Environmental News from IndiaOn the front line of climate change in India’s Sundarbans by Johan Augustin [10/17/2019]
- Residents of the dozens of islands in the Indian part of the Sundarbans have seen their homes swallowed up by the sea and their farmland poisoned by saltwater, forcing many to relocate.
- The fast-encroaching sea, driven by climate change, has also eaten away at the hunting grounds of the Sundarbans’ famous Bengal tigers, pushing them to target the villagers’ livestock — and, increasingly, the villagers themselves.
- At the same time, villagers unable to farm and experiencing dwindling fish catches are venturing deeper into tiger territory to look for crabs and collect honey, putting them at even greater risk of being attacked by the big cats.
At India’s Assam Zoo, decades of experience lead to rhino-breeding success by Bikash Kumar Bhattacharya [10/16/2019]
- However, until 2011 the country lacked a formal, nationally coordinated program dedicated to maintaining a viable captive population of the species, which is considered by the IUCN to be vulnerable to extinction due to poaching.
- India launched an official captive-breeding initiative in 2011. One calf has already been born at the Assam Zoo as part of the program, and another is on the way. An additional six have been born in the Patna Zoo in India’s Bihar state.
Education, compensation, and spiritual outreach protect threatened whale sharks by Tariq Engineer [10/14/2019]
- In 2001, India declared the whale shark a protected species. In 2004, the Whale Shark Conservation Project began its effort to spread awareness of the ban among the fishermen in the state of Gujarat, where the killing was taking place, and to convert the fishermen from hunters to protectors of the fish.
- Through a combination of community outreach, participation of a popular spiritual leader, and financial compensation, the community was convinced to stop killing the sharks. Since then, 710 whale sharks have also been rescued after getting entangled in fishing nets, while scientists have been able to tag eight sharks for research purposes.
For India’s flood-hit rhinos, refuge depends increasingly on humans by Manon Verchot [10/09/2019]
- The park regularly floods during monsoon season. This natural phenomenon is essential to the ecosystem, but can be deadly for animals: 400 animals died in the 2017 floods, including more than 30 rhinos. This year, around 200 animals have died so far, including around a dozen rhinos.
- With increased infrastructure and tourism development around the park, animals’ natural paths to higher ground are often blocked.
- Authorities have responded by building artificial highlands within the park. Some criticize this approach, but park officials credit the highlands for reducing the death toll of this year’s floods.
As climate change disrupts the annual monsoon, India must prepare (Commentary) by S. Gopikrishna Warrier [09/19/2019]
- The nation’s meteorological department already admits that this is a clear impact of climate change. These intense storms pose a huge danger to India’s agriculture-based economy and to millions of farmers whose livelihoods still largely rely upon a consistent rainfall season. There are also periods of droughts interspersed with floods.
- The good news is that Indian authorities are aware of the change and are trying to tackle the impacts of shifting rainfall patterns and adapt to them.
- These extreme weather events are of global significance since more than 1.8 billion people live on the Indian subcontinent, and the impact in the South Asian region has economic fallout in other parts of the world. This post is a commentary. Views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Calls for natural solution over man-made one in flood-ravaged rhino refuge by Azera Parveen Rahman [08/29/2019]
- Experts say the artificial highlands are merely temporary solutions and won’t be beneficial over the long term.
- Some say the artificial highlands will lead to more erosion and siltation in the grasslands than occurs naturally. Moreover, only rhinos seem to be using the artificial highlands, while other animals tend to move toward natural highlands in neighboring hills.
- The real solution, some experts say, lies in keeping the migration routes that the animals follow to reach their natural highlands free of human settlements and commercial establishments.
Death on the Brahmaputra: The rhino, the rangers, and the usual suspects by Bikash Kumar Bhattacharya [08/28/2019]
- In September 2018, officials lost track of the rhino. In June 2019, the rhino’s buried remains, and a bullet, were discovered close to a guard camp in Burachapori-Laokhowa.
- Officials in Burachapori-Laokhowa did not officially report the rhino missing until the matter was leaked to the press more than a month later.
