Category: Bio Diversity & Its Threat

30 years of Project Elephant

Why in News?

  • President Droupadi Murmu took part in Gaj Utsav at Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve (KNPTR) in Assam to mark 30 years of Project Elephant.

Status of Elephants in India:

  • India has about 27,000 Asian Elephants, which is the world’s largest population of the species.
  • As per Elephant Census (2017), Karnataka has the highest number of elephants (6,049), followed by Assam (5,719) and Kerala (3,054)
  • More than 60% of the world’s elephant population is in India.
  • The elephant is the Natural Heritage Animal of India

Characteristics of Elephants:

  • They are highly intelligent with strong family bonds
  • They have the longest gestation period of all mammals (18 to 22 months)
  • Adult male Asian elephants are less social than females.
  • The elephant makes a low, rumbling sound that can be heard up to 5 miles away.
  • An elephant can carry up to 7 tons, making it one of the world’s strongest animals.

What is Project Elephant?

  • Project elephant is a centrally sponsored scheme launched in February 1992.
  • The scheme helps and assists in the management and protection of elephants to the States having free-ranging populations of wild elephants, in order to ensure the survival of elephant population in the wild and protection of elephant habitat and elephant corridor.
  • Project elephant is mainly implemented in 16 States / UTs, which includes Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand, Kerala, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Uttaranchal West Bengal Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh.
  • The union government provides financial and technical assistance to the states to achieve the goals of this project.
  • Help is also provided for the purpose of the census, training of field officials and to ensure the mitigation and prevention of human-elephant conflict.
  • There are around 32 elephant Reserves in India notified by the state governments. The first elephant reserve was the Singhbhum elephant Reserve of Jharkhand.

What are the Government efforts in Project Elephant?

  • The document said financial and technical assistance were provided to elephant range States under the Centrally sponsored ‘Project Elephant’ scheme to protect elephants, their habitat and corridors to address issues of man-elephant conflict and welfare of captive elephants.
  • The Ministry released ₹5 crore under the Project Elephant to 22 States in the 10 years.
  • Among various measures taken, the document said that guidelines for the management of human-elephant conflict had been issued by the Ministry in October 2017 and elephant range States had been requested to implement the same.
  • Critical elephant habitats are notified as ‘elephant reserve’ for focus and synergy in elephant conservation and to reduce conflict. A total of 30 elephant reserves have been established in 14 major elephant States.
  • To reduce man-elephant conflict and to avoid retaliatory killing of elephants, compensation is provided to local communities for loss of property and life caused by wild elephants.
  • A Permanent Coordination Committee has been constituted between the Ministry of Railways and the MoEFCC for preventing elephant deaths due to train hits.

What are its other Conservation Efforts?

  • ‘Gaj Yatra’ a nationwide awareness campaign to celebrate elephants and highlight the necessity of securing elephant corridors.
  • The Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), had come out with a publication on the right of passage in 101 elephant corridors of the country in 2017, stressed on the need for greater surveillance and protection of elephant corridors.
  • The Monitoring the Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme launched in 2003 is an international collaboration that tracks trends in information related to the illegal killing of elephants from across Africa and Asia, to monitor effectiveness of field conservation efforts.

What is Human-Elephant Conflict?

  • Human-Elephant Conflict is broadly defined as “any human-elephant interaction that brings negative effects on social, economic or cultural life of humans, on elephant conservation or on the environment”.
  • Human-Elephant Conflict can be categorised as ‘direct’ or ‘indirect’.
  • Direct Conflicts: Direct conflicts impacts upon economic and physical well being of the rural communities.

Examples of direct conflict are crop damage, human death and Injury, damage to food stores, damage to other properties.

  • Indirect Conflicts: Indirect conflicts results in indirect social impacts upon people. For example, the efforts put on by the farmers to their crops and property, the fear of injury or death, and psychological stress etc.

However unlike the direct conflicts, the impact of indirect conflicts cannot be translated to economic value.

Why Human-Elephant conflicts occur?

  • Unlike tigers whose territories are within the protected areas, the elephants have only 20% of their range falling in the protected areas like national parks and sanctuaries.
  • There are about 28 elephant reserves across India covering 61,830 sq. km.
  • Due to deforestation and thinning out of forests, the elephants tend to disperse into areas with high density of human population.
  • This has made the elephants to foray into areas where they had no history of presence for several decades, even centuries.
  • Destruction of elephant habitat has made them to move constantly.
  • Second, the growing human population has resulted in the expansion of human settlements in the elephant migration routes.
  • This often results in the human-elephant conflicts. As of now, there are approximately 100 elephant corridors in the country.
  • The conflict gets intensified when people try to chase away elephants with searchlights, crackers or guns, making the elephants even more aggressive.

India celebrates 50 successful years of “Project Tiger”

Why in News?

  • The Indian government will officially mark the 50th year of ‘Project Tiger’ on 9 April with a three-day event in Mysuru, Karnataka.

About the Project Tiger:

  • Project Tiger – an initiative to save tigers, was first initiated in the year April 1, 1973 in Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand, during Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s tenure.
  • Aim: Ensuring a viable population of Bengal tigers in their natural habitats, protecting them from extinction, and preserving areas of biological importance as a natural heritage
  • From 9 tiger reserves since its formative years, the Project Tiger coverage has increased to 54 Tiger Reserves (Guru Ghasidas National Park and the Tamor Pingla Wildlife Sanctuary in Chhattisgarh being the latest), spread out in 18 of our tiger range states.
  • The tiger reserves are constituted on a core/buffer strategy.
  • Core areas have the legal status of a national park or a sanctuary.
  • Whereas, buffer or peripheral areas are a mix of forest and non-forest land, managed as a multiple use area.
  • The government has set up a Tiger Protection Force to combat poachers and funded relocation of villagers to minimize human-tiger conflicts.
  • National Tiger Conservation Authority was established in 2005 following a recommendation of the Tiger Task Force, to reorganise management of Project Tiger and the many Tiger Reserves in India. It is the overarching body for conservation of tigers in India.

About the NTCA:

  • Environment Minister is the Chairman of the NTCA.
  • Below chairman are eight expertsor professionals having qualifications and experience in wildlife conservation and welfare of people including tribals, apart from three Members of Parliament (1 Rajya Sabha, 2 Lok Sabha).
  • The Inspector General of Forests, in charge of project Tiger, serves as ex-officio Member Secretary.
  • Its main administrative function is to approve the Tiger Conservation Plan prepared by the State Governments and then evaluate and assess various aspects of sustainable ecology and disallow any ecologically unsustainable land use such as, mining, industry and other projects within the tiger reserves.
  • As per the WLPA, every State Government has the authority to notify an area as a tiger reserve.
  • However, the Tiger Conservation Plans sent by state government need to be approved by the NTCA first.
  • Alternatively, Central Government via NTCA may advise the state governments to forward a proposal for creation of Tiger Reserves.

Challenges faced by project tiger:

  • Poaching: Project Tiger’s efforts were mainly hampered by poaching, also by the debacles and irregularities in Sariska and Namdapha.
  • As per NTCA, 1059 tiger deaths were in the last 10 years, most in Madhya Pradesh
  • Conflict with FRA, 2006: The Forest Rights Act passed by the Indian government in 2006 recognizes the rights of some forest-dwelling communities in forest areas.
  • Lack of adequate protection in the outside tiger reserve.
  • According to a report, nearly 29 per cent of tigers lives outside of the core zone
  • Man-Animal Conflicts Wildlife habitats are shrinking leading to more instances of human-animal conflict.
  • From 2001 to 2016, 1,065 cases of human-tiger conflict were recorded including injuries and even fatalities on both sides.

Factors that determine tiger density:

  • Availability of food and space.
  • Tolerance levels exhibited by the locals who live around them to policymakers who decide management strategies.

Causes for human wildlife conflict:

  • Physical (space) and biological (forest productivity) factors have an obvious influence on a reserve’s carrying capacity of tigers.
  • More so when different land uses overlap and a good number of people depend on forest resources for livelihood.

What is the way ahead to avoid conflict in tiger density areas?

  • Artificially boosting the prey base in a reserve.
  • Tiger corridors: Create safe connectivity among forests and allow tigers to disperse safely to new areas.

Key facts related to tiger population:

  • As per the World Wide Fund for Nature, the number of tigers dropped by 95 per cent over the past 150 years.
  • India is the land of royal tigers and current tiger population stands at 2967 which is 70 per cent of the global tiger population.
  • Madhya Pradesh has the highest number of tigers at 526, closely followed by Karnataka (524) and Uttarakhand (442).
  • Kanha Tiger Reserve in Madhya Pradesh is the first tiger reserve in India to officially introduce a mascot, Bhoorsingh the Barasingha.

Conservation efforts- National and Global:

  • The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has launched the M-STrIPES (Monitoring System for Tigers – Intensive Protection and Ecological Status), a mobile monitoring system for forest guards.
  • At the Petersburg Tiger Summit in 2010, leaders of 13 tiger range countries resolved to do more for the tiger and embarked on efforts to double its number in the wild, with a popular slogan ‘T X 2’.
  • The Global Tiger Initiative (GTI) program of the World Bank, using its presence and convening ability, brought global partners together to strengthen the tiger agenda.
  • Over the years, the initiative has institutionalised itself as a separate entity in the form of the Global Tiger Initiative Council (GTIC), with its two arms –the Global Tiger Forum and the Global Snow Leopard Ecosystem Protection Program.
  • The Project Tiger, launched way back in 1973, has grown to more than 50 reserves amounting to almost 2.2% of the country’s geographical area.

Protection Status:

  • Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972: Schedule I.
  • International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List:
  • Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES): Appendix I.

Marine Protected Areas

Why in News?

  • Recently, the Ministry of Earth Sciences, Government of India has announced that India will support setting up two Marine Protected Areas (MPA) in Antarctica to protect marine life and its ecosystem services.

What are the MPAs?

  • MPA is a defined region managed for the long-term conservation of marine resources, ecosystem services or cultural heritage.
  • Within the region, certain activities are limited, or entirely prohibited, to meet specific conservation, habitat protection, ecosystem monitoring or fisheries management objectives.
  • MPAs do not necessarily exclude fishing, research or other human activities; in fact, many MPAs are multi-purpose areas.

Need for Setting MPAs in Antarctica:

  • The Southern Ocean that encircles Antarctica covers around 10 % of the global ocean and is home to nearly 10,000 unique polar species.
  • Climate change is altering habitats such as sea ice and the sheltered seafloor under ice shelves that are home to a variety of species.
  • Commercial fishery harvest krill, to produce fish meal for feeding farmed fish and nutritional supplements for people.
  • Increased harvesting of krill threatens animals that feed on them. These include fish, whales, seals, penguins and other seabirds.
  • A 2022 study that analysed over forty years of krill fishery data found that krill fishing was highest in the regions surrounding the Western Antarctic Peninsula and near the South Orkney Islands.
  • Climate change and commercial fishing of the region need to be minimised, and therefore MPA is necessary.

