Category Wildlife

Which is the most-trafficked mammal?

Pangolin is the only mammal said to be covered completely in scales. But it is these very scales that have largely brought about their decimation.

Why is it trafficked?

There are eight pangolin species – four each in Asia and Africa. And in both these continents, the mammals have been hunted for meat, and their scales have been used in traditional medicine. The scales are used in treating several ailments, particularly in many Asian countries. The demand for these scales has been steadily increasing over the years, and alarmingly, in addition to Asia, the number of animals being trafficked from Africa too has been increasing. This has been happening in spite of a 2017 international trade ban on all the species. In the last decade alone, more than one million pangolins are said to have been poached, according to the National Geographic, making them the most-trafficked mammal. It is believed that these numbers could be higher because small-scale smuggling could go undetected.

It’s keratin, after all!

Pangolin parts, especially the scales, are important ingredients in traditional Chinese medicine. They are believed to cure skin infections, among others. Though people continue to believe in these medicines, there has been no scientific evidence to support the theory that these scales could actually cure any ailments. However, it is assumed that it could just be the placebo effect (placebo effect refers to a phenomenon when a fake treatment appears to improve a patient’s condition because the person believes it works). It is likely that the scales have no curative properties because they are made of the same protein our nails and hair strands are made of- keratin!

With its defence mechanism of rolling itself into a ball, the pangolin is relatively safe from predators in the wild. Clearly, humans are its only big problem.

 

Picture Credit : Google

Why is the Great Indian Bustard endangered?

The great Indian bustard was once seen across the grasslands of India and Pakistan. Today though, the situation is worrying. They are found only in small and isolated fragments of their remaining habitats. They are said to have disappeared from about 90% of their original habitats, and are now confined mostly to Rajasthan. One of the best places to spot the bird in the wild is the Desert National Park (DNP) in Rajasthan. Spanning over 3,000 sq. km., it is spread across Jaisalmer and Barmer districts. Forming a part of the great Thar Desert, this Park is said to have at least 100 of these bustards. Sadly though, there are no recent confirmed sightings of these birds in places such as Maharashtra and Karnataka where they were spotted earlier.

Threats

Traditionally, the dramatic loss in the number of birds has been due to large-scale hunting – for meat and sport. What added to the problem was systematic habitat loss and degradation. Turning their grassland habitats into agricultural land has dealt them a double blow – loss of food and closer contact with humans and cattle. Further, stray animals such as dogs too entre these habitats and destroy the eggs of these birds. However, one of the major dangers that these birds faces today is the power lines. As heavy, low-flying birds, the chance of their coming into contact with powerlines and even wind turbines is high. Many meet their end thus. Infrastructure development and ill-informed habitat management too add to their problem. And, the species is facing the threat of extinction.

Something to cheer about

Thanks to a move by the Convention on Migratory Species in February 2020, the great Indian bustard was added to Appendix I: the strictest level of protection. And something just as positive has been happening even before this move, according to a media report. Over three years ago, a project involved the local community around DNP for great Indian bustard conservation. As part of the project, a group of young people was chosen to be nature guides, who would inform conservationists about the presence of the birds in their area. They would also keep the forest department updated about the movement of poachers in the region. This continuing project has not only supported the young people monetarily, it also helped them understand the need to protect the bird and its habitat. It has additionally programme and habitat protection, this project could go a long way in bringing hope for the survival of the species.

The great Indian bustard facts

  • The great Indian bustard is a large, white-and-brown bird with wing marking and a black crown.
  • These birds usually inhabit dry or semi-arid grasslands marked by scrub, bushes, sparse vegetation, minimal cultivation, and rich in insect and crop resources.
  • They are said to be deeply connected to the habitats they use, and so keep returning to these places. However, when they realize the place is disturbed or has become unsuitable for them, they abandon it.
  • The species has been categorized as “Critically Endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s list because of its low numbers.

Why do polar bears and penguins never meet each other?

You may have come across video games or story books featuring polar bears and penguins together. In reality, these animals cannot meet in the wild. Why can’t they meet? And, if they can’t, why are they featured together? Let’s find out.

Photographs and videos show polar bears and penguins invariably surrounded by ice. That’s because polar bears and most penguins inhabit Polar Regions, which are dominated by ice cover. But you’ll never find them together in the wild.

And that’s because they live near two different poles. While polar bears are found in the Arctic near the North Pole, most species of penguins live in the Antarctic region near the South Pole. Which is why these two animals can never meet in the wild? Since photographs and videos almost always show them in ice-dominant habitats, this could be the reason they have been misrepresented in story books, games, etc. as sharing a common space.

However, despite literally being poles apart, their plight today is quite similar. Both of them live in regions that suffer continuous, extensive, and increasing melting of sea ice. This is because “the high Arctic and the Antarctic peninsula have seen bigger temperature increases than anywhere else on earth”. Sea ice is integral to the survival of polar bears and many penguin species.

In addition to climate change-include melting, habitat loss/degradation also affects both these animals.

 

Picture Credit : Google

Why is Pobitora National Park famous?

