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Despite ban, monal pheasant’s crest still makes it to caps in Kullu —

Monal pheasant (male)

Monal pheasant (male)

Even though hunting of Himalayan Monal pheasant (Lophophorus impejanus) is banned since 1982, there has been little check on poaching of the former state bird of Himachal Pradesh, a state of India. Bird’s crest feather is easily available and people of Kullu valley still use it to decorate their caps during festivals, marriages and big events.

Also known as the Impeyan monalImpeyan pheasant, the bird belongs to pheasant family. It is the national bird of Nepal, where it is known as the ‘danphe’, and the state bird of Uttrakhand (India). The scientific name – Lophophorus impejanus – was given to honour Lady Mary Impey, the wife of the British chief justice of Bengal Sir Elijah Impey.

The bird’s native range extends from Afghanistan through the Himalayas in Pakistan, Kashmir region, Nepal, southern Tibet, Bhutan and Indian states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttrakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. There is also a report of its occurrence in Burma.

Painting by Johann Zoffany (1733-1810) of the family of Chief Justice Elijah Impey and Mary Impey in Calcutta (India) in 1783_ Marian Impey (b. 1778) is shown dancing to Indian music

Painting by Johann Zoffany (1733-1810) of the family of Chief Justice Elijah Impey and Mary Impey in Calcutta (India) in 1783_ Marian Impey (b. 1778) is shown dancing to Indian music

Though the wildlife department claims that no case of monal poaching has been reported in the recent years, goldsmiths here continue to get orders from local residents to make ornaments for caps with monal crest. Such ornaments are available in houses mostly in villages. People give the crest to goldsmith who fits it with the gold or silver fixed on the cap.

Divisional forest officer (wildlife) Tilak Raj Sharma said using monal crest feather as ornament is illegal and punishable. “The department is doing everything possible to control poaching. No case of monal poaching has come into our notice for a long time,” he said.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a resident who has got two such caps said: “I got these caps made a few years back during the wedding of my son. This is our culture. The monal crest is fitted even to palanquins of our deities. This is auspicious and symbol of respect. We do not don the cap with crest all the time, but only during special occasion. The crest itself is rare and one has to pay a huge amount to get it. That’s why, it is decorated with gold or silver jewellery.”

Man in Pakistan wearing monal pheasant crest  in his cap

Man in Pakistan wearing monal pheasant crest in his cap

People wearing monal crest can be easily seen in a typical marriage in Kullu. “Generally people do not sell it. They keep it for themselves. It is precious and rare. Its main source can be poachers, but people generally do not know from where to get it. I received one fitted with silver from a goldsmith in the village,” another resident said.

Male monal, which is very colourful, has become endangered in some places in its range, which also include Kullu valley, a place notorious for its poaching. The main threat to the species is poaching for meat and its crest, which is considered valuable. It is thought to bring status to its wearer and is a symbol of authority

It lives in upper temperate oak-conifer forests interspersed with open grassy slopes, cliffs and alpine meadows between 2400 and 4500 meters. It is commonly found between 2700 and 3700 meters. The bird descends to 2,000 m (6,600 ft) in the winter. It tolerates snow and digs through it to obtain plant roots and invertebrate prey. Its breeding season is April through August, and the birds generally form pairs at this time. In winter they congregate in large coveys (groups) and roost communally

Himachal government built first monal breeding centre at Manali where a kardi (female monal) had laid three eggs. An egg has hatched but the chick died in a few days. Wildlife department is still studying the behaviour of this colourful pheasant to control its dwindling number. (Times of India)

Lovesick Birds Change Their Tunes Near Noisy Oil Fields —

Savannah sparrow

Savannah sparrow

Birds, to be heard above the din, are capable of changing their tunes in a complex ways. Researchers in Alberta, Canada, have discovered this fact after analyzing hundreds of hours of Savannah sparrow love songs.

