Sunday, November 30, 2008

Human -leopard conflict in Goa

I toured Chandor and the surrounding areas a few days ago without revealing my identity…not in search of secondary evidence of the presence of leopards which includes scats, animal lifting incidences, etc but to ascertain facts about the awareness that exists amongst the residents of this area of the Indian leopard,(Panthera pardus) , and came back stunned and disturbed to say the least.
To most the leopards that were sighted were a nuisance that needed to be silenced and thought it was the duty of either the Forest Dept or the Police Dept to do so, while to some, it was a matter of time when they would themselves do the needful as one local resident put it. A small minority, especially the youth, however agreed that the animals needed to be relocated as has been done in the past in some parts of Goa, and well, no body that I met, concurred that the Indian leopard has conventionally been a species of fringe forests not only in the state but also our country at that and should continue to share the greater landscape with humans.
I know my opinion that we have to share our landscape with “fierce” predators like the Indian leopard would be met with strong resistance from many a Goan voice, but let us accept this fact- leopards have been and are still a part of our landscapes all across the hinterlands and trapping and relocating them would only aggravate the problem rather than solving it as far as sound wildlife science norms are concerned. We need to realize that loss of prey species coupled with shrinkage of corridors and forest habitats leaves little choice for this master of adaptation to resort to eking out an existence on livestock- and as areas get opened sightings increase causing panic amongst the people at large.
Today it is Chandor, tomorrow it will be Bicholim and Pernem, Ponda and parts of Sattari too. As researchers we know that these areas have sizeable populations of leopards that inhabit disturbed forests. We know and have been repeatedly ascertaining that conflict situations in areas like these can be the order of the day and the Government needs to take steps to consult experts dealing with human-leopard conflict issues before it is too late. We also know that the Indian leopard is now a Schedule 1 animal under the Wildlife Protection act and is an endangered mammal in the country. Every year leopard numbers are dwindling throughout the country due to which it has recently been included in the IUCN Red Data category as a Near Threatened species. While the actual numbers are not available, rough estimates by conservationists peg them at between 7,000- 15,000 in the country. In Goa, the magic figure varies from 21-41 but in my personal opinion, these are all estimates and there needs to be a proper census count which documents actual numbers not only in every Protected Forest but even outside protected areas. This is essential to understand the biology of the animals and their preference for local forest habitat amongst other aspects, and would provide wildlife personnel enough details to plan strategies to reduce the conflicts if not stop them.
I realized that the people at large need to be made to understand too that that haphazard trapping any leopard in conflict areas is not going to solve the problem and would in fact backfire as vacant territories will be taken over by the floater population of leopards. This would increase the conflict solutions rather than solving it. That the media has a vital role to play here in educating the public about the way to deal with conflict situations like these in coordination with the Forest Department ahs long been the need of the hour and has not even been attempted till date. And cant the Information and Publicity department of the Government come out with a series of posters on man- animal conflicts including leopards, elephants, monkeys and snakes, etc and educate the public of the causes, the precautions to be taken and the authorities to be contacted, etc to address this issue. Or is it that all and sundry are merely interested in waiting and watching the image of a majestic animal get tarnished as a nuisance just because some individual leopard sightings?
Yes, not all leopards are problem animals. Identification and scientific monitoring is the need of the hour at a local level as well as at the State level, which brings us to another issue- that a team of national wildlife experts and researchers needs to be urgently formed to address the issue for human animal conflicts in the state for providing technical, ecological and logical long term solutions for man-leopard conflicts.
It is high time fellow Goans that we as citizens understand that disturbance to habitats, especially forests would give rise a myriad of conflict issues of which this the human leopard conflict is an example and the need of the hour is to help conserve this large cat by applying sound principles of science and experiences of the past to reach to a solution. Silencing an individual leopard or in simple terms killing it as someone put it would never solve the problem…it would be a crime.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Whitaker's earth boa

The whitaker's earth boa ( E whitakeri) is a favorite species, more so as this snake is found almost in all of our habitats, from the coastal beaches to dense forests, and is harmless in nature. This close up shot was taken in Chorla, where we found this individual in an earth cutting in the evening.
A sub adult like this individual has excellent markings which is why many mistake it for a russells viper or even a python!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

the brahmniy skink

one of our more commonly found skinks,the brahminy skink (Mabuya carinata) is found in the swapnagandha area and some large specimens are a treat to watch and photograpgh.this individual was foraging in the leaf litter and i was fortunate to observe it for almost an hour,before it slid away under a boulder. Skinks are indicators of good healthy ecosystems and are an important link in the forest ecosystem too.

