World Wildlife Day just went by, with the theme of ‘Sustaining all Life on Earth’. Given the seemingly insurmountable reports of burning forests, drying rivers and melting ice everywhere, we all need a bit of good news to keep us afloat. And the animal world, it turns out, is pushing through nasty odds to sustain itself despite humanity. Here’s six stories from India that stir hope in our newsroom:
West Bengal's mascot comes home
The Buxa Tiger Reserve in West Bengal hasn’t been able to show evidence of a tiger population in 30 years, but that's soon to change. After they came up empty-handed in the 2018 Tiger Census, WB's Forest Department appealed to the National Tiger Conservation Authority for six tigers from a different state. If all goes well, three royal Bengal tigers—one male, two females—will make the journey from Kaziranga National Park in Assam soon. They’ll be monitored for a year with radio collars, after which three more will follow. Sambar deer have been released into Buxa to spruce up their new hunting ground. Exciting safari seasons ahead!
The red panda is now two different species
It’s best to take new studies with a pinch of salt, but this one seems credible. Researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have used three genetic markers to show that the red panda (Ailurus fulgens) could be two different animals distinguished by geographic clusters.
The Himalayan and Chinese red pandas were earlier thought to be subspecies of the same bushy-tailed mammal, but DNA analysis has shown them to be entirely separate. The biogeographic boundary? Tibet's Yarlung Tsangpo River. The Chinese red panda, with wider cheekbones and deeper red fur, is found in Myanmar, Tibet, and the Sichuan and Yunnan provinces of China, while the Himalayan red panda prowls bamboo forests in India, Nepal, Bhutan and southern Tibet.
If the study is accurate, then interbreeding ought to be avoided to preserve genetic diversity. Further conservation could be fine-tuned according to the needs of each species, both of whose numbers are on the decline due to poaching and accidental trapping.
Boosting the great Indian bustard (GIB)
Once in the race to be our national bird, things haven’t been great for the GIB. Unofficial counts put the critically endangered bird at six individuals in Kutch after one female died this February. The 13th COP CMS (Conference of Parties to the Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species) which recently wrapped up in Gandhinagar put the national estimate at less than 150, mostly restricted to the Desert National Park of Rajasthan. But at the same time, COP13 had some good news.
India’s proposal to include the GIB in Appendix I of the CMS, which calls for the most robust protection, was accepted by the 130-country meet. The move will help protect habitats, work against poaching, and facilitate the GIBs’ movement. Six other migratory species, such as the Asian elephant, the Oceanic White-tip shark and the jaguar, have also made it to the list.
A gameplan for stranded sea animals
At COP13, India also pushed for a new policy to help marine life that get stranded on beaches. They often can’t make it back to sea and die on shore due to fishing nets or changed environments. The policy hopes to identify such hotspots, so that a Rapid Response Team, plus veterinarian and medical facilities, can treat the injured animals and guide them back to sea.
Census and sanctuary for Karnataka's hyenas
Found in arid environments, these scavengers (Hyaena hyaena) are threatened in most parts of India. However, they’ve managed to survive in the eastern plains of Koppal district in Karnataka. For a better grasp on numbers and future steps, the Deccan Conservation Foundation (DCF) of Koppal, the state forest department and the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) have planned a census to corroborate previous camera trap exercises. Older photos show the nocturnal animals moving between Gangavati and Tavaragera in Koppal, travelling from protected areas to farmlands. Indrajit Ghorpade (Founder, DCF) said that talks are underway to reserve land in the area and declare it a hyena sanctuary. Over time, hyenas have suffered from lack of carcasses and changing habitats, but a notified area could help with long-term management.
High altitudes could turn the Himalayan wolf into a new species: study
There’s something in the mountain air! Much like the red panda, the gray wolves (Canis lupus) who inhabit the Himalaya might be evolving into a genetically distinct species. The Himalayan wolf (Canis himalayensis) already looks different, with its pale pelt and low-frequency calls, but thanks to the thin air it hunts in, its DNA and habits have also changed. The canine eats Tibetan gazelles alongside the usual rodents, and carries unique genes that help combat its low-oxygen habitat. Researchers also noted adaptations that strengthened the heart and increased oxygen delivery in the blood. According to the study, the traits match other high-altitude denizens: Tibetan people, their dogs and domesticated yaks.