Press on Environment and Wildlife
Wetlands more productive than forest ecosystem (February Week 2 (2006))
The ecosystem service values provided by wetlands in the country is worth about a whopping Rs.5,60,000 crores a year, according to Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History founder Director V.S. Vijayan.
Dr. Vijayan was delivering the key-note address at the national conference on `Wetland bio-diversity' organised here on Thursday jointly by the Department of Zoology of St. Aloysius College, Elthuruthu; the Limnological Association of Kerala and the Indian
Association of Aquatic Biologists, Hyderabad.
He said even this figure could only be a conservative estimate considering that the total area of the wetlands in the country is considered to be 7.6 million hectares. Pointing out that wetlands are the most productive ecosystem, he said studies estimate that
in terms of the values of ecosystem services they outweigh forest ecosystems by seven times. The ecosystem service value of tropical forests is estimated to be $2,007 a hectare while that of the wetlands is $14,785 a hectare.
Dr. Vijayan said the ecosystem services used in such calculations include the contribution made by the area in gas regulation, disturbance regulation such as flood control, water storage and supply including ground water recharge, habitat refuge, food production,
raw material, recreation including tourism and cultural.
Quoting from some studies, Dr. Vijayan said the extent of wetlands in Kerala is estimated at 3,28,402 hectares and its ecosystem values work out to be Rs.15,797 crores a year, which is more than State's revenue receipts for 2004-'05. ``If the ecosystem values
of the paddy fields, extending to around 3,30,00 hectares are also included, the figure will go up to Rs.23,115 crores a year. Interestingly, it is more than the combined receipts of revenue and capital during 2004-'05 of the Budget of Kerala,'' quotes The
Dr. Vijayan said there is severe lack of appreciation of the productive value of the wetlands and their critical significance as life supporting systems, across the country. In many parts such areas are often treated as wasteland.
Unsustainable exploitation and sheer lack of awareness among the developers lead to disappearance of a large extent of wetlands across the world. In India, there has been an alarming loss of 38 per cent wetlands between 1991 and 2001, he said.
State launches conservation plan for Gir lions (February Week 2 (2006))
Even as the controversy of shifting Asiatic lions from congested Gir Lion sanctuary in Junagadh to Kuno-Palpur in Madhya Pradesh is raging, the Gujarat forest department has prepared a long term conservation plan under which 100 square km of grassland
is to be developed adjacent to the sanctuary as the new home for the big cats.
The new habitat for the big cats, whose population has increased to 359, is being developed in 10,000 hectare grassland in Amreli and Bhavnagar areas bordering the sanctuary.
Despite precautionary measures taken by the state forest department, it is a fact that 90 to 95 lions "a majority of them cubs" have died due to infection and factors like poaching.
Though the state government has not yet given any reaction to the suggestion of shifting Gir lions to Madhya Pradesh, it has launched a long-term conservation plan to protect lions to prove that rare species like Asiatic lions are well protected in Gujarat.
The department, in a note on the long term conservation plan, said,"The Gir Protected Area has consistently supported the Asiatic Lion Conservation, as can be seen from the gradual increase in its population in the last four decades, from 177 in the year 1968
to about 359 (+ or - 10) in April 2005."
The forest department has over a period of time successfully facilitated the process of reclamation of the territory lost by the lion...
Lions now inhabit forests and grasslands in the region beyond Gir forests, including Girnar, Mitiyala forests and grasslands of Savarkundla taluka, Babara reserve grasslands in Maliya taluka and the coastal forests.
State chief conservator of forest Pradeep Khanna told TOI that avoiding in-breeding is required by providing corridors linking the different lion prides.
As part of this endeavour, the government in February 2004 notified Mitiyala sanctuary covering about 1,820 hectares. In addition, the forest department has identified over 10,000 hectares of grasslands in Amreli and Bhavnagar districts that are important lion
habitats. Lions now inhabit forests and grasslands in the region beyond Gir forests, including Girnar, Mitiyala forests and grasslands of Savarkundla talukaa Babara reserve grasslands in Maliya taluka and the coastal forests.
Shrinking space causing man-elephant conflict (February Week 2 (2006))
Shortage of food and water, "sexual selection strategy" of bull-elephants, encroachment of elephant corridor, physical and psychological barriers, are the reasons for increased man-elephant conflict in Kodagu, according to a team studying the problem in
the Nagarahole National Park. The Hindu reports findings of Enviroresearch, a Pune based agency.
The team took up research through the "line transect" method comprising 16 line transects, each at a distance of two km, ascertaining the biomass of grass, counting elephant dung and other methods, Mr. Kulkarni said. Each line transect was studied for six months,
after a gap of one month each.
The movement patterns of the animals, areas frequented by them for crop raids, their location and migratory routes and habitat utilisation were studied. The study work was sponsored by the Forest Department under the World Bank-sponsored Eco-Development Project.
Later, the assistance of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was obtained to continue the project, Mr. Kulkarni told the meeting.
The compensation provided by the State Government in the last five years for deaths amounted to Rs. 30 lakhs in 30 cases.
Kattepura, Devamachi and Dubare areas in the eastern belts of the district were most prone to depredations by elephants, Mr. Kulkarni said.
Crop raids were frequent in August. November was the second peak season when paddy was ready for harvest. Hammiyala, Kalur and Mukkodlu were affected in the western belt of the district. Elephant densities were more in Banavara area, followed by Dubare, Nagarahole
National Park and Kallalla.
Dr. Mehta, in her presentation, said more crops were raided by bull elephants. This could be related to the "sexual selection strategy" in which male elephants want to retain supremacy.
Physical barriers such as elephant proof trenches and solar fencing, psychological barriers such as sound of firecrackers and gunshots could also cause abnormal behaviour, she said.
Depletion of forest cover, biotic pressures and "local overabundance" of elephants had aggravated the man-elephant conflict, she said. Kodagu lost 18 per cent of the forest cover in the last 20 years according to statistics available, Dr. Mehta said.
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.