Friday, June 29, 2012

On the tiger's trail in Goa.

Mornings arrive with it charismatic sambar calls and smells…a distant streak of light symbolizes the presence of the Sun God, that is yet to rise eastward of my position today. I could see a dense layer of cumulus clouds too stretching as far as the eye could see almost drawing a white sheet over the Mhadei valley. I watch with awe a crested serpent eagle scout the landscape by using the early morning thermals as even as I lift camp and move on for the day.
I intend to scout a dense primary forest patch today accompanied by Namdev, not with a particular agenda in mind, but to familiarize myself with this side of the wilds. Without much ado we set out, backpack laden with gadgets and goodies, and rainwear, just in case the Rain Gods decided to bless our beings.
Walking through one of Goa’s wildlife sanctuaries, the Mahdei is like literally living out of a dream…dark mystic forests, gushing clear waters of this Mother river, hidden trails marked by Gaur and Sloth bears and an verdant green tree canopy that is alive with who’s who of the bird world-hornbills, woodpeckers and paradise flycatchers to name a few! I caress the meter long buttress of a dipterocarp and am awed in its presence. Trees like these are ancient symbols of the Western Ghats forests and need to be revered I tell my self for their contribution to the ecosystems of which we too are a part.
I move on and a wisp of fresh air gives solace to my mind and legs, until I pick up a distinctive scent that whips me off my romantic self. My next few steps are taken unknowingly as I come face to face to a tell tale sign of one of India’s most revered and charismatic mammals on a wet earthy path created by a flowing stream. I kneel down in veneration and astonishment and pronounce my thoughts aloud- Sher Khan has returned. Yes, the Indian tiger has returned to its forests in the Mhadei valley. And this time he is going to stay.
The tiger has been revered in Goa since time immemorial. With places like Vagheri in Keri, Vagurmen near Ponda and Vagona in Canacona to name a few and with a strong presence in folk literature and songs this large feline also finds a place in the temples of the Goa including the Shantadurga temple of Vaghurme, the Ravalnath temple of mauxi in Sattari and the Paik Dev temple of Cortali Sanguem . In fact, the local folk deity of Vagro Dev or Vageshwar like the one in Bicholim is worshipped with veneration by one and all and is a unique example of human-nature relationship.
I have been following the trail of the tiger for a decade now, under the guidance of Shri Rajendra Kerkar in Goa and earlier as a volunteer with the Center for Wildlife Studies in Bangalore. Having participated in Censuses, camera trapping and scat collection surveys prior to choosing herpetology as a career, I have always been in awe of the lord of the jungle and have still not completely come full circle.
The trail has led me past the Mhadei WLS in areas like Surla, Hivre, Charavne, Anjunem reservoir and Ponsuli forests (where sightings and prey kills have been reported by Dhangars) through the Mollem National Park where pugmarks have accounted the presence of this large cats during past wildlife censuses and also reported by field staff from time to time. In Netravali WLS, it is another story. The locals have sighted the majestic feline and also reported cattle and Gaur kills in the past one year in areas ranging from Nrtravali, Salgini and Verle to name a few. In Cotigao WLS again the Forest Department field staff have accounted for the presence of this large cat in areas like Ravan Dongar and forests around Kuske while news from reserved forests in Quepem too needs thorough investigation.
At this stage, I must admit that I am not a large cat biologist and my interest lies only in the primary fact that Goa’s tigers need habitat and individual protection. The sensational killing of a tiger in Keri village of Sattari a few years ago has exposed the vulnerability of this national animal and steps taken towards creating awareness amongst people in areas that overlap with our prime tiger habitats is the need of the hour.
That the contiguous Protected areas network of Maharashtra-Goa-Karnataka that include Dodmarg forests, all of Goa’s wildlife sanctuaries and the Anshi tiger reserve areas have been acknowledged as a Tiger Conservation Unit (Mark II) by WWF International is a fact that cannot be ignored as is the demand by various conservation bodies, ecologists and wildlife activists to declare this region as an inter state Tiger reserve.
Several National Reports and Panel recommendations specifically state these areas need scientific study and that an enhanced amount of protection and restoration of prey base can easily sustain a breeding population of large cats in the region. The National Tiger Conservation Authority and the Western Ghats panel have also noted the facts that this is now tiger country.
We do have a long way to go…and the trail has just started…but the pugmarks are as clear as the writing on the wall and repeated sightings suggest that the tiger has finally returned home to Goa to stay. With Vagheri peak in sight and a silent prayer I hope this majestic cat gets the support and respect it deserved from us Goans for its survival. Keep the faith.
By- Nirmal U Kulkarni.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


