Archive | May, 2012

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Expert Mimics in Reptile World

Posted on 29 May 2012 by RE Team

Mimicking other people or personality is considered as one of the popular comedy act by us. It may look like an intelligent act for human, but nature has already adopted this intelligence for some other reasons. In this article we are covering the expert mimics in the Reptile world.
Milk snake (Lampropeltis triangulum) found in both Northern and Southern American continents are harmless snake. This snake has similar banded appearance like coral snake. This is a form of mimicry and happens only those regions where milk snake and coral snake are found together. In other regions, milk snake doesn’t look like the coral snake. As coral snake is poisonous, this mimicry is to scare any enemies. There is a difference in the band pattern of the both snakes, so it can be identified by human. There are sayings like this to identify the actual poisonous snake: ” Red next to black, you can pat him on the back; red next to yellow, he can kill a fellow.”

 

Milk Snake(Left) mimicking Coral Snake(right) - courtesy kingsnake.com

 

Similar to Milk Snake, Scarlet King Snake also mimics Coral Snake . Scarlet King Snake is also non-poisonous. They are born with white bands. The juveniles develop the yellow, apricot, or tangerine colored banding slowly.

The above two are example of snake mimicry where the harmless snakes mimic like a poisonous snake to keep their enemies away. This characteristic is called Batesian Mimicry. It was discovered by scientist H.W. Bate over a hundred years back and named after him only.

Some blind legless lizards that live under the ground trick their enemies by showing their tails. The under side of the tail is usually red or yellow that looks like an open mouth. The enemy attacks the tail mistaking it for head. The tail can withstand much more injury that the head and so the life of the lizard is saved.

Many Lizards have a tail differently coloured from rest of their body. When the enemy attacks them, they break off their tail. The tail jumps about on the ground that confuses the enemy. The Lizard makes a good escape during this confusion.

Another Lizard(Eremias lugubris) in Souther Africa mimics notorious and noxious ‘oogpister’ beetles when young. The adults are cryptically coloured and blend with the red-tan colours of the Kalahari semi-desert.  However,  the juveniles are jet-black and white and very conspicuous and move with stiff, jerky movements with their backs strongly arched and with the paler-coloured tails pressed to the ground. They actually just mimic the Oogpister beetles found in the region and predators avoid the threat of the pungent, acidic fluid sprayed by these beetles when threatened.

A Lizard(anguid) of northeastern Brazil shows striking similarities in color, pattern, size, behavior to the noxious millipede, Rhinocricus albidolimbatus,  when it is juvenile. This is also believed to be a Batesian Mimicry.

 

Video on Lizard Mimicing Beetle

http://www.snotr.com/video/4732

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Long-Tailed Chinchilla

Posted on 25 May 2012 by RE Team

The Long-Tailed Chinchilla is one of the two rodent species under the genus Chinchilla.

The Scientific Name : Chinchilla lanigera

The word Chinchilla means “little Chincha”, named after the Chincha people from the native Andes mountain range and “lanigera” means “having a woolen coat”

Where is it found?

Just a century ago the the Long-Tailed Chinchilla was found in millions in the Andes and adjacent mountain range of South America. But currently very few Chinchilla survive in the wild. It is believed that almost 90% of their population declined withing just three generations of the species (~15 years). Currently the species is restricted only to the Andes mountain range of northern Chile in small fragmented colonies. The long-tailed Chinchilla prefers high altitude (3000-5000 meter) barren and arid lands. It makes individual shelter in the holes and crevices in the rocks of the mountains.

How does it live?

The long-tailed Chinchillas are social animals. They live in colonies in burrows and tunnels on the rocky terrain. A big colony can have upto 100 individuals. The Chinchillas are nocturnal in nature, activity increasing during dusk and dawn. They are considered omnivorous, but the diet mainly consists of seeds, grass and other vegetation. Sometimes their diet consist of small bird eggs and insects. The female Long-Tailed Chinchillas are generally monogamous, while the males are not. They do have a gestation period of 108-125 days, very long compared to other small mammal. But this results in well developed babies, with full fur, eyes opened and a full set of teeth. The babies need least parental care and can become independent within just 6 weeks of time. The female normally gives birth to 2-6 litters at a time. In wild the long-tailed Chinchilla can live around 10 years, while in activity it can live upto 20 years.

How does it look?

The long-tailed Chinchilla is considered very pretty animal, that’s it’s so popular in the pet market. It broad head, large ears and large black eyes. The body is covered with the softest and densest fur to counter the high altitude barren climate it habitats. The tail measure almost one third of the size of the body. The hind legs are long and strong. While eating it stands on teh hind legs and grab the food with the fore legs. The general color of upper parts is bluish or silvery gray; the underparts are yellowish-white. In size it is equivalent to common rabbits (around 10 25 cm in of body length), but the females are much bigger than the males. The female can grow upto 800 grams while the males barely reach 500 grams.

What are the threats?

