Category Nature and Science

Which Indian state is the only home of the brow-antlered deer sangai?

The Manipur brow-antlered deer (Racervus eldii eldii) is locally known as sangai. It is a sub-species of the Eld’s deer found in Asia. Though Eld’s deer are found in other parts of the world too, sangai is found only in Manipur listed as endangered in the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, its habitat in Manipur is the Keibul Lamjao National park Covering an area of about 40 sq. km. the Park is located on one end of the Loktak Lake The animals have adapted themselves to a life on floating meadows – called phumdis in the Lake. Interestingly, sangai is also called the dancing deer because of the way it delicately hops between the phumdis. Not surprisingly, it is the State animal of Manipur.

Sangai facts

  • A medium-sized animal, the brow-antlered deer gets its name from its antlers that seemingly emerge from its eyebrows. The mammal has a small tail, and a dark reddish brown coat in winter, the coat gets lighter in summer.
  • The deer’s habitat varies from scrubland and grassland to dry forests and marshland, depending on the country they’re found in. In India, however, these animals inhabit the regions in and around the Loktak Lake.
  • When there’s flooding, apparently, the deer population leaves the phumdis and moves to the hillocks nearby
  • The un-submerged area of the Park has tall grasses and shrubs, some of which are food for sangai.


In the mid-20th Century, sangai was on the brink of extinction. However, a few individuals were spotted, and thanks to conservation efforts, their numbers today are said to be over a 100, at least. While this is a comforting story, the mammal continues to face several challenges. Foremost is the water pollution in the region. As the water in the Lake gets more and more polluted, the quality and thickness of the phumdis are affected. When phumdis get thinner it becomes difficult for the sangai deer to move from one place to another. In fact, it is said that the total area of the phumdis has been decreasing over the decades. A recent study has said that agriculture practices and newer human settlements in the region too are a threat to phumdis. According to media reports as recent as 2020, “unchecked growth of two perennial aquatic weeds – water hyacinth and para grass in the famous fresh water lake of Loktak in Moirang in Manipur is posing a major threat to sangai The increasing abundance of these weeds has reduced space for indigenous plants the sangai feeds on. For a subspecies already plagued by limited space and numbers, the possibility of in-breeding, and infection due to livestock, such challenges make them even more vulnerable. This could drive them toward extinction all over again, undoing decades of conservation effort.


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Where is swamp deer found?

Populations in India

India is one of the few places in the world to spot the Swamp deer or barasingha in the wild Our country hosts three subspecies of the barasingha – the eastern, wetland and hard-ground barasingha They are found in three geographically distinct regions – while the eastern barasingha roams the Brahmaputra plain the wetland species spans the Indo-Gangetic plain, and the hand ground barasingha is found in central India. Among the most important places to spot them are the Kanha Tiger Reserve (hard-ground) in Maulija Pradesh and the Kaziranga National Park (eastern) in Assam in 2005, a population of over 300 wetland swamp deer was re-discovered at Jhilmil heel Conservation Reserve in Uttarakhand.


According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), it is likely that barasingha always had a patchy distribution, reflecting the available suitable habitat and so always had faced the threat of local extinction. But what has added to this problem is the conversion of its habitat to agricultural land. This has forced them into small and isolated fragments. When animals are grouped and isolated thus it increases the chance of disease transmission in-breeding and localised extinction. Another form of threat is hunting – they are killed for their meat and hide. It cannot be stressed enough how invasive species, loss of food and extreme weather events too threaten an already vulnerable species.

There’s good news!

While the IUCN has listed that the population of barnsingha has generally been seeing a decline, there’s some good news on this front from Madhya Pradesh. The number of hand ground swamp deer (Recensis duvauceli) found in Kanha has increased. According to reports in 2020, the number stands at 500 (it was nearly 450 in 2015), This is highly encouraging considering the species was close to extinction only a few decades ago. The increasing population said to be the is result of successful breeding programmes and conservation practices at Kanha. The methods included habitat improvement and captive breeding.

