Friday, November 12, 2010

Butterflies kiss Bannerghatta goodbye

From 20 species to 6 – blame the exodus on the pollution, climate and lack of funds
Posted On Friday, November 12, 2010 at 08:09:56 AM
How’s this for irony? The country’s first Butterfly Park at Bannerghatta, set up with much fanfare to conserve various species of these flitting beauties, is seeing a drastic drop in their numbers.

Collection at the Butterfly Park in Bannerghatta does not match the costs incurred. Weekdays are dry days and on weekends, the maximum revenue earned ranges between Rs 3,000 and Rs 4,000

While it was dwindling green cover that made sparrows take flight from the city, environmentalists attribute the butterfly problem to pollution. Spread over 7.5 acres at Bannerghatta Biological Park, it had close to 20 species of butterflies when it was inaugurated in 2006. But now, there are only about six species left. The Crimson Rose, Common Emigrant, Staineyar Red Tarret and Common Lime Butterflies are some of the survivors.
Going, going...Tourists would be drawn to the nearly 1,000 butterflies creating a riot of colour inside the polycarbonate dome a few years ago but it’s now difficult to find even a few hundred.

“Despite our staff going around the forest the entire day, scouting for butterflies, it is very difficult to get them. However, with great difficulty we have managed to get three to four different species with 60-70 butterflies,” said Krishna Kumar B, BBP deputy director.

The whys and whereforesOne reason for the fall in numbers is the climate. “The butterfly life span is about a week and they are active only when there is ample sunlight. So, the constantly cloudy skies and incessant rains don’t help the butterfly population,” said Krishna Kumar.

Harish Bhat, an ecologist and biodiversity expert at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, adds, “Butterflies are highly seasonal and even a slight change in the climatic condition will affect them. They can’t even fly when humidity levels are high. However, they are likely to return, especially on city outskirts, once the rainy season gets over.
Increased vehicular traffic close to the park and rising pollution levels have also taken a toll.

Rising cost, falling incomeMaintaining the park is also becoming increasingly difficult. Blame it on falling income and rising expenditure coupled with official apathy. For instance, though flowers are crucial for butterflies to thrive, the park is full of leafy plants and shrubs.

Also, there are about 15 staff attached to the butterfly park, including cleaners and technicians who breed butterflies at the specially designed laboratory there. But paying them is not easy since the collection at the park does not match the costs incurred. The revenue goes up to Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 only on weekends while weekdays are dry days.

“Since the entire venture is non-commercial, there is no separate budget and everything is dependent on the revenue,” explains Krishna Kumar.

Flying away
» Crimson Rose
» Common Crow (Missing)
» Common Emigrant
» Common or Striped Tiger (Missing)
» The Red Pierrot
» Southern Duffer (Missing)
» Lime Blue
» Malabar spotted flat (Missing)
» Common Jay (Missing)
» Red Helen (Missing)
» Common Rose (Missing)


Thursday, November 11, 2010

The butterfly flutter

Researchers across the world wonder at the beautiful and mysterious butterflies. K. Jeshi meets experts who were in the city recently for a seminar hosted by Bharathiar University
Photos: S. Siva Saravanan & M. Periasamy

Butterfly effect Harvard University's Krushnamegh Kunte

It is a large congregation, millions of butterflies — dark blue tigers, double-banded crows, common crows and blue tigers. They can be found on the branches of evergreen trees in the Western Ghats, especially the Nilgiris and the Anamalais, during the months of October and November. In January, they disperse and breed. And, just before the monsoons set in, the progeny of the second or the third generation migrate back to the Eastern Ghats, the land of their ancestors.
Biologists marvel at the phenomenon. Who tells them it is time to go back? Where do they get the signals from? The mystery continues. “In South India successive generations of butterflies move back and forth,” says Krushnamegh Kunte, researcher at Harvard University. “We do not know how they know where to go.” The milk weed butterflies (derived from the plant family with toxic saps they feed on), the white yellowish and creamy white emigrants (common and mottled), can be spotted in thousands right in our backyard and urban gardens. They take several days to pass through an area.
Researchers say the phenomenon is driven by the monsoons. May be, they avoid the intense rains and humidity (unfavourable for breeding) and migrate to the plains. “It is like a relay race over a period of six months,” says Isaac Kehimkar of the Bombay Natural History Society. Another notable migration is that of the crimson rose butterflies from Rameshwaram to Sri Lanka during December and January.
Photos: S. Siva Saravanan & M. Periasamy

Common emigrant butterflies engaged in mud puddling

Sikkim and the Himalayas are considered a Mecca of Butterflies. “We have 18,000 species of butterflies in the world. In India, we have roughly 1,250 species. Of which, you have 800 species in the Eastern Himalayas, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Manipur and Mizoram. About 335 are endemic to the Western Ghats,” says Kunte.
Species such as the southern bird wing (the largest butterfly in India), Malabar banded swallowtail, Malabar tree nymph, and Tamil cat 's eye and Travancore evening brown are found only in the Western Ghats.
Another significant aspect is ‘mud puddling'— where male butterflies absorb minerals, salt and water content from the wet soil into their bodies. This is transferred to the females during mating. “Thousands of males elbow each other. The ‘saltiest' male gets the female,” Isaac adds.
Some butterflies can be distasteful prey and can teach their predators an unpleasant lesson. They feed on the toxic alkaloids found in certain plants. When a hungry bird pecks on them, it triggers a fearful physiological reaction in the predator's body. “A great deal of sexual selection happens based on this. Females select the most distasteful males to ensure a safety of the progeny.”
Declining numbers
It is important to protect their habitats, which are on the decline. “Hundreds of butterfly species were recorded at the Biladu Pumping station spot in Mussoorie. Now, thanks to construction work, there is devastation a decline in butterfly population,” says Avtar Kaur Sidhu who works with the Zoological Society of India in Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. Butterflies also serve as biological indicators, of a healthy environment. Partnerships with local people, especially the tribals, is a good way to begin, they say. “In Kenyan forests, butterfly farming helps communities stay inside the forests. The pupae are exported to butterfly parks across Europe. They don't cut trees, don't kill animals and save the forests for butterflies, as it gives them money,” Isaac says.
At Ultapani in Assam, a hot spot for butterflies, the Bodo tribals work closely with the tourism industry. Also, the Bagua Tribals in Arunachal Pradesh. “They serve you continental food and take you to watch birds and butterflies.”
“Conservation involving tribal communities is critical. India has a rich diversity and endemicity of flora and fauna in regions such as the Western Ghats, Assam, North east Himalayas and the Naga Hills,” says Roger C. Kendrick of Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden Corporation, Hong Kong.
The researchers were in Coimbatore to participate at the 3rd Asian Lepidoptera conservation symposium and training programme, organized by the Department of Zoology of Bharathiar University in collaboration with ZOO Outreach Organisation.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Illegal trade of butterflies

Smugglers come in all shapes and sizes, and they deal in all sorts of goods, so it is no surprise that there are those that are smuggling butterflies. But what is often a surprise is that this happens so openly.