Hunting was the greatest threat for the long-tailed Chinchillas in late 19th and 20th century. Their fur and cute look were curse to their existence. In late 20th centuries proper measures were taken to prevent hunting and protect the remaining wild populations. But in recent years, though hunting has reduced, it has suffered due to habitat destruction by the burning and harvesting of the shrub at lower altitudes.Also the grazing animals, increased predation by foxes have threatened the wild habitat of the Chinchillas. The low reproduction rate in the wild is making the situation more grave. Many experts now believe that the Long-tailed Chinchillas have a population that is lower than the minimum viable population size for long-term survival.

Conservation Efforts

Till 1970, there were no proper conservation efforts were put to save the Long-tailed Chinchillas from hunted and traded. It was the time when the species was believed to be extinct in wild and rediscovered again in Central Chile. Post the rediscovery, strict laws were put against poaching or trading of wild Chinchillas and also covered under CITES Appendices. But due to the high demand for pelts and pet markets, the government of Chile successfully proposed in 1994 that domesticated chinchillas and their fur not be covered by CITES Appendices. Various research on the behaviour and habitat of the species were also done. Currently many of the wild populations are protested in fenced reserves, like the Reserva Nacional Las Chinchillas. The species is bred successfully in captivity, but the reintroduction of the captive individuals into wild have not been successful. The species has reached an red alarming level of population and reintroduction and human interventions are necessary to save it in the wild. The recent conservation efforts focus on increasing the area and quality of the Chinchilla habitat and also educating the local communities.

The Long-Tailed Chinchilla

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The True Orphanage of Asiatic Elephants

Posted on 19 May 2012 by RE Team

Yesterday, February 18th, 2011 has brought ome more cheer to the Pinnawela Elpephant Orphanage with fifty-fifth birth of baby elpehant in its existence of 40 years.

The Pinnawela Orphanage which is located in the town of Kegalle, Sri Lanka, is one of the most special orphanage in the world. Because it not only earth gives home to retired, abused, orphaned abd sick Elephants but also provides the breeding ground for the largest animal in Earth.

The Elephant Orphanage was originally started in 1972 in the Wilpattu National Park to support, protect and foster those baby elephants whose mothers were either poached or died in the jungle of Sri Lanka. In 1975 the Department of Wildlife Conservation, Sri Lanka relocated the orphanage to Pinnawela on a 25-acre (10 ha) coconut plantation on the Maha Oya river. At that time the orphanage had just five baby elephants. In 1982, the authorirites launch a breeding program in the Orphanage, which increased the number of elephants in Pinnawela gradually. Currently, the orphanage has 86 elephants including the cub borned yesterday. There are number of pregnant Elephants that are on wait to add more elephant population to the orphanage in coming months.

 

Elephants taking bath in river at Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage

 

Asiatic Elephants are known for their intelligence , calmness and domesticating capabilities. They show emotions  like humans. They cry, play, have incredible memories, and laugh. In the Indian sub-continent Elephants has been playing important role in the social culture since ages. Sri Lanka is no different in that and the Panniwela Orphanage is a by-product of this culture. Though the Orphanage also has an tourism and monetary angle, it has survived for decades due to the local human bonding  with elephants.

Unfortuantely the lack resources felt by both parties, human and wild Elephants, the conflicts between the two has increased over the years. Sri Lanka , home to around 3,000 wild elephants, see around 150-200 deaaths of wild elephants every years due to this conflict, against around 60-80 human casualities. Apart from the conflicts the political volatility and civil war  in region injured and killed. The responsibilities of the orphanage is increasing with the increasing bad breaths between the two species. More number of  baby elephants are coming into the orphanage every year due to these killings.

There Elephant Orphanage witnessed many emotional stories of Elephants over the decades. ‘Sama’ a female Elephant and a victim of war, came to the orphanage in 1995.  She had her right front foot blown away by a landmine when she was a two year old baby. She was well cared for, and grew up using her three legs and has reached the age of thirteen. Though in fututre she may undergo severe complication for her unbalanced body, she is given all the possible care by the orphanage. ‘Raja’ who was born blind in wild is also taken special care in the orphanage. He is not taken to bath with other elephants for his inability and also given special love and treatment. The youngest orphan in the orphanage is just a year old baby taken into Pinnawela in December, 2010.

 

Sama who lost her one leg in a landmine blast in 1995

 

The Elephants at Pinnawela are provided as much natural condition as possible. They mostly roam freely in parkland, are ‘herded’ by their mahouts (keepers) just before being taken to feeding sheds. The elephants are taken to the near by Maha Oya river twice a day for bath. All the babies under three years of age are still bottle fed by the mahouts and volunteers. Each animal is also given around 76 kilograms (170 lb) of green food a day and around 2 kg (4.4 lb) from a food bag containing rice bran and maize and enough water from the river.  Jackfruit, coconut, kitul, tamarind, banana and grass form the bulk of the green food given to the elephants at Pinnawela.

