breeding:
Their breeding period is mainly during the months of November and December. The gestation period is 6 months. The males by this time have shed their antlers. A new pair start growing almost immediately. It is during this period of their life cycles when they are seen less frequently. The males mostly lead solitary lives and are rarely seen associating with each other, except on some occasions during the rutting season. Sambar stags fight for territory and attempt to attract hinds by vocal and olfactory display. The stag’s harem is limited to a few hinds.
They are the favorite prey species of the tiger. The Sambar has extremely sharp senses of hearing and smell. Its alarm call which is a loud “dhonk” is taken very seriously, unlike that of the spotted or barking deer, by anyone interested in knowing the whereabouts of a predator. A repeated call is accepted as a definite indicator.
 

Pic courtesy: haryanaonline.com
 
These deer are seldom far from water and, although primarily of the tropics, are hardy and may range from sea level up to high elevations such as the mixed coniferous/deciduous forest zone in the Himalayan Mountains sharing its range with the Himalayan musk deer. These deer are found in habitats ranging from tropical seasonal forests (tropical dry forests and seasonal moist evergreen forests), subtropical mixed forests (conifers, broadleaf deciduous, and broadleaf evergreen tree species) to tropical rainforests. Their range covers a vast majority of territory that is classified as tropical rainforest, but their densities are probably very low there. In these areas, the deer probably prefer clearings and areas adjacent to water. In Taiwan, sambar along with sika deer have been raised on farms for their antlers, which they drop annually in April to May.
This deer has been seen congregating in large herds in protected areas such as national parks and reserves in India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. The subspecies of Indian sambar in India and Sri Lanka are the largest of the genus with the largest antlers. Populations that inhabit the Malay Peninsula, Sumatra, and Borneo seem to have the smallest antlers in proportion to their body size.
 

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

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Vanishing Species – Common Palm Civet

An Article by Mohan Pai

Common Palm Civet
Paradoxurus hermaphroditus

Also called as the “Toddy Cat” for its fondness of toddy liquor.
The Common Palm Civet is also called the Toddy Cat. The name comes about because this creature is apparently fond of drinking from vessels put in palm trees to collect sap for making toddy or palm sugar. It is also known as the Asian Palm civet or ‘Musang’.
It is distributed from Kashmir, the Himalayas, and Assam southwards through the whole of the Peninsula, except in the desert zones of Sind and Punjab. Eastwards, Burma and the Indo-Chinese and Malay countries. This civet is more common and abundant in well-wooded regions. It lives much on trees, lying curled up by day among the branches or in a hole in the trunk. Near towns and villages large mango trees or palm trees are a favourite shelter. But it is a highly adaptive animal and can live in dense forests, agricultural lands and even in the heart of crowded cities, selecting a roof, an outhouse or drain as a place of hiding. Pineapple and coffee plantations are a favourite resort in the fruiting season.
Common Palm Civet Characteristics
The Common Palm Civet weighs around 3.2 kg (7 lb) and has a body length of 53cm (21 inches). The Common Palm has a tail length of 48cm (19 inches). It’s long, stocky body is covered with coarse, shaggy hair that is usually a greyish colour.The Common Palm Civet has black markings on its feet, ears and muzzle. It also has three rows of black markings on its main body.The markings on it’s face resemble a raccoon’s. It’s tail does not have rings, unlike similar palm civet species. The Common Palm Civet has sharp claws which allow it to climb trees and house gutters.
Diet
The Common Palm Civet is a nocturnal omnivore. Its primary food source is fruit such as chiku, mango and rambutan (a medium-sized tropical tree). It also has a fondness for palm flower sap which, when fermented, becomes ‘toddy’, a sweet liquor.The Common Palm Civet is also fond of coffee cherries. They eat the outer fruit and the coffee beans pass through their digestive tract. An expensive coffee called ‘kopi luwak’ is supposedly made from these coffee beans. Kopi luwak is said to have a gamy flavour and sells for more than $100 per pound.Common Palm Civets will eat reptiles, eggs and insects as well.
Habitat
Common Palm Civets live in tropical forested habitats, parks and suburban gardens where mature fruit trees and fig trees grow and undisturbed vegetation.
Reproduction
Both male and female have scent glands underneath the tail that resemble testicles. It can spray a noxious secretion from these glands. The common palm civet is solitary, nocturnal and arboreal.
Common Palm Civets spend the day asleep in a tree hollow. Common Palm Civets are territorial.Common Palm Civets reproduce throughout the year although it has been recorded that kittens are most often seen from October to December. Kittens are born in a litter of 2 to 5 young. Palm civets become sexually mature at 11 to 12 months. In captivity the common palm civet can live up to 22 years. Young are born in tree hollows or in boulder crevices. During brief periods of mating and when the females have their young, the civets occupy resting trees together.
Behaviour
Common Palm Civets forage mainly at night. The likelihood of encountering predators during the day may have favoured nocturnal foraging behaviour. The activity period, from around 6pm in the evening to 4am in the morning, is influenced by daylight. Palm civets become active only after dark and retreat to rest sites just before dawn.When foraging in the same area, civets repeatedly use the same resting trees. Resting trees with vines and holes are preferred by the civets and are used for several consecutive days.
Interesting facts about the Common Palm Civet
In Sri Lanka, the palm civet is known as ‘Uguduwa’ by the Sinhala speaking community. In most parts of the island, the civets become a menace to the people due to fact that it litters in ceilings and attics of common households and then makes loud noises at night disturbing the sleep of the inhabitants of the house (noises are mostly due to their movements and fights).
Palm Civet Conservation Status
Common Palm Civets are classed as ‘Least Concern’. It is plentiful in its natural range.
References: S. H. Prater ‘ The book of Indian Animals’, Wikipeddia.
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Vanishing Species – Red Panda

