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Thursday, March 28

Hunting in Arunachal Pradesh takes unsustainable turns

Arunachal Pradesh is inhabited by 26 major tribes and 110 sub-tribes and their hunting behavior for sustenance was sustainable till recently, but with the illegal rackets popping up and wooing the tribes, the picture is gradually changing. New studies and observations from the state reveal that these rackets have succeeded to entice the tribes, pushing them to cross the limits set by their religious and cultural taboos. In fact, it is not just the case of Arunachal. Kani tribes capturing Slender Loris for photographers in South India are just another face of the same phenomenon. However, things in Arunachal have gone too far, warn researchers who are studying the phenomenon.

Great Hornbill (Buceros bicornis), hunted by tribes in Arunachal Pradesh  despite being protected by law
(Image Courtesy: Kalyanvarma (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons)
Alarming change in bird hunting patterns
A short research communication published in the Journal of Tropical Ecology warns that the bird hunting practices of tribes in Western Arunachal Pradesh is turning unsustainable at least for some of the threatened bird species of the region.

Detailed surveys conducted among 157 hunters of three major tribal communities- Nyishi, Monpa and Apatani- in Western Arunachal Pradesh, according to the study,  show that 5 of the bird species being hunted by tribes  are Endangered, 5 are Vulnerable while 1 is Critically Endangered, as per IUCN red data list. (Though it does not exactly disclose which are the threatened species. The corresponding author does not respond to queries.)

The survey which was conducted during 2002 to 2005 period, found that a total of 53 species of birds were hunted in the area. Though only 10 to 15 percent of the total community is involved in active hunting, the survey results indicate that 18 of the 53 frequently hunted birds are conserved under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, says the study.

The data suggest that a majority (40 percent) of the hunted birds are Passeriformes which is the largest order of birds which includes rooks, finches, sparrows, tits, warblers, robins, wrens, swallows. Of the total number of bird species being hunted, 34 come under Schedule IV and 1 belongs to Schedule V of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

According to the study, the hunting is intensive during April- May during the preparation of the jhum fields for cultivation and during harvesting season of October- December period also. If the results of the study are applied to the whole area statistically, the number of birds being hunted an year by all the communities together can be close to 10956, says the study.

Hunting during the breeding periods of the birds may be more disastrous for the survival of the species, points out the study. “The species such as hornbills and hawks are hunted by the Apatani and the Monpa tribes inside the nest when birds are incubating the eggs or guarding the chicks”, it says. However, Nyishi community avoids hunting hornbills during the breeding season due to religious taboos. 

Trade beckons beyond cultural taboos
In a recent article, Nandini Velho, a PhD student from James Cook University and a research associate with National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore details her experiences while studying the hunting patterns among the tribes in Arunachal Pradesh. According to her, it is shocking to see how the illegal trade has changed the hunting patterns and habits of the tribes in the area.

While taking interviews with the tribes, many of the villagers have approached the researchers putting proposals for trading medicinal plants or some most wanted species, mistaking them for potential customers, says she.
common muntjac,Muntiacus muntjak,  Barking deer, Indian muntjac, arunachal hunting, indian mammal
common muntjac (Muntiacus muntjak),
also known as Barking deer

Her account suggests that barking deer meat is much sought after one in the markets and while a hunter used to kill 25 barking deers on an average during his lifetime in the olden days, presently the number is as high as 100 per hunter. Ironically, she points out that the major consumers of this illegal game meat are the government officials living in the area.

Most importantly, the attitude has significantly changed, says Velho.  According to her, as one of the hunters put it to her, people kill and eat whatever they get, if there is no market for it. Though killing a tiger is a taboo (with the particular tribal community with which the researcher has interacted), which will haunt a member of the community till death or even after that, people no more care, points out the researcher.

Double edged question
The changing phenomenon is a double edged when looked at as part of the complex question of conserving the forests of the country without harassing the indigenous people who consider it as their home. Such phenomenon can be used by groups of vested interests to win their arguments towards pushing out indigenous people from their forest home, under the false banner of conservation. While such a solution will be politically incorrect, chances are high that such cries for the blood of the tribes will be pitched high.

Nyishi tribe with a head gear of hornbill beak
Image Courtesy: Diganta Talukdar

Forests and its resources are the rights of the indigenous people. However, illegal rackets using them is a tricky question to be solved without compromising the conservation goals. Throwing out the sons of the forests will not be an apt solution. However, leaving the tribal communities let loose with their hunting spree will also not solve the issue, but will aggravate it.

Participatory conservation measures always rely upon policies and action which aim at confirming people’s participation in conserving forest and biodiversity resources. In Arunachal also, it will be the best possible solution. But to make it possible, conservationists in the country should take pro-active efforts to snap the links of the evil trading chain that work as a pushing force behind the changing hunting patterns. Best thing to do is to help tribes understand the alarming nature of the changing practices.