Some two years ago, S Guruvayurappan saw mounted butterflies for sale in a Calicut supermarket. They had been imported from countries like Thailand and China. Out of curiosity, the south India project coordinator for the Wildlife Protection Society of India asked the shopkeeper where he might find rare Indian species. At first, the man was unwilling to talk, saying only that he took special orders. Guruvayurappan investigated and found that the supply came from a small hill station called Nadukani, on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. 

It wasn’t really an undercover operation, but when Guruvayurappan went there with friends, posing as a student who wanted to collect rare butterflies, several locals offered to sell. He identified a familiar pattern. Tourists, particularly from Southeast Asia, were coming to Nadukani to take butterflies, mostly to sell on the international market where the trade in butterflies, unlike in India, is legal.

“The people who sell the butterflies are mostly plantation workers. They do this for additional income as they are paid well for each butterfly they collect. Among the butterflies being smuggled out were the Southern Birdwing, Common Blue Bottle and the Malabar Tree Nymph which are all on the endangered list. It is almost impossible for Customs or forest officials to catch these foreigners as they simply wrap the butterflies in white paper or tracing paper, and place them in camera bags or other containers.

Though he had documented evidence which he offered to authorities in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the latter denied the operation ever existed. In Kerala, though, five arrests were made. “The cases are still pending because the people pursuing it are demoralised by the magistrates. They don’t believe such a fuss should be made over one or two butterflies.”

The trouble is that one little insect here and another one there soon adds up to formidable numbers. The illegal wildlife trade in India is estimated at several thousand crore, the third most lucrative after arms and drugs, and it isn’t just tiger skins and penises. A major part of it includes the small things people don’t notice — such as butterflies and other insects — until they have vanished. As for catching the culprits, over the last 20 years or so, a handful of cases have been registered. They involve foreign collectors or scientists trying to smuggle butterflies and other insects. But the majority, as in the case of Nadukani, simply fly under the radar or are not treated with the seriousness they deserve.  

Butterflies have been called ‘nature’s jewels’, but they are far more than pretty little insects. They are indispensable to successful farming. Butterflies have immense economic value as pollinators — globally their value to agriculture per year is estimated at $200 billion, second only to the honeybee. And to fragile ecosystems, like the Himalayas where the summers are relatively short, the removal of a single species like the Kaisar-i-Hind could have a devastating chain effect. For instance, apple producers in the Himalayas complain of a decline in yield and quality due to the lack of insect pollinators, including butterflies and moths, in the flowering season.  

With its varied climatic zones, India is a haven of diversity, and this extends to butterfly species as well. According to Ashok Kumar, a former IAS officer who has worked for the Andhra Pradesh Wildlife Advisory board and is vice president of the Butterfly Conservation Society, the North East alone has about 900 species, compared to 56 in the whole of the UK. The sheer diversity of species is mind-boggling, he says. No wonder the ‘bio-pirates’ are dazzled by the wealth they confront, literally. 

Some species are worth astronomical sums. For instance, high-altitude butterflies like the Bhutan Glory, Kaisar-i-Hind, Pale Jezebel, Atlas Moth and the Ladakh Banded Apollo, fetch up to Rs 20,000 apiece in the international market. That is a staggering sum by the standards of the workers who do the actual collecting, and a reason why they are paid well for their labours. 

Today’s market for butterflies is a bit like the shark fin craze, everyone wants it because they can all afford it.  Earlier, only collectors bought butterflies but now it’s a business that’s diversified as it expands. In Southeast Asia, Kumar says they are used in greeting cards, paper weights, even jewellery. And in Europe and North America many people planning to start butterfly farms are always looking for exotic species. All this has put serious strains on many butterfly populations in the country.

Arjan Basu Roy, vice president of Naturemates, an NGO in Calcutta which does butterfly surveys in and around West Bengal, says the problem is that butterfly collection is not outlawed in other countries. While collection in India is clearly banned by the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, the global trade in butterflies is worth something like $200 million. Those unfamiliar with this concept need only check out websites like to see the scale on which it happens.

During a recent survey around the Darjeeling area, Roy was amazed to find that most of the major species had almost disappeared. Perhaps one or two of each species were spotted. Ironically, it was on a visit to Japan that he spotted a Bhutan Glory that was up for sale. It had been collected in 1999. His inquiries turned up stocks of other Indian species, available since 2003.

The key to this operation is the local factor. “They form an essential link in the smuggling route, because after collection the butterflies are sent either to Nepal or Myanmar where Indian laws don’t apply. From there they can be transported out. Locals who cross the border on foot are never even questioned or searched so it’s almost impossible to detect,” says Roy.

Experts in the conservation business rue the fact that more attention isn’t paid to the depletion of insect populations, both through smuggling and environmental degradation. According to Tej Kumar, president of the Butterfly Conservation Society in Andhra, wildlife conservation in India has come to focus almost exclusively on the tiger. “More awareness is needed among customs and forest officials because that’s one major reason why insect smugglers get away — these officials are not able to identify when they are taking away rare or endangered species.” 

He also says the laws need to be looked at again. “We have a complicated system. The Wildlife Protection Act has four schedules under which different species are included. And it’s only if someone is found with one of these that action can be taken. Also, while some common species are included in the Act, certain species endemic to the Western Ghats, for instance, and thus more important, will not be included.” The question is, will everyone wake up to notice only after the butterflies are gone?  

The Indiana Jones of butterfly smuggling 

In 2006, a Japanese man in Los Angeles called Hisayoshi Kojima who described himself as the world’s most wanted butterfly smuggler was apprehended and sentenced to 21 months in prison. He was caught after an undercover operation that lasted nearly three years.

Officials began investigating Kojima in 2003 after an insect dealer in Texas told agents of his reputation within the trade as the world’s top smuggler of rare and protected butterflies. Investigators learned Kojima’s smuggling network spanned the globe. He routinely produced for sale endangered butterflies from the South Pacific, Caribbean and Spain, including one pair of Queen Alexandra’s birdwings, an endangered species that is the largest butterfly in the world.  Kojima sold the pair to an undercover agent for $8,500.

