What are the species in the wild that change their appearance to escape predators?

There are many species in the wild that change their appearance to escape predators. This is camouflage. But did you know that some species can even change their gender? Let's read up on them.

CLOWNFISH

Clownfishes live in social groups and consist of a dominant female (the largest in size) surrounded by a male and other immature juveniles. Their social hierarchy is based on size and determines the breeding. In a group, the fishes age and grow larger together, without any change in the hierarchy. But this changes when a dominant female dies. When this happens, others will try to use the opportunity to climb up in rank. The male will rapidly change sex to fill in the vacated position. And another fish will turn into a mature male and complete the breeding pair.

HAWKFISH

The hawkfish which is found on coral reefs from Australia to Japan lives in harems (one male with several females). These reef dwellers basically start life as females. Things change when there is a shift in the number of females in the harem. If a male takes on more females into the harem, then, one of the females changes its sex and becomes a male. It then breaks away from the harem and in the process takes half of the harem along with it. It has also been observed by researchers that when a new male gets challenged by another male, it reverses its sex back to a female. This bi-directional sex change is seen in certain reef fishes.

BLACK SEA BASS

Black sea bass is a commercially important species. These are capable of switching their gender from female to male. They are born as females in the wild. They turn into males when they are two to five years old. Research on sea bass reveals that sex change occurs when there is a dip in the male population. If the female sea bass senses a decrease in the male population, they switch their sex.

BANANA SLUG

Banana slugs are wormlike mollusks and they grow up to 10 inches. These animals are hermaphrodites, that is they have both male and female organs. So they don't change their sex back and forth but are unique as they can use both their male and female reproductive organs at the same time. This they do to self-fertilise when necessary. Even when they are capable of self-fertilisation, the majority of banana slugs will take a partner.

GREEN FROG

Researchers have found that frogs spontaneously change sex in the lab and the same has been seen in the wild. In fact, among the green frog population, this sex change is quite common. Earlier research established that sex reversal in frogs may be related to pollution introduced by humans. When exposed to some pollutants (synthetic estrogens and herbicides) in the lab, it has led to genetically male frogs developing outwardly as females. Further studies have proved that this change could be a natural occurrence in amphibians, even in pollution-free settings.

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How many species of swans are there?

How many species of swans are there? On which continents can they be found? When does a swan sing? Read on to find out fascinating details about these graceful birds

Six species

Swans are the among the largest aquatic birds known for their striking beauty, elegance and graceful movements. There are six swan species and they are native to five continents (except Africa and Antarctica). Asia has no native species, but migrants can be seen in its eastern and northern parts. Except for the black swan and the black-necked swan, all swans the mute swan, the tundra swan and its Eurasian sub-species the Bewick's swan, and the trumpeter and whooper swans are white.

The mute swan is from Eurasia. It is a large, beautiful bird with snow-white plumage, an orange beak with a black knob at the base, and a graceful, curving neck. It holds its wings slightly raised above its back while swimming. It is the mute swan that figures in Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, ‘The Ugly Duckling’.

In legend, the mute swan is said to burst into song only when dying. The expression 'swan song', the last work of a great person, derives from this. In reality, it makes a variety of sounds ranging from hissing and growling to bugling, snorting and whistling! The sounds are not as loud as that of other swan species, hence the name. It is a huge eater, gobbling up more than 3 kg of aquatic vegetation a day.

Largest waterfowl

The trumpeter swan of North America is the largest waterfowl in the world. It looks similar to the mute, but has a completely black beak. It is 1.8m long and weighs over 13 kg. Its weight, size and wingspan of 3m mean that it requires a long stretch of open water for the take-off, which sounds like a horse galloping!

Trumpeter swans were widely hunted and by the late 1800s, they were on the brink of extinction. Women used the skin as powder puffs and hats were adorned with the feathers. The long flight feathers were coveted for writing quills. It was only an intensive conservation campaign and a ban on hunting in the 2000s that saved the bird.

Their deep honking calls give them their name. Trumpeters are unusual in that they incubate their eggs by covering them with their webbed feet.

Fact file

*Swans usually mate for life. They engage in a graceful courtship, bobbing their heads and bowing to each other with much ruffling of feathers and lifting of wings.

*All swans are aggressive in defending their nests and the larger species may attack people venturing too close.

*A male swan is a cob, a female swan is a pen and a baby is called a cygnet.

*The existence of black swans was once considered impossible till they were discovered in Australia. The black-necked swan lives in South America.

*The wind rushes through the wings of American tundra swans in flight giving them the moniker 'whistling swans’.

*Male black swans spend more time incubating the eggs than females.

*The whooper swan of northern Europe, named for its loud call, is the national bird of Finland.

* 'Swan upping' is an annual ceremony in England in which mute swans on the River Thames are rounded up, caught, ringed and then released.

Human swan

In December 2016, Sacha Dench, a 41-year-old British conservationist, became the first woman to cross the English Channel in a motorised paraglider. She was following migrating Bewick's swans from Russia to Britain.

