Page: iv-vi (3)
Author: Natarajan Singaravelan
Page: 3-34 (32)
Author: Ramachandran Kotharambath, Reston S. Beyo, Lekha Divya, Mohammed A. Akbarsha and Oommen V. Oommen
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Caecilians, the limbless subterranean amphibians, are an enigmatic group of animals inhabiting the tropical and subtropical regions representing less than 3% of all the extant amphibians. They are the least studied and poorly known among all the amphibians. The highly secret life of these amphibians is one of the major reasons for the poor understanding of their biology. These mysterious amphibians have not been given adequate attention by the herpetologists of the past and the present. Even the basic information about caecilians in text books on amphibians is meagre and as elusive as these snaky predators. Caecilians are a fascinating group of animals with many unique morphological, anatomical and physiological features. Many of the features evolved in caecilians, like skin-feeding, sensory tentacles, dual jaw-closing mechanism, have no parallels among the vertebrates. But our knowledge of the systematics, ecology, population status, and diversity of these amphibians is not even satisfactory. The reputation for caecilians among common folk is as bad as that for snakes, due to the morphological similarity between the two groups. There is remarkable diversity but documentation of the basic aspects is poor, leading to lack of strategies for conserving these amphibians. In India, caecilians are distributed chiefly along the Western Ghats and the North East Hills. There are a few reports of caecilian presence in the Eastern Ghats. As of now, there are 36 caecilian species known from India. In this chapter, general introductory details about caecilians are dealt with, keeping south Western Ghats region falling under the Kerala state as the backdrop. Currently 13 species, belonging to Ichthyophiidae and Indotyphlidae families, are known from the forests and nearby anthropogenic habitats inside Kerala.
Page: 35-61 (27)
Author: Sumaithangi R. Ganesh and Sumaithangi R. Chandramouli
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The Western Ghats Mountains of southwestern India harbours a unique, endemic radiation of biogeographically ancient reptile fauna. This fauna is now facing increasing threat due to several man-made factors such as habitat loss, alteration, wanton killing, killing out of fear and vehicular traffic mediated road-kills. Given that there are some taxonomically cryptic groups such as the shieldtail snakes (Uropeltidae), the day-geckoes (Gekkonidae: Cnemaspis) and such, some reptiles endemic to this region are at the grave risk of becoming extinct even before being taxonomically described and known. To add to this, some enigmatic taxa such as the Hutton’s pitviper and the Beypore skink are “Data Deficient” taxa that are quite rare and have evaded field herpetologists for decades and hence became obscure in scientific literature. Therefore measures needed to be put in place to protect the Western Ghats ecoregion as a whole and also its fragile and poorly-known, reptile fauna.
Agamid Lizards of India: Emphasis on Distribution and Conservation Status of Endemic and Rare Species
Page: 62-75 (14)
Author: P. D. Venugopal
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The agamid lizards in India are morphologically and ecologically diverse, inhabiting varied range of altitudes and habitats. Currently, 48 agamid species comprising of 17 Genera and including 20 endemic species have been reported from India. High species diversity of Indian agamids corresponds to regions with evergreen forests, particularly the Himalayas extending in the north-east portions of India (15 species), north eastern states (13 species) and the Western Ghats (14 species). About one-third of the 48 species, are currently classified as critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable according to IUCN, and the remaining species are at lower risk or lacking information. Recent changes in distribution and taxonomy have resulted in more number for species requiring assessments. The non-availability of conservation status assessments for 18 species are a grim reminder that reiterate the need for new and updated assessments. Currently, there is a scarcity of detailed information on the ecology and natural history of most Indian agamid lizards. In this chapter, I emphasize the need for ecological studies on individual species, which are imperative for species conservation, while providing a comprehensive compilation of information on a few rare, endemic and threatened agamid lizard species.
