Category | Conservation

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The Legendary Vultures of South India

Posted on 04 June 2012 by RE Team

This is a small story of how diminishing vulture population in India is affecting beliefs and faiths of local people.

A small town of Southern India, Thirukazhukundram, is known for centuries among the Hindu pilgrims for a large temple called Vedagiriswarar situated in a mountain top in the town. This temple is popularly known as Kazhugu koil(Eagle temple). Even the whole town is popularly named as Pakshi Theertham, meaning Birds’ Holy Place.  Interestingly all these names are given after not a special bird species, but for only after a pair of birds.

 

Photo of the Sacred Vultures taken on 1906 - Edgar Thurston

 

Not known the exactly time line, but there is a century long tradition in the Vedagiriswarar temple to feed a pair of eagle like bird every day. Exactly at noon, the birds would fly down from the sky to partake of a prasadam of wheat, rice, ghee and sugar from the temple’s priest.  The pair of birds have been fed many generations of priests counting years to many centuries.

According to the legend the two birds fly every day from Varanasi on the Ganges(Northern India) to this temple flying about two thousand miles, arriving at noon. They have lunch here and then fly southern most point of India, to Rameswaram. They then fly north up the coast to Chidambaram, go to sleep, and in the morning they fly north to Varanasi for a bath in the Ganges and then off back to Thirukazhukundram again.  They are not considered as normal birds but as mythical “eight sages” or Asthavasus. In Indian Mythology, Asthvasus were guard to the eight points of the compass. But they did penance on which Hindu Lord Shiva was angry and cursed them to turn into vultures. When they asked for forgiveness, Lord Siva directed them to the temple of Vedagiri Ishwara where they would be fed and worshiped. They remained there in the temple. In the last three yugams(epoch), three pairs died leaving the last couple surviving in this epoch. Legend also says that the birds will not come if there are sinners in the crowd which assembles at the temple.

Till 1998 , the mystical bird pair used to appear every day at noon at Thirukazhukundram. But one day they stopped coming and they simply vanished. For the local people its a bad omen and attributed to the presence of “sinners” among the onlookers. For a decade now, no mythical birds has visited the temple but the ritual is of practiced by the temple priest in the hope that they eventually will turn up some day.

 

The Vultures were fed by the Temple Priest till late 90s

 

Unfortunately the faith of the temple priest may remain stay just in hope in future.  Because from the research by Zoologists, it reveals that those birds were no eagles but a vulture species, the Egyptian Vulture! It is still a real puzzle for the Scientists about this unusual fare for the vultures, at Thirukazh. Specially the fact that and only two birds used to show up, although vultures are fond of gathering in goodish numbers to feast on corpses is a mystery to the scientists. As the tradition continued for centuries, many generations of vultures must have been involved int the fair, passing on the tradition, perhaps from mother to son, or husband to wife. Zoologists define this culture as an imitation of patterns of behaviors of one animal by another. Viewed from this perspective, the vultures of Thirukazhkundram certainly qualified as rather unusual animals of high culture.

But it is really sad the centuries long tradition is lost and probably never be recreated. For researchers its obvious that the unusual vulture also must have fallen prey to the human civilization and took the path of millions of other vultures in the country.

We have lost two very mysterious and unusual bird specimen whose study could have revealed many mysteries of the wild! More unfortunately we are losing the complete race of vultures from India!

Its time to save the Vultures! Whether they are in the tradition or not, they are a real useful species in the eco-chain cleaning up the whole environment.

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The first ever sanctuary dates thousands of years old!

Posted on 04 June 2012 by RE Team

There are thousands of wildlife reserve/sanctuaries in the present day earth to save special species and nature. It is one of the greatest initiatives of human civilization towards protecting the nature. But this is not an effort from the modern day mankind, but started around 2,500 years ago in the small island of Sri Lanka, Asia.

