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Environment and WIldlife India News

India’s Operation Turtshield lauded on global stage

The Indian delegation has also been negotiating and deliberating on all the listed issues related to trade and conservation of endangered fauna and flora in the ongoing CoP of CITES…reports Asian Lite News

India’s proposal for induction of the freshwater turtle Batagur kachuga has earned wide support at the 19th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP 19) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) being held at Panama City.

CITES also lauded and recorded the works done by India in the area of conservation of tortoises and freshwater turtles and efforts made in combating wildlife crime and illegal trade of turtles in the country through Operation Turtshield.

The resolution documents submitted by the CITES Secretariat on tortoises and freshwater turtles specifically mentioned the commendable result achieved by the country in operations such as those initiated by the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau namely Operation Turtshield, which resulted in nabbing many criminals involved in poaching and illegal trade of freshwater turtles and substantial seizures made by the agencies in a different part of the country.

At CITES CoP 19, which is also known as the World Wildlife Conference and will conclude on Friday, India reiterated its commitment to conserving tortoises and freshwater turtles in the country.

India also highlighted that many of the species of turtles and freshwater tortoises which are recognized as critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, or near threatened are already included in Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and given the high degree of protection.

India pressed upon that listing of many such species in CITES Appendix II will further enhance the protection of the species from getting indiscriminately and illegally traded worldwide.

The Indian delegation has also been negotiating and deliberating on all the listed issues related to trade and conservation of endangered fauna and flora in the ongoing CoP of CITES.

At CoP of CITES, 52 proposals have been put forward so far that would affect the regulations on international trade for sharks, reptiles, hippos, songbirds, rhinos, 200 tree species, orchids, elephants, turtles, and more.

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Flamingos arrive at Pulicat bird sanctuary

The water provides them snails, crustaceans, crabs, algae and several types of micro fauna…reports Asian Lite News

The waters of Pulicat Lake Bird Sanctuary located in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh are abuzz with activity. With winter setting in, the migratory visitors have started arriving at the lake to spend their winter there. The movement of these birds starts in November and they stay here till April after which they start going back.

Pulicat Lake is the second biggest brackish water lake after Chilika in Odisha.

While only a small portion of the lake is situated in Tamil Nadu – 10 per cent – Flamingos and Terns are already making their presence felt. Another star attraction, the Pelicans too are expected soon.

Other birds which are expected to visit this lake include Pond Heron, Little Stint, Curlew, Herring Gull, Sand Piper, Ducks, Little Cormorant, Common Teal, Blue Jay, Night Heron, Spot-Billed Pelican, White Ibis, Open Billed Stork, and many others. These birds come from faraway places including Tibet, Ladakh, Siberia, China, Australia and Nigeria.

These guests are welcomed by the local residents, including fisherfolks and farmers.

“People associate large turnout of birds with better catch of fishes,” observed Prasanth E., Wildlife Warden, Chennai. “The presence of the birds and their droppings help in rejuvenating the lake, thereby increasing the catch also,” said the Indian Forest Officer.

While there is not much breeding on this side of the lake it does provide a large feeding ground and that is what attracts the birds in droves. The reason for this is the large area covered by the lake and the depth of the water. Talking to India Narrative, Prasanth said: “The water is spread over a wide area and it is only a foot deep allowing the birds to access a variety of food in a bigger area and enabling them to see their prey easily and catch them standing comfortably.”

The water provides them snails, crustaceans, crabs, algae and several types of micro fauna.

Besides these features which make Pulicat special, the area also provides a secondary source of food to the birds. The paddy fields around the lake provide insects and worms in abundance.

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Climate change deadlier than cancer, says UNDP

Despite higher incomes in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the death rate is still higher than Alzheimer’s disease, which is the sixth leading cause of death worldwide…reports Asian Lite News

Climate change could be twice as deadly as cancer in some parts of the world if carbon emissions remain high, according to new data released by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Climate Impact Lab.

Using Dhaka, Bangladesh, as an example, according to the data released on Friday, additional deaths from climate change would be nearly twice the country’s current all-cancer death rate and 10 times its road traffic death rate by 2100.

“Because of human action, the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is reaching dangerous levels, driving earth’s temperatures higher and amplifying the frequency of intensity of extreme events,” says the newly launched Human Climate Horizons platform, adding that without concerted and urgent action, climate change will further exacerbate inequalities, and uneven development.

In addition to the analyses from the Human Development Reports of 2020, 2021, and 2022, the data shows how climate change impacts people’s lives — from mortality to livelihoods.

Higher temperatures and a warmer climate stress cardiovascular and respiratory systems around the world, but the effects will differ depending on how well communities are equipped to adapt.