An article by Mohan Pai

The Red Panda
or Cat-Bear
(Ailurus fulgens)

The Red Panda is a “Teddy Bear” come to life.

The hills of Darjeeling are famous for a cute, cuddly and endearing animal-the Red Panda or Cat Bear. A small furry animal, the red Panda is almost as big as a reasonably sized domestic cat. It is chestnut red in colour, with its leg and underparts of a darker, almost blackish hue and has small white patches on the eyebrows and cheeks. Its pointed, cat-like ears and ringed markings on the tail give it a catlike appearance, the flat feet and bear-like paws have given it a bear like gait, and hence the epithet of cat-bear. However, it is neither a cat nor a bear.

The red panda has given scientists taxonomic fits. It has been classified as a relative of the giant panda, and also of the raccoon, with which it shares a ringed tail. Currently, red pandas are considered members of their own unique family—the Ailuridae.

The fur of red pandas is used to make hats and clothing by local people in China. The fur hat with its long, luxurious tail at the back looks beautiful and warm. In Yunnan Province, this type of hat is still desired by newlyweds, because it was regarded as a talisman for a happy marriage in the past.

Habitat and Distribution

Red Panda, live in temperate climates, in deciduous and coniferous forests, usually with an understorey of bamboo and hollow trees. This makes them a key species of these forests and indicators of forest health. They are found in the Himalayan region, in parts of Nepal, Bhutan, Mynammar and in the Indian states of Sikkim, West Bengal, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh. Most of the red pandas of the world occur in China, whereas the majority of the Indian population occur in Arunachal Pradesh.

Unique Characteristics

The adorably cute red panda, also known as cat bear and lesser panda, is largely herbivore and an endangered species. Slightly larger than a domestic cat though their big, bushy tails add another 18 inches. They use their ringed tails as wraparound blankets in the chilly mountain heights. An adult red panda in the forest weighs around 4 kg. The lesser panda has retractile claws and, like the Giant Panda, it has a “false thumb” which is really an extension of the wrist bone. Thick fur on the soles offer protection from cold. The pelage is reddish – orange on the body with a long bushy tail. Their ears and areas around the eyes are white with black “tear drops” running from the eyes to the throat. These intricate white markings on the face of a red panda makes it most conspicuous.

Diet:

The red pandas almost exclusively eats bamboo (mostly leaves, supplemented in the spring with bamboo shoots). It sometimes supplements its diet during the summer with fruit. It has also been reported occasionally to eat a wide variety of other items including berries, blossoms, fungi, seeds, acorns, eggs, young birds, small rodents, and insects.

