Press on Environment and Wildlife
33 vultures, 10 kites die in Sikkim, Bengal (March Week 1 (2006)) The Hindu reported the death of vultures and kites in Sikkim and Bengal. At a time when there is a nationwide alert on avian flu and stepped up vigil, reports of death of vultures and kites in Sikkim and north Bengal over the last few days have caused concern.
However, local experts say it is highly unlikely that the deaths could be attributed to bird flu.
Thirty-three vultures have died within a month at altitudes ranging between 10,000 ft and 20,000 ft in the Yambung Valley of the West Sikkim district. Ten kites were found dead in the plains near Siliguri in the adjoining north Bengal on Thursday.
Samples of the dead vultures and kites have been sent to the High Risk Disease Investigation Centre in Bhopal.
The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), which spearheads a campaign for the conservation of vultures, has also been informed, said Usha Lachungpa, senior research officer in the Sikkim Wildlife Department. "Never before has there been reports of such a large number of vultures dying in the State," she told The Hindu from Gangtok.
"It is more likely that they [deaths] were caused by retaliatory poisoning as three dog carcasses were found in the vicinity," she added.
Samples were initially tested at the Regional Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in Kolkata, S. K. Dasgupta, Director, Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Services, West Bengal, said.
"Preliminary tests conducted on the dead birds reveal no symptom of bird flu," Lakmi Narayan Bandhopadhyay, Deputy Director, Animal Resources Department, added from Siliguri.The vulture population is fast dwindling and the reports from Sikkim "are an added cause for alarm.
Nearly 97 per cent of vultures have died over the past decade according to surveys conducted by experts — the rate of decline in population being the fastest for any living species in the world," said BNHS Director Asad Rahmani.
Most of the vulture deaths across the country are a result of the birds feeding on carcasses that contain traces of diclofenac sodium, a popular painkiller administered to cattle.
"Sikkim is the only State to have imposed a ban on the use of the drug earlier their year through a government notification," said the State's Principal Conservator of Forest and Secretary, Forest Department, T.R. Poudyal.
Handri-Neeva: environment aspect given a go-by at public hearing (Issue of the week, February Week 3 (2006)) A public hearing conducted in Anantapur on Monday to receive objections and suggestions on the impact of works pertaining to Handri-Neeva project on the environmental aspects in the district was reduced to a mere formality due to poor participation of the sections concerned, reports The Hindu.
Speaking at the meeting, Collector Y.V. Anuradha stated that notification on the environmental objections pertaining to Handri-Neeva project was issued to elicit the public opinion before giving a clearance.
There was not much forest cover and wild life in the district and the clearance would come without any hassle.
Only 440 hectares of forestland, which did not have much vegetation, was required for the project works in the district.
The reservoirs to be constructed under the project also required small amount of land and the area of submergence was also very little, the Collector explained.
Many seats unoccupied
All the participants, including Hindupur legislator P. Ranganayakulu, only demanded extension of the project and water for more areas. The seating arranged for VIPs and politicians, including the elected representatives, was seen vacant all through, as their participation was minimal.
A handful of public and a few other interested sections either demanded higher compensation for their lands acquired for the project works or the project water for more areas in the district. But, nobody spoke on the environmental aspect for which the meeting was convened.
The hearing was conducted by the regional office of the Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board.
Five poachers held with deer hides (February Week 3 (2006)) A sensational case of killing of deer has come to light at the Khivni sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh, reports the Central Chronicle.
134 km away from headquarters here at Khivni sanctuary, the place has been protected for the wild animals. There is a restriction of entering of any person from morning till evening.
It is punishable offence to enter inside the sanctuary without permission. It is also a serious crime to hunt in this area which is prohibited. The sanctuary had been established in 1982 for the wild animals' protection.
The Chronicle team received information about the hunters entering inside the sanctuary and killing the wild and endangered animals without any fear.
On receiving information at 3 am, the team members reached the sanctuary. At the main gate the team members were in for a shock. Two hides of wild animals were found hanging on a teak tree like a horror show.
Moving further the team members found another hide of the animal. In this way three hides were found in the sanctuary. There was no forest guard found patrolling in the sanctuary. No body was there to check the visitors.
There is a village in the sanctuary called Badi Khivni where the hill was aflame. It was 5 am in the morning when some persons opened fire from southern part of the sanctuary. A resident of Nanda Dai village said that he often hears the firing sound in the sanctuary.
A watchman who is working in the sanctuary said that the poachers enter into the sanctuary as they are hand-in-glove with the forest officers and hunt without fear. Everyday the hunters kill deer, sheep and buck in the sanctuary. This can be seen easily.
Some other persons also told that the hunters usually come here in uniforms. Possibly these hunters are associated with a big gang.
Sources said that previously Chronicle had revealed similar cases of illegal hunting and cautioned the officials of the sanctuary but the department paid no heed over the matter.
When the video clippings were showed to the DFO AK Joshi, he was surprised to see them. He took this incident very seriously and set out with his squad straight to Khivni sanctuary without giving any reaction.
On Sunday, forest department arrested five poachers. Inspector of Khiwani Park HP Singh and Ranger Awashti said that poachers includes Prema son of Babu, Ram Singh son of Jay Kishan, Rewaram son of Gorelal, Gabu son of Dhannu and Lakhat son of Harlal, all were resident of Nandadai.
