Most viewed photos of 2008

December 28, 2008

Among National Geographic’s top ten most viewed photos of 2008 is this image of the snowstorm leopard in India’s Hemis National Park:


Stalking India’s Hemis National Park, an extremely rare snow leopard lives up to its name in U.S. photographer Steve Winter’s award-winning National Geographic magazine image.

On October 30, 2008, “Snowstorm Leopard” was named best overall photo in the 2008 Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, organized by the Natural History Museum of London and BBC Wildlife Magazine.

Click here for more of the best photos of 2008

India’s elephants in peril

December 18, 2008

Sankar Roy at Asia Sentinel:

india-elephantAlthough the world’s concern has risen over the fate of India’s tigers, the descending numbers of India’s elephants have not caused alarm. They are not listed as endangered species. The Federal Ministry of Environment and Forests estimated the population of wild elephants at 26,413 in 2002, the last figure available. Although officials say the population has risen, the World Wildlife Fund believes that India’s elephant population has fallen by 50 percent over the last two decades. Statistical estimation on either tigers or elephants is not sound.

Obviously, as man encroaches, the elephant population faces problems, not least because they love to break into human settlements and poach not only crops but vats of homemade liquor. An Indian elephant needs some 500 square miles to roam, consumes 250 kilograms of leaves and wild fruits and drinks as much as 180 liters of water a day. Indiscriminate felling of trees and development projects cuts their habitat. Although the federal government has written and passed laws, implementation is in the hands of state governments, which often look the other way when poachers strike.


Man-eaters rule in a land of widows

October 28, 2008

West Bengal’s villagers are increasingly the prey of tigers driven out of Bangladesh by flooding. Gethin Chamberlain in the Obserever:

In the remote village of Deulbari, everyone knows someone who has been attacked by a tiger. Until now, humans and tigers have coexisted uneasily in this outpost in the Sundarbans area of West Bengal, where 274 tigers were counted in the last census in 2004. This year has been different.

Approached through vivid green paddy fields dotted with pink water lilies, Deulbari is a village of roughly constructed houses, some with corrugated iron roofs, others just straw, bleached by the sun. It sits on the Indian shores of the mangrove forests that straddle the border between India and Bangladesh. After a cyclone last winter led to rising water levels and forced tigers from the Bangladeshi side over the border into India, the number of documented tiger attacks has soared. According to villagers, there have been 15 already this year, six of them fatal. The ranks of the tiger widows are swelling, and the horrifying tales are multiplying.


One last stand: a new strategy to save the tiger

October 27, 2008

Sequestering tigers in nature reserves may doom them to a slow, genetic death. To save them, conservationists want to give them freedom to roam. Lily Huang in Newsweek:

Alan Rabinowitz has spent nearly three decades in a pitched battle to save the world’s few remaining havens for predator cats. He’s turned the Coxcombe Basin in Belize into the world’s first jaguar preserve, and built the largest nature reserve in Taiwan, the first national park in the Himalayas, and the world’s largest tiger reserve in Burma. Nevertheless, he knows he is losing.

The problem, Rabinowitz and other leading biologists now know, is that the classic conservation strategy of preserving habitat is in fact no defense against extinction. Twenty years ago, the devastation of natural forest was a visible danger. What went unseen was the damage sustained on a larger field of battle: the gene pool. A reserve may be a refuge for wildlife, but it is also a genetic sink. When a population of large predators is confined to pristine island of wilderness over time, they fall to inbreeding, leaving the species with weaker young and fewer defenses in an environment increasingly distorted by climate change. This is the deepening lesson of wildlife conservation from the post-industrial age to the genomic age: you can’t save animals without saving their homes, and you can’t save species without saving their genes.


The pleasure of watching birds

October 10, 2008

John James Audubon was a naturalist and a brilliant wildlife artist. But some ornithologists, like Salim Ali, believed that illustrations are meant to be functional. Malavika Karlekar in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

Tropical Birding

Blue-throated Barbet / Photo: Tropical Birding

A few years later, as the civil-servant-cum-ornithologist, Allan Octavian Hume, was settling into retirement in England, Sálim Moizuddin Abdul Ali was born to Zeenat-un-Nissa and Moizuddin, one of nine children. This was in Bombay in November 1896. On being orphaned, the brood “grew up under the loving care of a maternal uncle, Amiruddin Tyabji, and his childless wife, Hamida Begam”. Amiruddin was one of the earliest Indian members of the Bombay Natural History Society, and after an unusual sparrow with a yellow patch on its throat had fallen prey to young Salim’s airgun, he sent him off to meet Walter Samuel Millard, a British entrepreneur and naturalist who was honorary secretary of the Society and editor of the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society.