 “They’re tailoring their songs depending on which part of their message is the most affected,” said Miyako Warrington, a University of Manitoba biologist who led a recent study on how sparrows cope with noise from the oil and gas infrastructure that dots Canada’s landscape. “This seems to show a complex level of adaptation. It’s not just everybody talking louder.”

Dr. Warrington is one of a growing number of scholars who study the noise generated by human activity — drills, turbines, roaring jet engines — and how that affects the natural world around us.

Mining on the fringes of the Brazilian rain forest, for instance, is disrupting the calls of local black-fronted titi monkeys, a study found last year. Whales and dolphins are known to be particularly vulnerable to the groans of ship engines or offshore drilling, which can disrupt the complex ways they communicate. Research has shown that noise pollution has doubled the background sound levels in more than 60 percent of protected areas in the United States.

And humans are not immune to the din. Epidemiologists have linked traffic noise to cardiovascular and other diseases.

Scholars of bird song have long noticed that avian city dwellers sound different from their peers in the country. But Dr. Warrington wanted to understand how wild birds adapt to the pumps and drills that oil and gas development has brought to wide swaths of North America.

Researchers have found that each bird, of course, adds its own quirks to its songs. To better understand an overall pattern of changes, the team tracked and recorded 73 male Savannah sparrows at 26 sites within 200 kilometers, or about 125 miles, of the city of Brooks, at the heart of Canada’s oil country.

The researchers looked at sites near four types of oil and gas infrastructure: grid-powered screw pumps, generator-powered screw pumps, compressor stations that pump natural gas from wells and oil-well pump jacks with the “nodding head” pumps. The team also recorded birds at sites with no oil infrastructure.

Over all, the team found that birds altered their songs most near generator-powered screw pumps. The most common difference was in pitch and in the opening notes and buzzy parts of their songs. Researchers did not find that the content of the songs changed.

There was no consistent change to the final trill. That appeared to be a personal flourish that male sparrows changed at whim. 

Dr. Warrington and her colleagues are now looking at how changes to songs can affect a bird’s reproductive chances. Separate research on mountain bluebirds and ash-throated flycatchers in New Mexico showed signs of chronic stress in birds exposed to steady noise from oil and gas infrastructure. In some cases, their chicks showed signs of stunted growth.

“The birds are altering their signals — but are these birds fine then? No, evolution doesn’t work like that,” said Nathan Kleist, a postdoctoral researcher in conservation biology at Colorado State University and a lead author of the study in New Mexico. Industrial noise, he said, “is having impacts on wildlife that we are just now beginning to understand.”

In an early encouraging sign, a follow-up study of female Savannah sparrows’ mating behavior — reciprocal calls, flirtatious wing flicks, annoyed attacks — showed that the male birds may be successfully wooing their belles with their modified tunes. (The New York Times – 13-03-2018)

Penguins’ Supercolony Found Near Antarctica —

A group of Isabelline Adélie penguins

A group of Isabelline Adélie penguins

A new colony of Adélie penguins has been discovered near Antarctica, substantially increasing the known populations of the knee-high creatures.

“It’s always good news when you find new penguins,” said P. Dee Boersma, director of the Center for Ecosystem Sentinels at the University of Washington, who was not involved in the new study. “The trends have not been good for so many of these species.”

Previous censuses of penguins had come close to these animals, living on the Danger Islands just off the end of the “thumb” of Antarctica, below South America. But satellite images of the islands revealed the pinkish-red stain of penguin guano, suggesting larger colonies than expected, said Heather Lynch, one of the five primary investigators on the new study, published Friday (2 March 2018) in the journal Scientific Reports.

After several years of preparation, a team of researchers traveled in 2015 to the Danger Islands near the Weddell Sea to do a more precise count on the nine-island archipelago. Using a drone doctored to work in the extreme climate of the region, the researchers were able to get a precise estimate of the numbers of breeding pairs of Adélie penguins in the region: about 750,000 (or 1.5 million individuals).

“The drone imagery is of a quality that just blows everything else away,” said Dr. Lynch, a quantitative ecologist at Stony Brook University. “You can see each penguin on the landscape.”