What is the Status of MPAs in Antarctica?

  • The Southern Ocean has two MPAs, one in the southern shelf of the South Orkney Islands and the other in the Ross Sea. These fully protect only 5% of the ocean.
  • All types of fishing, other than scientific research, are prohibited within the southern shelf of the South Orkney Islands MPA. Discharges and dumping from fishing vessels are also not allowed.
  • In Ross MPA, 72% of the waters are closed to commercial fishing.
  • Since 2012, the European Union and Australia have proposed an MPA in East Antarctica. An MPA was proposed in the Weddell Sea by the EU and Norway and in the waters surrounding the Antarctic Peninsula by Chile and Argentina.
  • In 2021, India extended its support for designating East Antarctica and the Weddell Sea as MPA.
  • But according to reports, China and Russia blocked these efforts at the 41st annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

What is Krill?

  • Krill are small, shrimp-like crustaceans that are found in all the world’s oceans. They are an important part of the marine food chain, serving as a primary food source for many species of fish, birds, and whales.
  • Krill are typically 1 to 6 centimeters in length and are known for their distinctive appearance, which includes large eyes, a translucent body, and long, feathery antennae.
  • Krill plays a crucial role in regulating the Earth’s climate by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in the deep ocean.

Committee to Oversee Transfer/Import of Wild Animals in India

Why in News?

  • The Supreme Court has increased the jurisdiction and powers of a high-powered committee led by its former judge, Justice Deepak Verma, to conduct necessary checks concerning the import, transfer, procurement, rescue and rehabilitation of wild animals, including those in captivity, across India.

About the News:

  • Before, the committee’s powers were only limited to Tripura and Gujarat, but now it has been extended to cover the whole of India.

What are the Major Changes in the Jurisdiction of the Committee?

  • State Chief Wildlife Wardens will also be part of the committee, and it will handle all present and future complaints regarding the issue.
  • The committee can also consider requests for approval, dispute, or grievance regarding the welfare of wild animals by rescue centres or zoos across India.
  • The Supreme court ordered Central and State authorities to report the seizure of wild animals or abandonment of captive wild animals to the committee.

What are the Major Issues Related to Captive Wild Animals in India?

  • Lack of Adequate Facilities: Many zoos and rescue centres in India are not equipped with the necessary facilities and resources to provide proper care for captive animals.
  • Besides food poisoning, zoo animals also suffer due to animal-human conflict and lack of veterinary care for diseases like hepatitis, tick fever etc.
  • According to CAG audit report 2020 reveals glaring gaps in animal health care in Bengaluru and other state zoos. The Delhi Zoo alone has lost around 450 animals, including tigers and lions due to health reasons.
  • Illegal Trade: There is a thriving illegal trade in wild animals in India, with many animals being captured and sold for their fur, skin, or for use in traditional medicine.
  • This has led to a decline in many species, and many captive animals are believed to have been illegally acquired.
  • Examples: Pangolins and Indian star tortoises are illegally traded in India for their meat, skin, or as pets, contributing to the decline of their populations.
  • Inadequate Rehabilitation: Many rescued animals are not properly rehabilitated before being released back into the wild. This can lead to problems with their survival and adaptation to their natural habitat.

Way Forward:

  • Improved Regulations: The Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 is a crucial regulation for the protection of wildlife in India. However, there is a need to strengthen and update this law to keep up with changing conditions.
  • Protecting Natural Habitats: Protecting the natural habitats of wild animals is crucial for their survival. This includes efforts to prevent deforestation, poaching, and other threats to their natural habitats.
  • Multisectoral Collaboration: Collaboration between government agencies, NGOs, and other stakeholders is crucial for improving the welfare of captive wild animals in India.
  • By wor
  • king together, they can identify and implement effective solutions to the problems facing these animals.

Man and Elephant Conflicts

Why in News?

  • Two adult female elephants and a makhna were electrocuted by an illegal electric farm fence here, near a village in Marandahalli recently.

What does the report say?

  • A document accessed from the Ministry through the Right to Information (RTI) Act revealed that While electrocution claimed the lives of 741 elephants, train hits led to the death of 186 pachyderms, followed by poaching – 169, and poisoning – 64.
  • Karnataka and Odisha lost 133 elephants each due to electrocution during the period and Assam reported 129 deaths.
  • Among elephant casualties due to train hits, Assam stood first with 62 deaths, followed by West Bengal at 57.
  • A total of 169 mammals were killed by poachers in the 10 years and Odisha reported the highest – 49 deaths, followed by Kerala 23.
  • Assam reported the highest number of elephants poisoned – 32, and Odisha stood second with 15 deaths.

What are the Government efforts in Project Elephant?

  • The document said financial and technical assistance were provided to elephant range States under the Centrally sponsored ‘Project Elephant’ scheme to protect elephants, their habitat and corridors to address issues of man-elephant conflict and welfare of captive elephants.
  • The Ministry released ₹5 crore under the Project Elephant to 22 States in the 10 years.
  • Among various measures taken, the document said that guidelines for the management of human-elephant conflict had been issued by the Ministry in October 2017 and elephant range States had been requested to implement the same.
  • Critical elephant habitats are notified as ‘elephant reserve’ for focus and synergy in elephant conservation and to reduce conflict. A total of 30 elephant reserves have been established in 14 major elephant States.
  • To reduce man-elephant conflict and to avoid retaliatory killing of elephants, compensation is provided to local communities for loss of property and life caused by wild elephants.
  • A Permanent Coordination Committee has been constituted between the Ministry of Railways and the MoEFCC for preventing elephant deaths due to train hits.

What is the concern?

  • Few regions like Gudalur in Tamil Nadu has been in the centre of the human-elephant conflict for the past few decades with research studies indicating that the disappearance of forest cover and swamp lands, and the associated micro habitats, had led to this trend.
  • The death of humans, more males than females, after attacked by the wild elephants and the number of deaths of elephants caused by human beings has also been high in these range in the past few decades.
  • Likewise, the property damaged by elephants has also been high in the range.

What is Human-Elephant Conflict?

  • Human-Elephant Conflict is broadly defined as “any human-elephant interaction that brings negative effects on social, economic or cultural life of humans, on elephant conservation or on the environment”.
  • Human-Elephant Conflict can be categorised as ‘direct’ or ‘indirect’.
  • Direct Conflicts: Direct conflicts impacts upon economic and physical well being of the rural communities. Examples of direct conflict are crop damage, human death and Injury, damage to food stores, damage to other properties.
  • Indirect Conflicts: Indirect conflicts results in indirect social impacts upon people. For example, the efforts put on by the farmers to their crops and property, the fear of injury or death, and psychological stress etc. However unlike the direct conflicts, the impact of indirect conflicts cannot be translated to economic value.

Why Human-Elephant conflicts occur?

  • Unlike tigers whose territories are within the protected areas, the elephants have only 20% of their range falling in the protected areas like national parks and sanctuaries. There are about 28 elephant reserves across India covering 61,830 sq. km.
  • Due to deforestation and thinning out of forests, the elephants tend to disperse into areas with high density of human population.
  • This has made the elephants to foray into areas where they had no history of presence for several decades, even centuries. Destruction of elephant habitat has made them to move constantly.
  • Second, the growing human population has resulted in the expansion of human settlements in the elephant migration routes.
  • This often results in the human-elephant conflicts. As of now, there are approximately 100 elephant corridors in the country.
  • The conflict gets intensified when people try to chase away elephants with searchlights, crackers or guns, making the elephants even more aggressive.

Key Facts regarding the Conflicts:

  • Between 2015 and 2020, nearly 2,500 people have lost their lives in elephant attacks across India out of which about 170 human fatalities have been reported in Karnataka alone, according to KVIC.
  • India has the largest number of wild Asian Elephants, estimated at 29,964 according to the 2017 census by Project Elephant. The figure amounts to about 60% of the species’ global population.
  • Over 500 humans are killed in encounters with elephants annually, and crops and property worth millions are also damaged. Many elephants are also killed in retaliation due to conflict.

Other practices to ward of Elephants:

  • A pilot project launched in Kodagu entails installing bee boxes along the periphery of the forest and the villages with the belief that the elephants will not venture anywhere close to the bees and thus avoid transgressing into human landscape. This idea stems from the elephants’ proven fear of the bees.
  • A variety of management strategies and practices has been developed and customised for implementing at different scales by the State Forest Departments for preventing and mitigating human-elephant conflict.
  • These best practices have been discussed under several categories such as retaining elephants in their natural habitats by creating water sources and management of forest fires.
  • The other best practices include elephant-proof trenches in Tamil Nadu, hanging fences and rubble walls in Karnataka, use of chilli smoke in north Bengal and playing the sound of bees or carnivores in Assam.

Use of technology in avoiding conflicts:

  • The process of individual identification and monitoring of elephants in south Bengal. Other ideas include sending SMS alerts to warn of elephant presence.
  • The elephant expert recommended cost-benefit analysis for these policies and said that it should be done in context of the economic damage caused by elephants to crops.
  • Practices such as elephant-proof trenches should be discouraged in areas that receive more than 1,500 mm rainfall a year. “Hanging wire electric fences that produce electricity for milliseconds have given positive results. These practices have been tried in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu”.

Innovative practices around the world to minimise Human-Elephant conflicts:

  • To keep elephants at a safe distance from their farms and homes, some African villagers have turned to two unlikely, all-natural solutions: bees and hot peppers. Elephants dislike the chemical capsaicin found in chilli peppers, prompting farmers in Tanzania to smother their fences with a mixture of oil and chilli peppers.
  • Solar powered electric fences keep crop-raiding elephants out of fields in Africa.
  • In Canada, they constructed wildlife corridors, areas of preserved native habitat in human dominated regions, providing wildlife with a safe pathway as they travel between one to another.

About Asian Elephants:

  • There are three subspecies of Asian elephant – the Indian, Sumatran and Sri Lankan.
  • The Indian has the widest range and accounts for the majority of the remaining elephants on the continent.
  • African elephants are listed as “vulnerable” and Asian elephants as “endangered” in IUCN Red List of threatened species.
  • The elephant has been accorded the highest possible protection under the Indian wildlife law through its listing under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
  • Government of India has launched various initiatives for conservation of elephants.

What is Project Elephant?