It was in 1908 that a nervous adolescent entered the “quaint old single-storeyed building through its solid teakwood portal”. He need not have been so fearful at the thought of “meeting a full-grown sahib face to face”, as Millard not only identified the bird as a Yellowthroated Sparrow, but also took Salim on a conducted tour of many reference cabinets full of stuffed specimens. “The fortuitous incident with the Yellowthroated Sparrow,” wrote Salim Ali in his autobiography, aptly named The Fall of a Sparrow, “opened up undreamt of vistas for me”. In fact, it was the beginning of a long life of dedication to and involvement with Indian birds and ornithological experiences.


Grand trunk show

August 6, 2008

Now showing: 13 life-sized topiary elephants are touring the UK and Ireland in a bid to raise awareness for the need for protecting the natural habitat of their grey cousins in India. Organised by British charity, Elephant Family, the survival tour is supported by several leading designers including Ralph Lauren and Diane Von Furstenberg, each of whom has designed a blanket to keep the elephants in the pinnacle of style.

For more pictures in The Guardian click here

On the trail of the ‘Indian yeti’

June 19, 2008

By Alastair Lawson, BBC News, Meghalaya

In the US it’s known as bigfoot, in Canada as sasquatch, in Brazil as mapinguary, in Australia as a yowie, in Indonesia as sajarang gigi and, most famously of all, in Nepal as a yeti.

The little known Indian version of this legendary ape-like creature is called mande barung – or forest man – and is reputed to live in the remote West Garo hills of the north-eastern state of Meghalaya.

I was invited by passionate yeti believer Dipu Marak to travel throughout the area to hear for myself what he says is compelling evidence of the existence of a black and grey ape-like animal which stands about 3m (nearly 10ft) tall.


Previously in AW: Is the Yeti for real?

Is the Yeti for real?

June 18, 2008

A British artist has produced what she calls a “photo-fit” of the Yeti based on “potentially explosive” new evidence of the elusive creature’s existence. From The Telegraph:

Wildlife painter Polyanna Pickering was shown what is believed to be a 100-year-old yeti scalp at a remote monastery in the Himalayas.

At least one expert believe it could be the most important proof yet that the giant apelike beast is more than mere folklore.

Ms Pickering was gathering material for a new exhibition in the remote Bhutan region of the Himalayas when she made her chance discovery – with a little help from David Beckham.

She said: “I was told this was from a Migoi – their name for the yeti. All I know is, it was bigger than any human or ape scalp I have ever seen.”


Elephants caught in Sri Lankan crossfire

June 4, 2008

The continuing conflict in Sri Lanka between government forces and rebel Tamil Tigers has unexpected casualities. Roland Buerk of BBC has the story.

“Gunshot wound, this is a gunshot wound, and this one, there are so many gunshot wounds,” said Sri Lankan government vet, Doctor Chandana Jayasinghe.

He was standing next to the huge, slumbering bull elephant in a clearing in the jungle, hypodermic syringe in hand.

“It is normal, they all have gunshot wounds.”

The men of the Wildlife Conservation Department had ventured into the tangled scrub to find the wounded elephant.


Towering silence

June 2, 2008

For millennia Zoroastrians have used vultures to dispose of their dead. What will happen when the birds disappear? Meera Subramanian in Science & Spirit [via 3quarksdaily]:

When Nargis Baria died at the age of eighty-five in Mumbai, India, her only child, a daughter named Dhun, initiated the death rituals of their Zoroastrian faith. Her mother’s body was dressed in white, prayers whispered in her ear, and after three days a summoned dog’s dismissal indicated that the spirit had moved on. It was time for the nassesalars, or pallbearers, to carry the body to the Towers of Silence, circular structures of stone located on fifty-seven, park-like acres in the heart of Mumbai, surrounded by the upscale high rises of Malabar Hill. They removed her clothing and placed her body in the middle of three concentric circles, one each for women, men and children. At the center was a well where the bones, the last of the last remains of a human body, would be swept in a few days time.


Asian vultures declining faster than the dodo

April 30, 2008

From The Guardian:

Asian vultures are declining faster than any bird in history, including the dodo, and could become extinct within a decade, conservationists said yesterday.

A survey shows that the rate of decline is about 50% a year with one species, the white-backed vulture, falling by 99.9% since the early 1990s. Others such as the long-billed and slender-billed vultures have been reduced to around 1,000 in the wild.

Scientists blame the decline on an anti-inflammatory drug used for livestock, which can poison vultures feeding on treated carcasses. Diclofenac causes kidney failure in the birds within a few days of exposure and a single cow carcass can kill a large flock. Researchers counted the vulture population in northern and central India between March and June last year, surveying the birds from vehicles along almost 12,000 miles of road.

More here, and here:

Biting the bait gets a whole new meaning

April 28, 2008

British tourists pay 100 pounds to watch endangered lions kill tethered cattle in India’s Gir National Park. Dean Nelson has the story in the Sunday Times.

British tourists are paying more than £100 to watch endangered Asian lions kill tethered cattle at an Indian wildlife reserve.

