Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mining and timber lobbies behind opposition to heritage tag?

Praveen Bhargav

The Karnataka government’s stand opposing the proposal to include scientifically identified areas in the Western Ghats on the Unesco World Heritage List is shockingly short sighted.
Several ministers and elected representatives have presented bizarre arguments as to why they oppose the proposal. While one BJP MLA from Kodagu claimed that the Unesco proposal would hamper the availability of stone for road construction, another minister is on record that his plan to have a base at Kudremukh for the state commando force would be affected.

While such explanations ring hollow and expose the lack of scientific temper and vision, it is important for the people to know the real truth and the underlying reasons leading up to this unfortunate decision.

The World Heritage Convention (WHC) is an international treaty to which India is a signatory. It recognises the fundamental need to preserve the balance between people and nature. The decision to scientifically identify Natural Heritage Sites was initiated by the ministry of environment in 2002. The results of the transparent identification process were publicly discussed during 2004. The Government at the Centre during that period was headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who showed great statesmanship in initiating the process.  So why is the state government vehemently opposing their own iconic leader’s visionary decision?

In December 2008 some local people led by elected representatives and supported by senior district officers, bulldozed portions of the Pushpagiri sanctuary in the Western Ghats in gross violation of the Supreme Court’s orders. The SC directed the central empowered committee to investigate the serious charges and proceedings are presently at a crucial stage. The Karnataka high court, in 2009, blocked a determined attempt to cut several thousand trees in pristine forest enclosures in the Western Ghats including one allegedly owned by a powerful minister in the present cabinet.

These legal interventions have huge implications for political leaders. They greatly fear that the Unesco proposal will be another weapon in the hands of conservationists to block such activities.

 A virulent misinformation campaign was launched against the Unesco proposal in which a few corrupt forest officials and local outfits which are essentially fronts for the timber lobby were involved.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Remembering Neelakantan

A one day bird watching trip to Arippa -one of Neelakantan’s favourite spots- and a 3 day photo exhibition in the Museum Auditorium to be organised in Neelakantan’s memory| By Yentha

Trivandrum: Warblers and Waders, the City based Bird watchers and Nature lovers forum organised a one day bird watching trip to Arippa Ammayambalam Pacha (Kulathupuzha) and Kattilappara forests (Shendurney Wildlife Sanctuary) in connection with Prof. K K Neelakantan’s Commemoration day.

Bird watching at Arippa

Popularly known as ‘Induchoodan’, Neelakantan was a noted ornithologist, environmentalist and literary personality. His book "Keralathile Pakshikal" (Birds of Kerala) with illustrations of 261 birds found in Kerala, is considered a unique work.

The Peacock Sanctuary at Choolannur in Palakkad district is named after him. Induchoodan was the president of Prakriti Samrakshna Samithi and led the Silent Valley Agitation during the year 1979 and pursued the study of birds until his death at 69.

Warblers and Waders, had its genesis in 1990 under the guidance of K K Neelakantan. Ever since his demise in 1992, the organisation has been observing June 14th of every year as ‘Induchoodan Commemoration Day’.

“Arippa was one among Neelakantan’s favourite bird watching spots. Some of the significant bird sightings in today’s trip were Changeable Hawk Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Green Imperial Pigeon, Racket-tailed Drongo and Malabar Grey Hornbill an endemic bird to Western Ghats,”says C Susanth, Program Coordinator.

Birdwatching group at Kattilappara shendurney WLS 

Malabar Parakeet and  Bedome’s Keel back  snake, both endemic to Western Ghats and currently on the endangered list were also observed in the Arippa forest. Significant Butterfly sightings included Southern Birdwing (Largest Butterfly in India), Malabar Rose (threatened butterfly endemic to Western Ghats), Great Orange Tip and White Bar Bush Brown.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

What's that tree? Try Smithsonian's new app to see

By Brett Zongker
Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- If you've ever wondered what type of tree was nearby but didn't have a guide book, a new smartphone app allows users with no formal training to satisfy their curiosity and contribute to science at the same time.

Scientists have developed the first mobile app to identify plants by simply photographing a leaf. The free iPhone and iPad app, called Leafsnap, instantly searches a growing library of leaf images amassed by the Smithsonian Institution. In seconds, it returns a likely species name, high-resolution photographs and information on the tree's flowers, fruit, seeds and bark.