  • Project elephant is a centrally sponsored scheme launched in February 1992. The scheme helps and assists in the management and protection of elephants to the States having free-ranging populations of wild elephants, in order to ensure the survival of elephant population in the wild and protection of elephant habitat and elephant corridor.
  • Project elephant is mainly implemented in 16 States / UTs, which includes Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand, Kerala, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Uttaranchal West Bengal Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh.
  • The union government provides financial and technical assistance to the states to achieve the goals of this project. Help is also provided for the purpose of the census, training of field officials and to ensure the mitigation and prevention of human-elephant conflict.
  • There are around 32 elephant Reserves in India notified by the state governments. The first elephant reserve was the Singhbhum elephant Reserve of Jharkhand.

What are its other Conservation Efforts?

  • ‘Gaj Yatra’ a nationwide awareness campaign to celebrate elephants and highlight the necessity of securing elephant corridors.
  • The Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), had come out with a publication on the right of passage in 101 elephant corridors of the country in 2017, stressed on the need for greater surveillance and protection of elephant corridors.The Monitoring the Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme launched in 2003 is an international collaboration that tracks trends in information related to the illegal killing of elephants from across Africa and Asia, to monitor effectiveness of field conservation efforts.

Mangroves got a Budget push

Why in News?

  • The Union Budget for 2023-24 announced an initiative for mangrove plantation along the coastline and on salt pan lands, under MISHTI (Mangrove Initiative for Shoreline Habitats & Tangible Incomes).

About MISHTI scheme:

  • Building on India’s success in afforestation, ‘Mangrove Initiative for Shoreline Habitats & Tangible Incomes’, MISHTI, will be taken up for mangrove plantation along the coastline and on salt pan lands, wherever feasible, through convergence between MGNREGS, CAMPA Fund and other sources.

What are Mangroves?

  • Mangroves are the plant communities occurring in inter-tidal zones along the coasts of tropical and subtropical countries.
  • Mangrove forests perform multiple ecological functions such as production of woody trees, provision of habitat, food and spawning grounds for fin-fish and shellfish, provision of habitat for birds and other valuable fauna; protection of coastlines and accretion of sediment to form new land.
  • Among the states and Union Territories, West Bengal has the highest percentage of area under total Mangrove cover followed by Gujarat and Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
  • The India State of Forest Report gives the data about mangroves and their conditions in the country.

Mangrove Alliance for Climate (MAC):

  • Launched at the 27th session of Conference of Parties (COP27) UN climate summit, with India as a partner.
  • An initiative led by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Indonesia, the Mangrove Alliance for Climate (MAC) includes India, Sri Lanka, Australia, Japan, and Spain.
  • It seeks to educate and spread awareness worldwide on the role of mangroves in curbing global warming and its potential as a solution for climate change.

What is the current state of the mangroves?

  • South Asia houses some of the most extensive areas of mangroves globally, while Indonesia hosts one-fifth of the overall amount.
  • India holds around 3 per cent of South Asia’s mangrove population.
  • Besides the Sundarbans in West Bengal, the Andamans region, the Kachchh and Jamnagar areas in Gujarat too have substantial mangrove cover.

About Indian Sundarbans:

  • Covers 4,200 sq. km and includes the Sunderban Tiger Reserve of 2,585 sq. km — home to about 96 royal Bengal tigers (as per the last census in 2020).
  • It is a world heritage site and a Ramsar site (a wetland site designated to be of international importance).
  • It is also home to a large number of “rare and globally threatened species, such as the critically endangered northern river terrapin (Batagur baska), the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), and the vulnerable fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus).”
  • Two of the world’s four horseshoe crab species, and eight of India’s 12 species of kingfisher are also found here. Recent studies claim that the Indian Sundarban is home to 2,626 faunal species and 90% of the country’s mangrove varieties.

Corals in Thailand Getting Destroyed

Why in News?

  • Recently, it is reported that a rapidly spreading disease, commonly known as yellow band disease, is killing corals over vast stretches of the sea floor of Thailand.

What is Yellow Band Disease?

  • Yellow-band disease – named for the colour it turns corals before destroying them -was first spotted decades ago and has caused widespread damage to reefs in the Caribbean. There is no known cure.
  • The Yellow Band disease is caused by a combination of environmental stressors, including increased water temperatures, pollution, and sedimentation, as well as increased competition for space from other organisms.
  • These factors can weaken the coral and make it more susceptible to infection by pathogens, such as bacteria and fungi.
  • The disease’s impact cannot be reversed, unlike the effects of coral bleaching.
  • Scientists believe overfishing, pollution and rising water temperatures because of climate change may be making the reefs more vulnerable to yellow-band disease.

What are Coral Reefs?

  • Corals are marine invertebrates belonging to the class Anthozoa in the phylum Cnidaria.
  • They typically live in compact colonies of many identical individual polyps.
  • Coral reefs are underwater ecosystems made up of colonies of coral polyps.
  • Coral polyps live in a symbiotic relationship with a variety of photosynthetic algae called zooxanthellae, which live within their tissues.
  • These algae provide the coral with energy through photosynthesis, while the coral provides the algae with a protected environment and compounds, they need for growth.

Types of Corals:

Hard Corals:

  • They extract calcium carbonate from seawater to build hard, white coral exoskeletons.
  • They are in a way the engineers of reef ecosystems and measuring the extent of hard coral is a widely-accepted metric for measuring the condition of coral reefs.

Soft Corals:

  • They attach themselves to such skeletons and older skeletons built by their ancestors.
  • Soft corals are typically found in deeper waters and are less common than hard corals.

Significance:

  • Ecological Importance: Coral reefs are one of the most diverse and productive ecosystems on Earth, providing habitat for a wide variety of plant and animal species.
  • They also play a critical role in regulating the planet’s climate by absorbing carbon dioxide and protecting coastlines from erosion and storm damage.
  • Economic Importance: Coral reefs support a variety of industries, including fishing, tourism, and recreation. They also provide resources for medicine and biotechnology.
  • Climate Regulation: Coral reefs act as natural buffers against the impact of climate change by absorbing wave energy, protecting coastlines and reducing the impact of storms and sea level rise.
  • Biodiversity: Coral reefs are home to a vast array of marine life, including fish, sharks, crustaceans, mollusks and many more. They are considered as the rainforests of the sea.

Threats:

  • Climate change: Coral reefs are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, which is causing ocean acidification and coral bleaching.
  • Coral bleaching occurs when coral polyps expel the algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues, causing the coral to turn completely white.
  • Pollution: Coral reefs are also threatened by pollution, including sewage, agricultural runoff, and industrial discharge.
  • These pollutants can cause coral death and disease, as well as reduce the overall health of the reef ecosystem.
  • Overfishing: Overfishing can disrupt the delicate balance of coral reef ecosystems, which can lead to the decline of coral populations.
  • Coastal Development: Coastal development, such as the construction of ports, marinas, and other infrastructure, can damage coral reefs and reduce the overall health of the reef ecosystem.
  • Invasive Species: Coral reefs are also threatened by invasive species, such as the lionfish, which can outcompete native species and disrupt the overall balance of the reef ecosystem.

Initiatives to Protect Corals:

Technological Intervention:

  • Cyromesh: Storage of the coral larvae at -196°C and can be later reintroduced to the wild
  • Biorock: Creating artificial reefs on which coral can grow rapidly

Indian:

  • National Coastal Mission Programme

Global:

  • International Coral Reef Initiative
  • The Global Coral Reef R&D Accelerator Platform

MP to raise honey bee armies to ward off marauding Elephants

Why in News?

  • In an attempt to prevent incidents of human-elephant conflict, the Madhya Pradesh government has decided to pit tiny honey bees against wild elephants that stray into farms and destroy crops in the border districts of the State.

What does the report say?

  • A document accessed from the Ministry through the Right to Information (RTI) Act revealed that While electrocution claimed the lives of 741 elephants, train hits led to the death of 186 pachyderms, followed by poaching – 169, and poisoning – 64.
  • Karnataka and Odisha lost 133 elephants each due to electrocution during the period and Assam reported 129 deaths.
  • Among elephant casualties due to train hits, Assam stood first with 62 deaths, followed by West Bengal at 57.
  • A total of 169 mammals were killed by poachers in the 10 years and Odisha reported the highest – 49 deaths, followed by Kerala 23.
  • Assam reported the highest number of elephants poisoned – 32, and Odisha stood second with 15 deaths.

What are the Government efforts in Project Elephant?

  • The document said financial and technical assistance were provided to elephant range States under the Centrally sponsored ‘Project Elephant’ scheme to protect elephants, their habitat and corridors to address issues of man-elephant conflict and welfare of captive elephants. 
  • The Ministry released 212.5 crore under the Project Elephant to 22 States in the 10 years.
  • Among various measures taken, the document said that guidelines for the management of human-elephant conflict had been issued by the Ministry in October 2017 and elephant range States had been requested to implement the same.
  • Critical elephant habitats are notified as ‘elephant reserve’ for focus and synergy in elephant conservation and to reduce conflict. A total of 30 elephant reserves have been established in 14 major elephant States. 
  • To reduce man-elephant conflict and to avoid retaliatory killing of elephants, compensation is provided to local communities for loss of property and life caused by wild elephants.
  • A Permanent Coordination Committee has been constituted between the Ministry of Railways and the MoEFCC for preventing elephant deaths due to train hits.

What is the concern?

  • Few regions like Gudalur in Tamil Nadu has been in the centre of the human-elephant conflict for the past few decades with research studies indicating that the disappearance of forest cover and swamp lands, and the associated micro habitats, had led to this trend.
  • The death of humans, more males than females, after attacked by the wild elephants and the number of deaths of elephants caused by human beings has also been high in these range in the past few decades. 
  • Likewise, the property damaged by elephants has also been high in the range.

What is Human-Elephant Conflict?

  • Human-Elephant Conflict is broadly defined as “any human-elephant interaction that brings negative effects on social, economic or cultural life of humans, on elephant conservation or on the environment”.
  • Human-Elephant Conflict can be categorised as ‘direct’ or ‘indirect’.
  • Direct Conflicts: Direct conflicts impacts upon economic and physical well-being of the rural communities. Examples of direct conflict are crop damage, human death and Injury, damage to food stores, damage to other properties.
  • Indirect Conflicts: Indirect conflicts results in indirect social impacts upon people. For example, the efforts put on by the farmers to their crops and property, the fear of injury or death, and psychological stress etc. However unlike the direct conflicts, the impact of indirect conflicts cannot be translated to economic value.

Why Human-Elephant conflicts occur?