Special Agent Ed Newcomer, who led the three-year investigation, said that Kojima was able to produce butterflies for sale that are almost never seen in commercial trade, or even made available to university collections.  

Included in the list of rare butterflies Kojima offered for sale was the endangered Giant Swallowtail butterfly, Papilio homerus, the largest butterfly in the western hemisphere. The species is depicted on the $1,000 Jamaican banknote. 

Case histories1994 — Two German tourists called Heckar Hermann Henrich and Weigert Ludwig, who came to India as tourists were detained at the Indira Gandhi Airport as they were found with four cartons that contained nearly 45,000 insects, including butterflies. These were confiscated on the spot and sent to entomologists for identification.  

July 1996 — 1,773 insects and 1,268 butterflies were seized in Darjeeling. They were being smuggled out by Kawamura Shunchi, a Japanese tourist and his Indian accomplice Bhotto Singh Chepri. They were given one month imprisonment. On the same day, a local in Darjeeling was arrested with mounted butterflies.  

October 2001 — Two Russians — Victor Siniaev and Oleg Amosov — were arrested in Kanchenjunga in Sikkim for collecting over 2000 beetles, moths and butterflies. They claimed that they were scientists and didn’t know that it was a National park. The Russian consulate in Calcutta took up the issue and petitioned for their release. The Forest Department found in their possession a petrol generator, ultra violet bulbs, killing and collecting jars, chemicals, wires and nets.  

2008 — Two Czech nationals, Peter Svacha and Emil Kucera came to India on tourist visas and were apprehended in Singalila National Park in West Bengal with nearly 2,000 specimens of larvae and adult insects. They claimed they were from the Czech Academy of science. 

Svacha was fined Rs 20,000 and Kucera Rs 60,000. Meanwhile, the BBC reported that Kucera was running a website that offered to sell rare insects to collectors. The two men were given conditional bail and the incident caused great controversy as scientists, from India and abroad, filed numerous petitions demanding that the duo be released.—



Saturday, October 2, 2010

पाचगणी, महाबळेश्वरपाठोपाठ आता ‘कास’ पठार संकटात!

वैशिष्टय़पूर्ण वनस्पती जगातून कायमच्या नामशेष होण्याचा धोका
अभिजित घोरपडे ,पुणे, २८ सप्टेंबर

पाचगणी आणि महाबळेश्वर पठारांवरील अनेक दुर्मिळ वनस्पती गेल्या वीस वर्षांत अर्निबध पर्यटनामुळे कायमच्या नामशेष झाल्यानंतर आता हेच लोण कास पठारापर्यंत पोहोचण्यास सुरुवात झाली आहे. त्यामुळे जगात केवळ कास पठारावरच आढळणाऱ्या चार प्रकारच्या वनस्पती, तसेच इतरही अतिशय दुर्मिळ वनस्पती आणि पठारांवरील अनोख्या जैवविविधतेच्या भवितव्याबाबत प्रश्नचिन्ह उभे राहिले आहे.
कासच्या वैशिष्टय़पूर्ण पुष्पपठाराला गेल्या काही वर्षांत अनेक धोक्यांचा सामना करावा लागत आहे. पर्यटकांची वाढती गर्दी, वाहनांची वर्दळ, बेशिस्तीमुळे किंवा अजाणतेपणे वनस्पतींचे होणारे नुकसान, तसेच कुतूहलापोटी उपटल्या जाणाऱ्या वनस्पती अशा अनेक समस्या उभ्या राहिल्या आहेत. हे पठार नैसर्गिकदृष्टय़ा अतिशय संवेदनशील आहे. पावसाळय़ात केवळ काही आठवडय़ांचे आयुष्य लाभलेल्या या वनस्पती गेल्या काही वर्षांमध्ये पावसातील चढउताराचा आणि अनियमित वेळापत्रकाचा परिणाम झेलत आहेत. त्यातच आता पर्यटकांच्या झुंडीच्या झुंडी, वाहनांची वर्दळ, त्यांची बेशिस्त आणि ‘विकासा’च्या नावाखाली होऊ घातलेल्या बदलांमुळे तेथील वनस्पतींवर नवे संकट येऊन ठेपले आहे.
वनस्पतितज्ज्ञ आणि सहय़ाद्रीतील वनस्पतिजगताचे गाढे अभ्यासक डॉ. मधुकर बाचुलकर, तसेच ‘क्रिएटिव्ह नेचर्स फ्रेंड्स’चे रोहन भाटे यांच्याशी चर्चा केली असता कास पठारावरील पुष्पसंपदेला असलेला धोका प्रकर्षांने जाणवला. महाराष्ट्रातील अनेक पठारांवरील वनस्पतिसंपदा अर्निबध वर्दळीमुळे नष्ट झाली आहे. पाचगणीचे विस्तीर्ण पठार अर्थात ‘टेबल लॅन्ड’ हे त्याचे उत्तम उदाहरण आहे. या पठारावर व आसपासच्या परिसरात गेल्या ३० ते ४० वर्षांमध्ये वनस्पतींच्या १२ नव्या प्रजाती आढळल्या. त्यात सिरोपिया नूरजहानी, सिरोपिया पंचगनांसिस, क्रायनम वूडरी अशा वैशिष्टय़पूर्ण पुष्पवनस्पतींचा समावेश होता. पण गेल्या दोन दशकांमध्ये परिस्थिती इतकी बदलली आहे, की आता या जाती तिथे नावालासुद्धा पाहायला मिळत नाहीत. त्यामुळे या जाती वनस्पतिजगतातून कायमच्या नष्ट झाल्या असल्याचेच चित्र आहे. हे घडण्यास अर्निबध व बेशिस्त पर्यटक हेच प्रमुख कारण ठरले आहे. हेच महाबळेश्वर येथेही पाहायला मिळाले आहे. शंभर वर्षांपूर्वी महाबळेश्वरच्या पठारांवर मुबलक आढळणारी ‘क्रायमन ब्रॅचिनिमा’ ही रानलीलीची जात अशाच कारणांमुळे नष्ट झाली. आता संपूर्ण परिसरात शोधूनही सापडत नाही. पाचगणी आणि महाबळेश्वर येथे न घेतलेली काळजी कास पठाराच्या बाबतीतही घेतली गेली नाही तर तिथेसुद्धा हाच धोका संभवतो. कासच्या पठाराचे वैशिष्टय़ म्हणजे तिथे आढळणाऱ्या वनस्पतींच्या ६० ते ७० प्रजाती स्थानिक व दुर्मिळ आहेत. त्यातल्या चार प्रजाती तर कासच्या पठाराशिवाय जगात इतरत्र कुठेही आढळत नाहीत. त्यात अ‍ॅपानोगेटन सातारेन्सिस (वायतुरा), अरिसेमा सहय़ाद्रीकम घाटीकम (छोटा सापकांदा), युलालिया श्रीरंगी व मेन्सेथिया वलदकम्पी (गवताच्या प्रजाती) यांचा समावेश आहे. त्यामुळेच कासचेसुद्धा पाचगणी किंवा महाबळेश्वर झाले तर यासारख्या वैशिष्टय़पूर्ण प्रजाती जगातून कायमच्या नष्ट होण्याचा धोका आहे. म्हणूनच कास पठारासाठी तातडीने संरक्षण व संवर्धन महत्त्वाचे ठरले आहे. तोपर्यंत शिस्तबद्ध, मर्यादित व पर्यावरणपूरक पर्यटन राबविण्याची आवश्यकता अभ्यासकांनी व्यक्त केली आहे. 