According to the data, climate change could lead to nearly 67 deaths per 100,000 population in Faisalabad, Pakistan — more deaths than strokes, the third leading cause of death.

Despite higher incomes in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the death rate is still higher than Alzheimer’s disease, which is the sixth leading cause of death worldwide.

According to the research, the earth’s average temperature has risen by nearly 1.2 degrees Celsius since the late 19th century, changing the entire planet’s surface.

Nevertheless, billions live in regions that have already experienced warmer temperatures than the global average.

As an example, the platform points to Maracaibo, Venezuela, noting that in the 1990s it averaged 62 annual days with temperatures exceeding 35 degrees Celsius. However, by mid-century, that number will likely soar to 201 days.

Electricity availability and fuels used to generate it to power air conditioners and heaters play a crucial role in our ability to cope with extreme temperatures, according to the UNDP.

As individuals, communities, and businesses adapt to changing conditions, the effects of climate change on energy use will vary locally.

In Jakarta, for example, electricity consumption in response to warmer temperatures is projected to increase by roughly one-third of current household consumption in Indonesia. This will require critical additional infrastructure planning.

Increasingly frequent and severe temperature extremes also threaten livelihoods, affecting work intensity and duration as well as affecting the ability to perform tasks.

“The impact of climate change differs across sectors of the economy with workers in high-risk, weather-exposed industries like agriculture, construction, mining and manufacturing most affected,” according to platform data.

In Niamey, Niger, in sectors such as construction, mining and manufacturing, excessive heat was responsible for 36 fewer working hours annually, taking a 2.5 percent toll on the country’s future GDP.

In Niger, as in many other parts of the Sahel, climate shocks have resulted in recurring droughts with devastating impacts on the region’s already vulnerable populations.

Climate change impacts are not evenly distributed globally, which will result in an increase in inequalities.

The UNDP hopes that by highlighting that the future is not predetermined, people can step up climate action everywhere.

Meanwhile, the UNDP has also launched the How Just Transition Can Deliver the Paris Agreement report this week, highlighting the need to embrace the “green revolution” — or risk increasing social inequality, civil unrest, economic loss.

Ahead of the UN climate conference, COP27, which kicks off on Sunday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, the report spotlights the importance of “fair and equitable” transitioning to meeting the climate goals set out in the Paris Agreement.

From providing workers with new green economy skills and access to social protection to ensuring that countries lay out a clear pathway to a net-zero future, UNDP chief Achim Steiner said the report provides “real-world insights into how to accelerate momentum around a just transition that is fair and equitable for the energy sector and beyond”.

‘Adapting to climate change must become global priority’

As climate impacts intensify across the globe, nations must dramatically increase funding and implementation of actions designed to help vulnerable nations and communities adapt to the climate storm, a new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report said on Thursday.

Released ahead of COP27, the latest round of climate talks at Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt, the ‘Adaptation Gap Report 2022: Too Little, Too Slow – Climate adaptation failure puts world at risk’ finds that global efforts in adaptation planning, financing and implementation are not keeping pace with the growing risks.

“Adaptation needs in the developing world are set to skyrocket to as much as $340 billion a year by 2030. Yet adaptation support today stands at less than one-tenth of that amount. The most vulnerable people and communities are paying the price. This is unacceptable,” UN Secretary-General AntAnio Guterres said in a statement on the release of the Adaptation Gap Report.

“Adaptation must be treated with a seriousness that reflects the equal worth of all members of the human family. It’s time for a global climate adaptation overhaul that puts aside excuses and picks up the toolbox to fix the problems,” he added.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, said: “Climate change is landing blow after blow upon humanity, as we saw throughout 2022, most viscerally in the floods that put much of Pakistan under water. The world must urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit the impacts of climate change. But we must also urgently increase efforts to adapt to the impacts that are already here and those to come.”

“Nations need to back the strong words in the Glasgow Climate Pact with strong action to increase adaptation investments and outcomes, starting at COP27,” she added.

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Cheetahs back on Indian soil after 70 years

‘Project Cheetah’ is the world’s first inter-continental large wild carnivore translocation project, reports Asian Lite News

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said cheetahs are back on Indian soil after 70 years and the move will lead to restoration of forest and grassland ecosystems.

The Prime Minister released the big cats — five male and three female, brought from Namibia, into enclosures of Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park and termed it endeavour towards environment and wildlife conservation.

Prime Minister Modi said, “Cheetahs had become extinct from the country in 1952, but for decades, no meaningful effort was made to rehabilitate them. Today, as we celebrate ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’, the country has started rehabilitating cheetahs with a new energy.”

