Category Archives: Conservation Awareness

Camera Trapping – Wildlife Selfies

The application of camera trapping as a methodology for conservation research and field study has been revolutionary.

Activated remotely by a motion or infrared sensor and using a light beam as a trigger, camera traps enable us to capture 24 x 7 footage of places that are not easily accessible and most importantly with minimum human interference; this has formed the core of its value for wildlife studies. Knowledge from camera trapping has offered ground-breaking insight towards the study of animal behavior, species richness, detection of rare species, estimation of population size, habitat use and occupation of human built structures.

Can you spot the camera trap on the picture below?

Camera trap in scrub jungle
Camera trap in scrub jungle

The importance of camera trapping in field study is exemplified by a recent revelation concerning honey badgers (Mellivora Capensis) in India. Its current range spans Africa, South West Asia and parts of the Indian Subcontinent. Little is known about this nocturnal ratel (a badger-like mammal), as it is difficult to study by conventional mammal surveys on account of its large space requirements. Its population density remains low with extremely rare sightings in India. Nonetheless, thanks to camera trapping, the honey badger was documented for the very first time in Karnataka.

The elusive nature of honey badger’s implies that their population could dip to critical lows and go undetected by conservation authorities. A team of dedicated field biologists led by Sanjay Gubbi set up traps in Kaveri Wildlife Sanctuary over the study period of three months (Jan – March, 2014) when they recorded 41 images of honey badgers in Habur, Halagur, Kudalli, MM Hills ranges. For all reasons stated, it is only understandable that the news of the honey badger’s presence in this southern scrub and riverine habitat enhances the “conservation value of the dry savannah woodland forests of Kaveri”.

This story in the news:

http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/they-went-to-document-leopards-but-found-a-ratel/article5668448.ece

ITW Buzz: We began camera trapping (2013) in local trekking areas, private farms, edges of fences and other strategic locations along assumed animal corridors. One particular camera trap documenting the movement around a lake in Magadi caught these striking images of the wild:

Elephant camera trap
Wild elephant drinking from lake, caught on camera trap in Magadi

Villagers were washing clothes and bathing in the lake the very same morning!

For us, it is reassuring to learn that these large mammals still exist so close to Bangalore city, this inspires us to continue camera trapping, conservation awareness and work towards increased biodiversity and co-existence in human dominated landscape.

Yellow Bellied Green Cat Snake

Yellow bellied green cat snake (Boiga flaviviridis) is a new species of cat snake ‘described from the dry forests of eastern Peninsular India’. Discovered only recently, its particularly beautiful yellowish-green dorsal shimmer over which unpatterned black bands gently run ends in a short tail.

Even for skilled herpers, the yellow bellied cant snake is a rare sighting. It is only recently that the first live specimens are being recorded. On our nights out herping, the Into the Wild team has encountered seven in and around Krishnagiri, Tumkur and Savandurga. Some as long and large as this one:

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Yellow bellied green cat snake, Tumkur range

Considering these recent findings and recordings, a question that arises to the mind is -why now? Have made a gross underestimation about the extent to which the world of reptiles has evolved? Are all fauna – known and unknown – finally being driven out of the safety of their forests by human centered development?

The answer is a combination of all of the above, among reasons; but how Boiga Flaviviridus has slipped being noticed for so many years certainly remains a small mystery and the assumption that our studies of the natural world have been exhaustive can no longer be made.

Human centered development is unbalancing our natural environment today more than ever before. We must consciously understand the seriousness of this situation and consider this as a wake up call towards action comprehending the interaction between humans and ecology in the process of urbanisation and set in motion the conscious shift towards urban ecology.

To inform yourself of the basic details on the yellow bellied green cat snake:

http://www.indiansnakes.org/content/yellow-green-cat-snake

Featured image: Sandeep GA

Slender loris in superstition

In the legitimate business of black magic, two kinds of people employ the slender loris:

The first are a unique breed of quacks who walk around with a loris in a wooden box and claim to tell you your fortune by placing both silver and gold bracelets before the shy (and scared) creature to make it choose. If it picks the gold (which it almost always does and is probably trained to do) the person will have to buy the gold chain in thanks, or her/his luck will be cursed.

The second type of slender-loris-abusing-con-artists price themselves at a premium to be used selectively, only for revenge and curses – they call themselves witches. They tie a personal belonging from the ‘victim’ very tightly to the arm of the slender loris who is then released. The witch convinces the seeker of revenge that the loris, being in tremendous pain, will surely curse the owner of the object tied to its arm, ruin their life to a point where it kills them. Thousands of people thus seek out the slender loris as the highest form of revenge – inflicting the curse of death.

