Thursday, August 5, 2010

Ramesh nod to reintroduce cheetah in 3 sites.

 NEW DELHI: The Union environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh on Wednesday gave green signal to reintroduce cheetah in three locations in the country. The ambitious project will cost around Rs 300 crore in the first year itself and will also displace more than 100 settlements.
Ramesh said the ministry would back the plan envisaged by ex-environment secretary M K Ranjitsinh, who is also the trustee of Wildlife Trust of India, Divyabhanu Singh, author of a book on cheetah, and Y V Jhala of the Wildlife Institute of India to import the African or Iranian cheetah to three locations -- Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary and Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh and Shahgarh region of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan.
As per the plan, around 5,600 sq km of drylands and grasslands will be turned into a natural habitat for the cheetah, while displacing the local population.
The site in Jaisalmer has about 80 seasonal settlements of nomads. Earlier, 23 villages were relocated from Kuno-Palpur to make way for the Gir lions from Gujarat. Now, another three villages have to be shifted. In Nauradehi, 23 villages have to be resettled while complying with the strict guidelines of the Forest Rights Act.
The minister said he would write to the Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan governments soon, and invite them for discussions on the proposal.
The cheetahs will be either brought from some West Asian countries or Namibia or South Africa, where the African cheetahs are bred in captivity. Though Iran will also be approached, Tehran has been reluctant to part with the animals since it has a very small population of the endangered species.
Ranjitsinh said the United Arab Emirates has been willing to accede to India's request.
As per the proposal, initially each site will get to host six cheetahs each."The plan may take between 10 and 15 years to implement," said Jhala.
The report, submitted to the ministry, suggests that in a decade Nauradehi could be home to as many as 50 cheetahs in the restricted area, with another 20 finding their natural habitat in surrounding forests.
In the same period, Kuno-Palpur could rear 32 animals, and another 38 to be at peace with adjoining forests and grasslands,
The report suggests that a 140-km-long chain-link fence needs to be erected in Shahgarh following which 40 aniamls could be sustained.
Ramesh said the project assumes significance since cheetah is the only animal to have gone extinct in the country in the past 1,000 years. Besides, the animal could help preserve grasslands and drylands in its new homeland.
"The only way to protect grasslands is to reduce human pressure on these areas," explained Ranjitsinh.
"All developed countries have laws for reintroduction of animals. India, too, is no exception," added Jhala.


Army is green.

First Published : 31 Jul 2010 10:43:00 PM IST
Last Updated : 31 Jul 2010 12:33:01 AM IST

When Major-General Thomas Hardwicke took the steamer back to England in 1835, he had with him a treasure — the largest collection of drawings of Indian animals ever formed by an individual. Hardwicke, who arrived in India in 1778 as a cadet in the Bengal artillery, was the first to pursue a “scientific investigation of India’s natural history”. An aspect that is quite unsung, unfortunately, is the kind of engagement the Indian Army has had with natural history and conservation. A comprehensive pictorial, glossy, coffee table book titled Natural History and the Indian Army, published jointly by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) and the Oxford University Press, addresses this shortcoming. And it does it well. The book brings together articles written by army officers who were naturalists, photographers and sportsmen, that were published in the issues of the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society (JBNHS) from 1886, when the first issue of the Journal was brought out, 3 years after the BNHS was formed. This treasure trove has been edited by J C  Daniel, a keen naturalist, author and former honorary secretary of the BNHS, and Lt Gen Baljit Singh (Retd.), who played a role in promoting an interest in wildlife and conservation in the army. Singh was also a trustee of the WWF-India. One wonders whether this publication really falls in the coffee-table category, for the text is thorough and at the same time, exceptionally engaging.The book opens with a detailed account of the Indian Army’s contribution over the two and one quarter centuries, from 1778 to 2002, penned by Lt Gen Baljit Singh. He chronicles the work of these illustrious army officer-naturalists in India.The list of army men who followed Hardwicke is illustrious: Capt Sykes, Col RW Burton and his brother Brig Gen RG Burton, Col Fenton, Lt Col ASG Jayakar, Surgeon Major TC Jerdon, whose work on birds and mammals is stupendous, Lt Col AH Mosse, Col Kirtikar, Lt Col SR Tickell, Col Swinhoe, Brig Evans, Col Bingham, Col Sir RN Chopra, who was the only Indian in the army to have been knighted for his work in natural history, Col RSP Bates and Lt Col KG Gharpurey, besides others. It contains excellent pictures that include paintings taken from T C Jerdon’s 1846 book, “Illustrations of Indian Ornithology”, illustrations such as that from “Indian Serpents”, an 1801 published book by Patrick Russell, and photographs, both black and white and in colour, including those taken by present day naturalists/wildlife photographers. The first article featured in this collection is by Lt Col K R Kirtikar on the Strychnine tree. A highly poisonous tree, it has its supposed uses as a purgative, and as a curative in fever and even snake bites.Lt Col L L Fenton, a keen sportsman (shikari), writes on all aspects of the Kathiawar lion. Even in 1909, when this article was penned, the lion’s home was limited to the Gir forest. The article describes how the home of the species dwindled due to human-related factors and others, like famine.A quarter of the 24 articles contained in the book are by Lt Col Richard. W Burton. A fearless sportsman, he wrote over 200 articles on various aspects of natural history. “A History of Shikar in India” traces the sport right from the pre Mughal period to contemporary times, both species-wise and area-wise. Here, in this book are also featured his article on the wild dog and another on his experiences fishing for the mahseer.Of great significance is his article “Wild Life Preservation: India’s Vanishing Asset” (1948). He was “the first naturalist to campaign for the preservation of Indian wildlife”, and this article here was actually a pamphlet prepared by the army on “the dire need for the conservation of the wildlife of the country” and was sent to the Indian government. An insightful and comprehensive article authored by Brig WH Evans is on the butterflies of India. In this 1922 article he writes about collecting butterflies, an activity that has, of course, since been prohibited by the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.Lt Col AHE Mosse’s article on the leopard, the panther, is on the methods of sighting it. He also gives graphic descriptions of his personal experiences. The ‘sitting up’ method refers to ‘sitting up’ for the animal over either a kill or a live bait. “The most usual site for a machan is a leafy tree, though a sheltered rock or a thick bush with a bank behind will sometimes afford an excellent position,” he points out. Bird photographer Lt Col RSP Bates (1942) made quite a pioneering contribution to bird photography in India. He gives an account of the birds he encounters in the Kazinag Range in Kashmir in June of 1942. Slaty-headed paroquets, yellow-billed magpies, Kashmir rollers, Indian red-breasted flycatchers, and Jerdon’s hedge-sparrows are only some of those birds. “To Col Frank Wall we are indebted more than to any other man for our knowledge of the Indian snakes,” write the book’s editors. The colonel’s articles on the cobra (1913) from his book, “A Popular Treatise on the Common Indian Snakes” and the golden-tree snake (1908) are exhaustive, to say the least. Now for that one article that made for very captivating reading, even sweet at times. It was, for this reviewer, “The Asian Elephant” by Lt Col J H Williams, (Elephant Bill, also the eponymous title of the book he authored). And just to let you into what the article is about, without telling you too much, the author draws the similarity between the elephant and man. I fell in love with this story!It is an engrossing and inspiring book. When I turned the last page, I wanted to see and converse with the writers. And hear of their passion, the thrill, direct, first hand. I highly recommended this book. —

