Asia nature

Articles in ‘Asia nature’

The largest flower in the world – Rafflesia arnoldii

January 29th, 2011

The largest flower in the world, produced by Rafflesia arnoldii, is a rarity, whose every flowering is a special occasion, a crowd-pleaser.  It also draws pollinating carrion flies by emanating a smell of rotting meat.  The Rafflesia arnoldii grows only in the most pristine rainforests of Indonesia, reaching an astonishing 1 metre in diameter.  The five “petals” are thick flaps, rusty red and mottled with white, reminiscent of a toadstool. They surround a gaping crater inside which the reproductive organs are found.

A parasite, Rafflesia arnoldii has no leaves, stem or roots, or chlorophyll, so relies on a host plant for food.  Read the rest of this entry

Best camera-trap photo

November 29th, 2010

BBC Wildlife Magazine annual camera trap photo competition

The BBC Wildlife Magazine Camera-trap Photo of Year 2010 has been awarded to Malaysian photographer Mark Ryan Darmarai. The picture shows a tigress and her adolescent cub investigating his camera trap as part of a survey by the World Wildlife Fund Malaysia Tiger Conservation Programme More here

Lions being killed for Chinese medicine

October 20th, 2009 As wild tiger populations fall, poachers are turning to lions to feed the insatiable Chinese appetite for ‘potions’ made from big cat bones. Most at risk is the Asiatic lion found today only in the Gir Forest of India. Africa Conservation

World Press nature photos

October 1st, 2009

World Press Photo have just released on the Net its remarkable archive gallery some 10,000 images. The above photo of a snow leopard was taken by Steve Winter,  whose report here on snow leopards in Ladakh in the Indian Himalayas won the nature category in 2008. “A snow leopard walks a high mountain trail, photographed using a remotely operated camera trap. The camera recorded just a single image in five months.”

More nature reports from World Press Photo

Cheetah reintroduction plan in India

September 21st, 2009

A Mughal painting showing cheetahs hunting leopards

A Mughal painting showing cheetahs hunting leopards

An international meeting in India of cheetah experts and conservationists has agreed that the case for the reintroduction of the cheetah is  strong.

The plan, backed by the Indian government, is to bring the cheetah back to India and make it, as many wildlife experts say, the “flagship species” of the country’s grasslands, which today lack a prominent species on which to base conservation.

Seven sites in the four states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh have been shortlisted as potential homes for the cheetah. They will now be surveyed to ascertain the state of the habitat, the number of prey and prospects of man-animal conflicts. India would then import the animals from Africa, as the numbers of the Asiatic cheetah still surviving in Iran have fallen to less than 100. Genetic studies suggest that the similarities between the Iranian and African cheetah is “very close”.

Conservationists are split on the plan. Some say are concerned that if the the cheetah is brough back too quickly, they will end up being housed in semi-captive conditions in huge, secured open air zoos, but not free in the wild. They say without restoring habitat and prey base and the chances of a man-animal conflict, viable cheetah populations cannot be established. MK Ranjitsinh, chairman of the Wildlife Trust of India, says the plan is to release the cheetahs in the wild in designated open areas, after studying them thoroughly.

Reintroducing cheetahs in India has symbolic value. The first cheetahs to be bred in captivity were in India during Mughal rule. See also history of Cheetahs in India.

Books about Indian cheetahs

There are a couple of interesting histories on Indian cheetahs:

The Cheetah in India

This book presents a pictorial history of the cheetah in India from the pre-historic period to the present. It provides a comprehensive account of the cheetah in captivity and its use by Indian royalty as an aid to hunting. Divyabhanusinh examines anew the process of the Indian cheetah’s decline in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, charting its path to extinction and analysing the causes of its disappearance. The epilogue provides a complete update, including detailed findings on the evolution of cheetahs from Africa and Asia. It also gives fresh evidence about the sadly declining numbers of cheetahs in Iran, and their existence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The author mines a wide range of sources–from prehistoric cave paintings, Sanskrit, classical Greek and Roman literature to Mughal miniature paintings, rare photographs, and interviews. This third edition contains an updated preface on the current scenario for cheetahs in Asia. More here
Also worth reading though I’m not sure if it’s available is The End of a Trail: The Cheetah in India
This is a study of the cheetah, now extinct in India, through the ages of Indian history. The product of a decade of extensive research, this is the only work which traces the history and ecology of an animal species from the pre-historic period to recent times. Using a range of sources, from prehistoric cave paintings to oral testimony, it provides a comprehensive account of the animal’s interaction with man through the ages, charting its path to extinction and exploring the possibility of its reintroduction in India.