Users make the final identification and share their findings with the app's growing database to help map the population of trees one mobile phone at a time.

Leafsnap debuted in May, covering all the trees in New York's Central Park and Washington's Rock Creek Park. It has been downloaded more than 150,000 times in the first month, and its creators expect it to continue to grow as it expands to Android phones.

By this summer, it will include all the trees of the Northeast and eventually will cover all the trees of North America.

Smithsonian research botanist John Kress, who created the app with engineers from Columbia University and the University of Maryland, said it was originally conceived in 2003 as a high-tech aid for scientists to discover new species in unknown habitats. The project evolved, though, with the emergence of smartphones to become a new way for citizens to contribute to research. 

"This is going to be able to populate a database of every tree in the United States," Kress said. "I mean that's millions and millions and millions of trees, so that would be really neat."

It's also the first real chance for citizens to directly access some of the science based on the nearly 5 million specimens kept by the U.S. National Herbarium at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. The collection began in 1848 and is among the world's 10 largest plant collections.

Leafsnap cost about $2.5 million to develop, funded primarily by a grant from the National Science Foundation. It will cost another $1 million to expand it within the next 18 months to cover all the trees of the United States, involving about 800 species.

  • Engineers used facial recognition technology that could identify a leaf by its shape and features.

  • The image is uploaded to a server, and within seconds it returns a ranking of the most likely tree species a user has found, along with other characteristics to help confirm the tree's identity.

  • Users make the final identification.

  • Photo of leaf and tree identifications are automatically sent to Leafsnap's database with mapping information from the phone.

  • The iPad version includes a feature called "Nearby Species" to show all the trees that have been labeled by others near a user's location.

  • The app also includes games and could be used to build lessons or scavenger hunts for schools.  

  • Full Story on - San Jose Mercury News

    Saturday, June 18, 2011

    ‘Developed’ Garo hills draws eco tourists

    Shillong, June 13: The development of Garo hills in Meghalaya has emerged as a favourite destination for eco-tourism. 
    Diversity India, an environment protection group, organised the first Amphibian and Reptile India Level meet 2011 in South Garo Hills in collaboration with Samrakshan Trust, a local NGO, working on community-based conservation issues in Garo hills.

    The meet that began on June 6 was to specifically discover a variety of species of snakes and frogs. As many as 17 nature enthusiasts from different parts of the country participated in the meet and visited the forests of the Balpakram Baghmara landscape in South Garo Hills from June 6 to June 11. The purpose of the meet was to promote eco-tourism and showcase the rich biodiversity of the landscape.
    One of the participants, Abhishek Narayanan, said the trip had revealed the presence of around 10 rare species of snakes and frogs of which around three are endemic to the Garo hills region.

    He said this definitely was a boost to tourism and attract more niche tourists in the future. At the culmination of the meet, an educational session was organised in collaboration with Captain Williamson Memorial College, Baghmara.

    The vice-principal of the college, Tina M. Sangma, said it was a wonderful beginning. “Continuation of such programmes will encourage the students to come forward to participate in conservation and acquire an improved understanding of their surrounding eco-systems.”
    The team spent a few days in Siju and Gongrot eco camps of South Garo Hills initiated by the local community to promote eco-tourism.

    These camps which provide accommodation, local cuisine and guides for trekking and sighting wildlife are supported by Samrakshan Trust.

    Diversity India has scheduled a butterfly meet in October next. The landscape has so far been recognised for the high diversity of butterflies with existing records of 320 species. More than 100 nature enthusiasts have visited the landscape to view butterflies and other natural treasures since March this year.

    The spokesperson for Samrakshan Trust, Kamal Medhi, said it initiated eco tourism in Garo hills to involve local community to conserve the forests. “Eco tourism could be a meaningful econo-mic incentive programme to encourage locals for conservation for sustainable livelihoods.”

    The eco-tourism areas have been specific to Gongrot and Siju in South Garo Hills which is under tremendous pressure from coal mining.