These animals spend most of their lives in trees and even sleep aloft. When foraging, they are most active at night as well as in the gloaming hours of dusk and dawn.
They are shy and solitary except when mating. Females give birth in the spring and summer, typically to one to four young. Young red pandas remain in their nests for about 90 days, during which time their mother cares for them. (Males take little or no interest in their offspring.)

Conservation Challenges

Red pandas are declining over much of their range due to habitat loss and fragmentation. Forests are being cleared for timber extraction, agricultural development and livestock grazing even within national parks and wildlife reserves. This has resulted in the loss of nesting trees and the bamboo understorey on which the species feed. The red panda is also hunted for its pelt, which is used to make traditional hats and clothing in China. Moreover, they are also caught in the wild and kept as pets in certain parts of India and Nepal.

 

References: Wikipedia

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Vanishing Species – The Sangai

An Article by Mohan Pai

The Sangai

Cervus eldi eldi

The Sangai, the brow-antlered deer is found only in Manipur and only 162 animals survive.

The Sangai was believed to be almost extinct by 1950. However, in 1953 six heads of the Sangai were found hovering at its natural habitat. Since then, the State Government has taken serious and positive measures for the protection of this rare and endangered species. The Sangai is also the state animal of Manipur and is projected as the social and cultural identity of the state..The Sangai lives in the marshy wetland in Keibul Lamjao National Park( 40 sq km). Its habitat is located in the southern parts of the Loktak Lake, which is the largest freshwater lake in Eastern India. It is also one of the seven Ramsar sites of international importance. The habitat of the Sangai is now a protected area. The Sangai Forum was formed to protect the Sangai and other wildlife like hog deer, wild boar, Indian otter, civet cat, box turtle, and migratory water birds who have their home in the National Park. Although banned by law, hunting of the Sangai and other wildlife continues. Then again people hunt the deer for its meat. The Loktak Hydroelectric Power Project too has become a threat to the Sangai habitat. A constant high water level is maintained in the lake and this has led to many changes, one of which is the rise in the water level in the Keibul Lamjao National Park during the rainy season. Manipur experiences heavy rains during the monsoon season. So, the Sangai’s home is constantly threatened. What happens during the rainy season is that the deer seeks shelter in isolated dry patches in the National Park and poachers lie in wait for such opportunity. Many times the deer drown. One of the duties of the Sangai Forum volunteers is to keep a watch for signs of danger. They organise search parties to locate deer that are in trouble inside the park. They also keep a lookout for the poachers and organise awareness campaigns in villages, stressing on the importance of the Sangai and the need to save it. The villagers are requested to report to the nearest Sangai Forum unit if they have any news of the deer in danger. Forum volunteers also work with Forest officers and forest guards to protect the deer. In January 2003, Sangai Forum volunteers caught two poachers who had killed a Sangai. The poachers were handed over to the local Police Station and a criminal case was filed against them.

Present status:

It is reported that there are only around 162 Sangai deer left in Keibul Lamjao National Park.This last natural habitat of the deer – covering a total of 40.5 sq.km with a core zone area of 15 sq.km, is peculiar by itself as it is mostly made up of the floating biomass locally known as Phumdi. The KLNP forms part of the southern portion of the greater Loktak lake, and so the park is within the water body area of the Loktak. It is for this reason that the park has often been termed as the ‘only floating national park in the world’.
The Sangai faces a two-pronged danger to its life. Firstly, its habitat is steadily degenerating by reason of continuous inundation and flooding by high water caused as the result of artificial reservoir of the Loktak hydroelectric power project. Secondly, poachers are out there to trap and slay the deer at the slightest opportunity. In February 1998 poachers trapped two Sangai doe inside the KLNP, killing both female.
In 1983 the 103 Megawatt capacity Loktak hydroelectric power project was commissioned with the objective of ensuring rapid development in the State. One failure of the project has been that it has never been able to provide regular power supply to the villages in the Loktak lake periphery. And a very disturbing effect of the project has been its share of harm to the ecology and the environment of the Loktak, threatening the lake ecosystem, the humans and their lands, the wildlife, and all other life forms dependent on the lake for their living.
A maximum high water level of 168.5 meter above MSL is maintained in the Loktak Lake to feed the reservoir for the hydel project. At this level, much of the land on the periphery of the lake had been submerged under water, rendering huge loss of productive agricultural lands and localised fish culture farms. On the other hand, this high water level had wreaked havoc in the KLNP. The high water level, maintained continuously through the year, had disturbed the natural life cycle of the vegetation growth, the phumdi, upon which the Sangai thrives. The deer feed on several types of vegetation that grow on the phumdi. The vegetation also provides shelter to the deer and other wildlife in the park.
The life-cycle of the phumdi involves floating on the water surface during season of high water as in the monsoons. In the lean season, when the water level reduces, the biomass come into contact with the lake bed and they secure the required nutrient from there. When the rains come again and they become afloat, the biomass have enough ‘food’ – the nutrient – stored in their roots and their life continues. What is happening now, according to local scientists who are studying the phenomena, is that with continuous high water in the lake throughout the year much of this process of ‘feeding’ on the nutrient in the lake bed had discontinued. The result – the biomass are losing weight and getting thinner by the year. Around January last week in 1999, it was reported that a large chunk of the biomass in the northern part of KLNP had broken up into pieces and had drifted freely from the park area. This was a bad sign for the Sangai habitat.
Very recently this year, reports came in about local people cutting up the phumdi into sizeable pieces and then towing away these with dugout canoe for ‘selling’ to fish culture owners. This is another potential danger to the Sangai habitat. It meant humans are now aiding the process of annihilating the habitat area, supplementing to the rapid degeneration of the habitat.
Conclusion:
The Sangai – a jewel in the crown for Manipur – is one of the most unfortunate animals living in the world today. Human activity – read development process – had caused extensive damage to its last natural habitat, threatening its very existence. Humans continue to hunt and slay the deer on the sly in spite of legislation (Manipur Wildlife Protection Rules 1974) and public outcry. There is no State sponsored conservation programme for securing the safety of the deer and its habitat. Manipur is poised to lose this animal wealth, forever, if timely help does not come now.

Second home for Sangai suggested
The Wildlife Institute of India sees a great threat to the lives of sangai populaiton at Keibul Lamjao National Park, says a Sangai Express report. This comes after a detailed study on the survival and prospect of propagating the endangered sangai at its natural habitat.WII has recommended to the Manipur government to look for a second sanctuary for the sangai.WII has been studying the lives of the Sangai and the biodiversity and physiography of the Keibul Lamjao National Park for the last few years. The institute also undertook head count of the Sangai now existing in Keibul Lamjao.In the event of outbreak of any epidemic or any contagious disease in its natural habitat, all the Sangai population may be wiped out as the rare species living in Keibul Lamjao belong to the same stock (in breeding), mentioned a report submitted by the Institute to the State Government, informed a reliable source.The report also recommended an alternative sanctuary where the endangered Sangai can be preserved and propagated. The Wildlife Institute of India is doing further studies into the lives and habitat of Sangai, informed the source.Following the report and the recommendation, the State Forest and Environment Department has started looking for sites where Sangai can be preserved in natural habitat.Earlier the Wetlands International South Asia had surveyed Loktak lake and the Keibul Lamjao National Park. During the survey, it was found that the area under phumdi coverage and also the thickness of phumdis (floating bio-mass) in Keibul Lamjao were decreasing. It also suggested for re-location of Sangai to a favourable alternative place.

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http://biodiversity-mohanpai.blogspot.com/
http://delhigreens.com/2008/03/10/whither-the-wilderness/

For some key chapters from my book “The Western Ghats”, please log on to:
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Vanishing Species – The Saurus Crane

An Article by Mohan Pai

 
 The Saurus Crane
(Grus antigone)
World’s tallest flying bird, the Saurus cranes mate for life and is perhaps the best example of conjugal harmony and fidelity in nature.
Saurus cranes mate for life. The bond is so strong, these birds are a symbol of marital fidelity in many Asian cultures. As with many other crane species, the saurus crane performs a courtship dance mainly during the breeding season. They bow and curtsy, opening up their wings and throwing back their head as they utter their trumpeting call. The Saurus is the only resident crane in India.

The Saurus crane is a large, tall grey bird standing 1.5 to 1.75 m. with long bare red legs and naked red head and upper neck with a wing span of 2.4 m. Cranes are believed to have evolved during Cenozoic period (in the last 60 million years).

Habitat

The Saurus pairs about cultivations and marshland. Distributed in Northern, Central and NE India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Myanmar. The Burmese sharpii is darker than Indian antigone.

