1 Tahrcountry Musings

Monday, January 15, 2018

The coterie that runs wildlife decisions in Kerala

Kerala is famous for inclusiveness, when it comes to wildlife management. Decisions are taken based on views of experts and this has paid rich dividends for the department.
A recent disturbing development is the emergence of a coterie. It's this coterie that decides who should  be included and who should be excluded from deliberations. A case in point is the experience of Dr Rajan Verghese. Dr Rajan Verghese is a pioneer when it comes to introduction of modern  census techniques in Kerala. Recently the coterie decided that he has to be dispensed with. He was not invited for any deliberation. If the coterie wanted to hog the limelight this was not the way to go. They should have invited him and discussed with him, their new plans, if any. A very upset Dr Rajan Verghese said if the  coterie wants to take credit let them do it , but they should not do away with inclusiveness, which is the hallmark of Kerala. I think, Dr Rajan Verghese has a point here. For the first time since the inception of Nilgiri tahr census I was also not informed about it, last year. Obviously the coterie is powerful and has a stranglehold. This does not auger well for wildlife.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Emerging digital threat to wildlife

 The digital technology, in recent years, has given a huge boost to wildlife research and conservation, but sadly the technology has started doing the Frankenstein act, with the advent of cyber poachers. Poachers and wildlife smugglers are pouncing on the technology with glee, in pursuit of their nefarious practices. Unwittingly social media is also lending a helping hand to the criminals. Data mining on social sites has become very easy. Internet has become the scouting ground of the scoundrels indulging in cyber poaching. What a travesty

When pictures of rare wildlife are posted on social sites like facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram, it leaves behind enough data for the cyber criminals to latch on to. They can easily hack and find the area where the pictures were taken.  Modern cameras and smartphones add geotags to the pictures and the digital data naturally goes up with the uploading. TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade-monitoring network has recently reported that transactions for illegal wildlife products, particularly ivory, were shifting away from online retailers and onto social media platforms.

A few days back the social media sites were agog with the pictures of two lovely pygmy elephants of Sabah, Malysia.. One of the elephants had an unusually long curved tusk. The poachers had no difficulty in finding out the area where the pictures were taken. They massacred the poor creatures to get the ivory. The conservation world is still reeling from shock waves of this sad incident.

In the latest issue of journal conservation biology, Professor Steven Cooke of Carleton University, Ottawa, has graphically described the modus operandi of the cyber poachers.  The professor says the very tools that were used to further the conservation efforts of endangered species are being hijacked to do just the opposite. Even though the threat is increasing alarmingly, right now there is no data to quantify the menace. Dr Cooks advises encystations of data and limiting the use of telemetry tools for non-research activities, as an immediate solution. What we should go for is in fact military style encystations of wildlife data, if we are really serious about containing the cascading threat.  Reputed scientific journals have already implemented the policy of not disclosing the sites of newly discovered species. In India we had a sample of cyber poaching when attempts were made to hack GPS collars of tigers. In some countries wildlife tour operates also have been guilty of accessing the digital data on the sly. Tags send out pings that can be easily accessed with cheap radio receivers. Instead of waiting for the animal you can easily stalk the animal.

All individuals can join the effort to free the cyber space from criminals. When you intend to upload pictures of rare wildlife, turn off geotaging before taking pictures and never disclose the exact site. The picture of pine marten taken in Munnar is a good example. All the photographers were keen to disclose the exact site where the picture was taken and naturally there was a rush to grab a picture of the rare animal. If you are a researcher, wildlife manager or a conservation photographer never discloses the sites of, rare, newly discovered wildlife. Use broad term like Western Ghats, instead of specifying the exact place of discovery.  The threat is not restricted to big animals. Rare snakes, tortoises and frogs are on the list of cyber criminals. Researchers have reported that some of the recently discovered frogs have very limited range, all the more reason to exercise abundant caution. The threat is real and increasing. Time to act is now. In June scientists are assembling in Australia to take stock the situation and come up with remedial measures on a war footing.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Hi Guys,
                Due to paucity of time and other imponderables, I am not in a position to blog regularly. I have started a WhatsApp group called Wilderness unplugged to post wildlife news. This allows me to post on the go. If you are interested in joining the group send me a request.
Have a great day

Monday, August 22, 2016

No updates for some more time

Hi guys,
             Due to personal constraints I am not in a position to post regular updates.  Hope to see you soon. Have a great time.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Taking a break

Hi Guys,
              I am taking a break for 15 days. There wont't be any updates during this period

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Adult female ungulates: The importance getting to know about lambing habitat: Parturition, nursery, and predation sites.

