Adventure

Rambles in India Jungles – II

Rambles in India Jungles – II  --  by Prosenjit Dasgupta

The first time I visited Similipal National Park in Odisha, was in January 1975. I had heard about its great sal forests and wildlife in my childhood from my maternal grandfather who had stayed the area in 1940s on official work. January nights were cold, a chilling cold that seemed to drill through flesh and bone and closeness to a fire-place or heavy clothing had hardly any effect.  But blue-black night sky overhead was stitched with many stars, shining like diamonds and the sal trees stood watch beyond the light of the fire. 
Similipal was one of the first of the national parks to be brought under the Project Tiger in 1973. It is a huge area of about 2000 sq. kms. of hills and forests, lying to the north-east of Odisha, just adjacent to the forests of South Singbhum, in Jharkhand, then  a part of Bihar.  It had all the big game, especially elephants, but game viewing was not always successful as there were few roads, the vegetation was dense and there were many sources of water that kept the animals dispersed. 
 
The Joranda Falls in Similipal
For those who seek a jungle experience that is not exclusively focused on seeing a tiger in the wild, Similipal offers many aspects that can be equally interesting. As a first, it has one of most interesting landscapes with high hills practically catching the clouds, deep gorges, and beautiful water-falls.  Or, one may come across  orchids with their wonderful colours and shapes, glowing among the forest trees or butterflies gathered at a water seepage by a stream. If one is lucky – and I was lucky, but just on one occasion -  it may be possible to see at some distance as the afternoon wheels towards evening, a large gaur bull grazing at the fringe of the forest. 

 
The orchid, Rhynchostylis retusa, in full bloom 
 
Butterflies gathered at water seepage
 
Gaur bull at Chahala
As much as stories heard from my grandfather about his visit to places with strange-sounding names such as Chahala, Gurguria, Barheipani, Joranda and Dhudhurchampa and others, it was the information that trickled in by the end of 1975 about a tiger cub that was being reared by the local forest officer that saw me getting to Jashipur, then headquarters of Similipal National Park, in April of 1976. 
It was an amazing experience to come up with Khairi, the tigress, born in the wild and by then  nearly full-grown, with her yellow eyes and big fat paws, padding about in the compound of the forest rest house, or at times playing with her best friend, Bagho, the dog. It took some time and a conscious effort not to shy away instinctively from that big striped head, and the big canines revealed in a wide yawn. But at no time did I feel threatened and in fact there was an overall air of friendliness about Khairi that was disarming. I took several photographs and even some 8mm black-and-white  movies.
 
 
It was a fitting finale to our Similipal visit. 
(The author, Prosenjit Dasgupta, has written several books, one on his experiences with wildlife in “Walks in the Wild” in 2003 (now out of print), on Jim Corbett, the famous hunter; “Eco-Yatra” (on economic change in India since 1947), “Issues and Idioms” (trends in political discourse in India); “A Conflict in Thin Air” (the Sino-Indian border conflict of 1962); “Chasing a Dream” (on his trips to tribal areas of Bastar)  and “A Partition in the Mind” (a study of factors leading to the Partition in 1947).  Enjoy the other posts at his blog-site -  http://tollykol.blogspot.com/2016)

Burning Issues

Farm Animals and the Pandemic

Over 50% Indians concerned the next pandemic could come from farm animals
-Sahil Sharma , World Animal Protection
On the occasion of World Food Day, International animal welfare organisation, World Animal Protection has released a report, which finds that superbugs are emerging on farms from antibiotic overuse, and those antibiotic resistant bacteria are entering our food chain and our environment.
With factory farming routinely giving farm animals the same antibiotics used to treat up to 100% of critically ill COVID-19 patients in the early stage of the pandemic,  the rise of superbugs from factory farming presents a real and present danger to global public health.
A public poll, also from World Animal Protection, shows that 52% Indians are deeply concerned that the next pandemic could come from farm animals. Globally, 4 out of 5 people, surveyed across 15 countries for the poll, had similar concerns. Over 15,000 people were surveyed for the poll and most were also unaware of the superbug threat from factory farming.
“This report and the poll are clear reminders of the growing risks of giving antibiotics to farm animals. Using these antibiotics on animals has severe repercussions on the health of the animals and eventually on the health of the people who end up consuming them. We urge consumers to demand better from the fast food restaurants they eat at and ensure better treatment of animals in factory farms,” said Gajender K Sharma, Country Director, World Animal Protection India.
Almost three-quarters of the world’s antibiotics are used in animals , the majority on factory farms with antibiotics used to prop-up low-welfare practices such as the raising of fast-growing meat chickens. 
These animals are all housed in stressful, cramped conditions that provide the perfect breeding ground for the spread of infection and emergence of disease.
This is a risky business - when superbugs are passed from animals to people, they make us less able to fight disease. Already, 700,000 people die each year from infections that cannot be treated by antibiotics. By 2050, this is expected to rise to 10 million people each year. 
 