- Suspicion has been cast, variously, on forest staff, illegal settlers and illegal fishers.
Is the rhino horn trade a cartel? Economic analysis suggests it works like one by Abhaya Raj Joshi [08/12/2019]
- His findings suggest a market model in which suppliers in the two countries collude rather than compete, setting a quantity and price that maximizes profits all around.
- Lopes’s research also indicates that stricter conservation laws can reduce the number of rhinos being killed, but that corruption and institutional instability can erode those gains.
The wolf of Bangladesh: A true story by Jeremy Hance [08/07/2019]
- The wolf, an adult male, was killed by local villagers in the Sundarbans, a suboptimal habitat for wolves.
- But could there be more wolves in the Sundarbans? Is there a breeding population? Time will tell.
India pushes for its largest ever hydropower project despite concerns by Mayank Aggarwal [07/29/2019]
- The project, estimated to cost about $4 billion, is expected to be the highest dam in India once completed and aimed at preventing flooding in downstream areas. It’s controversial for its proposed felling of trees and possible impact on local communities, ecology, environment and wildlife of the area.
- In its focus on the hydropower sector, the Indian government has also introduced a bill to parliament on dam safety, to regulate the more than 5,600 existing dams in India, some of them more than 100 years old, and the nearly 4,700 under construction.
Rattled by sardine stock crash, India begins regulating its fisheries by Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar [07/11/2019]
- The industry has largely gone unregulated, and yields have slowed in the past decade, including an unexpected and disruptive crash in the sardine catch.
- In response, India’s coastal states and central government have begun to take measures to make fishing more sustainable.
- The latest, and potentially the most important move, is the creation of the first ministry for fisheries just last month.
Asian elephants gang up in a bid to survive an increasingly human world by Aathira Perinchery [07/11/2019]
- These unusual associations, which can last for several years, were not recorded 20 years ago.
- Researchers say it’s important to use this information to mitigate human-elephant conflict, including by not removing old bulls that don’t raid crops, which can pass down this behavior to young elephants.
Chance rescue turns out to be first record of elusive tortoise species in India by Shreya Dasgupta [07/05/2019]
- Researchers who have studied the reptile in Myanmar say the high-elevation habitat in Arunachal Pradesh where the tortoises were found is quite similar to that in Myanmar.
- Very little is known about impressed tortoises, and researchers and the range officer hope that a long-term survey will be launched to find more individuals of the species in India.
- For now, the two rescued individuals have been sent to a zoo in the state’s capital.
In India’s Sundarbans, communities shrink as their island sinks by Erin StoneLisa Hornak [07/01/2019]
- The region was the first in the world to record an unfolding climate refugee crisis as people fled an island lost to the sea. More islands remain at risk of succumbing to the rising waters.
- The government has long relied on building embankments to keep the seawater out, but in a report it co-wrote in 2014 it acknowledges that this measure is no longer sufficient.
- One expert calls for restoring the Sundarbans’ original mangrove habitats to both mitigate the impacts of rising seas and storm surges, and to serve as a carbon sink in the fight against greenhouse gas emissions.
Great Indian bustard eggs being collected to kick-start captive breeding by Shreya Dasgupta [06/25/2019]
- In a last-ditch effort, wildlife researchers along with the forest department have started a hunt for the birds’ eggs to begin the process of captive breeding of the species. Last week, they managed to collect two bustard eggs from the wild; they have permission to collect up to six a year.
- Two captive breeding facilities for the bustard are being built: a main, bigger facility in the south of Rajasthan, and a second, smaller facility in the west, close to where many of the wild birds breed.
- This is the first time that great Indian bustard eggs have ever been collected from the wild for the purpose of captive breeding, and protocols are still being figured out, says Rajasthan’s chief wildlife warden.
All that glitters: Cameras spot Asian golden cat in more than one shade by Shreya Dasgupta [06/20/2019]
- These include five colors previously described from different parts of the cat’s distribution across Asia — golden, gray, cinnamon, melanistic (black) and ocelot (spotted) — as well as a previously unrecorded dark pattern of tightly spaced rosettes.