The breeding program in the Orphanage was started in 1982. Initially the breeding animals consisted of males Vijaya and Neela and females Kumari, Anusha, Mathalie and Komali. Vijaya was the first father in the orphanage. He with Kumari, a female elephant, have produced three calves at intervals of five and four years. With the fifty-fifth birth yesterday, it has produced more than twenty second generation Elephants.

Pachyderm, another innovation from the orphanage, is producing industrially successful Elephant Dung Papers. More than just a novelty stationery item, pachyderm paper could prove an important source of income to the villagers – & thus a significant help in conservation measures.

There are criticisms on the topics like chained Elephants, or forcing baby elephants to pose in tourists’ photo shots. But these can be neglected compared to the good work done by the orphanage. There is also need of chaining some of the Elephants coming fresh into the orphanage for the security of other elephants and mahuts, until they are tamed. Whatever may be the arguments, one thing to be agreed is that this small place in Sri Lanka is more home than a wild to many elephants. They are born, grown up in this world and may not be able to survive in wild. They now carry special bond with the mahuts and other workers in the orphanage. Its really wonderful to see innocent and cute baby elephants playing and enjoying life after losing their motherly love. They find love and security in the hands of the people.

We hope the orphahnge will keep doing the holisitc job and help more innocent and wild animals in future.

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The World of the Reptiles

Posted on 19 May 2012 by RE Team

One of the most successful life form of the Earth is Reptile. Reptiles were the initial rulers of Earth. Though their throne was overthrown by catastrophic events  few million years ago, yet reptiles are considered very powerful genre of animals till date.

The reptiles first appeared in Earth around 340 million years ago. They evolved from their ancestors amphibians, but they became stronger than the amphibians in two ways, a scaly outer skin that provided better protection and amniotic eggs that is independent of water. This helped them to increase the boundary from water to land. The reptiles flourished and diversified in wide variety types and soon became more dominant from the rest in the planet. They not only limit themselves to water and land, they started exploring the sky too. The reptiles started ruling the planet with power and intelligence. They evolved themselves to gigantic size known today as dinosaurs. They ruled land and sky for more than hundred million years until some exactly unknown catastrophic events. Their dynasty came to an end.

 

The Tuatara - Surviving for 220 million years now

 

Millions of years ago, Earth was dominated by 20 groups of reptiles. But 16 of them lost the game of survival over the course of time. These 16 groups includes some magnificent animals that we can just imagine now.

There are only four groups of reptiles that are surviving today.

The largest surviving reptile group is the Squamata. The squamata includes lizards and snakes. There are around 6000 known living species of squamata.

The second group of today’s reptiles is the Crocodilians. It includes crocodiles, alligators and caimans. There are 23 species of Crocodiles are surviving. They are the largest of all present days reptiles. The Crocodilians first appeared about 84 million years ago and they are the closest living relatives of the birds.

The third groups is the Turtles. They are the oldest of the living reptiles.  The turtles have changed little since they first appeared some 220 million years ago. They have a protective shell that encloses their body and provides protection and camouflage. There are 294 known species of turtles.

The fourth and the last surviving among the reptiles is called Tuataras. It is in fact the smallest group of reptiles. There is only kind of animal that represents this groups, named same as the group Tuatara. They are surviving on remote islands of New Zealand today. They are lizard-like in appearance but the fundamental difference is that their skull is not jointed.  They first appeared around 220 million years ago and considered as living fossil by the researchers!

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Kashmir Stag : A Long Struggle For Survival

Posted on 19 May 2012 by RE Team

The Kashmir Stag (Cervus elaphus hanglu) popularly known as Hangul, is the only surviving subspecies of Red deer in the whole of Asia.

In early 20th century, the Hangul population was believed to be around 5000 spreading across the highland region of Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal pradesh of India.  In 1940, a survey revealed the population to be around 3000. The cultivation and hunting was believed to be reason for the population decline for this magnificant deer species at that time. But in the post independence (1947) era of India, the population declined steeply.

A survey published by E. P. Gee in 1957 revealed that only 400 specimens of the Kashmir Stag is surviving in the region. This survey placed the rare deer species as one of the most endangered species of the Indian subcontinent along with Indian Rhino and Asiatic Lion.

 

Kashmir Stag - Struggling in the Survival Battle for half a century

 

In 1967, George B. Schaller , in his study of Kasmir Stag, estimated the population as 180 only. It was based on 88 deer observed in the region. So, despite identified as a rare animal a decade back, the population of this beautiful deer continued to decline.

In 1970, as per Wildlife Journal December issue authored by another naturalist Dr Holloway the population of Kashmiri Stag estimated as mere 140. Holloway also wrote that Hangul’s territory shrunk to an area of 65 kms wide. He said the area seemed to be overgrazed, with erosion becoming apparent due to grazing by thousands of cattle of Gujjars. This created red alarm among the wildlife organizations across the globe. The same year Government of India and Jammu and Kashmir along with IUCN and WWF launched a major conservation project named “Project Hangul”. Both the wildlife organizations along with the government, the project slowly showed results in later years.

