Tag Archive | "rarest"

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Tracing the lineages of Himalayan Wolves

Posted on 21 December 2012 by RE Team

Wolves in the Himalayas, despite their abstruse status as distinct species or subspecies, serve an important role in the ecology of Trans-Himalaya, holding the status of the top predator along with the snow leopard. Wolves in India are protected by law under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. However, the wolves from the Himalayas are one of the least protected large mammals and also the least studied mammals of the country. The only study on their abundance, so far, concludes with the presence of only 350 animals in the wild. The fact revealed through the genetic studies, that they are the oldest lineage of the wolves in the world, adds to their importance with respect to conservation. The Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun started a project on ecology and conservation of wolves in the Himalayas in 2010 to fill this information gap and formulate conservation measures for these mammals of high altitude.

An initial survey was conducted by a team of Wildlife Institute of India, to study the level and pattern of human–wolf conflict in their distribution area and mark their distribution range in the Himalayas, with identification of conservation priority areas for them. Studies show that these wolves are the top predators of livestock accounting for 60% of the total livestock loss because of predation, followed by the snow leopard (38%). Agriculture is limited in arduous living conditions in the Trans-Himalayan region and livelihood of local people is mainly dependent on small livestock. This landscape serves as a grazing ground for nomadic and local herders and is economically important to these groups. Moreover, low productivity in these areas constricts the population of wild prey population and brings the wolves into conflict with humans. This results in retaliatory killing of the wolves, which is one of the biggest threats to them.

We have already mentioned the effort from Wildlife Institute of India to conserve this rare wolves of Himalayan and Trans-Himalayan region (refer ). The team from the Institute, consisting Shivam Shrotriya, Salvador Lyngdoh and Dr. Bilal Habib, have recently extended their study on the lineages of various Himalayan/Trans-Himalayan wolves. An article published in “Current Science” magazine, they raised the grave concern in the in-conclusive taxonomy of the Himalayan wolves which may in-turn affect and mobilize the conservation efforts of the animal. It has been 165 years since the wolf of the Himalayas was first described but the conclusion on the exact taxonomy of the animal not yet arrived due lack of proper study and good genetic field sample from the field. B. H. Hodgson was the first to describe the Himalayan wolf as a distinct species,  Canis laniger,  in 1847.  After many scientists described and identified Himalayan wolves as different species and given various lineages. Some important snapshot from the article published in “Current Science” is given below:

“They (Sharma, D. K., Maldonado, R. E., Jhala, Y. V. and Fleischer, R. C), further, argue that Himalayan  C. lupus chanco  is the most ancestral and diverged at 800,000 years ago, when the Himalayan region was going through a major geologic and climatic upheaval.  Indian Canis lupus pallipes is altogether diverged from wolf-dog clade 400,000 years ago. These lineages are the oldest of all wolf lineages in the world, hence it is postulated that India could have been the centre of origin of wolf-dog clan. In this study, dogs were reported to be in close relation with the wolves from Europe and America, therefore, wolves of India might have not been used for domestication. Dogs have originated from multiple wolf ancestors and they started to diverge about 150,000 years ago. ”


Wolves from (a) Kashmir valley, North-west Himalayan region of India (courtesy: Mir M. Mansoor); (b) Sikkim Zoo - Captive-bred individuals, wild individuals were captured from Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, Trans-Himalayan Landscape (courtesy: Pankaj Kumar); (c) Leh- Ladakh, Trans-Himalayan Landscape (courtesy: Y. V. Bhatnagar); (d) Peninsular India, central Indian Landscape (courtesy: A. Patil).


“Taxonomic confusion regarding the identification and recognition of wolves from the Trans-Himalayan region of  India and parts of Tibet has persisted for the last 165 years. Hodgson
was the first to describe the Himalayan wolf as a distinct species,  Canis laniger, noting its well-developed frontal sinuses, unusually elongated muzzle, distinct coloration and the woolliness of its under fur (cited in Sharma et al.). Blanford later combined C. laniger with C. lupus and elevated the Indian wolf to  C. pallipes. His views about the wolves of Baluchinstan and Gilgit are consistent with the findings of Sharma  et al. Much later,  Pocock described both taxa as subspecies of  C. lupus, making  C. laniger and  C. pallipes parts of the more widely distributed C. lupus chanco and C. lupus pallipes respectively. These views were widely accepted until genetic analysis revealed otherwise and revived the discussion.

However, so far none of the studies has been able to sort out the problems related to the taxonomic identification of wolves of the Trans-Himalayan landscape of India.”

Please find the complete research article here.



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.

New Research to Save Himalayan Wolf

Himalayan Wolf:Conservation Thought

Time to Act for Himalayan Wolf



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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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Orange-bellied Parrot

Posted on 09 May 2012 by RE Team

The Orange-bellied Parrot is a “grass parrot” found only in South Eastern Australia.

The Scientific Name : Neophema Chrysogaster

Where is it found?

