Tuesday, September 29, 2009

19 new species of flora and fauna in Sikkim

GANGTOK: Sikkim continues to maintain its pole position as the country's richest state in terms of bio-diversity with the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) saying that 19 new species of flora and fauna has been found in the state in the last 10 years.

Of the 353 species of flora and fauna discovered in the eastern Himalayan range between 1998 and 2008, Sikkim has generated 19 species comprising plants and fish, the WWF said in its report.

The WWF surveyers also discovered 21 new species of orchids in the range of which five have been found in Sikkim, the report said.

The new variety orchid - coelogune pantlingii (pure white) - has been found in several parts of Sikkim, it said adding of 14 fish varieties found Sikkim has contributed three varieties - Pseudopoda abnormis, Pseudopoda hingstoni and Pseudopoda minor.

Meanwhile, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA), carrying out a survey work in Sikkim for the proposed integrated forest development programme to be funded by the agency, has complimented the state for being a reserve of a number of flora and fauna which are not found in other parts of the world.


Mobile app sees science go global

EpiCollect map (Imperial)
The interface collates information from many sources and presents statistics

A mobile phone application will help professional and "citizen" scientists collect and analyse data from "in the field", anywhere in the world.

The EpiCollect software collates data from certain mobiles - on topics such as disease spread or the occurrence of rare species - in a web-based database.

The data is statistically analysed and plotted on maps that are instantly available to those same phones.

The approach is outlined in the open-access journal PLoS ONE.

The software has been developed for so-called smartphones that run Google's Android open-source operating system.

Researchers can report back to the EpiCollect database with results from experiments they do in the field, and "citizen scientists" can send back photos or videos of certain species from their own backyards.

The phones' GPS system automatically logs users' locations, and the data is then plotted by location using Google Maps. Then anyone can access the database online, or from their phone.

Real-time results

There have been many research projects in the past that make use of phones' instant access and GPS functionality.

However, lead researcher on the project David Aanensen of Imperial College London said that the full integration into a central and widely-accessible database makes EpiCollect particularly useful.

EpiCollect on a mobile (Imperial)
The approach allows "citizen scientists" worldwide to contribute

"Many of the other tools that allow one to send data by mobile phone don't have an easy way for any of the researchers to look at any of the data in almost real-time," he told BBC News.

The team is already working to track the occurrence of chytridiomycosis, a fungal infection that is decimating the numbers of amphibians around the globe.

"We're investigating the use of the phones for the project; rather than researchers taking a GPS out into the field and recording their results on paper, we can get all of this data much more quickly - and it limits the amount of equipment they have to take out into the field," Mr Aanensen said.

He added that there is particular potential for using the approach with school projects. He cited the classic "quadrant" experiment in biology, in which schoolchildren set out a fixed area, for example in a park, and count the number of species in that area.

"If we have a database version, it allows them to compare between their school and another school or a set of schools in one country versus a set in another country, and the natural ability to use a phone rather than paper might be more attractive to school kids."

The team is now working to develop an iPhone-compatible version of the application. They are also as well as a website that, based on a given project's aims, automatically sets up a database and writes the computer code to be uploaded to phones.

"People who don't have experience setting up databases and setting up websites with maps will be able to come along and have their own project database and phone software provided," Mr Aanensen said.

"We want to just sit back and see the kind of exciting projects that people will be using this for."


Inter-state gang held in Tumkur for smuggling tortoise, boa

‘Wild’ bid to make quick buck lands 9 in jail

A nine-member inter-state gang ran out of luck in its bid to make quick bucks and landed in the police net while trying to smuggle wild animals.

The gang – six members from Karnataka and three from Andhara Pradesh – were arrested in Tumkur on Tuesday and four double-headed red sand boa and two tortoises were seized from them.

The accused are Krishnappa (41), a real estate agent from Bangalore; Chikkanna (42), owner of a TVS showroom in Bellur, Hospet taluk; Balakrishna (44) and Suresh (27) both from Bangalore; Murugesh (32), an auto driver in Agrahara Dasarahalli, Bangalore, Suresh (31) from Adigerahalli in Rajarajeshwarinagar; Srinivas Reddy (44), Satyanarayana Reddy and Bimal Kolleri, all realtors from Andhra Pradesh.
Besides, a four-wheeler, six cellphones and articles used for sorcery have also been recovered from the arrested.

