1 Tahrcountry Musings: May 2014

Saturday, May 31, 2014

$1million wildlife watching trip

Sounds weird, but it is true. Natural World Safaris have launched a 111-day trip, for millionaires, for a cool $1million.
 The package is for two people travelling together. The itinerary includes 18 endangered species in 12 destinations covering Africa, Antarctica, Asia and North and South America. 
A percentage of the cost of this trip is donated to each conservation project visited along the way. According to organizers this is mainly a philanthropic venture.
 Let’s wait and see how many millionaires are willing to loosen the purse strings for wildlife.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

An app that enables users to identify bird species through uploaded photos

Researchers at Columbia Engineering, led by Computer Science Professor Peter Belhumeur have developed Birdsnap, a new iPhone app which enables users to identify bird species through uploaded photos. It is an electronic field guide featuring 500 of the most common North American bird species. The researchers used computer vision and machine learning techniques to develop the app.

Birdsnap not only identify species, but can also identify which parts of the bird the algorithm uses to identify each species.  Next on the agenda of the researchers is to add ability to recognize bird songs, bringing audio and visual recognition together.

This is indeed great news for birders. If researchers from other parts of the world work on these lines, in another 10 years time we will have a wonderful compendium from across the world. Technology can certainly come in handy in our pursuit of better tools for managing wildlife.

App: https://itunes.apple.com/app/birdsnap/id880461148

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The unending mysteries of nature

                                          Pic Credit:: WWF-US / Steve Morello

Nature throws up surprises at unexpected places. Look at migration. Scientists thought they knew everything about migration of animals in Africa till this info about Zebra migration came like a bolt from the blues.

 The latest study using GPS has come up with the startling discovery that it is the Zebras that does the longest migration.They travel between Namibia and Botswana and cover a distance of more than 500 kilometers.  

Till now scientists had believed that Serengeti is the site of the longest and most spectacular migration withmillions of animals—some 750,000 zebras and 1.2 million wildebeests as well as gazelles and elands traveling from the Ngorongoro area in southern Tanzania to the Masai Mara in lower Kenya and returning depending on the rain

The credit for the discovery goes to Robin Naidoo and other scientists from the World Wildlife Fund and Namibia’s Ministry of Environment and Tourism, in collaboration with Elephants Without Borders and Botswana’s Department of Wildlife and National Parks.

Robin Naidoo says “"Nobody knew that something of this scale, with this much ground covered, was occurring.”

Monday, May 26, 2014

Tribute to a great conservationist

                                                  Pic Credit: African Parks

It was with great sadness that I learned of the passing of Anthony Hall-Martin, conservation director of African Parks, on21 May 2014. He was 68 years old and was ailing from cancer.

Dr Hall-Martin’s conservation career spanned nearly 50 years. During this period he championed the cause of wildlife conservation in Africa and raised millions of dollars for its benefit. He was a world authority on the African elephant and black rhinoceros and has authored more than ten books and 80 scientific papers. He was directly responsible for establishing six new national parks, including Table Mountain, Agulhas, Namaqua and Mapungubwe.

African Parks CEO Peter Fearnhead described Dr Hall-Martin as “a true gentleman, always dignified, tactful and charming, rarely forceful about his views and self-effacing about hisachievements“.

Anthony’s life was too short-lived but his achievements were worthy of many lifetimes. He has left behind a giant legacy for the benefit of the world.”

Sunday, May 25, 2014

The newly discovered colourful shade lizards from the cloud forests of Ecuador.

                                               Photo Credit: Torres-Carvajal

The species, named Alopoglossus viridiceps, is described in the recent issue of the journal ZooKeys. 

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Is protection in Eravikulam National Park slipping down?

I am quite dismayed by the happenings in Eravikulam National Park. There have been reports of unauthorized trekking inside the park. To give substance to this allegation, there was a post in the tripAdvisor by a foreigner claiming to have scaled the Anamudi peak inside the park, and that too, immediately after the birth season of endangered Nilgiri tahr. The link to the post was sent to me by James Zachariah, the former warden of the park. I immediately sent the link to the present warden. The reply I received was that trekking in Anamudi area is prohibited as it is in the core area of the park. I forthwith drew his attention to the fact that a foreigner and several others have claimed to have scaled the peak. I am yet to receive a reply from the warden

I had suggested in a discussion with some forest officials and environmentalists that the warden should immediately write to the tripAdvisor people. An advisory from the warden should have found a place on their website. This is the first thing that I would have done and if there was a delay I would have hauled them over the coals for their lapses. I would have made this news about lapse go viral severely impacting the image of tripAdvisor.