Dench made the 10-week, 7200-km journey to study the reasons for their steadily declining numbers. She discovered that the migrating swans were shot down and that many of the wetlands where they usually rest and feed en route had disappeared.

Picture Credit : Google 

How many species of swans are there?

How many species of swans are there? On which continents can they be found? When does a swan sing? Read on to find out fascinating details about these graceful birds

Six species

Swans are the among the largest aquatic birds known for their striking beauty, elegance and graceful movements. There are six swan species and they are native to five continents (except Africa and Antarctica). Asia has no native species, but migrants can be seen in its eastern and northern parts. Except for the black swan and the black-necked swan, all swans the mute swan, the tundra swan and its Eurasian sub-species the Bewick's swan, and the trumpeter and whooper swans are white.

The mute swan is from Eurasia. It is a large, beautiful bird with snow-white plumage, an orange beak with a black knob at the base, and a graceful, curving neck. It holds its wings slightly raised above its back while swimming. It is the mute swan that figures in Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, ‘The Ugly Duckling’.

In legend, the mute swan is said to burst into song only when dying. The expression 'swan song', the last work of a great person, derives from this. In reality, it makes a variety of sounds ranging from hissing and growling to bugling, snorting and whistling! The sounds are not as loud as that of other swan species, hence the name. It is a huge eater, gobbling up more than 3 kg of aquatic vegetation a day.

Largest waterfowl

The trumpeter swan of North America is the largest waterfowl in the world. It looks similar to the mute, but has a completely black beak. It is 1.8m long and weighs over 13 kg. Its weight, size and wingspan of 3m mean that it requires a long stretch of open water for the take-off, which sounds like a horse galloping!

Trumpeter swans were widely hunted and by the late 1800s, they were on the brink of extinction. Women used the skin as powder puffs and hats were adorned with the feathers. The long flight feathers were coveted for writing quills. It was only an intensive conservation campaign and a ban on hunting in the 2000s that saved the bird.

Their deep honking calls give them their name. Trumpeters are unusual in that they incubate their eggs by covering them with their webbed feet.

Fact file

*Swans usually mate for life. They engage in a graceful courtship, bobbing their heads and bowing to each other with much ruffling of feathers and lifting of wings.

*All swans are aggressive in defending their nests and the larger species may attack people venturing too close.

*A male swan is a cob, a female swan is a pen and a baby is called a cygnet.

*The existence of black swans was once considered impossible till they were discovered in Australia. The black-necked swan lives in South America.

*The wind rushes through the wings of American tundra swans in flight giving them the moniker 'whistling swans’.

*Male black swans spend more time incubating the eggs than females.

*The whooper swan of northern Europe, named for its loud call, is the national bird of Finland.

* 'Swan upping' is an annual ceremony in England in which mute swans on the River Thames are rounded up, caught, ringed and then released.

Human swan

In December 2016, Sacha Dench, a 41-year-old British conservationist, became the first woman to cross the English Channel in a motorised paraglider. She was following migrating Bewick's swans from Russia to Britain.

Dench made the 10-week, 7200-km journey to study the reasons for their steadily declining numbers. She discovered that the migrating swans were shot down and that many of the wetlands where they usually rest and feed en route had disappeared.

Picture Credit : Google 

Glass frogs have a secret!

Glass frogs live on trees, are active at night, and many of them are difficult to spot because of their green skin that merges well with their environment. "But these amphibians become true masters of camouflage during the day when they're asleep." How? Come, let's find out.

When glass frogs rest or sleep, their muscles and skin turn transparent. So, whats visible are their eyes, bones, and internal organs. It is hard to spot them because they sleep on the bottoms of huge leaves and also blend well with the environment due to their transparency. But, how do they turn transparent, and what about the visibility of blood? Red blood cells absorb green light (the colour of light usually reflected by plants and other vegetation), and reflect red light. This makes blood highly visible, especially against a bright green leaf. In the case of glass frogs, though, something extraordinary happens.

A research team recently "observed that red blood cells seemed to be disappearing from the circulating blood" when the frogs rest. They conducted additional imaging tests on the animals, proving via optical models that the animals were able to achieve transparency because they were pushing red blood cells out of their vessels. It was suspected that the cells were being stored in one of the frog's inner organs. which are packaged in a reflective membrane.

To find out where exactly the blood was going, scientists used a non-invasive imaging technology called photoacoustic microscopy (PAM). And the result was startling. The primary result is that whenever glass frogs want to be transparent, which is typically when they're at rest and vulnerable to predation. they filter nearly all the red blood cells out of their blood and hide them in a mirror-coated liver - somehow avoiding creating a huge blood clot in the process." When the frogs "are awake, stressed or under anaesthesia their circulatory system is full of red blood cells and they are opaque". This unique capacity would explain why there are hardly any other land-based vertebrates that can achieve such transparency.

Also, in "most animals, pooling blood together leads to clotting which can be life-threatening, for example = leading to heart attacks in humans". So, studying these amphibians can even help us understand blood clotting better.

