Press on Environment and Wildlife
Extinction threatens red jungle fowls (February Week 2 (2006)) The species has been called the Adam and Eve of modern poultry. And conservation efforts notwithstanding, it could also become a part of mythology. In almost all its habitats the Red Jungle Fowl (Gallus gallus) finds itself in a fight for survival.
It is a fowl that has a distinctive, almost showy appearance. The habitat range is quite diverse and it is inclined to stay in areas having abundant sunshine and soil conditions conducive to worms and insects. In behaviour they are, however, more robust than domestic poultry, which evolved from them.
“A distinctive trait of the jungle fowl is the presence of an eclipse moult in males. Among females, the absence of the comb helps to distinguish it from the domestic breed. Other physical characteristics of the colour of the legs, carriage of tail, spur length in males etc are demonstrated depending upon their geographical locations. The red comb and colourful plumes are common to both domestic and those found in the wild,” said an ornithologist.
The species has its origins in Asia along with four other jungle fowls of the genus Gallus. The three others are grey (Gallus sonnerati), green (Gallus varius) and Ceylon (Gallus lafayettei). Colonies of the Red Jungle Fowl were seen in abundance in Assam along with some parts of India and a few neighbouring countries.
The species, according to experts, is listed in the schedule IV of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, and also and the Red Data Book of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) places it in the threat category of ‘least concern’.
But the emerging situation in and around its various habitats in Assam is worrying and there are reports suggesting that their numbers are fast on the decline. Defragmentation of forests in the face of growing anthropogenic pressures has posed a serious problem for the species. At many places, colonies of the species no longer exist.
Speaking to The Assam Tribune, Prasanta Saikia of Gauhati University’s Zoology Department commented that population of the species is dwindling across the State. “Even a decade ago Red Jungle Fowl was frequently visible in grasslands and forests, now its presence is almost restricted to the protected areas. It is time to give them a more important conservation status.”
Scientists also fear that frequent inter-breeding with domestic breed could push the Red Jungle Fowl to extinction. Eminent bird expert and Director of the Wild Species Programme of Wildlife Trust of India, Dr Rahul Kaul said, “the status of pure jungle fowl may be threatened as a result of hybridization with domestic chicken…wild populations need to be studied for any genetic contamination.”
Others worried over threats to the species point out that the Red Jungle Fowl must be saved for a range of reasons. They have a definite role in some ecological spaces and in their absence some plants might find it difficult to propagate. Another significant reason is that its survival would be a blessing to the poultry industry. Its genes could be the key to developing disease resistant domestic poultry.
Unfortunately studies and research on the Red Jungle Fowl have been scanty. As a result, in a region like the North East, no one can speculate on the size of its population. “We all say that the numbers are falling, but no one can tell how many are living in the wild!” said an ornithologist of Assam.
Sand from Vaigai riverbed plundered (February Week 2 (2006)) The Vaigai River Conservation council has urged the State Government to introduce an alternate construction material for sand, reports The Hindu. .
Its executive committee that met here recently said that sand was being plundered from the Vaigai riverbed with the connivance of Revenue and Police departments. The council resolved to impress upon the officials the need to protect natural wealth and to strengthen people's participation in `retrieving' the river.
The council condemned Public Works Department officials for not heeding to the farmers' demand to supply water for irrigation through the Viraganur regulator and instead allowing it to wastefully drain into the sea.
The council demanded that the entire stretch of the riverbed from Anaipatti to Ramanathapuram be cleared of the wild growth as done in the city limit.
Sansar Chand revealed Tibet, Nepal links: CBI (February Week 2 (2006)) On Friday, Rajasthan police arrested a Tibetan, Neema Kampa, from Delhi’s Azad Market, reports The Indian Express. Police say every animal pelt that goes out of India passes through the hands of his gang.
Poacher Sansar Chand, too, had told the Rajasthan Police and the CBI that the skins he sold to international dealers, mostly from Nepal, passed through Tibet.
Chand was arrested by the Delhi Police on June 30, 2005. His interrogation revealed the network and the route of the international wildlife trade.
CBI officials say Chand has listed sales of thousands of skins to at least four Nepalese buyers. ‘‘My Nepalese clients would order on telephone and there was never any problem in supply when they came to Delhi,’’ Chand has confessed.
Chand allegedly said he stored the skins in cloth or leather godowns in the Delhi’s Walled City. They’d be smuggled through the Indo-Nepal border inside false cavities of buses or hidden inside consignments of readymade garments.
One of Chand’s clients, Tashi Tshering alias Chhewang, was arrested in Kathmandu in December.
CBI officials say they are obtaining permission to either question Chhewang in Kathmandu or obtain his interrogation report.
Chand had been questioned over 10 days by CBI. The four Nepalese buyers who figure in his admissions includes:
• Tsering Tamang: Allegedly bought 300 tiger skins, 2,000 leopard skins, 6,000 fox skins and 4,000 cat skins from Chand.
• Tashi Tshering: Arrested. Chand claimed to have sold 20 tiger skins, 60 leopard skins and 100 otter skins to him.
• Pema Limi: One of Chand’s ‘‘biggest clients’’ since early ’90s. Bought 50 tiger skins and 350 otter skins.
• Tenzing Lama: Allegedly bought 100 tiger skins, 70 leopard skins and 100 otter skins.
CBI officials estimate that Chand controlled almost 50 per cent of the trade. From an estimated Rs 5,000 in the ’90s, he was getting Rs 60,000 for a tiger skin prior to his arrest.
