Friday, March 5, 2010

Abrupt end to king cobra research

Subhash Chandra N S, Bangalore, Feb 18, DH News Service:

A documentary film showing a king cobra devouring its female partner on one of the private television channels has turned out to be a bane for the world’s unique radio telemetric project initiated by well known herpetologist Romulus Whitaker to track the movement of the reptile.


The State Forest Department has decided to stop funding the project citing this as a reason.

What would have been a boost for the wildlife conservation in the Western Ghats, will end abruptly. The State Forest Department, in its letter to the expert dated January 4, 2010 has stalled the project citing the telecast in a private channel.

The letter refers to the channel which showed that a female cobra with an embedded chip is killed by a male cobra at the time of mating and says, “In view of this it is decided not to continue the permission beyond its expiry dated March 2010.” The letter also suggests that the research at the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station (ARRS) at Suralihalla in Shimoga district should conclude by March 2010.

The research, which began in March 2008, was aimed at understanding the natural history of king cobra. The first ever such project in the world involved micro-chipping the largest venomous snake in the world to study its home range, distance travelled and other aspects so that they would arrive at the conservation strategy for the rare species. The snake is losing its habitat due to several reasons. With already five snakes micro-chipped, the team of five researchers headed by Romulus Whitaker had imported several expensive devices including chips and transmitters, and more than Rs 10 lakh had been spent on the research every year.

Certain results
“After two years, we have arrived at certain results. But they will be complete only after studying more number of cobras. We first embedded chips into five cobras of which one has been devoured and two have been lost. Two are being studied. We need to study their movement, population and other aspects if only granted more time,” informs one of the researchers here.

Expressing surprise over the Forest Department’s directions, he said, “These species naturally eat their own species. They are called as ophio phagus hannah which means snake-eating snakes,” he said.

B K Singh, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden when contacted confirmed about stopping the project.

Story

4 comments:

  1. Here is an update on the issue.
    -------------------------------
    From: Agumbe Rainforest Research Station

    Hello ,

    There have been several queries and clarifications requested by members of this group since the news appeared on Deccan Herald (http://www.deccanherald.com/content/53547/abrupt-end-king-cobra-research.html). We appreciate your concern. The news is indeed true. We typically renew our permits every year for the project but this year the forest department sent a letter asking us to wind up KCTP (King Cobra Telemetry Project).The reason stated is they believe that the female king cobra was killed by the male because the female was implanted with a radio transmitter (referred as 'chip').

    We have submitted a comprehensive report citing other incidents of cannibalistic behavior of king cobras both in captivity and in wild from across the world to indicate that such behavior is a natural phenomenon. The forest department is currently reviewing the same and we are hopeful that the permit would be restored.

    We have had good collaboration with the forest department and truly feel that their support and co- operation has helped a good deal in this project so far. We hope this issue will be settled amicably and we continue to gain deeper insights into the life of the king cobra.


    Regards,
    Sharmila
    Administration Officer
    Agumbe Rainforest Research Station.

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  2. Hi Sharmila,

    This is appalling news indeed! I appreciate the research having attended Gowri's presentation in the GIS Seminar in Mumbai in December. I hope the forest department would reconsider and grant permits for the lifetime of the project and we learn more about such beautiful creatures - the more we know the more we can help conserve them.

    All the best!
    ~ Jai Sonwalkar

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  4. So it seems the project is still going on then? I have a friend from the UK that is there now and he didn't mention that it had been halted. We'll be sharing images and information at Thailand Snakes as soon as we've written everything up. Thanks for the update.

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