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Thursday, August 21

Birds of India - Red Billed Blue Magpie

Red-billed Blue Magpie (Urocissa erythroryncha), one of the most beautiful birds in Himachal Pradesh.It is known to have five subspecies, among which the one found in HP is occipitalis. The clip here shows a red billed magpie enjoying the shower near Dramman in #Kangra District of #Himachal Pradesh in #India. 

This is the first of a series of posts on Birds of India
You may also visit our YouTube Channel for more wildlife videos.

Thursday, July 10

Citron barb, a new barb species, spotted from Western Ghats Rivers of Maharashtra

Citron Barb (Pethia lutea), a new barb species discovered from Western Ghat Rivers of Maharashtra
(Image Courtesy: Ralf Britz/JOTT)

Researchers studying the fish diversity in Western Ghats Rivers have discovered a yet unknown species of fresh water barb from the Western Ghats River systems in the Indian state of Maharashtra. The new species belongs to the Pethia genus of fishes which constitutes barbs found only in South Asia and Myanmar region.

Thursday, June 5

Happy Environment Day 2014 !

Himalayan bulbul, Pycnonotus leucogenys, birds of himachal pradesh, environmnet day

 A Himalayan #Bulbul (Pycnonotus leucogenys) nesting inside a bathroom in Dramman near #Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh, India. Happy #Environment Day 2014 ! #WED

Tuesday, April 8

Indian damsel flies - Sapphire eyed Spreadwing (Lestes praemorsus) mating video

Sapphire eyed Spreadwing (Lestes praemorsus) is a beautiful damsel fly found in India and other Asian countries. Watch the damsel flies mating on the tip of an ornamental plant. Recorded from Kannur, Kerala

Wednesday, March 19

Hunting threatens endemic turtles in Kerala

Travancore tortoise, Indotestudo travancorica, reptile hunting, turtle hunting, hunting in western ghats
Travancore tortoise (Indotestudo travancorica)
(Photo Credit: Arun Kanagavel)

 Cochin forest cane turtle (Vijayachelys silvatica) and Travancore tortoise (Indotestudo travancorica)- two endemic reptiles found only in Southern Western Ghats- are hunted by locals and indigenous people including contract workers of Kerala Forest Department in Vazhachal and Chalakkudy forest divisions in Kerala , claims a new study published in the Asian Journal of Conservation Biology.

The researchers have met with tribal and non-tribal communities in the locality who claimed to have collected sack full of Travancore tortoises while clearing fire lines as contract labourers for the Forest Department  in these forest areas.

“These Chelonians (a taxonomic order which includes reptiles like turtles and tortoises) were usually collected while “cutting” fire-lines during the annual fire-management initiatives undertaken by the Forest Department and during the collection of non-timber forest produce (NTFPs). Respondents stated that they filled ‘sack loads’ of chelonians especially while clearing bamboo stretches”, says the study.

Wednesday, March 12

Eternal lessons for natural history lovers

Natural History of Indian Mammalia , free ebook, sterndale
Natural History of Indian Mammalia  - Cover
Accounts of the past, when visited after hundreds of years, give a new reading every time. The methods will be obsolete by now, the facts irrelevant, but beyond that, books from the past deliver valuable lessons. This makes Natural History of the Mammalia of India and Ceylon Written by Robert A. Sterndale, an interesting read for nature lovers, even after 130 years of its publication. 

Published in 1884, the book is irrelevant now with a faulty taxonomy, obsolete classification and its often unscientific approach for the present day reader. But as you read on, the actual natural history insight builds up within you – something beyond the mere academic interest.

Like similar books written by British officers who devoted their time to document the natural history of the new colony alongside discharging their duties, Sterndale’s book also looks at the natural history of India though the eyes of an outsider. The book details about almost all mammals found in India and Ceylon based on the works of his contemporaries like Jerdon and Blyth. Many of the accounts are also based on author’s own records and collections and from the information collected from the ‘native ‘shikahris’’ (in the authors parlance).

Reading the book from our times makes a very different impression. An Indian natural history lover going through the book now may find it amusing with the details of the mammalian fauna, especially with the detailed notes on animal behavior.

You may also meet some interesting mammals which our generation was not lucky enough to see at least once. For instance, the book records the existence of Malabar Civet Cat, which in our times  still keeps its enigmatic status despite strenuous camera trapping efforts to get a picture at least. It says that Malabar Civet was once “abundant in Travancore, and found occasionally in the uplands of Wayanad and Coorg.”

Lessons for the big game hunting
However, a serious nature lover today may get annoyed with the author’s perspective which turns the book into a guide for hunting fanatics. Each animal and its characteristics get a narration through the eyes of a hunter.

