Whither Goest our Tiger?

February 22, 2008 at 10:49 pm | Posted in Animal Census, asian elephant, bamboo, biodiversity, bioinversity, biosphere, Bos gaurus, census, deforestation, disingenuous, ecosystem, Elephant, Elephas, endangered species, extinction, ficus, forest, forest department, forest strata, Gaur, habitat, hardwood, Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary, IUCN, Leopard, Ministry of Environment and Forests, mismanaged forests, MOEF, monoculture, niche, Panthera, paw print plaster cast, phototrap, poaching, rosewood, Sariska, scats, strangler fig, teak, Tiger, tiger population, tree, tribal, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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vanishing tiger

As early as a couple of years ago (especially after the IUCN study) it was obvious that India’s forests had reached a crisis point. Our top predator, the Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris) was at a population nadir. The known numbers of tigers had been suddenly found to be less than half of what it should be. Even more frighteningly, in certain important tiger zones like Sariska, the tiger has completely disappeared. The extinction of our tigers stares us in the face.

Those of us who frequent the forests and who regularly participate in animal censuses have known for quite some time that the forests are deteriorating and that we have been steadily losing the battle to preserve and protect what very little is left.

Disingenuous cover-up:

The tigers were never there in the first place! The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) and their minions in “Project Tiger” now want us to believe that poor counting technique is to blame for an earlier inflated statistic. Now that proper camera traps have been placed and things are being done in a more “scientific manner”, we should all acknowledge that the tiger popultion has not actually fallen – that the population always was less than half of what we had projected…

It’s a lie because:

1) Long term forest dwellers, the tribals and the Forest Department personnel in each forest, get to know their animals very well indeed. Larger animals like the elephants and certainly both the leopards and the tigers in each of our forests are easily recognisable and identifiable as individuals.

2) The census methods used in the past, though rough and ready, are yet certainly scientific enough. When censuses are based on physical evidence such as scats and plaster casts of paw prints then there is absolutely no way that someone can claim that the populations so determined are in inferior to that of phototrapping. I would argue that in fact the phototrap is a ridiculously unscientific way to determine absolute populations when compared to the older methods!

In fact we are left to surmise that if one takes the trouble to go through the physical evidence that had been gathered over so many years of painstaking censusing, the conclusion that our tiger populations have long been declining steadily and quite drastically will have to be reached. The problem then lies with the MOEF/state Forest Departments’ perennial habit of inflating the actual counts in order to satisfy the powers that be, and in order to pacify the many and vociferous critics of the government’s many inadequacies in this regard.

In other words they have been cheating on the numbers for quite some time, and quite systematically too, and now that they have finally been caught out, the easiest recourse has been to point the finger at the supposedly faulty methodology of the past.

But why has the tiger declined and is it only the tiger that is in trouble?

A case in point in the present instance is the debate on allowing forest dwellers to continue to occupy their niches within the confines of the many forests of our land. Persuasive voices say that here is a major factor in the degredation of our prime habitats.

There are many other factors too. Take a look at the great number of private estates that sit squarely within our forest areas. They are certainly doing their bit to destroy the forests around them for one thing, with their use of fertilizers and pesticides and for another the exploitation, contamination, and pollution of the forests’ precious water resources are all having a disastrous impact. Then we have our MOEF’s penchant for suddenly granting mining and even forage/fodder licenses in our few remaining forest areas. They will then even come up with environmental clearances for these absolutely destructive projects and all in the name of ‘development’!

But these issues, though important, are not yet the worst of the culprits. The forests as a whole are under great threat due to lopsided and simplistic mismanagement over many decades. We know that our hardwood fig “strangling”trees are being poached along with our sandalwood. Trees such as the rosewood and mahogany are simply never seen within our ‘Reserve’ or National Park Forests. If we can’t protect these huge trees that are so difficult to transport out (where the take per tree is less than 200,000 rupees now for the illegal logger) , then where is the question of our being able to protect our leopards and tigers? A tiger will earn a poacher not less than a million rupees and all that it takes is a well placed wire trap or some poisoned bait – and a buyer.