Mihintale, situated 13 km east of the ruins of the great city, Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka, was declared as wildlife sanctuary in 247 BC by king Devanampiya Tissa. One day king Devanampiya Tissa was hunting deer in Mihintale which was sighted by India’s emperor Ashoka’s son Arahath Mahinda. Mahinda was a Buddhist missionary monk and he stopped the king in the track and preached to him that all mammals, birds and other creatures enjoy an equal right to live in this land, wherever they may want. The land belongs to all the people and animals. The king is only the ruler and not the owner of this land. The monk’s words really impressed the king and he not only took Budhdhism as his religion also renounced the pleasure of animal hunting.  Mahinda also advised King Devanampiya Tissa to designate Mihintale and the surrounding jungle areas as a sanctuary for wildlife. This is how the first wildlife sanctuary in earth got established.

 

The first Wildlife Sanctuary in human history still exists in Srilanka

 

Mihintale is still a wildife sanctuary under Sri Lanka’s Department of Wildlife Conservation with history over two thousands years old. Apart from the wildlife sanctuary, King Devanampiya Tissa also built the first Buddhist temple of Sri Lanka in Mihintale. He also built a Vihar and 68 caves for the monks to reside in. At the  foot hill of Mihintale, there are still ruins of an ancient hospitals, medical baths. It is also believed to be one of the oldest hospitals in the world.

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Saola – The Discovery and Threats

Posted on 04 June 2012 by RE Team

In May 1992, Vietnamese and Foreign Biologists were taken by surprise by the discovery of three pairs of horns. These were horns of trophies killed by the local people of central Vietnam’s Vu Quang Nature reserve. The biologists were on field survey in the area. The size of the horns suggested about the existence of a large animal completely unknown to the outside world.

 

Saola - courtesy WWF

 

This discovery took the science community by shock. It was believed that after centuries of exploration by explorers across deserts, rainforests of the planet with even high technology left no place or large species unkown to the science.

After this discovery, scientists did extensive research in the area. In next few years this research led to the discovery of 20 partial specimen of this species, including three complete skin and several photos. Researchers were also able to trap the species in remotely set camera in the rain forests. With all these evidences, scientists came to the conclusion that this is a completely new species and it was named as Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis).

Saola was name already local people have been referring to this animal .  Sao means Spindle and La means post. The generic name Pseudoryx , of the species refers to slightly curved, backward-sweeping horns, resembling to those Oryxes found in Africa and Arabia. Saola is very distantly related to these arid-adapted antelopes though. The specific name of the scientific name   refers to efers to the two Vietnamese provinces Nghe An and Ha Tinh close to where it was found.

The saola stands about 85 cm at the shoulder and weighs approximately 90-100 kg.   The coat is a dark brown with a black stripe along the back. Its legs are darkish and there are white patches on the feet, and white stripes vertically across the cheeks, on the eyebrows and splotches on the nose and chin. All saolas have slightly backward-curved horns, which grow to half a meter in length. The genetic analysis reveals that it is a primitive member of the cattle family.

All known locations for the species are mountainous with steep river valleys, covered by evergreen or semideciduous forests between 300 – 1800 m (1000 – 6000′), with low human disturbance.  It is only found in the foothill of the Tuong Son range. Its distribution within this known ranges is uneven and fragmented in small patches. This range occurs in the border between Laos and Vietnam. It stays in the higher elevations during the wetter summer season, when streams at these altitudes have plenty of water, and moves down to the lowlands during the winter, when the mountain streams dry up.

Even after two decades of discovery, very little known about this large mammal. In the discovery article of Saola, the team proposed  a three months survey to observe the living animal. But Even after intense efforts, scientists have not been able to see a Saola in wild in its natural setting yet! Most of the information on the Saola is gathered from photos and local people’ knowledge.

