Conservation

The rescue of an Indian Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros birostris) chick.

The rescue of an Indian Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros birostris) chick.
-Ajay Gadikar

While completing the documentary movie on the nesting and breeding behavior of Indian grey hornbill at the Bio-diversity Nursery situated at forest campus Indore, I came across one more event worth mentioning, it was the rescue of an Indian grey hornbill chick.

After a period of 20 days from the day the female left the cavity its two chicks also fledged and come out of the nest cavity successfully one by one within a short span of time, but destiny has stored some more events in the coming days to add to already beautiful moments captured of the hornbill family for me.

Two days after the chicks left the nest, I was informed by a forest guard posted at the nursery that he has found one of the hornbill chicks lying on the road at the nursery gate.  It was evening time, I hurried to the nursery and saw the battered hornbill baby lying on the road, he was in a real bad condition with mud sticking on his body and was quite wet, socked in water as it had rained a day before. I was in a fix as what is to be done next, his parents were also nearby making distress calls and encouraging the baby to take flight, but unfortunately the baby was not able to fly in his present condition. 

Hornbill baby on the road

After understanding the situation, I informed the CCF sir, who immediately called for a bird cage and suggested that since the baby is not able to fly it needs to be put in a cage to protect it from the dogs present in the forest nursery.

The forest guard brought one cage and the baby was put inside it. Some fruits and water was also kept inside it, although he was not drinking or eating anything.

In a cage to protect from predators

It consultation of the forest personals it was decided that let the baby remain inside the cage for the night and we will try to free him in the morning when his parents are around. The cage was kept in the nursery itself so that the baby feels the same environment around him. It was understood that this bird can only be rescued once he/she is able to fly. There was no history of a baby Indian grey hornbill successfully nurtured to its adulthood in a cage according to my knowledge.

Next morning we found the chick in a better condition, his feathers have dried up and he has also preened his feathers to remove the mud from them. We let the baby free, but he was not able to fly more than 2-3 meters.   His parents continuously encouraged him by making calls from above, but he was too weak for taking a flight. In making the attempts to reach to his parents up on the tree he fell down on ground again and again in the nursery.  After getting exhausted by trying repeatedly he sat on ground then we thought of putting him back in the cage and start to think of some other idea to rescue him.

Chick calling
I was quite sure that this baby can only be rescued if his parents encourage him and feed him, we people don’t know what to feed to the baby and in which form so the next day I suggested to try and put him back on the branch of the same tree on which the nest cavity was present.

A ladder was tied around the tree and one of the forest guards climbed up the tree and put the baby near the nest cavity. The baby sat comfortably on the branch and started calling his parents.

Chick on nest

Soon after that, what happened was not less then a miracle. The male hornbill bird came immediately from nearby and started feeding the chick, later the baby was fed by both the parents continuously for whole of the day.  We were very happy to see this, the baby hornbill remained on that branch for whole of the day, preening his feathers and hoping a little bit here and there.

Male hornbill feeding the chick

In the night we thought it is sitting at a vulnerable position on the tree and it cannot save himself if attacked by a cat or some predatory bird like owl, so we put him back in the cage for the night, the same process got repeated in the next morning, this time we put him on a water tank and the parents fed him continuously for the whole day, he himself kept preening his feathers and he looked quite refreshed with in two days time. 

On the 3rd day we take a risk of leaving it on the tree for whole of the night, and keep our fingers crossed. It was a crucial day for the survival of the chick, in the morning I straight away drove to Nursery and find him sitting on the same branch on which we left him on the previous evening. We all were very happy to see this, we were successful in saving the life of a baby hornbill.

After two days we saw him taking flight with his parents hopping from one tree to another with them. The parents were still continuously feeding him.

The CCF Sir Dr. P.C.Dube has encouraged me and we were very hopeful from day one that this baby will survive while others were a bit doubtful about it, but our hopes were too strong and the baby survived.

This was an example of a calculated human intervention to save the bird. At the same time the bird has been adopted by the parents and was free to take flight with them in the open skies.