निसर्गातील बदलांचेही संकट
कासच्या पठाराला निसर्गातील बदलांचे संकट आधीच भेडसावत असल्याने आता मानवनिर्मित समस्यांच्या विळख्याची तीव्रता अधिक प्रमाणात जाणवण्याचा धोका आहे. पठारावरील या पुष्पवनस्पतींचे आयुष्य पावसाळय़ात केवळ काही आठवडय़ांइतकेच आहे. त्यामुळे पावसाचे प्रमाण कमी-जास्त होणे, त्याचे उशिराने आगमन होणे आणि त्याने दिलेली उघडीप या गोष्टींचा त्यांच्या आयुष्यावर विपरीत परिणाम होतो. या वनस्पती पावसाळा संपताना मरून जातात तेव्हा त्यांच्या बिया पठारावरच पडतात. या बियांची दूर अंतरावर पसरण्याची क्षमताच नसल्याने त्या पठारापुरत्याच मर्यादित राहतात. त्यामुळेच एखाद्या वर्षी पावसाने मोठी उघडीप दिल्यामुळे किंवा इतर काही कारणांमुळे या बिया रुजल्याच नाहीत, तर पुढच्या वर्षी त्या वनस्पती तिथे न उगवण्याचा धोका असतो. अलीकडच्या काळात पावसातील अनियमिततेचा धोका वाढल्यामुळे कासच्या पुष्पपठाराला निसर्गातील बदलांचे संकट सहन करावे लागत आहे, असे निरीक्षण डॉ. बाचुलकर यांनी नोंदवले आहे. या परिस्थितीत आता मानवामुळे उभे राहिलेले संकट सहन करणे या कास पठारासाठी अधिकच खडतर ठरणार आहे.


Sahyadris: India's Western Ghats - A Vanishing Heritage
Flowers of Sahyadri Field Guide to 500 Flowers of North Western-ghats of India
Trek the Sahyadris
Flowers of Sahyadri Field Guide to 500 Flowers of North Western-ghats of India

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Where have all the British botanists gone, just when we need them?

We are desperate for new crops, drugs and energy sources but plant science graduates have become an endangered species, says Professor Steve Jones. 

By Steve Jones 

The Botanic Garden in the University of Oxford. Where have all the British botanists gone, just when we need them?
The Botanic Garden in the University of Oxford. 
Plant scientists have become an endangered species in Britain, says Steve Jones.
'I’d like to see them starving,/The so-called working class,/Their wages yearly halving,/Their women boiling grass”. Thus wrote Philip Larkin in a poem that can have no relevance to Britain today, for he was writing before the era of coalition politics. 
Boiled grass may, in fact, soon be on the menu, because of advances in a science which has revolutionised our lives and yet – at least when it comes to producing a new generation of practitioners – has almost vanished from the British scene. Botany has disappeared as an A-level subject, just 10 universities offer degrees in plant science (at least one is thinking of dropping it) and there are no more than 100 graduates each year. Most places have a grotesque imbalance between researchers using plants and using animals, humans included (a 500-to-one ratio in my own institution).
Yet plants are not just beautiful, diverse and easy to handle, but we depend upon them for food, for fuel, for drugs and (not to be forgotten) for aesthetic sensibility.
Why do students find the vegetable world so boring when without it we would perish? The United States (unlike Britain, where less than a third of our landscape is suitable for crops and we need crop-land twice the size of these islands to feed ourselves) now has enough acreage to grow all the food it might need, plus a bit over. In just 40 years, population growth, urbanisation and loss of soil mean that the amount of fertile land per head will drop by ten times. To guard against that, the Americans are pouring in billions to a plan to double maize yields in two decades. A quarter of all medicines are plant-based, or were discovered in that kingdom, and the need for sustainable fuel has led to the – unsustainable – use of food plants or oil palms to make alcohol-enhanced petrol. New crops, new drugs and new sources of energy are needed but the annual crop of British botany graduates is now so reduced as to make them an endangered species.
Ironically, the technical advances in DNA research that came from the Human Genome Project (and disappointed those who had hoped for a revolution in medicine) has transformed the study of plants. New genes for increased production (such as grass with enough sugar to make it palatable, and clovers that make far more nitrogen fertiliser than before) are emerging fast. Many of our crops, wheat included, are natural hybrids between wild species, and the hunt is on for ways to disrupt the inborn mechanisms that stop other potentially valuable mongrels from being made. Already, distantly related kinds are being persuaded to mate to generate varieties resistant to heat, salt, flooding, drought and to the other good things promised by global warming.
One escape from that problem is to use plants as fuel. Much of the biofuel market is driven by the economics of the madhouse, for subsidies make it profitable to burn crops that could be eaten. Elephant grass is a 15ft Asian giant that can grow on barren land and is four times better than maize at producing fuel. It is already being burned in British power stations, but almost everywhere just one strain is used. Expeditions to Japan and China have found wild varieties that might do the job even better. The plan is to double the plant’s yield and to have one kilowatt in every eight of Britain’s electricity generated from the crop in two decades.
In fact, all these projects are under way in one intellectual hot-house in west Wales. Here I must declare an interest, for I am on its advisory board, and have just returned from my annual visit. The University of Aberystwyth’s Institute of Biological Environmental and Rural Sciences is a world centre for the new plant science – but even there it is hard to attract school-leavers to study the subject and to find funds to pay for it.
In spite of the astonishing progress being made there and in other great research centres such as Norwich, Nottingham, Cambridge and Oxford, none of their work has more relevance for the future than does an agricultural adage from before science began: that, both for plants and for the people who study them, to eat the seed corn today will be to starve tomorrow.
Steve Jones is Professor of Genetics at University College London