- The study’s authors suspect that the different forms allow the Asian golden cat to be extremely adaptable, especially because the species occupies diverse habitats in the Dibang Valley, where competing predators such as tigers and snow leopards also occur.
- Other researchers say the colors may be more of a continuum rather than clear-cut distinct forms, and that further study is needed to test the possible influence of other factors on the coat colors and patterns, including climatic conditions such as light exposure and temperature.
The Great Insect Dying: How to save insects and ourselves by Jeremy Hance [06/13/2019]
- Solutions to these problems exist, most agreed, but political commitment, major institutional funding and a large-scale vision are lacking. To combat habitat loss, researchers urge preservation of biodiversity hotspots such as primary rainforest, regeneration of damaged ecosystems, and nature-friendly agriculture.
- Combatting climate change, scientists agree, requires deep carbon emission cuts along with the establishment of secure, very large conserved areas and corridors encompassing a wide variety of temperate and tropical ecosystems, sometimes designed with preserving specific insect populations in mind.
- Pesticide use solutions include bans of some toxins and pesticide seed coatings, the education of farmers by scientists rather than by pesticide companies, and importantly, a rethinking of agribusiness practices. The Netherlands’ Delta Plan for Biodiversity Recovery includes some of these elements.
For India’s imperiled apes, thinking locally matters by Bikash Kumar Bhattacharya [05/23/2019]
- Populations of hoolock gibbons in India are both protected and harmed by practices and beliefs specific to the human communities with whom they share their habitats.
- In several gibbon habitats, local indigenous people are leading conservation efforts that are deeply informed by local circumstances.
- The fortunes of different gibbon populations within India show that there is no one-size-fits-all conservation strategy for apes.
Meet the new species of venomous pit viper described from India by Shreya Dasgupta [05/09/2019]
- In a new paper, researchers have described this species and named it Trimeresurus arunachalensis, or Arunachal pit viper.
- While the researchers have described the Arunachal pit viper based on a single specimen, they say the species’ unique features distinguish it from all the other known species of pit vipers.
Mobile app encourages Indian fishers to free entangled whale sharks by Vasudevan Sridharan [05/01/2019]
- Conservationists and fishers alike hope the app will speed up the compensation fishers receive for damaged nets.
- However, fishers say the compensation, a maximum of 25,000 rupees ($360), should be increased to reflect the true loss of their revenue during their downtime without nets.
Phasepardhis and the lesser florican (commentary) by Neema Pathak Broome and Shrishtee Bajpai [04/26/2019]
- At the root of these practices are pre-independence colonial policies. Such policies have continued in post-independence times, severely impacting the habitat and consequently populations of birds like the lesser florican and the great Indian bustard.
- Phasepardi people face a fate similar to their habitat, the grasslands, and their co-inhabitants, the grassland birds. Together with Phasepardhi youth, non-profit organization Samvedana has initiated a process towards conservation of the lesser florican, re-generation of degraded grasslands, and strengthening livelihoods and dignity for the Phasepardhis.
- This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Environmental issues among top priorities of urban Indian voters: Report by Mayank Aggarwal [04/02/2019]
- High levels of water and air pollution, which have been plaguing Indian cities over the past few years, were not a top priority nationally but were of importance to the urban voters.
- Some other environment-related concerns that found a place in the overall list of the voters’ priorities include sand and stone quarrying, traffic congestion, river and lake pollution, and noise pollution.
Audio: What underwater sounds can tell us about Indian Ocean humpback dolphins by Mike Gaworecki [03/19/2019]
- Last month, Mongabay’s India bureau published an article with the headline “What underwater sounds tell us about marine life.” As Mongabay contributor Sejal Mehta notes in the piece, the world beneath the ocean’s surface is a noisy place, with animals sounding off for a number of purposes. Now, of course, humanity is interjecting more and more frequently, intruding on the underwater soundscape.
