Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Fluorescence Is Widespread in Fish, Study Finds

It was the green eel that did it. Scientists from the American Museum of Natural History had been exploring a reef off Little Cayman Island, investigating fluorescent coral and gathering photos for an exhibition.

In reviewing images taken during the team’s dives, the researchers spotted a glowing, apparently fluorescent, green eel.

So began four more expeditions to the Bahamas and the Solomon Islands with scuba divers and submersibles, leading to the discovery that biofluorescence is actually widespread in fish, present in at least 180 species and 16 orders.

The findings, reported in the journal PLoS One on Wednesday, have implications for the evolution and behavior of these fishes. They may also provide new chemicals for laboratory research, according to the authors, including John S. Sparks of the American Museum of Natural History and David Gruber of the museum and the City University of New York.

Bioluminescent organisms like fish and fireflies produce their own light. Biofluorescent fish and corals do something different, absorbing blue light, which is relatively high-energy, and transforming it into relatively lower green, orange and red light. Some organisms do both.

The proteins involved in fluorescence are prized by researchers, who adapt them to light up different biological processes. In 2008 the Nobel Prize was awarded to three scientists for the discovery in jellyfish, and adaptation for research, of what is usually called G.F.P., for green fluorescent protein.

The findings also have evolutionary significance, as the authors of the paper point out.

Most of the fish species they identified are camouflaged, so they are usually nearly invisible, at least to humans. But they need to find each other, including during mating. The researchers say they think that these species can probably see fluorescence easily.

Human divers can see it, but not very well unless they shine an intense blue light on the organisms, producing higher levels of fluorescence, as the divers did on the reef off Little Cayman.

The traveling exhibit they were working on at the time, “Creatures of Light: Nature’s Bioluminescence,” will open in May at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. It ended its run in New York at the American Museum of Natural History in 2013.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Fewer migratory birds visit Delhi

NEW DELHI: The cold may be making many of us uncomfortable, but currently, the capital is a warm stopover for thousands of stunning migratory birds. Biodiversity parks and wetlands are seeing a surge in the number of birds that began their journeys from Europe, Siberia, the Himalayas and other South Asian countries at the onset of winter.

However, in some areas there is a gradual decline in the number of species that visit every year. At Okhla Bird Sanctuary, about 38 species of winter migratory birds (a total of 5,545 birds as per Asian Waterbird Census) were seen last January, but this time only 22 species and a far lesser number of birds have been spotted till now.

Some experts feel this could a sign of climate change or fallout of too much disturbance of their habitat. "The condition of Okhla Bird Sanctuary is significantly bad. Firstly, because of the high tension wires passing through the park. There is just too much disturbance around the sanctuary," Anand Arya, a birder. He added that migratory bird species have declined in almost all parks

At Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary in Gurgaon also, a far lesser number of birds have been sighted this month. However, about 30 species of colorful migratory birds from the Himalayas and upper reaches have arrived at the Aravalli Biodiversity Park in Vasant Vihar. "These are insectivorous birds that migrate because of scarcity of food during winter in the Himalayas. Delhi is a stopover from them. They may migrate to warmer places," says scientist-in-charge at Aravali Biodiversity Park, M Shah Hussain. He added that a lot of closed canopy birds have also started arriving, like Thrushes.

At the Yamuna Biodiversity Park, about 4,000 birds of 18 to 20 species have arrived. "Initially, we were worried about the low number of birds this time but there was a gradual increase. At Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary, reports suggest the numbers are quite less," said Mohammad Faisal, a scientist at the Yamuna Biodiversity Park. A lot of Bar-headed geese that migrate from Siberia are being seen this time.

"There is too much fluctuation in the water-level at the Okhla Bird Sanctuary. For instance, in October, UP government completely withdrew water from the wetland. From the last week of November to the second week of December, the levels were either too high or too low. We are trying to asses how climate change is also affecting the number of birds the come," explained, T K Roy, ecologist.

At the National Zoological Park, painted storks have arrived in large numbers and given birth to chicks. Teals, wild ducks and pintail ducks have also arrived. Most of these species will return to their breeding grounds in different countries by March.