Dr. Lynch said researchers had already known about a population on Heroina Island, at the northeast end of the Danger Islands chain. Now they’ve found that sizable populations live on other islands near Heroina. “These new colonies totally change our appreciation of the Danger Islands as a penguin hot spot,” she said.

The greater numbers will help ensure that conservation efforts focus on keeping them safe, she said.

“This area falls between two marine-protected areas that are being planned right now,” she said. And until this discovery, the Danger Islands “wasn’t considered a high priority for protection.”

Dr. Boersma, also co-chairwoman of the Penguin Specialist Group for the International Union for Conservation of Nature, agreed that finding penguins in some of the more remote spots on earth is crucial. Now, she said, researchers need to watch them over time to track how they’re faring.

“We expect many of these species are going to be severely harmed and some already have,” said Dr. Boersma, noting that half the known population of Magellanic penguin chicks were wiped out in one storm. Continued government funding for satellites and other technology to track the animals is essential, she said.

One of the surprises of the study, Dr. Lynch said, was that the Danger Islands penguins don’t nest in a circular pattern, as would be expected, to provide the best protection from predators. Instead, they seem to be faithful to individual nesting spots, prizing habit over safety, she said.

The Adélie are not recent migrants to the Danger Islands. Photos taken in 1957 by seaplane show colony boundaries in virtually the same locations — now that researchers know what they’re looking for.

The discovery of so many new animals has raised questions about how they’re finding enough food. “What it is about the ocean right in that region that makes it so productive, is something we’d like to figure out,” Dr. Lynch said.

The penguins feed mostly on shrimplike krill, giving their guano a distinctive pinkish color that can be more easily seen from a satellite. The black and white animals tend to blend into the rocks and are harder to spot, she said.

There were plenty of challenges working in one of the coldest places on the planet, said Hanumant Singh, another study co-author. The batteries for the drones kept freezing and losing their power, until the researchers began keeping them warm inside their jackets, said Dr. Singh, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Northeastern University in Boston. “If you warm them, they’ll keep flying,” he said.

They also had to manipulate the drones to operate at such a southern latitude, where the change in the earth’s magnetic field close to the poles makes navigation more difficult, said Dr. Singh, who is also an associate scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in Woods Hole, Mass.

The global Adélie penguin population now numbers about 4 million pairs and has nearly doubled over the last four decades, for unknown reasons, Dr. Lynch said. But the population along the Western Antarctic Peninsula — one of the most rapidly warming places on the planet — has dropped substantially in recent years, she said.

Adélie are one of two penguin species that live on ice, and thus in some of the coldest places on earth.

The biggest populations of Adélie penguins live in the Ross Sea, below and east of New Zealand.

While she remains anxious about the penguin’s long-term survival, Dr. Lynch said that finding new colonies is encouraging.

“Ecologists worry about having all your eggs in one basket,” she said. “We have a second basket now on opposite ends of the continent.” (The New York Times)

How penguins survive the world’s coldest temperatures —

A group of Isabelline Adélie penguins

A group of Isabelline Adélie penguins

They are the epitome of survival against the odds, enduring some of the most hostile weather conditions on the planet on a continent that is almost completely barren.

Last year, scientists gained a valuable insight into how penguins are able to cope with the extreme cold, high winds and months of darkness they experience in Antarctica.

Genetic analysis of the genomes of two species — emperor penguins, the largest of the family, and their smaller cousins Adélie penguins — has revealed some of their secrets to survival. 

Researchers found that the penguins have a vast number of genes responsible for creating the raw material needed for feathers – proteins known as beta-keratins.

They carry more genes for a particular type of beta keratin than any other bird and it is thought this is what allows them develop their thick plumage of short, stiff feathers that keep them warm.

The densely packed and barbed feathers also trap air to keep them buoyant and remain waterproof while they are swimming, allowing them to reach speeds of up to 22 mph in some species.