Monday, September 27, 2010

Scientists prune list of world's plants

A project helping conservation work has deleted more than 600,000 species of flowering plants that were duplicated or not 'new'

Dahlia flower in full bloom. A dahlia in full bloom. 
Scientists estimate the total number of flowering plant species around the world to be around 400,000. Photograph: Harish Tyagi/EPA More than 600,000 plant species have been deleted from the dictionary of life after the most comprehensive assessment carried out by scientists.
For centuries, botanists from different parts of the world have been collecting and naming "new" plants without realising that many were in fact the same. The humble tomato boasts 790 different names, for example, while there are 600 different monikers for the oak tree and its varieties.
The result was a list of more than 1 million flowering plant species. Although experts have long known that it included many duplicates, no one was sure how many. Later this year, the study team, led by UK and US scientists, will announce that the real number of flowering plant species around the world is closer to 400,000.
The project - which has taken nearly three years - was the number one request made by the 193 government members of the Convention on Biological Diversity at their meeting in 2002. There were concerns that without this work, it would be impossible to work out how many plants were under threat and how successful conservationists were in saving them.
The information will also be vital for any organisation or researcher looking at "economically important" plants, such as those for food and nutrition or medicine, said Alan Paton, assistant keeper of the herbarium at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, west London, one of the four leading partners in the project.
"On average, one plant might have between two and three names, which doesn't sound a great deal, but if you're trying to find information on a plant, you might not find all [of it] because you're only looking at one name," Paton said. "That's even more critical for economically useful plants: because they are more used, they tend to have more names."
In one example, researchers calculated that for the six most-used species of Plectranthus, a relative of the basil plant, a researcher would miss 80% of information available if they looked under only the most commonly used name. On another database, they found only 150 of 500 nutritionally important plant species using the names cited in current literature.
"By going for one name, we missed the majority of information mankind knows about that plant, which isn't too clever," said Paton. "What's really a breakthrough is we have a place which allows people to search through all the names used."
Kew Gardens joined up nearly three years ago with Missouri Botanical Garden in the US, and experts on two of the biggest and most valuable plant families: legumes, or peas and beans, and Compositae, which include asters, daisies and sunflowers.
They have since attempted to search existing plant lists and work out an "accepted" name for each species, and then list all known variations. One of the databases was originally set up using £250 left in the will of Charles Darwin. The full results will not be published until the end of the year, but so far the researchers have found 301,000 accepted species, 480,000 alternative names, and have 240,000 left to assess.
Although work will continue to assess smaller plant groups in more detail and check for missed duplications, Paton said they now believe that the true number of plant species will turn out to be "400,000 or just over".
"You can't give an absolute number of names, but we have narrowed the possibility," he said. Previous estimates, without the help of a full assessment, put the figure at between 250,000-400,000.
Most of the work of the study group was sifting and sorting different names allocated to one species, often because scientists were simply not aware of the work of rivals and colleagues who had previously "described" the plant in a scientific journal, or because of confusion caused by superficial differences such as different sized leaves in different climates. In some cases, plants thought to be the same have also been judged to be different species because of differences which have been revealed by later scientific discoveries, such as DNA.
As well as the likely 400,000-odd flowering plants, there are thought to be 15,000 species of ferns and their allies, 1,000 gymnosperms such as conifers, and 23,000 mosses and allies making up the plant kingdom. For comparison there are more than 1 million species of insects listed by science, 28,000 living species of fish, 10,000 birds and 5,400 mammals.
A meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity in October in Japan is likely to declare that targets to halt biodiversity loss by this year failed and set tougher new aims to halt the problem.
This article was amended on 20 September 2010. The original said that poplars are gymnosperms. This has been corrected.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Rare butterfly sighted in Ponmudi forests

Staff Reporter

Colours of nature:The Blue Nawab, a medium-sized butterfly with black wings, can be identified from its white band laced with blue.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A team of nature lovers from Thiruvananthapuram have spotted the life cycle of the ‘Blue Nawab' butterfly in the forests of Ponmudi-Kallar region.
The team from nature group ‘Warblers and Waders', comprising C. Susanth, K.A. Kishore, Baiju and P.B. Biju saw the larvae of this rare butterfly amidst rock formations on either side of a stream deep in the forests. “Sighting this butterfly itself is a very rare thing. Still rarer it is to see its life cycle. We could not find the eggs. After we spotted the larvae, we returned to the location and kept watch as the butterfly finally emerged,” Mr. Susanth told The Hindu.
The study team, in July 2010, also observed the larave feeding on Scarlet Bauhinia( ‘Kaattu Mandaaram'). “The Nawab is a medium-sized butterfly with black wings. It can be easily identified from its white band laced with blue. The males can be found basking on chosen trees among rocky peaks during the hottest part of the day,” Mr. Susanth said.
The earlier studies of the life cycle of this butterfly were conducted by British lepidopterists J. Davidson, T.R. Bell and E.H. Aitken in 1896 at Coorg. “This is the first life cycle record of this butterfly in Kerala, The Kaattu Mandaram has not been previously recorded as a host plant for this butterfly,” Mr. Susanth said.
The team plans to report the sighting to the Journal of Bombay Natural History Society and to other International Journals.
Californian Lepidopterist Keith V. Wolfe, who conducted studies on host plant utilisation of butterflies and Kishen Das, US-based lepidopterist, provided the literature to Warblers and Waders on the life cycle of Blue Nawab, Mr. Susanth added.


Friday, September 10, 2010

Pea sized frog found on Borneo island

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Scientists have discovered a frog the size of a pea, the smallest found in Asia, Africa or Europe, on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo.
The frog species Microhyla nepenthicola, discovered in Borneo. Photograph: Indraneil Das/AFP/Getty Images

Adult males of the new micro-species range in size from 10.6 and 12.8 millimetres and the pea-sized amphibian has been named Microhyla nepenthicola after the plant on Borneo on which it lives, according to taxonomy magazine Zootaxa.

Dr Indraneil Das of the Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation at the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak said the sub-species had originally been mis-identified in museums.
The Microhyla nepenthicola. Photograph: Indraneil Das/AFP/Getty Images

"Scientists presumably thought they were juveniles of other species, but it turns out they are adults of this newly-discovered micro species," he said.

Das published the paper with Alexander Haas of the Biozentrum Grindel und Zoologisches Museum of Hamburg, Germany.

The mini frogs were found on the edge of a road leading to the summit of the Gunung Serapi mountain in the Kubah National Park in the Malaysian state of Sarawak.