In other words, if we cannot protect our trees, there’s no way that we can claim to be adequately protecting our precious tigers. Combine the loss to poaching with the ridiculously bioinverse policy of planting large tracts of monocultures of “economically important” species such as teak or bamboo – and of course these then have to be harvested – and you do indeed begin to have the recipe for the disaster that now faces us.

Once the forest’s precious tree diversity is gone, the forest itself gets degraded and becomes a poorer and poorer habitat that will soon not be able to support top predators like the tiger. Biodiversity is undermined at all levels. Other critical animal populations, notably the elephant and bison, will then have to start wandering out of the ‘protected’ zones in search of food and water, and that will lead to increasing incidences of man-animal conflicts in the forest’s surroundings.

Too Little is protected

One final point for today’s debate: The earmarked, and presently “protected”, territory is very inadequate. Tigers roam over a huge areas of range. They spread out so that they do not much have to encounter one another. I have seen two wild tigers while hiking in scrub jungle, well outside the confines of the nearest reserve forest. Clearly we need to expand the buffer zones around the core areas of our remaining tiger populations. We also have to eventually find the funding to fence the forests and forest denizens in (and the poachers out). In the meantime, if we can start by adequately expanding the buffer areas and perhaps even provide linking corridors between nearly contiguous stretches of forest, this in itself will start to make a fantastic difference!

Environmentalists and forest watchers who care and who have raised their voices of protest have been silenced by committees of armchair scientists, most of whom have never even seen a real live wild tiger to speak of. It’s up to us now, the common folks of this great land of the erstwhile Royal Bengal Tiger, to keep the issues alive and to make the careless of officialdom accountable for the precious heritage that they are allowing to be destroyed before our very eyes.

IF YOU CARE AND WOULD LIKE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE:

Let your voice be heard.forest strata

Make the protection of our forests a major issue of national importance.

Make a note of whom the current union and state ministers of Forests and Environment happen to be, and track their performance and the quality of their decision making very carefully. At the first sign of bad decisions, let the concerned party know that the mis-steps have been noted and will be issues to be discussed by the public (thats us!).

Publicise (write to the editor or to an investigative journalist of your local paper), document, and protest each and every incident of forest abuse that you see or find out about.

Get personally involved; participate in censuses, take up projects to help forest tribals become independent of the forests, talk to your friends about the plight of our forests and encourage one another to become activists for the sake of saving the little that still remains.

Teach your children well, for the future is in their hands…

This was first posted at Ponnvandu, and has now been slightly modified here. The issues are broad and of great importance so I’ve posted most of that article here.
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BIODIVERSITY versus Global Warming

May 19, 2007 at 9:49 pm | Posted in biodiversity, bioinversity, biosphere, ecosystem, endangered species, global warming | 2 Comments

A lovely new tool for comparing up to three different blogworld variables is available on icerocket and I used it to see how biodiversity was doing in comparison to global warming in the blogosphere.

The result was disheartening. Folks are much, much more worried about a crisis that is yet to come than they are about an ongoing and potentially much more devastating one – loss of BIODIVERSITY!

I AM A BIT AT A LOSS. How does one convince people that we are losing species permanently on a daily basis? Once stable ecosystems are endangered and will be irrecoverably lost if we don’t start taking immediate action. Once a species is lost it will never be regained and once an ecosystem is damaged by species loss, that ecosystem is doomed!

Here are the actual stats as of May 18th, 2007:

GW = Global Warming, B = Biodiversity and E = Endangered Species

Trend Terms……Posts per day……….Average %…….Total posts

GW…………………1,353.91…………….. 0.1791………….121,852

B……………………..53.16………………..0.0069……………4,784

E……………………..96.30………………..0.0127……………8,667

That’s at present something like 25 times as much activity on GW than it deserves and biodiversity needs to get 50 times stronger…

Any Bright Ideas?

The minute you start getting concerned about bioinversity and start blogging on it and doing something about it, these stats will surely improve.

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Biodiversity II – or How to be LESS Inversive!