According to local officials, some visitors eat lunch at dining tables as they watch cows and buffalo being devoured. Animal welfare groups have expressed outrage, saying such gruesome displays break the law and are not only cruel to cattle but also put the lions in jeopardy by bringing them closer to humans. They blame western tourists for encouraging the practice.

According to conservationists, the shows are being organised by tour guides and farmers in collusion with junior park officials. Only about 360 lions survive in India from a subspecies that once ranged from Greece through the Caucasus and into China. It is now confined to the Gir national park in Gujarat, western India, where the incomes of villagers depend on frequent sightings.


At Indian preserves, Tigers remain king as people are coaxed out

April 16, 2008

Efforts to convince people to leave forests earmarked for conservation and tigers in India raise the question of the price to pay to save the forests, and for whom – humans or animals? Somini Sengupta in The New York Times:

At sundown, as the air began to cool and the beasts came out of the shade, K. Ullas Karanth drove slowly through this sprawling park in southern India. Elephants nibbled on the grass. A sunbird dashed across the sky. Then, Mr. Karanth nearly froze in a start. “Tiger, tiger,” he whispered.

Just ahead, a large male lumbered across the path, stopping to turn and look at Mr. Karanth’s jeep and its passengers before continuing his languid march into the bush.

The research by Mr. Karanth, a wildlife biologist who runs the India program of the Wildlife Conservation Society, suggests that this and its neighboring nature reserve hold one of the largest concentrations of tigers in the world. But to make these wilds healthy for the fabled tiger is a success 20 years in the making, with crusading forest officials driving out hunters and loggers and ultimately trying to resettle hundreds of families who have lived in these woods for generations.


Rare one-horned rhino bouncing back in Nepal

March 28, 2008

From National Geographic News:


Recently, field observers counted 408 rhinos over two weeks in Royal Chitwan National Park, Nepal, one of the last remaining strongholds for the endangered animals. Preliminary numbers from the census suggest an increase from 2005, when observers reported seeing only 372 rhinos in the park.

The Indian rhino, also known as the great one-horned rhinoceros, once roamed through large parts of South Asia. Its horn is reputed to have aphrodisiac properties and can be worth thousands of dollars in China’s traditional-medicine market.


Rhino man

March 2, 2008

Wildlife biologist Hemanta Mishra’s efforts to save the endangered Indian rhinoceros. Sarah Zielinksi in The Smithsonian Magazine:


For decades, wildlife biologist Hemanta Mishra-now a senior advisor for the American Himalayan Foundation-struggled to save the endangered Indian rhinoceros in his homeland of Nepal. He established the first Nepalese national parks-including Royal Chitwan National Park, the rhinos’ home in Nepal-and created a second population of the animals by transplanting dozens to the Royal Bardia National Park. His efforts led to the beginning of a recovery for the rhino, which he documents in his new book, The Soul of the Rhino.


Leap to freedom

February 20, 2008


A pregnant tigress, which was rescued by forest workers after she strayed into a village and was beaten up by villagers, was released from a cage in the Sunderbans, India. As she jumped into the river, she looked back with a growl at her captors, and swam ashore into the thick mangrove forest Tuesday morning.

According to the Indian government’s tiger census report, only 1,411 tigers are now left in the wild — a big fall from 2002 when the tiger population was estimated to be 3,642.

More in Hindustan Times:

And in the Indian Express, India’s last tigers and where they live.

Just 1,411 tigers in India

February 13, 2008

This is less than half the number in 2002 when tiger population was estimated at 3,642. In The Times of India:


Only 1,411 tigers remain in the wild in India. That is the stark finding of the National Tiger Conservation Authority’s estimation report which was released on Tuesday. The report confirms the worst fears of experts and conservationists-that the national animal is living on the edge, not all that far from a perilous slide to extinction.

The big cat, which has inspired writers and hunters-turned-conservationists like Jim Corbett since the days of the Raj, is facing its toughest battle for survival yet.


Rhino killings: The inside story

February 8, 2008

A former poacher in Kaziranga, Assam, reveals why the animal is being hunted . Teresa Rehman in Tehelka.

25 rhinos killed in Assam in the past 13 months, 20 in Kaziranga.

81 rhinos died of natural causes in the same period.


$35,000: The price of a rhino horn in the international market, mainly in China, where it’s considered an aphrodisiac.

A RARE success story in India’s wildlife conservation record, Assam’s Kaziranga National Park, home to the one-horned Asiatic Rhinoceros and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is struggling to come to grips with a spurt in rhino killings. Twenty rhinos were poached last year, 14 of them inside the national park and the rest in areas just outside the sanctuary. The forest department has come up with the usual excuses of being understaffed and under-equipped, but the retrenchment of casual workers in the park, leaving scores without livelihood and angry at the government apathy, has also played its damaging part.



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