- As Isha Bopardikar tells Mehta in the Mongabay India piece, in order to understand how marine animals use the underwater space and how human activities affect their behavior, we need hard data. That’s where her current work off the west coast of India comes in. In this Fields Notes segment, Bopardikar plays for us some of her dolphin recordings and explains how they are informing her research.
Invasive plants a fast-growing threat to India’s rhinos by Bikash Kumar Bhattacharya [03/18/2019]
- Invasive species threaten protected areas in Assam state, and herbivores like the greater one-horned rhinos that live within them, by crowding out the native plants animals rely on for food.
- Each of Assam state’s four rhino reserves currently faces threats from invasive plants including Parthenium, Mimosa, Mikania and water hyacinth.
- Experts are contemplating the use of several strategies to tackle invasive plants, including manual removal and the introduction of biological control agents such as the Mexican beetle that feeds on Parthenium.
Seahorse trade continues despite export bans, study finds by Shreya Dasgupta [03/08/2019]
- Traders in Hong Kong, the world’s largest importer of dried seahorses, told researchers that their stocks of dried seahorses for 2016-17 had mostly come from Thailand, the Philippines, mainland China, Australia, India, Malaysia and Vietnam — most of these countries have export bans in place.
- Much of the seahorse trade seems to persist despite the bans largely because of indiscriminate fishing practices like trawling that catch millions of seahorses every year while targeting other fish species.
- This suggests that both outright bans on the seahorse trade as well as trade restrictions under CITES aren’t being enforced effectively.
Reducing human-elephant encounters with calls, texts, and digital signs by Vasudevan Sridharan [03/06/2019]
- Researchers have replicated an elephant alert system that combines signs, voice calls, and text messaging used in the elephant corridors of neighboring Tamil Nadu’s Valparai region to reduce negative interactions between people and elephants in Hassan.
- Using familiar technologies, the new system has reduced annual human fatalities in the region from several to nearly zero.
Abandoned plantations in forested areas may not recover fully: Study by Shreya Dasgupta [02/27/2019]
- But the kinds of trees growing in the plantation were very different from those in the primary forest, suggesting that the latter provide ecosystem benefits, like greater carbon storage, that the plantation forests do not.
- While plantation forests can provide benefits, such as serving as a corridor connecting primary forests, they are not a substitute for intact old-growth forests, the researchers conclude.
The odor side of otters: Tech reveals species’ adaptations to human activity by Visvak P. [02/25/2019]
- Researchers have studied these adaptable otters with camera traps, ground GPS surveys, and satellite images; they’re now testing drone photogrammetry to improve the accuracy of their habitat mapping.
- Using data gathered over a period of time, the researchers aim to pinpoint changes in the landscape and, in combination with the behavioral data gathered by the camera traps, understand how otters are reacting to these changes.
India-Nepal agreement to boost transborder conservation of rhinos, tigers by Mayank Aggarwal [02/19/2019]
- The memorandum of understanding is expected to be signed before India’s upcoming parliamentary elections, slated for April and May this year.
- The MOU is expected to put an emphasis on cooperation for the conservation and protection of tigers, whose population has increased in both countries over the past decade.
Protecting India’s fishing villages: Q&A with ‘maptivist’ Saravanan by Mahima Jain [01/10/2019]
- To support these communities, a 35-year-old local fisherman is helping them create maps that document how they use their land.
- By creating their own maps, the communities are taking control of a tool that has always belonged to the powerful.
- Their maps allow them to speak the language of the state so they can resolve disputes and mount legal challenges against industries and government projects encroaching on their land and fishing grounds.
Journalists reporting on the environment faced increased dangers in 2018 by Kaamil Ahmed [01/04/2019]
- These range from intimidation to legal threats to outright violence.
- At least 10 journalists covering the environment were killed between 2010 and 2016, according to Reporters without Borders — all but two of them in Asia.
Top camera trapping stories of 2018 by Sue Palminteri [12/31/2018]
- Camera trapping studies are addressing new research and management questions, including document rare events, assess population dynamics, detect poachers, and involve rural landowners in monitoring.
- And with projects generating ever-larger image data sets, they are using volunteers and, more recently, artificial intelligence to analyse the information.