April 5, 2007 at 5:48 pm | Posted in biodiversity, bioinversity, biosphere, Cycas revoluta, deforestation, ecosystem, endangered species, environment, forest, marine life, observation, teach your children, teach your parents | Leave a comment
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The variety of life is absolutely essential for the survival of life on planet earth. Ecosystems are made up of an incredible range of habitats and habitats are a major driving force for biodiversity.

Mankind’s effect on habitats is to radically modify them to suit perceived, short-term needs. See a forest – start cutting and burning because what you want more of is space to build and to grow the few plants that provide humans with food. Now, of course it is the worldwide timber mafia that is destroying forests to make a very quick buck.

The 6 rules for saving our planet are simple:


1. Leave nature alone.
2. Don’t pollute.
3. Be least wasteful.
4. Analyse the longterm impact before taking any action.
5. Organise to save nature.
6. Participate in conservancy efforts locally.


Every species occupies its own little niche in an ecosystem. The ecosystem is sustained by the creatures that successfully fill up their respective niches. This interlinking means that the loss of species will result in the death of an ecosystem.

Changes in ecosystems threaten all life for eventually all niches, including man’s are tied to the environment of our planet.

Think about it. Learn to love the diversity of nature that keeps us all alive.

Act, or don’t – appropriately

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Biodiversity – The Inverse Main Point

April 3, 2007 at 6:14 am | Posted in biodiversity, bioinversity, biosphere, blogosphere, global warming, GW | 17 Comments


The blogosphere is full of much talk of environmental issues.

GW (or global warming) seems to take the cake for popularity. The fear factor and much media hype are partly responsible for the focus on GW even though one admits that the overall concern may be a very valid one.

But, for the biosphere, what are the real issues and environmental concerns?

If I had to pick the one greatest concern it would be the growth of
bioinversity / the loss of biodiversity.

I prefer the previous term as more descriptive of what is actually happening – species of all sorts are disappearing once and for all.
It is frightening. Bioinversity means that ecosystems will die, for
the interdependencies are huge.
We won’t notice the changes
overnight but our children,
and theirs in turn, will curse us as
the blindest of fools!

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PREMEDITATED OCEAN RAPE

January 13, 2007 at 11:51 am | Posted in biodiversity, bioinversity, biosphere, corral harvesting, dugong, ecosystem, endangered species, Gulf of Mannar, mangrove, niche, ocean, Ptychodera, sethusamudram, tsunami | 5 Comments
The Gulf of Mannar lies just East and South of the temple town of Rameshwaram on the S.E. coast of India. The region has been declared a biosphere of great importance to the entire Indian Ocean and was the very first declared UNESCO recognised biosphere reserve (1989). It may well qualify as the world’s richest area of marine biological resource. There is a particularly rich diversity of ecological niches including 21 uninhabited islands, with estuaries, beaches, forests of the nearshore environment, with marine algal communities, sea grasses, coral reefs, salt marshes and mangroves!
The sea cow, Dugong dugon (related to the manatee), with child – a very rare sight these days

There is a combined flora and fauna of more than 3,600 species represented here within an area of 10,500 sq km. Many of these species are endemic to this particular area of shallow ocean and include a number of critically endangered species (see the Red List). Just one example on the island of Kurusadai, less than a kilometre from the Indian mainland, is the world’s one and only outpost of a subspecies of Ptychodera – a hemichordate (‘acornworm’) found nowhere else! New species and subspecies are constantly being ‘discovered’ in this area while simultaneously a number of previously common endemics seem to have completely disappeared.