Till 1920s, the Orange-bellied Parrot was wide spread in Australia, hundreds in numbers in the coastal saltmarsh area. It was witnessed throughout Southern Tasmania during summer and during winter from Port Adelaide to Corner Inlet. But due to rapid agriculture expansion, industrialization and residential development, the habitat of the parrot species shrinked sgnificantly in mid 20th century. In 1970s Melaleuca was identified as the only known breeding ground for the species. During winter the birds migrate to Victoria,stopping over on King Island. The adults migrate during February and the juveniles during March-April. The birds migrate back by September to November to Tasmania.

The habitat map of remaining Orange-bellied parrots


How does it live?

The Orange-bellied Parrots feed primarily on coastal saltmarsh. They are generally found on the ground or in low foliage searching for food. The diet consists of seeds of several sedges, everlasting daisy Helichrysum pumilum and heath plants, including buttongrass. Orange-bellied parrots chose their mate for life. They reach the adulthood within a year. They make Nests within the holes of eucalypt trees that are not higher than 5 meters in height. The female incubates the clutch of four eggs. The lifespan of the species is around 4 years in wild. But in captive they can live longer. The oldest male recorded was 11 years and the oldest female was 10 years in captivity.

How does it look?

The Orange-bellied Parrot is a small parrot species, around 20-25 cm in length and 45-50 grams in weight. The adult male has two-tone blue frontal band, green-blue uppertail with yellow sides and prominent orange patch on belly. The under wing-coverts and flight feathers have royal blue leading edge. Its beak and feet are greyish in colour. The adult female is a dull green with a pale blue frontal band. The juvenile is similar to adult female but with a duller green frontal band.

What are the threats?

The recovery program for Orange-bellied parrot was established as early as 1983, 30 years from now. The recovery team studied and monitored the parrot for decades but unfortunately not able to stop the decline of population of the birds. The main threat for the birds population decline is attributed to loss of habitat specially the over-wintering habitat in the coastal region due to agriculture, industrialization and other human activities since the European settlement in the continent. The new sttlement also brought in new species like sparrows, goldfinches and greenfinches with whom the orange-bellied parrot has had to compete for food, nest etc. Predators such as foxes and feral cats have also taken their toll on the population. Another severe threat to the species is the low breeding productivity observed in recent years. The reason for this is not clearly known but may be due to the loss of high quality saltmarsh. The quality of saltmarsh is specially degraded in the mainland

Conservation Efforts

The Orange-bellied parrot recovery program was first started in 1983. The OBP recovery team has contributed a lot towards studying and conservation of the species over the years. Australian Government has invested millions of dollars in the conservation of the species directly or indirectly. Unfortunately the parrot’s population kept on declining and there is always a need of more fund to protect this beautiful species from extinction. The contribution from Birds Australia and the national/international volunteers not to be forgotten in the efforts of the parrot’s conservation. There are various sides of the total conservation efforts. This includes protecting the saltmarh homes, providing adequate food in the competitive environment, keeping the enemies away and keeping close eye on unexpected events like diseases, natural calamities etc. One major portion of the efforts also go into raising an ‘Insurance’ captive population. The current captive population stable at around 170 birds housed at various sites across Tasmania and mainland. Between 1994 and 2009, around 365 captive birds are released into the wild, unfortunately that couldn’t bring the wild population up.

We need to remember that extinction is irreversible process in science till now. If we lose the Orange-bellied parrot, it will be lost forever!

A small clip on Orange-bellied parrots by ‘Act Wild’

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Pygmy Hog

Posted on 07 May 2012 by RE Team

Pygmy Hog is the most endangered wild pig species in the world, currently found only in India.

The Scientific Name : Porcula salvania

Where is it found?

Once found in the grass lands of whole southern Himalayan foot hill, Pygmy Hog has faced the wrath of human civilization and has been wiped out from most of it’s habitat. Currently the species is confined to the tall grass upland of Manas National Park in Assam with an estimated population of below 250. This species is very sensitive to any change in habitat and they are not made to adapt any changes in their Eco system. The density of their population if around 19 per square kilometer.

The Last Habitat of Pygmy Hog


How does it live?

The Pygmy Hog is omnivores, diet consisting of wide assortment of tubers, plants, insects, and small mammals. It is generally active during the day light, spending six to eight hours per day foraging by rooting among soil and leaf litter. The family groups often travel in single file, with an adult at both the front and the rear. Throughout the year, it builds sleeping nest by piling dry grasses over dish-like depressions digging a trench into the ground. This is why its habitat is always grasslands. The Pygmy Hog can reach the age of 8 years in the wild, attending maturity at the age of 1-2 years. The reproduction cycle is strictly seasonal giving births before the monsoon during April-May with a gestation period of around 100 days. It is an extremely good swimmer and can run unbelievably fast in the dense grassland.

How does it look?

The Pygmy Hog is the smallest of the pig family, attaining hardly 1 foot(30 cm) in height and two feet in length (60-70 cm). It can weigh upto 8.5 kg. Male is bigger in size than the female. An adult pygmy hog has dark brown to black skin, overlaid by a coat of dark fur. The head has a crest of hair on the top of the head and the back of the neck. Younger hog is marked with vague reddish stripes which fades away with age.

What are the threats?