PM Modi releases wild Cheetahs – which had become extinct from India, in Kuno National Park, in Madhya Pradesh on September 17, 2022. (Photo: PIB)

He said that tourists and wildlife enthusiasts will have to wait a few months before they can see cheetahs at KNP.

“Bringing Cheetahs back to India will help in the restoration of open forest and grassland ecosystems and also lead to enhanced livelihood opportunities for the local community,” the Prime Minister added.

He said ‘Project Cheetah’ is the world’s first inter-continental large wild carnivore translocation project.

Notably, the special event was scheduled for September 17 to mark Prime Minister Modi’s 72nd birthday.

The felines will be living under an earmarked area of KNP for two weeks after which they will be released in the park.

According to a senior forest officer in Madhya Pradesh: “Cheetahs will be living in an earmarked area under KNP for two weeks. Once they will adapt to the climate of this area, they will be released into the park.”

All cheetahs have special radio-collar fitted to their necks so that their movement can be easily located. Their health and movement will be monitored every day by a special joint team of African and Indian wild animals experts,” the senior forest officer added.

Spread over 748 square km in the vast forest landscape of Madhya Pradesh, KNP is the new home of the eight cheetahs. Notably, the region is very close to the Sal forests of Koriya in Chhattisgarh, where the native Asiatic Cheetah was last spotted almost 70 years ago.

As per the forest officials in Madhya Pradesh, KNP was chosen as suitable destination for cheetahs after a survey of nearly a dozen national parks located in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh.

“These surveys were carried between 2010 and 2012. Later, it was observed that Kuno was the suitable destination. It was the most preferred habitat based on the assessment carried out by the Wildlife Institute of India and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) based on climatic variables, prey densities, population of competing predators, and the historical range,” the officer said.

Kuno is probably one of the few wildlife sites in the country where there has been a complete relocation of roughly 24 villages and their domesticated livestock from inside the park years ago. The village sites and their agricultural fields have now been taken over by grasses and are managed as savannah habitats.

According to the government’s plan, Kuno offers the prospect of housing four large felines in India — tiger, lion, leopard and cheetah — and ensuring they coexist as they did in the past. While the only surviving population of lions is in Gujarat, Kuno was initially proposed to provide a second home.

The forest has a significant population of leopards with a density of about nine leopards per 100 square km. This remains a concern, taking into account, that the much-stronger leopard has an advantage over the slender cheetah, whose strength mainly lies in its blazingly fast speed. They are also believed to have more adaptive potential and a wider habitat than the cheetah.

PM Modi visits Kuno National Park, after the Cheetah Release Ceremony, in Madhya Pradesh on September 17, 2022. (Photo: PIB)

Madhya Pradesh Governor Mangubhai Pate, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan; Union Ministers — Narendra Singh Tomar, Bhupender Yadav, Jyotiraditya M Scindia and Ashwini Choubey — were among those present on the occasion.

The Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister on Friday had said, “We were a tiger state, a leopard state and now becoming a Cheetah state.”

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Decades-long wait for cheetahs to end

At the invitation of the Indian government, Dr Marker returned to India several times over the past 12 years to conduct site assessments and draft plans for the introduction…reports Asian Lite News

Seventy years after they went extinct in the country, cheetahs are all set to walk again on the Indian lands. India is all set to welcome eight cheetahs on September 17 when the big cats will be brought in from Namibia as part of a special agreement.

On Thursday, a modified passenger B747 Jumbo Jet, painted with the face of a tiger, landed in the Namibian capital of Windhoek to ferry the big cats. The plane will take off from Hosea Kutako International Airport in Windhoek with eight Namibian wild cheetahs, five females and three males, on board.

On September 17, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will release the cheetahs in the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. The day also happens to be the birthday of the prime minister.

After the species went extinct in the country in 1952, India made a commitment to return cheetahs to several locations within the nation, the first being Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. There, facilities for the animals have been developed, staff have been trained, and larger predators have been moved away.

The concept was first put forth in 2009 by Indian conservationists, with Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) Drs Laurie Marker, Bruce Brewer and Stephen J O’Brien visiting India for consultative meetings with the government the same year. CCF is a not-for-profit organisation, headquartered in Namibia, which works towards saving and rehabilitating cheetahs in the wild.

At the invitation of the Indian government, Dr Marker returned to India several times over the past 12 years to conduct site assessments and draft plans for the introduction.

Project Cheetah was approved by the Supreme Court of India in January 2020 as a pilot programme to reintroduce the species to India.

In July 2020, India and the Republic of Namibia signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) around the conservation of cheetah. The MoU includes Namibia’s participation in Project Cheetah, with the government agreeing to donate the first eight individuals to launch the programme. This is the first time that a wild southern African cheetah will be introduced in India, or in Asia, or on any other continent.