10 ways conservation tech shifted into auto in 2018 by Sue Palminteri [12/28/2018]
- Pattern recognition detects species by their appearance or calls; quantifies changes in vegetation from satellite images; tracks movements by fishing ships on the high seas.
- Automating even part of the analysis process, such as eliminating images with no animals, substantially reduces processing time and cost.
- Automated recognition of target objects requires a reference database: the species and objects used to create the algorithm determine the universe of species and objects the system will then be able to identify.
In India, indigenous youths are filming their own forests and communities by Shreya Dasgupta [12/27/2018]
- Tallo Anthony, from the project’s first batch, has been one of the most successful participants, winning several awards.
- The project strives to empower people living in remote areas of India’s northeast region, who don’t have access to technology and can’t afford to but are interested in and committed to using video as a tool for conservation.
- Greenhub also encourages women to participate, with two out of 20 seats in every batch reserved for women, and more female candidates welcome.
Two Indian tribes help reconstruct a forest’s history, in war and in peace by Shreya Dasgupta [12/24/2018]
- By interviewing more than 200 community members, most of them from the Bugun and Shertukpen tribes living near Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh state, the duo have created an 86-page book and a web repository called “The Eaglenest Memory Project” containing illustrations and notes based on the tribes’ recollections.
- The team pieced together the tribes’ memories into five main themes, including how they remember Eaglenest during and after the 1962 India-China war, the annual migration of the Shertukpen tribes through Eaglenest to Assam state, and how the Dalai Lama’s visit changed hunting practices among the Buguns.
Bird business: The man who taught his tribe to profit from conservation by Shreya Dasgupta [12/18/2018]
- When astronomer-turned-ecologist Ramana Athreya approached the Buguns in 2003 with an idea for a community bird ecotourism venture, Indi agreed to give it a go, taking on the management of the business over the next few years.
- Today, the bird tourism venture is profitable and has sparked other conservation initiatives on the Bugun community lands.
From a new bird to a new community reserve: India’s tribe sets example by Shreya Dasgupta [12/13/2018]
- In 2013, the idea to protect the Bugun liocichla’s home took a more definitive shape, culminating in a community reserve. The reserve was formally created in 2017 after several rounds of discussions between the Buguns, researchers working in the area, and the local forest department.
- Today, the community reserve is more effectively patrolled by a Bugun team than the sanctuary it abuts.
- A few teething troubles remain to be worked out, but the researchers hope to streamline the running of the reserve in the coming years, so that the community takes center stage in the reserve’s management, while others step back.
Graphic video reveals brutality of pangolin poaching in northeast India by Mongabay.com [12/07/2018]
- An undercover video shot during the course of the research could prove to be a deterrent in and of itself, as it shows just how vicious and inhumane the pangolin trade can be.
- Interventions to reduce poverty and promote alternative livelihoods are certainly necessary, the researchers write in the study, but they argue that these measures alone would likely be ineffective in reducing pangolin hunting.
Photos: Indian tribe revives heirloom seeds for health and climate security by Sonali Prasad [11/30/2018]
- With the region in an agrarian crisis due to recurrent droughts and erratic rainfall, the tribe is on a mission to return to its farming roots and resuscitate long-lost heirloom crops.
- The tribe hopes the effort will help it overcome malnutrition and climate distress.
- Journalist Sonali Prasad and photographer Indrajeet Rajkhowa captured a glimpse of this effort for Mongabay.
In pursuit of the rare bird that vanishes for half the year by Abhaya Raj Joshi [11/27/2018]
- Researchers in India and Nepal combined field surveys, satellite telemetry and remote sensing to model the distribution and assess the critically endangered bird’s movements, survival and home ranges.
- After years of not knowing the birds’ non-breeding whereabouts, the study found that Bengal floricans leave their protected, seasonally flooded breeding areas in favor of unprotected low-intensity agricultural fields and other upland grasslands during their non-breeding season.