Superintendent of Police P S Harsha at a press meet here on Tuesday said that the three men from Andhra Pradesh had allegedly conned the six accused from the State into supplying the red sand boa and tortoise for a worship, which they promised, would fetch quick bucks.

Lured by the offer, the five, with the help of agents in Bagepalli, Gudibande, Chikkaballapur and other places, purchased the animals by shelling out Rs 20 lakh. The desire to make fast money has cost them dearly - their site and jewellery - to raise money for purchase of these animals, the SP said.

However, when their counterparts from Andhra Pradesh failed to keep their promise, Krishnappa and his associates detained them in their custody and demanded Rs 20 lakh for their release.

The district police, acting on the clues provided by Andhra Police, have arrested all the nine accused.


197 species sighted during butterfly survey

The Hindu The Blue oakleaf, a rare, endemic butterfly among the 197 species of butterflies sighted in the three day Butterfly survey conducted by the Kerala Forest and Wildlife Department in Wayanad.

A survey of the butterflies in the district conducted by the Wildlife Department has reported sighting of 197 butterfly species. The three-day survey, which concluded on Monday, was conducted in association with the Hume centre for Ecology and wildlife biology, a wild life research organisation of the district. This was the first ever survey of butterflies of Wayanad, adopting a new scientific methodology.

The survey was conducted in 14 locations spread across the Wayanad wildlife sanctuary and the North Wayanad Forest division including Maragadha, Cheeradan Kolly, Rampur and Chethalayam under the Wayanad Wild Life Sanctuary (WWLS), and Begur, Chandanathodu, Peria, Brahmagiris, Makkimala, Doddakulassi, Panoth and Makkiyad under the North Wayanad Forest Division.

As many as 56 researchers and students from three southern States took part in the survey. The team reported the sightings of 52 species of skippers, 34 species of blues, 17 species of swallow tails, 23 pierids, and, 66 species of Nymphalids, C.K. Vishnudas of the Hume centre said.

As many as 149 species of butterflies were sighted in North Wayanad division, and 141 species in Wayanad Wild Life Sanctuary. “As many as 334 species of butterflies have been sighted in the Western Ghats and recording nearly 200 species in a three day survey is evidence of a healthy habitat of butterflies in the region, E. Kunchikrishnan environmentalist and Professor, Department of Zoology, University College, Thiruvananthapuram, told The Hindu.

Rare species of butterflies such as the Baronet was sighted at Rampur and Nallathanni in the sanctuary. Endemic Species such as the Shiva sunbeam, the Banded blue Piorrot, the Malabar raven and the Southern bird wing were sighted in many places. Other significant species were the Common caster, Grey Pancy, Blue tigers, Angled Piorret and water snow flat.

The results and feedback from the survey will be used for developing the host plant and nectar plants in the sanctuary, V.K. Sreevalsan, Wild Life Warden, Wayanad Wild Life Sanctuary told The Hindu. We are also planning to set up a butterfly garden at Muthanga and Tholpetty under the sanctuary, he added. The survey results will also help us to develop a proper management plan for the habitat improvement of butterflies, he added.

The survey was lead by Prof. E. Kunhikrihnan, Dr.Kalesh, C.Susanth, Vinayan P.A, Daisy Caroline, Balakrishnan Valappil, Pavithran Vadakara and Ajayan, butterfly experts, in each base station. The three day survey was coordinated by J. Ratnakaran, Dr. Anil Zacharia and Vinayan P.A of the Hume centre.

The Common map, a rare, endemic butterfly among the 197 species of butterflies sighted in the three day survey conducted by the Kerala Forest and Wildlife Department, the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary and the North Wayanad Forest Division, in association with the Hume Centre for Ecology and Wildlife Biology, a research organisation on wildlife in the district.


163 new species found – let’s not lose them now!

25 September 2009

A new WWF report celebrates the recent discovery of 163 new species in the Greater Mekong region of South-east Asia – including a bird-eating fanged frog, a leopard-patterned gecko and a bird that would rather walk than fly – but we also warn they could soon face extinction because of climate change.

