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News on India
Humans are not apex predators, but meat-eating on the rise worldwide
A new paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has measured the "trophic level" of human beings for the first time. Falling between 1 and 5.5, trophic levels refer to where species fit on the food chain. Apex predators like tigers and sharks are given a 5.5 on trophic scale since they survive almost entirely on consuming meat, while plants and phytoplankton, which make their own food, are at the bottom of the scale. Humans, according to the new paper, currently fall in the middle: 2.21. However, rising meat-eating in countries like China, India, and Brazil is pushing our trophic level higher with massive environmental impacts.
Where have all the dugongs gone?
Legend has it that lonely sailors mistook them for beautiful, mythical mermaids. But as it turns out, the muse behind these beguiling sea nymphs was instead the dugong – a rather ungainly, gentle and mini-bus sized marine mammal, cousin to the manatees and part of the sea cow family. However, while they may have once fuelled stories for fairytales and Disney movies, their far-from-glamorous life is currently under serious threat in many parts of the world.
Satellites reveal browning mountain forests
In a dramatic response to global warming, tropical forests in the high elevation areas of five continents have been "browning" since the 1990s. They have been steadily losing foliage, and showing less photosynthetic activity. Scientists analyzed the forest cover by using satellites to measure sunlight bouncing off the surface of the earth, then determining the different surface types via reflection patterns.
The swan song of India's dancing bears
India’s last dancing bear has retired. As the stars of their cruel little roadshows, sloth bears danced to the piercing sounds of the damru for hundreds of years. Orphaned by poachers and trained by the Qalandars, a nomadic Muslim community, these bears trudged through towns and villages to earn their masters a meager livelihood.
Richest countries spent $74 billion on fossil fuel subsidies in 2011, eclipsing climate finance by seven times
In 2011, the top 11 richest carbon emitters spent an estimated $74 billion on fossil fuel subsidies, or seven times the amount spent on fast-track climate financing to developing nations, according to a recent report by the Overseas Development Institute. Worldwide, nations spent over half a trillion dollars on fossil fuel subsidies in 2011 according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Newly discovered beetles construct private homes out of leaf holes and feces
Scientists have discovered two new species of leaf beetles in southern India that display a novel way of using leaf holes and their fecal pellets to build shelters – a nesting behavior previously not known among leaf beetles. Discovered in the forests of the Western Ghats in the states of Karnataka and Kerala, the scientists have named these pin-head sized leaf beetles Orthaltica syzygium and Orthaltica terminalia, after the plants they feed on: Syzygium species (e.g., the Java plum) and Terminalia species (e.g., the flowering murdah).
Bangladesh plans massive coal plant in world's biggest mangrove forest
On October 22nd Bangladeshi and Indian officials were supposed to hold a ceremony laying the foundation stone for the Rampal power plant, a massive new coal-fired plant that will sit on the edge of the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest. However, the governments suddenly cancelled the ceremony, instead announcing that the project had already been inaugurated in early October by the countries' heads of state via a less-ornate Skype call. While the governments say the change was made because of busy schedules, activists contend the sudden scuttling of the ceremony was more likely due to rising pressure against the coal plant, including a five-day march in September that attracted thousands.
'Remarkable year': could 2012 mark the beginning of a carbon emissions slowdown?
Global carbon dioxide emissions hit another new record of 34.5 billion tons last year, according to a new report by the Netherlands Environment Assessment Agency and the European Commission's Joint Research Centre, but there may be a silver lining. Dubbing 2012 a "remarkable year," the report found that the rate of carbon emission's rise slowed considerably even as economic growth continued upward.
The mystery of the disappearing elephant tusk
Give it a few thousand years, and tusks could completely disappear from the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus). The beautifully smooth, elongated ivory incisors neatly bordering a long trunk are iconic in the public mind. The reigning hypothesis is that tusks evolved to help male elephants fight one another, as demonstrated when males compete over females in estrus. However, a recent study published in the journal Animal Behaviour has shown that tusks may not be key factors in tussles, at least as far as elephants are concerned.