The eight cheetahs that are being brought to India include five females and three males. The five female cheetahs are aged between two and five years, while the male cheetahs are aged between 4.5 years and 5.5 years.

The first cheetah, aged two, was found with its brother at a waterhole near the city of Gobabis in south-eastern Namibia. The feline siblings were in poor health and they were probably orphaned by a wild fire some weeks before they were found. The big cats were rescued by the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) and they have been living at the CCF centre since September 2020.

The second female cheetah, aged between three to four years, was captured in July 2020 from a farm near the CCF centre.

The third female, aged two and a half years, was born in a private game reserve. Its mother was part of the CCF’s rehabilitation programme and had been released into the wild two years ago.

The fourth and fifth female cheetahs are of the same age – around five years. One of them was found by farm workers in 2017 in a malnourished state. The farm workers nursed the cheetah back to health before it was taken into the CCF rehabilitation programme in January 2018.

The fifth female cheetah was picked up by CCF staff in February 2019 from a farm near Kamanjab village in north-western Namibia.

Among the three male cheetahs, two are brothers, aged around five-and-a-half-years. The siblings have been living at the CCF reserve at Otjiwarongo in Namibia since July 2021.

The third male cheetah is aged four-and-a-half-years. It was born at the Erindi Private Game Reserve in March 2018.

Each cheetah has been vaccinated, fitted with a satellite collar and kept in isolation at the CCF centre in Namibia.

These cheetahs were selected based on an assessment of health, wild disposition, hunting skills and ability to contribute genetics that will result in a strong founder population.

The Boeing 747 ‘Jumbo Jet’ aircraft that is taking the eight cheetahs to India is a B747-400 passenger jet. The jet cabin has been modified to allow cages to be secured in the main cabin of the aircraft but will still allow vets to have full access to the cats during the flight.

The aircraft is an ultra-long range jet capable of flying up to 16 hours and so can fly directly from Namibia to India without a stop to refuel, an important consideration for the well-being of the cheetahs. The aircraft was sourced by Action Aviation, a large aircraft brokerage company.

The aircraft carrying the cheetahs on their historic transcontinental mission is flying overnight, so the animals will travel during the coolest hours of the day, arriving in Jaipur, India, on the morning of Saturday, September 17. From Jaipur, the cheetahs will be transferred by helicopter to Kuno National Park, where they will be welcomed by a delegation led by PM Modi.

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Cheetahs from Namibia to land in Jaipur on Sept. 17

All these cheetahs will be taken to Kuno on the same day by two helicopters and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will release them into the park from the Quarantine Centre…reports Asian Lite News

Cheetahs will be seen running again in India after 70 years, with India set to get eight of the big cats from Namibia.

A special cargo plane carrying these eight cheetahs will land in Jaipur on September 17 before the animals are sent to the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh’s Sheopur.

All these cheetahs will be taken to Kuno on the same day by two helicopters and Prime Minister Narendra Modi will release them into the park from the Quarantine Centre.

Officials at the Jaipur International Airport said that these cheetahs will be flagged off from Namibian capital Windhoek at 9 p.m. on September 16 and the plane will reach land here at around 8 a.m. the next day after a journey of 11 hours.

Modi’s birthday

The Cheetah Reintroduction Project, which aims to restore the population of cheetahs in the country, will formally take off on the occasion of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday, September 17, 2022.

IndianOil, as the lead energizer of this project, will be supporting the National Tiger Conservation Authority with Rs 50.22 Crore for taking the project forward.

“IndianOil is proud to welcome the Cheetahs back to Indian soil. It is an affirmation of IndianOil’s resolve to align with Honourable Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s vision to preserve and enhance India’s wildlife and maintain a healthy ecological balance,” said S M Vaidya, the chairman of IndianOil.

“Restoring original cheetah habitats and their biodiversity should go a long way to stem the degradation and rapid loss of biodiversity. As the only corporate championing this special cause, we hope this project’s success will open up more avenues for crafting a sustainable future,” Vaidya added.

Cheetah was officially declared extinct in India, in 1952. Under the Species Recovery Program of the Government of India, species that become extinct are restored in their historic natural habitat.

Some landmark projects supporting the program include the Restoration of Tigers in Panna Tiger Reserve and the Reintroduction of Gaur (Indian Bison) in Bandhavgarh. Now, the Kuno National Park will have cheetahs from Africa, marking a fresh start for the species in the country.