    Full Story : The Telegraph

    Thursday, June 16, 2011

    Rare skink saved from extinction in Mauritius

    Orange-tailed skink (Image: Nik Cole) 
    Flat Island was thought to be the last refuge for these Critically Endangered lizards

    Scientists from the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust have brought 22 Critically Endangered orange-tailed skinks to the UK.
    The animals are thought to be extinct on their native Flat Island in Mauritius, because invasive shrews that prey on them are now established there.
    This rescue should enable the trust to start a captive breeding programme.
    "We ultimately hope to reintroduce the species to the island," said Durrell's head of field programmes, Andrew Terry.
    The orange-tailed skink was only discovered on Flat Island, which is the largest of the Mauritian islands, in 1995.
    "Before humans turned up in Maritius, the natural world there had a very strong reptile component; reptiles were really driving the ecosystems," Dr Terry told BBC Nature.
    Orange-tailed skink (Image: Nik Cole)  
    The team has brought 22 tiny skinks to Durrell headquarters in Jersey
    But human activity has modified this habitat. Many non-native predators, including rats and cats, are now abundant elsewhere in Mauritius. Flat Island was thought to be the last refuge for the tiny orange-tailed skink.
    Recent development work on the island, however, which was intended to bring in tourism, brought with it one particularly voracious predator: the Indian musk shrew. This rodent "stowed away" on boats that brought materials and people.
    "The secretive skinks were able to hide away from rats and cats, but the shrew is much smaller and was brought in at very high densities and hunts day and night," Dr Cole said.
    "Within a year of the discovery of the shrew, we were unable to find any skinks on Flat Island. Unfortunately, they've now gone."
    Since the skink was so threatened, Dr Cole and his team had already moved more than 400 of the animals into protected nature reserves on another nearby island. So they were able to capture 22 for transport to Durrell's headquarters in Jersey.

    Full Story

    BBC Nature News

    Tuesday, June 14, 2011

    Tree-frog biodiversity warning for Amazon

    Osteocephalus heyeri (c) Dan Moen  
    Amazonian tree-frogs are exceedingly well established
    Tree-frog hot spots in the Amazon have been established over tens of millions of years, say scientists.
    To explain why some areas have greater species richness, experts analysed the distribution of 360 tree-frog species.
    They found that the most diverse sites were established over 60 million years ago and more recently colonised areas had fewer unique species.
    Researchers suggest this is evidence that damaged rainforest could take millions of years to recover.


    Hypsiboas rosenbergi (c) John Wiens
    • The Amazonian region of Colombia has the highest tree-frog species richness on the planet
    • Globally, species can vary dramatically. The gladiator frog pictured has enlarged spiny "thumbs" for fighting
    • Tree-frogs can range in size from roughly palm sized to roughly thumbnail sized

    "The loss of species richness during our lifetimes may actually take tens of millions of to recover from” Dr John Wiens
    Scientists from Stony Brook University, New York, US, aimed to shed light on an ongoing debate with their study published in the journal Ecology Letters.
    "The question of why there are more species in the tropics has been a puzzle to biologists for more than 200 years, and a particularly challenging part of the problem is to explain why some sites in the rainforest can have more species than an entire continent," explained principal investigator Dr John Wiens.
    In the past, species richness had been attributed to climate and some scientists believed that the biodiversity of tropical rainforest was due to their hot wet conditions.

    Full Story

    BBC Nature News

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    Can the World Feed 10 Billion People?

    The world population will hit 10 billion by 2100. That's what the United Nations says in its latest estimate.
    Is this finally the "population bomb" that will end the world as we know it, as Paul Ehrlich wrongly predicted in 1968? Or can we really feed this many people—even with sustainable agriculture?
    Well, there are promising signs that we will be able to feed a growing world. Earlier this year, two French research organizations released Agrimonde, a report detailing two possible scenarios for feeding 9 billion over the next five decades. One model emphasized economic growth over the environment and required an estimated 80 percent growth in farm productivity. The other emphasized an agro-ecological system, requiring a 30 percent growth in agricultural productivity. What both models had in common: They used a global average of 3,000 calories per person per day.
    Three thousand calories is well below our current consumption in the United States (and other blue regions in the map below). In other words, we can feed the world if you stop eating so many steaks, snacks, and sodas.

    Full Story