The Gist of Science Reporter: March 2013

The Gist of
Science Reporter: March 2013


  • New Bird Species in India
  • New Lease ofLife for Northern River Terrapins
  • Wild Ass National Parke


India’s wildlife is passing through an extremely critical
period, Almost all the protected areas and species are under human-related
pressures in some way or the other. Common species such as House Sparrow, Black
Drongo, and Indian Roller are becoming uncommon, The countryside that used to
harbor Indian Fox, Jackal, and Blackbuck in large numbers is becoming harsh to
them. The destruction deplorably continues, at times, at an alarming rate, The
depletion of the wildlife can be attributed largely to deforestation and inroads
of human civilization into the forest areas, Despite a growing appreciation of
wildlife, the explosive growth of the human population has led to soaring demand
for food, timber and housing, which has led to the destruction of India’s
natural habitats and of the beautiful wildlife heritage, Laws exist to protect
the wildlife from slaughter and to regulate poaching, but unfortunately, the
legal measures do not fully serve the desired purpose. The Indian landscape,
once a broad mosaic of natural habitats ideal for wildlife, is now left with
only scattered tracts of suitable ‘wildland’, This deteriorating condition calls
for efficient wildlife management plans,


Wildlife management and the challenge of conserving
especially large mammals is complex and dynamic, involving ecological, economic,
institutional, political, and cultural factors and any attempt to solve these
issues must take them into account. Realistically, no single agency,
organization, or institution will be able to solve wildlife conservation issues
alone, No single plan or strategy can be completely comprehensive and correct,
Recognizing these opportunities and the need to build strong partnerships with
land managers, researchers, citizens, government officials, and adopting
integrated wildlife management should be the way forward, It is important to
look at the following areas to bring about practical and tangible changes in
wildlife related matters.

Identifying the gaps: A collective capacity is still sorely
lacking due to an enormous list of gaps and needs, These need to be identified –
from global to national to local and from international conservation
organizations to local community groups to governments to research institutions.

Training and capacity building: Training and capacity
building are needed for individuals and institutions at all levels dealing with
all aspects of wildlife conservation, including the development and
implementation of institutional procedures and principles, site-specific
programmes and processes, and governing laws and policies, Training programmes
are especially essential at local levels to ensure the effective use of
facilitation techniques and increased awareness of resources, best practices,
tools, processes, and approaches for effective running. Training should target
forest managers, researchers and protected area officials who may have to deal
with challenging wildlife questions, There is also heightened need to indulge
conservation organization staff who may be managing conservation wildlife
programmes for protected areas or regions, but do not have a complete set of
skills or expertise to address the complex, multidisciplinary nature of wildlife

Creating coexistence: Wildlife related organizations,
community leaders, and other groups and institutions should share experiences
and lessons learned to enhance and refine the approach and incorporate more “out
of the box” thinking and application in the work.

In the Indian system of wildlife management. adaptive
management and applied research play an important role where wildlife
interactions need to be informed by a more systematic understanding, use, and
application of biological, social, and cultural knowledge and norms, Adaptive
management in terms of wildlife protection needs to be more responsive to
disagreements; more proactive in using research, best practices, and other
resources; and more assertive in learning about, developing, and implementing

Meraj Anwar, Senior Project Officer, WWF-India, feels,
“Wildlife management should include social, cultural, historical, biological,
ecological, political, historical, economic, and geographical components and
should be made and reviewed, along with any action plans, by all stakeholders.
Training, expert facilitation, and applied research focused on wildlife related
issues, causes, effects, and solutions will improve overall management efforts.
More effective monitoring and evaluation of all aspects of wildlife conservation
need to occur and should be fed back into management and research plans.”
Sufficient funding: Funding is very essential when it comes to biodiversity
conservation or wildlife conservation per se. Nachiketh Sharma, Wildlife
Researcher at Center for Ecological Science, Indian Institute of Science,
Bangalore, feels, “There is a clear relationship between the amount and
reliability of conservation funding available, and the extent and quality of
wildlife protection and restoration that can be carried out.” Funding is needed
at local, national, and global levels. Local funding is essential to ensure that
“best practices” are being developed and implemented soundly and effectively,
and that multidisciplinary, multi-tactic, and comprehensive programmes are given
adequate support to ensure the best chance of success. At the global level,
funding is needed to ensure that the progress and lessons learned locally are
appropriately made available to the wider community. Globally informed and
developed resources, exchanges, innovations, and efforts require funding to
ensure that local efforts continue to act with state-of-the-art knowledge and

Committed research and researchers: With these research and
applied management strategies in wildlife, it is vital to understand the role of
core scientific research and researchers in wildlife. It is perhaps, one of the
key areas that is often neglected.