Picture Credit : Google 

Unique defence mechanisms in animals

Our planet is indeed a wonderland with zillions of creatures inhabiting it, each having its own unique way of adapting to its habitat. Among these, there are some creatures that have developed some bizarre defence mechanisms. Let's read up on some of these animal species.

IBERIAN RIBBED NEWT

Imagine ribs that you can use as poisonous spikes. The iberian ribbed newt is capable of pushing its ribs outside its skin when attacked. These form spikes which the newt uses to defend itself. The animal does this by moving its ribs away from the spine and increasing their angle by 50 degrees. The tips of the ribs then stick outside the animal's body, like a set of spines. At the same time, the newt is capable of producing a poisonous milky substance on its body surface. This coupled with its protruding ribs acts as its stinging tool.

GOLDEN POISON FROG

The golden poison frog is one of the most toxic animals on Earth. It is known for its vibrant colours and the potent poison produced by its skin. While its bright colour is itself a warning sign to predators, the frog takes its defence one notch higher by producing toxins such as steroidal alkaloids batrachotoxin, homobatrachotoxin, and batrachotoxin A. These compounds can cause arrhythmias, fibrillation, and cardiac failure in humans.

TEXAS HORNED LIZARD

Here is a lizard that shoots blood from its eyes. When under threat, the Texas horned lizard sprays out pressurised blood from the corners of its eyes at its attacker. In biology, this is called autohaemorrhaging or reflex bleeding. The animal resorts to this when all its other defences such as camouflage fail. This is carried out by the lizard by rupturing its own sinus membranes.

MOTYXIA MILLIPEDE

While the most common defence mechanism is to display vibrant colours to ward off predators, there are some animals that use their bioluminescence as a warning. A genus of millipedes that is endemic to California called the Motyxia uses its bioluminescence to warn off predators. But the most unusual ability this creature possesses is that it can produce and ooze cyanide from the pores on its body. The cyanide is toxic for the predators of this species such as rodents, centipedes, and beetles.

MALAYSIAN ANT

Imagine a defence strategy that kills your predator but you end up getting the raw deal as well. These are the ants that will destroy themselves to defend their colony when under attack. These exploding ants are called the Malaysian ants. Whenever their nest is invaded, they will "blow" up (rupture) their abdomens. The ants have poison glands that get burst when they flex their body, releasing the poisonous substance onto their predator. This can either kill the enemy or incapacitate it.

HAIRY FROG

Meet the "Wolverine" in the wild. When threatened, this frog can crack its own finger bones and pierce them through its skin. These are then used as claws. On one end of the bone, there is a muscle that the frog can use to contract and thereby break a fragment of bone and push it outwards.

Picture Credit : Google 

Our connection to other mammals

What makes us humans different from our ape cousins? Well, our brain power. And, that came about through tweaks in the genes, according to an ambitious project, whose results were published recently. Come, let's find out more about this, and also how we are similar to and different from other mammals.

The Zoonomia Project compared the genomes (the genetic material that makes up a living organism) of 240 mammal species, including humans, to trace evolutionary changes over 100 million years. It studied a wide variety of mammals-from the huge North Pacific right whale (59 feet long) to the tiny bumblebee bat, just 3 cm long. It also included our closest evolutionary relatives - chimpanzees and bonobos. Do you know what startling result the study threw up? "The researchers identified genomic elements- 4,552 in all - that were pretty much the same across all mammals and were identical in at least 235 of the 240 species, including people." It means that certain parts of genomes have remained unchanged across all mammal species, humans included, over millions of years of evolution.

As for how humans are different from other mammals, the study points to areas "associated with developmental and neurological genes". It suggests that when Homo sapiens evolved, it involved changes in how the nervous system genes were "regulated". And these were just tweaks rather than any dramatic and major changes to the genes themselves. This explains why we still share a large part of our genetic makeup with our ape cousins.

And, genes are also responsible for traits unique to some mammals. For instance, hibernation and the sense of smell. While some mammals have a keen sense of smell, others have almost none. Humans are "somewhat average". The study also saw changes in genetic sequences in some species "in relatively short periods of time", indicating how they are adapting to their environments.

While the findings are fascinating by themselves. scientists believe they "could inform human therapeutics, critical care and long-distance space flight", and "also can help identify genetic mutations that lead to disease".

In a study, researchers identified genomic elements - 4,552 in all-that were pretty much the same across all mammals and were identical in at least 235 of the 240 species, including people. It means that certain parts of genomes have remained unchanged across all mammal species, humans included, over millions of years of evolution.

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The curious case of the cheetah

When the Indian government brought the big cat to India last September, there was palpable excitement. However, in a matter of months, at least three adults - and a few cubs born in India - have died, turning the focus once again on the viability of such an ambitious project. In five points, here's a quick look at all that's been happening

  1. Cheetah goes extinct

India has been a proud host to several big cat species, including the Asiatic lion, the Bengal tiger, and the snow leopard. More than seven decades earlier, it was also home to the Asiatic cheetah, found in the wild today only in Iran. Plagued by hunting habitat loss, and reduction in prey base, their numbers plunged dramatically over the years; the last of this carnivore died way back in 1947. Five years later it was declared officially extinct in our country - "the only large mammal to become extinct since independence".