The scientists said they tracked the frogs by their call, a series of "harsh rasping notes" that started at sundown.

They then made the frogs jump onto a piece of white cloth to study them.

The find was part of a global search being undertaken by Conservation International and International Union for Conservation of Nature's Amphibian Specialist Group to "rediscover" 100 species of lost amphibians (

(Reporting by David Chance; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

© Thomson Reuters 2010 All rights reserved

Link to news on Reuters

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Bronx Zoo ships 100 rare Kihansi spray toads to Tanzania to help create a new colony

Wednesday, August 18th 2010, 4:00 AM
The Kihansi spray toad has vanished from it's native habitat in Tanzania.
Maher, WCS/AP
The Kihansi spray toad has vanished from it's native habitat in Tanzania.
The cargo wasn't just precious - it was almost extinct.
An official from the Wildlife Conservation Society's Bronx Zoo flew to Tanzania last week with some seriously exotic carry-on luggage: 100 rare, tiny toads.
The Kihansi spray toad has vanished from its native habitat, and scientists hope to create a new colony by importing some from U.S. zoos.
"It's an amazing feeling," said Jim Breheny, director of the Bronx Zoo.
Last Tuesday, their handler, Alyssa Borek, packed 50 toads from the Bronx Zoo and 50 from the Toledo Zoo into plastic deli containers after swaddling them in paper towels soaked in purified water.
They were loaded into two cardboard boxes that Borek hauled onto a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines jet for the trip from Kennedy Airport to Africa.
She delivered them to a state-of-the-art propagation center. The goal is to eventually move them to the Kihansi Gorge, where the Tanzanian government has installed sprinklers in an attempt to recreate the toads' habitat.
The toads were discovered in 1998, living on less than five acres of a spray zone created by waterfalls in the gorge.
The 2000 opening of a hydroelectric dam, which provides a third of Tanzania's electricity, reduced the flow of the waterfalls, eliminating 90% of the mist.
The toads began to dry out and fall ill. Before they were declared extinct in the wild, scientists collected a colony of them and split them among a handful of zoos.
The Bronx Zoo pumps 1,500 gallons of mist a day to the toads, who are on display in the Reptile House. Food, water and air is carefully purified.
Breheny called it an "incredible commitment" that he and Toledo Zoo officials hope will pay off halfway across the world. "We both have worked very hard for a successful end to the story," he said.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

BIM ends with ‘breakfast with butterflies

MIAO, July 23: The Butterfly India Meet, Namdapha 2010 ended with a Conservation program named, “Breakfast with Butterflies” here at Miao yesterday. The five-day assembly of Natures mates finally comes to an end with around 183 findings of flying beauties and innumerous Moths apart from the sightings of some glittering beetles like Golden Tortoise Beetle.
Twenty numbers of selected school children from five schools around the Miao attended the program --“Breakfast with Butterflies,” a unique program on awareness with the theme ‘Lets Create a Flutter’. Experts took the children to nearby fields as rain God restricted the movement to distant areas, to give them some basic information about the beautiful creatures living around us. Some senior photographers provided opportunity to school children to try their tiny hands on their long zooms and describe the shooting techniques. Children had never imagined believing their luck when they got the chance to actually shooting with cameras which they were only watching in TV Channels. “This was an encouraging indicator for existence of many other species of the butterflies in the core area and beyond that when type of forests and profile of hill changes, if count touches a figure of 183 in the buffer area” explained Dr. Alfred, Former Director, Zoological Survey of India.  J. M. Garg who is an Indian icon in Wikipedia for his submission of more than 8000 pictures of different Nature categories was amazed to see the diversity of Arunachal Pradesh. “For sure I am taking another trip to this wonderland soon where ecology appears still intact while people from other part of the country struggling to breathe in fresh air in polluted environment” he added.  
While speaking on the occasion of ‘Lets Create a Flutter’ Mrs. J. Jugli, Chairperson, Changlang Zila Parishad expressed the need of carrying the conservation awareness to deep inside the villages with help of Anchal members. “More programs like this should be organized in future on regular intervals to educate the ignorant masses” she added. Lauding the spirit of participants and initiations of organizers of the meet, Mrs. Jugli said, ‘We were not aware of our rich biodiversity which have been highlighted’
“The event was held for the thirteenth time at the various locations of India and this is the second time we have got the opportunity to explore Arunachal Pradesh in North East” explained Butterfly India Group Moderator Vijay Barve in his introductory speech. He thanked  Arif Siddiqui, program coordinator whose butterflies’ pictures draw the attention of Nature Enthusiast towards the Arunachal Pradesh worldwide.  “Still people are desperate to come to Arunachal Pradesh for its wonderful wildlife but we could not entertain many due to limitations in accommodation” he added.
Colonel Sandeep Chaudhury of 18 Assam Rifles, Jairampur speaking to the gathering urged for controlling hunting of animals and birds in the area. “Poachers should be suing for the killing animals in the similar manner as the murderer are treated in civil societies” he added. S.J. Jongsam Namdapha national park filed director, cherished the efforts of participants and regret for the bad weather since last three month which restricted the movement of visiting experts to the inner areas of Park. He also assured to provide all support and help to any research scholars and teams coming for studies in the park in future also.  
“Despite belonging to a completely different profession, Col Choudhury has shown his appreciation for nature and affection for the people of this area,” said Nimbong Sena. Assam Rifle was one of the main supporters in organizing the Butterfly India Meet. All the participants were extremely happy and expressed their gratitude to the peoples of Arunachal Pradesh for the hospitality they received here. “This will be an inerasable moment of our life and we are much thankful to organizing NGO NSEWC and SEACOW” said Siddarth Edake of Madhya Pradesh.
The event was witnessed by officials of various departments including department of Forest and Environment, GeoEnpro, Assam Rifles,  local administration and local leaders.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Nature lovers claim Ventnor as 'Butterfly town'