Can we hear the roar again?

The Asiatic Lion is classified as one of the most endangered mammals in India. There are just 360 of them left in the wild. A disturbing fact, indeed.

Once the king of the forests, today he stands in need of protection. The Asiatic Lion ( Panthera leo persica) or Persian Lion is a subspecies of the lions which survive today only in the Gir Forest of Gujarat. The Asiatic Lion is one of the five major big cats found in India, the others being the Bengal tiger, the Indian leopard, the snow leopard and the clouded leopard. These majestic beasts were prevalent from the Mediterranean to the north-eastern parts of the Indian subcontinent, but excessive hunting, water pollution and decline in natural prey have reduced their habitat.
The minute you say that you are going to visit a forest area in India, almost everyone asks, “Do you get to see the Lion there?”
But we need to realise that in India the Asiatic Lion lives only in the Gir National Park and Sanctuary, Gujarat.
The Asiatic Lion once roamed Asia from Palestine in the West to India in the East. Over the many years they were wiped out throughout their range mainly due to habitat alteration and hunting. In India they were found from Haryana in the north to Baroda in the south and Palamau in the east. However, big game hunting by several kings and British rulers resulted in the disappearance of this king of the beast from many parts of India during the mid 20 {+t} {+h} century.
The British administrators and more importantly, the Nawab of Junagadh state realised that there was a need to protect this carnivore. In 1879, the sixth Nawab of Junagadh state, Mahbatkhanji II ordered strict protection of the lions in his state. After him Mahbatkhanji III and Nawab Rasulkhanji continued the protection by setting up exclusive reserve for lions. Due to their initiative and the protection by the Government of India since then, a single population now thrives in the Gir National Park and Sanctuary and in the surrounding areas in Gujarat. The Asiatic Lion is classified as one of the most endangered mammals in India since there are only about 360 individuals left in the wild.
A crowded home
The Asiatic Lion is a social animal. Generally they live in a small pride comprising one to three males and one to four females with their young ones. Breeding season falls largely between January and June.
The period of gestation is about four months. Generally a female gives birth to two cubs, occasionally three. The Asiatic Lions prey upon spotted deer, sambar, nilgai and several smaller animals and livestock in the Gir forest.
Although the population is stable and increasing in and around the Gir Sanctuary, scientists believe that inbreeding within this small population is a major cause of concern.
They also warn that any fatal outbreak of disease and natural disaster would surely wipe out the only global population of the Asiatic Lion. Being a large carnivore it needs large areas to roam around to fulfil its daily requirements.
The space at Gir is not sufficient to support a large number of lions and also they are surrounded by human habitation.
Hence scientists have recommended the Palpur-Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh as a second home for the Asiatic Lion. This will reduce the pressure among the densely populated Gir lions.
This place was selected because is one of the former ranges of the Asiatic Lions, and has a similar type of forest and prey animals.
The writer is a Coordinator, with the Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore
All pictures by Misha Shukla

Let's count
Scientists use several methods to estimate the population of Asiatic Lion. One interesting method is to recognise them individually by markings on their faces, as well as counting and noting down the arrangement of their whisker-spots. These whisker-spots at the base are prominent and easy to spot with binoculars as well as from photographs. The top two rows of the whisker-spot pattern of a lion are counted and diagrammatically represented in a document. In addition to this, other facial markings are also noted. These markings and whisker-spot patterns differ from one lion to another. By counting the presence or absence of the known and unknown lions, scientists estimate the population in a given area.

It's everywhere
The Asiatic Lion is represented in various forms. The Hindus consider the lion as a Vahan of Durga. It is also represented in many ancient sculptures in Indian temples. It adorns our national emblem — of Ashok Pillar. We can see our lion in the symbol of Reserve Bank of India. And the Government of India has published a series of stamps on the Asiatic Lion.