Friday, October 3, 2008

Concern over receding densities of Malabar Pit Vipers in parts of Mahdei Wildlife Sanctuary.
The Malabar Pit Viper (Trimeresurus malabaricus) is an endemic forest species of venomous snake documented in almost all the Protected areas of the state and is known to inhibit, mixed moist deciduous and wet semi evergreen forest ecosystems.
Being endemic to India, i.e. Found only in the country, there have been documented records of almost 6 color variations of this species in the Mahdei region ranging from green to blackish brown and yellow and almost all individuals sport the faint kidney shaped markings on the head region. A nocturnal species, the Malabar Pit viper is encountered in the day only during the monsoons and is known as a sit and watch predator, often lying in one position for hours until a potential prey is in striking distance. Possessing mild venom that causes pain and swelling, this species is capable of fast strikes and feeds on frogs, geckos, small rodents and birds.
The Mahdei Wildlife Sanctuary has been known to offer a favorable habitat for this species in the past but in the recent years, the density of this species in these forests is dropping at an alarming rate. The encounter ratio for this species in the wild has drastically reduced in the last three years, and field records, sightings by wildlife workers and locals, etc are on the decline even as herpetologists are baffled over the issue. With populations of this particular species showing a marked decrease in forest areas like Satre, Zarme, Surla, Hivre Khurd, Chorla Ghats, Coppardem, etc, there are indications that other potential areas too might have the same problem.
Having been documenting the Herpetofauna of the Mahdei Bio Region for almost a decade now, Nirmal Kulkarni, a herpetologist working in the field attributes this to various factors including loss and alteration of forest cover and conversion of forest land to monoculture plantations of Acacia and cashew, etc in several niche habitats of this species in the region.
Another factor that could have resulted in a steady decline of this species in certain areas like the Chorla Ghats include the hard release of other species of rescued snakes, particularly Russell’s vipers and Indian cobras, from urban areas as these species compete for the food base of the Malabar Pit viper and succeed in taking over the food chain, and as such steps to reduce this activity of release of rescued snakes from city habitats needs to be stopped on an urgent basis.
Besides which forest fires, road kills and erratic monsoon patterns could be factors that are influencing the fall in densities according to Nirmal Kulkarni who feels that there is an urgent need to undertake a survey of all endemic species of Herpetofauna in the Mahdei region and map the same along with threats to their habitats on an urgent basis as species like the Malabar Pit viper are flagship species of the Western Ghats and require conservation efforts on all fronts.
Nirmal Kulkarni appeals to the Wildlife Division of the Goa Forest Department to take urgent steps to conserve habitats of the Malabar Pit Viper and curb deforestation and alteration of habitats in the region, besides creating awareness for the conservation of this species.

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