Glanville Fritillary
The Glanville Fritillary is one of Britain's rarest butterflies
A wildlife enthusiast wants Ventnor to be recognised as a 'Butterfly Town'.
The campaign is the idea of butterfly enthusiast Rob Wilson who thinks the Isle of Wight town could be the first such place in the country.
The island is one of the few places in the UK that the very rare Glanville Fritillary butterfly can be found.
It is hoped that the Butterfly Town project will raise awareness of the unique fauna of the area.
Butterfly walks
The plan is to create two separate walks, using existing public rights of way, which take in the best butterfly habitats. The routes could total six miles across Ventnor, Bonchurch and St Boniface Down.
Rob Wilson, co-ordinator of the local butterfly conservation group, said: "It may very well be the first time it's ever been tried. Because we have this special micro-climate here in Ventnor we get unusual things turning up."
Mr Wilson put his proposal to the local town council this month.
He said: "It was very well received. I was pleasantly surprised."
In addition to literature and signage to support the walks, he is also thinking about using his musical skills to compose a song to accompany the project.
isle of Wight coast
The heat and sandy soil make the Isle of Wight a butterfly haven
A number of surveys will be completed before the autumn, and then the scope and cost of the project will be calculated. The trail could be launched as early as April 2011.
'Front-line trench'
Matthew Oates is an advisor on nature conservation for the National Trust which manages some of the key areas of butterfly habitat on that part of the Island.
He said: "The National Trust downland above the town is immensely rich and important for butterflies. It's of top national importance."
"Because of its southerly location, Ventnor is a major immigration route for wildlife. It's the front-line trench of where things happen."
Mr Oates added that he supports the proposal. He said: "If we bring these creatures up as things that are valued deeply in our culture, then that sets the pathway for all the action to follow".
He even had his own suggestion for the region.
He explained: "One of the things that Ventnor Town Council could do is plant more butterfly friendly plants."
He believes that flowers rich in nectar would not only support rare butterflies, but other insects in the area.
Glanville Fritillary
Arguably the most famous butterfly to be found near Ventnor is the Glanville Fritillary.
Glanville Fritillary
The Glanville Fritillary is attracted by large-leafed ringwort plantain
It is named after Eleanor Glanville, who helped to reveal the science and natural history of Britain's butterflies more than 300 years ago.
It is one of Britain's rarest butterflies. The butterfly, and its caterpillar, love the heat which reflects off the bare, sandy soil of the coast and the large-leafed ringwort plantain.
The species of butterflies known as fritillaries are so-called because of the chequer-board pattern on their wing.
Eleanor Glanville studied butterflies in the 17th Century, when they were thought to symbolise the spirits of the dead.
It was a time when women were not 'allowed' to dabble in science and she was accused of witchcraft. Finally she was declared insane on the grounds that only a lunatic would obsess about butterflies in the way she did.


Butterflies of Peninsular India
Common Butterflies of India (Nature Guides)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New British moth found in Hembury Woods is world first

By Matt Walker
Editor, Earth News

Micro moth courtesy of Erik j Vannieukerken of the Netherlands 
Centre for Biodiversity Naturalis
The type specimen

A moth new to science and found nowhere else in the world has been formally recognised as living in the UK.
The 3mm-long micro moth, which lives in Hembury Woods in Devon, was recognised as a new species this year.
This week, the biologist who discovered it is presenting the Natural History Museum of London with one of the first known specimens.
The receipt of this "type" specimen will mark the official acceptance of the moth's existence in the country.
The tiny micro moth, which has a wingspan of just 6mm, was first spotted in 2004.
Hembury Woods, Devon UK
Hembury Woods: home to the moth
At that time, amateur naturalist Bob Heckford sighted the unusual bright green caterpillars of this tiny leaf-mining moth on oak saplings within Hembury Woods, a site managed by the National Trust.
In January this year, the moth was officially recognised in the journal Zookeys as a new species, named Ectoedemia heckfordi after its discoverer.
It is not known to live outside of the UK.
Official presentation
Now Mr Heckford is presenting the Natural History Museum with the original specimen.
That is important, because it marks the official acknowledgement by the scientific world of the specimen as the "type" for that species, against which any future finds will be compared and determined.

"We hear so much about the losses to the natural world, and less about the gains; which makes this find, however small, so important," says Matthew Oates, an adviser on nature conservation at the National Trust.
"Amateur naturalists have a wonderful window on the wildlife world and nature continues to amaze us and throw up surprises even in the UK."
There are well over 2,000 species of micro moth in the UK.
They come in various shapes and sizes, but many are extremely pretty, though only appreciated under magnification.
A few are actually larger than some larger, so-called macro moths.
Dark mines made by the caterpillar of the species
Dark mines made by the caterpillar of the species
Their biology varies.
Most are plant feeders, with larvae often mining galleries in leaves, between the leaf surfaces.
A few mine stems.
Some, though, breed in fungi and a few have aquatic larvae.
Most are nocturnal but quite a few also fly by day.
Caterpillars of the new species are found mostly on oak saplings and low growth of oak in the shade.
The mines they make are quite dark and the caterpillars are bright green which is quite unusual for micro moths.
The adults lay their eggs on the underside of the leaf.


Moths (Fauna of India ; Moths)
Life-histories of Indian insects: Microlepidoptera (Memoirs of the Department of Agriculture in India : Entomological series)
The Fauna Of British India Including Ceylon And Burma..Moths...Three Volume Set..1892,1894, and 1895
The silkworm moths of India;: Or, Indian Saturnidae: a family of bombycia moths, with antennae of males distichously pectinate and body wooly. Six plates, ... work on the silkworm moths of India

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Cobra hood mechanism revealed by electrode study

King cobra (SPL)
The cobra is an example of "evolutionary remodelling"
Scientists have uncovered the mechanism behind the menacing "hood flare" which cobras use as a defensive display.
By measuring the electrical activity from the snakes' muscles, they found the precise group of muscles used by cobras to raise their hoods.
The researchers say that the cobra's hood evolved as its ribs were "co-opted" to be used in this visual display.
They report their findings in the Journal of Experimental Biology
Kenneth Kardong, professor of zoology from Washington State University in the US, was one of the authors of the study.
He explained that the cobra's hood was "an intriguing problem in evolutionary biology".
Snake ribs
"In the cobra, both the [rib bones] and the muscles that work them are deployed to erect this visual display," he explained to BBC News.
"We wanted to examine the way in which the ribs were 'freed up' to rotate into this presentation position, and to understand how the muscles were able to accomplish that and return them to a relaxed position."
To do this, the researchers took measurements of electrical activity from all of the muscles in the cobra's neck.
Cobra skeleton
The cobra's skeleton reveals how its ribs have been "co-opted" for display
They had to embark on some very tricky surgery to implant tiny electrodes into the snake's neck muscles, with the animal very carefully anaesthetised.
Bruce Young from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, who also took part in the study, said that doing the surgery was "the riskiest part of the study".
"You have to work around the head but the snakes are prone to waking, which can be disconcerting," he explained.
Once the electrodes were in place, the scientists waited for the snake to recover before filming and recording the muscle activity as the animal flared its neck.
They found that just eight muscles were involved in "hooding" and that they were muscles that were also present in non-hooding snakes.
"This is an example of evolution's remodelling [as] derived species emerge," said Dr Kardong. "There's been a change in the nervous system's control over these muscles."
Professor Young explained that cobras were not the only snakes to hood. "Several groups of unrelated snakes show almost identical defensive behaviour," he said. He now hopes to study how these other snakes raise their hoods.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Western Ghats- Task force wants 14 crores for Bamboo plantations

By Team Mangalorean

Bangalore, April 9, 2010: Chairman of the Western Ghats Task Force Ananth Hegde Ashisar has stated that the that the task force has found 13 places which can be the ideal place for cultivating medicinal and aromatic plants in the Western Ghats. The Task force also wants to take up extensive plantation of different types of Bamboos in the Western ghats for which it has sought a financial help of Rs. 14 crores from the government.