  1. Bringing the big cat home

For decades, India had considered bringing the Asiatic cheetah from Iran. However, since Iran itself was host to only a small number of this animal, India could not move ahead with that plan. (Today, the number of Asiatic cheetahs in Iran stands at a paltry 12: the country recently lost a 10-month-old cub born in captivity.) Meanwhile, the idea of 'African Cheetah Introduction Project in India' shaped up in 2009, but it failed to take off for over a decade. When it appeared as if it could come to fruition after 2019, the COVID-19 pandemic set in, delaying it further. The wait finally ended in 2022, when the world's fastest land animal came to our country.

  1. The reintroduction begins

With great fanfare, as many as eight cheetahs arrived from Namibia last September. A few months later, 12 more arrived from South Africa. (It is said that the plan is to bring a total of 50 in the next five to 10 years.) They reached an enclosure at Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh. Since they arrived from a different country (and even a continent), they need time for acclimatisation (getting used to their new surroundings). So, gradually over a period of time they are to be released into the wild from their enclosures. But, it seems, not all 20 will survive the relocation.

  1. Births and deaths

In March, a female cheetah brought in from Namibia died, possibly due to kidney ailment. That would be the first of a few more deaths to follow. In April, a male, belonging to the batch from South Africa, died, due to cardiac failure. In May, a female cheetah from South Africa died, believed to be from injuries during mating. Meanwhile, just a couple of days after the death of the first cheetah, a female from Namibia gave birth to four cubs. But that joy was to be short-lived - in May, at least three of them died due to reasons such as weakness and dehydration.

  1. Hope and reality

The government and the supporters of the project have hoped the reintroduction is a chance to restore the biodiversity link that was broken due to the animal's extinction. Viewing it as a step towards wildlife education and conservation awareness, they also believe that the species can revive the grasslands it once roamed. However, many conservationists and critics have all along said that the project is unviable due to several reasons. One of them is that Kuno has neither enough space nor prey for the big cat. In fact, following the deaths of the cheetahs, the Supreme Court itself has come down heavily on the government, urging it to home some of these carnivores in other States, including Rajasthan. While stating that such deaths are not unusual, the government has said it would explore other places for the animal's release into the wild.

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2022 up-close: species in the news

While the arrival of cheetahs from South Africa certainly dominated headlines in 2022, several other species too were in the spotlight in our country for various reasons. Let's take a look at a few of them

Tiger

As a keystone species, the tiger continues to get national attention, and rightly so. Our country is home to over 50 tiger reserves, and this year, two more got added to that list. The 52nd tiger reserve is in Rajasthan-Ramgarh Vishdhari, spread across Bundi, Bhilwara, and Kota districts over an area of more than 1,500 sq.km. The State's fourth tiger reserve - after Ranthambore, Sariska, and Mukundra, it is expected to be a major corridor connecting tigers of Ranthambore and Mukundra reserves. The country's 53rd tiger reserve is in Uttar Pradesh-the Ranipur Tiger Reserve in Chitrakoot district, spread over nearly 530 sq.km. This is the State's fourth tiger reserve after Dudhwa, Pilibhit, and Amangarh. The new reserve in the Bundelkhand region is just 150 km from the Panna Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh.

Elephant

While Project Tiger is perhaps the most popular in the country, there are other projects looking at protecting specific species. One of them is Project Elephant. Set up in 1992, the initiative has been pivotal in the creation of several elephant reserves across the country. In October, the newest addition to the list - Terai Elephant Reserve at Dudhwa-Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh - was approved by the Union government. When it becomes a reality, it will be the country's 33rd elephant reserve, and according the government, "will help in conserving trans-boundary migratory elephant population".

Dugong

The year 2022 is seen as a watershed moment in the conservation of a vulnerable marine species-the dugong. Tamil Nadu notified India's first ever dugong conservation reserve in the Palk Bay area of the Gulf of Mannar, which lies between Sri Lanka and the southern tip of India. The move, though seen as long overdue, is vital for the animal as much as it is for the local communities. Keeping with dismal global records, India's dugong population too has been declining. It is believed that there could be just around 200 dugongs left in our waters. These marine mammals, also called sea cows, can be spotted in our country near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and off the coast of Tamil Nadu in the Gulf of Mannar and Palk Bay. It's in the Palk Bay, on approximately a 450-sq km. area, that the reserve will come up.