I had also suggested that the warden should put an advisory on the website of Eravikulam National Park. This is yet to materialize. Copy of this advisory should have gone to the tourism department website also.

Times have indeed changed with the newgen people taking over the reins of administration.  Eravikulam had always been managed by men keen about wildlife, men who did not see the job as something that rakes in salary at the end of the month. It was an avocation for them, men who put the welfare of Eravikulam above their personal needs and desires. The postings were invariably done by the chief and the warden was given a free hand. This is how the name of Eravikulam spread worldwide. Even before the rest of the country had even thought about it Eravikulam National Park was a plastic free litter free park. A close link was maintained with High Range Wildlife and Environment Association (HRWEPA). This has also gone in to limbo now.  During the days of men like Mr MRP Lappin, the link between the department and the association was very strong. HRWEPA used to keep hawks eye over Eravikualm, and if they found anything amiss word was immediately passed on to the wildlife warden. I pine for the good old days when there was no political interference in the postings and administration of Eravikulam National Park. All the interferences were very effectively stonewalled. HRWEPA also should take part of the blame. They should not rest on past laurels. I have grave misgivings about the future of Eravikulam National Park

Friday, May 23, 2014

Guys, have you got a solution for this? The dilemma of killing one type of Owl to save another

This post is an afterthought of reading an article by Elizabeth Cook in Sanfrancisco.cbslocal

Killing one species to save other sounds weird, but this is exactly what is happening in Northern California.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to protect the Spotted Owl from the marauding Barred Owl, by shooting them.   Barred Owls are taking over the nesting territory of the native spotted owl, a threatened species. Spotted owl numbers have dropped by 80-percent in the last 20 years.  The plan is to kill 3,600 barred owls over the next four years. The think tanks of USFWS think that this is the only viable solution to the vexed problem.

So, guys, mull over this. If you have any out of the box ideas, that will work, please pass it on to USFWS.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Urban Bird Ecology and Conservation

Here is a great book for professional exologists and casual birders. Edited by Christopher A. Lepczyk and Paige S. Warren this compendium address the present state of this diverse field and examines classic questions while proposing new directions for further study.
The book is highly recommended for scientists, planners, and managers of urban spaces.

Hardcover: 360 pages
Publisher: University of California Press (6 November 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0520273095
ISBN-13: 978-0520273092

Christopher A. Lepczyk is Associate Professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.

Paige S. Warren is Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Conservation at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

Monday, May 19, 2014

A must read book for wildlife professionals and airport managers

Wildlife in Airport Environments
Preventing Animal–Aircraft Collisions through Science-Based Management
Edited by Travis L. DeVault, Bradley F. Blackwell, and Jerrold L. Belant
Hardback, 200 pages, 53 b&w illus.
Published by Johns Hopkins University Press
ISBN: 9781421410821
October 2013, $75.00

As a past aviator, I am very conscious about the danger posed to aircrafts by birds and other wildlife in the vicinity of airports. I have fascination for flying along with my deep rooted interest in wildlife as a wildlife professional. One of my friends had the windshield of his small aircraft damaged by bird during the course of his first solo flight. He got the fright of his life. Luckily he got back safely.
The other day I finished reading this wonderful book on Wildlife in Airport Environments, borrowed from my pilot friend Jacob. I found the book very fascinating and feel that it should be read by all pilots, airport managers and wildlife professionals. The book is written with inputs from USA, but it has relevance worldwide.