Habits

Essentially a dweller of open well-watered plains. Normally seen in pairs, occasionally accompanies by one or two young. Said to pair for life, and conjugal devotion has one for the species popular reverence and protection resulting in tameness and lack of fear of man.

It attains flight by slow rhythmical wing strokes, neck outstretched in front, legs trailing behind; swifter than it appears and seldom high up in the air. It is the world’s tallest flying bird (nearly six feet tall).
It gives a loud, sonorous, far-reaching trumpeting sound uttered from ground as well as on wing.
During breeding season pairs indulge in ludicrous and spectacular dancing display, bowing mutually, prancing with outspread wings and leaping around each other.

Diet

Grain, shoots and other vegetable matter, insects, reptiles, etc.
NestingThe nest is a huge mass of reed and rush stems and straw, in the midst of a flooded paddy field or a marsh. Lays two pale greenish or pinkish white eggs, sometimes spotted and blotched with brown or purple. Both birds are vigilant in guarding the nest, boldly attacking dogs and cattle encroaching in its neighbourhood.
The young can swim before they walk and quickly learn to get their own food.

Excerpts from the book “The Dance of the Saurus” by S. Theodore Baskaran:

“Winter in Western India and there is a nip in the air. The slanting rays of the early morning sun lift the mist slowly, revealing a brilliant carpet of yellow flowers in the mustard field. And at the edge of the expanse are two Saurus Cranes. Few other sights are so stirring to a birdwatcher as a pair of these cranes. They are always seen as twosome.

They bond for life and their marital devotion is legendary. In the world of birds , one that lasts just for breeding season, like the hornbill’s, and the other, that lasts for a lifetime like that of the Saurus. In Gujarat, one of the strongholds of these cranes, there is a touching custom. If a husband and wife are given to quarreling frequently, the elders persuade them to go and watch a pair of Saurus in the field, echoing the ritual spotting of the star Arundhathi in a marriage ceremony.
“… Due to rapidly expanding agriculture and human settlements, wetlands are disappearing fast and what is left is polluted with pesticides and industrial effluent. … Increasingly, these cranes choose to nest in paddy fields, which are after all, temporary wetland. The farmer suffers heavy losses as bird takes a toll of paddy. So they try to prevent the Saurus nesting in their fields and each season quite a few pairs fail to breed. In the Kheda area, traditional breeding ground of the Saurus where you get the highest concentration of nesting pairs, every year there is a decline of fifteen per cent and that is an alarming rate indeed.”

References: The Book of Indian Birds by Salim Ali, The Dance of the Saurus by S. Theodore Baskaran
 
 Pic: Courtsey, E. J. Peiker
MY BLOG LIBRARY
For some of my earlier aricles, please visit:
http://mohanpaiblogger.blogspot.com/
http://mohanpaisarticles.blogspot.com/
http://biodiversity-mohanpai.blogspot.com/
http://delhigreens.com/2008/03/10/whither-the-wilderness/
For some key chapters from my book ‘The Wetern Ghats’, please log on to:
http://westernghats-paimohan.blogspot.com/
For detailed blog (6 Chapters) on Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley, please log on to:
http://mohan-pai.blogspot.com/
For the book ‘The Elderly’ please log on to:
http://oldagecare-paimohan.blogspot.com/
 

 

Vanishing Species – The Tiger

An Article by Mohan Pai

(This article was written over a year ago (Feb, 2008, immediately after the new Tiger census was released)

 Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
– William Blake
The Tiger is going …
and it is a crying shame !

 

2,200 tigers lost in the last 7 years

India has lost 2,200 or more than 60 per cent of its tigers in the last seven years says the latest Tiger Census just released.
The report which did not take the tiger population from the Sunderbans (West Bengal) and Indravati ( Chhattisgarh) into account, has put the total number of tigers in the country at 1,411. The last tiger census carried out in 2001-02 had pegged the total count at 3,642.
Poaching appears to be the main cause for the big cats vanishing in large numbers. Habitat shrinkage and loss of forest cover are the other two factors responsible for the dwindling count in some areas.
Madhya Pradesh has witnesses a massive loss – from 710 animals in 2001-02 to 300 animals in the 2008 census. Orissa and Assam are the other two big losers where the count has plummeted from 173 to just 45 and from 354 to mere 70, respectively. Karnataka has lost 111 tigers and Andhra Pradesh 97.