Turtles

It's not just large creatures that were in the news in 2022. Even smaller ones such as tortoises and turtles got global attention. To be precise, at the 19th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP 19) to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) held at Panama City in November. According to the Union government. "At CoP 19, India's proposal for induction of fresh water turtle Batagur kachuga eamed wide support of the parties in CoP 19 of CITES It is said that CITES also recorded the works done "in the area of conservation of tortoises and fresh water turtles and efforts made in combating wildlife crime and illegal trade of turtles in the country" At the event, India "reiterated its commitment regarding conserving tortoises and fresh water turtles in the country"

Great Indian bustard

The one bird species that's often in the news in our country is the great Indian bustard. It was no different in 2022. Though the news about the bird is often worrisome, this time around it appeared to offer some hope for the species, and consequentially, conservationists. One of the reasons for the bird's fatality is through overhead power lines hit. The Supreme Court had initiated many steps to protect the species, including setting up a three-member committee to assess the feasibility of laying high-voltage underground power cables in Rajathan and Gujarat, States where the birds are sighted today. In such a scenario, late in 2022, the country's top court asked the union government why it should not consider the idea of establishing Project Great Indian Bustard on the lines of the country's successful Project Tiger.

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What extinct species came back 2022?

The year 2022 has seen quite a number of species getting reintroduced into the wild while some were discovered. Here are a few animals and birds that made to our list of animals in spotlight.

TASMANIAN TIGER

The 1930s saw the marsupial Tasmanian Tiger go extinct. Now efforts are being taken to resurrect the animal using gene-editing technology. The $15-million project hopes to reintroduce the animal to Tasmania, its native place. This attempt is expected to bring back the ecological balance in the region. Seen here is a stuffed Tasmanian tiger which was declared extinct in 1936.

SNOW CRABS

A huge collapse in the population of snow crabs was found after 11 billion snow crabs disappeared off the coast of Alaska. The crabs are disappearing in the Bering Sea and scientists believe that global warming could have resulted in the vanishing of these crabs. The sea was warmer in the previous years and this could have been the reason for the mass die-off. The decline in the numbers were noted when the survey was conducted in 2021. The survey result was confirmed this year too and it was ascertained that the crabs didn't move to any other place, but disappeared. Their total numbers fell to about 1.9 billion in 2022, from 11.7 billion in 2018.

CHEETAH

The last cheetah died in India in 1947. And over 70 years after the animal was declared extinct in India, the country launched its ambitious programme "Project Cheetah to reintroduce cheetahs into the wild. Eight cheetahs including five females and three males were introduced as they were brought in from Namibia, southern Africa to Kuno National Park, Madhya Pradesh. Seen here is a cheetah after being released inside a special enclosure of the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh.

IVORY-BILLED WOODPECKER

For long researchers believed that the ivory-billed woodpecker got extinct. But this year, a few researchers have claimed that the very bird which was declared extinct by the U.S. government was spotted in the forests of Louisiana. The researchers have claimed its spotting based on a series of grainy pictures and observations of the bird. Once relatively common, the numbers of ivory-billed woodpeckers started dropping with habitat loss due to human intervention and hunting. It is the largest woodpecker in the U.S.

APIS KARINJODIAN

Did you know that the last time a honey bee species was discovered in India was in 1798? And now, after a gap of 224 years, a new honey bee species endemic to Western Ghats has been discovered. Named Apis Karinjodian, the species has been classified as 'near threatened’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). With the new addition, now we have a total of 11 species of duster honey bees in the world.

WILD BISON

The year saw the wild bison get reintroduced to the U.K. for the first time in thousands of years. The species classified as near threatened was introduced into a woodland in Kent. The bison is being reintroduced as part of the Wilder Blean project. The idea for the reintroduction of the species is to restore natural landscapes. It is also a rewilding attempt to check if the animal's behaviour can help transform a commercial pine forest into a natural forestland.

GREAT INDIAN BUSTARD

The Great Indian Bustard (GIB) came into focus once again this year when the Supreme Court of India asked if a Project GIB on the lines of Project Tiger could be launched to protect the bird. Found mainly in Rajasthan and Gujarat, the GIB has been labelled as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The SC bench asked this whilst hearing petitions on the situation of the bird and their deaths in large numbers due to electrocution from high-transmission power lines.

Picture Credit : Google 

What are cloud forests?

Cloud forests are usually found in tropical rainforests of South America, Southeast Asia and Africa.

A cloud forest is constantly enveloped by dense clouds that penetrate right through the ground. This creates some unique conditions- very moist and misty environment, thick vegetation with a lot of moss growth, boggy forest floors, constant sounds of water dripping (from fog that condenses and falls off the leaves) and very low visibility.

Cloud forests are usually found in tropical rainforests of South America, Southeast Asia and Africa. These forests are also referred to as fog forests, or moss forests. Cloud forests attract researchers who like to study the abundant species of water-loving plants, animals and birds that are found there. They are a source of pure fresh water.

A large percentage of the biodiversity contained within these forests is yet to be catalogued. Species thought to be extinct have been discovered in these forests.

Some of the cloud forests have become popular travel destinations. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is referred to as one of the "seven wonders of Costa Rica" and it attracts about 70,000 tourists annually. It is known to contain the largest number of orchids in the world. Cloud forests are now a concern for conservationists and The Cloud Forest Agenda Report of the UNEP and UNESCO seeks to initiate action to preserve cloud forests.