The major inputs to the Project Hangul in the earlier stages were research and monitoring. Kahmir Stag’s habitat, terrotoriality, population dynamics and predotors, etc studied very closely. In 1977, there was a report of increase in Hanglu population. But a disease killed over 50 Hanguls in 1978. Dr Fred Kurt, who studied Hangul in Dachigam until 1979 gave some tips to J-K government over protection of Hangul and its habitat. Some intense conservation steps were taken in the Dachigam Sanctuary following these tips. Strict patrolling was started, the poaching of the stag reduced sgnificantly. Deforestation was banned and most of the Gujjars and Bakerwals living near the sanctuary were shifted by the government. The Dachigam was upgraded to National Park status in 1981. Also the project took special care for diseases amonng the haguls, wild fire, etc. All these hard work byt the project team started giving result when in 1980 the population for the Hanguls were reported as around 550. In 1987 it increased to around 800. In September-October 1988, the census conducted by department in collaboration with the Wildlife Institute of Dehradun and Centre for Wildlife and Ornithology, Aligarh had put the population of Hangul in the area as high as 918 animals with 48:52 as male-female ratio. This was a real positive sign for the survival of the species.

But 1988 marks as the end of positive trend for Kasmir stag population. The same year, the political imbalance broke out in the sate Jammu and Kashmir. It was a big blow to the project Hangul and conservation of the Kashmir Stag. The cross border terrorism in the state affected the wildlife too along with many human lives. Militants killed Hanguls for meat and also poaching increased in the park due to loosen security measures. And the Hnguls suffered the most due to all these. There were disturbances in breeding grounds and final verdict was out when a 1996 survey revealed the hungul population to be just 110, the lowest ever recorded in the history!

The cross border terrorism is still an issue int the region, so the kashmir Stags are also continuing the struggle of survival. The census of 2004 estimated the population of Hangul at 197 while in 2008 it reduced to 127. The current a population of Kashmir Stag is estimated just around 220 (survey 2011). This means a slight rise from the last survey done in 2009 when the estimated population was near 170. The 2009 census indicated that for every 100 females, there are 27 males and 28 fawns as compared to 23 and 9 respectively in 2008.

Four decades past now, conservationists finding it difficult to grow the Kashmir Stag’s population from  150 in 1970 till date. It is now identified as critically endangered species in the red list of IUCN.

The Ministry of Environments and Forestry, India has already approved Rs 22 crores Species Recovery Plan for Hangul for a period of five years under the Species Recovery Programme of the “Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats”. This is a good hope for the rare species. But until the political stability is achieved the Hangul’s are in the mouth of great danger.

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Amazing Cave Story

Posted on 19 May 2012 by RE Team

Human race spent thousands of years inside caves in the process of evolution. The caves not only provides shelter to lives, but also home to various unique species till now. There are number of gigantic caves around the earth that have self sustaining ecosystem and create a different world inside themselves. In the modern world, the discovery of such cave is always a thrilling story, as they are normally hidden in the remote jungles or mountains lying unknowingly to humans preserving a world inside it untouched for thousands, may be millions of years.

 

The gigantic Hang Son Doong Cave - Coutesy NationalGeographic

 

Almost a year back such a spectecular cave was discovered in the Annamite Mountains of Vietnam. This cave is so huge in size that it contains a river, a  complete jungle and even its own thin clouds making the other side of the cave out of sight at times. It is large enough to accomodate a whole city with skyscrapper inside it. In fact we are talking about the largest cave passage in the world here, named as Hang Son Doong.  For decades, geologists have doubted that Vietnam could be home to some of the world’s most spectacular caves. But a large number of them were unexlored. British scientists from the British Cave Research Association, led by Howard and Deb Limbert, are the first to explore the cave. The cave is named as Hang Son Doong, means mountain river cave. Though credit of bringing the largest cave to the outside world goes to Howard and Limbert, yet the actual discovery credit of the cave goes to a local man named Hồ-Khanh.

Ho Khanh’s family lived in a nearby village and he has long story to tell about the discovery of the cave.

“I was born into a poor family. My father died, and my family had no rice fields, so I had to go to the jungle for work to support my family. Over a period of 13 years, I learnt the location of many caves in the areas I passed through.

In the rainy season of 1991, I went with two others to look for the aloe wood, which is very precious and exists deep in the jungle. It is very hard to find. We separated and I went through Hang En. The next day was raining very hard, so I looked for somewhere to stay for the night. Fortunately I found the entrance of an unknown cave. After the trip I returned home, and gradually forgot about this cave.

Mr Khanh - The discoverer of the cave

In 2006 I met the British Caving Expedition and took them to the Doong area, where they explored many caves. In 2007 I took them to the Doong area again for further cave exploration. On this trip we found Ho Nui Cave. Before the end of the trip I talked with Mr. Howard. Although we can’t speak the same language I knew that he was looking for a cave to connect Hang En, with another cave Hang Thoong, in the Tra Anh area.