The scientists also discovered that penguins have a gene called DSG1, which in humans is known to be involved in a dermatological disease characterised by thick skin on the palms and feet. It believes these genes may help the penguins develop a uniquely thick skin compared to other birds. (Mail Online)

More than 400,000 seabirds die every year due to gill nets —

Gill net fishing vessels in Alaska (Credit Margaret Bauman Alaska Journal of Commerce, via Associated Press)

Gill net fishing vessels in Alaska (Credit Margaret Bauman Alaska Journal of Commerce, via Associated Press)

More than 400,000 seabirds die every year because of gill nets deployed by fishing vessels. A study published in the journal Biological Conservation says, 81 species of birds killed by gill nets, include penguins, ducks and some critically endangered ones like the waved albatross. According to the study above mentioned number of deaths is not the actual figure, it could be much higher

Dr. Cleo Small, one of the three authors of the study published some years back, says, “In Japan, for example, some populations have already been extirpated on islands. Some colonies have disappeared where there is gill net fishing, and in other areas they have dramatically declined.” When study was undertaken Dr. Small was the head of the global seabird program at the British conservation group BirdLife International, which sponsored the study.

There are other academic studies too that have estimated that a minimum of 160,000 additional birds are killed each year by longline fishing, which dangle baited hooks from lines that can stretch for miles, are widely used in commercial fishing.

Gill nets, mesh nets that are much smaller, are used both by commercial and small local fishermen. Anchored in the water by weights and buoys, they are designed to snare fish by their gills, but they can catch any creature that is too large to swim through the mesh. Conservationists say that includes large numbers of sea turtles and mammals like porpoises, seals and even whales.

Nearly half of the seabirds killed by gill nets were in a section of ocean stretching from the northern tip of Africa to north of Greenland and Scandinavia. The bird catch was said to be especially high around Iceland, a prolific seabird habitat, where researchers estimated that 100,000 birds die every year.

But at least 140,000 die annually in the northwest Pacific, an area extending from the Aleutian Islands west and south to Russia and China, the study said.

Losses in United States coastal fisheries appeared to be smaller. In a 2011 survey of 28 coastal fisheries using data from 2005, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration counted fewer than 7,800 birds caught in all types of nets, although some academic studies suggest that gill nets may kill tens of thousands of one species, the marbled murrelet.

Seabird populations are falling faster than other types of birds, and gill nets have long been identified as a main reason, the researchers said. Huge drifting gill nets were estimated to be killing 500,000 birds annually before a United Nations moratorium on large driftnets took effect in 1992.

Most of the gill net toll involves seabirds that dive into the ocean in search of fish. Many birds were once able to see the nets from above and avoid them, but modern nets made of monofilament are all but invisible.

Reducing seabird deaths is hard, as there are few proven ways to deter them. California has sharply cut the toll by banning gill nets in some shallow waters. Other efforts, like setting gill nets at night and placing lights and sonar-style “pingers” on them, have shown some success.

But many of the options are either too expensive or unworkable for local fishermen, who are major users of gill nets, said George Wallace, a vice president at the American Bird Conservancy. And there are so many small fishing enterprises that merely reaching and educating the proprietors is a monumental task, he added. (The New York Times)

Booming fisheries business turning wetlands into death traps for birds —

The Haryana government’s attempt to boost fisheries sector in this Indian state is taking toll on migratory birds visiting freshwater bodies and wetlands in some parts of National Capital Region (NCR). Environmentalists claim nearly 100 birds have died in the wetlands of Rohtak and Jhajjar districts in the last two months after getting entangled in nylon nets installed by fisheries contractors to prevent the birds from preying on fish being cultivated in these aqua farms.

Sources in the forest department confirmed that around 100 birds succumbed to injuries after getting caught in these nets, in the last two months.

A Times of India team visited the wetlands in Rohtak and Jhajjar and found that nets have been strung over three wetlands in Dighal, which is home to several avian species. Fisheries contractors have hired guards who sometimes even use explosives to scare birds away.