I am reproducing below the blurb

The pilot watches the instrument panel and prepares for touchdown—a routine landing until a burst of birds, a coyote, or a herd of deer crosses the runway! Every year, pilots experience this tension and many aircraft come into direct contact with birds and other wildlife, resulting in more than one billion dollars in damage annually. The United States Federal Aviation Administration has recorded a rise in these incidents over the past decade due to the combined effects of more reporting, rebounding wildlife populations, and an increased number of flights. Wildlife in Airport Environments tackles the issue of what to do about encounters with wildlife in and around airports—from rural, small-craft airparks to major international hubs.
Whether the problem is birds or bats in the flight path or a moose on the runway, the authors provide a thorough overview of the science behind wildlife management at airports.

 This well-written, carefully documented volume presents a clear synthesis for researchers, wildlife managers, and airport professionals. The book belongs in the hands of all those charged with minimizing the risks that wildlife pose to air travel.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Meet Christopher Golden 2014 National Geographic “Emerging Explorer”

                                                   Pic Credit: Harvard University
Dr. Christopher Golden an ecologist and epidemiologist interested in the interface of ecosystem service provisioning and human health has been named a 2014 National Geographic Emerging Explorer. For more than a decade he has been conducting groundbreaking research on ecology and public health in Madagascar. The prestigious award recognizes and supports uniquely gifted and inspiring adventurers, scientists and innovators who are at the forefront of discovery, exploration and global problem-solving while still early in their careers.

Dr Golden received an A.B. in Environmental Conservation (Special Concentrations) from Harvard College in 2005. In 2010, he received an MPH in Epidemiology and in 2011 his Ph.D. in Environmental Science, Policy and Management at the University of California, Berkeley.

Dr. Golden joined Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) in January as the organization’s Health & Ecosystems: Analysis of Linkages (HEAL) Program Director. He also has a research appointment with the Harvard School of Public Health, with which he has been conducting ecological and epidemiological research in Madagascar since 2011.

In his most recent published study that appeared in the journal Conservation Biology, Chris and his co-authors looked at the consumption of protected wildlife in northeastern Madagascar and found that diminished access to wildlife, resulting from unsustainable hunting and/or the enforcement of conservation policies, may disproportionately impact the area’s rural poor who depend on this resource. The study demonstrated the importance of developing approaches for offsetting these negative impacts on local communities while simultaneously securing a future for one of the world’s most biodiverse places.

Posted with inputs from WCS

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Latest conservation drone model achieve 100KM flight distance

                                            Pic Credit: Conservation Drones.org

I believe that conservation drones will play an increasing role in the coming years.  So I glue my ears to the scene to find out what is happening. I was delighted to learn that a model developed by Keeyen Pang, ConservationDrones’ Director for Asia Operations has achieved a total flight distance of 109 km, over a period of one hour and 57 minutes. According to Keeyen this means that conservation drones are now able to cover significantly more ground when deployed for forest patrols, wildlife surveys, and land cover mapping, among other applications.

A Zeta Science FX 79 airframe with following specifications were used for the flight

Airframe: Zeta Science FX79
Autopilot: 3DRobotics APM 2.6 with external compass and airspeed sensor (3.02 firmware)
Power: 2 pieces 6S 5000 mah battery in parallel
Motor: T motor 3110-470
Propeller: APC 12 x 8
ESC: CC Edge 50 A
Radio system: Futaba 10C radio system
All up weight: 3.4 KG

Six natural treasures of Africa's Virunga park

Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has the most biodiversity in all of Africa. Dark clouds are looming on the horizon. The park is threatened by oil prospectors.  Andy Coghlan shows us some of the unique wonders within its borders. Click HERE 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Meet Carol Ruckdeschel the wildest woman in America

The book Untamed introduces Carol Ruckdeschel, the wildest woman in America. The blurb describes her as Henry David Thoreau and Jane Goodall rolled in to one. It is the story of an American original standing her ground and fighting for what she believes in, against heavy odds

Carol is a self-taught scientist who has become a tireless defender of sea turtles on Cumberland Island, a national park off the coast of Georgia and lives in a ramshackle cabin that she built herself. Cumberland is the country's largest and most biologically diverse barrier island

The fight between a dirt-poor naturalist and the wealthiest families in America is graphically described.