I had a memory of a cave in this area, which maybe had a wind, and fog blowing from the entrance, but I couldn’t remember the location. I went off for an extra day searching for this cave, but unfortunately failed.
I didn’t want to give in. Because of my great admiration for the explorers’ abilities and their friendship, I wanted to show them this cave. In January 2008, I spent my own time and money to return to the Doong area to look for the entrance. Relying on my memory and experience, I followed the stream from Hang En, and fortunately found the big cave entrance in about half a day. I cut down some wild saplings to reach the entrance. Finally using my knowledge of the jungle, I found the best path to take the cavers to the entrance, and made it as easy as possible. It was now 2pm on the third day, so I returned to Phong Nha and waited for the expedition to return.
In March 2009 the expedition returned to Son Trach. On the first trip I really wanted to take Mr. Howard to the new cave, but another team came. At that time I was worried in case the cave was dry and not very long. But thank god, in this trip the cave length was measured at about 5k, and there was a large subterranean river. The explorers realized that this could be the largest cave passage in the world.

I believe that I have made them all especially Mr. Howard very pleased, because this is an important cave which connects the Doong area with the Tra Anh area.”
-courtesy vietnamcaves.com

So is the story of discovery of the largest cave passage in the world. The Son Doong cave measures 262 feet by 262 feet (80 meters by 80 meters) and at least 2.8 miles (4.5 kilometers) deep. The biggest chamber of Son Doong is over five kilometers in length, 200 meters high and 150 meters wide. This discovery overtook the size of Deer Cave, which held the record of the largest cave passage previously. Deer Cave in Malaysia, is 300 feet by 300 feet (91 m by 91 m) in parts, but is only about a mile (1.6 km) long.

 

Hang Son Doong - Couresy NationaGeographic

 

The Son Doong cave is located in in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park of Vietnam, near the Laos-Vietnam border. Phong Nha-Ke Bang area is noted for its cave and grotto systems as it is composed of 300 caves and grottos with a total length of about 70 km, of which only 20 have been surveyed by Vietnamese and British scientists. It is currently a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Will Someone Save The Vultures?

Posted on 17 May 2012 by RE Team

Once very easily sighted, many animals and birds vanished from everywhere without notice of most of the common people in India. One such bird is the Vultures. Few years back vultures were one of the common bird in the urban india, cleaning the carcasses around cities. No one ever bothered to think about them. They were seen in the tall trees and in the wastelands in the heart of the cities. But without much of notice, these urban friendly birds disappeared so quickly that people never got a chance to even realize. It is a shocking story for anyone living in India that these large and ugly looking(that’s how it is considered in culture) birds are on the brink of extinction and very soon it may become impossible to save the very few left.

 

Indian Vultures were considered the most common large bird of prey in the world in 80s and early 90s and they were found in millions

 

To start this tragic story of the vultures, we don’t have to look back much far. The vulture story is one of the latest event in human history like those in medieval world where some species faced extinction within a span of few years due to human activities. In 1980s, the vultures were found in millions in India, usually in group of hundreds. It was probbaly the most common large bird of prey in the world at that time.  Even in early 90s they were found almost everywhere and adapted well to the urban environment of India. No one could imagine at that moment that there is any danger to this species.

 

The vultures seemed to have adapted the urban world pretty well

 

The vulture crisis started only in mid 90s, when news of mass vulture deaths were reported in the local news frequently. The news reported deaths of hundreds of vultures in single instances, where they were found just found dead in a span of few square meters.  They were lying on grounds, hanging from trees, nests and in all possible posture. Initially it was thought to be as some poisonous drug in the carcasses they eat and taken lightly. Those incidents happening across all the zones in India were believed to be independent of each other. As news were reported almost daily from one place or the another, scientists took some initiatives but they were just mystified. For years these news took important place in the news media but slowly declined. The common people realized probably the death are reducing, but in reality, the groups of vultures started declining catastrophically from everywhere, so the death numbers of the vultures, to be able to find a place in the news media.

 

In the last decade dead Vultures were carried away like this in tens-hundreds in India. They were found dead everywhere, hanging from trees, in the nests or lying on the ground!

 

For more than a decade, these large birds faced deaths without a known reason to the scientists. It was as late as 2004, when scientists in the United States identified the cause: the drug Diclofenac. Diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory agent, has been deployed successfully in human medicine for decades. In most EU countries medication containing Diclofenac is only approved for treatment of humans. In India, Pakistan and Nepal it has been deployed in veterinary medicine as well since the 90s, in particular for livestock. When vultures feed on cattle carcasses, they too ingest the drug. The drug acts as a fatal poison to the vultures and they die from kidney failure.

 

The poor vultures died in thousands without a known reason at that time

 

Though the cause was discovered in 2004, it took the government in India and also Pakistan, Nepal two years to banned the medicine. In May 2006, the medicine was banned, but by that time almost 97% of the total vulture population was wiped out.