Barasingha facts

  • Swamp deer or barasingha has been classified vunerable by the IUCN.
  • The animals were spread from Pakistan and India to Nepal and Bangladesh in the 20th Century. Unfortunately, today they are found only in India and Nepal, and have gone extinct in Pakistan and Bangladesh. IUCN states that its presence is uncertain in Bhutan.
  • While the hard-ground barasingha occupy sal forests and are grazers, the other two subspecies are adapted to swampy areas and feed also on aquatic plants.
  • The three subspecies shed their antlers at different times during a year – the wetland species by mid-January, the hard-ground by late April, and the eastern by early October.
  • Barasingha is the State animal of Madhya Pradesh. In 2017, Kanha became the first tiger reserve in India to officially introduce mascot (named Bhoorsingh), which was a barasingha.


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Why do Olive Ridleys come to the beaches in thousands?

The coast of Odisha welcomes female olive ridleys in several thousands every year. It is said that the female returns to nest in the same place it was born in. Among the most important mass nesting sites in Odisha are the mouth of the Rushikulya river and the Devi river, and Gahirmatha Turtle Sanctuary. During arribada – mass nesting – female turtles arrive from the ocean to the beaches and lay an average of 100 eggs each, taking the final tally to a few lakh eggs. Though not as mass nesting sites, coastal regions of States such as Maharashtra, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala too host olive ridley turtles for sporadic nesting,

An unusual phenomenon

The breeding season of the olive ridley turtle is between November and May, In Rushikulya, mass nesting normally happens between February and March. However, the year 2020 turned out to be slightly unusual for two reasons – one, the nesting began only in the third week of March (delayed due to torrential rains in the region), and two day- nesting was witnessed. Olive ridley turtles usually lay their eggs only at night. Officials say that the last time day nesting happened was in 2013. Since the period coincided with the national lockdown imposed due to COVID-19, one does wonder if the day-nesting occurred due to human absence. However, experts deny there’s any connection between the lockdown and the day nesting. In fact, it is said that mass nesting is influenced by factors such as tidal conditions, wind direction and lunar phase rather than human presence. That human absence did not in any way influence the turtles’ nesting behaviour becomes more credible by the fact that while the 2020 season saw the arrival of more than 3.00,000 olive ridleys, in 2019. the turtles completely skipped Rushikulya, and the year before that they actually nested twice (in February and April)! But what the lockdown did do was to help authorities allow more personnel to improve care for turtles rather than towards monitoring humans who visited the beaches.


Despite only one in a thousand reaching adulthood, the olive ridley turtle is the most abundant in the world. However, it has been listed “Vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and its numbers are said to be declining. Accidental injury and death caused when trapped in fishing nets has been of great concern. Though Turtle Excluder Devices have helped control this to a certain extent such injuries and deaths continue. Though measures are in place to protect them, the turtles are killed for meat and their eggs are consumed. When unprotected, eggs and newborns are consumed by birds and stray animals on the beach. Among the greatest threats to the eggs is sea erosion. There have been instances of even a few lakh eggs being lost to high tide. Sea erosion destroys certain sandy stretches that the turtles use for mass nesting. When the stretches disappear, the turtles lay their eggs on sand bars formed by erosion. These sand bars – and along with them, the eggs – are washed away by high tide.

Olive ridley facts

  • Olive ridley turtles get their name from the greenish colour of their skin and shell.
  • They are the most abundant turtles in the world.
  • They are found in warmer waters of the Southern Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans.
  • They weigh up to 50 kg and are about two feet long.
  • These turtles feed mostly on jellyfish, shrimp, snails, crabs, and fish and their eggs. They occasionally eat algae and seaweed as well.
  • However, only one hatchling in a thousand makes it to adulthood.

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Which National Park is located in Kerala and famous for Nilgiri tahr?

Colourful carpets

The undulating terrain of Eravikulam is marked by rolling grasslands, hillocks and shola forests. It is dominated by a stunning range of balsams and orchids. The region is also one of the best places to catch the neelakurinji in all its glory. A plant endemic to the Western Ghats the neelakurinji blooms once every 12 years to cover the region in carpets of a purplish blue pink colour. The most recent blooming of this flower happened here in 2018. Considered one of the rarest flowers due to its limited flowering window, the neelakurinji is said to have neither any fragrance nor medicinal value.

Bloom in doom?