Page: 76-100 (25)
Author: Prasanta K. Saikia
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Indian Gharial, Gavialis gangeticus is the only surviving member of an ancient family of crocodiles, found to swarm the Ganges and its tributaries from Chambal in Rajasthan to Mahanadi in Orissa and Brahmaputra and Barak valley of Assam. Formerly, the species was distributed across the rivers of Pakistan, Burma, North India, Nepal and Bhutan. Now its population has shrunk up to 96% throughout its past range; 5,000-10,000 in the 1940s to less than 200 by 1976. In 2006, the mature gharial population is less than 200 in India and 35 adults in Nepal. The species is extinct in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Bhutan. Only two records for the species were recorded from Myanmar in 1927 and presumed extinct now. The drastic decline in the gharial population over the last decades can be attributed to over-hunting for skins and trophies, egg collection for consumption and killing for indigenous medicine. Now, only three widely separated breeding subpopulations are left in India and one in Nepal. While hunting is no longer considered to be a significant threat, anthropogenic activities cause an extreme limitation to gharial range due to irreversible loss of riverine habitat. Because of the rapid population decline, the gharial is listed by IUCN, as critically endangered. There should be i) controlled fishing in the river, ii) use of nylon gill net, stone and sand mining in the river should be prohibited, iii) proper management and care of nests at captivity, iv) regular surveys and monitoring of gharial in the wild areas and v) reintroduction programme to save the remaining gharials.
Page: 101-112 (12)
Author: Girish Jathar and Asad Rahmani
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We conducted the studies on the Forest Owlet Heteroglaux blewitti to evaluate its ecological requirements from October 2001 to June 2004. A status survey was conducted in ten protected areas of Maharashtra from February to June 2004. During this survey 98 individuals of the Forest Owlet were observed in Maharashtra. Of these 79 were found in Melghat Tiger Reserve and 19 individuals were found in Toranmal Reserve Forest. Habitat studies show preference of the open type of Teak dominated forest by the Forest Owlet. Direct observations and pellet analysis reveal that the rodents, skink and agamid are the major prey items of the Forest Owlet. The Forest Owlets have prolonged breeding season from October to May. Encroachments, increasing use of pesticide and rodenticides, illicit woodcutting, grazing and superstitions among tribal are influencing the survival of the Forest Owlet. Community management, joint forest management and public awareness are the key factor in long term conservation of the species.
Page: 113-144 (32)
Author: Amita Kanaujia and Sonika Kushwaha
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India lost millions of them, the loss is irreversible. Vultures, one of the most commonly sighted birds started disappearing from the Indian skies in mid 1990s at an alarming pace. Various reasons were attributed for their decline including destruction of habitat, unavailability of food, use of veterinary drugs such as diclofenac, environmental contaminations, secondary poisoning of vultures, exploitation and persecution, effects of modernization. Aviation authorities deliberately killed vultures to avoid aircraft mishaps. The most affected of all is Gyps species that have declined upto 95-99% in India. There are 22 species of vultures in the world, out of which India abodes 9 species of vultures. Right through the ancient times, vultures have been venerated as an incarnation of supremacy. The body structure of vulture is well customized to its feeding habits. Vultures are considered nature’s most efficient scavengers, perhaps the quickest, cheapest and easiest. This scavenger is the most “sterilized” of the birds of prey, internally as well as externally. Vultures provide the society with a number of ‘services’, most notably disposal of carrion. Such eco-services have a correlation with human health, economy and ecology. Banning of veterinary drugs and conducting of surveys and research work is a part of vulture conservation. For ensuring self-sustainability of these populations, the urgent need is to educate, inform and involve the localities and children in the awareness of the plight of rare and critically endangered species. The involvement of future generation will surely show positive results.
Shortsighted About the Shortwings? Conservation Biology of the Shortwings, Threatened Endemic Birds, on the Sky Islands of Southern India?
Page: 145-159 (15)
Author: V.V. Robin and Anindya Sinha
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In tropical biodiversity hotspots, with diverse biota and high endemism, there are several factors that affect existence of species. Habitat loss by deforestation, fragmentation and degradation by disturbance are some of the more commonly documented processes that affect species. In the unique Shola habitat on the sky islands of Western Ghats, we examine how different aspects affect the endemic bird species complex of Shortwings – White-bellied Shortwing and Rufous-bellied Shortwing. We describe here the patchiness and unique distribution pattern of these species, taxonomic ambiguity, genetic differences, effect of parasites across different populations of these species. We also highlight conservation action required in some key populations of these species.