The political unrest in the Manas national park region has been a threat to the Pygmy Hogs.
Human encroachment, destruction of the grassland for agriculture has been constantly reducing its habitat.
This little poor species has been struggling to fight with the domesticated animals encroached human population.

Conservation Efforts

The conservation of the Pygmy Hog is very critical because it is the last surviving species of its genus. Unfortunately there is very less public awareness and support for this smallest pig in the world. The only conservation program for the Pygmy Hog was started in 1995. Named as the Pygmy Hog Conservation Program (PHCP), it was initiated by scientist Goutam Narayan with the help of the government, the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (DWCT) and IUCN Wild Pig Specialist Group chair William Oliver. The PHCP started a captive breeding programme in Basistha, Guwahati, with the goal of reintroducing captive bred hogs back in the wild in 1996. The captive breeding was successful and after 12 years, the project released 16 hogs into the another sanctuary of the same region, Sonai Rupai Wildlife Sanctuary. The program has been able to release around 15 Pygmy Hog into the wild every year, creating a population base of around 50 Pygmy Hogs in the sanctuary. Due to the lack of any public interest and awareness, the program faces challenges for the resources, but the survival of PHCP is very critical for the survival of the little Pygmy Hogs.

A BBC Documentary Clip on Pygmy Hogs

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Sangai: Gem On A Floating Heaven

Posted on 30 April 2012 by RE Team

In the north east state of Manipur in India lies a true floating heaven, Loktak lake. The only lake in the world to house a floating bio-diversity and the only floating national-park  in the world, Keibul Lamjao National Park. In this heaven on earth resides a magnificent and beautiful deer, named Sangai. It is one of the most localized and endangered mammal species of the current time. Sangai with its unique characteristics make this heaven lively and more beautiful. But such a blessing of nature on the threat of destruction due to we humans today! Let’s find out more this unique species first.


'Loktak Lake - The Floating Heaven' - Courtesy Kishalaya Namaram @flickr


Sangai is the local name of the beautiful deer, the official English name is Manipur Brow-antlered Deer. The scientific name of the species is Rucervus eldi eldi McClelland. It is the a sub-species of the Eld’s Deer, found only and only in the floating lake of Manipur.

‘Sangai’ is derived from Manipur’s local language. ‘Sa’ means animal and ‘ngai’ means ‘waiting while looking on’. This name is given to the animal for the posture adopted by the animal while running. The deer, mainly the males, stops momentarily and suddenly after running some distance and again begins running as if the animal is eagerly waiting for someone. For this peculiar running style, the deer is also known as ‘Dancing Deer’, coined by famous naturalist E.P. Gee. The offiicial name Brow-antlered Deer is derived from the deer’s very distinctive antler.  The antlers normally grows over a meter in length with extremely long brow tine, hence the name.

Sangai has an important role in Manipur’s local tribes residing around the loktak lake. Till just a few decades back, the hunters took pride in adorning the heads with magnificent antlers in their village houses to signify the skill and accomplishment of the tribe. Though known locally before, the deer species was officially discovered by British officer, Lt. Percy eld in the year 1839. The scientific name of deer was later coined in honour of the officer in 1844.


Sangai - The Brow-Antlered Deer of Manipur


The marshy wetland in the Keibul Lamjao National Park is the only habitat of the Sangai in this world.  It is small park covering an area of 40 sq km. But the Sangai’s range is even smaller covering only 15-20 sq km of the park, making it one of the most localized sub-species in the world.

Because of Sangai’s traditional value, the deer was very zealously protected by the kings of Manipur till 20th century. But once British took over the regime, local and british hunters killed the elegant deer mercilessly. During few decades, it almost vanished from the loktak lake. In 1950, the brow-antlered deer was regarded as extinct. But in 1953, E.P. Gee  took pain to locate the deer at Keibul Lamjao. Some serious efforts were taken to revive the rare species. In 1954, an area of around 20 sq miles was declared as sanctuary to save the Sangai. In i977 the sanctuary was declared as a National Park.

In 1959 E. P. Gee first conducted a survey on the ‘Dancing Deer’, as he named. Taking various samples, he estimated the total population of the species as around 100. A devastating flood in 1966 wiped away many deer lives bringing the Sangai population even lower. In 1972 a rough survery done by naturalist M. K. Ranjitsinh, the population was estimated as just 50. Ranjitsinh again did a more sophisticated survey in 1975. At the height of the dry season, he surveyed the whole Keibul Lamjao park with a helicopter. Flying at just 100 to 300 feet high from the ground, the aerial survey provided a surprising number, 14. 5 stags, 6 hinds and 3 fawns, probably the rarest mamal of that time. In 1977, Ranjitsinh did another aerial survey to find a number of 18. These records were shock to the authorities and strict measurements were taken after 1977, also declaring the area as national park.  Census conducted by the Forest Department later times in 1990, 2000 and 2003 revealed the population as 76, 162 and 180 respectively. This shows an encouraging number, but the beautiful Sangai is still not out of the extinction danger.

We will discuss more about the Sangai in our future articles.

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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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Photos of Nature