Indigenous people and their vast traditional knowledge have a major role to play in all conservation efforts in the country. But as the new generation of the tribes often deserting the
traditional beliefs and customs and falling prey for the outside society pressures, it is high time to make some movement in that way. 

However, it will not be ethically correct to argue that the tribes should keep stuck to their old culture alienated from the outer society. We need to find a space in between where the tribes can change and adopt their ways of life in accordance with changing times, but with clearly understanding the invisible conservation policies shaped by their ancestry as cultural and religious taboos. 

In short, proper awareness programmes carried out in this direction and collective efforts to document and preserve the traditional knowledge of these indigenous people will be the key to a politically correct answer. 

Wednesday, March 20

Eight new endemic frog species discovered from Central Highlands World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan researchers have identified and described eight new frog species from the Peak of Wilderness sanctuary region which comes under the Central Highlands World Heritage Site in Sri Lanka during an amphibian survey in the island nation recently. According to a research paper published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa, all the newly described frog species belong to Pseudophilautus genus of Sri Lankan endemic frogs.

Bambaradeniya’s Shrub Frog, Pseudophilautus bambaradeniyai, Amphibians in Sri Lanka, endemic frog, sri lankan frog, bush frog
Bambaradeniya’s Shrub Frog
(Pseudophilautus bambaradeniyai)
According to the researchers who have conducted the study, all the new frog species has a combination of unique features which make them distinctive from other known species of the genus and easily identifiable in the field. 

Since the records are new and many of them are spotted from only one location so far- from the sanctuary situated in the Ratnapura district in Sabaragamuwa province of the island nation- all the new species except one(Pseudophilautus newtonjayawardanei)  is considered as Critically Endangered as per IUCN criterion, says the paper. Organisms with an extent of distribution of less than 100 square kilometers in habitats under severe threats are categorized as Critically Endangered categories.

New Bush frogs in Sri Lanka
Bambaradeniya’s Shrub Frog (Pseudophilautus bambaradeniyai), a small sized frog, found in forests at elevations ranging from 750 to 1400 MSL, usually rests on the forest floor or on shrubs with a height of about 1.5 meters, says the study. This frog inhabits lowland rain forests and lower montane rain forests.

Dayawansa’s Shrub Frog, Pseudophilautus dayawansai, endemic frog, sri lanka, herpetofauna in sri lanka
Dayawansa’s Shrub Frog
(Pseudophilautus dayawansai)
Apart from a dark brown dorsal area with black blotches, this frog has and a blackish cross between the eyes. The off-white stripe on the back is also very prominent in this frog, according to the study. However, the colour of dorsum may change to orange to lighter brown while the thickness of the line on the back may vary from organism to organism. The species was named bambaradeniyai, after Channa Bambaradeniya, a wetland scientist, for his extensive works to wetland conservation and conservation attempts.

Dayawansa’s Shrub Frog (Pseudophilautus dayawansai), is a small bush frog with blackish brown colouration. Its colour pattern is very different from its close relatives. Sometimes, the blackish brown tint can vary from reddish-brown to lighter brown shades, according to the paper. The most preferred habitat is cloud forests at an elevation of 1550-1900 MSL. They are usually found on the forest floor or on bushes of up to 2 meters height.

Apart from several morphological differences, the frog species also reportedly has three prominent blackish-brown circular spots among which two are situated between eyes. The frog was named after Nihal Dayawansa, a senior lecturer in the University of Colombo for his contributions to amphibian research in Sri Lanka.

Jagath Gunawardana’s shrub frog, Pseudophilautus jagathgunawardanai, endemic frogs of sri lanka, endemic frog, endemic amphibian,central highlands, word heritage site
Jagath Gunawardana’s shrub frog
(Pseudophilautus jagathgunawardanai)
Another newly described species, Pseudophilautus jagathgunawardanai, has a combination of different morphological characters which makes it different from its close relatives. With the unique patterns and markings on the dorsum of this light brown frog with a greenish tint, P. jagathgunawardanai is also an inhabitant of cloud forests at 1600 to 1750 MSL elevations, like P. dayawansai. Though it may be spotted on the forest floor, these frogs often prefer to be on tree trunks with lichens. Named after Jagath Gunawardana, a Sri Lankan naturalist for his conservation efforts, the frog is also known as Jagath Gunawardana’s shrub frog.

Yet another new frog species, Pseudophilautus karunarathnai, has unique colour patterns which make it easily identifiable in the field. Named after Y.G.P. Karunarathna, retired Assistant Director of Sri Lankan Wildlife Conservation Department, for his efforts to bring down human-wildlife conflict, the frog has a dorsal portion of uniform cream colour with dark brown or light brown blotches and a dark brown cross between the eyes.

Karunarathna’s Shrub Frog, Pseudophilautus karunarathnai, new frog species, sri lanka biodiversity hot spot,
Karunarathna’s Shrub Frog
(Pseudophilautus karunarathnai)
Known as Karunarathna’s Shrub Frog, it is found in lowland rain forests and lowland montane rain forests. It either rests on forest floor or on shrubs of 1.5 meter height. Interestingly, this frog species can also be found at places with less canopy cover, like home gardens, says the study.