IndianOil’s financial support would be directed towards cheetah introduction endeavours, habitat management, protection, eco-development, staff training and veterinary healthcare. (IANS/ANI)

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The guardian angels of Odisha’s Gundalba forests

Each week, a group takes up the task of patrolling the woods. They watch out for anyone trying to cut a tree. They work in two shifts: from 8 a.m. to noon and post-lunch to sunset…reports Tazeen Qureshy

Sitting in her house in the nondescript Gundalba village in Odisha’s Puri district, Charulata Biswal (55) speaks with poetic creativity. A noted environmental crusader, she has received numerous accolades, but the awards and recognitions have not made her shun the simplicity. Her testimonials reflect the culture and aesthetics of her work, more than scientific references.

“The cool breeze under the shade of the tree on a hot summer afternoon, the soft ruffling of leaves as wind brushes past, the melodious chirping of the birds nested in the tree… These are the little joys in life that only a tree can provide,” she articulates her emotions in Odia, in a near melodic cadence.

For over two decades now, Charulata and a group of 75 women from adjacent villages have been guarding a casuarina forest in Gundalba from timber mafia. Additionally, they protect the mangroves around the coastal belt that lies in close proximity to the village, which comes under Astaranga block.

Super Cyclone and its aftermath

The devastating Super Cyclone of October 1999, which swept away several villages along Odisha’s coast, was their wake-up call. Though inundated, Gundalba, which lies half a kilometre from Astaranga beach, was not cut off. “The mangroves saved us. They reduced the pace of the waves entering our village. If not for these trees, our village could have been washed away,” says Charulata.

Two years later, under the aegis of Pir Jahania Van Surakhya Samiti – it was named after the spiritual shrine situated near the village – women from each household of Gundalba joined the green drive. Their counterparts from other villages joined in gradually. The areas of conservation were demarcated for the convenience of the participant villages.

The thengapalli method

Women in Gundalba use the thengapalli method to protect the casuarina forest. In local parlance, thenga means a stick and palli means turn. So, armed with sticks a group of 10 to 12 women stay on guard throughout the day.

Each week, a group takes up the task of patrolling the woods. They watch out for anyone trying to cut a tree. They work in two shifts: from 8 a.m. to noon and post-lunch to sunset.

“Sometimes, we also venture out in the dark, if we get information about anyone sneaking into the forest. Those in our village follow the rules, but outsiders cause trouble at times,” says a woman associated with the group.

Since the women also have households to look after, their duty hours have to be managed efficiently.

“In a household where only one member is female, she completes all daily chores before venturing into the forest. If the family has more women, we place them in different groups so that at least one of them is present in the house to manage chores,” says Mehjabeen Nisa, a member of the group.

If any intruder is caught, he is usually let off with a warning. But if the situation gets out of hand, the local administration is informed.

Nisa recollects one such incident, which took place over two years ago. “A large group of people had come to the forest once to cut the trees down. When we tried to stop them, they behaved violently. We immediately informed the forest department and entrusted them with the matter,” she recalls.

Local residents are dependent on the forest for firewood, but they mostly rely on agriculture to make ends meet. The women on forest duty always allow people to collect broken twigs and dry leaves, but ensure that no trees are touched.

A safe spot for Olive Ridleys

Women led by Charulata also offer their services to protect the nesting places of Olive Ridley turtles along Astaranga beach. “We all belong to the same village and help each other. The women who protect the forest also clean the beach area regularly. This is an important aspect in the Olive Ridley conservation. Even during the breeding season, they voluntarily help out,” says Bichitrananda Biswal, an Olive Ridley conservationist.

Inside the forest, the women keep an eye on water bodies frequented by animals. If the ponds run dry, they alert the local administration.

Globally, there are numerous studies that highlight the successful implementation of community-led efforts to conserve local biodiversity. While it is difficult to ascertain accurate statistical data on what impact they make – since most such endeavours are voluntary in nature – studies and surveys by local NGOs report improvement in the overall health of the forests after such initiatives.

“Women and forests are dependent on each other. When there is a dip in forest cover, women are the first to know as they rely on forest resources a lot,” says Sanjukta Basa, a subject expert from Odisha who has followed thengapalli closely.

A report suggests that the forest cover in Astaranga region is up by 63 per cent – from 2.58 sq km in 1985 to 4.21 sq km in 2004. The women themselves have realised this positive change. “We now spot deer in the forests. Sometimes, they enter agricultural lands and damage crops, but we are still happy to provide them a habitat by protecting the forest,” says Charulata.

A helping hand

The concept of Joint Forest Management is gaining ground, but there are challenges on the way, primarily due to the lack of coordination between different stakeholders and the conflicts in management.

Being voluntary in nature, most community conservation efforts are driven by motivation, often due to cultural resemblances. The villagers of Gundalba also started off voluntarily, but were backed by the forest department since 2009. “We do not get any monetary support, but the forest department supports us in case of a rift with intruders. We are in a way recognised by them for the work we do,” says Nisa.