Our report, entitled Close Encounters, lists 100 new plants, 28 fish, 18 reptiles, 14 amphibians, 2 mammals and a bird, all identified in the last year by scientists within the jungles and rivers of the Greater Mekong, which spans Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the south-western Chinese province of Yunnan.

The discoveries include: a bird-eating fanged frog that lies in streams waiting for prey; a bird called the Nonggang babbler, which walks longer distances than it flies, only taking flight when frightened; and the leopard gecko, a reptile with orange eyes, spindly limbs and technicolour skin.

But recent studies show the climate of the Greater Mekong region is changing, and models suggest continued warming, increased variability and more frequent and damaging extreme climate events.

Rising seas and saltwater intrusion will cause major coastal impacts, especially in the Mekong River delta, one of the three most vulnerable deltas on Earth, according to the most recent International Panel on Climate Change report.

WWF’s Heather Sohl says: “It’s great news that science is uncovering exciting and unusual new species like these, but it’s very worrying that no sooner do we find a new species than we have to sound an alarm over its prospects for survival.

“Rare, endangered and endemic species like these will be especially vulnerable to climate change, which has the potential to reduce their already restricted habitats.

“WWF is already working with governments and industries in the six Greater Mekong nations to conserve and sustainably manage 600,000 km2 of trans boundary forest and freshwater habitats in this unique and rapidly changing land. But we also need global action.

“With UN climate talks beginning in Bangkok this week, we’re urging world leaders to sign a strong global climate deal to prevent runaway climate change and to help safeguard regions like the Greater Mekong.”


Friday, September 25, 2009

Butterfly India Meet to be Held in Goa

Written by BHIVA P PARAB
Thursday, 24 September 2009 01:54
t is time for butterfly lovers to rejoice, for the Butterfly India Meet will be held in Goa this year.

The meet, which will be held at Bondla from September 26 to September 30 will have field trips to the forests of Bondla. The programme also includes visits to the forests of Tambdi Surla and Netravali and the forests around the Dudhsagar Waterfall. During the meet various field workers will present their work at the evening session that will be held at the base-camp.
Butterflies are amongst the most beautiful creatures on earth. Goa possesses a great diversity in butterfly species. The butterflies in Goa belong to the Phylum Arthropoda (arthro meaning jointed or segmented and poda meaning feet or appendages) and Order Lepidotera (lepis meaning scale and pteron meaning wing). These insects are pollinating agents, besides they form a part of the food chain components of birds, spiders and other predatory insects.
The Moth Meet will be combined with the Butterfly India Meet and this will prove to be a good opportunity for butterfly and moths lovers of Goa as they will get a common platform to interact with butterfly lovers from all over the country.
“This 9th Annual Meet is set to be unique since it has been planned to combine the Moth Meet with the Butterfly meet. Light-trapping will be done at night to study moths and this event is important since the moth diversity in Goa is virtually unexplored and it is expected to arrive at a fairly comprehensive list for moths of Bondla,” said Mr Parag Rangnekar who is coordinating the meet informed. He further added, “This meet is a good opportunity for the butterfly and moth enthusiasts in Goa to learn from experts in the field.”
“The Ghats in Goa are the confluence of the Northern and the Southern Western Ghats, thus species representative of southern Ghats make their presence felt in Goa. Omkar Dharwadkar and I recently reported three butterflies for Goa hitherto known only to be found in Southern India. More detailed surveys are expected to throw light on more species that have not been reported till now,” Mr Rangnekar said.
“It all begun on October 4, 2001 when Mr Vijay Barve initiated the Butterfly India yahoo group for networking and sharing knowledge between butterfly researchers and enthusiasts. The group has grown and presently has 1064 members. It was during discussions over the e-group that a decision was made to organise the Butterfly India Meet in order to make a transition from the virtual world to the real one and actually meet on the field to share knowledge and experiences. The first meet was held in 2001,” he said
“The e-group has members from various fields, from serious researchers like Krushnamegh Kunte, field workers like Dr Kalesh, Kalluri Subramanian, Amol Patwardhan, Milind Bhakare to nature enthusiasts and wildlife photographers,” he added.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Rare butterfly sighted after 100 yrs

KOKRAJHAR: Deep within the graveyard of butterflies, there moves a flutter of hope. And the awestruck nature-lover, bewildered at the miraculous triumph, captures a quick moment of the blithe spirits flight for posterity.

