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News on India
Kala: the face of tigers in peril
In 1864, Walter Campbell was an officer in the British Army, stationed in India when he penned these words in his journal: "Never attack a tiger on foot—if you can help it. There are cases in which you must do so. Then face him like a Briton, and kill him if you can; for if you fail to kill him, he will certainly kill you." In a stroke of good fortune for the tiger, perceptions in India have changed drastically since Campbell's time. Tiger hunting is now banned and conservationists are usually able to rescue the big cats if they become stranded while navigating increasingly human-occupied areas. But is this enough to save the tiger?
Europe approves vet drug that killed off almost all of Asia's vultures
When Europeans first arrived in North America, they exterminated three to five billion passenger pigeons (Ectopistes migratorius) in the short span of a century through a combination of habitat destruction and hunting. In 1914, the last living passenger pigeon perished at the Cincinnati Zoo. Despite the staggering scale of this extinction event, three species of vulture from Southeastern Asia retain the dubious distinction of having had the most rapid population crash of any avian fauna. They might not have begun with numbers as large as the passenger pigeon, but within the space of a single decade, their populations were reduced by 96 to 99 percent.
The power of connections: India to establish Asia's largest protected forest
India has stepped up forest conservation efforts in recent years, with a major project underway to establish a large swath of uninterrupted habitat through the designation of additional protected areas and expanding those already under protection. If realized, these areas would converge to become Asia’s largest unbroken forest, encompassing approximately 15,000 square kilometers (5,790 square miles) over three states.
Indian food giant to source deforestation-free palm oil
Orkla, a Nordic conglomerate that owns MTR Foods, one of India's major food companies, has established a zero deforestation policy for the palm oil it sources, reports Greenpeace.
Can the millions in urban India live among greenery?
Large swathes of wilderness alternating with pockets of urbanization may be a reality in some countries, but in India boundaries are soft. Where a city ends and where a village begins in its outskirts is somewhat fuzzy. Rapidly developing megacities like Bangalore and Pune, localities like Gurgaon outside New Delhi, have been subsuming surrounding villages into their ever-expanding boundaries for the last couple of decades.
Will tigers march ahead? Scientists find surprising connections between isolated populations in Central India
In May 2011, a young male Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris) made its way to a village in the state of Karnataka in India. The tiger had been quite a hiker. To reach the village, it had walked more than 280 kilometers (174 miles) from Bandipur Tiger Reserve, a protected area famous for these elusive big cats.
Tracking one of the world's last Great Indian Bustards to save the species
Bilal Habib is closely tracking the flight of a bird. Six times a day he gets its location, within a few hundred feet, through a GPS monitoring device attached to its body. One of the last members of its species, this Great Indian Bustard is part of the latest effort to save its kind from joining the ranks of other extinct birds like the dodo and the passenger pigeon.
Predator appreciation: how saving lions, tigers, and polar bears could rescue ourselves
In the new book, In Predatory Light: Lions and Tigers and Polar Bears, authors Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, Sy Montgomery, and John Houston, and photographers Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson share with us an impassioned and detailed appeal to appreciate three of the world's biggest predators: lions, tigers, and polar bears. Through lengthy discussions, combining themes from scientific conservation to local community folklore, In Predatory Light takes us step by step deeper into the wild world of these awe-inspiring carnivores and their varied plight as they facedown extinction.
Feral crèches: parenting in wild India
The Wildlife Conservation Society-India has been camera trapping wild animals for over 20 years in the Western Ghats. The results reveal the most intimate, fascinating and sometimes comical insights into animal behavior and ecology. These mammals generally become secretive and protective during parenting, and therefore we seldom get to see little ones in the wild. But discretely placed camera traps have not only caught glimpses of these adorable wild babies, but also produced wonderful family albums!
Curious bears take 'selfies' with camera traps
"Selfies" are all the rage this year, and even bears have jumped on the trend. Especially the shaggy-coated, termite-loving sloth bears (Melursus ursinus), who seem particularly fascinated by the cameras that scientists have put up in forests to secretly capture their stealthy moves.
A bird's eye view of hornbills in northeast India
Hornbills are as peculiar, as they are magnificent. Their calls especially, can sound rather strange to the uninitiated - some grunt, some growl, and some cackle maniacally. These queer birds, with their large brightly-colored curved beaks, and a distinctive cavity-nesting habit, are also totem animals for many tribes in 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.