  • Unlike tigers whose territories are within the protected areas, the elephants have only 20% of their range falling in the protected areas like national parks and sanctuaries. 
  • There are about 28 elephant reserves across India covering 61,830 sq. km. 
  • Due to deforestation and thinning out of forests, the elephants tend to disperse into areas with high density of human population. 
  • This has made the elephants to foray into areas where they had no history of presence for several decades, even centuries. Destruction of elephant habitat has made them to move constantly.
  • Second, the growing human population has resulted in the expansion of human settlements in the elephant migration routes. This often results in the human-elephant conflicts. As of now, there are approximately 100 elephant corridors in the country. The conflict gets intensified when people try to chase away elephants with searchlights, crackers or guns, making the elephants even more aggressive.

Key Facts regarding the Conflicts: 

  • Between 2015 and 2020, nearly 2,500 people have lost their lives in elephant attacks across India out of which about 170 human fatalities have been reported in Karnataka alone, according to KVIC.
  • India has the largest number of wild Asian Elephants, estimated at 29,964 according to the 2017 census by Project Elephant. The figure amounts to about 60% of the species’ global population.
  • Over 500 humans are killed in encounters with elephants annually, and crops and property worth millions are also damaged. Many elephants are also killed in retaliation due to conflict.

Other practices to ward of Elephants:

  • A pilot project launched in Kodagu entails installing bee boxes along the periphery of the forest and the villages with the belief that the elephants will not venture anywhere close to the bees and thus avoid transgressing into human landscape. This idea stems from the elephants’ proven fear of the bees.
  • A variety of management strategies and practices has been developed and customised for implementing at different scales by the State Forest Departments for preventing and mitigating human-elephant conflict.
  • These best practices have been discussed under several categories such as retaining elephants in their natural habitats by creating water sources and management of forest fires.
  • The other best practices include elephant-proof trenches in Tamil Nadu, hanging fences and rubble walls in Karnataka, use of chilli smoke in north Bengal and playing the sound of bees or carnivores in Assam. 

Use of technology in avoiding conflicts:

  • The process of individual identification and monitoring of elephants in south Bengal. Other ideas include sending SMS alerts to warn of elephant presence.
  • The elephant expert recommended cost-benefit analysis for these policies and said that it should be done in context of the economic damage caused by elephants to crops.
  • Practices such as elephant-proof trenches should be discouraged in areas that receive more than 1,500 mm rainfall a year. “Hanging wire electric fences that produce electricity for milliseconds have given positive results. These practices have been tried in Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu”.

Innovative practices around the world to minimise Human-Elephant conflicts:

  • To keep elephants at a safe distance from their farms and homes, some African villagers have turned to two unlikely, all-natural solutions: bees and hot peppers. Elephants dislike the chemical capsaicin found in chilli peppers, prompting farmers in Tanzania to smother their fences with a mixture of oil and chilli peppers.
  • Solar powered electric fences keep crop-raiding elephants out of fields in Africa.
  • In Canada, they constructed wildlife corridors, areas of preserved native habitat in human dominated regions, providing wildlife with a safe pathway as they travel between one to another.

About Asian Elephants:

  • There are three subspecies of Asian elephant – the Indian, Sumatran and Sri Lankan.
  • The Indian has the widest range and accounts for the majority of the remaining elephants on the continent.
  • African elephants are listed as “vulnerable” and Asian elephants as “endangered” in IUCN Red List of threatened species.
  • The elephant has been accorded the highest possible protection under the Indian wildlife law through its listing under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
  • Government of India has launched various initiatives for conservation of elephants.

What is Project Elephant?

  • Project elephant is a centrally sponsored scheme launched in February 1992. The scheme helps and assists in the management and protection of elephants to the States having free-ranging populations of wild elephants, in order to ensure the survival of elephant population in the wild and protection of elephant habitat and elephant corridor.
  • Project elephant is mainly implemented in 16 States / UTs, which includes Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand, Kerala, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Uttaranchal West Bengal Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh.
  • The union government provides financial and technical assistance to the states to achieve the goals of this project. Help is also provided for the purpose of the census, training of field officials and to ensure the mitigation and prevention of human-elephant conflict.
  • There are around 32 elephant Reserves in India notified by the state governments. The first elephant reserve was the Singhbhum elephant Reserve of Jharkhand.

What are its other Conservation Efforts?

  •  ‘Gaj Yatra’ a nationwide awareness campaign to celebrate elephants and highlight the necessity of securing elephant corridors. The Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), had come out with a publication on the right of passage in 101 elephant corridors of the country in 2017, stressed on the need for greater surveillance and protection of elephant corridors. 
  • The Monitoring the Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme launched in 2003 is an international collaboration that tracks trends in information related to the illegal killing of elephants from across Africa and Asia, to monitor effectiveness of field conservation efforts.

Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC)

Why in News?

  • In the latest in a series of wild elephant attacks in Kerala, Subair Kutty, a daily worker, was attacked by a rouge elephant at Sulthan Bathery town adjacent to the Wayanad wildlife Sanctuary recently. 

About Human-wildlife conflict:

  • Human-Wildlife Conflict (HWC) refers to struggles that arise when the presence or behaviour of wildlife poses actual or perceived direct, recurring threats to human interests or needs, often leading to disagreements between groups of people and negative impacts on people and/or wildlife.

Causes of Human-wildlife Conflict:

  • Lack of Protected Area: Marine and terrestrial protected areas only cover 9.67% globally. About 40% of the African lion range and 70% of the African and Asian elephant ranges fall outside protected areas. In India, 35% tiger ranges currently lie outside protected areas.
  • Wildlife-borne Infections: Covid-19 pandemic – sparked by a zoonotic disease is driven by the close association of people, their livestock, and wildlife and by the unregulated consumption of wild animals. With closer and more frequent and diverse contact between animals and people, the probability of animal microbes being transferred to people increases.

Other Reasons:

  • Urbanization: In modern times rapid urbanization and industrialisation have led to the diversion of forest land to non-forest purposes, as a result, the wildlife habitat is shrinking.
  • Transport Network: The expansion of road and rail network through forest ranges has resulted in animals getting killed or injured in accidents on roads or railway tracks.
  • Increasing Human Population: Many human settlements coming up near the peripheries of protected areas and encroachment in the forest lands by local people for cultivation and collection of food and fodder etc. therefore increasing pressure on limited natural resources in the forests.

What are its Impacts?

  • Impact on Wildlife And Ecosystems: HWC can have detrimental and permanent impacts on ecosystems and biodiversity. People might kill animals in self-defence, or as pre-emptive or retaliatory killings, which can drive species involved in conflict to extinction.
  • Impact on Local Communities: The most evident and direct negative impacts to people from wildlife are injuries and the loss of lives and of livestock, crops, or other property.
  • Impact on Equity: The economic and psychological costs of living with wildlife disproportionately fall to those who live near that wildlife, while the benefits of a species’ survival are distributed to other communities as well.
  • Impact on Social Dynamics: When a HWC event affects a farmer, that farmer may blame the government for protecting the perpetrator that damages crops, while a conservation practitioner may blame industry and farmers for clearing wild habitats and creating the HWC in the first place.
  • Impact on Sustainable Development: HWC is the theme in conservation that is strongly linked to the SDGs as biodiversity is primary to sustain the developments, even though it is not explicitly mentioned as one.

What is the Solution?

  • Moving From Conflict To Coexistence: The goal of HWC management should be to enhance the safety of people and wildlife and to create mutual benefits of coexistence.
  • Integrated and Holistic Practices: Holistic HWC management approaches allow species to survive in areas where they otherwise would have declined or become extinct.
  • All species on our planet also are essential for maintaining ecosystem health and functions.
  • Participation: The full participation of local communities can help reduce HWC and lead to coexistence between humans and wildlife.

Indian Scenario:

  • India faces an increasing challenge of human wildlife conflict, which is driven by development pressures and an increasing population, high demand for land and natural resources, resulting in loss, fragmentation, and degradation of wildlife habitats.
  • These pressures intensify the interactions between people and wildlife because they often share living space without a clear demarcation of boundaries.
  • In India, data from the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change shows that over 500 elephants were killed between 2014-15 and 2018-19, most related to human-elephant conflict. 
  • During the same period, 2,361 people were killed as a result of conflict with elephants.

Some Initiatives:

  • Advisory for Management of HWC: This has been issued by the Standing Committee of National Board of Wildlife (SC-NBWL).
  • Empower Gram Panchayats: The advisory envisages empowering gram panchayats in dealing with the problematic wild animals as per the WildLife (Protection) Act, 1972.
  • Provide Insurance: Utilising add-on coverage under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna for crop compensation against crop damage due to HWC.
  • Augmenting Fodder: Envisages augmenting fodder and water sources within the forest areas.
  • Take Proactive Measures: Prescribes inter-departmental committees at local/state level, adoption of early warning systems, creation of barriers, dedicated circle wise Control Rooms with toll free hotline numbers, Identification of hotspots etc.
  • Provide Instant Relief: Payment of a portion of ex-gratia as interim relief within 24 hours of the incident to the victim/family.

State-Specific Initiatives:

  • In 2018, the Uttar Pradesh government had given its in-principle approval to bring man-animal conflict under listed disasters in the State Disaster Response Fund
  • The Uttarakhand government (2019) carried out bio-fencing by growing various species of plants in the areas. The Supreme Court (2020) affirmed the right of passage of the Elephants and the closure of resorts in the Nilgiris elephant corridor. Odisha’s Athagarh Forest Division has started casting seed balls (or bombs) inside different reserve forest areas to enrich food stock for wild elephants to prevent man-elephant conflict.

Sundarbans threatened by Human Activities

Why in News?

  • In Sundarbans, a new shrimp farming initiative offers hope for mangrove restoration.

What is the SAIME Initiative?

  • Under Sustainable Aquaculture In Mangrove Ecosystem (SAIME) initiative, farmers have taken up cultivation of shrimp at 30 hectares in West Bengal. Additionally, they are restoring mangroves.
  • Started in 2019, the community-based initiative of sustainable shrimp cultivation is being conceived by NGOs- Nature Environment and Wildlife Society (NEWS) and Global Nature Fund (GNF), Naturland, Bangladesh Environment and Development Society (BEDS).
  • The mangrove ecosystem is integrated with shrimp cultivation, but when fisheries were expanded inwards, the mangrove ecosystem was excluded.
  • Fishing, particularly shrimp cultivation, is one of the key occupations of the people of Sundarbans, which is a complex network of rivers and low-lying islands that face a tide surge twice a day.
  • Shrimp cultivation is practised in about 15,000 to 20,000 hectares of the unique ecosystem in India.