Page: 160-178 (19)
Author: Juliet Vanitharani, Natarajan Singaravelan and Ganapathy Marimuthu
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Salim Ali’s fruit bat Latidens salimalii, is endemic to southern India This bat has long been considered as one of three rarest bats of the world. This is because, until 2000, there were only few individuals caught in mist-nets and the total population is considered to be less than few hundreds (~ 250) with tiny distribution range. Based on the above information IUCN has classified this species as “Critically Endangered”. But recent studies show that the species’ population is between 800-850 individuals (the estimate is based on the counts in day roosts). Also the distribution and the extent of occurrence of this bat are getting wider than before as new roosts were being located particularly in two regions of Western Ghats; 1) High-Wavy Mountains 2) Agasthiyar Hill Range in Southern India. The day roosts are typically located in high-altitudes, and are usually closer to the proximity of water source. They rely on wild fruits belong to the plant spceis like Ficus, Elaeocarpus, Diospyrus, Prunus, Syzygium and Palaquium in both regions. Currently the bat species face fewer threats; a) anthropogenic activities to some roosts might disturb their colony, b) roosts located in private estates may face habitat alterations. Thus, habitat modeling studies (using advanced tools like GIS) would better depict the long term threats to this species. But the IUCN has to re-review the current status (i.e., Critically Endangered) of L. salimalii.
Page: 179-203 (25)
Author: Gopinathan Maheswaran
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An ecological study of the hispid hare Caprolagus hispidus was conducted at Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary, West Bengal. Hispid hare is a shy and reclusive species found to have living in the tall grassland habitats of Jaldapara Wildlife Sanctuary in northern West Bengal, apart from Dudwa and Manas in India. Due to its habit of living in the places where the height of grasses are more than 3 meters direct sighting was difficult. Hence, I tried to assess its population in Jaldapara indirectly by enumerating pellet density. Strip-transects (N=107) were laid randomly in tall grassland patches where fresh and old pellets of the hispid hare were found. Out of the total of 107 transects laid, 95 (89%) had pellet clusters of hispid hare, and the occurrence of pellet clusters varied significantly between transects. Pellet density varied from 0.01/m2 to 20.8/m2; tall grassland patches along the Torsa River had the least as well as the greatest number of pellets per sq.m, and were dominated by Saccharum spontaneum grass and some weeds. Occurrence of different size class pellets varied significantly within transects depicting different animals living in different localities. The mean length of the pellets also fluctuated. The density of hispid hare in Jaldapara was 1/0.115 sq.km. The short vegetation, ground cover and tall vegetation together determined the occurrence of hispid hare in Jaldapara WLS. The main aim of this study was to give recommendations to the authorities in managing the habitats for hispid hare and other related species in India and Nepal.
Ecology and Conservation of Endemic Bengal Marsh Mongoose in East Kolkata Wetlands, a Ramsar Site in West Bengal
Page: 204-241 (38)
Author: Jayanta K. Mallick
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Population of the endangered Bengal Marsh mongoose Herpestes palustris Ghose, 1965 (Mammalia: Carnivora: Herpestidae), previously considered a subspecies of H. javanicus, is endemic to the swampy southern West Bengal. It is the latest mongoose species in India, distributed in the peri-urban, non-forest, natural or manmade wetlands in Howrah, South and North 24-Parganas districts, situated on both banks of the river Hooghly. Now, only the undisturbed core area (bheries or fisheries) of East Kolkata Wetlands, a RAMSAR site spread over 125 km2, is the last stronghold of this marsh mongoose in the world. Although this typical wetland mongoose was recognized by the Zoological Survey of India forty five years ago, no field studies were conducted to update information on this rare animal until recently. Consequently, the Bengal marsh mongoose remained a poorly known and data deficient species. Recent researches have developed a knowledge-base on this marsh mongoose. This chapter highlights the past and present distributions, morphological features, ecology, behaviour, food habits, reproduction, conservation threats and status of H. palustris. During the field surveys, being conducted since mid-2005, a sizeable population of this mongoose was found only in the largest bheries of Nalban, but probably dwindled in other habitats due to rapid reclamation of its habitats for two new satellite townships, the Salt Lake City (Bidhannagar) and Rajarhat Megacity in North 24-Parganas district, as well as other anthropogenic threats. Immediate conservation measures are required to be taken by the nodal authorities to prevent habitat encroachment and extinction of H. palustris in near future.