The area also traditionally provides a rich and renewable source of food and livelihood to over 3 million native fisherfolk along our Indian coastline. Over the last decade, mechanised trawlers and biodegredation have been driving many of these families into penury.
Right through the heart of this precious and already highly stressed zone, our wise government proposes to carve out a channel, wide and deep enough to allow large, ocean going vessels easier access to India’s ports. The ships will therefore be able to completely bypass the trip around Sri Lanka.
The Tsunami did its share, coming as a boon to the promoters of the ‘S’ project because the native fisherfolks, who were the most vociferous objectors, have been effectively driven from their villages and are reduced to living off handouts. And this does not take into account the coastal population on the other side of the gulf where lies Sri Lanka (Ceylon), who are even worse off due to the ongoing civil war there that compounds the devastation left by the Tsunami.
The Sethusamudram project further calls for continuous dredging of this canal which will result in huge quantities of silt continuously being spread throughout, destroying not only sea grass but corrals and algal growth also. The algae,plants, and corrals are the backbone of the whole food chain – with all opposition silenced we are staring at a scenario of total destruction of entire livelihoods, habitats and ecosystems.

The fact is that organised overfishing and almost no protection for the fragile reserve has already resulted in massive destruction of corral and mangrove, the two most precious ecosystems, which together account for 90% of the area’s biodiversity. Unrestrained blasting and harvesting of corral to feed hungry cement plants, overfishing mainly due to the extensive use of trawlers by multnationals (for export) and specific destruction such as the targeting of sea cucumbers, ornamental fish, crustaceans (prawns, lobsters, crabs), turtles and sharks (both for soup!), have all taken a heavy toll on this unique and irreplaceable “biosphere”.

Perhaps most shocking is the studied silence of the U.N. and almost all organisations involved in promoting conservation / biodiversity. Our government claims to have extensively studied the project’s environmental impact but in the face of their winking at the daily destruction one wonders what it is that they have been claiming to conserve!

The fact is that mega projects like this one mean mega bucks for all the private and governmental players. In the face of such gross shortsightedness (not to mention greed), the world’s bioinversity can only multiply apace.

After carefully studying the issues I urge you to

OBJECT TO THE SETHUSAMUDRAM PROJECT!

PLEASE JOIN TOGETHER TO OPPOSE THE RAPE OF THE GULF OF MANNAR and of any of our oceans in whichever corner of this globe you may happen to be…

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Stunted Palm, Hefty Fern? No, it’s a CYCAD!

November 23, 2006 at 5:35 pm | Posted in Araucaria, bioinversity, circinate vernation, Cyathea, Cycad, Cycas, Cycas circinalis, Cycas revoluta, fern allies, Gingko, horsetails, Jerry A. Snider, lycopsid, Permian, Seed Fern, Tree Fern | Leave a comment

We were so excitedly lucky to see a stand of native Indian cycads – Cycas circinalis – in the Anamalais Hills recently (top).

My second year at college and I was in a quandary. The unlikely result was a course in plant morphology! I thought I knew a lot about plants and thought them much less interesting than animals but soon discovered the depths of my ignorance.
One of the fascinating groups of plants that Dr. Jerry A. Snider introduced to us was the Cycadales. Cycads, as they are commonly known, seem to have been around for at least 300 million years! They were an important part of the flora of the Carboniferous and Permian periods and formed a portion of the vast forests that we now mine as coal. The dominant plants back then included the Lycopsids (club ferns – some small relatives still survive), and other ‘fern allies’ including the Seed Ferns (now extinct, illustrated here, left and right) along with early relatives of the Gymnosperms (Pines and connifers).
Cycads are considered to be “living fosssils” along with Gingko, Araucaria and fern allies like the club ferns, horsetails, Sellaginella and so on…
Cycads seem somewhat in-between the ferns and the connifers / flowering types, which we often think of as ‘higher’ plants.
Most wild Cycads are rare, even in tropical lands but especially so in temperate areas, so it was a great pleasure to see healthy Cycas circinalis in these forests.
The commonest Cycad is a gardener’s favourite, Cycas revoluta.

Odd looking creatures that resemble stunted palm trees, the cycads are often mistaken for palms. They have male plants and female plants that produce the most fascinatingly unusual male and female ‘cones’ for reproduction.