Issues and challenges in Sundarbans:

  • Small patches of mangroves are being lost gradually and quietly due to their indiscriminate destruction for either coastal development or short-term gains.
  • These patches are observed to be enriched habitats of several rare and threatened flora and fauna.
  • The continued loss of shoreline mangrove ecosystems has created fragmented and fragile mangrove habitats for rare taxa and framed barriers to their movement and dispersal.
  • This irreversible loss of biodiversity is often neglected, which could never be compensated with any ‘cut the established and plant the new’ theory.

What is the issue now?

  • The Sunderbans are affected due to the polluted discharges from shrimp ponds. So, instead of popularising shrimp farming, if more indigenous fishing activities were encouraged, coastal threatened biodiversity could be protected and at the same time livelihood options may be provided to the coastal dwellers.

What are Mangroves?

  • Mangroves are the plant communities occurring in inter-tidal zones along the coasts of tropical and subtropical countries.
  • Mangrove forests perform multiple ecological functions such as production of woody trees, provision of habitat, food and spawning grounds for fin-fish and shellfish, provision of habitat for birds and other valuable fauna; protection of coastlines and accretion of sediment to form new land.
  • Among the states and Union Territories, West Bengal has the highest percentage of area under total Mangrove cover followed by Gujarat and Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
  • The India State of Forest Report gives the data about mangroves and their conditions in the country.

About Indian Sundarbans:

  • Covers 4,200 sq. km and includes the Sunderban Tiger Reserve of 2,585 sq. km — home to about 96 royal Bengal tigers (as per the last census in 2020).
  • It is a world heritage site and a Ramsar site (a wetland site designated to be of international importance).
  • It is also home to a large number of “rare and globally threatened species, such as the critically endangered northern river terrapin (Batagur baska), the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), and the vulnerable fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus).”
  • Two of the world’s four horseshoe crab species, and eight of India’s 12 species of kingfisher are also found here. Recent studies claim that the Indian Sundarban is home to 2,626 faunal species and 90% of the country’s mangrove varieties.

Cheetah Reintroduction Project

Why in News?

  • The Government is preparing to translocate the first batch of eight from South Africa and Namibia to Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh soon after the situation linked to the current third wave of Covid-19 becomes normal, and total 50 in various parks over a period of Five Years.

What Next?

  • In this regard, the Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change has launched the ‘Action Plan for Introduction of Cheetah in India’ under which 50 of these big cats will be introduced in the next five years.
  • The action plan was launched at the 19th meeting of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).

What is Reintroduction and why Reintroduce Cheetah Now?

  • ‘Reintroduction’ of a species means releasing it in an area where it is capable of surviving.
  • Reintroductions of large carnivores have increasingly been recognised as a strategy to conserve Threatened Species and restore Ecosystem Functions.
  • The cheetah is the only large carnivore that has been extirpated, mainly by over-hunting in India in Historical Times.
  • India now has the economic ability to consider restoring its lost natural heritage for ethical as well as Ecological Reasons.

About the Cheetah:

  • The cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus, is one of the oldest of the big cat species, with ancestors that can be traced back more than five million years to the Miocene era.
  • The cheetah is also the world’s fastest land mammal.
  • It is listed as vulnerable in IUCN red listed species.
  • The country’s last spotted feline died in Chhattisgarh in 1947. Later, the cheetah — which is the fastest land animal — was declared extinct in India in 1952.
  • The African Cheetah has been classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN; while the Asiatic Cheetah (found only in Iran) has been classified as Critically Endangered and both are listed under Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

African Cheetah               Asiatic Cheetah

 

Cheetah Reintroduction Programme in India:

  • The Wildlife Institute of India at Dehradun had prepared a ₹260-crore cheetah re-introduction project seven years ago.
  • India has plans to reintroduce cheetahs at the Kuno National Park in Sheopur and Morena districts of Madhya Pradesh’s Gwalior-Chambal region.
  • This could be the world’s first inter-continental cheetah translocation project.

Reasons for Extinction:

  • The reasons for extinction can all be traced to man’s interference. Problems like human-wildlife conflict, loss of habitat and loss of prey, and illegal trafficking, have decimated their numbers.
  • The advent of climate change and growing human populations have only made these problems worse.
  • With less available land for wildlife, species that require vast home range like the cheetah are placed in competition with other animals and humans, all fighting over less space.

RISE OF TIGER POPULATION IN SUNDARBANS

Why in News?

  • According to the West Bengal Forest Department, the latest estimation of tiger numbers in the Indian Sundarbans  indicate an increase in the population of big cats, that is the count for the year 2019-20 rose to 96, from 88 in 2018-19.

About the News:

  • The estimation revealed that of the 96 tigers, 23 were identified as male and 43 as female, while the sex of 30 big cats could not be determined.
  • The survey also revealed the presence of 11 tiger cubs.
  • The estimation exercise was carried out in two phases: the first period commencing on December 16 and ending on January 13, and the second phase starting on January 22 and ending on February 19.
  • For the first period, a total of 1,156 Cuddeback camera traps (578 pairs) were installed in the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve and during the second period, 272 camera traps (136 pairs) were installed in the 24 Parganas (South) Division.

About Sundarbans:

  • The Sundarbans mangrove forest, one of the largest such forests in the world, lies across India and Bangladesh on the delta of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers on the Bay of Bengal.
  • It is adjacent to the border of India’s Sundarbans World Heritage site inscribed in 1987.
  • The Indian Sundarbans, considered to be an area south of the Dampier Hodges line, is spread over 9,630 sq. km., of which the mangrove forests are spread over 4,263 sq. km.
  • The site is intersected by a complex network of tidal waterways, mudflats and small islands of salt-tolerant mangrove forests, and presents an excellent example of ongoing ecological processes.
  • The area is known for its wide range of fauna, including 260 bird species, the Bengal tiger and other threatened species such as the estuarine crocodile and the Indian python.
  • It is home to many rare and globally threatened wildlife species such as the estuarine crocodile, Royal Bengal Tiger, Water monitor lizard, Gangetic dolphin, and olive ridley turtles.
  • It is home to one of the noted tiger reserves in India and also the only mangrove forest in the world inhabited by tigers.
  • A satellite image from the Indian Space Research Organisation pointed to a loss of 3.71% mangrove and non-mangrove forest cover along with massive erosion of the archipelago’s landmass.
  • The analysis, based on satellite data of February 2003 and February 2014, shows that while a 9,990-hectare landmass has been eroded, there has been an accretion (addition) of 216-hectare landmass in the Sundarbans during the period.

Reason for the Increase:

  • Discovery India and World Wide Fund (WWF) India have partnered with the Government of West Bengal and local communities in the Sundarban last year to help save the world’s only mangrove tiger habitat.
  • The project used technology to solve several of the issues faced in the region which included building datasets on impacts of climate change on estuarine ecosystem.
  • The initiative focused on enhancing farmland productivity through low-cost measures and adjusting crop calendars to deal with climate change.
  • The initiative also included work towards securing habitats for tigers and Prey Species.
  • The project at Sundarbans was part of a global movement, Project CAT (Conserving Acres for Tigers), aimed at building healthy habitats for Tigers by conserving six million acres of protected land across four countries.

About Project CAT (Conserving Acres for Tigers):

  • Discovery Communications is working with World Wildlife Fund and others to support a worldwide effort to double the number of tigers in the wild by 2022.
  • It is a mission to ensure a future for tigers and other endangered wildlife by conserving nearly a million acres of protected land on the border of India and Bhutan.
  • Tigers face multiple threats from poaching, habitat loss and fragmentation, conflict with humans and overhunting of their prey species.

Why Tiger Conservation is Essential?

  • Tigers are at the top of the food chain and are sometimes referred to as “umbrella species” that is their Conservation also Conserves many other species in the same area.
  • The Tiger estimation exercise that includes habitat assessment and prey estimation reflects the success or failure of Tiger Conservation Efforts.
  • More than 80% of the world’s wild tigers are in India, and it’s crucial to keep track of their numbers.

 

ANIMALS AND COVID-19

Why in News?

  • Owing to a recent news report on a Tiger being infected with COVID-19 in New York (Bronx Zoo), the MoEFCC has issued an advisory regarding the containing and management of Covid-19 in National Parks/ Sanctuaries/ Tiger Reserves.
  • Also, a tiger in Pench Tiger Reserve (Madhya Pradesh) has died due to respiratory illness. The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) is investigating whether the tiger should be tested for the novel coronavirus disease.

Key Points:

  • Spread of Infection from Humans to Animals
    • The Bronx Zoo case suggests that a zoo employee spread the virus to the tiger.
    • The virus came from an animal source and mutated; humans have since been infecting humans. Thus, it is theoretically possible for the virus to mutate again to survive in certain species after being transmitted by humans.
  • Advisory by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change:
    • It has asked all Chief Wildlife Wardens (CWLWs) of all States/UTs to take immediate preventive measures to stop the transmission and spread of the virus from humans to animals and vice versa, in National Parks/Sanctuaries and Tiger Reserves.
    • The CWLW is the statutory authority under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 who heads the Wildlife Wing of a State Forest Department and exercises complete administrative control over Protected Areas (PAs) within a state.
  • Guidelines issued by the NTCA and CZA:
    • Both the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) and the NTCA have issued guidelines that require zoos to be on the “highest alert” and monitor animals on closed-circuit cameras 24/7 for “abnormal behaviour and symptoms.
    • The CZA has also directed zookeepers to approach sick animals wearing personal protective equipment and isolate and quarantine them.

About CZA and NTCA:

  • Central Zoo Authority:
    • The CZA is a statutory body whose main objective is to enforce minimum standards and norms for upkeep and health care of animals in Indian zoos. It was established in 1992.
    • Zoos are regulated as per the provisions of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and are guided by the National Zoo Policy, 1998.
  • National Tiger Conservation Authority:
    • NTCA is a statutory body under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
    • It was established in December, 2005 following the recommendations of the Tiger Task Force.
    • It was constituted under enabling provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and amended in 2006, for strengthening tiger conservation, as per powers and functions assigned to it.

About Pench Tiger Reserve:

  • Pench Tiger Reserve, Seoni (Madhya Pradesh) is one of the major Protected Areas of Satpura-Maikal ranges of the Central Highlands. It was included in the Project Tiger in 1992-93.
  • It is among the sites notified as Important Bird Areas of India.
  • The IBA is a programme of Birdlife International which aims to identify, monitor and protect a global network of IBAs for conservation of the world’s birds and associated diversity.
  • It has a contiguous forest cover with Kanha Tiger Reserve and Pench Tiger Reserve (Maharashtra).
  • The area of the Pench Tiger Reserve and the surrounding area is the real story area of Rudyard Kipling’s famous “The Jungle Book”.
  • The forests found in Pench Tiger Reserve are divided into three parts: southern tropical wet dry forest, southern tropical dry deciduous teak forest and southern tropical dry deciduous mixed forest.
  • The major Carnivores are Tiger, leopard, wild cat, wild dog, hyena, jackal, fox, wolf, weasel, among the vegetarian species, Gaur, Nilgai, Sambar, Chital, Chasinga, Chinkara, Wild Pig etc. are prominent.
  • There are a lot of migratory birds seen in the cold season. Among the migratory birds, Ruddy shelduck, Pintail, Whistling Teal and Vegtel etc.,are prominent.