Local people have reported having seen saola traveling in groups of two or three, rarely more.  Villagers say that the ox eats the leaves of fig trees and other bushes along riverbanks. Saola mark their territories by opening up a fleshy flap on their snout to reveal scent glands. They subsequently rub the underside against objects leaving a musky, pungent paste. The saolas’ colossal scent glands are thought to be the largest of any living mammal.

Though very little known about Saola, one thing is certain that its in a very critically threatened state. In 1994 IUCN listed the species as “Endangered”. But in 2006 its given “Critically Endangered” status due to reducing population.  The animal can’t survive in captivity. All efforts to keep in captivity have failed, the latest being late August 2010.  A Saola was captured by villagers in Laos but died in captivity before government conservationists could arrange for it to be released back in to the wild.

The actual size of the remaining population is unknown and its rarity, distinctiveness and vulnerability make it one of the greatest priorities for conservation in the region. The current population is thought to be a few hundred at maximum and possibly only a few dozen at a minimum.

In April 2011, a reserve was declared to help protect saolas. The Quang Nam’s People Committee inaugurated the Quang Nam Saola Nature Reserve in the Annamite mountains along the border of Vietnam and Laos.  This recent development has created hope for this extremely rare mammal in the world.

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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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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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Endangered River Dolphins

Posted on 07 May 2012 by RE Team

River Dolphins are amongst the rarest aquatic mammals. They are  found in big rivers of  Asia and South America. The river dolphins can grow till 9-10 feet long and weigh  almost 200 pounds. There are four different species of the river dolphins known to humans, out of which three are fresh water dolphins and the other one lives in saltwater estuaries. The fresh water species are: Ganges and Indus river dolphins (Sisu and Bhulan),  Amazon river dolpins  (Boto) and Chinese river dolphins (Baiji). La Plata Dolphin (Franciscana) is the only salt water river dolphin found in South America. All these four species are critically endangered. In fact, Baiji or Chinese river dolphins are declared functionally extinct in 2007. Here goes the stories of all the different species:

 

River Dolphin

 

Ganges and Indus river dolphins:

Till 1998 Ganges and Indus river dolphins were considered as two different species. But in 1998 they were recognized as two sub species of the same species.  These dolphins are found in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal in Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus rivers and their tributaries. The total estimated numbers of Ganges river dolphins is around 2000. Out of these, around 300 lives in Brahmaputra and are facing critical threat due to accidental killing through fisheries bycatch, followed by poaching for oil. Few decades ago the dophins were widely seen across Brahmaputra and almost all its tributaries. But now the dolphins survive only in small poackets of the river. The Indus rive dolphins also known as Blind river dolphins are found in the lower reaches of Indus river in Pakistan. Its believed that only 1000 of this species exist now in the Indus river.

Amazon river dolphins:

The Amazon river dolphins inhabit  Orinoco, Amazon and Araguaia/Tocantins River systems of Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. This species is the largest and the most intelligent of all river dolphin species.  Although widely available in the Amazon, the number of this species is reducing every year.  Scientists believe that 1,500 dolphins are being killed annually in the western Amazon to fuel a lucrative trade in catfish, which feeds on dead animals.

Chinese river dolphins:

A team of scientists have concluded that the Chinese River dolphin, or baiji, is now functionally extinct following comprehensive surveys of its habitat.  Till 2006 it was found in Yangtze river of China. It is one more unfortunate event to animal history caused by human civilization. In last fifty years it is the only aquatic mammal extinction known to humans. Till 1950, around 6000 of this species existed in Yangtze river. But in few decades the number reduced due to hunting, pollution, habitat loss and other human interferences. The last Baiji was sighted in 2007.