The Project Tiger initiated way back in 1973, it now appears, has turned out to be an utter and dismal failure. Government’s apathy to the problem in recent years is also an indirect cause for the depletion of tiger population.
The population of tigers is now at a critically low level and the species is in imminent danger of extinction. In animal population, the tempo of decline accelerates after a gradual fall to a low level; once the local population of a species is much reduced its ability to recoup deteriorates progressively, and with the fall in numbers often the factors of depletion gain lethal potency.
There have been a number of crusaders fighting for the cause of the Tiger for several decades now and prominent among them are:
1. Billy Arjan Singh, India’s well-known conservationist who single-handedly carved out the Dudhwa National Park, a forest sanctuary near Nepalese border. He is known for having reared and returned a Tigress ‘Tara’ and two leopards to the wild. His book ‘Tiger Haven’ is a chronicle of his conservation efforts.
2. Fateh Singh Rathore, the uninihibited Rajput who cheerfully risked his life defending the jungles in his charge.
3. Valmik Thgapar, who began as Fateh’s desciple. Since 1976 he has worked with tigers documenting their natural history and campaigning for their preservation. He has written numerous books and article’s on tigers.
4. Ullas Karanth, India’s finest field biologist and the tiger’s most persistent and vocal advocate. He has written two books: ‘The Way of the Tiger’ and ‘A view from the Machan.
5. Bitu Sahagal, editor of Sanctuary Asia, has promoted the cause of Saving the Tiger, now for several decades.

The legendary crusader Billy Arjan Singh with Tara, his controversial pet tigress, at Dudhva.

Excerpts from Chapter 14 of my book “The Western Ghats” published in 2005

Project Tiger
It is believed that there were more than 40,000 tigers in India some 80 years ago. Habitat destruction, rampant poaching and hunting brought about a sharp decline in their numbers. The National census of tigers in 1972 recorded the existence of only 1827 animals.
Considering the alarming endangered status of this majestic animal, the Government of India with support of WWF launched a scheme to protect the tiger called “Project Tiger” with nine sanctuaries declared as tiger reserves.
More tiger reserves were added in due course of time and today there are 28 national parks/sanctuaries under Project Tiger.
The main objective of Project Tiger was: “To ensure maintenance of a viable population of tiger in India, and to preserve, for all time, areas of biological importance as a national heritage for the benefit, education and enjoyment of the people”.
The then Prime Minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, a strong supporter of the Project, and of conservation in general observed, “The tiger cannot be preserved in isolation. It is the apex of a large and complex biotope. Its habitat, threatened by human intrusion, forestry and cattle grazing, must first be made inviolate”.
Project Tiger is a holistic conservation programme. The tiger cannot be saved in isolation. Saving the tiger involves the maintenance of a viable population of its prey species – the herbivore animals. For the herbivores to survive it has to be ensured that the vegetation of the forests is rich and varied. Thus saving tiger means saving an entire ecosystem.

The project is administered jointly by the wildlife departments of both the states and the centre. Project tiger, initiated in 1973, is one of the most comprehensive conservation efforts ever launched. At the apex of a complete biota, the tiger can be saved, not in isolation, but by making its habitat sacrosanct. Populations of rhinoceros, elephant, swamp deer, gaur and several other species have been preserved in this way.

Excerpts from Chapter 13 of my book “The Western Ghats” published in 2005

Natural Extinction of Species

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

 

Vanishing Species – Great Pied Hornbill

An Article by Mohan Pai

The Great Pied Hornbill

(Buceros bicornis)

Another of our big bird on its way to extinction

Hornbills attract naturalists the world over on account of their large size, bizarre bill, projecting casque, colourful beaks, feathers, and peculiar breeding habits. Most of the hornbill species nest in cavities of old trees. The breeding pairs usually exhibit high nest site fidelity as they tend to use the same nest site every year. After selecting a suitable nest hole, the female goes in and incarcerates herself by sealing the entrance leaving a narrow slit, through which she, and later her chicks, receive food from the male.