·         Hardcover: 320 pages
·         Publisher: Grove Press (May 6, 2014)
·         Language: English
·         ISBN-10: 0802122582
·         ISBN-13: 978-0802122582

Monday, May 12, 2014

A plant that eats up nickel

                                          Photo Credit: Dr. Edwino S. Fernando; CC-BY 4.0

My friend from Wayand, Ramesh, is an aficionado of rare plants. Whenever we meet, he talks about plants only. The other day we met and the talk veered towards newly discovered Rinorea niccolifera that eats up nickel

It is the Scientists from the University of the Philippines, led by DR Edwino Fernando, who have discovered the new plant species that consumes nickel, up to 18,000 ppm of the metal in its leaves without itself being poisoned. Such an amount is a hundred to a thousand times higher than in most other plants.

The new species is called Rinorea niccolifera, alluding to its ability to absorb nickel in very high amounts. Nickel hyperaccumulation is a rare phenomenon.  The species was discovered on the western part of Luzon Island in the Philippines, an area known for soils rich in heavy metals.

Across the world, only about 450 species are known with this unusual trait. Juxtapose this against estimated 300,000 species of vascular plants and we get a clear picture of the rarity.

Dr Augustine Doronila of the School of Chemistry, University of Melbourne, a co-author of the report says "Hyperacccumulator plants have great potentials for the development of green technologies, for example, 'phytoremediation' and 'phytomining'

There is difference between the terms 'phytoremediation' and 'phytomining. Phytoremediation refers to the use of hyperacccumulator plants to remove heavy metals in contaminated soils. Phytomining, on the other hand, is the use of hyperacccumulator plants to grow and harvest in order to recover commercially valuable metals in plant shoots from metal-rich sites.

Details of the study in the latest issue of open access journal PhytoKeys

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Future of Conservation

Trading charges have become routine in the conservation scenario of India. This is very evident in the recent reactions to Gadgil report and the Kasthurirangan report. Government also keeps shifting priorities and the efforts sometimes look whimsical in nature. Look at Gadgil report. Sure, it had its plus and minus points but it had this inherent corrective mechanism, under consultation clauses, incorporated in the report. This phase was never highlighted and presented before the populace by the Government. They chose the soft option of appointing another committee when the accusations and allegations came in a barrage. What was the need of wasting the tax payers’ money in this futile exercise? It is high time we took a pragmatic view of conservation instead of being burdened by past prejudices and beliefs.

The chief grouse of those nescient in the nuances of conservation is that Conservation emphasizes protection of biodiversity without paying attention to human welfare. Conservation biologists and wildlife managers have long held the view that if they can convince and get the support of people, right decisions will be made automatically under the triage they proffer for protected areas. This was all right in a situation where there was not much pressure from burgeoning population. Against the scenario of leapfrogging population and a world of millions of people demanding water, food and energy, protected areas are not going to be the panacea for the ills afflicting conservation. The designs for conservation have to be part and parcel of large, resilient ecosystems on a landscape level. How do we go about needs of breaking new grounds and reshaping long held views on conservation? The path certainly is not strewn with roses. What we need is not a reactive mode of conservation and ipso facto, should not be crisis-driven.  It should be based on perceptions and beliefs of the people that keep changing with times. Our efforts should not be one-shot efforts. It should be representative of the entire constituency (not just the vocal lobby groups). The power of belief systems and self-reinforcing social groups has to be taken in to reckoning. We may need to draft in social scientists and integrate lessons from behavioral psychology, to better understand how people change their mindset. Attempts have to focus on engineering changes rather than build barricades.  Even though conservation should take peoples apprehensions in to decision making it should not be seen as a means of increasing human well-being.
Human dimensions in wildlife research (HDWR) have not got the kind of importance it deserves in our scheme of things in India. HDWR is defined as that research which "focuses on the public's knowledge levels, expectations, attitudes and activities concerning wildlife resources and associated habitats. HDWR research looks in to the public attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge towards conservation. After identifying weaknesses in knowledge, relationships between certain beliefs and attitudes can be put under the scanner. It then becomes easy to address specific weaknesses in knowledge that are most likely to impinge on attitude. Just as the wildlife biologist assesses whether a wildlife population is increasing, decreasing, or remaining the same through a longitudinal study, HDWR research can identify, document and analyse attitudes and beliefs of the local people as wildlife populations’ increase or decrease.  Regular assessment of public attitudes, beliefs, knowledge, issues, and concerns will certainly help managers understand the effect of their actions. An effort like this would have certainly helped to avert tragedies like the one we had witnessed in Wayand. Such longitudinal HDWR research should become an integral part of of our conservation measures. As I had mentioned in one of my recent papers on Nilgiri tahr, public should be involved at the normative stage of planning (what ought to be done), strategic stage (what could be done), and the operational stage (what will be done).
Trying to thrust reports and implement it on hapless populace will not work in the years to come. Conservation has come to a cross road. This is the ripe time to forge new strategies and take level headed decisions. Science-based conservation with peoples’ participation along with poverty alleviation looks like a winning combination, but it takes lot of effort and dedication to get the right mix.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Court comes to the rescue of Canada lynx