Rakesh Ahlawat, a resident of Dighal and a local birder, said, “We have rescued many birds, but at least 100 birds have died in two months after getting entangled in these nets. These sharp, nylon nets are not visible to birds. Larger bird species, including painted storks, egrets and cormorants, often get caught in the nets. We have removed many nets, but the fisheries contractors have again erected them. Local villagers don’t seem to bother. When I tried to convince sarpanches (village heads), they said the fisheries projects were bringing money to their villages while birds won’t help them get money,”

Activists pointed out that setting up of fish farms in wetlands is illegal. “Both a Supreme Court verdict and the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010, clearly say nature of wetlands can’t be changed. These fisheries contractors ultimately end up destroying the entire aquatic life. They remove algae and vegetation around wetlands, which leads to destruction of the entire ecosystem of wetlands,” said Dr Gopi Sundar, scientist (cranes and wetlands programme) at the Nature Conservation Foundation.

Asked why there are no curbs on these illegal activities, the forest department said it would take strict action against offenders.

“We have got many nets removed, but the contractors put them back. However, we are inspecting these areas regularly. Also, we have penalised a few offenders for killing birds by hanging nets over ponds and wetlands,” said Manoj Kumar, district forest officer (wildlife).

There are over 130 freshwater bodies, which include ponds, in Rohtak and Jhajjar. Around 50% of them have been covered with nylon nets. In Dighal, three out of 10 ponds have been covered with nets.

Dighal has been identified as an “important bird area” by Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), and around 263 bird species, which include both migrant and resident birds, can be found here.

Most water bodies in these districts are spread across 6-10 acres. The birds that flock to these wetlands rely on grass and fish for survival. “Dighal and places around it are home to several bird species because of the presence of big wetlands and several water bodies. Birders from across the country come here to take a glimpse of migratory and resident birds. The rare Horned Grebe was also spotted in Dighal this year. However, the bird didn’t stay here for long. The destruction of wetlands due to fisheries projects could be one of the reasons,” said Pankaj Gupta of Delhi Bird Foundation. (Times of India)

Viral photos set off hunt for bird poachers in Faridkot —

Greylag geese (Representative picture )

Greylag geese                  (Representative picture )

A vigilant bird-watcher and school teacher, Jasvir Singh, has set off a hunt for two poachers after he photographed them shooting migratory Greylag geese at a Faridkot wetland in Punjab (India) with a double-barrel shotgun on Saturday (17-02-2018) afternoon.

The photographs of the poachers carrying the heavy geese with them from the wetland went viral on social media birding groups. After Times of India (TOI) alerted Punjab Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) Dr Kuldip Kumar about the poaching of migratory birds on Sunday, the department staff swung into action. The wetland lies across the canal and on the road leading from Machaki Mal Singh village to Rat Rori village.

“I have personally spoken to the school teacher who photographed the poachers. I have deputed Divisional Forest Officer (Territorial) at Ferozepur and Divisional Forest Officer (Wildlife) at Ferozepur to proceed to the spot and lodge an FIR at the police station. The police will know the arms licence holders in the area and we can secure the assistance of the Faridkot SSP to nab the poachers. I am very hopeful that we will track down the two poachers,” Dr Kumar told TOI on Sunday evening.

On their part, nature lovers and birders of the Faridkot area extended support to Jasvir Singh, and a delegation plans to submit memorandums with the attached incriminating photographs to the Faridkot DC and SSP.

“I was out birding in the area on Saturday when I saw a flock of geese. The geese flew away and later I heard what seemed to be the sound of firecrackers. Initially, I was under the impression that the local fish farmers were scaring away birds which target fish by bursting potash firecrackers. However, I felt a bit uneasy and suspicious and was concerned about the well-being of our migratory guests. I walked towards the direction of the sounds and found the poachers carrying away the dead geese. I clicked the pictures of the poachers, who left the spot on a motorcycle. I have been told by local goatherds that poaching is frequent at these wetlands, which have arisen due to water-logging and canal seepage,” Jasvir Singh told TOI.