(Text and Pictures by Ajay Gadikar  Ornithologist, Indore  )

Endangered

SOS for the Sumatran rhino

SOS for the Sumatran rhino
Saving the Sumatran rhinoceros from extinction is putting conservation efforts to the test, says S.Ananthanarayanan
A last ditch push to raise sub-critical numbers of another vanishing instance of our natural heritage may call for different agencies – forestry, veterinary science, policing of poachers, political will and public support, to work together. A communication from the Centre for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, University of Copenhagen, highlights a paper in Oryx, the journal of conservation efforts worldwide, which raises the question of whether the endangered pachyderm can be saved at all?
A multinational team, Rasmus Gren Havmøller, Junaidi Payne, Widodo Ramono, Susie Ellis, K.Yoganand, Barney Long, Eric Dinerstein, A Christy Williams, Rudy H Putra, Jamal Gawi, Bhibha Kumar Talukdar and Neil Burgess, from Denmark, Malaysia, Indonesia, USA, Switzerland, UK and Assam, in India report in Oryx that Dicerorhinus Sumatrensis, the Sumatran rhino, is on the verge of extinction despite decades of efforts. 
Sumatran Rhinoceros
The Sumatran rhino is one of five related species, two native to Africa and three to Southern Asia. While the two African and the Indian and Javan rhinoceros emerged as species fourteen to ten million years ago, the Sumatran rhino is the remnant of a group which emerged twenty million years ago. In contrast, the elephant dates about 6 million years ago and Homo sapiens, or modern man, dates only from to 1.8 0.2 million years ago. The Sumatran rhino hence represents the oldest of the mega fauna of prehistory. Now that we have tools to follow genetic trails of the evolution of species, allowing a species of such antiquity to slip into extinction would amount to losing the earliest milestones along the march of vertebrates.
The family Rhinocerotidae
The differentiating characteristic of the rhinoceros is its horn, the African and Sumatran species have two of them and the Indian (Unicornis) and Javan have one. The horn is made of keratin or the material of hair and nails and is the chief defense of the rhinoceros, to be used when provoked, as the animal is a vegetarian, living on leaves and grass. But the rhino horn is prized, both for ornamental use and, what is more pervasive, because folklore has it that the rhino horn has medicinal properties, and this has proved a greater threat to the survival of the rhino than any natural predator. The rhino has hence been hunted and poached and while there has been loss of foraging territory due to human settlement, being hunted for its horn has been the greater reason for the species’ decline in numbers.
All sub-species of the rhinoceros are threatened, but the Javan and Sumatran rhinos are in the greatest danger. The Asian rhinos once ranged across Pakistan, India, Nepal, Burma, Malaysia, Sumatra, possibly even China. As rhinos do not live in herds, encroachment of grazing territory can lead to reproductive isolation and decline in numbers. But the real decimator was relentless hunting, to harvest the rhino’s horn. So called medicinal value is ingrained in traditional Chinese medicine, to treat conditions like fever, convulsions, rheumatism or gout, and there is then some belief that the horn can cure snakebites, hallucinations, “devil possession”, and is useful in cancer or for ‘detoxification’. Even for the use of the powered rhino horn for ordinary ailments, however, there is no medical evidence of effectiveness.  China is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and authoritative bodies have moved to dispel the notion of rhino horn having any medicinal value. But such is the power of belief that all of science and social organisations working to save an invaluable part of the earth’s biodiversity are beating their head against a wall. Vietnam is the greatest market for rhino horn, and growing with the prosperity that has come in recent decades. An article in the Economist said that “parts from some endangered species are worth more than gold or cocaine.”
Rescue plan
In the paper in Oryx, the authors review the population status of the Sumatran rhino, the threats that it faces and the status of the emergency plan that was developed by meeting of conservation organisations in April 2013 in Singapore and adopted at Bandar Lampung, Indonesia the same October. While head count of the rhino is always challenging, the current estimates, based on camera traps and partial footprint surveys, show that rhinos have disappeared from most places, except for small pockets, almost all in Indonesia. The Way Khambas National Park was estimated to have 35 rhinos in 2012, which is a strong recovery from the low of 7-16 in 1996. But the whole of Peninsular Malaysia has been found to display no sign of any survivors. Numbers of 21 and 17 rhinos have been confirmed in the Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park and the Leuser Ecosystem, and all together, the count is placed at around a hundred.
Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park
This low number is itself a threat to survival of the species, for, as the paper says, the remaining individuals are isolated, which makes breeding events rare. Attempts to breed rhinos in captivity have not been successful, both for the reason that rhinos, being solitary animals, do not live well together when the female is not ready to breed, as well as for the reason that many of the females in the trials had cysts and tumours in their organs of reproduction, a condition that arises from infrequency of pregnancies.  The authors of the paper believe that reproductive health would be an area to monitor for the effectiveness of breeding efforts. In a separate communication, Rasmus Gren Havmøller, of the Natural History Museum of Denmark, Centre for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate, Copenhagen, clarifies that the Sumatran rhino has a gestation period of 15-16 months, which suggests that a female rhino would breed every 3-4 years. But this may an ideal and there is little information of what the reproduction rate actually is, says Havmøller.