Full Story

Uttarakhand wildlife : No one cares a fig

Dehradun : Even as Doonites welcomed the New Year to the ringing of bells and strains of ‘auld lang syne’, the rich wildlife that throngs the forests in and around the Doon Valley, which could create a tourism circuit in its own right, was at the receiving end.

The Uttarakhand Forest Department was keen to cater to the needs of the babudom and their cronies even as they closed their eyes to the animals in the forests.

While poachers are known to have had a field day on New Year’s Day as the forest and wildlife staff employed to contain poaching, were busy catering to the needs of the large number of people that revel in the various guest houses located at the heart of lush forests in Uttarakhand, the crackling of bonfires and vehicles criss-crossing in the forest roads with search lights to have a glimpse of the wild life keep the animals at their nerves end.

According to sources in the state forest department, all the 55 forest rest houses in Uttarakhand were booked for the New Year’s eve.

The occupants were mostly rich and powerful, with most of them being close to the political and bureaucratic bigwigs in the state.

In fact, it was only at the behest of the power lobby that one could get a reservation for the guest houses in the forests, so great was the demand.

In fact, it was not only the forest rest houses that were full, but the large number of resorts that have come up in the peripheries of the national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and forest areas, most of them owned by influential people, including a minister in the Vijay Bahuguna government, were also packed to capacity to herald in the New Year.

There are reports that some stayed at the hotels in nearby areas, enjoyed themselves in the forests, courtesy some of the state and moved out in the wee hours.

Unfortunately while there is a hue and cry to save the flora and fauna with environmentalists and wildlife lovers doing their utmost for the cause, but as far as the Uttarakhand government and the state bureaucracy is concerned, the wildlife and forests are very low on the priority list.

At least this is the message that one gets taking into consideration the rampant encroachment and felling of forests and death of wild animals in the state.

Going by reports, 2013 was a rather mean year for the wildlife in the state. At the very beginning of the year three elephants were run over by a train in the Rajaji Park, despite the fact that the issue of wildlife being disturbed and the risk of animals being run over has been taken up time and again by the wildlife lovers with both the state forest department and the Railways.

The railway tracks run through a major portion of the Rajaji Park and wildlife lovers have appealed that the train speeds be kept down while the trains cross the Park area so that there is less disturbance to the wildlife, but apparently there are no takers for this as far as the people manning the trains are concerned. Interestingly the Rajaji Park has a large strength of pachyderms, who have been confined to the forest pocket because of encroachments in the forest pockets that served as migration corridors.

Besides the three pachyderms that were run over by the train, a female 20-year-old was electrocuted to death and two baby elephants also met an untimely death, taking the number of wild elephants killed in the state to over 20.

Then there have been the reported killing of about 12 tigers by poachers and about 80 panthers having been killed in various parts of the state. While some of the panthers were killed due to the man-animal conflict others fell to smugglers of skins and feline organ parts.

And this does not include the number of herbivores that are killed for the pot by the villagers living in the immediate periphery of forests and also poachers who are also known to sell the venison and flesh of the wild animals.

To curb the menace of poaching the head of the anti-poaching cell, S K Dutta claims that he has no wherewithal to tackle the problem.

“No staff has been posted under me and it is not possible for me to do all work inside the office and also in the filed single handedly. To add to the problem there is no provision for funds to have an information network that can give clues on the movement of poachers and others in the forest areas. Even a vehicle has not been provided for movement and under such trying circumstances it is not possible to have an effective system in place to contain the problem of poaching”, says Dutta.

One can understand the apathy of the state government to the wildlife problem of the state from the very fact that there is no minister either for the forest department or the wildlife department as such.

The forest and wildlife department are under the chief minister, who has a number of other important portfolios and as such can hardly find time to cater to the needs of the departments.

However, the state wildlife department claims that it understands the importance of having surveillance during the New Years and certain measures have been adopted to ensure that the poachers do not have a field day.
They claimed that despite the shortage of staff surveillance is being kept at the farm houses and resorts and hotels at the peripheries of the Parks, wildlife sanctuaries and forest resorts to ensure that there is no wanton killing of wild animals.