Apart from migratory Greylag geese, the wetlands are also favoured by migratory Ruddy shelducks and resident Spotbill ducks. Poachers commonly poison migratory birds by lacing wheat grains with pesticides in Haryana and Punjab wetlands. However, gun-toting poachers have been on the decline in recent years.

“I was apprehensive of chasing the poachers because they had a gun and would have snatched away my camera knowing I would have clicked photographs. However, I am ready to assist the investigations and will identify the poachers,” added Jasvir. (Times of India)

India’s forest cover increases by 1%, Northeastern states cause for concern —

Forests in Khajjiar (Himachal Pradesh); (pix SShukla); 14 June 2015; (3) Small fileIndia’s forest cover increased by 6,778 sq km over the last two years with Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Odisha and Telangana increasing their green footprint during the period though there is a worrying decline in six northeastern states, including a shrinkage of 630 sq km in the eastern Himalayas.

While overall green cover, including tree patches outside recorded forest areas, reported an incremental 1% increase (8,021 sq km) over the last assessment year in 2015, the quality of forests remain a hotly debated subject even as satellite monitoring has increased availability of data.

The increase, based on satellite data and subsequent ‘ground truthing’, has put the total forest cover at 7,08,273 sq km which is 21.54% of the country’s geographical area.

Releasing the India State of Forest Report (ISFR) 2017 on Monday (12-02-2018), the environment ministry looked at the overall green cover (total forest and tree cover) of 8,02,088 sq km and pitched it as a success of multiple afforestation programmes.

Though this figure puts green cover at 24.39% of India’s geographical area, this does not reflect a complete picture as it includes tree cover of 93,815 sq km, primarily computed by notional numbers.

In the past, studies have argued that the problem of depletion and over-exploitation of forests has taken a toll of India’s forests and their sustainability and the problem of simplifying a maze of rules and tune conservation with the needs of local communities remains a challenge.

Taking into account the density (canopy covering branches and foliage formed by the crowns of trees), forest cover is divided into ‘very dense’, ‘moderately dense’ and ‘open’ forest. The ‘very dense’ forest cover has increased over the last assessment of 2015, but the ‘moderately dense’ category reported a decline — a sign which environmentalists consider quite worrying.

Referring to decline in the ‘moderately dense’ forest category and enhancement of forest cover in ‘open’ forest and ‘scrub’ categories, forest expert from Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) Ajay Saxena said, “This negative correlation means that India is losing good forests for developmental pressures, forest degradation and climate change.”

Saxena termed the increase in ‘very dense’ forest (VDF) cover as a “positive development”, but said a major part could be attributed to increase in the number of districts assessed in the new report compared to 2015.

The ISFR updated the number of districts for its assessment from 589 to 633. The ministry, however, claimed that the change in area was calculated “using updated figures” to facilitate comparison on a common methodological platform.

Underlining that very dense forest had increased from 85,904 sq km in 2015 to 98,158 sq km, environment and forests minister Harsh Vardhan said, “This is very heartening as VDF absorbs maximum carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

He said consistent increase in forest cover over the years was in sync with India’s commitment to the Paris Agreement on climate change and the country would meet its target of creating additional carbon sink (2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent) through increase in forest and tree cover by 2030.

The report showed that forest cover in six north-eastern states — Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Meghalaya and Sikkim — decreased in 2017. Experts believe forests in the eastern Himalayas are rich in forest carbon and decline in forest cover in the region could have been avoided. This area reported a net loss of 630 sq km of pristine forests.

The ISFR 2017 shows that about 40% of the country’s forest cover is present in nine large contiguous patches of the size of 10,000 sq km or more. It also shows the total mangrove cover stands at 4,921 sq km and has shown an increase of 181 sq km. All the 12 mangrove states have shown a positive change in the mangrove cover, as compared to the last assessment. Mangrove ecosystem is rich in biodiversity and provides a number of ecological services.