The Great Hornbill, Buceros bicornis also known asThe Great Pied Hornbill, is the largest member of the hornbill family. Great Hornbill is distributed in the forests of India, the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra, Indonesia. Their impressive size and colour have helped make them a part of local tribal cultures and rituals. The Great Hornbill is long-lived with a life-span approaching 50 years in captivity.The Great Hornbill is a large bird, nearly four feet tall with a 60-inch wingspan, tail feathers reaching 36 inches and a weight of approximately six pounds. The most prominent feature of the hornbill is the bright yellow and black casque on top of its massive bill. The casque is hollow and serves no known purpose (“tame” hornbills are known to enjoy having them scratched) although they are believed to be the result of sexual selection. Male hornbills have been known to indulge in aerial casque butting flights. Females are smaller than males and have blue instead of red eyes. The male spreads the preen gland secretion which is yellow onto the primaries to give them the bright yellow colour.

 

The largest of the nine hornbill species found on the Indian subcontinent, the Great Pied hornbill also has one of the widest ranges, living everywhere from sea level to heights of nearly 5,000 feet.The Great Pied hornbill can have wingspans of nearly five feet, with tails that can measure three feet. It is an incredibly beautiful bird as well, covered in black plumage, with a yellow bill that curves downward. Most distinctively, the hornbill’s head is topped with an ivory formation, also known as a casque. The Great Pied hornbill’s diet consists mostly of fruit, which it collects inside its beak during feedings. A male hornbill will collect as much food as it can, swallow it, and then return to its mate, and regurgitate the meal into her mouth. The wing beat of a Great Pied hornbill can be heard more than a half mile away.

The Malabar Pied Hornbill occurs more frequently and abundantly in the northern part of the Western Ghats, with a key conservation area being the Amboli-Madei-Mollem-Dandeli region spanning three states. The strongholds of Great Pied Hornbill populations appear to be localised at a few sites in the southern half of the Western Ghats (e.g., Anamalai hills).

In India, nine species of hornbills occur, of which four species have been recorded in the Western Ghats. They are the Great Pied Hornbill (Buceros bicornius), Malabar Pied Hornbill (Anthracoceros coronatus), Malabar Grey Hornbill and Common Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros birostris). The Malabar Grey Hornbill is endemic to the southern portion of the Western Ghats. In Nilgiris and the adjoining hill areas, the hornbills are known by various names by the different groups of indigenous people. The Great Pied Hornbill is known as Ongil by Kurumbas, Haradaya by Kattunayakkas, Peraanthi by Irulas. In the adjoining state of Kerala, where Great Pied Hornbill is the state bird, it is known as Malamuzhakki and Pondan Vezhambal . All the hornbill species are known by a common name aanthi by Irulas. Intensive bird surveys in Nilgiris and the adjoining Coimbatore district covering seven localities indicate the presence of all four hornbill species here. While Malabar Pied Hornbill and Common Grey Hornbill were sighted in only one locality, the Great Pied Hornbill was sighted in three localities and Malabar Grey Hornbill in two localities. Studies conducted by other ornithologists in the southern part of Western Ghats indicate that these birds are also sighted frequently in Anamalai hills, Mundanthurai-Kalakad hills, Silent Valley, Parambikulam, Periyar Tiger Reserve and in the forests of North Kanara districts.Trends indicate that the pied hornbills are threatened with local extirpation.

The largest among these four species is the Great Pied Hornbill which is most vulnerable to local extinction in the Western Ghats. This species requires large stretches of evergreen forests. Being large birds, they have to find a sufficiently large sized nest hole in order to house the female and chicks during the long breeding cycle that extends to more than 100 days. Also the slightest disturbance at the nest site can result in the male refusing to feed the nest inmates, thus threatening the survival of the female and chicks. The levels of disturbance are on the increase due to increasing deforestation activities. According to Raghupathy Kannan, who conducted a study on the Great Pied Hornbill in Anamalai hills, poaching of the female and chicks during the breeding season is an immediate threat to these birds

In human culturesLocal tribes further threaten the Great Indian Hornbills with their desire for its various parts. The blood of chicks is said to have a soothing effect on departed souls and before marriage, tribesmen use their feathers for head-dresses, and their skulls are often worn as decorations. Conservation programmes have attempted to provide tribes with feathers from captive hornbills and ceramic casques to substitute natural ones.