They said that all leaves of the forest and wildlife guards had been cancelled and they have been put on high alert and told to intensify patrolling in the forests specially during the nights during this period.
The staff at the forest rest houses have also been told to ensure that there is no movement of the guests from the guest houses after dark and the bon fires in the open lawns are a low key affair and loud music is not played as both can disturb the wildlife.

“We have made it clear to the staff that they will be held accountable for any poaching that takes place during the festive season, specially Christmas and New Year and if any poaching or killings of animal does take place it will go against them for future promotion. If there is utter negligence because of which the poaching takes place, departmental action will also be taken against them”, they claimed.

Department sources said that while the rest houses had been given to the guests for the festive season but they had been specifically told that they will not be allowed to use search lights or torches with a high beam and loud music would not be allowed under any circumstances.

Vehicles will be banned in the forests and even the guests will not be allowed to move in the forest area after sunset. Photostat copies of passports of foreign guests have been kept to ensure that there is no violation of rules by them, they maintained.

Meanwhile wildlife lovers alleged that the number of rules had been made on paper and like every year there will be violation this year also.

“The lowly paid forest guard or wild life guard has no say against the high and mighty staying at the rest houses. It happens every year, despite all the safeguards put in place because the revelers are out to have their fun. The forest guest houses should only be given to people after verification and ensuring that they will take care of the forests and the wildlife”, they pointed out.

- Jagdish Bhatt

Full story

Dog virus killing tigers, red pandas and lions

BAREILLY: Endangered tigers, red pandas and lions in the country are succumbing to infection caused by canine distemper virus (CDV), a disease common in domestic dogs.

The scientists at Indian Veterinary Research Institute (IVRI) in Bareilly found the presence of CDV in the blood samples of dead animals.

"Since last one year we have found many blood samples of dead tigers, red pandas and lions, who were positive for CDV. The disease has been found in Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, Patna Zoo and many areas of West Bengal and Darjeeling," said AK Sharma, principal scientist and in charge of Centre for Wildlife, IVRI.
CDV affects different systems of the body including nervous and respiratory system in these animals. It breaks down the immunity system and causes various secondary bacterial infections which leads to their death.

"As this disease damage the brain, it badly affect their decision making power. Due to this, the animals go beyond their natural habitat and enter human settlements. It leaves them an easy prey for poachers," Sharma said.

The source of CDV among tigers, lions and red pandas is the direct contact like licking. Even these animals are eating dogs infected with the virus. The disease is also spreading through infected material such as drinking water from same source. Sharma said, "If all the dogs are vaccinated in the buffer zone of forest, it could stop the spread of disease."

Researchers believe that many more species could have been exposed to this virus in the country. "We can say about the status of disease only after we collect blood samples of different species of animals from various areas of India," said Gaya Prasad, assistant director general, animal health, Indian Council of Agriculture Research and acting director, IVRI.

Full Story

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Proposed DRDO Missile Test Range project falls under Krishna Wildlife Sanctuary

Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) Joseph says the DRDO is required to take permission from the A.P. State Wildlife Board for using the sanctuary area

Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO) proposed ‘Missile Test Range Facility Project’ is under the Krishna Wildlife Sanctuary near Gullalamoda of Nagayalanka mandal in Krishna district.

Chief Wildlife Warden and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) A.V. Joseph on Friday told The Hindu that the DRDO was required to take permission from the A.P. State Wildlife Board for using the sanctuary area . Mr. Joseph and his team were accompanied by the official team representing the DRDO and inspected the location of the proposed site for the Missile Test Range Facility.

“It is found that the test range of the project is inside the sanctuary. Thus, the DRDO has to follow the guidelines, meant for conservation of the Wildlife Sanctuary,” added Mr. Joseph.

Apart from the test range, much of the around 8 kilometre proposed road connecting the Technical Range to the Test Range, with in the sanctuary, is another concern raised by the AP Forest Department authorities.

The AP Forest Department team, which also inspected the entire proposed site in Nagayalanka and mangrove forest cover, said that it would give its opinion on the project in the coming days. The DRDO team members, who explained their proposal in detail , also studied the impact on the mangrove forest cover.

Full Story