The 2nd Castle Rock- Kuveshi Herpetofauna Expedition 2012.
This will be the first of its kind expedition to the region and will help establish a foundation for further work in the area.
A high altitude mixed moist deciduous and semi evergreen region, with altitudes ranging from 517- 800 msl, the forests around Castle Rock and Kuveshi village are a wildlifers paradise and a researcher’s dream area to work in.
 Our base is at Kuveshi village, a small hamlet situated in the heart of rainforests and 12 kilometers away from Castle Rock. The motor able dirt track that leads to Kuveshi passes through some of the most exquisite forests of the region and includes a criss cross network of streams and rivulets that meander through these forests.
The Herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians) in this region have escaped serious documentation for a while. Basic checklists include the presence of the King cobra, Indian Rock Python, Hump nosed and Malabar Pit vipers, Draco and Indian Monitor lizard, Malabar gliding frog and Maharashtra Bush frog amongst others.
The fabled Dudhsagar falls are located in tranquil dense tropical forest criss-crossed with small streams which all merge into the Dudhsagar falls. These streams are a haven for herpetofauna and will be our focus for documentation.
The Base
The research base at Kuveshi is named Hypnale after the Latin name of the Hump nosed pit viper (Hypnale hypnale). The forest that surrounds the villages of Castle Rock and Kuveshi are the type locality of this species that is endemic to the forests of South India and Sri Lanka. The research station is a part of the Wildlife Research Station network that we are trying to establish across the Northern Western Ghats of India and is focused towards study of lesser-known fauna in the region.

Climate- Medium to heavy showers with windy weather.
Temperature- 18 degrees Celsius to 28 degrees Celsius.
Humidity- 80 percent and above.

The Trip will include opportunistic surveys, stream surveys and in situ photography of Western Ghats herpetofauna and other aspects of biodiversity.
Field identification of reptiles and amphibians, training on field survey techniques and discussion of natural history will also be a part of the program.
Participants will also get to use field equipment, learn basic observation and field skills and work alongside qualified researchers in the field.

a.    Photo documentation and observation of endemic and endangered herpetofauna.
b.    Small treks and stream walks in pristine rainforest eco systems.
c.    Learning from field ecologists and use of field equipment.
And much more…

DATES- 7th July 2012 TO 8th July  (7.00 am departure from Panjim on 7th July and reaching on 8th July at 6.00 pm at Panjim)
CONTRIBUTION FEES- Rs 2200/- per participant  (this includes all meals and snacks, usage of equipment, resource person fees and transportation from Panjim to Hypnale base station at Kuveshi and back.)



AGE GROUP- 16 years to 60 years. (Participants have to be physically fit and prepared for the monsoons)

Essentials for the workshop.
1.    Fast drying earth colored field clothes.
2.    Good walking shoes fit for rough terrain.
3.    Leech Socks (if don’t have a pair, buy one from us.)
4.    Rain wear (it really pours)
5.    Field Note Pad and Pen/pencil.
6.    Back pack for field.
7.    Water bottle or container for Field.
8.    Camera.
9.     Sleeping bag.
10. Personal identification papers (Car License or Election card)

Please note-
1.    There is very little cell phone coverage in the areas where the expedition will travel. Please note the same.
2.    Alcohol consumption is not allowed at any point of time during the expedition. This is not a picnic.
3.    Please carry personal identification papers i.e. Election card or Driving license for the expedition.
4.    The success of this expedition will depend on time management, discipline and ethical wildlife protocol. Please stick to the guidelines and suggestions of the Team Leader.
5.    The expedition will operate in rainy and strong windy areas. Please note that electronic equipment and other personal belongings are protected against the elements.
6.    HERPACTIVE or its Team Leaders and service providers will not responsible for the loss of equipment or belongings.
7.    Medical emergencies and health issues will be given priority and changes in itinerary due to such reasons will be at the discretion of the Team Leader.
8.    The Team Leader reserves the right to shorten/call off the expedition in event of concerns for the security/health/climate/accident and any such eventuality that may put life at risk for the team.


My Goa magazine covers my work

Saturday, June 16, 2012

 Dear all,The Rains are here and it time to head to the field for surveys, nature walks and wildlife outings. This also means the emergence of leeches, forest species of mosquitoes and other insects that can be worrisome especially in south India forests.
We work with a self-help group that has created an effective and simple design of a pair of LEECH SOCKS that protect your feet from leeches whilst in the field. Alternatively they can be used as TICK SOCKS’ in the in the summers.
Worn over field trousers, they prevent unnecessary leech and mosquito bites. They are a free size design and hence can be used by anybody from children to adults and by trekkers, field naturalists and researchers alike.
I have used them in the field and find them really practical and useful.They are available for a cost of Rs 220/- per pair.
 Do email me on if anybody is interested in the same.