World Animal Protection, Head of Farming, Jacqueline Mills says: 
“If the pandemic is the flash flood that has taken us by surprise, the superbug crisis is the only too predictable slow rising tide. We can’t ignore the contribution that the overuse of antibiotics in factory farming is having on the rise in antibiotic resistance – it is a ticking timebomb that could make the current public health crisis even worse if antibiotics are ineffective in treating secondary infections.
Governments need to lift animal welfare standards, and monitor and report on antibiotic use in farm animals and international fast food restaurants should be setting the bar far higher to ensure the animals in their supply chains are treated well, and antibiotics are used responsibly in farming.”

Greenpeace International, Senior Strategist, Monique Mikhail says: “Industrial animal farming is tearing down our forests, polluting our water, warming the planet and harming our health. We must end industrial animal farming and its unacceptable dependence on antibiotics, drastically reduce how much meat we produce and eat, and transition to a just and ecological food system.”

Key findings of the global poll conducted by World Animal Protection with consumers in 15 countries: 
•83% are concerned about the possibility of a pandemic originating from farm animals
•88% are concerned about superbugs coming from farm animals
•82% under-estimate the amount of the world’s antibiotics that are used on farm animals
•Superbugs causing adverse health effects (70%) or contaminating meat (66%) are most alarming
•92% believe governments should monitor and report on antibiotic use in farm animals
•85% believe antibiotics should only be used to treat sick animals, and 
•4 out of 5 would refuse to shop with retailers that don’t ensure animals are treated well and antibiotics used responsibility in meat they sell. 
World Animal Protection is calling for the end of factory farming, reduced production and consumption of farm animal products and for all remaining farm animal production to be high welfare. 

(Contact Sahil Sharma on sahilsharma@worldanimalprotection.org.in or +919871444038)

Citizen Science

Wings make room for muscle

Wings make room for muscle
The worker ant is the weightlifting champ of the natural world
S.Ananthanarayanan
The flightless ant is a unique evolutionary adaptation of giving up one faculty to enable another one.
The ant belongs to the insect order, Hymenoptera, a word built of the Greek,  ὑμήν, hymen, or membrane, and  πτερόν, pteron, or wing. And indeed, most of the members of the order, bees and wasps, have translucent wings. Honey bees, some wasps, and ants, which evolved from a line of wasps, are eusocial insects, or insects that collect food at a central place, with a large number of female workers acting in collaboration, for the benefit of swarm, and the queen and male members.
The ant, however, stands out, in that the female ant has no wings. But then, the female ant has phenomenal strength to lift and carry food or prey over a distance, or to scamper for cover if there is danger. Christian Peeters, Roberto A. Keller, Adam Khalife, Georg Fischer, Julian Katzke, Alexander Blanke and Evan P. Economo, from Sorbonne, Universities of Lisbon and Colgne and the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, Japan, write in the journal, Frontiers in Zoology, a study of how the worker ant is different from the queen and the males, who stay in the nest. They document how the body structure of the worker has evolved, to use the space that is freed by not having wings, to accommodate powerful muscles for other purposes.

Ant facts
Ants can carry a burden more than 50 times their own weight.
They communicate, the presence or the way to food, or danger, 
By chemical signals.
There are more than 10,000 known species of ants.
It is estimated that there are more than 10 quadrillion 
(ten thousand million million) ants alive at any moment.

The differentiating feature of Hymenoptera is the method of reproduction. Among ants, it is the queen that lays eggs, and the eggs may be fertilised or unfertilised. The fertilised eggs, which have two chromosomes, develop into the female, worker ants. The unfertilised eggs, with a single chromosome, turn into males. It would appear odd that the females yield their interest of propagating themselves to the queen to do all the reproducing. But it turns out that as females are borne of a union where the mother makes twice the genetic contribution that the father makes, the sisters share and ¾ of the genes, in place of only ½ that would be carried forward if they mated in the normal way.

The way of cooperative reproduction thus seems to mirror the legendary cooperation that ants show in the way they work for the colony and the nest. We see that evolution, which functions not at the level of the workers, but of the queen, has acted not on the queens, but on worker ants to make them more efficient. This showcases how natural selection can bring about genetic modification by affecting the fitness not of the one that procreates, but of the genetically passive collaborator.