Photo essay: notes from India's Kabini River
The Nilgiris, also known as the "Blue mountains," in southern India are an extraordinary mountain range that form one of the most diverse biospheres in the country, the Nilgiri Biosphere. And the Nagarhole National Park, declared a tiger reserve in 1999 is part of this biosphere. The Kabini River flows through the National park and is the lifeline to a wide variety of flora and fauna. This river transforms Nagarhole into a water world of wonder.
Yeti may be undescribed bear species
The purported Yeti, an ape-like creature that walks upright and roams the remote Himalayas, may in fact be an ancient polar bear species, according to new DNA research by Bryan Sykes with Oxford University. Sykes subjected two hairs from what locals say belonged to the elusive Yeti only to discover that the genetics matched a polar bear jawbone found in Svalbard, Norway dating from around 120,000 (though as recent as 40,000 years ago).
Wildlife in Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve suffers from lack of a transition zone
The Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve in southern India acts as a conduit between the biodiversity-rich Western Ghats, a mountain range parallel to the western coast of India and its eastern counterpart, the Eastern Ghats. Established in 1986 by Government of India, the 5,520 square kilometer reserve was recognized by UNESCO in 2000. However a new study in mongabay.com's open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science finds that the lack of a transition zone in the Nilgiris Biosphere Reserve has undercut the aims of this crucial protected area.
Featured video: music video honoring wildlife of Karnataka, India
Located in the southwestern corner of India, the state of Karnataka is celebrated for its stunning biodiversity. In order to honor the natural beauty of the region, wildlife photographer and filmmaker Amoghavarsha and Bangalore based musician Ricky Kej have teamed up to create a music video highlighting Karnataka's unique species and wild places.
Photo essay: India's Western Ghats is a haven for endemic amphibians
The Western Ghats are a globally recognized repository of biological diversity for our planet. We know very little about most species found here, particularly the ecologically sensitive and spectacularly beautiful 179 amphibians. Astonishingly, 87% of all Western Ghats frogs are endemic and found nowhere else on the planet. Our collaborative research project with Drs Paul Robbins and Ashwini Chhatre examining biodiversity in production landscapes of Ghats unearthed some spectacular amphibians in 2013.
India moves rapidly to protect Amur falcons from mass-hunting
In October last year, an astounding mass hunting came to light—an estimated 120,000–140,000 Amur falcons were being hunted and killed in Nagaland, India, every year. A small bird of prey, the Amur falcon (Falco amurensis) records one of the longest migrations among all birds—a staggering 22,000 km annually. Their journey starts in China and Siberia where they breed and spend their summers.
Amendments to Indian legislation could pose a threat to wildlife research
In the upcoming session of the Indian Parliament, MPs will debate whether researchers and poachers should be treated in the same manner for a breach of law. A new bill proposes to impose substantial penalties, including imprisonment, when researchers with permission to enter a forest area default in any way. At the same time, a poacher or a person in possession banned wildlife product is let off with a fine.
Are sea turtles responsible for lower fish catches in India?
Fishing communities on Agatti Island in Lakshwadeep, India, blame their reduced fish catch on green turtles; according to them, green turtles chomp their way through the seagrass beds lining the shallow reef waters that are essential for fish to breed. This leads some in the community to clandestinely kill sea turtles and destroy their nests.
Overpopulation and grazing imperils nomadic lifestyle and wildlife in Ladakh
In the unforgivingly cold, arid and harsh high-altitude regions of Central Asia, nomadic herders have survived for several centuries. Guided by a keen understanding of the environment they live in, they move constantly with their livestock, following trails of fresh pastures and ‘settling down’ only briefly. Surrendering their destiny to the whims of nature, these free spirited wanderers seem unshakeable.
Sahyadris – Mountains of the Monsoon
Stunning images, snippets of video and a compelling narrative come together in a “showcase” app for the iPad. The Sahyadris app is an immersive experience, which taps the full potential of the iPad as a story telling medium. It acts as a “showcase” for the Western Ghats, a mountain range found parallel to the western coast of southern India.
New Android app helps you identify frogs in the Western Ghats
Amphibians hop onto your Android phone in an app that focuses on ease of use. There are many among us who have gone out for a walk in the night, during the rains, and heard frogs chorusing. Or looked upon a small amphibian perched perilously by the wayside, and wondered what it is called.