 Author’s description of the Blue Bull suggests a prospective ‘hunter-reader’ how to handle the animal carefully, so that he doesn’t miss the trophy. 

“Although he is such an imposing animal, the blue bull is but poor shooting, unless when fairly run down in the open. With a sharp spurt he is easily blown, but if not pressed will gallop forever. In some parts of India nilgai are speared in this way. I myself preferred shooting them either from a light double-barreled carbine or large bore pistol when alongside; the jobbing at such a large cow-like animal with a spear was always repugnant to my feelings. They are very tenacious of life. ”

What a merciful, kind hunter, he will not spear one, but will only shoot to kill.

(Watch a video clip on Nilgai, if you haven't seen one so far)

Tiger? Good to skin!
Interestingly, the book also points to the historical perspective of conservation, in a way that it never talks about that. Tiger which hits headlines everyday for the attempts to keep it on the face of the earth is never talked upon in that way, but on its measurements and the quality of skin. For a hunter of 1884, often, the tigers are brute,cunning and dangerous – nothing else.

Well, you may raise a point for defense, since tigers were aplenty at that time. But it is this inability of those educated and visionaries in our past generations to look into the future, that pushed other creatures (and humans too) to the brink of an imminent extinction. Unfortunately we are also following their path, making the planet unsafe for our forthcoming kids.

Makes interesting read
The book will interest two types of readers, one -nature lovers who want to understand about the fauna of the country in the past, two -those who want to have a glimpse of the older times to get amused. But if you are home grown green terrorist, you may throw it away at once.

However, most of the taxonomic classification system used in the book has changed now. Many of the names and species are now confirmed as just synonyms or situations of mistaken identity.

Despite these drawbacks brought by time, it still holds significance in many ways. Being a major work on documenting the mammalian fauna of the country, it is rich with distribution records and similar information which may help any student of biodiversity today.

But the actual significance of the book lies in developing a good insight on natural history, to its present reader. It helps to understand how the fauna of the country was looked upon as something to devour on and how such a perspective lead us to the present point. May be that is the best lesson on natural history to look for, in this book. It keeps it relevant beyond the times.

Now, Read the book here.

Monday, February 10

Red-bellied Piranha spotted from Godavari River in Andhra Pradesh; new invasive threat?

Red-bellied Piranha, Pygocentrus nattereri, invasive fishes, alien fishes, exotic fishes in india, invasive fishes andhra pradesh, andhra pradesh fish
Red-bellied Piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri)
(Image Credits: 
Gregory Moine/ WikiMedia Commons under CC by 2.0)

Native fish fauna of Indian rivers gets yet another threat to their existence. According to researchers from India’s premier wildlife research body, Wildlife Institute of India (WII), a new ferocious predator fish has entered the Godavari River basin in Andhra Pradesh. Red-bellied Piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri), a known invasive species, was never reported from river systems in India before.

Native to Brazil, Red-bellied Piranhas are usually found in the Amazon and other coastal rivers, interconnected wetlands and canals of Brazil. As per earlier research, these ferocious predators are known to attack even healthy animals for food, not to mention other fish species. Often, when a predatory invasive species is introduced, it wipes away the native species, either by predation or through competition for food resources.

 As per an observation recorded by WII researchers, J.A. Johnson, R. Paromita and K. Sivakumar in MIN, an official newsletter from the IUCN-SSC Freshwater Fish Specialist Group South Asia and the Freshwater Fish Conservation Network of South Asia, the Red-bellied Piranha was found from Rajamundhry. 

“Our preliminary enquiry in the field revealed that this species is occasionally found in fisherman catch at Dhawaleshwarm barrage in Rajamundhry,” says the note published in MIN. As per the researchers, Red-bellied Piranha is being cultured around the Godavari River mainly in inland water and canals, from where it could have reached the Godavari River.

The situation is alarming, warn the researchers. “As it is a predatory and aggressive carnivorous fish, it may compete with native species for food and other resources, which will eventually lead to the decline or even extirpation of many native fishes in the river system”, they said.

As in case of many other major invasive threats to the Indian fish fauna, here again aquarium trade is the culprit of introducing this Brazilian native to Indian waters. According to Ichthyologist Dr. A. Bijukumar, Red-bellied Piranha was introduced in India as part of illegal aquarium trade. In a study published in 2000, he has warned that the fish, if establishes itself in natural streams, would be dangerous. The notorious fish is now available for purchase in many aquarium shops.