Addressing a press conference on Thursday day Mr. Ashisar outlined the plan and said Devinmane Ghatta in the coastal region, Sandur in Bellary district, Kollur in Udupi district, Charmadi Ghats in Dakshina Kannada and Chikmagalur districts, Talakaveri, in Kodagu, Biligiri Rangana Betta in Mysore, Savana Durga and Devarayana Durga in Belgaum district, need conservation.

Mr Ashisar said the task force has plans for another ten spots for development of medicinal plants, they will be conserved under the biodiversity act. The other places includes Kappath Gudda in Gadag district, Karakanhalli of Bidar district and Siddhara Betta in Tumkur district, these places will be declared as medicinal plant conservation zones and no human activity will be allowed except for cultivation of the medicinal plants Mr. Ashisar told.

He said two areas in Ambaragudda of Kodachadri hill ranges in Kollur and Hogarekanugiri area in Chickmaglur district have already been declared as bio-diversity heritage spots in February. Basur Amrutha Mahal Kaval area in Chickmaglur district was being declared a community conservation reserve.

Mr. Ashisar said the task force has submitted to the government a plan of action that entails a financial help of Rs. 14 crores for developing Bamboo plantations in the forests. He said Bamboos are known for their water retention qualities and Western Ghats has ample opportunities for developing such plantations. The plan of Bamboo cultivation was mooted at an international workshop organized by the Western Ghats Task Force in Sirsi sometime back.

Mr Ashisar said the Task Force will discuss other environmental issues of the state in Hubli on 19th April. The discussion will focus on sustainable fishery in coastal area The Karnataka Sea Fisheries Act should be amended to restrain fishermen from catching such fishes and turtle and dolphin. The nets should be manufactured accordingly.

He said, entire coastal region should be declared as a fishery diversity zone. Another workshop organised by his organisation had urged the Government to drop bamboo from the list of forest produce as a first step to promote bamboo cultivation.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Poor missing out on moringa seeds' water-purifying powers

Carol Campbell

24 March 2010 | EN


Moringa oleifera seeds can purify water

EcoPort Picture Databank

[OUDTSHOORN] Seeds from a tree that grows widely across the developing world could play a key role in water purification — but there is lack of awareness about this application despite a long indigenous history, say researchers.

The Moringa tree — Moringa oleifera — is native to North India but is also found in Indonesia, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa, and is used in many communities mostly for food and folk medicine.

But adding crushed Moringa seeds to water can cut the time taken for bacteria and solids to settle from a full day to just one hour, and has potential for preventing diarrhoea, according to Michael Lea of Clearinghouse, a Canadian organisation that investigates low-cost water purification technologies.

Lea has published a step-by-step procedure online that shows how the seeds can be crushed to produce a natural flocculant — a substance that aggregates suspended particles.

He hopes that making the technique freely available in this way will facilitate dissemination to those who need it the most — the role of the seeds in purification has been known for centuries but use has been limited.

Writing in Current Protocols in Microbiology, he said that the seeds can provide a low-cost, accessible purification method for poor communities where diarrhoea caused by water-borne bacteria is the biggest killer of children aged five and under.

Lea noted that the seeds "should not be regarded as a panacea for reducing the high incidence of waterborne diseases" — an additional disinfection process is recommended — but can make a valuable contribution to disease reduction.

"Parts of the world have mobile phone and Internet services but no food and potable water," Lea told SciDev.Net. "These trees are indigenous so the solution is in people's backyards. What is required now is knowledge dissemination.

"M. oleifera is the only indigenous treatment technology that addresses poverty and nutrition while also providing potable water."

Lea said that superstition has sometimes limited its use. For instance, in one area of Africa, more than three Moringa trees in a backyard is seen as a source of misfortune that brings poverty and death.

Vallantino Emongor, a M. oleifera expert at the University of Botswana, said: "What is exciting is that this tree is drought resistant and is accessible throughout Africa and India. Communities need to learn what the seeds can do."

Some countries, including Burkina Faso, Benin, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, have formed associations to facilitate this.

The Clearinghouse research was published last month (18 February).

Link to full paper in Current Protocols in Microbiology


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Ayurveda out of balance: 93 percent of medicinal plants threatened with extinction

Traditional Ayurvedic medicine could face an uncertain future as 93 percent of the wild plants used in the practice are threatened with extinction due to overexploitation, theTimes of India reports.
The Botanical Survey of India recently prioritized 359 wild medicinal plant species and conducted an assessment throughout the country to determine their health. The news wasn't good. Of the 359 species, 335 were categorized as critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable or near-threatened.

Dhanvantari, the Hindu god of Ayurveda

The survey used criteria and categories established by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) for its Red List of Threatened Species.
According to India's Ministry of Environment and Forests, 95 percent of plants used in Ayurvedic medicine are collected from the wild, and about two-thirds of that harvest uses "destructive means" that can damage or kill the plants.
To help keep these plant species from going extinct, the Indian government in 2008 initiated a program (pdf) to relocate species from the wild, study how to domesticate them, and promote sustainable harvest protocols. This survey is the latest step in that program.
Aside from its historical and cultural significance, Ayurvedic medicines could bring profits to India's coffers. The Department of Ayurveda, Yoga & Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy (AYUSH) is currently exploring export opportunities for Ayurvedic medicine through Indian Medicines Pharmaceutical Corporation Limited, a company owned by the Indian government. Already, Ayurvedic treatments, vacations and consultants are popular among some alternative health consumers in the U.S.
Of course, other traditional Asian medicines have been attacked for their use of parts from endangered animals, such as tiger bones and rhino horns, but Ayurveda has so far avoided such criticisms.

Image: Dhanvantari, the Hindu god of Ayurveda, via Wikipedia