Scientifically called Strobilanthes kunthianus, the neelakurinji was first documented in 1838, and has bloomed as many as 16 times since. They were once abundant. But now, just like the Nilgiri tahr, they have disappeared from much of their earlier range on the Western Ghats. At the heart of this problem is loss of habitat. Hilly grasslands are the homes of these plants. But according to the National Geographic “plantations of eucalyptus and acacia. Agriculture, and most recently, tourism have “stripped the grasslands in which kurinji grows. A study from 2018 “looked at satellite imagery in one part of the Western Ghats from the past 40 years and found that grasslands shrank 66 percent. It also showed that as grasslands decreased so did timber plantations increase.

With global warming and climate change already altering or destroying habitats and their inhabitants, additional human-induced destruction, deforestation and development activities around ecologically fragile and significant areas only add to existing problems.

Located in the Idukki district of Kerala and covering an area of nearly 100, the Eravikulam National Park got its status in 1978 for its ecological faunal, geomorphological and zoological significance”. Overlooking the Park is Anamudi, one of south India’s highest peaks. Interspersed with grasslands and sholas, the region receives ample rainfall during the monsoons, making it an ideal habitat for wildlife. The Park is also synonymous with the endangered Nilgiri tahr and the blooming of the neelakurinji.

Bad news

Though the State animal of Tamil Nadu, the largest population of Nilgiri tahr is now found in neighbouring State Kerala’s Eravikulam National Park. While these ungulates were once spread across several regions of the Western Ghats, today they are found only in a few fragmented areas of these two States. And there’s more bad news for this population climate change. A study in 2018 analysed as many as 10 tahr habitats and different climate scenarios for three time periods – 2030s, 2050s and 2080s. The peer reviewed study published in the journal “Ecological Engineering” conducted there would be a drastic loss of tahr habitat in all three scenarios – a maximum of more than 60% in each time period. While population in areas such as Eravikulam may not face great threats, the concerns are more for the smaller and isolated populations in other areas.

…and some good news!

As the nation was braving the COVID-induced lockdown in April, there was some encouraging news coming in from Eravikulam. A survey held by the Forest Department that month showed that the number of Nilgiri tahr in the region had increased by 155 – newborns! With that the total count of the ungulates stood at 723. Around the same time last year, the numbers were 526 (with 91 newborns). Newspaper reports attribute the increase in newborns to the decline in human interference in forest areas”. It’s the mating season for the stars now, and with no human interference still the numbers of newborns are expected to go up in the next season too.


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Which animals are found in Kanha and Pench national parks?

Part of Project Tiger, both Pench and Kanha are national parks located in Madhya Pradesh. Apart of Pench extends into neighbouring Maharashtra. Together they span over 2,500, dominated by moist peninsular sal forests, tropical moist mixed deciduous mixed forest, an abundance of bamboo and trees such as teak and jamun, and green carpets of grassy patches and shrub. The combined regions teem with wildlife – they are a haven for over 1,000 species of plants, animals, and at least 300 species of resident and migrant birds.


A large number of bird species, including ducks, geese, shelducks, pochards, quails, grebes, nightjars, swifts, crakes, storks, herons, ibises, thickknees, plovers, lapwings, jacanas, sandpipers, redshanks, buttonquails, vultures, buzzards, harriers, hornbills, falcons, parakeets, minivets, orioles, cuckooshrikes, pipits, wagtails, buntings, prinias, nuthatches, starlings, flycatchers, thrushes, and wheatears, can be spotted here. Apart from their impressive population of tigers, the regions also nurture leopards, barasingha, mouse deer, barking deer, chital, sambar, bear, black buck, blue bull, chousingha (four-horned antelope), langur, etc.

Kanha: Room for improvement

Considered one of the better managed national parks, Kanha does have a lot of room for improvement. According to a study by the Indian Institute of Forest Management in 2019, one of the areas that need attention is the inadequate number of guards at night, as it opens up potential for poaching. In addition, there appears to be a need for wider and higher use of technology in monitoring the forest areas of the park. It is also said that some regions of the park lack proper fencing, which again unwittingly aids in poaching. It is noted for its work on tigers and the swamp deer species called barasingha. However, there are a lot of other species too that call the forests their home. The study says that other vulnerable species such as black buck and mouse deer need more attention too, and this can be done since the park has the means to do it. Finally, since there are a lot of villagers surrounding the park, human-animal conflicts do occur. Efforts must be taken to resolve this, though usually villagers seem kinder to carnivores attacking their livestock than to herbivores destroying their crops.