Invisible plant-enemy interactions drive diversity in forest fragments by Shreya Dasgupta [11/07/2018]
- When the natural enemies were knocked off, the diversity of seedlings inside forest fragments reduced drastically, while diversity closer to the edge did not change much. This suggests that the effect of fungi and insects in maintaining plant diversity could be weakening at forest edges.
- The study hints at how cryptic plant-enemy interactions are important considerations when thinking about conservation of plant communities in fragmented forests.
AI simplifies statewide study of leopards in south India by Vasudevan Sridharan [11/05/2018]
- The researchers’ use of machine-learning algorithms significantly reduced the workload needed to identify 363 individual leopards from the sample’s 1.5 million camera-trap images. The figure indicates there are an estimated 2,500 leopards living in Karnataka.
- Although a forest department official said the state was unlikely to expand its protected forests in the foreseeable future, the researchers said such a policy was necessary for leopard conservation, stressing that the proximity of natural landscapes to agricultural fields allows leopards to use those unprotected areas.
Is northern India better prepared for air pollution this winter? by Mayank Aggarwal [10/31/2018]
- Following criticism from courts and orders to devise comprehensive plans, India’s environment ministry and state governments, including those of Delhi and nearby regions, have formulated plans to tackle air pollution.
- They include satellite-based air pollution monitoring to check burning of crop residue in the winter, and strengthening of monitoring pollution from vehicles, among others.
- But some environmentalists feel that more needs to be done to curb the air pollution.
Machine-learning app to fight invasive crop pest in Africa by Stephanie Parker [10/26/2018]
- The fall armyworm, an invasive pest of over 80 plant species, is native to the Americas but reached Africa in early 2016 and has wreaked havoc on their maize, threatening food security.
- The add-on, called Nuru, identifies leaf damage in photos taken by farmers and sends information to authorities to help monitor the presence of the pest.
- Detecting the pest quickly can help reduce unnecessary pesticide use that can damage human and ecosystem health.
In a rhino stronghold, indigenous wood-carvers cut through stereotypes by Bikash Kumar Bhattacharya [10/10/2018]
- Small, locally owned workshops face competition from big-city businesses who control prime retail locations and can undercut their prices.
- Carving a fast-growing local wood by hand, sculptors say theirs is a green craft, and should be promoted and supported by the government.
Hot pink swamp eel discovered in Indian rainforest by Mongabay.com [10/09/2018]
- The biologists found only a single specimen living in mud near a rainforest stream.
- Like other swamp eels, Monopterus rongsaw lives terrestrially, is blind, and has sharp teeth.
- There are some 25 species are known to science worldwide.
As India’s Ganges runs out of water, a potential food shortage looms by Sahana Ghosh [09/17/2018]
- The dwindling of the river’s water flow could severely affect the availability of water for surface water irrigation, with potential declines in food production in the future.
- The low river flows could also prevent effective dilution of pollutants in the Ganges, which is already one of the most contaminated transboundary rivers in the world, the researchers say.
Tech goes back to basics to mitigate human-wildlife conflict near Indian parks by Moushumi Basu [08/31/2018]
- Such damages can lead to retaliatory killing ofanimals, whereas compensation can help foster tolerance of wildlife even in densely populated regions.
- The mobile technology used by the Wild Seve project speeds the compensation processes using a toll-free hotline that records the victim’s voice message with details of the incident and routes it to a field coordinator, who sends local trained responders to meet with the complainant within 24 hours.
Will protecting half the Earth save biodiversity? Depends which half by Shreya Dasgupta [08/30/2018]
- Researchers say it’s important to not be seduced by the idea of protecting areas simply because they’re big and politically easier to protect, but instead to prioritize areas because they’re special and/or have key species in them.
- The study also revealed a surprising trend: existing protected areas around the world are good at covering at least some of the range of most of the world’s birds, mammals and amphibians.
For India’s black-necked cranes, dogs are a major threat by Athar Parvaiz [08/28/2018]
- Recent surveys have found feral dogs responsible for driving down the bird’s population by eating its eggs and chicks.
- The forest department’s dog-sterilization efforts have not had any impact so far, officials say.