Desert bighorn sheep lambing habitat: Parturition, nursery, and predation sites
Rebekah C. Karsch,James W. Cain,Eric M. Rominger and Elise J. Goldstein
The Journal of Wildlife Management,Volume 80Issue 6pages 1069–1080August 2016

Fitness of female ungulates is determined by neonate survival and lifetime reproductive success. Therefore, adult female ungulates should adopt behaviors and habitat selection patterns that enhance survival of neonates during parturition and lactation. Parturition site location may play an important role in neonatal mortality of desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis mexicana) when lambs are especially vulnerable to predation, but parturition sites are rarely documented for this species. The objectives of the researchers were to assess environmental characteristics at desert bighorn parturition, lamb nursery, and predation sites and to assess differences in habitat characteristics between parturition sites and nursery group sites, and predation sites and nursery group sites. They used vaginal implant transmitters (VITs) to identify parturition sites and capture neonates. We then compared elevation, slope, terrain ruggedness, and visibility at parturition, nursery, and lamb predation sites with paired random sites and compared characteristics of parturition sites and lamb predation sites to those of nursery sites. When compared to random sites, odds of a site being a parturition site were highest at intermediate slopes and decreased with increasing female visibility. Odds of a site being a predation site increased with decreasing visibility. When compared to nursery group sites, odds of a site being a parturition site had a quadratic relationship with elevation and slope, with odds being highest at intermediate elevations and intermediate slopes. When the researchers compared predation sites to nursery sites, odds of a site being a predation were highest at low elevation areas with high visibility and high elevation areas with low visibility likely because of differences in hunting strategies of coyote (Canis latrans) and puma (Puma concolor). Parturition sites were lower in elevation and slope than nursery sites. The researchers signs off stating that understanding selection of parturition sites by adult females and how habitat characteristics at these sites differ from those at predation and nursery sites can provide insight into strategies employed by female desert bighorn sheep and other species during and after parturition to promote neonate survival. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Getting to know how the spatial configuration of residential development affects the foraging behavior and prey habits of top predators

Spatial characteristics of residential development shift large carnivore prey habits
Justine A. Smith,Yiwei Wan and Christopher C. Wilmers
The Journal of Wildlife ManagementVolume 80Issue 6pages 1040–1048August 2016

Understanding how anthropogenic development affects food webs is essential to implementing sustainable growth measures, but we have very little knowledge about how the spatial configuration of residential development affects the foraging behavior and prey habits of top predators. The researchers examined the influence of the spatial characteristics of residential development on prey composition in the puma (Puma concolor). They located the prey remains of kills from 32 pumas fitted with global positioning system (GPS) satellite collars to determine the housing characteristics most influencing prey size and species composition. They examined how differences in housing density, proximity, and clustering influenced puma prey size and diversity. They found that at both local (150 m) and regional (1 km) spatial scales surrounding puma kill sites, housing density (but not the clustering of housing) was the greatest contributor to puma consumption of small prey,which primarily comprised human commensals or pets. The species-specific relationships between housing density and prey occupancy and detection rates assessed using camera traps were not always similar to those between housing density and proportions of diet, suggesting that pumas may exercise some diet selectivity. The influence of development on puma diet may affect puma disease risk, energetics, and demographics because of altered species interactions and prey-specific profiles of energetic gain and cost. The researchers say their results can help guide future land-use planners seeking to minimize the impacts of development on wild species interactions and community dynamics.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Want protection from malaria? Here is an unlikely recipe. Sleep with a chicken next to your bed

A study by Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Addis Ababa University, reported in the open access Malaria Journal, has shown that malaria-transmitting mosquitoes actively avoid feeding on certain animal species such as chickens, using their sense of smell. The scientists say odours emitted by species such as chickens could provide protection for humans at risk of mosquito-transmitted diseases.

To find out which species the mosquitoes prefer, the research team collected data on the population of human and domestic animals in three Ethiopian villages. They also collected blood-fed mosquitoes to test for the source of the blood that the mosquitoes had fed on. People living in the areas in which the research was conducted share their living quarters with their livestock. The researchers found that while Anopheles arabiensis strongly prefers human over animal blood when seeking hosts indoors, it randomly feeds on cattle, goats and sheep when outdoors, but avoids chickens in both settings, despite their relatively high abundance.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Scientists urge replacement of animals in antibody production