Pench: The problem of plenty

In Pench, the very forests that inspired the classic “Jungle Book”, the good news is the bad news. A few years ago, there were reports that pointed to an increase in the tiger population at Pench. While this was heartening news, it also meant that the exact same area (or even less!) will be shared by more number of tigers, animals known for their territorial integrity. This is a problem because the Pench forests are not contiguous with its neighbouring region Kanha where the tigers could move into. In the face of severe space crunch, animals could end up killing each other in territorial fights, stray into human habitation leading to human-animal conflict or the animal could fall into the hands of poachers. Also, the management of Pench is complicated by the fact that it is spread across two States. Each State is said to be functioning differently, though it is just one contiguous forest. Remember, humans create boundaries, not Nature? For instance, when issues such as poaching or human-animal conflict come up, the system to resolve these could be complex due to the issue of boundary and State-based action.


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What makes the Gulf of Mannar important and what are its threats?

A major coral reef area of India, the Gulf of Mannar comprises as many as 21 islands and spans an area of 10,500 This large shallow bay lies between the southeastern tip of India and the west coast of Sri Lanka. In addition to the coral reefs, this marine ecosystem includes salt marshes, algae communities, mangroves, and sea grasses too. One of the world’s richest regions of marine biodiversity, it faces threats such as climate change, pollution, coastal development, coral mining and mechanised fishing.

A marine biosphere reserve, this region houses over 1,100 species of fish, 800 species of molluscs, 150 species of anthropods, five species of turtles, over 10 species of snakes, and seven types of marine mammals. The marine creatures include starfish, crabs, sharks, seahorses, barracudas, dolphins, sea turtles such as olive ridleys and green turtles, whales, dugongs, sea cucumbers and otters. In addition to these, a variety of birds such as seagulls, plovers, curlews, and terns too can be spotted in the region.

Algal bloom concerns

In September 2019, the Reef Research Team of the Suganthi Devadasan Marine Research Institute reported that algal bloom had killed more than 180 coral reef colonies in Shingle Island located within the Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park. The death of the corals came to light after the fisherfolk in Ramanathapuram (located near the Gulf of Mannar) witnessed the sea water having turned green and the death of fish in thousands. Scientists from the National Centre for Coastal Research (NCCR) confirmed that the algae Noctiluca scintillans had bloomed. However, it was found that the nearby island of Krusadai was not impacted by the algal bloom. While climate change causes algal bloom, affecting corals and creatures such as fish, there was speculation if this incident was caused by ballast water. Ballast water is the water used in ships, especially cargo ships when they are empty, to help them with stability. This water carries several types of organisms. When the water is emptied into a region different from where it was collected, the organisms in it could cause negative ecological impacts on their habitat.

And some good news!

While COVID-19 has cost livelihoods and lives, and changed lifestyles globally, the pandemic is not without a few positives. The lockdown has had an especially positive impact in the context of ecology. And that is evident on the coastal ecosystems of the Gulf of Mannar along Thoothukudi district, according to newspaper reports. While collecting data for a State government project, the Suganthi Devadasan Marine Research Institute inThoothukudi conducted a study between May 25 and June 2 and discovered “a remarkable reduction” in the macro and meso-plastic pollution levels in many coastal locations in the region. The study also showed an “increase in the number of species of coral reef fishes from 89 in February to 96 in May”, at the Thoothukudi group of islands of Gulf of Mannar. It is said that fish normally migrated in the summer due to high population showed a spike, “thanks to less human disturbance during the lockdown period”.


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Which forest is home to the largest number of wild Asiatic lions?

One of the very few places in the world for spotting lions in the wild, the Gir forest is home to the largest number of wild Asiatic lions. Located in southern Gujarat, the region was first declared a reserve forest, and eventually granted the status of a sanctuary in 1965. The Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary is a dry scrubland spanning 1,400 Around half of the forested area of the park is teak. The other half mostly has broad leaf and evergreen trees. The entire region is covered with dry deciduous forests, acacia scrub and grassland, and fed by rivers and reservoirs. Dominated by vegetation ideal for fauna, it is no surprise that over 250 species of birds are found in and around the area. This includes a whole variety from teals, kingfishers, nightjars and swifts to eagles, vultures, harriers, ibises and the oriental white-eye. While the lion is the most popular inhabitant of the Gir forest, the region also hosts the leopard, hyena, wild boar, spotted deer, nilgai, jackal, jungle cat, honey badger, porcupine etc. and reptiles such as Indian cobra and the marsh crocodile.