The medicine was banned, but due to other obvious reasons like habitat loss, etc. the vulture populations kept on declining in the Indian subcontinent. Now it is estimated that almost 99% of the vulture population vanished from nature in just 15 years.

Indian subcontinent is home to three vulture species, Slender-billed Vulture, Indian Vulture and Indian White-rumped Vulture. Currently only less than thousand individuals are believed to be alived from each species! They are now restricted to very small pockets in the country. The white-rumped Vulture weighs 3.5-7.5 kg (7.7-16.5 lbs), measures 89-93 cm (30-37 in) in length, and has a wingspan of about 260 cm (8.6 ft). Slender-billed and Indian Vultures weigh between 5.5 and 6.3 kg (12-13.9 lbs) and measuring 80-100 cm (32-40 in) long and 205 to 229 cm (81-91 in) across the wings.

 

Vultures are now found in small pockets in Indian subcontitent, with a total population of around a thousand - courtesy misiku1@flickr

 

The RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS, BirdLife in India) are pioneers in creating awareness on this crtically endangered bird. They have set up vulture breeding centres in northern India, West Bengal, Assam and also have been working on a campaign “Saving Asia’s Vultures from Extinction (SAVE)” across all three countries, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Some government initiatives have been also started and many centers across the country are opened in recent years. SAVE which is in place for more than five years now is the last hope for the vultures.

SAVE’s breeding program has contributed a lot in last few years. In 2008 the program was successful to breed artificially in captivity. But the artificial program is not that efficient, so the scientists looked into artificial hatching in incubators. 2010 brought success in this sector too.

But its unfortunate that there are still some reported news of mass vulture deaths as late as a week from today. On the first week of March, death of 20 vultures were reported at a paddy field in Goalpara district of Assam, North-East India.

Culturally vultures are always considered as symbol of death and something bad in India. They are neglected for thousands of years and just disappearing unnoticed. Species like tiger has got so much important in the country over the few years. But these large birds are simple neglected. Its already very late to bring to give attention to these birds, but if we don’t give them now, it will be too late. Like tiger, being on the top of the eco pyramid, vulture has got very important role in the ecosystem. In fact they are much more imporant than any birds in the human society. They have been keeping our environment clean and hygienic.

If drastic steps are not taken, the vultures may take space from high skies into just books in front of our eyes. In fact the Parsis, whose religion prohibits burying or burning their dead, had to resort to technology such as solar reflectors to hasten decomposition of corpses already. The vultures used to dispose of human remains set out for them on sacrificial “towers of silence” by adherents of the ancient Parsi religion till few years back.

Will you step up to save these poor large birds?

 

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Karpathos Frog

Posted on 16 May 2012 by RE Team

Karpathos Frog is one of the most isolated and rarest amphibian species found in Europe.

The Scientific Name : Pelophylax(Rana) cerigensis

Where is it found?

The Karpathos Frog is currently found only in the Karpathos island of Greece situated in the Carpathian Sea of the Mediterranean. Till mid 90s the frog was believed to be found in the near by Rhodes island too. But later confirmed the species to be endemic to the Karpathos island only. In the island also, the frog is very restricted to just an single river system of area at most 100 square km(while the total area of the island is 350 square km) on the northern part of the island, near Olympos. The last population of the frog is found in the water sources of high altitude and mountains of Olympos. The Karpathos Forg prefers still or very slow running water.

How does it live?

The Karpathos Forg is mostly aquatic. Breeding and larval development of the Karpathos Frog takes place in their habitat waterbodies. The frog is probably carnivourous like other water frogs.

 

How does it look?

The Karpathos Frog is considered as a mid-sized frog, the adults can grow upto 7 cm in length. It has light brownish gray to olive color dorsal, with or without light brown spots. The venter is usually cream-colored with gray spots. The males have paired external lateral vocal sacs which are dark gray in color.

 

What are the threats?

Habitat loss is the greatest threat to the Karpathos Forgs. They are very sensitive to any habitat change. Any water pollution may be fatal to the species. karpathos is a dry island and in recent days there is a scarcity of fresh water sources due to excessive abstraction of it for agriculture and industries. The species is vulnerable to climatic change too which is a global phenomenon now. Wild fires are are considered as a threat to the species. Though the frog population site is remote, the species may go extinct anytime because of its small single site distribution of population.

Conservation Efforts

The Karpathos Frogs were adundant in the island in 1960s, the sitings of the frog have reduced dramatically in recent days. The government has declared protected areas for the Karpathos frogs. But not many organizations are known to have been working on the conservation of the species. There are no captive insurance population too. There were very little studies and researches done on the species and its conservation in the past. There is an urgent need to know more about the frog and provide proper monitoring and protection to its habitat.

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Chinese Alligator

Posted on 16 May 2012 by RE Team

The Chinese Alligator is one of the rarest crocodilian and the smallest of the only two alligator species surviving today. It is also known as Yangtze Alligator as it it found only the Yangtze river system of China.