The global antibody industry is worth 80 billion dollars and relies heavily on animals to produce the antibodies that are used to detect the vast range of molecules indicative of state of health, safety or the environment.Scientists from the Universities of Nottingham, Toronto, Utrecht and Lund in Sweden say millions of animals are still being authorised for routine scientific procedures when there is a tried and tested alternative. They add that the use of animals in consumer society is effectively 'hidden' and products assumed to be 'animal-friendly' are mere ruse. Animal friendly antibody production technique using bacteriophage viruses instead of live animals is being overlooked.
The scientists are proposing a seven point EU led action plan by the wider scientific community and biotechnology industry.
• The replacement of animal immunisation methods for antibody production, including the import of antibodies and antibody-containing products unless it can be demonstrated on a case-by-case basis that Animal Friendly affinity reagents (AFAs) cannot be applied.
• An expert working group should be established to set up a roadmap for moving away from animal immunisation-based techniques for antibody production, in light of the scientific feasibility and commercial availability of AFAs.
• Implementation programmes should be set up to facilitate the transfer of establishments to the new technology. These should include centres of excellence for training in AFA-based technologies to ensure that antibody producers are fully supported.
• Measures should be taken to ensure that animal-derived antibodies manufactured outside the EU adhere to European standards to avoid ethics dumping in regions where animal welfare is less well regulated.
• The European Union Reference Laboratory for alternatives to animal testing (EURL ECVAM) should extend its field of activities with its international collaborative partners to include the production of AFAs and their subsequent use.
• EU and national agencies who are committed to the 3Rs and who execute EU regulations at an operational level for the commercial production of cosmetics, medicines, household products, and food or to safeguard our health or the environment should reinforce this action and no longer permit the import or use of animal-derived antibodies and antibody-containing products aimed to monitor, detect, diagnose, or extract targets of interest.
• Subsequent reports from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on the statistics on the number of animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes should include data on the use of animals for antibody production as an independent category.

Details appear in the latest issue of journal Trends in Biotechnology. Read it HERE

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Urban pigeons might come in handy to detect lead and other toxic compounds in cities

 A new study of pigeons by Fayme Cai and Rebecca Calisi in New York City shows that levels of lead in the birds track with neighborhoods where children show high levels of lead exposure. In their study the researchers used feral pigeon (Columba livia) as a lead bioindicator in New York City. They collected blood lead level records from 825 visibly ill or abnormally behaving pigeons from various NYC neighborhoods between 2010 and 2015. They found that blood lead levels were significantly higher during the summer, an effect reported in children. Even miniscule amounts of lead are extremely detrimental to child health. 
The researchers provide support for the use of the feral pigeon as a bioindicator of environmental lead contamination for the first time in the U.S. and for the first time anywhere in association with rates of elevated blood lead levels in children. They say this information has the potential to enable measures to assess, strategize, and potentially circumvent the negative impacts of lead and other environmental contaminants on human and wildlife communities. The research provide a powerful example of how monitoring pigeon biology may help us to better understand the location and prevalence of lead, with the aim of providing greater awareness and devising prevention measures.

Details appear in the latest edition of journal Chemosphere

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Using an incentive-based strategy as a complement to command-and-control, community- and norm-based strategies may help achieve greater conservation effectiveness

Effects of payments for ecosystem services on wildlife habitat recovery
Mao-Ning Tuanmu,Andrés Viña,Wu Yang,Xiaodong ChenAshton M. Shortridge and Jianguo Liu
Conservation Biology, Volume 30, Issue 4, pages 827–835, August 2016

Serous debates on policies that might simultaneously promote sustainable management of protected areas and improve the living conditions of local people have been going on round the world. This has been engendered by conflicts between local people's livelihoods and conservation that has stymied many well intended conservation measures. The authors of this paper say, few empirical assessments of the effectiveness of government-sponsored payments-for-ecosystem-services (PES) schemes have been conducted, and even fewer assessments have directly measured their effects on ecosystem services. Here the researchers conducted an empirical and spatially explicit assessment of the conservation effectiveness of one of the world's largest PES programs through the use of a long-term empirical data set, a satellite-based habitat model, and spatial autoregressive analyses on direct measures of change in an ecosystem service (i.e., the provision of wildlife species habitat). Giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) habitat improved in Wolong Nature Reserve of China after the implementation of the Natural Forest Conservation Program. The improvement was more pronounced in areas monitored by local residents than those monitored by the local government, but only when a higher payment was provided. The results suggest that the effectiveness of a PES program depends on who receives the payment and on whether the payment provides sufficient incentives. As engagement of local residents has not been incorporated in many conservation strategies elsewhere in China or around the world, the results also suggest that using an incentive-based strategy as a complement to command-and-control, community- and norm-based strategies may help achieve greater conservation effectiveness and provide a potential solution for the park versus people conflict.