A section of the forest land is said to have been officially handed over to the villagers, but this claim could not be independently verified. However, more than the legal rights, the women believe in doing their duty. “Our work is to protect the forest and that is all what we know. Today, a lot of people are recognising our efforts . We might not understand the technicalities, but we understand the forest and will work to conserve them till our last breath,” Charulata concludes.

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What does it take to be friends with the Indian antelope?

Usha Rani, an anganwadi worker in Sadhhi Nayapally village, says their centres play a crucial role in blackbuck conservation in Ganjam…reports Asian Lite News

“We heard of a time when the village was hit by a drought for three years. People hardly had any food. And as they starved, wild animals migrated from the forest to the village. Among them were the blackbuck, which had arrived in Bhetanai for the first time,” narrates Suresh Maharana, an elderly resident of the village.

The very next year, Maharana adds, it rained in Bhetanai, and everything returned to normal.

“Since then, people have believed that these animals are lucky for the village. So we never stop blackbuck from eating our crops,” he says, describing the close bond their ancestors share with the blackbucks.

Maharana then goes on to share another folklore: “Since Lord Ram chased a deer and lost Sita, it’s believed that bad luck will fall upon anyone who harms the blackbuck.”

True or not, this relationship with the endangered animal, steeped in lore and tradition, has pinned rural Odisha on the map.

In Bhetanai, around 50 km from Berhampur, blackbucks — the herbivores that need large grazing land — get a free pass to roam on the farmlands of the villagers and despite the crop loss, villagers believe that the Indian antelopes are the reason for their wealth and happiness.

Over the last decade, locals in Ganjam have been involved in this conservation, so much so that their work has drawn the eyes of several parties. Not only has there been an increase in the number of blackbuck in the district, tourists, too, have flocked to the region to catch a glimpse of the animal, giving it a unique identity.

The local conservation story

Nearly 90 per cent of Bhetanai’s residents say they have lost crops to blackbuck, but they hardly have any complaints. The reason being, new employment opportunities — something they desperately needed as agriculture couldn’t be relied upon as a primary livelihood means. As informed by Pratyush Mahapatra, a scientist at Zoological Survey of India, a 2010 report by the department on blackbuck stated that around 25 per cent of the fields in Bhetanai were barren.

The villagers here have set an example for public participation in wildlife protection, with every villager acting as a guardian. It is because of these community efforts, that Bhetanai is moving past the agri-sector and looking at tourism as a dependable alternate livelihood. One such ‘guardian’ is 52-year-old Kailash Chandra Maharana, who says villagers spend time rescuing and rearing the blackbuck despite adversities.

Furthermore, members of various women-led self-help groups (SHG) and anganwadi workers in Bhetanai are also involved in the process. Incidentally, it is the women of these SHGs who collect data on blackbuck, their movement, changing food habits etc. A Vana Surakhya Samiti was also set up to protect the species with the help of the Odisha government’s forest department.

Usha Rani, an anganwadi worker in Sadhhi Nayapally village, says their centres play a crucial role in blackbuck conservation in Ganjam.

“In our village, around seven SHGs dedicate themselves to the conservation of blackbuck.”

Bishnu Majhi, who has been involved in conservation work for the past 20 years, says women of the SHGs have been distributing leaflets to improve public awareness on blackbucks. In addition, several paintings adorn the walls of government schools to create awareness among children.

Furthermore, Dilip Kumar Rout, the Ghumsura divisional forest officer, says: “Just like the Bishnois of western Rajasthan and the Vala Rajputs of Saurashtra, the people of Ganjam have been enthusiastically protecting this animal. When the whole community works to protect them, it runs on auto-pilot with no major government involvement required.”

Efforts of forest department

In India, the blackbuck is protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. It is also included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. While its numbers in India had dwindled by the 1990s, conservation efforts for this rare species gathered pace due to public participation, and their numbers are now on the rise again.

Odisha is the prime example of such community effort. According to a survey conducted by the state forest department, the blackbuck population spiked from 1,533 in 2011 to 2,809 in 2018 and 6,875 by 2021.

Moreover, a blackbuck protection committee was established in 1990, says Bhetanai resident Amulya Upadhyaya, adding that a district-level committee was formed later with the help of villagers. This committee stood like a shield to protect the species.

With the rise in the number of blackbuck, crop damage, too, soared. But villagers are still firm on their stance that no blackbuck should be harmed in any way. So to help them protect the animals and also limit crop loss, the local forest department has stepped in.