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What are the few successful programmes taken up in the country for the conservation of birds-both residents and migrants?

The Phansad Wildlife Sanctuary in Maharashtra was in the news recently for setting up a ‘food centre' with carrion to revive vulture population. Such measures are important because birds are integral to a healthy and balanced ecosystem. Let's look at a few successful programmes taken up in the country for the conservation of birds-both residents and migrants.

Amur falcon

Even as our country battled the horrific second wave of the pandemic in April 2021, Tamenglong, a town in Manipur, found a reason for excitement tracking two radio-tagged migratory Amur falcons (named Chiulon and Irang) flying over the Arabian Sea. Amur falcons cover 20,000 km between their wintering grounds in Africa and breeding grounds in China. And, thanks to the radio-tagging of two of those birds back in 2019. people were tracking this historic journey and hoping for the birds to reach their town safely later. However, about a decade earlier, the story in neighbouring Nagaland was completely different. For years, lakhs of these raptors have stopped in India's northeastern regions such as Nagaland during their long migration. But what was a stopover for rest and recuperation turned into a death trap for them-in 2012, more than one lakh birds were said to have been hunted for meat. Following this decimation, the Nagaland Wildlife and Biodiversity Conservation Trust swung into action-went door-to-door talking with villagers and engaged with village about the need to protect the birds. And those earnest efforts paid off. The killings stopped in what is seen as one of the most telling changes in people's attitude towards wildlife conservation. Recently, there have been reports of increasing Amur falcon numbers not just in Nagaland, but also in neighbouring States such as Assam. Meghalaya, and of course, Manipur where people waited with bated breaths for the return of raptors named Chiulon and Irang.

Great Indian bustard

Recently, four female great Indian bustards at the Desert National Park (DNP) in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, made headlines for laying two eggs each. Critically endangered, these bustards are known for laying only one egg at a time. Turns out this time was different because, thanks to excessive rains in the region, the grass in which the birds laid their eggs was abundant. In addition, the moisture and humidity led to an increase in insect population, which made for the birds hearty meals.

Experts believe one of the other reasons for the two-egg clutch is also the conservation efforts. The first major initiative for saving the species came about in 2013 with the Rajasthan government setting up Project Great Indian Bustard at DNP, which included increased protection for the birds and less human presence in the region. Further, a breeding centre for the birds was set up at DNP in 2019.

Endemic to India, great Indian bustards were once seen across several States. Due to hunting, habitat loss, and accidents caused by windmills and overhead lines, their numbers kept dwindling. With only about 150 birds remaining today, two egg clutches and conservation initiatives hold promise for the bird's future.

Vultures

In October 2020, when eight critically endangered, captive-bred, white-rumped vultures were released into the wild in Haryana, it was a first for our country. The release was the result of a two-decade conservation programme that saw the setting up of four vulture conservation breeding centres - one each in Haryana, West Bengal, Assam, and Madhya Pradesh. The centres were set up by the Bombay Natural History Society (a wildlife research organisation), in association with the Government of India. State Forest Departments, and Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Launched to conserve three species of vultures-oriental white-backed vulture (also known as white-rumped vulture), long-billed vulture, and slender billed vulture- these centres have together reared hundreds of these birds. Since 2020, many more birds have been released into the wild.

It is believed that "India was home to 40 million vultures in the 1980s”. Their number plunged by over 97% in the 1990s, largely due to the drug diclofenac used to treat cattle-whose carcass vultures mainly fed on. With a ban on diclofenac in place and the setting up of these breeding centres (along with creating Vulture Safe Zones in several parts of the country), there's much hope for these birds today.

VISIONARY PERSPECTIVE PLAN (2020-2030)

  • In 2020, the government came out with a 10-year plan "for conservation of avian diversity, their ecosystems, habitats & landscapes in the country".
  • It aims to initiate steps for the protection of migratory birds, conservation of wetlands, and focus on birds in urban areas.
  • It also plans to undertake detailed ecological studies of rare, endangered, and threatened bird species of India and their habitats and to develop and implement conservation measures and Species Recovery Plans.

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What does the brightly colored skin of some frogs signal to their predators?

Have you ever wondered about the vibrant colours of some frogs? Did you know that their colouring is a warning to predators that they are foul-tasting and poisonous? Read on to know more fascinating facts about these amphibians.

It is small enough to fit into the palm of one's hand, but it packs a powerful punch. A single golden poison dart frog, measuring just 6 on long, contains sufficient poison to kill 10 grown humans! The frog species derives its name from the centuries-old practice of the Emberá and Chocó, indigenous peoples of Colombia and Panama, who tipped their blowgun darts with its poison while hunting.

The poison is called a batrachotoxin (some beetles and birds also have it). The word batrachos is Greek for frog'. Even minute amounts lead to paralysis and death.

Poisonous species

There are only four species of frogs that are so poisonous that even a tiny drop is enough to kill small mammals (monkeys, for example) and birds. Most of them produce poison only potent enough to kill insects-flies, crickets, ants, termites. and beetles which are their main prey.

