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Friday, April 13

A quick guide to the monkeys in Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu, India

Manimuthar Water falls,Sengaltheri, kmtr
Manimuthar Water falls as seen from Sengaltheri
Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve is an important biodiversity hot spot in Western Ghats. It is famous for the abundance of major macro fauna in Peninsular India with Tiger on the top. Apart from being the proud habitat of the biggest tiger in the state, the reserve also touts to be the only one in India to house all the five Indian monkey species.

In fact, KMTR forests have shown degradation over years. Satellite imagery has shown a change in the nature of forest in the area during 1973 to 2004 with evergreen forests getting reduced. Presently, it has evergreen, semi-evergreen, moist, and dry deciduous forests, grasslands. Slopes filled with reeds especially in Oothu, Kakachi and Sengaltheri and increasing grasslands are an after-effect of recurring wild fires, which again causes degradation of the forest.

Here is a quick guide to the primates we meet in KMTR:

Mysore Slender Loris (Loris lydekkerianus lydekkerianus)

Known as 'Thevangu' in native Tamil and Malayalam, this 26 cm long monkey is the smallest of the tribe in KMTR. Among the Slender Lorises which are found only in South India and Sri Lankan forests, Mysore slender Loris and Malabar slender Lorises are endemic to South India.

Mysore Slender Loris
This small monkey which weighs a maximum of 285 gm prefers shrub rich deciduous forests with thick undergrowth. Being nocturnal, its big eyes are the most notable feature. They catch insects and make up an occasional fruity dish. This no-tail monkey is famous for its slow movement which helps it evade predator's eyes. They curve as a ball to sleep and usually sleep in groups. Male Lorises mark large territories with urine which often intersects with smaller territories of one or more female Lorises.

Points on the field trip: Despite being smaller and slower, Loris growls and bites fiercely when threatened and moves faster to get away, though they never leap. They can be heard making whistles in the night to contact others and to keep the territory.

Remember: One can spot them in night with the torch lights since the big eyes shine well, but remember, you are hurting them with a strong light beam.

Common Langur (Semnopithecus entellus thersites)

Though once considered as a single species, Common Langurs have a lot of sub species among them. The common Langurs found in KMTR are endemic to South Western India and Sri Lanka. They are bigger when compared to Lorises, with an adult male weighing up to 18.3 kg and female 11.2 kg with average tail lengths between 69 cm to 101 cm.

Common Langur, Semnopithecus entellus thersites, kmtr
Common Langur (Semnopithecus entellus thersites) 
They spend more time on ground than other Langurs. Known as Vellamanthi in Tamil for their greyish white hair, they eat young leaves, unripe fruit and seeds. 

Common Langurs have interesting group behaviours. The groups will have a dominant male and many females. Male infants, when they become adults are forced to leave the group to join groups of similar single males. However, they often try to defeat the dominant male of a group. The male which takes over a group, kills all infants from the past leader of the group.

Identification: The crest of hair, grey hands and backward looping tail are the major marks for identification. The special stomach for digesting leaves  also gives them the large bellied look which helps in identification.

Points on the field trip: They spent more time on ground than other Langurs. Found in wooded areas and even in towns. In KMTR they are present in Mundanthurai, Papanasam and also in Kadayam and Thirukarangudi range.

Nilgiri Langur (Semnopithecus johnii)

Called Karumanthi in Tamil and Malayalam, these black monkeys are endemic to Western Ghats of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and found in elevations between 300 msl and 2000 msl. Living on a leaf diet, these monkeys weigh 11 kg to 14 kg in adulthood with an average tail length range of 68 to 97 cm.
Nilgiri Langur, Semnopithecus johnii
Nilgiri Langur (Semnopithecus johnii)

They too are found in groups of 4-24 members in tree tops spending almost half day eating leaves and seeds. Usually groups will have 8 to 9 members including an adult male. Though male groups are also found, female groups and groups with many adult males are rare.

IdentificationThe black hair and greyish crest of hair are the major marks. However, infants till the age of 10 weeks will have reddish brown body hairs. Females have a patch of white hair on their inner thigh which helps easy identification.

Points in the fieldFound in moist deciduous forests, semi-evergreen forests, evergreen forests and plantations. In KMTR, they can be found at lower elevations of the Mundanthurai plateau in forests along the Servalar River and higher elevations like Sengaltheri in Kalakkad range. They feed mostly on mornings and evenings. The most prominent thing is their whooping call from the group head to make its presence known to other Langur groups.

Remember : Nilgiri Langurs are rampantly hunted for the alleged medicinal capacity of its flesh.

Bonnet Macaque (Macaca radiata diluta)

Bonnet Macaque, Macaca radiata diluta
Bonnet Macaque (Macaca radiata diluta)
Endemic to Peninsular India, bonnet macaques are the most popular in South India, with two sub species in India. The smaller and paler one with longer hairs on its whorl is found in Kerala and Tamil Nadu including forests of KMTR.

Found in all types of forests barring wet evergreen forests, due to their ability to live of different diets including fruits, seeds, plat parts, eggs of birds and insects. Called 'Vella kuranagu' (white monkey) in Tamil, they are smaller than Langurs both in weight (3.9 KG to 8.8 KG) and tail length (33 cm to 63.9 cm).