A key recommendation of the 2013 summit was hence that all rhino populations, even in different countries, be managed as a single group, a ‘metapopulation’, combining separate conservation efforts in a “unifying global strategy”. This was the approach that has proved successful in saving the Indian rhinoceros in Nepal and Assam, in India. “A very effective management strategy that includes strict protection and moving individuals between populations, and re-populating populations in suitable habitats,” employed with the Indian rhino was able increase a depleted host of “probably no more than 200 individuals in total in the early 1900s to today’s number of more than 3,300,” says Havmøller. The population in Assam, in India, has grown by 26% in just eight years from 2006, he says, which holds out the hope that proper management could save the Sumatran rhino, too.
But implementing such measures, of creating an Intensive Protection Zone, survey of the current known habitats, habitat management, captive breeding and mobilizing resources would take great administrative ability and political will. Christy Williams, co-author and coordinator of the WWF Asian and Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy, recalls that that Project Tiger, which saved the tiger in India, owes a lot to Mrs. Indira Gandhi, then prime minister. The condition of the Sumatran rhino is more precarious than that of the tiger, whose population was 1,400 in 1973. And apart from physical conservation measures, there is the need for forceful action to contain poaching. “Similar high level intervention by President Joko Widodo of Indonesia could help pull the Sumatran rhinos back from the brink,” Williams says.
[the writer can be contacted at simplescience.in]

Lateral safeguards

Some other ideas to deal with the unrelenting pace of poaching:
Synthetic horn: Firms wish to offer chemically identical substitutes, even material created in the same way as the real horn. But will substitutes be accepted, to replace something that has no real scientific basis and whose use is anchored in ‘belief’?
Legalise trade: Allowing free trade or flooding the market with rhino horn stocks that are held by the state, may drop the prices and disincentivise killing. But there are questions of how long will this last, and will it not perpetuate a market that we wish to wipe out?
Dehorning: Surgically removing the horn should render the rhino safe. This has worked in some places, but in others, poachers still kill for the stub of the horn. Dehorning also has its risks and is expensive.
Poison: injecting poison, not to kill, but render the consumer ill, and a dye to advertise it. In fact, poachers do not care for the consumer. And, then when they do, they turn to unpoisoned rhinos. The poison also depletes and it is impractical to keep rhino horns poisoned and dyed all the time

Forest and trees

Trees and Pollution

Trees & Pollution
-Usha Nair
                             ‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep’ Robert Frost 
Trees have always been a fascinating subject for poets, authors, painters, and dreamers from time immemorial. To the individual, the grace and beauty of trees have brought a lot of joy, inspiration and peace. Over centuries, trees have provided leaves, fruits, flowers and wood to men, and have been the home to so many insects, birds and animals. Many tribes worshipped trees. Yet increasing urbanisation and the resultant deforestation have led to growing concerns regarding the debilitating impact on environment and health. Consequently today, environmentalists, urban town planners, public health officials, and even nations are looking at trees with greater respect and highlighting its major role in reducing air pollution.
 
Till the 20th century, trees were viewed as providing aesthetic, social and natural benefits. Trees were regarded as the ‘lungs of the planet,’ absorbing carbon dioxide and through a process of photosynthesis, releasing oxygen. The 20th century witnessed the cumulative / multiple disastrous consequences/ effects of man’s irreverent actions / disrespect to nature.  Pollution, today, is a household concern as environmental health problems adversely affect everyone, both in developed and developing countries. Pollution has spread across the planet and is ubiquitous in form, pervading and penetrating the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and demanding now, urgent attention, which we failed to give, hitherto. A century back, oil spills, radioactive waste, mercury poisoning, agricultural and pharmaceutical generated pollutants, plastics, untreated sewage, lead poisoning, air pollution and emission of greenhouse gases,(Bryan Nelson) never occupied the mind-space as it does today. Compelling statistics have proven the link between pollution and increased number of deaths and suffering patients all over the world ,thereby bringing forth issues, that had till now been festering on the backburner. Living greener is now a necessity for every household in every part of the world.