Dr Peeters and his colleagues, write that the success of ants as one of the most abundant animal groups, is generally explained as the result of how ants share the load and act in cohesion while foraging and within the nest. “However, the principal innovation of ants relative to their wasp ancestors was the evolution of a new physical form: a wingless worker caste optimized for ground labour,” they say in the paper. “Ant reproductives (queens and males) need to fly when they are young, but workers are freed from the need to find mates and disperse. Instead, ant workers are famous for their abilities to lift and carry objects, suggesting adaptations
for enhanced foraging on six legs,” the paper says.

In the body of the winged ants, the queen and the drones, the paper says, the thorax, or the portion between the neck and the abdomen, bears the wings and the legs and supports the head and the abdomen. The thorax is thus subject to conflicting forces. In the case of the wingless, orker ant, the load of the wings is no longer carried. There is hence a change in the sizes of the back and front of the thorax – the flight muscles are eliminated and the neck muscles become bulkier. These features of the wingless ant workers have been studied since over a century but what effect elimination of the wings has had on the shape and structure of the ant frame has not been investigated, the paper says.

The current study considered two species of ants, one where the workers are not widely separated from the queens, and likely to represent the ancestral condition, and the other, where there is pronounced difference. Unlike past studies, the current work had sensitive apparatus and Micro-CT scans were carried out using a 3D X-ray microscope.

The results of the study identified five major changes in the worker thorax, involving the skeleton, the muscles of the neck, the legs and the connection to the abdomen. Taken together, these changes “represent the evolution of an enhanced power core for more effective foraging on six legs,” the paper says. 

“The thorax of a winged insect is essentially a flying engine with powerful wing muscles,” which occupy 41 and 52% of the thorax, in the two species studied, the paper says. In worker ants, there are no wings. Bony supports for wings can hence fuse into a rigid structure. The thoracic cavity has depressions to connect the muscles that move the legs – a feature that is markedly different from what is there in the queen ant. 

The paper then describes several other areas where the worker ant has evolved for strong and rapid muscle movement on the ground. “The queens and workers in two distant sub-families reveals that the evolutionary loss of the flying engine typical of insects allowed for a remodelling of the thoracic skeleton and associated muscles to power earthbound activities,” the paper says. “All worker castes in Hymenoptera evolved specialisations for tasks complementary to the queen caste, but the chasm is much less dramatic in social bees and wasps, because the workers need to fly. Our insights in the adaptations of a thorax rearranged for strength on six legs reveal that ants maximised the merits of having queen and worker castes, allowing for much greater divergence in body size compared to social bees and wasps,” the paper says.


[the writer can be contacted at response@simplescience.in]