La Plata river dolphins:

La Plata dolphins are the only river dolphins found in salt-water.  They inhabitat in in coastal Atlantic waters of southeastern South America.  They are greyish brown colour with the longest beak. The La Plata Dolphins grow 6 feet in length, weigh up to 50 kg (110 lb) and live for up to 20 years.  The La Plata River Dolphin is well known because of where it chooses to build it’s habitat.  It ranges through the La Plata River, which moves through Brazil and Argentina. Despite other fresh water dolphins, this particular dolphin has not adapted to only one type of water living.  It can move back and forth from the salt waters of the ocean and to the river waters that are fresh.  Scientists have raised concerns over the conservation of this species.  Large numbers of them are hunted or killed every year.

 

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New Research to Save Himalayan Wolf

Posted on 02 May 2012 by RE Team

Himalayan Wolf, one of the beautiful wolf species in the world, is considered one of the rare mammal too. Unfortunately, this gorgeous wolf found the Himalayan region has been studied on very few occasions. A proper study and research on the species is very important to save it from extinction. And the encouraging news is that Wildlife Institute of India has already initiated a project and it is already taking a roll.

Shivam Shrotriya, a researcher at Wildlife Institute of India, has completed the phase 1 of a project on “Ecology and conservation of Himalayan Wolf” under the guidance of Dr. Bilal Habib & Dr. Y.V. Jhala of the same institute. The project is also funded ‘The Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund‘. The project focuses to fill the huge gap on the study on the biology and ecology of the Himalayan Wolves.

 

Ecology and Conservation of Himalayan Wolf

 

Till now whatever studies have been done on the Himalayan Wolves reveal that the Himalayan lineage of wolves, spread from Spiti to Sikkim, including Nepal are the most ancient lineages wolves of the world. Population estimation of wolves in Ladakh and Spiti by earlier studies revealed the presence of just around 350 individuals left in the wild.

The current research has taken various steps further on the Himalayan Wolf studies. The study concentrates on a baseline survey across the Himalayan and Trans-Himalayan landscapes to identify key areas for wolf conservation. Since October 2010, 90 villages and groups of nomadic herders have been visited and 244 interviews have been conducted using semi-structured questionnaires for obtaining records of wolf sighting by the local people and livestock predation, in the states of Jammu & Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh in India. Indices were developed to compare the level of wolf-human conflict and wolf presence across the Protected Areas.

The initial results of the study reveals that Wolves accounted for 11.2% cases of livestock predation as compared to leopard (30.8%) and snow leopard (17.5%) in Himachal Pradesh and 57% cases compared to leopard (17.6%) in Jammu & Kashmir. In Himachal Pradesh, Conflict index was found to be higher in Kibber
Wildlife Sanctuary (9.12) followed by Pin Valley National Park (1.56). In Jammu & Kashmir, the Conflict index was higher in Thajwas-Baltal Wildlife Sanctuary (13.89) followed by Hirpora Wildlife Sanctuary (9.43) and Changthang Cold Desert Sanctuary (4.08). Wolf Presence index
was higher in Kibber (0.76) followed by Pin Valley (0.34) and Hirpora (1.00) followed by Changthang (0.88) and Thajwas-Baltal (0.80). Considering if the livestock predation cases and the sightings by the people are relative to the abundance of wolves, Kibber and Thajwas-Baltal with adjoining Overa-Aru Wildlife Sanctuaries and Changthang Cold Desert Sanctuary are seen as potential sites of higher abundance.

These are pioneer data on the Himalayan Wolves behaviour and habitat. The project aims to go further deep in the research. We keep great hope for the success of this project which in turn will save one the magnificent species to vanish away from our sight.

 

Relivearth has identified Himalayan Wolf as one of the species that needs support and attention from public. Please view older articles on the species and support the cause of this research effort by commenting and providing ideas.