The frogs average around 2.5 cm in length. They are found in the wild only in the tropical rainforests of South and Central America.

The frogs sport gaudy colours and patterns, usually in combination with black-orange, red, blue, yellow, purple, pink, green, and even silver! Their colouring is a warning to predators that they are foul-tasting and poisonous. Once a predator has tried eating one and survived, it avoids similar-looking frogs.

The fire-bellied snake of the Amazon forests is resistant to golden poison frog toxin and is its only predator.

The little frogs usually live in the leaf litter on the forest floor, near streams and ponds, but a few species also live high up in the canopy and may never come down. Unlike most frog species that are nocturnal, poison frogs are active during the day when their colours can be best seen.

Caring for the young

Females lay from one to 30 eggs at a time in a dark, moist place such as the base of a big leaf, the hollow of a tree trunk or crook of a branch. Both parents are involved in the care of the eggs. When the eggs hatch, the parents carry the tadpoles on their backs and deposit them in water. Blue poison frog tadpoles eat their own siblings, so the parents must find a different water body for each individual hatchling!

The female feeds the tadpoles with unfertilized eggs that contain small amounts of poison, so that even the tadpoles are protected from predation.

Researchers are studying poison frogs to see if their toxins can be used in medicines, mainly painkillers. The poison from the phantasmal poison frog has been found to be 200 times more effective than morphine and without its side-effects!

Fact File

  • Wild poison frogs ingest the poison from the different bugs they eat and store it in their skin. Frogs bred in captivity lose their toxicity.
  • In the past decade, hundreds of frogs have died of a fungus that grows on their skin, preventing them from absorbing oxygen and water.
  • The population of the more brilliantly coloured poison frogs has plummeted because they are popular as pets.

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What causes negative human-wildlife interactions?

Recently, a tiger was shot dead in Bihars Champaran region, after it is said to have claimed the lives of at least nine people. Such instances of negative human-wildlife interactions are neither rare not new. In fact, they are increasing, and at an alarming rate. But, what triggers it? Is there a way to effectively manage this global concern? Let's find out.

While several reasons can be attributed to such interactions, at the heart of the problem lies human population growth. Our planet has only a finite space to be occupied or used by a growing number of humans. So, forests are constantly cleared to either house us, grow our food, or build factories to meet our lifestyle demands. Which leaves wildlife with lesser and lesser space to live. In addition, we also come up with development projects - such as building bridges or laying railway lines- that cut through natural wildlife habitats. Whatever little space they have is further fragmented, causing animals to come into close contact with humans, an extremely uncomfortable situation for both sides. Apart from this, climate change-related consequences such as floods, draught, wildfires, etc. too displace wildlife, pushing them into human habitations in search of food, water, and shelter. Curious and careless tourists venturing too close for wildlife comfort or feeding them bring about negative interactions when there exists none.

How do they affect wildlife?

The worst outcome of negative interactions is the death of the animal. The death can happen unintentionally (knocked down by vehicles) or the animal can be killed as a matter of precaution as in the case of the Bihar tiger killing or as an act of revenge by angry humans. When forest areas shrink, it gives poachers and hunters that much more access to wildlife, increasing the number of animal lives lost. If animals are injured severely, they may perish without treatment. If such animals are parents to young ones, the offspring could die too-one injury eroding an entire generation of wildlife. All these could mean the eventual loss of the species as a whole. When key species disappear, they have the potential to trigger an entire ecosystem collapse.

How do they affect humans?

As with wildlife, negative interactions could be fatal for humans too. Even in cases where it is not fatal, it can be negatively life-changing. Injuries can lead to temporary or permanent disability. In some cases, this can mean the loss of livelihood or job. In addition, the survivors might grapple with monetary deficit to foot medical bills for their treatment. Among those who both lose their jobs and tackle mounting medical bills, the pressure could spill over to the rest of the family, where young people are forced to quit their education and find a job to support the family-spelling an end to their dreams. Not in all instances are humans affected directly. Large predators could kill or injure livestock, hungry elephants could damage houses and plunder crops, etc. For a family dependent on livestock and crops for income, this could mean monetary loss, apart from a life of constant fear and the inability to leave whatever property they own. Living in a region teeming with predators could hamper the mobility of inhabitants, including children for whom it may not be safe to play outside after sunset or travel between home and school through dense forests.

How can they be handled?

One of the significant ways to avoid or tackle such interactions is to look for beneficial co-existence. Invariably, humans caught in this issue are economically weak. So, when there's loss of human or livestock life or injury, or damage of property, fair compensation to those affected may go a long way in stopping revenge killing. Regular awareness campaigns on the vital role of wildlife in this world and the need to protect them, especially endangered ones, can result in community-led conservation initiatives. Further, crops can be raised to serve as a buffer where human habitation exists on forest fringes. Technology - such as warning systems, sirens, lights, etc. to keep off animals without harm- can be put to good use. It is equally important to create clear boundaries of protected areas and have strict laws in place to prevent infrastructure development, encroachment, poaching, and hunting. More than anything, it is crucial to understand that since the nature of each issue is different, the solutions should be too.

