India nature

Articles in ‘India nature’

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.

Giraffes in Imperial China

August 24th, 2009

In the early 15th century China, briefly, set out to explore the world. Emperor Yongle sponsored a series of seven naval expeditions  to impose imperial control over trade, and impress foreign peoples in the Indian Ocean basin. These expeditions were commanded by admiral in the Imperial Chinese navy, Zheng He. On one expedition, Zheng acquired a giraffe in the kingdom of Bengal, which had been a gift from an East African ruler. The giraffe was sent to the Chinese court, where it was welcomed as a unicorn, an extremely aupiscious gift. He also arranged with the Indian court for another giraffe to be sent from Aficia (Somalia).

A pair of giraffes in Beijing in 1415 was well worth the cost of the expedition. In China they thought the giraffe (despite its having one horn too many) was a unicorn (ch’i-lin), whose arrival, according to Confucian tradition, meant that a sage of the utmost wisdom and benevolence was in their presence. Zheng meanwhile sailed to the East African nation of Somalia, where he obtained lions, leopards, ostriches, zebras, and other animals, which were viewed with amazement in China. Execellent article here

The African unicorn inspired a number of court poems and paintings. The above work was painted by Shen Du (1357-1434), who was a poet, painter, calligrapher, and a favorite of the Yongle emperor. The Chinese called the giraffe a qilin (ch’i-lin), an auspicious mythical animal. Shen Du also composed the following poem about the giraffe:

In the corner of the western seas, in the stagnant waters of a great morass,
Truly was produced a qilin (ch’i-lin), whose shape was as high as fifteen feet.
With the body of a deer and the tail of an ox, and a fleshy, boneless horn,
With luminous spots like a red cloud or purple mist.
Its hoofs do not tread on living beings and in its wanderings it carefully selects its ground.
It walks in stately fashion and in its every motion it observes a rhythm,
Its harmonious voice sounds like a bell or a musical tube.
Gentle is this animal, that has in antiquity been seen but once,
The manifestation of its divine spirit rises up to heaven’s abode. Here

I love the way the poem describes the giraffe’s gait

Its hoofs do not tread on living beings and in its wanderings it carefully selects its ground.
It walks in stately fashion and in its every motion it observes a rhythm,

Recommended books

When China Ruled the Seas: The Treasure Fleet of the Dragon Throne, 1405-1433 Taking the maritime story as its main theme, this book presents a fascinating picture of political and court life during the first several reigns of the Ming

Note: A rather nice children’s story tells the tale of imperial giraffes: Chee-Lin: A Giraffe’s Journey

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

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.

New attitudes to snakes in India

July 29th, 2009

The sight of a snake charmer is part of picturesque India.  But behind the mysticism the reality is toothless snakes with sewn up mouths.  The saperas (the charmers) are especially active around the Hindu snake festival of Nagpanchami, when traditionally thousands of snakes have been trapped, mutilated and brought into the cities for veneration, the operation rounded off by the trading of snake skins.  But awareness campaigns mean that traditions are changing. Read the rest of this entry

Rhino poaching rife

July 26th, 2009 Rhino poaching in both in Africa and Asia has risen to a 15-year-high driven by Asian demand for horns, according to new research. An estimated two to three animals are being killed a week in some areas. “An estimated three rhinos were illegally killed each month in all of Africa from 2000-05, out of a population of around 18,000. In contrast, 12 rhinoceroses now are being poached each month in South Africa and Zimbabwe alone, the three groups told the 58th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Standing Committee this week in Geneva.” The problem is not restricted to Africa “About 10 rhinos have been poached in India and at least seven in Nepal since January alone” Science Daily See also

New lizard found in India

July 24th, 2009 Biologists have discovered a new species of lizard in the lush forests of the Western Ghats mountain range in Maharashtra, India. The small reptile is a sepcies of gecko and was found by taxonomist Varad Giri. It has been named Cnemasspis kolhapurensis. BBC