Tracing the lineages of Himalayan Wolves

Himalayan Wolf:Conservation Thought

Time to Act for Himalayan Wolf

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Hunter Who Turned Conservationist

Posted on 01 May 2012 by RE Team

Hunting played a very important role in human civilization.It was an act of necessity in the early days of civilization for food and clothes. For thousands of years human hunted wild animals only for food and skin. Slowly our civilization flourished, humans came out of caves, jungles and hunting got a new meaning. In medieval age hunting of wild animals were done to protect human communities from wild attacks. It was considered as an act of fun, entertainment and sport among the aristocrats and royal families. But very soon we spread across every territory in the planet, leaving minimal space and population for the other species. This forced all authorities in the modern era to consider hunting as crime. The meaning of hunting turned upside down, it is no more needed to protect humans, instead it should be stopped to protect the wild. The word itself got a new name and now called as poaching.

During the transition for modern era, there are many hunters who turned themselves into conservationists in later part of their lives. In fact hunters were the early conservationists. Hunters are wild animal behaviors and their habitats very closely. Even many species discoveries go to the hunters. Some of them were real researchers of wild animal behaviours too. We have learnt a lot from the writings of the hunters about many valuable species.

In this series of articles we are covering history of some of the well known hunters who were also conservationists and did commendable job to protect the beautiful wild.

 

Devanampiya Tissa (250 BC)

The King of small island country Srilanka in Asia, Devanampiya Tissa, was the founder of the first ever known wildlife sanctuary in human history. If we want to date back this sanctuary, it will go beyond 2500 years from now! Like any other kings of those days, he was a hunter. It was a leisure sport for him in his initial days. One day while hinting a deer in Mihintale, Tissa was sighted by Indian emperor Ashoka’s son Arahath Mahinda. Mahinda was a Budhdhist missionary monk and he stopped the king in the track and preached to him that all mammals, birds and other creatures enjoy an equal right to live in this land, wherever they may want. The land belongs to all the people and animals. The king is only the ruler and not the owner of this land. The monk’s words really impressed the king and he not only took Budhdhism as his religion also renounced the pleasure of animal hunting. Mahinda also advised King Devanampiya Tissa to designate Mihintale and the surrounding jungle areas as a sanctuary for wildlife.

 

The first Wildlife Sanctuary in human history still exists in Srilanka

 

William Cornwallis Harris(1807 – 1848)

Sir William Cornwallis Harris was an English Millitary Engineer by profession. But he is known as a hunter and animal artist. Born in Wittersham, Kent, in 1807, Harris was educated at a military college and went at the age of 16 to India as a Second Lieutenant in the East India Company’s Engineers. He remained there for the next thirteen years, using his leisure for hunting and the sketching of animals. But he got ill there and sent to Capetown for recovery. With a civil servant friend from India, he resolved to penetrate into the African bushveld far beyond the borders of the colony. He made a trek in 1836-37 through unexplored country as far as the residence of the Matabele chief, Moselekatse. Harris obtained reluctant permission to return to the Colony via a little known south-eastern route. Here he had some fine elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo hunting.

On his return to India, Harris published his Narrative of an Expedition into Southern African soon afterwards re-issued in London as The Wild Sports Southern Africa (1939). The standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa describes this as the first book by a big-game hunter in Africa. Harris was no mere carcas-seeker. He has a lively naturalists interest’s in the animals which he saw and made accurate drawings of them which were later published. He discovered the rare Sable antelope, sending a description and specimen of it to the Zoological Society of London. At that time he might not realise the conservation importance, was never a true conservationists. But his pictures and books depict his love for wild. His works are considered as valuable works on natural history till date.

 

Sir William Cornwallis Harris

 

Douglas Hamilton (1818 – 1892)

Douglas Hamilton was a gazetted British Indian Army officer posted in South India from 1837 – 1871. He is the greatest big game hunter in the history of Nilgiri Hills and killed more game than anyone in the region ever. On the other hand he was an acute observer of nature and a pioneer of Indian wildlife conservation.