The India State of Forest Report 2017 is the 15th such report in the series. The report, however, for the first time contains information on decadal change in water bodies in forest during 2005-2015, forest fire, production of timber from outside forest, state wise carbon stock in different forest types and density classes.

The report notes that there was an increase of 2,647 sq km in the extent of water bodies over the decade (2005-15) with all states and Union Territories (UTs) showing an increase except Arunachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.

It shows that overall the extent of water bodies has increased from 14,509 sq km in 2005 to 17,156 sq km in 2015 with Maharashtra (432 sq km), Gujarat (428 sq km) and Madhya Pradesh (389 sq km) figuring as the top three states reporting maximum increase in areas of water bodies including lakes and wetlands.

“We wish that in future, extent and change in forest cover vis-e-vis major river basins in the country should be assessed and reported since forest cover is a key parameter to assess the health of our rivers”, said river and water expert, Manoj Misra, of the Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan.

Reacting on report which shows marginal increase in forest cover, Misra said, “Increase in forest cover is a matter to rejoice unless statistical jugglery is behind the claim.”

The spatial information given in the report is based on interpretation of LISS-III data from Indian Remote Sensing satellite data (Resourcesat-II) with a spatial resolution of 23.5 meters. Satellite data for the entire country was procured from NRSC for the period October, 2015 – February, 2016.

“The satellite data interpretation is followed by rigorous ground truthing. In addition, extensive ground data collected by field parties at more than 18000 points all over the country and information from other collateral sources are also used to improve the accuracy of the interpreted image”, said the environment ministry after releasing the ISFR 2017.

Report shows that three states – Andhra Pradesh (2141 sq km), followed by Karnataka (1101 sq km) and Kerala (1043 sq km) – have shown the maximum increase in forest cover. On the other hand, forest cover in states like Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura and Meghalaya has decreased in 2017 as compared to 2015.

Madhya Pradesh has the largest forest cover of 77,414 sq km in the country in terms of area, followed by Arunachal Pradesh with 66,964 sq km and Chhattisgarh (55,547 sq km). In terms of percentage of forest cover with respect to the total geographical area, Lakshadweep with (90.33%) has the highest forest cover, followed by Mizoram (86.27%) and Andaman & Nicobar Island (81.73%). (Times of India)

Work among the penguins? France is looking for candidates —

Fancy a job at the North or South Pole? A French research institute is looking for you.

The Paul-Emile Victor Polar Institute in northwest France has launched a public appeal to recruit around 40 French-speaking people for a wide variety of jobs at its six bases in the Arctic and Antarctica.

From chemists and carpenters to bakers and pastry chefs, the institute is stepping up its efforts to reach potential candidates for 12- to 14-month stints at its bases with endless summer days and winter nights.

“We get lots of interest from the biology fields but not enough mechanics or tool operators, because these people don’t know about us,” said Laurence Andre Le Marec, hiring director at the institute named for a French polar explorer and pioneer.

It operates at the Spitzberg base in the Arctic and the Dumont d’Urville and Concordia bases in Antarctica, as well as three bases on France’s sub-Antarctic islands of Amsterdam, Crozet and Kerguelen.

Women in particular are being sought in this year’s recruitment drive, which includes six testimonial videos from female alumni.

At the Dumont d’Urville station there are just six women compared to 24 men. “I haven’t been able to get balance” among the sexes, Andre Le Marec admitted.

The 40 successful candidates – 30 of whom are reserved for France’s corps of Civic Service volunteers – will have to pass a medical exam that includes psychological evaluations.

“We make sure they are physically apt for this type of mission, and psychologically ready to live in a small group on an isolated site under conditions that can at times be extreme,” Andre Le Marec said.

The mechanic being sought for the Concordia station, for example, will have to mesh with a group of about 60 people in summer and just 14 in winter – when temperatures can plunge to minus 80 degrees Celsius (minus 110 degrees Fahrenheit).

“There’s no going back over winter,” the job posting on the institute’s website warns.