Scientists map human-wildlife conflict in India
Designating protected areas in a country with 1.27 billion people comes with its own consequences: around each protected area in India lies a zone where wildlife strays out, and people stray in. Inevitably, there is contact, and more often than not, conflict. Human wildlife conflict has been under the lens for a long time. How humans respond to conflict situations varies.
First of its kind rescue and release for sloth bear in India
For a young wild sloth bear who found himself amidst a panic-stricken village in India, rescue was fortunately, and surprisingly, close at hand. In a one-of-a-kind heartwarming story, a team from Wildlife SOS (WSOS) India – a conservation and welfare NGO – successfully rescued, treated and subsequently released the sloth bear back into the wild, but this time with a radio collar fitted around its neck.
Scientists discover new flying mammal in bushmeat market
The bushmeat markets of Lao PDR (Laos) are filled with racks of wild game harvested both legally and illegally from the surrounding landscapes. While these meat markets certainly provide local protein to patrons, for wildlife biologists they offer something more. These bizarre zoological exhibits are a rich source of information about wildlife populations and wildlife consumption in remote areas.
Jumbo problems for the Indian railways
Running late that morning, the Kanchankanya Express train zipped past Gulma and entered the Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary in northern West Bengal, India. Till a few minutes ago, impatience was writ large on every face. Now with the fog having finally lifted and the green forest cover glistening under the sun, things were finally looking up. But before my co-passengers could sigh with relief, the train came to a screeching halt, right in the middle of the forest. I looked out the door of my compartment.
Rare and threatened freshwater fish plundered for aquarium trade in India
Thirty percent of the fish exported from India in the past seven years were from dozens of threatened species including the endangered red-lined torpedo barb (Puntius denisonii) and the miss kerala look alike (Puntius chalakkudiensis) amongst others, according to a recently published paper in Biological Conservation. By documenting the extent and impact of the trade in rare and threatened freshwater fish species in India, scientists have uncovered the local scale of the aquarium pet trade.
Booming cashmere trade eating up habitat for snow leopards, saiga, and wild yak
Snow leopards, wild yaks and other iconic wildlife on the world's highest mountains and great steppes are becoming "fashion victims" of the surging global trade in cashmere, new research has revealed. Scientists found wildlife being driven to the margins of survival by the "striking but unintended consequences" of huge increases in the numbers of the goats producing the luxurious lightweight wool.
How tigers are faring in their final frontier
“Gone are the tiger-filled days when Corbett, as a small boy wandering the jungles of Nepal in the 1880s, peeped over a plum bush that heaved as a tiger walked out on the far side.” Adele Conover, in the Smithsonian magazine. Even as recently as the 1930s, 40,000 tigers roamed the forests of India. By the 1970s, tiger number had plummeted to less than 2,000. Historically, the tiger ranged from the Caspian Sea to the Russian Far North to the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra. Now, they occupy just 7% of this historical range, with India home to over half of the tigers remaining in the wild. And what a world they inhabit.
Saving the Raja of India's grasslands: new efforts to conserve the Critically Endangered Great Indian Bustard
The Great Indian Bustard, one of India's iconic birds, once ranged across most of the Indian subcontinent. Due to a variety of factors, however, the Great Indian Bustard is also now India's rarest bird and faces imminent extinction. The following is an interview with Ramki Sreenivasan, co-founder of Conservation India, a group that recently petitioned the Rajasthan Chief Minister to kick start "Project Bustard."
The rise of India: the complex biological history of a subcontinent
If you try and draw family trees for animals and plants in India, you will discover something that will take your breath away. Relatives do not occur in the same area; in extreme cases, they can be in other continents. And atop the tallest mountains in the Himalayas, you will find marine fossils.
Over 16,000 wild mammals and birds sold in Nagaland market, India, annually
A comprehensive survey of the wildlife sold in the markets of Tuensang has resulted in a stunning record of the wildlife trade in the state of Nagaland in northeast India, as reported in a new study published in mongabay.com's open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science. Once a week, researchers with the Sálim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History and the Near Chang Baptist group entered the Tuensang market and carried out intensive surveys and interviews of vendors selling wild birds or mammals.