Douglas started his big game in 1839 with Blackbuck antelopes available in numbers at that in the Nilgiri region. He closely observed over 50 wild tigers during his career and In 1854 he killed his first tiger at the Avalanche in the Nilgiri Hills. Later he killed many tigers in the region. In 1855 in the Annaimalai Hills, he killed his first elephant, a large tusker. Few years later, together with Sir Victor Brooke, Hamilton shot the largest elephant ever killed in Southern India. This trophy had one perfect tusk 96 inches (244 cm) long and a broken tusk measuring 71 inches (180 cm) long. It was 11 feet (3.4 m) tall at the shoulder. Between 1855 and 1869, Hamilton shot and killed two hundred and ninety-five sambar, few leopards and bisons too. These numbers represent the largest ever kill in the region.

Though from the numbers, Douglas Hamilton looks like a ruthless hunter, he was a true forest conservationist from heart. He is remembered equally for his contributions in thie field of conservation and wild surverys. Hamilton was a very close friend to General James Michael who was organizing an experimental forest conservancy in the Annaimalai Hills. Michael had to return to England for his sickness in 1854 which gave way to Hamilton to take over his duties. He succeeded permanently to the this post and for the three years was in charge of the Annaimalai forests, supplying various statistics to the company. During this period he also became Assistant Conservator of Forests under Dr. Hugh Francis Cleghorn who established the Madras Forest Department. The work of this department later led to the establishment of the Forest Department of India. He was also an avid surveyor of the Annaimalai and Niligiri region. He made very careful drawings of the surveys and also wild animals. These well-known drawings showed him as an accurate observer and a careful draughtsman. He equally observed the behaviors of various wild animals while surveying and penned down all.

In 1871 Douglas Hamilton left India after retirment and annually rented a moor and deer forest in Scotland till his death in 1892.

 

Douglas Hamilton

 

Charles Jesse Jones – (1844-1919)

Charles Jesse Jones, who was poplaurly known as “Buffalo Jones” in America started his life as a big game hunter. He became very fmaous as a cowboy cum hunter, but in later stage of his life he bacme saviour of those animals and is now considered as the the first and original preserver-user of North America’s wildlife.

Born in 1844 in Illinois, Jones became fascinated as a youth with the capture of wild animals. Jones became involved at an early age with the capture of wild animals and kept several as pets. He came to Kansas in 1866, where he developed into a skilled plainsman. With his knowledge and love of outdoor life, he made a good living for his wife, two sons and two daughters, hunting buffalo. His success at hunting earned him the sobriquet “Buffalo” Jones. In addition to hunting bison, he tamed buffalo calves and wild horses to sell them at county fairs.

In 1879, Jones, along with John A. Stevens and the brothers William D. and James R. Fulton, founded Garden City, Kansas. Jones was elected the first mayor of Garden City. He did development of the city along with keeping his own private herd of Buffalo. But in the spring of 1886, Jones alarmed about reducing number of the bisons in the region. He immediately set forth from Kansas, toward the Texas Panhandle to find remaining animals. He lassoed eighteen calves and took them safely back to Kansas. Jones with the help of Texas rancher Charles Goodnight tried producing Cattalo, a cross breed of Buffalo with cattle. From 1886-1889, Jones accumulated more than fifty buffalos. He sold some of them to zoos at handsome money. Offspring from this basic herd of Jones spread throughout the world, thereby saving this race of noble prairie animals.

In 1897-1898, Charles Jones traveled to the Arctic Circle, where his party wintered in a cabin that they had constructed near the Great Slave Lake. He captured five baby musk oxen. But unfortunately they were after-wards slaughtered by superstitious local Indians. In 1899, Jones captured a bighorn sheep for the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington.

In 1902, Jones’ friend President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him as the first game warden at Yellowstone National Park. There also Jones successfully developed the Yellowstone bison herd with imports from Texas and Montana.