An unusual journey

The last time a tiger roamed Gujarat’s forest was in 1992. However, that changed in February 2019 when a school teacher saw a tiger crossing a road and took a photo on a phone. Having a big cat back in Gujarat was a huge moment of ecological victory. While the image went viral, the forest department got into action – camera traps were set up. Within a week, the tiger was spotted again; it was a young male. The same one that had started its journey from Ratapani Wildlife Sanctuary in neighbouring State Madhya Pradesh back in 2017. When it reached Gujarat, it had travelled about 300 km, one of the longest journeys for tiger. The hope was that the tiger could eventually reach Gir forest, where it would settle in a conductive environment full of prey. However, the tiger died within weeks – of starvation. When it roamed the forests in Gujarat, the State became the only one to host the lion, the tiger and the leopard. That joy turned out to be short-lived. However, the tiger also left behind hope that someday someone else from his species would follow him and perhaps ensure that the joy lasts forever.

Lion deaths

On June 10, 2020 Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that “Population of the majestic Asiatic Lion, living in Gujarat’s Gir forest, is up by almost 29% Geographically, distribution area is up by 36%.” While this was comforting news, a report released by the government around the same time wasn’t. it said that as many as 92 lions had died in Gujarat’s Asiatic Lion Landscape (ALL) since January 2020. ALL includes Gir National Park and Sanctuary, among a few other regions. These numbers are worrying, especially due to the canine distemper virus (CDV) outbreak that occurred in 2018. The virus infection had claimed the lives of more than 20 lions in Gir forest division in a matter of weeks. While the 92 lions “reportedly died of unnatural causes” this year, the State government has denied the presence of CDV.


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How is the vegetation and wildlife in Thar Desert?

Spanning two countries and spread over 2,00,000, it is no surprise that Thar Desert is one of the largest deserts in the world. While easily much more than three-fourths of the desert spans four States in India – Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana.

However, despite its dry conditions and low rainfall, it hosts a large number of people, and a variety of flora and fauna. In fact, it is said that about 40% of the people in Rajasthan call the region home. The scrub, water-resistant trees and sparse grasslands support a variety of fauna.


At least 300 species of resident and migratory birds can be found here. Among them are the critically endangered great Indian bustard and lesser florican. Raptors include critically endangered red-headed vulture, white-rumped vulture and Indian vulture. Blackbuck, chinkara, Indian wild ass, desert fox, sloth bear, wild cat, several species of reptiles such as snakes and lizards, and insects such as beetles too can be spotted here.


Desertification refers to the gradual degradation of dryland ecosystems caused due to soil and vegetation loss, resulting in more areas turning into dry regions. This happens due to continuous human activity such as agriculture, overgrazing, deforestation etc., and change in climate. This phenomenon is being observed globally, and it is no different in Thar Desert. A changing landscape with diminishing vegetation affects the various birds and animals too dependent on the region for survival. The Central Arid Zone Research Institute studied various aspects of desertification, including wind erosion/deposition, vegetation degradation etc. in the Thar Desert, especially in Rajasthan. The report released by the Institute in 2019 said that the damage is so severe that it could take a long while for the landscape to recover.

Two sides to locust attack

The Thar Desert was in the news a few months ago for locust invasion in the region. Considered one of the worst in decades, the attacks were reported from a few other neigbouring regions too, and the locusts made short work of the crop farmers had raised over several acres. The farmers were advised to spray pesticides on the crops to keep these hungry locusts at bay. This was of concern because while the insecticide killed the locusts, it could harm birds and other creatures eating locusts that die thus.

Meanwhile, it was lucky time for birds and animals that could feast on locusts while they were still alive and untouched by the pesticide. Locusts are said to be rich in protein. Apparently, several creatures in the wild – from the great Indian bustard to lizards, foxes, desert cats, jackals and wolves 0 had hearty and nutritious meals, thanks to the invasion. In fact, it is said that the insects helped increase reproduction rates in the bustards under the captive breeding programme.


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