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Unfortunately, in reality, the tightly tied armband cuts into the loris’ frail hand, stops blood circulation and the only thing that ends up dead or severely injured is the loris.

Other myths clouding awareness about the slender loris exist. In Tumkur, the unique orange glint by which you can recognise its eyes at night was taken for a ghost, wreaking havoc in surrounding villages. This was actually the locals’ first sighting / interaction with this primate about whom very little is known.

Read more about the loris here: Urban Wildlife: Slender Loris

Featured image: BBMP Forest Cell

Painting a gruesome tale: squirrel poaching

The Indian palm squirrel is adored across the country. From feeding them nuts as children to nursing injured baby squirrels, these cuddly rodents form a familiar part of the urban ecosystem. Common to all Indian cities, especially in the south, squirrels are seen everywhere, but little is known of their plight.

Squirrels are hunted, killed and their tails sold to the paintbrush industry. They are easy prey for old poachers who no longer possess the will nor energy to go after animals that require specialised skill to trap.

Today, towards the outskirts of Bangalore, you might have noticed local people setting up small nets in mango and other fruit orchards. These nets are for catching these timid and harmless squirrels. Easily lured by nuts and food, poachers use calls to draw them near and when caught, their tails are immediately chopped off. Certain local tribes do consume the meat but most often, the body is simply discarded.

As part of urban wildlife rescue and seizures, squirrel poaching has been observed to be rampant in and around Sarjapur Road, Whitefield, Varthur and in the Kolar District (to name a few local sites).

Record shot of poachers' belongings: net traps and dead squirrels
Record shot of poachers’ belongings: net traps, bait, squirrels killed after capture

Role in Urban Ecosystem:

Squirrels are rodents, not scavengers. Their main role being pollination, seed dispersal and a significant place in the food chain, serving as important prey for carnivorous birds and mammals.

Translocation: A Death Sentence

Bangalore urban receives an average of 30 emergency calls on a daily basis, concerning wildlife rescues in the city. The animals in need is most commonly a bird or a reptile with the occasional call about a wild cat or other mammals. Sanjeev, our chief herpetologist, is on the BBMP Forest Cell team that handles the bulk of these emergencies and explains how sympathetic management and the trending ‘cool factor’ to rescue is jeopardizing the very survival of wildlife.

Let us take the example of snakes – shrouded in stereotype, they are the nerve center of exaggeration and controversy.

Humans have an embedded mindset that believes a rescued snake must be put back in the forest where it came. This way of thinking does not ring true as snakes have been living alongside humans for as long as we have both existed. The conflict, however, has escalated only in recent years due to reasons of growing intolerance and rapid urbanisation.

Translocation (releasing a rescued animal in a new location and/or habitat different from where it was picked up) has adverse consequences on both ecosystems (location of rescue in cities; and location of release into forests).

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Releasing king cobra rescued from Ooty public bus stand

Effects on humans:

The rescue site will see an exponential spike in rodent population as a natural consequence of eliminating the predator. This intensifies the spread of disease by the increasing rodent population who quickly destroy our stored grain and crop cycles and put a direct strain on our food source. The absence of the rescued snake means an increase in the number of rats, this also invites other local snakes who come in to take advantage of this new food source.

Effects on snake:

Away from home range and finding itself in unfamiliar habitat, the snake must start from scratch to establish its sources of food, water, shelter and local knowledge of its predators. This leaves the snake wandering around for months using the trial and error method, thus increasing the potential for human-animal conflicts, now emerging as a vicious cycle. There is also enhanced conflict between the newly released snake and resident snakes of the local habitat, the survival of both are at great risk. A snake from the city could also be a carrier of various diseases.

Effects on ecosystem:

In one move, translocation disrupts the local food chain and natural order of resident species at rescue and release location, thus unbalancing both ecosystems. It is clear that releasing a rescued snake as far away as possible is merely a false safety measure that serves neither the snake nor humans. Whether it stems from a lack of education and awareness or is an indulgence of deep seated fears, rescuers cannot employ sympathetic management in place of common sense. They depend on the understanding and tolerance of everyday citizens to be able to manage urban wildlife in the correct manner.

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Sanjeev addressing questions from the public at rescue site

Snakes are an integral component of the urban ecosystem and will continue to appear and disappear from our sight. We believe that the question is not the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of urban wildlife rescue, rather the why of it. The next time you encounter a snake in your garden and immediately call for help, take a minute to think of who is in actual need of rescue – the snake, or you?

Widespread basic awareness and relevant safety protocol is a more realistic approach to their management, a little tolerance will go a long way in saving both species from the futile and damaging exercise of translocation.

Go here to read about how the balance between venomous and non-venomous snakes affects the urban ecosystem.