OLIVE RIDLEY GOES FOR DAYTIME NESTING AFTER 7 YEARS

Why in News?

  • In a rare sight after a gap of seven years, mass nesting of Olive Ridley Turtles was witnessed during the daytime along the Rushikulya rookery coast in Odisha’s Ganjam District.

About Olive Ridleys:

  • The Olive ridley turtles are the smallest and most abundant of all sea turtles found in the world, inhabiting warm waters of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans.
  • They are best known for their unique mass nesting called Arribada.
  • An arribada is a mass-nesting event when thousands of turtles come ashore at the same time to lay eggs on the same.
  • The enormous number of Olive Ridleys nest in Odisha (namely at three river mouths: Dhamara, Devi and Rushikulya) in India.
  • The species is listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List, Appendix 1 in CITES, and Schedule 1 in Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
  • Olive-Ridleys face serious threats across their migratory route, habitat and nesting beaches due to human activities such as unfriendly turtle fishing practices, development and exploitation of nesting beaches for ports, etc.

Nesting Places of Olive Ridleys:

  • Dhamara River Mouth
    • The Brahmani River (second largest river in Odisha) enters into the Bay of Bengal along with a combined mouth with the Mahanadi (the largest river in Odisha) known as the Dhamara.
  • Devi River
    • Devi River is one of the principal distributaries of Mahanadi.
    • It flows through Jagatsinghpur district and Puri district across Odisha state in India and joins the Bay of Bengal.
  • Rushikulya River
    • It originates from Rushikulya hills of the Eastern Ghats in Phulbani district.
    • It is 165 kms long with 8900 sq.kms of catchment areas.
    • It covers entire catchment area in the districts of Kandhamal and Ganjam district of Odisha.

Other National Parks of Olive Ridleys:

  • Bhitarkanika National Park
    • Bhitarkanika National Park is one of Odisha’s finest biodiversity hotspots and is famous for its mangroves, migratory birds, turtles, estuarine crocodiles, and countless creeks.
    • The wetland is represented by 3 Protected Areas, the Bhitarkanika National Park, the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary and the Gahirmatha Marine Sanctuary.
    • Bhitarkanika is located in the estuary of Brahmani, Baitarani, Dhamra, and Mahanadi river systems.
    • It is said to house 70% of the country’s estuarine or saltwater crocodiles, conservation of which was started way back in 1975.

PIL FILED TO PRESERVE EASTERN AND WESTERN GHATS

Why in News?

  • A public interest litigation petition has been filed in the Madras High Court seeking a direction to the Centre and State government to constitute a permanent body for taking serious steps to safeguard the flora, fauna and other natural resources in the Eastern and Western Ghats areas in Tamil Nadu.

What’s the Issue?

  • Petitioner contended that the natural resources abundantly available in this area are being properly utilised by other regions, except Tamil Nadu.
  • They are being misused and mismanaged not only by the administrators but also by the public at large.
  • Besides, large-scale plantations of coffee, tea and orchards have been raised in the hills of Western Ghats.
  • Aromatic and valuable trees like sandal are removed illegally. Despite the Wildlife Protection Act, hunting takes place in some pockets.
  • The forests are getting degraded because of illicit collection of firewood, illicit grazing and illicit felling of trees.
  • The petition is on the basis of the recommendations made by the Madhav Gadgil and Kasturi Rangan committees.

What did the Gadgil Committee say?

  • It defined the boundaries of the Western Ghats for the purposes of ecological management.
  • It proposed that this entire area be designated as ecologically sensitive area (ESA).
  • Within this area, smaller regions were to be identified as ecologically sensitive zones (ESZ) I, II or III based on their existing condition and nature of threat.
  • It proposed to divide the area into about 2,200 grids, of which 75 per cent would fall under ESZ I or II or under already existing protected areas such as wildlife sanctuaries or natural parks.
  • The committee proposed a Western Ghats Ecology Authority to regulate these activities in the area.

Why was Kasturirangan Committee setup?

  • None of the six concerned states agreed with the recommendations of the Gadgil Committee, which submitted its report in August 2011.
  • In August 2012, then Environment Minister constituted a High-Level Working Group on Western Ghats under Kasturirangan to “examine” the Gadgil Committee report in a “holistic and multidisciplinary fashion in the light of responses received” from states, central ministries and others.
  • The Kasturirangan report seeks to bring just 37% of the Western Ghats under the Ecologically Sensitive Area (ESA) zones — down from the 64% suggested by the Gadgil report.

What are the recommendations made by Kasturirangan Committee?

  • A ban on mining, quarrying and sand mining.
  • No new thermal power projects, but hydro power projects allowed with restrictions.
  • A ban on new polluting industries.
  • Building and construction projects up to 20,000 sq. m was to be allowed but townships were to be banned.
  • Forest diversion could be allowed with extra safeguards.

Importance of Western Ghats and Eastern Ghats:

  • The Western Ghats is an extensive region spanning over six States. It is the home of many endangered plants and animals. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • It is one of the eight “hottest hot-spots”of biological diversity in the world.
  • According to UNESCO, the Western Ghats are older than the Himalayas. They influence Indian monsoon weather patterns by intercepting the rain-laden monsoon winds that sweep in from the south-west during late summer.
  • The Eastern Ghats run from the northern Odisha through Andhra Pradesh to Tamil Nadu in the south passing some parts of Karnataka.
  • They are eroded and cut through by four major rivers of peninsular India, viz. Godavari, Mahanadi, Krishna, and Cauvery.
  • Recently Environmental groups have also demanded to add the Eastern Ghats in the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Currently it is not under UNESCO World Heritage Site.

INDIA IS HOST TO 457 MIGRATORY FAUNA, SAYS CMS

Why in News?

  • The recent report of Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) stated that the total number of migratory fauna from India comes to 457 species that includes Birds which comprise 83% (380 species) of this figure.

About CMS:

  • CMS is an international treaty concluded under aegis of UN Environment Programme (UNEP), concerned with conservation of wildlife and habitats on a global scale.
  • It is commonly abbreviated as Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) or the Bonn Convention.
  • It aims to conserve terrestrial, marine and avian migratory species throughout their range.
  • It was signed in 1979 in Bonn (hence the name), Germany and entered into force in 1983.
  • Its headquarters are in Bonn, Germany.
  • CMS is the only global and UN-based intergovernmental organization established exclusively for conservation and management of terrestrial, aquatic and avian migratory species throughout their range.
  • CMS brings together the States through which migratory animals pass, the Range States, and lays the legal foundation for internationally coordinated conservation measures throughout a migratory range.
  • It is the only global convention specializing in the conservation of migratory species, their habitats and migration routes.

What are Migratory Species?

  • Migratory species are those animals that move from one habitat to another during different times of the year, due to various factors such as food, sunlight, temperature, climate, etc.

Why their Protection is needed?

  • The movement between habitats can sometimes exceed thousands of miles/kilometres for some migratory birds and mammals. A migratory route can involve nesting and also requires the availability of habitats before and after each migration.

About COP 13:

  • The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the principal decision making body of the Convention.
  • It meets once every three years and sets the budget and priorities of the following three years (the triennium).
  • The 13thConference of Parties (COP) of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) of Wild Animals was hosted by India.
  • The conference was organized by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in Gandhinagar, from 17th– 22nd February 2020.
  • The theme for 2020 is “Migratory species connect the planet and together we welcome them home”.
  • The 2020 mascot is Gigi – the Great Indian Bustard.
  • India is Signatory to the CMS since 1983.
  • India has been taking necessary actions to protect and conserve migratory marine species.
  • Seven species that include Dugong, Whale Shark, Marine Turtle (two species), have been identified for preparation of Conservation and Recovery Action Plan.
  • CMS with respect to India:
  • The Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) had for the first time compiled the list of migratory species of India under the CMS before the Conference of Parties (COP 13) held in Gujarat recently. It had put the number at 451.
  • Six species were added later. They are the Asian elephant, great Indian bustard, Bengal florican, oceanic white-tip shark, urial and smooth hammerhead shark.
  • Globally, more than 650 species are listed under the CMS appendices and India, with over 450 species, plays a very important role in their conservation.
  • Birds: The bird family Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers) has the highest number of migratory species. The next highest group of migratory birds is raptors or birds of prey, such as eagles, owls, vultures and kites which are from the family Accipitridae.
  • The country has three flyways (flight paths used by birds): the Central Asian flyway, East Asian flyway and East Asian–Australasian flyway.
  • Another group of birds that migrate in large numbers are waders or shore birds. In India, their migratory species number 41, followed by ducks (38) belonging to the family Anatidae.
  • Mammals:The estimate of 44 migratory mammal species in India has risen to 46 after COP 13. The Asian elephant was added to Appendix I and the urial to Appendix II.
  • The largest group of mammals is definitely bats belonging to the family Vespertilionidae. Dolphins are the second highest group of mammals with nine migratory species of dolphins listed.
  • Fishes: Fishes make up another important group of migratory species. Before COP 13, the ZSI had compiled 22 species, including 12 sharks and 10 ray fish. The oceanic white-tip shark and smooth hammerhead shark were then added. The total number of migratory fish species from India under CMS now stands at 24.
  • Reptiles: Seven reptiles, which include five species of turtles and the Indian gharial and salt water crocodile, are among the CMS species found in India. There was no addition to the reptiles list.

DECLARING EASTERN GHATS AS UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES

Why in News?

  • Recently some Environmental groups have demanded to declare the Eastern Ghats as the UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site.

About the Eastern Ghats:

  • The Eastern Ghats run parallel to the eastern coastal plains of India. The five States that the Ghats encompass are the Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Odisha.
  • Unlike the Western Ghats, they are discontinuous in nature and are dissected by the rivers that drain into the Bay of Bengal. Most of these rivers have their origin in the Western Ghats.
  • It must be noted that the Eastern Ghats are lower in elevation than the Western Ghats. The highest peak of Western Ghats is the Mahendragiri.
  • Anaimudi which is the highest peak of the Western Ghats has a height of 2695 mts whereas Mahendragiri of Eastern Ghats is of 150 mts.
  • The main crop produced in the Eastern Ghats is the Rice, which is also the staple food of the people living in the region.