According to a study published in 2011 on non-native fish species in India, not less than 324 alien fish species have been introduced in India, mainly as ornamental fishes for aquarium trade, for cultivation and for killing mosquito larvae. However, many of them have turned invasive and destructive to the existence of native fish fauna. Many of these invasive fishes are threatening endemic fish diversity of Western Ghats, a world heritage site.

Researchers warn that unless agencies and activists take immediate steps to bring awareness to the fish farmers and aquarium traders to bring down the production and distribution of this potential invasive species, Red-bellied Piranhas may soon be detrimental to the fish diversity of Godavari basin. 

Saturday, January 25

Beddome's Cat Snake (Boiga beddomei) video from Western Ghats, Kerala, India

Well, it is a cat snake and looks like a Beddome's Cat Snake (Boiga beddomei). But not very sure. If anybody can help in exact identification, that will be great help.

It came right into the house during a rainy night, but later decided to go back to a nearby plant to take rest.

As per International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Beddome's Cat Snake (Boiga beddomei) is considered data deficient. Though its actual geographic distribution is unclear, there are numerous reports of species from Sri Lanka and different parts of Western Ghats, in India.

The snake in the video was recorded from Southern Western Ghats of Kerala ( Kannur district, Kerala, India.)

Wednesday, January 15

Aralam WLS adds Blue Nawab and the Cornelian to its butterfly diversity

Blue Nawab,Polyura schreiber wardii, Indian butterflies, Aralam butterfly, Aralam butterfly survey
Blue Nawab (Polyura schreiber wardii)
(Photo Courtesy: Aditya Joshi/Wiki Media Commons under CC BY-SA 2.0)
The latest butterfly survey at Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary, a small protected area situated in the Southern Western Ghats, added two more new winged beauties to its rich insect diversity. The three day survey carried out from January 10 to 12 recorded Blue Nawab and Cronelian butterflies from different parts of the sanctuary for the first time. With the new additions, the total butterfly species found in Aralam WLS increased to 242, according to researchers who participated in the survey.

Though Blue Nawab was recorded from different parts of the state since 2003, this is for the first time that we record the caterpillars of the butterfly from inside Aralam Wildlife sanctuary, said Jafer Palot, Secretary, Malabar Natural History Society which routinely organizes the butterfly survey camp at Aralam each year to monitor and study the altitude migration of Common Albatross and related species of butterflies in the sanctuary.

According to researchers who participated in the survey, migration was abundant this year. During peak hours of migration, the monitoring teams were able to record as much as 1500 butterflying passing a specific spot on the banks of Cheenkani River in one minute period. It has been observed during the earlier butterfly surveys in the sanctuary that hundreds of thousands of butterflies belonging to specific species migrate from upper reaches of Western Ghats to lower reaches though certain fixed routes during this season. However, their point of origin is still unknown just as the destination of their enigmatic journey.

The Cornelian (Deudorix epijarbas)
(Photo Courtesy: Ajit U / Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 2.0)
The new addition again increases the conservation significance of the sanctuary for its rich insect diversity. Even Silent Valley National Park, which is known for its rich and endemic fauna, has only up to 125 species of butterflies recorded so far, says butterfly enthusiasts. Talking to media, V C Balakrishnan, an environmentalist who has been participating in the event for the last several years, said that the new discovery increases the conservation significance of Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary. "This underscores the importance of conserving the place as an important biodiversity spot where butterflies and other winged creatures flock together in lakhs," he said.

According to Balakrishnan, who is an expert in identifying and documenting plants in Western Ghats, the caterpillars of Cornelian butterfly were on Sapindus plant and on Connarus plant. Caterpillars of Blue Nawab were found on a plant which is called as Vallimandaram (Bauhinia phoenicea) in Malayalam.

The butterfly survey camp also reported high mud-puddling on the banks of the rivers Cheekannipuzha and Urutipuzha in the sanctuary. During mud-puddling, butterflies flock to the wet forest floor or on the river banks to suck in nutrients and rare minerals from soil. According to V Madhusoodhanan, Assistant Wildlife Warden of Aralam Wildlife Sanctuary, the three day camp with around 90 participants recorded more than 150 species of butterflies from different parts of the sanctuary this year.

Now, watch the huge butterfly roost observed in Aralam during the migration season of 2013.

Monday, January 13

Cinereous tit (Parus cinereus) funny video

Watch a cute, small Cinereous tit (Parus cinereus) desperately trying to drink from a water tap. Cinereous tit (Parus cinereus) is an interesting small bird which belongs to Paridae and is found in parts of South East Asia, including India. Earlier they used to be considered as a sub species of great tit. this video was recorded from Himachal Prdesh, India