The following is a press release from The Western Environmental Law Center.
Wildlife advocates’ win forces federal government to prepare long overdue recovery plan for threatened Canada Lynx.
Missoula, MT – In a critical win for the rare and elusive Canada lynx, a federal court in Montana found that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 14-year delay in preparing a recovery plan for this threatened species was “unreasonable” and ordered a firm deadline for completing the federally mandated roadmap for recovery.
A coalition of wildlife advocates, represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, filed a lawsuit in March 2013 to spur the FWS to complete the required recovery plan for the cat, which was listed as threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in March 2000. By the FWS’ own admission, recovery plans are “one of the most important tools to ensure sound scientific and logistical decision-making throughout the recovery process.”
Yesterday, the Court ruled in the wildlife advocates favor, finding that “The history of this case causes a certain skepticism about the agency’s self declared deadlines for initiating recovery planning.” The agency has 30 days to submit a proposed schedule for completion of the recovery plan.
“It’s long overdue,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center who represents the coalition. “A delay of a year, two or even three might be reasonable given other priorities or a heavy workload, but not 14. At some point in time, the court has to step in and say enough is enough. Fortunately, that’s what they did in this case,” Bishop added.
“We are pleased that the court recognized how important these plans are to prevent the extinction of lynx,” said Arlene Montgomery, Program Director for Friends of the Wild Swan. “Finally the Fish and Wildlife Service can get down to identifying and reducing threats to the cats’ long term survival.”
The Western Environmental Law Center is representing Friends of the Wild Swan, Rocky Mountain Wild, San Juan Citizens Alliance, and the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance.
Want to have a look at the court order? Click HERE

Friday, May 09, 2014

Amazing rock climbing feat by Mexican black bears

Cascading effects of loss of large mammals

A study by Scientists from Bard College and the University of California, Davis, has come up with the finding that the loss of large mammals has cryptic consequences for African savannas and the people and animals that depend on them.
The scientists experimentally removed large grazing mammals from plots of savanna land in Kenya. The results were very disturbing. Populations of a small mammal, the pouched mouse, doubled. The mice attracted venomous snakes like the olive hissing snake. It also caused extensive damage to tree seedlings.  The flea and tick populations exponentially increased which in turn potentially increased the risk of transmission of flea- and tick-borne pathogens.
Details of the study appears in the latest issue of journal Bioscience

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Pine martens makes a comeback in south of Scotland

                                          Pic credit: SNH &VWT

A Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) study, with The Vincent Wildlife Trust (VWT), has reported that pine martens have starting to re-colonise the south of Scotland after being absent there for nearly 200 years.
Pine martens were once abundant in UK, but suffered a collapse in the 19th century due to woodland clearance, trapping for fur, and predator control measures by gamekeepers.

VWT survey coordinator Lizzie Croose described the discovery of the rare animals as "significant".

Friday, May 02, 2014

SOS Freedom

 SOS (Save Our Species) has established a collaborative programme with Jacques Olivier of FREEDOM films and events. The association will work for species conservation and aims at inspiring people of all ages to reconnect with nature. 

Jacques Olivier is an inspirational person. A falconer since an early age he has developed “Les aigles du LĂ©man” in Haute-Savoie, France. Here he perfects a technique to teach adult captive eagles how to fly and hunt for themselves.   A stunning film of his project to reintroduce the white tailed eagle to the Alps is due to be released later this year. Here is a remarkable film footage

Posted with inputs from IUCN SSC