To begin with, the department tracked the movement of herds. It then acquired land from the villagers on lease and created specific crop land for them. These patches now grow pulses like green gram, Bengal gram and ragi, among others. The development of the grassland has also helped provide ample space for blackbuck to graze, which has, in turn, helped reduce crop loss.

Moreover, authorities carved out 20 acres of crop fields, which are harvested four times a year, to feed the blackbuck, in addition to the 20 water bodies it set up, like ponds, game tanks and salt licks, for the animal.

The forest department has also made arrangements to treat these blackbuck endangered by road accidents and stray dogs. Beside all this, the department is providing all kinds of financial and technical assistance to protect and conserve the species through public participation; the region has been declared a protected area.

A tourism draw

While crop loss may have affected the economy of Bhetanai, villagers seem to have found a bigger source of income. In December and January every year, thousands of tourists flock to the village in Ganjam to spot the blackbuck. According to Ganjam tourist officer Ratikanta Mohapatra, nearly 20,000 tourists visit the district yearly to see the animals. Even during the pandemic, several experts, photographers and nature lovers continued to visit Bhetanai.

A number of ingenious steps have also been taken keeping tourists in mind. Shashi Paul, the principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), says the local forest department constructed a four-storey watchtower from where people can watch the blackbuck and monitor their behaviour.

The tourist influx has also helped the region’s youth with employment opportunities.

The state tourism department has worked alongside Tata Steel Foundation in Ganjam district’s Gopalpur to train the youth as guides, which aims to secure a sustainable livelihood for these youngsters.

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Environment and WIldlife Lite Blogs

‘Dinosaurs thrived amid ice, not warmth’

“The key to their eventual dominance was very simple. They were fundamentally cold-adapted animals. When it got cold everywhere, they were ready, and other animals weren’t,” he added…reports Asian Lite News

Dinosaurs became adapted to the cold weather in polar regions before a mass extinction event paved the way for their reign at the end of the Triassic, according to a study of ancient mass extinction.

The conventional theory of how the dinosaurs died 66 million years ago: in Earth’s fiery collision with a meteorite, and a following global winter as dust and debris choked the atmosphere is well-known.

But there was a previous extinction, far more mysterious and less discussed: the one 202 million years ago, which killed off the big reptiles who up until then ruled the planet, and apparently cleared the way for dinosaurs to take over.

The period, known as Triassic, was generally hot and steamy. But cold weather was already set at the poles spread to lower latitudes, killing off the coldblooded reptiles. But, dinosaurs that had already adapted, survived the evolutionary bottleneck and spread out, according to the findings published in the journal Science Advances.

“Dinosaurs were there during the Triassic under the radar all the time,” said lead author Paul Olsen, a geologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

“The key to their eventual dominance was very simple. They were fundamentally cold-adapted animals. When it got cold everywhere, they were ready, and other animals weren’t,” he added.

The study is based on recent excavations in the remote desert of northwest China’s Junggar Basin, which found dinosaur footprints along with odd rock fragments that only could have been deposited by ice.

The team found that the winters might have lasted a decade or more; even the tropics may have seen sustained freezing conditions.

The dinosaurs survived the freezing conditions due to primitive feathers which helped them in insulation. And unlike the cold-blooded reptiles, many dinosaurs also possessed warm-blooded, high-metabolism systems. Both qualities would have helped dinosaurs in chilly conditions.

“Severe wintery episodes during volcanic eruptions may have brought freezing temperatures to the tropics, which is where many of the extinctions of big, naked, unfeathered vertebrates seem to have occurred,” said co-author Dennis Kent, a geologist at Lamont-Doherty.

“Whereas our fine feathered friends acclimated to colder temperatures in higher latitudes did OK,” she added.

The findings defy the conventional imagery of dinosaurs, but some prominent specialists say they are convinced.

“There is a stereotype that dinosaurs always lived in lush tropical jungles, but this new research shows that the higher latitudes would have been freezing and even covered in ice during parts of the year,” said Stephen Brusatte, Professor of palaeontology and evolution at the University of Edinburgh.

“Dinosaurs living at high latitudes just so happened to already have winter coats (while) many of their Triassic competitors died out.”

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Africa News Environment and WIldlife Lite Blogs

Ranges of storks rising in India, but declining in Africa

The international team of authors included people from the US, India, and South Africa, led by Gula, now a PhD student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa…reports Vishal Gulati

Ranges of six endemic African stork species that are widespread from East to Southern Africa, but have highly fragmented ranges in West Africa, may have declined by over 25 per cent in three decades, says a latest study.

But, separate studies in India indicate a steady increase in the woolly-necked stork, which prefers irrigation canals over wetlands.