According to Chand’s interrogation by the Rajasthan police, the traffic in animal skin is run by Kashmiri and Nepalese traders, for whom Chand has been a supplier since early ’80s.
Jaipur (North) SP Rajeev Sharma said Chand has named several persons. “We have passed on the information to the CBI.”
Chand’s first major clients were several Kashmiris in handicrafts business. He has named a few, including a prominent handicrafts exporter based in New Delhi. Later, the entry of Nepalese buyers edged out the Kashmiris, he had said.
Poisoned wheat bait may have killed Okhla birds: Officials (February Week 2 (2006)) wildlife Department officials today handed over three men — found with poisoned grains on them from the Okhla Sanctuary — to the Uttar Pradesh Police. The officials say the trio could be behind the Saturday incident in which 47 birds were found floating in the Yamuna.
A patrolling group found Ramesh, Radha Shyam, and Rajesh in the sanctuary carrying nets, catapults and a sack of wheat. They admitted that the grains were poisoned.
The three, who work as labourers, belong to the Bawaria community of Rajasthan and have been living in Noida for some time.
Rajesh, 16, told Newsline, “We had come for fishing. It seemed we’d get a good catch. We coated the grains with ‘dawai’, and threw them in the river a few days ago. Today, we had come with out nets.”
Forest officer K.L. Sharma said, “These people took us to their nets today. We saw the sites, and there was wheat outside the water too.”
The grains have been sent to IVRI, Hyderabad for analysis. “The analysis will confirm whether the toxins found inside the birds matches with that found on these men. They have probably sold fish in the market. We need to find whether they were poisoned or not,” said Sharma.
Meanwhile, four more carcasses of birds were recovered today, bringing the death toll to 60.
Rampant killing of sharks along east coast (Issue of the week, February Week 1 (2006)) It's a matter of delicacy. Sharks are being rampantly killed by an organised mafia for their fins in coastal Orissa. The illegal trade is estimated at a whopping Rs 100 crore a year, reports The Times of India.
In 2001 alone, the wildlife department made a seizure of shark fins worth Rs 10 lakh in Puri. Biswajit Mohanty, secretary, Wildlife Society of Orissa, says, "If one goes to any fishing base in Orissa, one will find evidence of killing of sharks.
Earlier, only a handful of fishermen were involved in the trade, but now they've gone upto 2,000. Sharks are being killed almost daily."
The fins are used for shark fin soup, a highly-priced delicacy abroad, which fetches upto $ 100 a bowl. The sharks are exported illegally to Hong Kong, Singapore and China.
The sharks are caught in specially-designed nets and their fins taken out and processed. They are trimmed into shape and dried before being exported.
"The illegal business is becoming a lucrative trade. While a kilogramme of fins is sold for Rs 10,000 by local people, the price goes up more than five times abroad," said Mohanty.
However, not all fishermen can catch the sharks as it requires special skill. The mafia, he says, is luring fishermen to join the trade and of late, coastal Orissa has become a fertile ground for them.
The largescale poaching of sharks, if unabated, will alter the ecosystem of the coastal region.
One of the species which is illegally exported is the three metre-long white spotted guitar fish, weighing about 200 kgs. It's protected under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
Other marine products such as the sea horse are also protected under the Act but sold illegally. "However, shark fin comprises a bulk of the trade," says Mohanty.
S C Mohanty, chief wildlife warden of Orissa, says, "We try to keep a close watch on the illegal marine trade. People from other states are also involved.
A few raids have been conducted, but we can't monitor the entire coastline as the department is facing a severe staff shortage; 60% of the posts are lying vacant."
Stress on organic control of pests in farming (February Week 1 (2006)) A scientist from RRL, Jorhat, Dr Poran Baruah said it has become incumbent that organic means alone are adopted for the control of pests and weeds in the farmlands. The Assam Tribune reports him saying that globally, chemical pesticides worth Rs 11,500 crore are used each year and added that this is leaving behind harmful residues, that would affect humanity’s future generations.
Dr Baruah said that the chemical pesticides include DDT, which has lost its efficacy over the years, with pests developing resistance against the drug. “Initially, DDT was effective against 600 varieties of pests and insects, now the chemical is effective against only half a dozen varieties,” he said. He stressed on integrated management of pesticides and diseases as a viable alternative.
Dr Baruah was speaking as a special invitee at a commemorative function of a local NGO, Irab Kirab. The occasion was the birthday of the NGO’s founder, Late Popi Santana Bharali, and was held at the Sahityarathi Lakshminath Bezbaroa auditorium here on January 25. He said that the market today has evolved and currently, several brands of bio-pesticides are available for use by the agricultural community.
Another bane of modern day society, polythene bags and their haphazard disposal came up for discussion at the function, at the initiative of Dr Kalpana Deka Kalita. She spoke of the non-biodegradability of polythene and harped on the four ‘R’s while using plastic bags: Refuse, Reduce, Re-use and Re-cycle. She also enlightened the audience of the harmful effects of carrying foodstuff like raw vegetables, fish and meat in polythene bags. She claimed that the heat generated heat while carried in polythene bags, making the foodstuff potentially harmful for human consumption.
Irab Kirab’s director, Dr Ananda Bormudoi hoped that the outcome of the discussions would be fruitful for society, and the people at large would take to organic pest elimination and reduce the usage of polythene bags. He said Irab Kirab has begun a campaign against polythene bags in the city.
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