face to face with a green vine snake

the Green vine snake is by far the most commonly sighted snake by us herp guys in the wilds and yet, every time i see an individual I am not only fascinated but intrigued by this species. A good eyesight with what some say a binoculor like vision, a master at camoflauge and an amazing

rear fanged apparatus, this species is a made for the wilds. this sub adult had adapted the wait and watch approach for prey until it saw me, and yes, looked at me straight in the eye!

And well, thank God that pecking in the eye myth has by far been abolished and laid to rest, or else this image would have been considered as a proof by many a Goan. One of my favourite species the Green Vine snake is often misunderstood by many to borea hole in the head etc etc and is wantonly killed. the need of the hour is to create awareness especially amongst the younger generation and help conserve herpetofauna in the state as well as the country.

Sometimes the sihouttes and shadows are cast in the air than the ground and well it does inspir

e us human beings to look up and gaze un awe! althoughi do not have the best of equipment to shoot birds, and espcially raptors, yes those kinights of the skies...i could not resist the temptation and tried giving my best shot for this Crested serrpent eagle...the location was of course the swapnagandha valley in the Chorla Ghats.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wildlife crime- a cause of concern.
An incident of a recent raid and recovery of wild pig meat at Karapur, Bicholim has once again raised questions about the continued illegal trade and consumption of wild meat and is a reminder that the illegal trade in wild life is still alive in most parts of the state despite a ban under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.
That a large number of such instances of trade in wild meat and animal parts, endangered plants, live animals as pets, trophies, etc go unnoticed is a bare fact and needs to be taken seriously by our law enforcement agencies including the Goa Forest Department, the Goa Police and the Food and Drugs Department too!
We need to now accept the reality that this is an organized and yet decentralized trade with a few key players involved in every taluka of Goa who maybe part of a network that ensures continuous supply of wild animals in illegal trade including wild pig, sambar, crocodiles, porcupine, barking deer, mouse deer, etc not only to the rich and famous but to certain commercial establishments as well by channels that need to be detected and crushed before it becomes too late.
Let’s face it. Poaching still goes unabated in most of our protected areas, and while levels vary according to the commitment and zeal of local field staff, it is the sheer inadequateness of logistical support and manpower that takes it toll on our men in the forests, i.e. the field staff of the Forest Department. And whilst an intelligence network is negligible in areas like Mahdei wildlife sanctuary and Netravali wildlife sanctuary to report and inform of incidents related to any type of wildlife crime, it is the sheer gap of communication between officers in uniform and the masses that is of concern- as rarely does one find anyone report wildlife related crimes to either the Police or the Forest Department.
There is thus an urgent need to address this issue in a two fold manner. Firstly, the long pending demand of establishing a separate Wildlife Crime cell on the basis of the Narcotics cell of the Police Department needs to be addressed at a Policy level and implemented at the earliest. We as a state need to realize that we are custodians of a rich biodiversity that includes coastal habitats, mangrove habitats, the Western Ghats and scores of flora and fauna that inhabit them, many of which have a price in the local as well as international black market of wildlife trade. The only way to monitor and protect this diversity is to create a dedicated team of trained professionals for dealing with wildlife crimes and having experts for detection, testing, law and above all prevention and awareness creation about the issue. This will not only curb matters related to wildlife poaching for consumption and trade but will also help curtail trade in illegal animal parts from peacock feathers to monitor skins and more. In fact it is also the need of the hour for the State Police force to realize that wildlife crime gets related to the narcotics and arms trade sooner or later as the linkages have long been established in neighboring states of Karnataka and Maharashtra. That this issue of every Tom Dick and Harry possessing country made guns and crude bombs, establishing camps for the purpose of poaching in the hinterlands and trading in wildlife parts in an organized nexus is a serious law and order issue, which need attention of the top brass on an urgent level.
Secondly, appointments of Honorary Wildlife Wardens is now essential as these individuals, often chosen due to their work in conservation as well as with the people are apt at performing the role of the eyes and ears of the official agencies. They will not only act as grassroots conservationists but will convey the role of the Forest Department as a custodian of our forests to the masses in a better way than official agencies. Without common people to support and inform, believe me, the cause of wildlife conservation is a lost cause. The need to chose nature lovers from the masses itself and empower them with powers under the Wildlife Protection Act by appointing them as Honorary Wildlife Wardens is necessary if we have to create awareness and protect our wildlife from the illegal wildlife trade.
And lastly, we as a people also need to realize that the illegal wildlife trade flourishes because there is a demand from us, yes us. As the popular saying goes, “when the buying stops, the killing will too!” We need to understand that the rapidly depleting numbers of endangered species, both plant and animal will have a direct impact on our ecosystems as well as our own race, a fact that is as bare as can be. Being aware and conscious of our duty to protect our wildlife and its habitats is as crucial as being vigilant and reporting instances of wildlife crime to authorities in the state. Together, with our official agencies and our support, we will have to curb wildlife crime and its related perils from affecting our state’s rich biodiversity. Keep the faith.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