In Haryana, ornithologists found a rather large breeding population of storks even in those densely populated villages and towns that have witnessed agriculture for over a century.

In Africa, the studied stork species that have seen a decline are the African openbill, the Abdim’s stork, the African woolly-necked stork, the saddle-billed stork, the marabou stork and the yellow-billed stork. The marabou stork can reach five feet tall with a wingspan of up to 10 feet.

The researchers evaluate species status based on new collated information on distribution and recommend uplisting the global status of the saddle-billed stork to near threatened and West African populations of the saddle-billed stork, the marabou stork and the yellow-billed stork to threatened status.

The assessments of range wide distribution of the six African stork species and their relationships with protected areas has been published in Ostrich, the Journal of African Ornithology, and is the result of Jonah Gula’s master’s research at Texas State University.

The international team of authors included people from the US, India, and South Africa, led by Gula, now a PhD student at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

“Data is largely lacking on the status and distributions of the African storks. We collated records of these species from secondary sources spanning over 150 years to develop the first distribution maps based on known occurrence of each species,” co-author K.S. Gopi Sundar, a Scientist at the Nature Conservation Foundation, told IANS.

“We used these data to estimate range loss since 1990. We then investigated the relationship between occurrence and the amount of protected area where storks were recorded,” he said.

“We found all six stork species were widespread from East to southern Africa, but most had fragmented ranges in West Africa caused by extirpations in a number of countries, such as Mali and Nigeria,” Gula said.

According to the assessment, the range of the African openbill has potentially declined by 21 per cent. It is most abundant in East and southern Africa in major wetland systems, and in West Africa it occurs in smaller numbers in primarily coastal areas.

An isolated population of openbill remains in Sierra Leone and is threatened by the harvesting of chicks from nests.

The range of the Abdim’s stork has potentially declined by 27 per cent.

As an equatorial migrant, it occurs in huge migratory flocks numbering in the thousands. While it still remains widespread in West Africa, where it breeds during the rainy season, there is evidence of decline on the periphery of its range in the region.

It has increased in number on the southern Arabian Peninsula, specifically Oman, where groups numbering in the hundreds are now regularly found in winter.

While the range of the saddle-billed stork has declined by 28 per cent, it was 26 per cent in both the Marabou stork and African woolly-necked stork and 27 per cent in the yellow-billed stork.

Sundar said this study importantly contributes a coarse understanding of distribution and population status of African storks and has helped identify geographic priority areas for future field efforts.

It also highlights the utility of using secondary sources to enhance the knowledge of understudied, large birds such as storks.

“Finally, our work highlights how presumptions about status of species with large geographic ranges can lead to regional declines going overlooked,” said Gula.

According to Sundar, the African study has many similarities with the situation in India.

Storks in India have been classified with respect to status without too many detailed studies. The woolly-necked stork for example was assumed to be negatively impacted by agriculture and was raised to vulnerable status.

After evidence emerged that the species is doing very well in Indian agricultural areas, IUCN had to reassign the status to near-threatened to reflect actual data.

“It is possible that storks in Africa are doing better than what we are finding but the absence of work outside protected areas, like for most species in India, is a major gap that needs filling,” he said.

Currently, all bird species have been assigned an IUCN status even though a large number of them do not have the necessary information to do so.

“The race to place all bird species into IUCN Red List status is illogical, reduces the scientific reputation of the Red List, and is not a good way to understand how birds are doing.

“Bird species without information on their habits and distribution, or with very outdated information, need to be identified so scientists can work on them and assess actual status. Our paper on African storks shows the importance of doing careful assessments,” explained Sundar.

“Our work on nesting woolly-necked storks published in a paper was conducted between 2016 and 2020 where we located 298 nests of this species, the largest data set in the world for this species,” said Sundar, also Co-chair of the IUCN Stork, Ibis and Spoonbill Specialist Group.

“We analysed this information assuming the storks in Haryana would conform to patterns of nest location that have been observed in storks globally, including the single nesting stork species in Europe and China.”

Storks are large birds that have attracted enormous mythological and scientific attention over centuries and are closely associated with endangered habitats such as wetlands.

Talking about the assessment of the African storks, Gula told IANS these storks are very charismatic, and an attraction to them can be seen as far back as ancient Egypt, where the saddle-billed stork was depicted in hieroglyphs as representing divinity.

African openbills, Abdim’s storks and yellow-billed storks were also deified, as evidenced by their mummified remains in Egyptian animal galleries. “I find it surprising that researchers and conservationists have overlooked these species for so long,” Gula adds.

The storks nesting on chimneys in Europe are considered an omen of good luck. The migration of some stork species is celebrated each year as some of the most fantastic animal movements across the globe.

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