Concordia, which houses a French-Italian team, is one of three permanent bases maintained in the interior of Antarctica, one of the most isolated and inhospitable places on the planet.

“Not all the bases have temperatures this extreme,” Andre Le Marec assured, adding that a biologist sought on the island of Amsterdam, in the southern Indian Ocean, would be able to work “in a T-shirt”.

“It was incredible,” said Claire Le Calvez, who spent a tour at Dumont d’Urville as a chemist and glaciologist in 2003 and eventually joined the roughly 50 permanent employees at the institute.

What one discovers in the natural world of Antarctica is amazing, she added.

“These are memories that last a lifetime.” (Agence France-Presse)

Global tenders for satellite tracking of freed vultures —

Himalayan Griffon Vultures in an enclosure before being released in the wild (pix SShukla)

Himalayan Griffon Vultures in an enclosure before being released in the wild (pix SShukla)

A global tender has been floated by the Haryana forest department for the purchase of eight platform transmitter terminals (PTTs) to be attached to critically-endangered White-rumped vultures so that the birds can be tracked when they soar to freedom.

The vultures are scheduled for release from the Jatayu Conservation Breeding Centre (JCBC) at Bir Shikargah, Pinjore. The release will mark a historic benchmark for conservation as these will constitute the first vultures bred in captivity from the egg stage. Nepal had earlier released into the wilderness those adult vultures, which were first gathered as nestlings/chicks from the wilderness. Those nestlings were reared in captivity for years and then released back into the Nepalese wilderness.

“The tenders are due to be opened next week by the department. We have placed eight vultures in the pre-release enclosure at the JCBC awaiting full release. These include six vultures bred in captivity and two that had been captured from the wilderness but did not breed at the JCBC. These two birds will serve as guide birds to the six captive-bred specimens. We are planning to release these eight vultures in November 2018 as that is the time when migratory Himalayan griffons come down to Pinjore and Morni hills. The eight vultures will then merge with migratory griffons and free-ranging White-rumped vultures and will be guided into the wilderness to learn survival skills, food sources and safe places to perch,” pioneering vulture scientist and BNHS deputy director and vulture programme head Dr Vibhu Prakash told Times of India (TOI).

Each PTT is estimated to cost in the range of Rs 4 lakh. In addition, Rs 1 lakh will be paid to the satellite data service provider, ArgoSat, for the download of each PTT attached to a freed vulture. The PTT will be attached to each vulture through the device known as a backpack harness. The PTTs will allow scientists of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) to track vultures after release, assess how they fare in the wilderness and what threats they face. In the eventuality of a vulture getting afflicted with injury or illness, the PTTs will assist in tracking down the bird quickly and administering veterinary relief.

Delineating the imperative of PTTs for vulture rehabilitation in the wilderness, Dr Prakash noted: “In June 2016, the then Union Environment & Forests Minister Parkash Javadekar had released two griffons without PTTs since permission had not been granted by the Union Department of Telecommunications. We could not trace these griffons and do not know how they fared after release from captivity.”

As a parallel preparation for the release, the BNHS has written to the chief wildlife wardens of five states — Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh — to secure permission to collect liver samples from cattle carcasses. “These states fall within a 100 km radius from the JCBC. The liver samples will be tested for the presence of veterinary drugs fatal to vultures. The testing is aimed at ensuring a 100-km safe zone for vultures when we release them,” Dr Prakash explained.

The JCBC is run as a collaborative venture since 2001 by the Haryana Forest department and the BNHS. The venture has succeeded in establishing proven captive breeding protocols for vultures verging on the brink of extinction due to the lethal effects of these carrion birds feeding on cattle carcasses injected with veterinary drugs such as diclofenac, aceclofenac, carprofen, flunixin, ketoprofen, nimesulide and phenylbutazone. Resort to the “double-clutch” method and use of incubators resulted in speedy vulture breeding. In natural conditions, vultures only lay an egg or two a year. (Times of India)