Their group strength differs from 5 to 75 with many adult males staying with the group like females, and build strong relationships.

Remember: Don’t try to feed them, if you don’t want to call them a menace later !

Lion Tailed Macaque (Macaca silenus)
Found only in wet evergreen forests, roughly around 4000 'LTM's ( as they are fondly called by KMTR staff) remain on the earth and are distributed along Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu forests. About 202 specific food plants of LTM recorded from Kalakkad makes KMTR a major survival spot of this rare primate. Known as Singavaal kurangu in Tamil and Simhavalan Kurangu in Malayalam, ( both means monkey with a lion tail) they grow to attain 3 to 10 Kg weight. Tail length is smaller than Langurs with average length ranging from 25 to 38 cm.

Lion Tailed Macaque,Macaca silenus, kmtr monkeys
Lion Tailed Macaque (Macaca silenus)
Living on a diet of leaves and insects, small animals like frogs, snails, lizards, baby giant squirrels, mushrooms and flowers, they start giving birth late , at 5 to 6 years of age and deliver less number of births. Time between births are longer which makes their population change slowly, making it risky for them to survive if a sudden fall happens to the population.

Groups will have 7 to 40 members with a usual ratio of one adult male and 6 to 7 adult females per group. Males leave the group on reaching maturity.

Identification: looks like Langurs, but have smaller tail, with the tuft of hair which makes it a lion's tail. They leap occasionally and walk through branches often. Hairs around LTM’s face are white, but on Nilgiri Langur it is light brown.

Points in the field: keep ears sharp. When feeding, members of the group scatter over a large area and keep in contact through coo calls. Male's call is like a bark.

Remember: They are shy and flee once they detect your presence, so keep silent on LTM watch.

Got any interesting experience with monkeys in the forest? Share it in your comment.

Courtesy: Monitoring primates: a guide for Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve by Rohini Mann, H.S. Sushma, V.K. Melkani and A. Udhayan and Forest department staff at Kalakkad forest range office.

Wednesday, April 11

Roads affect large mammal movement in Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, says a study

Indian Elephant, Elephas maximus indicus,Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, Karnataka elephant, Indian wildlife
An Indian Elephant (Elephas maximus indicus), crossing a  patrolling path at Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, Karnataka, India
 Constructing roads through protected areas will severely affect the wild life, reveals a recent study conducted on the Mysore- Mananthavady Highway which passes through Nagarhole Tiger Reserve, a major home for the big striped cat in South India.  According to the study, the road has caused certain large mammals to desert the adjoining areas while making some others more prone to be victims of road kill.

Comparing an abandoned segment with another one regularly used by the vehicles within a 20 KM distance, it was found that large mammals like Elephant (Elephas maximus indicus), Gaur(Bos garus) , Chital (Axis axis), Wild pig (Sus scrofa) and Tiger tend to avoid the road edges restricting themselves to other forest areas.

This does not mean that animals don’t usually use that place, but just avoid it. The study has found that 681 animal trails have intersected the portion of the road under study. However, the mean density of animal trails on the unused segment was 40 percent more than that in the used segment, indicating that the road is restricting natural wild life movement.

Swelling vehicle traffic

The study observed a startling 22 fold increase in vehicular traffic on this road which connects Wayanad district of Kerala with Mysore district of Karnataka, in seven years despite a traffic ban in the night.

According to Sanjay Gubbi, H. C. Poornesha and M. D. Madhusudan from Nature Conservation Foundation and Wild life Conservation Society who conducted the study, vehicle density was 50 per day in 2003, when traffic was allowed all the 24 hours. Now it has reached a massive 553 a day despite a 12 hour traffic ban.

Roads thrills but kills
Nagarhole Tiger reserve, roads through tiger reserve, Nagarhole map,
Roads passing through Nagarhole Tiger Reserve in Karnataka
However, it was also found that large mammals like Sambar deer (Rusa unicolor) are not repelled by roads. This is due to the presence of grass and tender leaves in the road edges due to the routine clearance by the forest department, says the study.

The routine clearance along road edges creates micro habitats which attracts many herbivores, making them more prone to road kills. According to experts, this is the major reason why herbivores like Sambar deer, chital, mouse deer (Moschiola meminna), black naped hare (Lepus
nigricollis) and small Indian civet (Viverricula indica) becomes the top names in road kills near protected areas.

Better EIAs and measures

The findings of the study call for immediate measures to check over speeding on such roads which is a major reason for animal death from vehicle collision. It also demands effective implementation of scientifically designed animal crossing structures across such roads.

But above all, the need of the hour is to conduct long-term environment impact assessments even after completion of developmental initiatives to find out unforeseen impacts. If we hurry again under the false notion of development to become a global power, we may commit irreversible mistakes to the future generations by swiping away the remaining biodiversity of our nation.

Indian leopard (Panthera pardus fusca) at Nagarhole Tiger Reserve (Video)

Sunday, April 8

Fig trees triggers forest regeneration effectively, reveals new research study

Ever thought of why we have a lot of fig trees around in Asian sacred grooves? A recent research finding says that it may be due to the tree’s exceptional ecological power to help regenerate forest around it.