Forest department registered cases under section POR no 286/25.
A baleen whale at Colaba, Mumbai (February Week 3 (2006)) MARINE scientists have confirmed the mammoth 30-foot-long ‘fish’ that washed up at Colaba on Tuesday was not a fish. It was a whale, reports The Indian Express. .
The incident that occurred late Tuesday night had left residents and civic workers in the area around Navy Sailing Club on Pilot Bunder Road, Colaba, puzzled. The decay forced them to dispose off the carcass at the earliest on Wednesday morning.
‘‘The carcass was still being transported when our team reached the spot, but we’ve been able to establish a few facts,’’ said Dr V Deshmukh, scientist-in-charge, Central Marine Fisheries Research Institute (CMFRI), Churchgate.
One of the CMFRI scientists who went to the site and took a sample from the carcass detailed what has been established so far. ‘‘There were bones protruding from the mouth and ‘rorquals’ or grooves, under its throat. Both are characteristics of whales,’’ said Dr Miriam Paul.
Paul said the observations established that it was a baleen whale, that is,‘‘one with plates in its mouth’’ as opposed to a toothed whale, but added that only laboratory tests could determine further details.
‘‘Even within the category of a baleen whale, it could have been a Fin whale or a Brydes whale, we will know in two weeks,’’ she said.
Deshmukh reiterated the rarity of the event of a whale straying into shallow waters while migrating, especially compared to sharks. “Sharks are still found every 4-5 years. These whale samples have been sent to our Cochin office and will aid our research,’’ he said.
Other whale casualties
* 1849: Stranded in the waters behind Colaba Church
* 1934: In Colaba
* 1965: Two Fin whales stranded within a months of each other, one in Virar, other near Napean Sea Road
* 1986: In the waters around Bombay High
* 1988: Two stranded in South Mumbai
There are 86 species of whales: 32 have been recorded in waters around the Indian subcontinent
No life lost to elephant menace in 2005 (February Week 3 (2006)) Amid concerns over the conflict between elephants and humans at Valparai, wildlife biologists heave a sigh of relief, because, for the first time in a decade, there was no loss of life in 2005, reports The Hindu.
This is significant in the backdrop of the death of 28 persons since 1994. The Valparai plateau is witnessing a huge loss to property due to elephants moving through the labour lines.
Wildlife Warden K.R. Varadharajan says increasing awareness among the people and the methods adopted by the Forest Department personnel in tackling elephants that enter human habitations may be the reasons for the year passing without any death.
However, it is not proper to jump to a conclusion going by the trend in just one year; it needs further study, he admits. M. Anadhakumar of Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore, says three herds of 41 elephants use the plateau regularly.
Habitat lost
The elephants may have lost their habitats, what with the plantations obstructing their migratory path. Mr. Anandhakumar suggests measures to be taken by the planters, Government agencies and conservation organisation to avert the conflict.
The regular routes of elephants through the plantation landscape should be set aside. At least 30 metres along the Sholayar, Nadu Ar and Sirikunda rivers should be restored with natural vegetation. This is possible if the Government provides incentive for planters.
Avoid rice storage
It is pointed out that most of the deaths occurred between November and February every year, and the most affected were ration shops and noon-meal centres. The storage of rice, a favourite item for the pachyderms, should be avoided.
India needs digital herbarium to preserve natural wealth (February Week 3 (2006)) A digital herbarium that can preserve detailed information about plants will help to preserve the natural wealth of the country, S. Nagarajan, Chairperson, Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Authority, Government of India, has said in a report published by The Hindu.
A traditional herbarium was a collection of plants, stems, flowers and other natural substances documented and kept under the charge of the curator. However, the material tended to degrade.
"Preservation is possible with the digital camera and modern techniques that make it possible to record information about seed characteristics. We can process and store data on different varieties and species, do statistical analysis and compare new species. We want to promote the idea and motivate people to examine the possibilities," he observed.
Farmers' Rights Act
He said that the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act 2001 safeguarded the rights of farmers, researchers and plant breeders.
"India has a diverse climate and qualified human resource. We should be able to nurture seed companies that can grow globally. We are opening up an opportunity for entrepreneurs to invest in plant breeding," he noted.
Under the provisions of the Act, farmers could cultivate, harvest and sell whatever crops they wished to grow but they could not brand their agricultural produce, label them or sell seed.
Plant physiology
Researchers could conduct experiments on plant physiology and cross-fertilize varieties to produce new ones.
However, researchers needed permission to repeatedly use the same variety.
Mr. Nagarajan said that the rules and guidelines framed in 2003 under the Act were aimed at promoting innovation.
"We expect more creativity and better varieties," he said, adding that India was the only country to have protected the rights of farmers in this manner, mainly because over half the people in the country depended on agriculture for their livelihood. In European countries, only two per cent of the population were farmers.
By encouraging competition inside India as well as from outside the country, breeders would be motivated to provide high quality planting material.
One-credit course
He suggested that the University offer a one-credit course to all students of agriculture, to familiarise them with national policies and international laws governing plant protection. "Just as in computer science and engineering, agricultural graduates should think and act globally," he said.
After the progress made during the Green Revolution, a decline in productivity had set in owing to depletion of natural resources, loss of micronutrients in the soil, shortage of water resources and a widening gap between agricultural production and consumer preferences. More information was available at, he said.
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