Pseudophilautus newtonjayawardanei, is a bronze coloured frog with dark brown patches and an off-white vertebral stripe on its body. The species has a pair of broad dark brown longitudinal dorsal bands which starts from the back of the eye running to the groin region. Named after surgeon naturalist Newton Jayawardane, it is found in forest canopy in high altitudes. The researchers were able to find just two specimens of this rare frog which usually sits on leaves of trees with 8 meters height at forests of 1800 to 2000 MSL elevation.

Newton Jayawardane’s Shrub Frog, Pseudophilautus newtonjayawardanei, Newton Jayawardanege panduru madiya, endemic amphibian, sri lanka amphibian
Newton Jayawardane’s Shrub Frog
(Pseudophilautus newtonjayawardanei)
Pseudophilautus puranappu,  the only one among the newly found to be named after a freedom fighter, is named to honour Veer Puran Appu who revolted against the British colonial forces in the pre-independent days of the island nation. The frog species has a unique faint stripe between eyes with light greenish tinge on laterally. The species also has a maroon coloured hour-glass shaped broad patch running from snout to vent. Also known as Puran Appu’s shrub frog, the species can be seen perching on rocks under shades during day time. They can be also found on bushes with 1 meter heights during night. They can be found in forests of elevation ranging between 1800 to 2100 MSL.

The newly christened Samrakoon’s Shrub Frog (Pseudophilautus samarakoon) has a very prominent dark brown ‘M’ shaped patch on its anterior which makes it distinct in the field. Moreover, it has a dark brown band between the eyes. Moreover, there is a combination of other morphological differences which makes this frog distinctive from its close relatives. This new species got its name from the Assistant Director of the Wildlife Department, Ananda Vijith Samarakoon for his efforts to orient the wildlife officers training to optimize the conservation efforts.

Puran Appu’s Shrub Frog, Pseudophilautus puranappu, Puran Appuge panduru madiya, endemic frogs of sri lanka

Puran Appu’s Shrub Frog
(Pseudophilautus puranappu)

Samrakoon’s Shrub Frog, Pseudophilautus samarakoon,Samarakoonge panduru madiya,endemic frog of Sri Pada sanctuary, biodiversity hot spot
Samrakoon’s Shrub Frog
Pseudophilautus samarakoon)

 Found at elevations of 1000 to 1400 MSL, Samarakoon ‘s shrub frog inhabits lower montane rain forests and prefers to perch on bamboo plants near forest streams or on shrubs with up to 2 meters of height. These species can be found along with P. bambaradeniyai sp. and P. karunarathnei sp. According to the researchers, the frogs can be easily found in abundance near the starting point of Kaluganga River.

Pseudophilautus sirilwijesundarai, is a multi-coloured frog with dark brown dorsal area with greenish tinge and maroon blotches. It has prominent maroon cross bands on its fingers and toes. Named after Siril Wijesundara  who is the Director of Royal Botanical gardens, Peradeniya, Sri Lanka,  is again inhabits montane cloud forests of 1600 to 1700 MSL elevation. These frogs, according to the researchers, are usually found on the canopy on tress of even up to 10 meter tall. They are often found with mosses, says the study.

Threats to Herpatofauna in Sri Lanka
Siril Wijesundara’s Shrub Frog, Pseudophilautus sirilwijesundarai, Siril Wijesundarage panduru madiya, endemic frogs of sri lanka, threats to endemic amphibians, sri lanka
Siril Wijesundara’s Shrub Frog
(Pseudophilautus sirilwijesundarai)
However, there are multiple threats to the endemic amphibian fauna in Sri Lanka, say the researchers. Sripada Peak, the area from the newly described species are reported is a major pilgrim centre. The pilgrim tourism in this area and the resulting garbage and pollution is seriously damaging the fragile ecosystem of the area. Moreover, illegal gem mining on the banks of the Kalaganga River and illegal felling of trees in the forests to expand the adjoining tea plantations also is a major threat to the endemic amphibian diversity in the area, says the study.

Pseudophilautus is a genus of amphibians which include direct developing rhacophorids (also known as bush frogs or shrub frogs which are found in Asian and African regions). However, concerns are rife that the genus is facing survival threat as almost 17 species of the 65 species known from the genus are never again recorded after their initial discovery and are considered as already vanished.

According to researchers, this rich biodiversity spot may still have organisms yet unknown to science, since the population surveys in these are scarcely conducted due to difficult terrain, heavy rainfall and inaccessibility.

L.J. Mendis Wickramasinghe, Dulan Ranga Vidanapathirana, M.D. Gehan Rajeev, S. Chathuranga Ariyarathne, A.W. Amila Chanaka, L.L. Dharshana Priyantha, Imesh Nuwan Bandara and Nethu Wickramasinghe of Herpetological Foundation of Sri Lanka, Hendala, Wattala, Sri Lanka have co-authored the study.