About UNESCO World Heritage Sites:

  • A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place that is listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as of special cultural or physical significance.
  • The list is maintained by the international World Heritage Programme administered by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, composed of 21 UNESCO member states which are elected by the General Assembly.
  • Each World Heritage Site remains part of the legal territory of the state wherein the site is located and UNESCO considers it in the interest of the international community to preserve each site.
  • With Successful inscription of Jaipur City in 2019, India has 38 world heritage sites that include 30 Cultural properties, 7 Natural properties and 1 mixed site.

How a site is being selected?

  • To be selected, a World Heritage Site must be an already classified landmark, unique in some respect as a geographically and historically identifiable place having special cultural or physical significance (such as an ancient ruin or historical structure, building, city, complex, desert, forest, island, lake, monument, mountain, or wilderness area).
  • It may signify a remarkable accomplishment of humanity, and serve as evidence of our intellectual history on the planet.

What is the legal status of the Designated Sites?

  • UNESCO designation as a World Heritage Site provides prima facie evidence that such culturally sensitive sites are legally protected pursuant to the Law of War, under the Geneva Convention, its articles, protocols and customs, together with other treaties including the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and international law.

What are the Endangered Sites?

  • A site may be added to the List of World Heritage in Danger if there are conditions that threaten the characteristics for which the landmark or area was inscribed on the World Heritage List.
  • Such problems may involve armed conflict and war, natural disasters, pollution, poaching, or uncontrolled urbanization or human development.
  • This danger list is intended to increase international awareness of the threats and to encourage counteractive measures.
  • The state of conservation for each site on the danger list is reviewed on a yearly basis, after which the committee may request additional measures, delete the property from the list if the threats have ceased or consider deletion from both the List of World Heritage in Danger and the World Heritage List.

INTERNATIONAL PROTECTION FOR GREAT INDIAN BUSTARD, BENGAL FLORICAN AND ASIAN ELEPHANT

Why in News?

  • India’s proposal to include the Great Indian Bustard, the Asian Elephant and the Bengal Florican in Appendix I of UN Convention on Migratory Species was unanimously accepted at the on-going thirteenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) in Gandhinagar.

UN Convention on Migratory Species:

  • Adopted in 1979 and entered in to force in 1983, the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) aims to build and strengthen global conservation efforts for migratory species in the air, on land, and in the seas.
  • CMS, also known as the Bonn Convention, is an international and intergovernmental treaty backed by the United Nations Environmental Programme.
  • Its current membership is 116 nations who work to conserve migratory species throughout their range and across national borders.
  • The Convention divides species into two appendices:
    • Appendix I: Lists species that are threatened with extinction.
    • Appendix II: Species that need or would benefit greatly from international cooperative conservation efforts.
  • Parties work to conserve the listed species and their habitats through formal Agreements, and less formal Memorandums of Understanding (MOU).
  • The Agreements and MOUs work to incorporate all Range states of the target species, and not just parties to the convention.

Asian Elephant:

  • The Government of India has declared Indian elephant as a National Heritage Animal.
  • The Indian elephant is also provided the highest degree of legal protection by listing it in Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
  • Placing the Indian elephant in Schedule I of the CMS Convention will fulfil the natural urge of migration of the Indian elephant across India’s borders and back safely and thereby promote conservation of this endangered species for the future generations.
  • Intermixing of smaller sub populations in Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar will widen the gene base of these populations.
  • It will also help to reduce human elephant conflicts in many parts of its migratory routes.
  • Mainland Asian elephants/Indian elephants migrate over long distances in search of food and shelter, across states and countries. Some elephants are resident while others migrate regularly in annual migration cycles.
  • The proportion of resident and migratory populations depends upon size of regional populations, as well as on extent, degradation and fragmentation of their habitats.
  • The challenges confronting Asian elephant conservation in most elephant Range State are:
      • Habitat loss and fragmentation
      • Human-elephant conflict
      • Poaching
      • Illegal trade of elephants

Great Indian Bustard:

  • The Great Indian Bustard, an iconic, critically endangered and conservation dependent species, exhibits transboundary movements, and its migration exposes it to threats such as hunting in boundary area of Pakistan-India and power-line collisions in India.
  • Inclusion of the species in Appendix I of CMS will aide in transboundary conservation efforts facilitated by International conservation bodies and existing international laws and Agreement.
  • The species has a small population of about 100–150 individuals that is largely restricted to the Thar Desert in Rajasthan, India.
  • The species has disappeared from 90% of this range; their population has reduced by 90% within 50 years (six generations); and their threats are expected to increase in future.

Bengal Florican:

  • The Bengal Florican, an iconic, critically endangered species of topmost conservation priority, exhibits transboundary movements, and its migration exposes it to threats such as land use changes, collision with power transmission line at boundary area of India-Nepal and probable power-line collisions.
  • Inclusion of the species in Appendix I of CMS will aid in transboundary conservation efforts facilitated by International conservation bodies and existing international laws and agreement.
  • Populations have declined as a result of habitat loss, hunting and the species no longer breeds outside Protected Areas in the Indian subcontinent, except in a few areas of Assam.

TIGER RESERVE TAG UNLIKELY FOR WAYANAD WILDLIFE SANCTUARY

Why in News?

  • The Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary (WWS), home to the largest number of tigers in the State, is losing out on tiger reserve status due to lack of support by the local people.

About Wayanad Sanctuary:

  • The sanctuary, spread over 344.44 sq km, is an integral part of the Nilgiri Biosphere in the Western Ghats and contiguous to the tiger reserves of Nagerhole and Bandipur of Karnataka and Mudumalai of Tamil Nadu.
  • It holds more number of tigers of the state compared to other two tiger reserves of the state (Periyar Tiger Reserve and Parambikulam Tiger Reserve).

About the News:

  • A recent tiger monitoring programme of the Forest Department found that 75 of the 176 tigers in the State are in the WWS, which is part of a large forest complex holding the single largest population of tigers in India.
  • But, it receives minimum support from central agencies owing to the dearth of tiger reserve tag.

Who declares an area as Tiger Reserve?

  • Tiger Reserves are declared by National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) via

Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Act, 2006 under centrally sponsored scheme called Project Tiger.

  • To declare an area as Tiger Reserve, the state governments can forward their proposals in this regard to NTCA.
  • Central Government via NTCA may also advise the state governments to forward a proposal for creation of Tiger Reserves.
  • Tiger Reserves are managed by National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).
  • No alternation of boundary can be done without the recommendation of National Board for Wild Life and without the advice of the Tiger Conservation Authority.

What are the Challenges in declaring an area as Tiger Reserve?

  • With the declaration of an area as tiger reserve, there will be effective monitoring for long term conservation of tigers and its prey species. The notification would bring in stringent restrictions on development activities.
  • Thousands of poor villagers inside India’s tiger reserves would have to be relocated to protect the endangered animals from poachers and smugglers.
  • Poachers and smugglers exploit the grinding poverty of forest villagers to keep them on their side.

Way Forward:

  • The public protests that were staged in Wayanad earlier against the proposal ex­pressed concerns over the possible impacts of the proposal.
  • Any such proposal shall be implemented only after holding wide public consultations.
  • However, the conservation of the flagship species is also important for the stability of the ecosystem. So people should be created awareness about its conservation.

MANIPUR’S LOKTAK LAKE CHOKES FROM A CATASTROPHIC PROJECT FLAGGED OFF 50 YEARS AGO

Why in News?

  • “Ithai barrage” of the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation Limited (NHPC) is slowly causing the death of Loktak Lake by choking its lifeline.

About Loktak Lake

  • Largest freshwater lake in North -East India.
  • It is one of the Ramsar sitesin India.
  • Phumdi– an organic mass floating in the lake – is an exclusive feature of Loktak Lake.
  • Keibul Lamjao,the only floating national park in the world, floats over it.
  • Brow-antlered deer (Endangered) are found only on Loktak’s phumdi, in the Keibul Lamjao National Park.
  • Edible plants, roots and fruits growing on the phumdi are a major part of the diet in Manipur.

Loktak – A living lake:

  • The phumdi’s life cycle is regulated by the seasonal fluctuation in water level.
  • In the dry season, they sink to the lake bed where their roots absorb nutrients from the soil. During monsoons they float back to the surface.
  • Phumdi is a floating assortment of soil, vegetation and organic matter in various stages of decay.
  • It sustains fish culture ponds.

The beginning of death of the lake:

  • In 1983, National Hydroelectric Power Corporation Limited (NHPC) constructed Ithai barrage which maintained water level in Loktak Lake, much higher than usual.
  • The purpose was to provide cheap electricity and lift irrigation in the region. However no study was done on the impact on lake’s ecosystem.

How the Lake is undergoing a slower death:

  • With the water level now permanently high, phumdi can no longer reach the lake bed in the dry season. Unable to feed on nutrients, Loktak’s islets of vegetation are thinning out.
  • Ithai Barrage blocked the outlet of the lake to the sea. Fishermen cannot dispose of the dying biomass.
  • For decades now, rotting vegetation has been piling up on the lake bed.
  • Huge shoals of fish coming in from the Chindwin-Irrawaddy river system in Myanmar through the Manipur River previously, has stopped due to barrage construction.
  • Run-off from surrounding agricultural fields and untreated sewage of the city are being added to the lake. .
  • This has resulted in growth of semi-aquatic weeds that deplete oxygen in the water, choking Loktak.
  • Adding to the Suffering , Fingerlings brought in from Andhra Pradesh and Odisha by fisheries department has gradually wiped out several species of native fish found in the lake.

AFRICAN CHEETAHS TO PROWL INDIAN FORESTS

Why in News?

  • The Supreme Court has lifted its seven-year stay on a proposal to introduce African cheetahs from Namibia into the Indian habitat on an Experimental Basis.

About Cheetahs:

  • Cheetahs (Acinonyx jubatus) are large cat of the subfamily Felinae and are considered as the fastest land animal.
  • The 4 subspecies of cheetahs are Southeast African cheetah, Asiatic cheetah, Northeast African cheetah and Northwest African cheetah.
  • They are found in North, Southern and East Africa, and a few localities in Iran.
  • It inhabits a variety of mostly arid habitats like dry forests, scrub forests, and savannahs.
  • The cheetah has been classified as Vulnerableby the IUCN; and listed under Appendix I of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).

Reasons behind Extinction of Cheetah:

  • Loss of Grassland Habitat:Inability to breed while in captivity meant that wild cheetahs were only found in natural habitats. Thus loss of habitat meant detrimental to Cheetah population.
  • Cheetahs were classified as vermin(harmful to crops and spreads diseases) during British period. This led to rewarding the act of killing of Cheetah.
  • Problems like Human-Wildlife Conflict, loss of prey, and illegal trafficking, have also decimated their Numbers.