 

Charles Buffalo Jones

 

Late in 1909, Jones persuaded the industrialist Charles S. Bird to finance a game-catching expedition to Kenya. Along with two cowboys (Marshall Loveless and Ambrose Means), a guide and several porters, Jones traveled to Nairobi. In the savannahs of Kenya, they roped warthogs, elands, zebras, a rhinoceros, and a lioness, which lived at a zoo in New York until 1921. Jones also employed two filmographers who documented their activities. He was awarded a medal by the British King Edward VII for his efforts to preserve animals. In 1914, Jones organized a second but unsuccessful African hunting trip for a gorilla. In this trip he got malaria from which he never recovered and died in 1917 at Kansas. In his last years, he patented an irrigation device and also envisioned crosbreeding domestic sheep with Rocky Mountain bighorns. On July 4, 1979, a permanent exhibit in the Finney County Historical Museum in Garden City was dedicated to Jones’ memory.

 

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The Rarest Palm Tree Survives

Posted on 30 April 2012 by RE Team

In 1919, Scotish Botanist William Roxburgh, who is considered as the father of Indian botany, discovered a very rare palm tree endemic to the Bengal region of India. The palm tree grows around 40 feet tall and the most interesting fact is that is seeds only once in it’s lifetime. It flowers only at around the age of 80 and after seeding it dies. Roxburgh idetified this species as very rare as very few instances of this tree was found in wild. It was also found that the flower structure is extraordinarilly large when it flowers. The palm tree was scientifically named as “Corypha Taliera“. Locally it is known as Tali Palm in the bengal region.

The Talipalm is solitary in nature, gorws moderately but becomes massive in size. It gorws till 80 years without producing a flower. At the end of it’s life, the flowers grow at the top of this tree and the leaves below it slowly dries out. Finally the trunk with millions of golf-ball sized seeds lives on for sometime. The seeds rains down for months producing thousands of saplings. With further studies it revealed this palm tree is really extra-ordinary. It currently hold two records in world’s botanical world. It holds the record of the largest flower structure in the world along with another palm species “Corypha umbraculifera”. The other record is of the largest palmate leaf which is 6 m. (20 ft.) wide.

The Largest Flower Structure in the world on the top of the Last Tali Palm in Wild

Due to the Tali Palm’s (Corypha taliera) rare nature, it was not known the local people of Bengal much. In 1979, a Tali Palm tree , located in a village in the Birbhum district of West Bengal, India, had begun flowering. The locals fearing that it was a ‘ghost palm tree’ due to its horn-like flowers. Botanist Shamal Kumar Basu came to know about its existence and tried to motivate local people but failed. Local fearful people chopped it down before the flower could set seed. It was the last known wild specimen of the Palm tree reported in last 30 years. Fortunately, there are some specimens of the tree preserved in the Howrah botanic garden in India.

Shamal Kumar Basu visited Bangladesh in 2001, when he saw the Tali Palm tree in the Dhaka University campus. This tree was identified as of the genus “Corypha” in 1950 by Professor Md. Salar Khan from the Department of Botany,Dhaka University. At that time he failed identify the exact species of the plant but realized it to be a rare species. There were construction going on the University campus, so Khan appealed to the higher autority to take special steps to preserve this tree and not to cut down. Since then the tree was preserved well in the Vice-Chancellor residential quarter. When Botanists visited the campus, he immediately identified it as “Corypha Taliera”. This Tali Palm in the campus became legend as it was the only naturally grown Tali Palm tree known in the world.

The last naturally Grown Tali Palm(Corypha taliera) In Dhaka

In 2010 January, the Tali Palm in the Dhaka University finally flowered and dried out naturally. Some of the seeds were preserved and let others plant naturally. Thousands of tali palm sapling grew naturally under the mother tree and around 500 grown artificially. The effort by various organizations to save this rarest Plam tree brought fruits. Now the saplings are planted in various locations and maintained properly. Some of the seeds from the mother tree were also put on research to find any medicinal value of it. The primary results are exciting as it can be used for the treatment of can be used in curing diseases like typhoid and diarrhoea. It also may be used as anti-ageing but needs to be confirmed yet.