 Human activity since the Industrial Revolution, have increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Fossil fuel burning and changes in land use, particularly deforestation, have contributed to concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, causing global warming and climate changes. The greenhouse effect is the process by which absorption and emission of infrared radiation by gases warms the lower atmosphere and surface. Major greenhouse gases are water vapour (70% of the greenhouse effect) Carbon dioxide (26%), methane (9%), and ozone (7%).  The burning of coal, oil and other fossil fuels, pesticide use, household combustion devices, motor vehicles, mining operations, industrial facilities, forest fires and manufacturing chemicals are common sources of air pollution. Tailpipe emissions of automobiles and trucks is a major public health concern and contains significant pollutants including carbon monoxide(CO),volatile organic compounds(VOC),nitrogen oxides(NOx) and particulate matter(PM). Air pollution contributes to asthma, emphysema, heart disease and impacts pulmonary, cardiac, vascular, and neurological and other potentially lethal conditions.

Source: PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency/Wikipedia  

Air pollution, both indoors and outdoors, is today a crisis and recognised so. There is widespread awareness of the fact that reduced air pollution contributes to improved health. Trees today are vital to combat air pollution. Trees are Nature’s answer to reducing air pollution and a deterrent to respiratory problems.  Trees and urban forests contribute to cleaner air and are recognised as an integral component of our battle to reduce air pollution. In an article on the Effects of Urban Trees on Air Quality, David J. Nowak lists several benefits from the planting of trees. Researchers at the Davey Institute found that urban trees and forests are saving lives because of the particulates that they remove from the air. A study in the Journal of Preventative Medicine found that people experienced more deaths from heart disease and respiratory disease when they lived in areas where trees had disappeared.  Forests provide natural filtration and storage systems providing cleaner water. Additionally, trees can hold vast amounts of water that would otherwise stream down hills and surge along rivers and flood into towns. That’s why trees are such an important part of storm-water management and flood control for many cities. Novak talks of carbon sequestration. Burning fossil fuels puts heat-trapping carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, changing our climate in dangerous ways. Planting trees can slow down this process. A tree can absorb as much as 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, and can sequester one ton of carbon dioxide by the time it reaches 40 years old. Trees lower ozone concentration. Trees contribute to temperature control. The shade and wind-breaking qualities that trees provide benefit everyone from the individual taking shelter from a hot summer day to entire cities. The annual mean air temperature of a city with 1 million people or more can be 1–3°C warmer than its surroundings. Planting trees reduces this “heat island effect”. And households with shade trees could spend 12% less on cooling costs in the summer. By protecting trees, we also save all the other plants and animals they shelter, thus promoting bio-diversity. Several studies have found that access to nature yields results in better cognitive functioning, more self-discipline, and improved mental, emotional and psychological health.

During the 21st century, global surface temperatures have been found to have risen alarmingly.14 out of the 15 hottest years has been in the 21st century. It is anticipated to rise further. Visible and predictable effects of climate change include, warming global temperatures, rising sea levels, changing precipitation, expansion of deserts in the sub-tropics. Warming is expected to be greatest at the Arctic/Antarctic with the continuing retreat of glaciers, permafrost and sea ice. Other likely changes include more frequent extreme weather events including, heat waves, drought, heavy rainfall and snowfall, smog & haze (reducing sunlight to plants to carry out photosynthesis resulting in the production of tropospheric ozone which damage plants), ocean acidification with concurrent effect on marine ecosystems, species extinction, adverse impacts on biodiversity, threat to man’s food security.
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 Today, the right to breathe clean air has galvanised nations to work together, through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to mitigate global warming by emission reduction, adapting to and building systems resilient to its effects, and jointly explore future climate re-engineering.  They strive towards a low carbon economy through energy conservation, energy efficiency, renewable energy, nuclear energy, carbon capture and storage, enhancing the capacity of carbon sinks to absorb GHGs from the atmosphere through reforestation and preventing deforestation. Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCCC) have adopted a range of policies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, so that future global warming is restricted to below 2.0*C relative to the pre-industrial level and a global average rise of 1.5*C. It is another matter that achieving this goal in the short term appears to be a distant dream, as nations and people struggle to respond to the demands that this goal entails. The big question posed in the 2014 ‘Report titled Trends in Global CO2 Emissions’ is “when will global carbon emissions level off and start declining in absolute numbers and at what rate”.
Trees, as is evident, are vital to reduce air pollution. Man now faces the uphill and unenviable task of restoring the balance of Nature. Ultimately, Time will tell whether Man is able to effectively resolve the dilemma of promoting development, and yet ensuring restoration and reforestation of the deep and lovely woods.
 
Pic of tree from http://compassionkindness.com/

((Usha Nair is a nature lover who can be contacted at ushaenvironment@gmail.com)

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