Green Jobs

Stripes Unleashed

Stripes Unleashed 
-Prashant Mahajan

The start of 2019 was wonderful for me as I was recruited as a Research Biologist for the “All India Tiger Monitoring” project at the prestigious Wildlife Institute of India. After spending a few days at the institute I was sent to the most celebrated tiger reserve of India the “Corbett Tiger Reserve” to carry out the field work along with the researchers already present there. I reached the base camp on 15th February, 2019 which was to be my home for the next three months. The next day I went inside the tiger reserve to deploy camera traps for capturing images of tigers and other species. 
I was very excited that I will be working inside the core zone of the tiger reserve and more than that I was hoping that finally I will be able to see the tigers. Before this field, I had been to tiger reserves three times, first in 2014 when I was in my Bachelor’s at DU, we went to the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, which was my first ever experience into the amazing wilderness of India. I enjoyed the safari but wasn’t able to see any tiger and we only came across some pug marks. Then for my Master’s dissertation I went to the northern periphery of the Corbett Tiger Reserve, where I used to go to the kill sites of tigers and leopards. I encountered indirect signs and kills made by tigers around the villages, but not a tiger since I was working only in the periphery area of the reserve.Then, in 2018 when I was working on wolves in the Kailadevi Wildlife Sanctuary which is a part of the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve and has only 4-5 tigers,I never got a chance to go for the Ranthambore National Park safari, which has a high probability of sighting tiger. After all these visits to national parks and sanctuaries, I really wished to see a tiger in the wild even more. 
Our daily routine field work was to walk transect line in the early morning and to deploy camera traps after calibration which usually takes 1-2 hours. During the first day of field visit our driver, Sonu assured me that he would make sure that I sight a tiger in the second or third day of field. According to him all the researchers who had visited so far were able to sight at least one tiger within 2-3 days of their visits. Two days had already passed and I hadn’t been able to spot any tiger even though we were working in the highly tiger dense area. Then on the third day after retrieving our earlier deployed camera traps from the Dhikala zone, we were exploring different areas of the zone to retrieve our cameras. I was very hopeful that I’d be able to see a tiger since I was working in the best zone, where the chances of sighting tiger are quite high. After finishing our work, I was disappointed that I still couldn’t spot a tiger, and it was already evening time. We were returning and all of us were very tired and sleepy. Half way across suddenly Sonu screamed, “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” We all became conscious and started looking for the tiger here and there, and then, I saw a huge male tiger standing just 20 meters away from our jeep. He was such a huge young tiger with a bright orange coat, looking mesmerizing in the green lust forest of Corbett. He was coming downhill and our sudden entry had startled him, and due to that fear he roared loudly and aggressively, charging towards us. We were sitting in our jeep, terrified and wondering what if he came at us. Sonu was well experienced and knowledgeable and knew how to handle these kinds of situations. He started the engine and first he reversed the jeep, stopped there at some distance. By that time the tiger had also started moving in different directions. From the road ahead, forest guards were coming and after seeing them, the tiger disappeared into the valley. This was the very first experience of mine- sighting a tiger in the wild and that too so thrilling and unforgettable causing a high adrenaline rush, excitement and fear at the same time. This was my first sighting and the sighting which will last forever in my mind, not because it was the first but also because of the series of events that took place.  Then after that I saw tigers many times during my three-month field work.
I would love to narrate, the one sighting which is indeed worth sharing. After retrieving our cameras from the Dhikala zone, when we were heading back, we started hearing alarm calls from the langurs and chitals. We checked around but didn’t spot any tiger. Suddenly, we saw a fresh kill of chital inside the lantana bushes. We stopped by and started looking here and there for tiger presence, and then in the most unexpected manner, we saw a tiger emerging out of the bushes .She was “Paarwali”, the famous tigress of the Dhikala zone. Then while we were observing her from the distance, we saw one of her little cubs crossing the road; a second cub followed, and finally a third. He looked around here and there, went back inside the bushes, then again emerged and crossed the road after a few minutes. While we were waiting to see the tiger and her cubs, we saw that the cubs hurriedly went from one patch of the forest to the other patch, and their mother Paarwali was just looking towards the patch where her cubs went. Then she started calling her cubs by making the long “Humm” sound continuously. We were there waiting for the cubs to come out. Meanwhile, Paarwali lay down and we saw the cubs approaching towards her. She put her arms around the cubs and started licking and playing with them. It was such a wonderful and sweet moment and I feel lucky to have witnessed such a sight, and to observe tiger behavior in their natural habitat. Till date it was my best tiger sighting out of many. 
During the three month field work in the Corbett Tiger Reserve, it was not only tiger that I came across, but many different species of birds, ungulates and elephants in large numbers. We saw large herds of elephants in the grasslands, sometimes as many as 500 and more. We encountered elephants frequently while walking transects. One time when I was going inside the forest with our driver Sanjay ji, we came across a sharp turn on the dirt road and we suddenly saw a huge male elephant approaching us. It was such a horrifying moment and for few seconds we were frozen and didn’t know what to do. Then, Sanjay ji hurriedly started the jeep and we somehow escaped through the situation. Although the elephant was not in a mood to chase, but nonetheless, encountering an elephant from nowhere can make your heart beat fast. 
Certainly, my three months of field work at the Corbett Tiger Reserve were worth remembering and to cherish for many years to come. After completing the field work in May, 2018, we went back to our headquarters in Dehradun, where we were engaged in data analysis and sorting of the large number of images collected from all over India. 
I feel proud and happy to have been a part of such a mammoth exercise. Recently, the All India Tiger Estimation project received the Guinness World Record for conducting the largest camera trap survey in the word. There were 26,838 locations where camera traps were placed, 121,337 sq. km. of area was effectively surveyed and 76,651 photos of tigers were captured during the whole exercise. Working with the Tiger cell at Wildlife Institute of India was one of my best experiences and I got a lot of opportunities to learn and grow. I made some really good friends and will always remember and cherish those beautiful moments. 
( Prashant Mahajan is a a graduate in B.Sc. Zoology (H) from the University of Delhi and having a  master's degree in Wildlife Sciences from Aligarh Muslim University (2018).  He is currently working as a Project Fellow at Wildlife Institute of India in the project "Population management of species involved in Human-wildlife conflict").  He can be contacted at Prashant_mahajan@rocketmail.com  or at +91-9997999970.  He also has a blog at Lifeofawild.wordpress.com.)

Poem

Scaly breasted Munias

Scaly breasted Munias

-Kanan Bishnoi





When I wake up in the morning,

Many birds are calling, 
Munia is picking up the grass,
For her babies she forecasts,
All the grass she amass,
She makes a nest first class,
We call it.... Jhakaas.
Everyday I stand with a camera,
I see Munia has a lot of stamina,
Munias are always nearby,
They are our family and not shy,
In my dreams i also fly,
One day we will all fly in the open sky.




Kanan Bishnoi 
Class 2
Daughter Mrs Shakti Bishnoi
Photo credit: Kanan Bishnoi


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