A new species of bird belonging to the family Rallidae has
been discovered in the Great Nicobar Islands, the largest Island of Nicobar
Group. The credit for the discovery of this new species of Crake previously
unknown to science goes to the scientist of the Zoological Survey of India
(Andaman & Nicobar regional centre) Mr. S. Rajesh Kumar and Mr. C. Ragunathan.
The news of this amazing discovery was published in the 17 June 2102 issue of
Bulleting of the Oriental Bird Club (OBC). Professor Parmela Cecile Cecile
Rasmussen, a renowned American Ornithologist and an authority on Indian birds,
has confirmed the discovery of this new species of bird. Pamela Rasmussen is
known the world over as the coauthor of the acclaimed Birds of South Asia: The
Ripely Guide (Volume 1 and 2).

Post Independence this is the third instance of the discovery
of a bird species in India. The first bird species to be discovered in
independent India was in the year 1948 when India’s birdman Late Dr. Slim Ali
and American ornithologist Late Sidney Dillon Ripley reported the discovery of a
new bird species Rusty-throated Wren babbler Spelaeornis badeigularis from the
Mishmi Hills of Arunachal Pradesh. Salim and Ripley had got a Single dead female
Specimen of the bird. The species was reported again by American ornithologists
Ben King and Julian P. Donahue in the year 2006.

The second instance of a discovery of a new species of bird
in India was in the year 2006. Raman Athreya, a professional astronomer and an
amateur ornithologist, reported the finding of a new species of Liocichla, an
Asian babbler near Eaglenest wildlife sanctuary in western Arunachal Pradesh. It
was named Bugun liocichla (Liocichla bugunorum) after the local Bugun community.
A live bird was successfully netted in 2006. After a period of six years another
new species of bird has been discovered in India, S. Rajeshkumar found a single
Croke at Govind Nagar tsunami shelter on the east coast of Great Nicobar on 21
November 2011. The bird was observed foraging for insects in the open for about
fifteen minutes at a range of four meters and provided good views. As he
photographed the bird, it was silent throughout the encounter and when disturbed
instead of taking flight ran away quickly and hid up a steep slope. For
convenience the new found croke is being called the “Great Nicobar croke”, The
bird will not be scientifically named till a type specimen (normally a dead
bird) is collected.

When a new species is described a dead individual is
preserved in a museum as the ‘type specimen’, which proves the existence of the
species and displays the features that distinguish it from other species. The
newly discovered Great Nicobar croke is about the size of an adult
White-breasted waterhen with a thick bill and fairly short tail.

New Lease of Life for Northern River Terrapins

The Northern River terrapin 8atagur baska is now restricted to parts of
North-eastern India (Orissa and the Sundarbans region of India), part of
Sundarbans in Bangladesh and possibly Myanmar.

It is a critically endangered species. There are no known
active nesting sites and no population data exists for this species but it is
clear that wild populations have crashed with only remnant survivors remaining
(Brian D. Horne, TSA 2011 Magazine). These rate terrapins are feared extinct
tint the wild because for the past few years there has not been a single
sighting. Only a few remnants have been recorded from village ponds of the
Indian and Bangladesh Sudarbans where people keep turtles as pet and a source of
eggs. In November 2010 a wild male was seen slaughtered at a market in Dhaka
providing evidence of a few remaining species in the wild but the picture in the
Indian part of the Sundarbns is much more grim.

Wild Ass National Parke

Little Rann of Kutch, situated in the Thar Desert of Gujarat,
was established in January 1972 as a sanctuary for the last population of Indian
wild ass (Equus hemionus khur), locally known as khur. The only other two
subspecies of wild asses live in the high arid plateaus of Tibet. Around 150
kilometers off Ahmedabad, the wild Ass Wildlife Sanctuary covers an area of
roughly 5,000 square kilometers. The climate of the region is extreme with May
being the hottest month. The average temperature during this time is around
31°C. January is the coldest month with an average temperature of 11°C. During
the monsoon, the whole region becomes flooded with rainwater. They are slightly
bigger than a donkey, and are fast and strong like a horse. Few animals in the
animal kingdom can match the wild ass in terms of speed and stamina. They are
capable of marathon runs at a pace of about 24 kilometers per hour for as long
as two hours, reaching a top speed of 70 kilometers per hour over short

The khur inhabits hills during the monsoon, and in the dry
season descends and forages along the edge of the Little Rann, where it
frequently raids cultivated fields during darkness. Apart from the wild ass, the
region is inhabited by other wild animals also much as the chinkara, desert fox,
jackal, desert cat, carracal, nilgai, wolf, blackbuck, and striped hyena.

The Khur was given full legal protection in 1952. The other
threats to this last refuge of the Indian Wild Ass are from vehicular traffic
that damages the fragile ecosystem, cutting trees to make charcoal, and
extensive illegal salt mining operations that are eating into the sanctuary and
causing pollution.

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