Ficus benghalensis, fig tree, Indian sacred grooves,religious ecology
Ficus benghalensis [photo courtsey:romana klee]
A research study carried out in populated areas in Tirunelveli district of Indian state of TamilNadu has revealed that they can help forest regeneration even near highly human populated areas.

The credit of the forest regeneration capacity of fig trees goes to their thick canopy and small fruits during their fruiting period. The researchers found that both these factors attract major frugivorous species. The frequent visit of frugivores enhances deposition of seeds of other tree species under fig canopies, triggering forest regeneration.

The researchers were able to record at least nine birds species including house crow (Corvus splendens), Asian koel (Eudynamys scolopacea), red-vented bulbul (Pycnonotuscafer), and common mynah (Acridotheres tristis) and one bat species Pteropus giganteus, the Indian flying fox,  visiting the Ficus benghalensis trees in the area under study. All these are known primary dispersal agents for south Asian ecological systems.

The phenomenon points to the ecological benefits of fig trees, especially in connection with the survival of sacred grooves near human populated areas. Since the figs have small fruits, it helps them to attract more frugivores species, while other fruiting tress found in sacred grooves usually have bigger seeds.

The study examined if the frugivores visit to Ficus trees is not affected by human disturbance. It also found that the seedling density is higher under the fig canopy than open areas near human populated areas.

Earlier studies have shown that sacred grooves often show higher plant biodiversity than usual wildlife reserves. The present study shows that Ficus trees in sacred grooves have a big influence on this high plant biodiversity. 

Sunday, April 1

A new barb to Puntius sp. identified from Southern Western Ghats Rivers in TN and Kerala

The endemic aquatic fauna of southern Western Ghats has got one more member recently, when researchers have identified a new barb belonging to the Puntius family of fishes from the streams in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Christened as Puntius nigripinnis Sp., this new fish was identified from the streams of TamilNadu and Kerala.

Puntius nigripinnis, western ghat biodiversity, Indian fish, Indian aquatic fauna, indian barb
Adult male Puntius nigripinnis sp.
collected from Kalindi river in Wayanad in Kerala, India
(collected by Rahul G. Kumar)
P. nigripinnis now adds to the more than a dozen variants of the widely distributed barb Puntius ticto. The major morphological difference P. nigripinnis has with other members of the P. ticto complex is the absence of barbels along with the presence of the last unbranched dorsal ray serrated.

This dark brown fish has a black band which forms a ring around the caudal fins. Being identified for the first time, it is now known to exist only from Moyar River range in Nilgiris and Kalaindi stream in Wayanad district of Kerala, both streams originating from the southern Western Ghats.

Location of the body spots are one major feature which makes the newly identified fish different from the similar looking close relatives. The humeral spot on this fish is on the 3rd and 4th scale of the lateral line while it is on the 4th and 5th scale below the lateral line for its close relatives like P. punctatus and P. muvattupuzhaensis.

Puntius nigripinnis sp., new Indian barb
Puntius nigripinnis sp.

Again the black ring is a distinguisher for P. nigripinnis. The large spot which is located on the 18th and 19th scales on the caudal peduncle which forms a band is not prominent in other members of the P. ticto complex. They exist as different spots in P. ticto, P. stoliczkanus, P. manipurensis, and P. pookodensis, making them visually different from P. nigripinnins.

According to a research paper published in the Journal OF Threatened Taxa, researchers and naturalists from Zoological Survey of India and Manonmaniam Sundaranar University has named the fish based on these properties, by coupling the Latin words ‘niger’ which means black and ‘pina’ which means fin. J D Marcus Knight, K Rema Devi, T J Indra and M Arunachalam conducted the study.

Currently known distribution of Puntius nigripinnis sp. nov. A - Kalindi stream in Wyanad (~ 11047’N & 7604’E); B - Kakkan Halla, Moyar River (~11034’N & 76049’E).

The new finding also indicates the richness of unexplored flora of Western Ghats and the importance to conserve it. Though conservation of terrestrial fauna has got popular acceptance, aquatic fauna is still under threat from indiscriminate fishing. Use of pesticides and agro chemicals in the upper stream fields of the Western Ghats Rivers also threaten endemic species like P. nigripinnis

Other members of the Puntius ticto complex.
Puntius punctatus, indian barb, indian aquatic fauna, indian biodiveristy
P. punctatus

Puntius ticto, Indian fish, aquatic fauna, Indian barb
Puntius ticto

P. muvattupuzhaensis, Indian barb, Kerala aquatic fauna, Kerala fishes, muvattupuzha fish
P. muvattupuzhaensis

Puntius phutunio, indian barb, indian aquatic fauna, indian biodiveristy
P. phutunio

Puntius pookodensis, indian barb, indian aquatic fauna, indian biodiversity, Kerala fishes, western ghat fishes, wayanad fishes
P. pookodensis

Puntius setnai, indian barb, indian aquatic fauna, indian biodiveristy
P. setnai