A WIN-WIN SOLUTION

For more than two decades, Ladakh-based Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust, as the name suggests, has worked holistically towards protecting the species, its prey, and habitat. As part of this effort, it has been conducting research too. But one of its most significant initiatives is the community-based conservation.

Decades ago, when snow leopards in the region ventured into human habitation and helped themselves to livestock, an important source of income/sustenance for the villagers, some carnivores had lost their lives to revenge killing by angry humans. The Trust understood that it was important for the locals to be part of the big cat protection efforts because both humans and the wildlife shared the resources available in the region. So, the Trust helped convert many village homes to homestays that promised eager tourists a chance at spotting the elusive animal. Soon, the villagers realised a snow leopard alive was worth more than one that's dead! Today, they are active participants in the conservation programmes.

The Trust also educates adults and children on the rich biodiversity of the region, its significance, and the need to protect them, making it one of the most heart-warming conservation stories.

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How border wall affect wildlife?

Barriers of any kind affect movement and migration of animals. For instance, the wall could come in the way of an animal’s search for water and food nearby. It could also stop animals on their long-distance migratory paths.

When he was the U.S. President, Donald Trump set off the expansion of the border wall between the U.S. and its neighbouring country Mexico. While he's not the country's President any longer, the incomplete construction stretching miles on end stands today, silently bearing testimony to human prejudice. It divided people on both sides physically and emotionally. But it appears to have affected more than just humans as with barriers anywhere globally, it has affected wildlife too.

Wildlife has no concrete borders, created singularly by and for humans. When humans introduce these barriers, wildlife struggle, to put it mildly. It has come to light that the case is no different with the U.S.-Mexico barrier. According to Cuenca Los Ojos (CLO), a transfrontier wildlife organisation, "camera trap photos and the conservationists own observations have revealed deer, mountain lions and black bears pacing along the border wall, confused and unable to access their former ranges". "One family of boars spent five hours trying to get past the wall in search of water, according to CLO. Barriers of any kind affect movement and migration of animals. For instance, the wall could come in the way of an animal's search for water and food nearby. It could also stop animals on their long-distance migratory paths.

Apart from animals, such walls can harm birds too. When these barriers are lit up at night, it can disorient both nocturnal birds and those on their long migratory journeys. While it is easy to presume that birds can effortlessly cross such barriers in daylight, the reality is different. A few birds are low-fliers, and different types of interferences in a natural landscape can leave them trapped in one place due to their inability to fly from it. According to research conducted a few years ago on the U.S.-Mexico border, "not only large roadways but also big agricultural fields and other types of landscape disturbance and segregation" affected the movement of ferruginous pygmy owl, a low-flying bird.

Erecting walls or barriers is not new. However, with the natural world already under threat from climate change, these human structures, especially in places rich in biodiversity, are likely to put further pressure on wildlife.

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Pantanal’s jaguars in peril

A lot has been said about the benefits of wildfires-from removing alien species and helping native species thrive to killing harmful insects and weak animals. But given the intensity and frequency with which they have been occurring of late, many wildfires are devastating. A case in point is the 2019-2020 wildfire season in Australia that is said to have harmed about three billion animals. Meanwhile, a recent study has discovered that around the same time, fires in another continent have had a harmful impact on an apex predator.

Pantanal is the world's largest tropical wetland, located in South America. Covering more than 1,80,000 sq.km., it spans Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. The region has one of the highest concentrations of wildlife in this continent; it houses the world's second-largest jaguar population - 1,668. But just like the Amazon, it is plagued by several threats. Among them is the increase in agricultural activity, resulting in negative human-jaguar interactions and the eventual killing of the predator.

And in 2020, these predators faced another severe form of threat - fires. That year Pantanal was particularly dry, and the situation was made worse by a "combination of rising temperatures and a drop in water draining to the Pantanal due to deforestation of the Amazon and the Cerrado uplands". The fires "burnt 31% of Pantanal ecoregion", and in the process. "45% of jaguars in region were displaced, injured or killed". They "burned thousands of square kilometres of critical jaguar habitat and may threaten the big cats long-term survival", according to the research, based on 12 years of jaguar distribution data and 16 years of maps of the burned area.

These carnivores do not migrate, which means, when their habitats shrink, they are crowded in one location, leading to disputes over sharing both territory and prey. And if they do travel afar in search of food, their energy could be sapped, affecting their reproductive capacity. In the long run, if the jaguars disappear from the region, it could throw the ecosystem into disarray since they are at the top of the food chain.

The 2020 fires "burnt 31% of Pantanal ecoregion", and in the process, "45% of jaguars in region were displaced, injured or killed". They "burned thousands of square kilometres of critical jaguar habitat and may threaten the big cats' long-term survival", according to a research, based on 12 years of jaguar distribution data and 16 years of maps of the burned area.

Picture Credit : Google