The Scientific Name : Alligator sinensis

Where is it found?

Once the Chinese alligator was found in the extensive lakes and marshlands of the middle-lower Yangtse River region and along the river from Shanghai to Jianling City. Due to its rarity and also secretive behavior, in recent historical times the alligator have never been abundant. Due to rapid habitat loss and uncontrolled killing of the species with the human population growth in China, the Chinese alligator was found only in scattered groups in southeastern Anhui Province and parts of adjacent Zhejiang and Jiangau provinces as early as 1920s. Today the alligator species is mostly restricted to a 433 square kilometer reserve in the Anhui province of the lower Yangtze. Chinese alligators prefers slow-moving freshwater sources including marshlands, ponds, lakes, reservoirs and river backwater canals. With the loss of natural habitats, they are also found in rice paddies, irrigation networks, etc in recent times.

The range of the Chinese Alligators wild population

 

How does it live?

The Chinese alligator is an opportunistic feeder. Its diet mostly includes snails, crustaceans, insects and fish, but young waterfowl and rodents are also taken if available. They are not known to have eaten any large mammals. In recent days are known to have attacked ducks of the villagers, for which it has faced the wrath of human society quite often. The alligators spend most of their lifetime in burrows avoiding extreme winters and also human intervention during daylights. They hunt only during the summer from April to October during nights. They reach adulthood at an age of 4-5 years. The mating is polygamous and usually very aggressive when the opposite sexes meet. The breeding period is the summer and the female lays 10-15 eggs. The incubation period is usually around 70 days. Social life of the Chinese alligator starts during the incubation period only, when nest mates communicate egg to egg and with parents who open the egg chamber. This results in synchronized hatching. The babies spend weeks to years under the protection of the mother. Juvenile makes a vocal sound to bring the group together , and mother also respond to then with a distress call. Chinese Alligator known to have a lifespan of around 50 years in wild and 70 years in captivity.

How does it look?

Chinese Alligator is considered to be one of the smallest crocodilian species. It normally reaches 5 feet in length. The largest alligator measured in recent times was 7 feet 1 inch. It can barely weigh upto 45 kg. Whole body of the Chinese alligator is covered with dar green abd black scales. The scales are harder on back and softer on the sides and belly. Even the upper lids are covered with boney scales for this alligator which is a major difference with it’s other counterpart, the American Alligator. The Chinese alligator has 72-76 teeth, adapted more for crushing shells of molluscs. The juveniles are black with bright yellow cross-banding.

What are the threats?

Habitat loss is cited as the most important threat for the Chinese Alligators. Most of the natural wetlands, marshlands were destroyed in the past decades for agriculture and other developments. Building dams in the river system have eliminated core habitats of the alligator. The remaining natural habitats are also frequently destroyed by flooding of the Yangtse river.

Apart from habitat loss, human-alligator conflict has killed many of the precious species in the past. Though the alligator is not capable of attacking or killing large mammals or humans, the very concept of considering any crocodilian species as dangerous predator in culture has killed many innocent animals. Also the large burrow created by the alligators hamper the irrigation system of the farmers at times, which make the farmers angry towards the species.

Many of the Chinese alligators have been killed due to their meat value in the Chinese market. There is a mythical believe that the alligator’s meat can cure many diseases including cancer. Any human-alligator conflict which always results in the killing of the alligator, usually ends in the market of China selling meat and various other organs of the alligator by the farmers.

Conservation Efforts

Some experts considered the Chinese Alligator as extinct evern during 1920s. But later some fragmented populations were discovered in wild. There was no significant research or conservation effort held on the species till the Communist revolution in China in 1949. The need of protection of alligator became important only post revolution stage. In 1972 for the first time Chinese government listed Chinese Alligator as the first class endangered animal of the country. In 1979, captive breeding centers were established in Anhui and Zhejiang provinces. The government conservation efforts has been more focused on the captive population rather than the wild survivors. Almost till date, the wild eggs are collected artificially incubated to increase the captive population. The first ever scientific study on the alligator was done in 1980 with the collaboration of both Chinese and US scientists. The studies were performed in the captive breeding centers and all the knowledge on the Chinese alligator in till recent times are based on these studies. In 1990s the species got international recognition as critically endangered species. In recent days public awareness has also been created to reduce any killing of the species in the wild. The captive breeding centers releases live alligators for the meat business to counter the market demands and also recover their costs. In last couple of years there have been reports of the species recovering in the wild, with the population stregth growing from 100 to 300. The captive breeding programs have been largely successful with a population strength of whooping 10000 now. The conservationists are now concentrating on reintroducing the alligators into wild from the captive centers. Some of the organizations that work for the conservation of the species now are Wildlife Conservation Society, Department of Wildlife Conservation and Management of the State Forestry Administration of China,

The Chinese Alligator – Species on the Brink

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Radiated Tortoise

Posted on 14 May 2012 by RE Team

The most beautiful tortoise in the world, Radiated Tortoise, endemic to Madagascar may face extinction soon due to constant exploitation on the species in recent years.