One of the densest habitats of the greater one-horned rhinoceros in the world, Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary spans about 40 sq.km. in Assam. It was declared a reserve forest in 1971 and a wildlife sanctuary 10 years later. The humid grasslands, along with woodlands and wetlands, make the region a perfect place for not just the one-homed rhino but several other birds and animals. The annual flooding of the Brahmaputra in the Sanctuary both clears unwanted waste and rejuvenates the vegetation there. However, its increasing severity of late has caused more damage than it has left room for regeneration. Likewise, the annual seasonal burning of grasslands have been crucial for the growth of new vegetation, but with a lack of proper monitoring this too is said to have been causing more damage than helping the habitat and its inhabitants.

Wildlife

Kites, eagles, vultures, harriers, kingfishers, geese, ducks, egrets, grebes, cormorants, pelicans, herons, darters, storks, doves, coucals, lapwings, bittens, treepies, orioles, shrikes, leafbirds, jacanas, shovelers, teals, coots, moorhens, sandpipers, greenshanks, terns, nightjars, swifts, starlings, and munias are among the several species of migrant and resident birds that can be spotted in the region. In addition to the one-homed rhinoceros, one can also spot leopards, wild boars, barking deer, wild buffaloes, leopard cats, fishing cats, jungle cats, jackals and Chinese pangolins in the Sanctuary. The place is also home to a large number of amphibian, reptile and fish species.

Migrating birds

In addition to its famed pachyderm, the Sanctuary is also noted for its migratory birds. Every winter, the region welcomes thousands of these winged visitors. As with many places, some years are good and some, not so. For instance, in 2012, at least 20,000 birds visited the Sanctuary while in 2015, the numbers were said to have come down.

The problem of plenty

As mentioned earlier, Pobitora has a high density of rhinos – about a hundred of them occupying the core areas of the Sanctuary. While the growing number of rhinos is certainly good news, all of them having to rub shoulders within a small space is not good at all. For one, the risk of spreading infection or disease within a group increases substantially, and could lead to mass deaths of the animals in just one big swipe. Also, they jostle for not just space but food too. This could lead to many of them straying into human habitation, resulting in tragedy on both sides. The gravest concern in the crowded region is how vulnerable these creatures are to poaching.

Poaching

While poaching is a near-universal problem, Pobitora faces a unique problem – floods. When the Sanctuary is flooded annually by the swelling Brahmaputra, it could lead to loss of animal life in many ways. The animal could face a watery grave, stray from its habitat and be injured on roads or be caught in a conflict with humans, or worse, be trapped by a poacher. Most parts of the Sanctuary remain inaccessible due to the floods, an opportunity poachers make best use of. This problem is being handled by placing frontline forest staff on 24×7 duty, as was evident this July, after the floods.

 

Picture Credit : Google

Only around 150 of which birds are said to be found in India?

The recent condition of the Great Indian Bustard is now witnessing a worse situation where this beautiful bird’s population is amounted to be around 150 in India. Once considered as the national bird of India, the Great Indian Bustard is dying slowly. The threats majorly include the dogs who hunt them or the live wires which pass by their habitats or the quickly reducing grasslands. According to the Wildlife Institute of India (WII), only 150 of these prevail in the nation. This survey revealed that in Thar, Jaisalmer, the total count of the GIB is 120 whereas in Maharashtra and Karnataka the count is just 22.

The GIBs are dying at the rate of 15% annually due to collision with high voltage power lines, the WII report had said, adding that their population has been reduced by 75% in the last 30 years.

The report had compiled various studies conducted by researchers across the country on GIBs.

“Mortality of adult GIBs is high due to collision with power lines that criss-cross their flying path. All bustards are prone to collision due to their poor frontal vision and inability to see the power lines from a distance,” it had said.

The GIB is one of the heaviest flying birds endemic to the Indian subcontinent.

They are primarily terrestrial birds with adult males as tall as 122 cm and weigh 11-15 kg and adult females reach up to 92 cm and weigh 4-7 kg, the WII said.

According to the report, the GIB lays one egg every 1-2 years and the success rate of these eggs is 60-70%. However, this rate has been reduced to 40-50% due to predators like fox and dogs.

As per researchers, apart from the GIB, many other birds also die because of collision or electrocution with these transmission lines at the rate of 10 birds per km per month totaling nearly one lakh bird deaths annually in 4,200 sq km.

 

Picture Credit : Google

Found in India, which dolphin lives only in freshwater?

Ganges river dolphins once lived in the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems of Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. But the species is extinct from most of its early distribution ranges.

The Ganges river dolphin can only live in freshwater and is essentially blind.

Once present in tens of thousands of numbers, the Ganges river dolphin has dwindled abysmally to less than 2000 during the last century owing to direct killing, habitat fragmentation by dams and barrages and indiscriminate fishing. It is for these reasons that despite high level of protection, its numbers continue to decline. The absence of a coordinated conservation plan, lack of awareness and continuing anthropogenic pressure, are posing incessant threats to the existing dolphin population.

The Ganges river dolphin inhabit freshwater river systems, mostly in plains with slow-flowing rivers. They have a preference for deep waters, where prey availability is high. They mainly feed on fish and invertebrates, using echolocation to detect their prey.

 

Picture Credit : Google

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