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Thursday, September 26

New coral species discovered from Andaman and Nicobar Islands in India

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Ctenactis triangularis from Andaman and Nicobar Islands
Image Credit: C Raghunathan

Shedding light to the rich but unexplored marine biodiversity of India, Scientists of the Zoological Survey of India described a new species of coral reef, Ctenactis triangularis from Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India. The new species which belongs to the family of mushroom corals, adds a fourth member to the Ctenactis genus of corals.

“The first specimen of the species was collected from Rutland Island from South Andaman by snorkeling and skin-diving", said the scientists. Later another specimen of the same coral was observed at the North Bay in South Andaman in December 2008. Researchers were able to spot the same species again after two years, in 2010, off the coast of Elephant Beach in Havelock Island.

Tamal Mondal and C. Raghunathan , scientists at the Andaman and Nicobar Regional Centre of Zoological Survey of India situated at Port Blair have reported and described the identity of the new species.

Distinguishing features of Ctenactis triangularis

According to the ZSI scientists, the newly described species has characteristics which make it different from all the three members of the genus previously reported by other studies.
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Ctenactis triangularis
Image Courtesy: JOTT

The discovery which is published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa reveals that three characteristics make the new species different from its closest relatives.

The major feature is the triangular, flat shaped skeleton or corallum which makes it different. According t the study, ‘divisible mouth fossa, spinulose costal spines and cylindrical septal teeth’ also make it distinguished from other members of its genus.

To underscore one of its most visible distinguishing features – its flat triangular skeleton, the scientists have named it as triangularis. “The species has been named after the triangle-shaped arm like coralla, which gives a unique morphological character to distinguish it from other related species”, says the study.

Conservation Status of Ctenactis triangularis

Despite the new discovery, the future of the coral reefs off the coast of Andaman and Nicobar are likely bleaker, points out the study. “Threats, which can be categorized as natural and anthropogenic, to the reef biodiversity, have been encountered for a long time.”, it says.

According to the researchers, the new species belong to Scleractinian corals which are protected under CITES Appendix II which curbs the transnational smuggling of these corals. Moreover, they are also included in the Schedule I of protected organisms of Indian Wildlife Act, 1972. 

Friday, September 20

Protected Areas Not Always Harbour Crop Raiding Animals, Says Study on Indian Tiger Reserves

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Indian Leopard (Panthera pardus fusca)
Image Credit: Kalyan Varma
Crop raiding by wild animals is a major issue that triggers human animal conflict and retaliatory killing in many parts of the country. But a new study about the human animal conflict around Protected Areas (PAs) in the country shows that protected areas not necessarily act as a source of crop raiders always. The finding is significant at a time when the establishment of new protected areas are opposed by sections of public and politicians saying that it will intensify the menace of crop raiding.

A survey conducted among 398 households which are situated within 10 kilometers of three major tiger reserves in the country – Ranthambhore, Kanha and Nagarhole – found that the rate of crop loss from crop raiders did not vary with the proximity to the PAs, showing that protected areas are not always sources for crop raiders.

“This (the results) may suggest crop raiders may not be limited to animals coming out from the PA, and perhaps some raiders may naturally reside outside the PAs”, says the study. Instead of the proximity, it is the forage availability that has increased the chances of crop loss in all these PAs, shows that results of the study, which is published in the Environmental Management Journal. “Factors related to forage availability for wildlife- the number of harvests per year, share cropping (growing crops on someone else’s land), number of crops per year and cropping months in a year all increased risk”, it says.

Analyzing the effectiveness of the mitigation efforts, the study found that two mitigation efforts – fencing and the use of guarding animals were most effective in decreasing risk of crop loss from crop-raiding animals.

Livestock Loss near Tiger Reserves
Loss of livestock is another major cause for human animal conflict near protected areas in India.  During the study, 13 percent of the households reported cattle loss from wild animals. Though tiger, Hyena, dhole (Cuon alpinus), Jackal, wild pig and even macaques were blamed fro livestock loss, leopard was identified as the most damaging. 

However, statistically examining the reasons, the study found that complaints of carnivores attacking livestock or human were more associated with people grazing animals and collecting forest produces from inside the protected areas. “Respondents reported that livestock losses occurred inside the PAs during the day, and fewer incidents occurred at night when the livestock were corralled near their homes or villages”, finds the study.

According to the findings of the study, simply stopping animal grazing inside the protected areas under study may decrease the rate of livestock loss. However, it heavily depends on the availability of grazing area outside the PAs.

Hostility towards animals
Contrary to the wide belief that people are hostile towards carnivores that attack the livestock, the study found that people are more hostile towards herbivores like wild pig which cause damage to crops.  “Households reported greater inclination to kill herbivores destroying crops or carnivores harming people, but not carnivores preying on livestock”, says the study.
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Wild Boar (Sus scrofa)
Image Credit: Kalayan Varma

However, the hostility towards animals was different in the three tiger Reserves in which the study was carried out. According to the researchers, residents near Kanha National Park showed more inclination towards killing the problem animals as a solution to the hypothetical situations put in front of them, despite the lowest reported livestock deaths from this area. 

Residents near Ranthambhore National Park and Nagarhole National Park preferred to frighten or deter the animals.

Flawed Compensation Policies
Monetary compensation from wildlife officials is one of the major ways to suppress possible retaliatory killing of animals by people in areas of human animal conflict. However, the study found that 99 percent of the households which participated in the study received no compensation from authorities for losses. “There is an urgent need to corroborate losses reported by local residents to official records to identify gaps and improve compensation distribution to households reporting losses”, says the study.

Krithi K. Karanth and Ruth DeFries from Columbia University, Lisa Naughton-Treves from University of Wisconsin and  Arjun M. Gopalaswamy from University of Oxford co-authored the study.