Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Countries adopt pledge to protect elephants

NEW DELHI (AP) — Representatives of eight countries with large wild elephant populations pledged Tuesday to eradicate poaching of the animals and smuggling of ivory to ensure their survival for future generations.
The environment ministers and officials from Asia and Africa also urged all 50 nations with significant numbers of elephants to meet in two years to adopt a shared vision for promoting their conservation and welfare.
Delegates at Tuesday's "Elephant 8 Ministerial Meet" underscored threats to elephant habitats from mining, deforestation and land development.
Although the threat to elephants is not as dramatic as that facing tigers, the steady decline of their population is worrying, Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said.
"Unlike the tiger, which faces a crisis of extinction, the elephant in India faces a crisis of attrition," he said.
In less than a century, the number of Asian elephants has fallen by 50 percent.
According to the Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature, 38,500 to 52,500 wild elephants survive in Asia and another 15,000 in captivity.
The larger African elephant, although more numerous, is also listed as an endangered species, subject to threats from poachers, mining and deforestation. There are around 470,000 to 690,000 African elephants.
Environment ministers or officials from Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, Botswana, Congo, Kenya and Tanzania attended the meeting in New Delhi.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The snake catcher of Digboi - Zoology lecturer masters dangerous yet thrilling skill

Dibrugarh, May 20: A lecturer of zoology at Digboi College in Upper Assam’s Tinsukia district is in great demand these days, not for private tuition, but for his mastery over a special yet dangerous skill — catching snakes with his bare hands.
Rajib Rudra Tariang, 37, has become so popular that he has even been invited by the Digboi forest division to train its personnel on the art of catching snakes and then releasing them in the wild.
He had accidentally discovered his skill in 2005, when he came upon some boys trying to kill a snake in Segunbari area in Margherita while he was on his way back from Margherita College, where he used to teach earlier.
“The boys were about to kill the snake when I managed to catch and rescue it. It was a non-poisonous 1.5-feet khukri snake. I immediately emptied my water bottle and put the snake inside it, and brought it to the college lab. Next day, after some study, the snake was released. The incident took place in 2005,” he said.
Tariang, who joined Digboi College in 2008, was a naturalist since his childhood. In his early years, when many boys of his age loved to chase or kill snakes, he found such scenes painful.
Tariang’s area of research is butterfly diversity in and around Jokai reserve forest in Dibrugarh district, which he is carrying out under the guidance of Deepsikha Bora of the department of life science, Dibrugarh University.
“Whenever I go to Jokai for research-related work or to any other forest area, I come across a lot of snakes. These snakes are very important for maintaining the ecological balance of our world. Many people do not realise that most snakes are non-poisonous. We kill them just out of false fear and panic,” the lecturer said.
Tariang, who can now catch any kind of snake and of any length, said it is all about self-confidence, which is the most important criteria for catching and handling snakes. “Apart from my classroom lectures, over the years I have always tried to teach students about snakes and their importance. Many enthusiastic students come forward to learn the trick and it gives me great pleasure to teach them,” he said.
He has also managed to create a small team for himself, which includes Gauri Buragohain, his colleague from the department of English of Digboi College. The team rushes to any nearby locality whenever a snake is spotted there.
“Recently, I got a call from the divisional forest officer of Digboi division, P. Siva Kumar, requesting me to teach him as well as his forest staff the trick to catch snakes. It was a very good experience as the staff learned the trick to handle snakes,” he said.
He, however, still regrets the fact that he had to lose one of his closest aides, Mithun Chakravarty, of Margherita who succumbed to snakebite while attempting to catch a poisonous snake almost a year ago.
“This is why I have said that self-confidence is the main criteria while handling snakes,” he said.
Tariang also advocated that strict measures be initiated against those who illegally captured and killed snakes.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Butterflies, moths get barcode treatment

Canadian researchers are 'barcoding' Australia's moths and butterflies as part of a project to comprehensively map the planet's biodiversity.
The Canadian team proposed the new system of species identification and discovery in 2003. The method uses a very short genetic sequence from a standard part of the genome, and is similar to the way a supermarket scanner distinguishes products using the black stripes of the Universal Product Code.
The work at ANIC, in collaboration with the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA), is contributing to the International Barcode of Life (IBoL) project. The IBoL reference library currently contains records for more than 100,000 species and their aim is to have 500,000 species barcoded by 2015.
ANIC is the first national collection to integrate the new barcoding approach for a major group of insects.
The collection's Director, Dr John LaSalle, says DNA barcoding is like 'genetic fingerprinting'.
"What's different about this blitz is that we said let's take a real priority look at Australian moths and butterflies," says LaSalle.

Rapid decision making tool

For the DNA analysis, one leg is taken off each specimen and ground up. The researchers then extract the DNA to record each specimen's unique genetic code. The results, together with a photo and other details, are added to the ALA and ANIC databases.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

World’s largest fossilized spider

Yes, Paul Selden says, it’s the biggest spider fossil on record, one whose leg span stretches to be almost 6 inches.
But that’s not really the most exciting part of the Nephila jurassica spider, said the distinguished professor from Kansas University who is an expert in fossilized spiders.

A fossilized Nephila jurassica, found in the Inner Mongolia region of China. Its leg span is nearly six inches long. Paul Selden, a Kansas University distinguished professor, described the find in the journal Biology Letters.
A fossilized Nephila jurassica, found in the Inner Mongolia region of China. Its leg span is nearly six inches long. Paul Selden, a Kansas University distinguished professor, described the find in the journal Biology Letters.

Selden and his team, whose research was published in Biology Letters, linked the spider that walked around 165 million years ago to several similar spiders that still roam the earth.

The find — likely because of its size — attracted quite a bit of national and international press coverage.
“The size is not that big a thing,” Selden said, noting that several spiders that big — and even bigger — are still around. “We can place it right into a modern genus with these modern orb-weavers.”
These kinds of finds can take awhile before scientists understand what they’re looking at, Selden said. This particular spider fossil came to him in 2005 from a friend who had collected some specimens in the Inner Mongolia region of China. That usually entails purchasing them from farmers in the region, Selden said.

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