Another strange feature is that the fronds (leaves) unfurl very much like a fern’s fronds do – what botanists call circinate vernation. It is beautiful to see little shoots like stumpy fiddleheads slowly unrolling into magnificant full-scale fronds. Supposedly a sign of ‘primitivity’, such unfurling is also shared by some connifers like Araucaria (Newfoundland Island Pine) and the ferns allies.
Along with other rare and beautiful species (like tree ferns – see Cyathea, below) that occupy the understory of ‘old’ forests, the cycads are dying out due to deforestation.
Bioinversity marches on!
The cycads are even more endangered as they are very, very slow growing. Something a meter high may be 100 or more years old! Once a few are destroyed they will take literally centuries to regrow!
Wonders of God’s creation and signposts of biodiversity, these are creatures to be treasured!

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Treetops and Topslip

November 3, 2006 at 6:07 pm | Posted in Batrachostomus moniliger, bioinversity, Bos gaurus, Gaur, Langur, Muntiacus muntjak, Nilgiritragus hylocrius, Ratufa indica, Tahr, Topslip, Trachypithecus johnii, Treehouse, Western Ghats | 2 Comments

Getting into the forest is the most rejuvenating experience possible!

Topslip is the main outpost of the Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary, A national park administered by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department in the Western Ghats Catchment area of the state, bordered on the West by the Parambikulam sanctuary in Kerala and on the East by the Anamalai hills.

The entire complex is a very precious reservoir of biodivarsity for an ecosystem that includes one of the only remaining regions of tropical rainforest, truly unique shola forests and medium montane grasslands. The last real populations of the Nilgiri Tahr (a type of mountain sheep/goat – Nilgiritragus hylocrius) are to be found in the upper reaches of these very habitats in isolated pockets of the Western Ghats biosphere.

Arriving on Wednesday, we spent one night at the Chital Forest Lodge and the next morning were given a rare oportunity to experience the newly built Treetops Suites. These are real treehouses placed, seemingly precariously, on stilts of living teak trees, the suites are comfortable and include functioning bathrooms and even hot water!
The evenings were misty and with the onset of the monsoons, we had periods of heavy rain followed by intervals of light drizzle. The spotted deer and wild boar were out in force and the population of the Nilgiri Langurs (Trachypithecus johnii) seems to be very healthy in this forest but they are endangered due to habitat loss and poaching as it is rumoured that their flesh has aphrodisiac properties.
We were surprised by a herd of the endangered Kaattu Erumai (Gaur, Indian ‘Bison’ – Bos gaurus) who wandered through the camp on the second day. These are massive beasts with the bulls weighing in at over a ton, beautifully marked, generally shy and found only in deep forests, it was a treat to watch them calmly walking through.
The nights were very special. A serenade of insect, tree frog and barking deer calls, with lowering mists and very faint moonlight filtering through. The barking deerMuntiacus muntjak) were obviously tracking larger predators, either leopards or tigers.

Oh, the smells! Delightful wafts of wildflowers, honey, ripe fruits and spices; clean healthy air to relish breathing.

All of our attempts to enter the Karian Shola were dashed by the spells of pelting rain. This patch of Shola is very special as it is one of the last resorts in India for the Ceylon Frogmouth (Batrachostomus moniliger) a fascinating bird that mimics dead leaves so perfectly that it is hard to spot even from a few feet away!

Just as we were getting ready to leave, Sellamuthu, the Treetops’ Forest Guide, pulled us out to watch a pair of giant malabar squirrels (Ratufa indica) gambolling in the tops of the nearby teak trees. They were having fun chasing each other around and making incredible leaps from branch to trunk completely oblivious to the fact that they were a good 100 ft up.

Even in these aparently rich forests man’s ravages are very evident. Large plantations of teak tree monocultures have replaced a highly diverse forest ecosystem. Attempts to propagate the forest species of trees have been failures and it is becoming obvious that climate change is inimical to the original habitats. The planted seedlings simply don’t survive.

In oder to try to promote diversity, species of bamboo have been introduced but introduced species usually create their own imbalances.

We are witnessing bioinversity in action.

So, we take our children to these forests, knowing that our grandchildren will not see anything resembling them at all.

Thanks to Pandiyan for the nilgiri langur pic.

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