International Union for Conservation of Nature launches RED DATA List for 2008.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has launched its Red Data List of 2008 on the 10th of Oct 2008 and includes amongst other, a total of 49 species of Indian mammals that have been incorporated as those facing extreme levels of danger from problems ranging from poaching, habitat destruction and alteration and pollution.
The systematic list includes over 124 Indian mammals that have placed under various categories of which 10 have been included as Critically Endangered, 39 species as Endangered, 48 species are Vulnerable for extinction and 29 species are showing sharp decline in population. Almost 16 species of mammals included in the list are from the Western Ghats of India which includes the protected areas and forests of Goa. The List includes mammals like the Tiger, leopard, Dhole (wild dog) and Sambar amongst other, all of which have a presence in the states forests.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species has been established as the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of plant and animal species and is based on an objective system of assessing the risk of extinction of a species. The species are thus listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable and are collectively known as Threatened.
The Red List of Threatened Species is compiled by some of the world’s leading scientists and the 2008 List has assessed almost 44,837 species of which over 38 percent have been acknowledged as Threatened under one or the other categories mentioned above.
The main objectives of the IUCN List are to identify and document those species most in need of conservation attention for reduction in global extinction rates and to provide a global index of state of change of biodiversity
Besides being a Wake Up call for Governments across the world, The Red Data list is also used by the scientific community and policy makers alike for conservation related issues and policy making.
The 2008 List is of great significance on a local level for the state of Goa as species like the Leopard (Panthera pardus) found in the state has been included as a Near Threatened species, while the Sambar ( Rusa unicolor) found across all our Protected areas has been included as a Vulnerable species besides other species. There is thus a need to for the State Government to identify and protect habitats of these species on a urgent basis and create awareness about their presence in the state as these species are not only a state or national treasure but part of a global heritage along with the forests they inhabit i.e. the Western Ghats. The Red List also acknowledges the fact that most of the land mammals identified are from the Western Ghats that have high rate of endemism and a rich biodiversity but are threatened due to various forms of human activity.
For more details log on to

some species of birds captivate the being and even thoh i dont click birds, nor have the right
equipment to do means a lot when a malabar pied hornbill flies just above ones head and settles barely a feet above the head, one has to clicke an image. this individual has been clicked near Bhai Kerkar's house in keri, sattari and a pair is often sighted in the is but natural to be in awe of such a majestic bird and i hope to see this one around for many more years to come...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Creating appreciation for lesser known life forms is now more than a hobby for is a cause and insects, reptiles and arcachnids feature mostly on my must see list every time i ramble into some forests either in the Western Ghats or in my backyard of nerul and betim near the coast of Goa. it is this journey and its various natural facets, of discovering smaller creatures with myriad hues and colors, shapes and habits that fascinate my being and continue to inspire me to freeze images of the biodiversity that we inherit from our older genration, and have to conserve for our future one. The need of the hour is to create appreciation for all life forms, big and small and bring about a change in one's way of thinking towards fellow creatures and their habitats. This will not only help us realize that we are a small part of the web of life but will also help us reach out to wildlife and their habitats that are today in grave danger of being altered or irreversibly destroyed in the name of development and economic progress.