Photos of snow leopard in Afghanistan

August 31st, 2009

Snow Leopard

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) has released some great camera trap photos of snow leopards in the Sast Valley in Wakhan Corridor in  northeastern Afghanistan. The IUCN estimates that only 100-200 snow leopards still survive in Afghanistan. The aim of the survey is to eventually establish a new protected area. The region also contains the Pallas’s cat and the Altai weasel, both classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN. More on story here. Photo from here

See also: Snow leopard holidays

Asian wildlife news 2

August 21st, 2009

White-handed gibbons (Wikiepdia)

  • The growing prosperous middle class of Vietnam’s taste for exotic and local bushmeat is threatening species. Among the animals most seriously at risk for what is called “forest food” are the rhino, the white-handed gibbon and the civet. Independent
  • Tiger deaths continue at an alarming rate. Statistics collated from different parts of India show that
    in the first six months of the year, at least 66 tigers died. Of these, 23 died due to poaching. The list includes seizures of skins, bones, claws, skeletons, canines and paws by police and wildlife authorities during this period. The remaining 43 died of a variety of reasons such as infighting, old age, tiger-human conflict, accidents and disease, according to statistics provided by Wildlife Protection Society of India. Times of India
  • An initiative to transport lone Borneo rhinos to a secure central location – where they can interact with other rhinos – could mean hope for this extremely rare subspecies.
  • Police are searching for the culprits behind the beheading and skinning of a rare Siberian tiger at a zoo in central China, state media reported Sunday. Sun media

Himalayas threatened

August 10th, 2009

350 new species have been found in the Eastern Himalayas in the last 10 years according to a new report (Where Worlds Collide) by WWF, highlighting the need to protect further this still huge but ever shrinking wilderness. New species are being discovered at a rate of 35 a year including the miniature muntjac (Muntiacus putaoensis), also known as the leaf deer, the smallest species of deer in the world, and the Arunachal macaque (Macaca munzala above photo by Anindya Sinha) – the first monkey to be found since 1903. Threats to the Eastern Himalayas, divided between Nepal, Bhutan and parts of China, India, Bangladesh and Burma, include illegal logging, demand for land, poaching, pollution and climate change.

Mark Wright of the WWF notes:

“In the Eastern Himalayas we have a region of extraordinary beauty and with some of the most biologically rich areas on the planet. Ironically, it is also one of the regions most at risk from climate change, as evidenced by the rapid retreat of the glaciers, and only time will tell how well species will be able to adapt – if at all.”

See also

More soon on this

Worst ever crocodile attack

August 9th, 2009

The largest number of human deaths by an animal in a single attack may have occurred during the Battle of Ramree Island, on February 19, 1945, in Burma. Nine hundred Japanese soldiers attempted to retreat from a Royal Navy attack across ten miles of mangrove swamps inhabited by thousands of Saltwater Crocodiles. Twenty soldiers were later captured alive by the British, and almost five hundred escaped, but many of the remainder may have been eaten by the crocodiles, although it is impossible to know how many deaths can be directly attributed to the crocodiles instead of to combat-related causes or thirst. The hellish experience of the retreating soldiers was  compounded by huge numbers of scorpions and tropical mosquitoes.

The naturalist Bruce Wright, who was fighting with the British, claimed that the crocodiles attacked and ate numerous soldiers:

“That night was the most horrible that any member of the motor launch crews ever experienced. The scattered rifle shots in the pitch black swamp punctured by the screams of wounded men crushed in the jaws of huge reptiles, and the blurred worrying sound of spinning crocodiles made a cacophony of hell that has rarely been duplicated on earth. At dawn the vultures arrived to clean up what the crocodiles had left…Of about 1,000 Japanese soldiers that entered the swamps of Ramree, only about 20 were found alive.”
However, these claims are disputed as about, about 500 Japanese soldiers escaped from Ramree despite the intense blockade instituted to stop them. If Wright’s claim is true, however, the Ramree crocodile attacks would be the worst in recorded history.

Note: The Guinness Book of Records lists the Ramree crocodile attacks under the heading “The Greatest Disaster Suffered from Animals”.

  • Another candidate for the worst animal attack must go to a number of incidents involving whitetip sharks which attacked large numbers of helpless people after their ships were sunk during WWII. More here

Books about Crocodiles

To my knowledge there is only one book on the Ramree disaster which is a Japanese novel Dragon of the Mangroves (thanks to Ryan for putting me on to this).