Kushal Choudhury, a young lepidopterologist and lecturer at Kokrajhar Science College, has spotted a rare breed of swallowtail butterfly considered extinct at Ultapani Reserve Forest. The jungle, under Haltugaon forest division, is notorious for being the deathbed of hundreds of these winged creatures.

Choudhury, who has been working on a butterfly project since 2002 and is researching on swallowtail butterflies for his PhD since 2008, said, "The Yellow Crested Spangle (Papilio Elephenor Doubleday) was resighted after a long gap of 100 years in Ripu-Chirang Wildlife Sanctuary (RCWS) that extends between 89:554-90:304E and 27:154-26:354N in the Bodoland Territorial Council of western Assam.''

He added, "The sanctuary is a transitional zone between Manas Tiger Reserve in the east and Buxa Tiger Reserve (West Bengal) in the west. It also has strong linkages with Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex as it is located just at the foothills of Phipsu Wildlife Sanctuary and Royal Manas National Park of Bhutan.''

At first, Choudhury believed that it was a mutated spangle butterfly (Papilio protenor) that is similar in size and colour. The yellow markings on the abdomen and the bright yellow head were the most striking and peculiar features of this butterfly. He then circulated the photographs on ButterflyIndia@yahoogroups.com; an e-group for butterfly watchers around the world. It was finally identified and confirmed as the Yellow crested Spangle by Krushnamegh Kunte, post-doctoral research fellow at FAS centre for systems Biology, Harvard University.

"The Yellow Crested Spangle belongs to the Genus Papilio under the family Papilionidae. Papilio elephenor is a highly endangered, federally protected species listed under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and is placed under the Endangered (EN A1c, B1 2bc) category of the Red Data list of IUCN (Gupta et al, 2005),'' the lepidopterologist said.

The butterfly is also endemic to the eastern Himalayas and northeastern India. Butterfly exeprts like Bingham (1907), Evans (1932) and Winter-Blyth (1957) have described the presence of this butterfly in Assam and Nagaland and Khasi Hills about 100 years ago, but there has been no recent report of its sightings or documentation till now.

Choudhury has also discovered another butterfly, called Moores cupid (Shijimia moorei Leech, 1889, old name Everes moorei). It is a tiny butterfly and its flight is very fast compared to its size. Choudhury said, "It is also an extremely rare butterfly under the Lycaenidae family. It is mainly found in Japan and southern China. Several decades earlier, its presence was reported from Meghalaya's Khasi hills after which, it was not reported from anywhere else in India. This species is also listed in Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and categorized as Critically Endangered (CR A1c, B1 2bc) in the IUCN Red Data list''.


Sunday, September 6, 2009

Musician of the monsoon

The Malabar Whistling Thrush is a flautist of unbridled creativity but, given the wanton destruction of its habitat, how much longer will we hear its music?

Along hill roads, it is often seen perched on culverts, a habit shared with its Himalayan cousin, the Blue Whistling Thrush.
Photo: Ramki Sreenivasan