The Scientific Name : Astrochelys radiata

Where is it found?

The Radiated Tortoise is endemic to Madagascar. The tortoises natural distribution is limited to xeric spiny forests on the Mahafaly and Karimbola plateaus of southwestern Madagascar. Historically, the range of the Radiated Tortoise encompassed a 50 km band along Madagascar’s southwestern coast, from northeast of Morombe to the Bay of Ranofatsy. But in late 90s the tortoise population became highly fragmented in the south east and north regions. In 1995 the population of the tortoise was estimated to around 2-4 millions. There were an estimated decline of population by around 30% in 2003 as compared to in 1975. Currently the core-area of the tortoise’s range is the Mahafaly and Karimbola plateaus, from Lake Tsimanampetsotsa to Cap Sainte Marie. The total area spans approximately 10,000-16,000 km2. The core are has a population density of around 2500 individuals per square km. Radiated tortoises live in dry regions of brush, thorn bushes and woodlands. They are herbivorous, feeding on grasses and succulents, including the Opuntia cactus, which was introduced to Madagascar and spread quickly. The native calls this species as “Sokakes”.

How does it live?

The Radiated Tortoise prefers new growth plants rather than mature plants due to the high protein and low fiber content of the vegetation. They graze in the same area for an extended period of time, keeping the vegetation in that area trim. These tortoises don’t prefer warm temperature, drink lot of water to avoid any dehydration. They are diurnal and active during daytime. The mating of the radiated tortoises may become a noisy affair. The male involves into mating after it reaches a size of around one foot (30 cm). They males fight for the females and the winner makes hissing and grunting sound while mating. The female tortoise digs a hole on the ground post mating to form a nest. it normally lays around 3 to 12 eggs. Incubation period for the eggs is long, from 145 to 231 days. The hatch-lings measure between 3 to 4 cm in length and they develop their carapace quickly after hatching. The radiated tortoise makes very shrilling voice at times believed to be scare away any unwelcome enemies. If the tortoise is captures, it makes similar sound which can last upto an hour or more. The tortoise can live upto 50 years in wild, but in captivity they can live way beyond 100 years.

Radiated Tortoise Distribution


How does it look?

The radiated tortoises are considered as the most beautiful tortoise species by many. It has a high-domed dark colored carapace/shell with yellow lines running down from the center of the carapace. The tortoise was named as radiated tortoise because of the radiation pattern of it’s shell. The leg, feet and tail are of yellow color. An adult radiated tortoise may weigh up to 16 kg and can grow up to 40 cm in length. Males have slightly longer tails and more protruding scutes.

What are the threats?

There are three major threats to the Radiated Tortoise, habitat loss, poaching for food and international pet-trade of the species. The wild population of the tortoise has been declining in a very faster rate due to these threats. It is estimated as the populations have decreased by around 50% in the past 10 years. Interestingly, the tortoise’s geographic range is roughly coincident with regions occupied by the Mahafaly and Antandroy, local peoples who have a taboo against touching or eating tortoises. This kept the tortoise safe for centuries in the Madagascar with very little exploitation. The exploitation of the species for pet-trade, food and aphrodisiac started only after the outside immigrant started living in the area. The tortoise smuggling has become one of the most profitable business in Madagascar shipping loads of tortoises to Asia for further exploitation. Another important threat of habitat loss is outcome of various factors. Years of extreme drought in the tortoise region have sucked the moisture. Madagascar’s remaining forests are being systematically cleared for the charcoal and agriculture..It is estimated that less than 10% of its original forest, the tortoise’s natural habitat, remains. many experts predict the extinction of the species in just 20 years, if no drastic measurement has not been taken.

Conservation Efforts

In 1985 A Species Survival Plan (SSP) was established for the radiated tortoise by the American Zoo and
Aquarium Association (AZA). In recent years, Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) have been working towards the survival of the species. International trade in radiated tortoises is prohibited by its listing on Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). The captive breeding of the species has been successful and it has been also introduced to the islands of Réunion and Mauritius. But due to lack of local political pressure, the trading and habitat loss of the tortoise is still on the way and the species is heading towards extinction.

Conservation Thoughts

The Radiated tortoise is reproducing very well in the wild, so if we can save its habitat and poaching, the population will grow naturally. Local education and awareness for the protection of the species is very necessary. As the species breed well in captivity, tortoise farming can be done to meet the meat and pet demand in the market. Although Madagascar government has laws to protect the Radiated Tortoise, the laws need to be enforced properly and should give strict punishment to the offenders. Cattle grazing and other pet intruders like dogs should prohibited in the tortoise habitat. The cutting of forests in for agriculture or industrial development should be stopped. Instead, the eco-tourism and sustainable development should be encouraged to meet the required growth for the region.

A documentary on Radiated Tortoise conservation

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MOST CONCERNED ENDANGERED SPECIES

Photos of Nature