A Great Hornbill by the name of William is the symbol of the Bombay Natural History Society. Sir Norman Kinnear described William as follows: “Every visitor to the Society’s room in Appollo Street will remember the great Indian Hornbill, better known as the “office canary” which lived in a cage behind Millard’s chair in Phipson & Co.’s office for 26 years and died in 1920. It is said its death was caused by swallowing a piece of wire, but in the past “William” had swallowed a lighted cigar without ill effects and I for my part think that the loss of his old friend was the principal cause.”

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Vanishing Species – Indian Rock Python

An Article by Mohan Pai

Indian Pythons
Indian Rock Python
(Python molurus)
Rock Pythons are often being killed for their skin. In Keral and Tamil Nadu, the meat is eaten by locals for its supposedly medicinal value.
Kaa, the rock python of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book who rescues Mowgli from the Bandar log is the Indian Rock Python (Python molurus) and is a non-venomous snake, which kills its prey by constriction.
Adults grow to an average length of 4 m and weigh an average of 70 to 129+ pounds. Their relative girth exceeds that of all other snakes. The longest recorded specimen measured 5.85 m (19 ft 2 in) (Cooch-Behar, West Bengal). Their scales are smooth and generally glossy for a snake in good condition. They have a flattened head with large nostrils, directed upwards and situated high on the snout. Their eyes are small and the pupil vertical, with the iris apparently flecked with gold. Pythons have what are commonly called spurs; vestigial or rudimentary limbs situated on either side of the anal vent.The color pattern is whitish or yellowish with the blotched patterns varying from shades of yellow to dark brown. This varies with terrain and habitat. Specimens from the hill forests of Western Ghats and Assam are darker, while those from the Deccan Plateau and East Coast are usually lighter.
Found in Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, southern Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, southern China, (Sichuan and Yunnan east to Fujian, Hainan, Hong Kong), Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Peninsula Malaysia and Indonesia (Java, Sumbawa, Sulawesi).
Conservation status
This species is classified as Lower Risk/Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Year assessed: 1996.These snakes have often been killed for their fine skin and are endangered. They are now partly protected by the Tamil Nadu Government. In Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the meat is eaten by locals as the fat is purported to have medicinal value.
Habitat
Occurs in a wide range of habitats, including grasslands, swamps, marshes, rocky foothills, woodlands, “open” jungle and river valleys. They depend on a permanent source of water. Sometimes they can be found in abandoned mammal burrows, hollow trees, dense water reeds and mangrove thickets.
Distributed in Sri Lanka and peninsular India up to Sind in the west and Bengal in the east. Python m. Bivittatus, another subspecies is found in eastern India up Orissa, Nepal, Indo-Chineses subregion.
Behavior
Lethargic and slow moving even in its native habitat, they exhibit little timidity and rarely try to escape even when attacked. Locomotion is usually rectilinear, with the body moving in a straight line. They are very good swimmers and are quite at home in water. They can be wholly submerged in water for many minutes if necessary, but usually prefer to remain near the bank.
Feeding
These snakes feed on mammals, birds and reptiles indiscriminately, but seem to prefer mammals. Roused to activity on sighting prey, the snake will advance with quivering tail and lunge with open mouth. Live prey is constricted and killed. One or two coils are used to hold it in a tight grip. The prey, unable to breathe, succumbs and is subsequently swallowed head first. After a heavy meal, they are disinclined to move. If forced to, hard parts of the meal may tear through the body. Therefore, if disturbed, some specimens will disgorge their meal in order to escape from potential predators. After a heavy meal, an individual may fast for weeks; the longest recorded duration being 2 years.So far there have been no authentic cases of a human being eaten by this species.
Reproduction
Oviparous, up to 100 eggs are laid, protected and incubated by the female. Towards this end, it has been shown that they are capable of raising their body temperature above the ambient level through muscular contractions. The hatchlings are 45-60 cm (18-24 in) in length and grow quickly.
Rreferences: J. C. Daniel – The book of Indian Reptiles and Amphibians, Wikipedia, Friends of Snakes Club.
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http://mohanpaisarticles.blogspot.com/
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For some key chapters from my book “The Western Ghats”, please log on to:
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For detailed blog (6 Chapters) on Mahadayi/Mandovi River Valley, please log on to:
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