The “IUCN Red List” has listed “Corypha Taliera” as “Extinct from Wild”. But the botanists in Bangladesh and in India are doing good to preserve the saplings. Currently there a number of grown Tali Palm in the Howrah Botanical Garden of India and we will have to wait till these tress become around 80 years old to flower.

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Vietnamese Javan Rhino is Extinct

Posted on 25 October 2011 by RE Team

In April 2010, the rangers of Cat Tien National park could not save the female Rhino that fell prey to poachers. After this killing, there were no sighting of any Rhino in the park, nor any footmarks, dung. The analysis of all the dung samples collected during 2009-2010 revealed that it was of the same Rhino that was killed in April, 2010.

The rarest Rhino in the world got rarer, according to the annual report by International Rhino Foundation (IRF).  The report declares Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) to be extinct in Vietnam and officially Indonesia is only country where it now exists in wild.

The Javan Rhino, also known as lesser One-horned Rhino, is ‘Critically endangered’ in IUCN Red list and not more than 44 individuals are surviving in wild as per the IRF 2010 report. All 44 individuals are found only in the Ujang Kulon National Park of Indonesia. The report says, “Sadly this year, we believe that the last Javan Rhino was poached in Vietnam’s Cat Loc Reserve. In Ujung Kulon, best survey estimates, backed up with camera-trap data, suggest that no more than 44 animals remain in the park. Of these, we suspect that there are only four or five females with breeding potential. ”

 

Javan Rhino Poached to Extinction in Vietnam - Photo Reuters

 

Indonesia is the last hope for the Javan Rhino, the rarest large mammal in the world. The utmost priority should be given to the protection of the existing population in Ujung Kulon and also expanding the current population to a second habitat for giving more chances of survival to the species.

Poaching is the greatest threat for the Javan Rhino. The Rhino horn brings extraordinary value in the black market which appeals the poachers easily. In China the horn believed to be cure of many ailments including heart disease, cancer, etc. This baseless believe has been killing Rhinos all over the world. The last  Javan Rhinoceros of Vietnam was killed by poachers only in April 2010.  It was shot at leg and horn hacked off in the Cat Tien National Park.

This One-Horn Rhino species was widely found in the south-east Asia region just a century back. During Vietnam war, due to easy availability of powerful weapons, Rhinos were killed in large number for their horns in Vietnam. In post war time, the species was believed to be extinct from Vietnam. But 1988, a hunter killed a Javan Rhino in the Cat Tien region of Vietnam. This gave a ray of hope and proved that the species was not extinct in the region.  This leads to a survey of the Cat Tien National Park in 1989 that found at least 15 Java Rhino specimens along the  Dong Nai River. Despite this discovery, the protection measures in the Cat Tien region was not proper and the population kept on declining majorly due to poaching. In 2000, experts pointed out that the Javan Rhino population in Vietnam might not ever recover. The population stood at just around 3-8, mostly consisting of female without any adult male capable of breeding.

In April 2010, the rangers of Cat Tien National park could not save the female Rhino that fell prey to poachers. After this killing, there were no sighting of any Rhino in the park, nor any footmarks, dung. The analysis of all the dung samples collected during 2009-2010 revealed that it was of the same Rhino that was killed in April, 2010. This is how the story of Javan Rhino ends in Vietnam. The Rhinos in Cat Tien region was a subspecies of Javan Rhino, Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus , now extinct. Despite of various protection efforts by various organization this rare species also became the victim of human activities. Very unfortunately the Vietnamese Rhino joined the long list of similar animals that vanished from the beautiful nature.

One of the very scary fact about the Javan Rhino is that captive breeding has not been successful for the animal in zoos till now. There is no captive population in existence to support the wild population. So, now all eyes will be concentrated on the Indonesian Javan Rhino.

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MOST CONCERNED ENDANGERED SPECIES

Photos of Nature