There are also some very reputable guides to the world’s crocodiles. Pick of the bunch:

Crocodiles and Alligators of the World (Of the World) (More expensive)

Crocodiles and Alligators of the World provides a broad overview of all 22 species of crocodilians. Among the oldest surviving vertebrates on the planet – they have been around for approximately 200 million years – these reptiles have been depicted in many different roles in the literature and legends of cultures around the world. And while many people fear these strange creatures, crocodilians have captured the imaginations of human beings as few other animals have. An expert in the field, David Alderton describes the lifestyle, zoology, distribution, and conservation of crocodiles in this readable, highly informative volume. Their fascinating evolution, from the age of the dinosaurs to the present, is presented in detail. Despite their popular image as dangerous creatures, or perhaps because of it, many crocodile and alligator species are in danger of extinction. Yet, no crocodilian species has gone extinct in the time since humans became dominant on the planet, a testament to their resilience and adaptability. This comprehensive survey of crocodiles, alligators, and caimans provides a captivating introduction to what is known about crocodilians
Crocodile: Evolution’s greatest survivor (Cheaper)
This is the fascinating and extraordinary story of the crocodile, one of evolution’s greatest survivors.

See also

Should cheetahs be reintroduced in India?

August 3rd, 2009

Interesting article today in the The Times of India as to whether cheetah should be reintroduced there.

It says the idea  “should have had every wildlife lover leaping with joy…but marring this picture-perfect sight is the country’s poor record of big cat conservation.” Tigers are down to 1,400from 40,000 in 1900 and some experts believe the plan is a waste of resources. “”The meagre resources available should be spent on the protection of severely threatened wildlife,” says Ranjit Talwar, formerly with the tiger conservation cell of the World Wildlife Fund-India (WWF-India).”

But there are other reason behind the reintroduction ” M K Ranjitsinh, chairman of the Wildlife Trust of India, says “Conservation of grasslands, the cheetah’s habitat, is the main objective behind reintroducing the cat…Grasslands have been over-exploited in India, either for agriculture or grazing, resulting in severe degradation,…This would also help in the conservation of other endangered grassland fauna like the Great Indian Bustard.”

The cheetah is believed to have been extinct in India since the late 1940s

The plan would probably involve bringing cheetah from Africa rather than Iran the only country where the Asiatic cheetah still survives in the wild. Extinct in India, Cheetah may be imported (Times of India)

Wikipedia The Asiatic Cheetah (“cheetah” from Hindi ???? c?t?, from Sanskrit word chitraka meaning “speckled”) (Acinonyx jubatus venaticus) is now also known as the Iranian Cheetah, as the world’s last few are known to survive mostly in Iran. Although recently presumed to be extinct in India, it is also known as the Indian Cheetah. During British colonial times in India it was famous by the name of Hunting-Leopard, a name derived from the ones that were kept in captivity in large numbers by the Indian royalty to hunt wild antelopes with.

Hunting with cheetahs enjoyed a long tradition in India as this Mughal painting demontrates (bigger version here)

Akbar, Mughal emperor of India hunting with locally trapped Asiatic Cheetahs, c. 1602. He was said to have had 1,000 cheetahs at one time for assisting in his royal hunts. Trapping of large numbers of adult Indian cheetahs, who had already learned hunting skills from wild mothers, for assisting in royal hunts is said to be another major cause of the species rapid decline in India as they never bred in captivity with only one record of a litter ever. Wikipedia

Books about the history of cheetahs in India

There are a couple of fascainating books on Indian cheetahs and their history:

The Cheetah in India

This book presents a pictorial history of the cheetah in India from the pre-historic period to the present. It provides a comprehensive account of the cheetah in captivity and its use by Indian royalty as an aid to hunting. Divyabhanusinh examines anew the process of the Indian cheetah’s decline in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, charting its path to extinction and analysing the causes of its disappearance. The epilogue provides a complete update, including detailed findings on the evolution of cheetahs from Africa and Asia. It also gives fresh evidence about the sadly declining numbers of cheetahs in Iran, and their existence in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The author mines a wide range of sources–from prehistoric cave paintings, Sanskrit, classical Greek and Roman literature to Mughal miniature paintings, rare photographs, and interviews. This third edition contains an updated preface on the current scenario for cheetahs in Asia. More here
The End of a Trail: The Cheetah in India
This is a study of the cheetah, now extinct in India, through the ages of Indian history. The product of a decade of extensive research, this is the only work which traces the history and ecology of an animal species from the pre-historic period to recent times. Using a range of sources, from prehistoric cave paintings to oral testimony, it provides a comprehensive account of the animal’s interaction with man through the ages, charting its path to extinction and exploring the possibility of its reintroduction in India.