Amphibians in decline- the national and state scenario.
The Save our Frogs Campaign in Goa is gathering momentum with support from all quarters and while nature lovers ecologists and concerned citizens are joining hands with the Goa Forest Department to create awareness and conserve Indian Bull frogs in particular and all other frog species in general.
It is however important to look at the national scenario too so that we realize the seriousness of the issues at hand concerning Amphibian diversity and about the declining amphibian populations that are now in dire straits.
According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened species, at least 1,856 amphibian species are threatened with extinction, representing 32 percent of all known species worldwide

Scientists fear that more than 50 amphibian species worldwide have already become extinct over the last 15 years alone, which includes over 18 species from South Asia
alone. This high rate of decline of amphibian species across the world provides an indicator for the health of natural ecosystems in all regions and is a cause of concern.

Currently there are approx 427 species that are considered Critically Endangered (CR), 761 are Endangered (EN), and 668 species are Vulnerable (VU) worldwide. In India an Assessment of Amphibians under the Conservation Assessment and Management Plan (CAMP) workshop conducted by Biodiversity Conservation Prioritization Project, India has listed 32 species as Critically Endangered, 71 species as Endangered, 52 species as Vulnerable and 9 species as Near Threatened species. Over 63 species were listed as Data deficient as no research data was available on them.

While 63 percent of Indian amphibians are endemic to India, i.e. found only in the country 37 percent are considered non-endemics and are found across the world besides the country. The Western Ghats is considered as one of the richest areas of endemism as far as amphibian diversity is concerned followed by North East India and Sri Lanka. Goa’s forests are part of the Western Ghats landscape and the need of the hour is to conserve and protect these forests for amphibian conservation.

Threats for amphibian species in India include habitat destruction, fragmentation, and agricultural practices like shifting cultivation, pollution, pesticides and human consumption for meat. The laws that protect amphibian populations include the Wildlife Protection Act, the Biodiversity Act and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act besides others.

The Jerdon’s Bullfrog, poached for its meat in Goa is listed as Near Threatened while the Indian Bull frog, another victim of large-scale hunting is listed as Vulnerable. The Malabar Gliding Frog, an endemic species of South Asia found in Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary and the Mollem National Park is listed as a Near Threatened species. Amongst other species found in Goa the Beddome’s Leaping frog is listed as Vulnerable while the Jerdon’s Narrow mouthed frog is listed as Near Threatened on a global scale.

The need to intensify policing as well as create awareness amongst the masses of the state as well as national scenario with regards to declining amphibian populations is the need of the hour. It is now a known fact that these lesser known life forms play an important role in every ecosystem and are key indicators of monsoonal patterns, climate change and habitat quality besides a host of other dynamics that influence our environment. It is important that we thus aware that our survival depends on their survival and this is the only way forward.

Nirmal U Kulkarni

the team at Lama Camp, Eaglesnest WLS Arunachal Pradesh

Monday, June 11, 2012

Dear all,
A Save the Bull Frog poster was released at a simple function by renowned herpetologist Romulus Whitaker at the Swapnagandha Resort at Chorla Ghats. Shri Rajendra Kerkar, Goan environmentalist and Shri Gerry Martin, herpetologist of The Gerry Martin Project were also present on the occasion along with volunteers, research students and amphibian enthusiasts.
The poster has been conceptualized by Nirmal Kulkarni, a Goan herpetologist and promoter of Herpactive in co ordination with the Mhadei Research Center and aims to raise awareness on the Indian Bull Frog. It is meant for free distribution in schools, educational institutions, panchayats and other public spaces
The Mhadei Research Center has been established to provide a platform for wildlife researchers to document and study the biodiversity of the Mhadei Bio region that encompasses the states of Goa, Karnataka and Maharashtra. It is also part of the Indian Rainforest Research Station network and is in the forefront of herpetofauna research in the region.
Herpactive is an initiative by Nirmal Kulkarni, herpetologist and wildlife photographer to create awareness and instill appreciation for Herpetofauna (reptiles and amphibians) of Goa in particular and the country in general.
Herpactive promotes the science of field herpetology by conducting walks, surveys, training workshops and field technique sessions for budding herp- enthusiasts as well as serious students of mainstream science.
This Poster has been sponsored by BMX Charities Toronto trust ( St Brittos- St Mary’s and St Xaviers alumni trust) Canada and is aimed at spreading awareness amongst youth as well as adults in the state. It has important phone numbers of the Goa Forest Department, facts of Bull frogs and steps to conserve local populations.
It has been designed by Akanksha Ashutosh and has images by Sachin Rai and Ajith Unnikrishnan in it.
We need support for distribution of these posters across the state of Goa and do let us know if anyone can help. Contact for details.
Nirmal Kulkarni.