Page: 242-266 (25)
Author: Awadhesh Kumar, Ashalata Devi, Atul Kumar Gupta and Kuladip Sarma
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The Hoolock Gibbon is the only ape found in India and its distribution in Southeast Asia, spans India, Myanmar, Bangladesh and southern China, between 20° N and 28° N, and 99° E to 98° E. Gibbons typically consist of an adult pair with 0-4 immature offspring with average group size ranging from 2.7 to 4. They are exclusively arboreal and spend 15–25% of their time moving for foraging, feeding, sun basking and resting. They occupy a home range of about 14 to 55 hectares covering a day range of about 600-1200 m (300-1600 m). They are frugivorous in nature and their diet consist of 51-65% fruits followed by 5-23% leaves, 13% buds, 12% flowers, 0.1% animal prey. They are highly social animal and their reproductive strategies are less documented. The duration of the menstrual cycle is 27.83 days ranging from 20 to 33 days for six cycles and of which the gestation period is about 210 days (but may vary from 195– 210 days). Usually a single birth occurs during winter (November-February). The population of gibbons in the wild has declined by more than 90% over the past three decades due to various anthropogenic threats, possibly because of burgeoning human population. Although some socio-cultural values are associated with these attractive and agile forest gymnasts, hoolock gibbons are seriously threatened due to anthropogenic activities like agricultural cultivation, tea plantation, hunting and poaching etc. Therefore there is an urgent need to launch ‘Project Primate’ akin to ‘Project Tiger’ and ‘Project Elephant’ for future survival of the species.
Page: 267-276 (10)
Author: Koustubh Sharma
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Snow leopard is a felid, highly adapted to the cold and rugged mountain ecosystem where it lives. Distributed across the mountains of 12 countries in Central Asia, approximately 4,000-7,000 snow leopards are surviving today and their population is believed to be declining. Due to the difficult terrain that it inhabits, it has been little studied and basic ecological and biological information about the species is still unavailable. Various on-going research projects using satellite telemetry, digital camera trapping, genetic data analyses and other state of the art methods are continuing to help us understand the ecology of snow leopards better. Snow leopards are solitary, though social interactions between males and females occur occasionally. Cubs follow their mothers for about a year before weaning away. Snow leopards have large home ranges, of the order of several hundred square kilometres. They primarily prey upon ibex and bharal, though feed upon a large variety of other mountain mammals and birds including domestic livestock. Snow leopards primarily communicate through scent though vocalization can often be heard around the known season of mating. Found in extremely low density, their populations are threatened by increasing threats of mining, poaching and retaliatory killing by local herders. Various successful conservation models exist and are being implemented with variable success rate across the snow leopard distribution range. Given the extent of interface with humans, community based conservation aimed at benefitting communities and wildlife alike have been found to be most successful in case of the snow leopard.
Rare Animals of India is a unique book that presents the biological and ecological accounts of the least known animal species of India in one comprehensive volume. The book gives comprehensive ecological accounts supported with data tables on rare and specific animal species of India and discusses the basis for their rarity for their conservation. It includes information about the Indian Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) the endangered Forest Owlet (Heteroglaux blewitti), the Bengal Marsh Mongoose, Snow Leopards and many more. Readers are guided through several chapters each detailing a specific kind of animal, some of them being on the list of endangered species. With over 150 color illustrations, this intriguing reference will be of immense interest to zoologists, ecologists, naturalists and conservation biologists as well as general readers across the world interested in studying such rare or least known animals found in the length and breadth of the Indian region.