Lone watcher: A Malabar whistling thrush near a hill stream in the Western Ghats.
Mystical whistles float out of the depths of the dark rainforest, through mercurial mist and morning air. The notes are continuous, almost breathless, yet gracefully slow and pleasing. This is no repetitive tune — it is an entrancing melody of ever-varying notes that rise and fall in an unpredictable series of undulating tones. In this forest — the notes seem to suggest — lives a flautist of the most unbridled creativity.
Secret songster
Nearby, a rippling stream of cool, clean water — fed by monsoon rains and deep aquifers — courses down a ravine of rounded pebbles and stubborn boulders. The sparkle is now stolen from the water by the towering forest canopy, but the water and its murmuring voice flow unhindered. The fluty whistles continue to flow, too, as the secret songster fills the crystal morning with music.
The bird producing these enchanting tunes is, at first sight, almost unremarkable in appearance. As the sun climbs and the mist dissipates, it is seen perched on a boulder by the stream; it appears simply black. Yet, the plumage has a sleek, glossy finish and the bird, unconcerned by the apparent simplicity, carries a proud, erect bearing, chin up and chest out. It bobs smartly to attention, fanning its tail open and closed, up and down, and surveys the stream with a stern eye like a general surveying his territory. It almost seems, if the bird had heels to click, it would. Its military sprightliness is strangely accentuated when sunlight catches its black uniform. Suddenly, the drab black acquires an iridescent sheen with purple and blue, and on the forehead and shoulders glisten — like epaulets of high rank —spangled badges of ultraviolet finery.
Birdwatchers call this bird the Malabar Whistling Thrush, a species found in the Western Ghats and associated hill ranges of India. The name, adequate though it is, does little to describe the landscape of hill forests and streams that is its home. Here be a bird — the name seems to say — a thrush it is by appearance and ancestry; it whistles, for sure, as one can attest; and by christening it Malabar a certain perfunctory attention is paid to its provenance. A more casual tag is sometimes affixed, stemming from an interpretation of its carefree and rambling whistles; the “whistling schoolboy”. And yet, when one awakens on monsoon mornings to the symphony of its whistles, the name seems inadequate, and one wishes one had greater tribute to pay. In the great traditions of Hindustani classical music, it is the Raag Malhar that is associated with the rains; among our birds, surely then, this is the Malhar whistling thrush.
The whistling thrush has a fondness for flowing waters on the hill slopes. There it hunts aquatic snails, frogs, and crabs, staying open to what opportunity may offer, including worms and bird nestlings. Holding the prey firmly in its bill, the thrush batters it lifeless on a rock before consuming it, concluding their predatory bout with a piercing whistle, perhaps, or a dipping flight down the stream in search of more. With the approach of the monsoon, as the streams are recharged with waters, its song acquires a new zest and the bird begins to breed, even as other bird species in the rainforest are already done with their nesting and are out with their young. It builds a nest in little nooks and crevices along streams, among rocks and cut banks. When forests give way to plantations and rocks to buildings and bridges, the thrush, fortunately, is forgiving and may adopt a space under the eaves or a hole in a wall to nest. Yet, the streams and rivers are never far.
As long as the streams are alive, even with a vestige of flowing water, the thrush may survive in the ever-changing hillscapes. One may see it in coffee, cardamom, and tea plantations, swamps, and rocky, wet slopes, and hill towns. Along hill roads, it is often seen perched on culverts, a habit shared with its Himalayan cousin, the Blue Whistling Thrush. Seeing culvert after culvert with its resident bird, a friend in government service coined an official designation: “culvert-in-charge”.
When streams wane and disappear with man-wrought transformation of land and water, and the last vestiges of forest vanish for some human purpose, the thrush numbers decline. Clearly, there is a measure to its forgiveness, too. And where the thrush has disappeared, the mornings are now bereft of beautiful song.
Quenching our thirst
Today, the whistling thrush persists in these hills. Amidst a litany of ugliness — pesticides and poisons, check-dams and catapults, pebble pillage and boulder burglary, sand mining and dynamite fishing, drainage and diversion — the whistling thrush survives and fills the air with songs of rare beauty. As the rivers and streams transform to dreary drains and smothered swamps, as rank grass and sedge and weed take over spaces where verdant moss grows and wild balsams bloom, the whistling thrush hangs on to the land like a question mark hangs in the wind. Will we cherish the whistling thrush as a marker of our hills and streams? Or will we let it slide, like the dead waters of fouled rivers deflected into our modern reservoirs of stagnation? If we do value the thrush and treat its home and its haunts with greater respect, then, perhaps, there will be a different future. One where we can still dip our hands into cool, clear waters of many a hill stream and raise it to our lips to slake our seemingly insatiable human thirst, even as the song of the whistling thrush quenches an intangible inner human spirit.
One cannot imagine these hills without the whistling thrush. The day its song fades from these hills would be a day as of unbearable pain, of unbridgeable loss. And when the monsoon arrives to revive the parched hills, with its thunder and clouds and lashing winds and pelting rain, there will be a strange emptiness. For in the hills of the Western Ghats, it is not just the rain, but the voice of the whistling thrush that sings the music of the monsoon.
T. R. Shankar Raman is with the Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore E-mail: trsr@ncf-india.org