About Cheetah Reintroduction Programme:

  • The last Cheetah died in Chhattisgarh in 1947 after which it was declared extinct in India in 1952.
  • Since 1970s India is trying to bring back the big cat from Iran. However due to lower number of cheetahs in Iran it was not considered being feasible.
  • In 2009, the reintroduction project has got a fillip and India was exploring a plan of importing the South African cheetah from Namibia for reintroduction in India.
  • 3 regions were shortlisted for reintroduction including:
  • The Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary and Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuaries in Madhya Pradesh and the Shahgarh bulge landscape in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan.

 

Why Reintroduction Programme Delayed?

  • IUCN guidelines require a no-objection certificate for translocation of wildlife species. Besides the guidelines warn against the introduction of alien or exotic species. Finally in December 2018, IUCN gave no-objection certificate for translocation.
  • The reintroduction plan to Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary hit a roadblock as it was also been shortlisted for introduction of Asiatic Lions from Gir forest in Gujarat. A petition was filed in the Supreme Court with respect to this and now it has lifted its stay order.
  • Lack of funds hindered the reintroduction project in Nauradehi sanctuary in MP. Recently MP has shown interest in revival of the cheetah reintroduction project.

Implications of the Reintroduction:

  • Reintroducing cheetahs in India will help relieve pressure on the species by creating additional habitat, which the cheetah desperately needs to survive.
  • It will also help increase the species genetic diversity.
  • Being one of the oldest of the big cat species, with ancestors that can be traced back more than five million years to the Miocene era.
  • With great speed and dexterity, the cheetah is known for being an excellent hunter, its kills feeding many other animals in its ecosystem—ensuring that Multiple Species Survive.

TURTLE REHAB CENTRE IN BHAGALPUR, BIHAR

Why in News?

  • A first-of-its-kind Rehabilitation Centre for Freshwater Turtles will be inaugurated in Bihar’s Bhagalpur forest division in January 2020.

Highlights:

  • The centre, spread over half a hectare, will be able to shelter 500 turtles at a time.
  • Earlier, rescued turtles were released into rivers without much treatment in the absence of any facility.
  • In the rehab centre they will be properly monitored before being released in their natural habitat.
  • The need to build such a centre was felt after several turtles were found severely wounded and sick when rescued from smuggles by rescue teams.
  • This centre will play a significant role in treating these animals and their proper upkeep before being returned to their natural habitat.
  • Eastern Bihar has been an ideal breeding ground for turtles.
  • In Bhagalpur, the flow of water in the Ganga is ample. Also, there are many sandbanks in the middle of the river, which are ideal breeding ground for turtles.

Significance:

  • According to environmentalists, the turtles play a significant role in the river by scavenging dead organic materials and diseased fish.
  • They control fish population by their predation and control aquatic plants and weeds.
  • They are also described as indicators of Healthy Aquatic Ecosystems.

Threats:

  • According to a recent study conducted by Traffic India, around 11,000 turtles are being smuggled in India every year. In the past 10 years, as many as 110,000 turtles have been traded.
  • These species are now under severe threats due to habitat fragmentation and loss through dams and barrages, pollution, illegal poaching, accidental drowning through fishing nets and threats to their nesting habitats etc.
  • The turtles have come under serious threat primarily for two reasons — food and the flourishing pet trade.
  • Turtles are being frequently targeted for meat due to the prevailing belief that it gives an energy boost and keeps various diseases away.

Operation Save Kurma:

  • It is a periodic species specific operation on turtles conducted by Wildlife Crimes Control Bureau since 2017.
  • Under this, a total of 15,739 live turtles were recovered from 45 suspects, having inter-state linkages.
  • It helped the enforcement agencies to focus on the existing trade routes and major trade hubs in the country, which will be continued in future.

INDIA RECORDS LESS TIGER DEATHS

Why in News?

  • According to data from the Ministry of Forest Environment and Climate Change (MoEFCC), for the first time in the past three years the number of tiger deaths in a year in the country has been less than 100.

About Project Tiger:

  • Project Tiger was launched in 1973 with 9 tiger reserves for conserving our national animal, the tiger. Currently, the Project Tiger coverage has increased to 50, spread out in 18 tiger range states.The tiger reserves are constituted on a core/buffer strategy.
  • The core areas have the legal status of a national park or a sanctuary, whereas the buffer or peripheral areas are a mix of forest and non-forest land, managed as a multiple use area.
  • It is an ongoing Centrally Sponsored Scheme of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change providing central assistance to the tiger States for tiger conservation in designated tiger reserves.

About NTCA:

  • It is a statutory body under the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change constituted under enabling provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972
  • It was initially launched in 2005, following the recommendations of the Tiger Task Force. It was given statutory status by 2006 amendment of the Wildlife Protection Act
  • It is set up under the chairmanship of the Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change.
  • It approves the reserve specific tiger conservation plan prepared by the State Government.
  • Evaluate and assess various aspects of sustainable ecology and disallow any ecologically unsustainable land use such as, mining, industry and other projects within the tiger reserves;
  • Provide for management focus and measures for addressing conflicts of men and wild animal and to emphasize on co-existence in forest areas outside the National Parks, sanctuaries or tiger reserve, in the working plan code;
  • Provide information on protection measures including future conservation plan, estimation of population of tiger and its natural prey species, status of habitats, disease surveillance, mortality survey, patrolling, reports on untoward happenings and such other management aspects as it may deem fit including future plan conservation.

Tiger Census in India:

  • Every 4 years the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) conducts a tiger census across India.
  • The first was conducted in 2006, followed by 2010, 2014 and 2018.
  • According to results of the Tiger census report, released in July 2019, the total count of tigers has risen to 2,967 from 2,226 in 2014 — an increase of 741 individuals (aged more than one year), or 33%, in four years.
  • India has achieved the target of doubling the tiger count four years ahead of the deadline of 2022.
  • This is by far the biggest increase in Tiger count in terms of both numbers and percentage (since the four-yearly census using camera traps and the capture-mark-recapture method began in 2006).
  • India accounts for majority of the 3,500-odd tigers that are scattered among Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Laos PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russian Federation, Thailand and Vietnam.
  • India’s five tiger landscapes are: Shivalik Hills and Gangetic Plains, Central Indian Landscape and Eastern Ghats, Western Ghats, North-East Hills and Brahmaputra Plains, and the Sundarbans

Why Tiger Conservation is Needed?

  • Tigers are at the top of the food chain and are sometimes referred to as “umbrella species” that is their conservation also conserve many other species in the same area.
  • The Tiger estimation exercise that includes habitat assessment and prey estimation reflects the success or failure of Tiger conservation efforts.
  • More than 80% of the world’s wild tigers are in India, and it’s crucial to keep track of their numbers.

About Tiger Deaths in India:

  • The threat to India’s tiger population remains due to factors such as poaching, human-wildlife conflict and loss of habitat including threat to tiger corridors.
  • According to data from the Ministry of Forest Environment and Climate Change (MoEFCC), there were 84 cases of tiger deaths in the country and 11 cases of seizures (in which a tiger is presumed dead on the basis of body parts seized by authorities). Both put together, the number of tiger deaths is in 2019 is 95.
  • In 2018, the number of tiger deaths recorded was 100 (93 mortalities and seven seizures). The number of tiger deaths in 2017 was 115 (98 mortalities and 17 seizures), and the number of tiger deaths in 2016 was 122 (101 mortalities and 21 seizures).

How Tiger Deaths Reduced?

  • The reduced numbers of tiger mortalities are because of surveillance, good management of Tiger Reserves and a lot of awareness and education programmes on tiger conservation.
  • Using technology to maintain surveillance on tigers has also come as an added advantage.
  • Government has ensured that the M-STriPES (Monitoring System for Tigers-Intensive Protection & Ecological Status) patrolling app is deployed and used in every Tiger Reserve.
  • M-STrIPES(Monitoring System for Tigers – Intensive Protection and Ecological Status) is an app based monitoring system, launched across Indian tiger reserves by the NTCA in 2010.
  • The system would enable field managers to assist intensity and spatial coverage of patrols in a geographic information system (GIS) domain.

Other Key Facts of the Report:

  • An analysis of the tiger mortality figures shows that 57 of the 95 deaths occurred inside Tiger Reserves, while 38 cases of tiger deaths were recorded outside Tiger Reserves.
  • Madhya Pradesh, which has the highest number of tigers in the country (526, as per the last census), has recorded the most number of cases of tiger deaths, with 31 tiger deaths reported from the central Indian State in 2019.
  • This was followed by Maharashtra, which reported 18 deaths. Karnataka, another State with high tiger population, recorded 12 deaths, and Uttarakhand recorded ten deaths. Tamil Nadu recorded seven cases of tiger deaths.
  • Deaths were also recorded from non-tiger bearing States like Gujarat, where a tiger had strayed into the State and died.
  • The data on tiger mortality also confirms 22 cases of poaching in the country and one case of tiger poisoning in 2019.
  • An analysis shows that in 16 out of 22 poaching incidents, which is almost over 70% of cases of poaching, have been reported outside Tiger Reserves.
  • Eight cases of poaching have been reported from Madhya Pradesh, six from Maharashtra, and two each from Assam and Karnataka.
  • According to experts, tigers are most vulnerable when they are outside Reserves as they are not under surveillance.
  • In all, 17 cases of natural deaths of tigers have been recorded, while the reason for 56 other deaths could not be ascertained.

Scope for New Tiger Reserves:

  • The increase in tiger numbers, more areas in the country need to be declared Tiger Reserves.
  • We have 50 Tiger Reserves with an area of about 73,000 sq. km. With tigers coming out of Reserves and covering long distances, we need more Tiger Reserves.
  • According to the NTCA at least three new Tiger Reserves will be added in 2020.
  • It also added that the areas under consideration are in both south Indian and central Indian landscapes.

Tiger Translocation Protocol:

  • The first inter-State translocation of tigers to the Satkosia Tiger Reserve in Odisha, which did not go as planned, is considered to be the effort that was not a failure but a “learning experience”.
  • The inter-State translocation of tigers has not been stalled.
  • There are plans to translocate tigers to the western part of Rajaji National Park and also to the Buxa Tiger Reserve from similar tiger landscapes in Assam.

WHY INDIA NEEDS PROJECT DOLPHIN?

Why in News?

  • The National Ganga Council (NGC) headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi met for the first time recently with the proposal to save and enhance the population of the Gangetic Dolphin.

About National Ganga Council:

  • The National Ganga Council, also known as the National Council for Rejuvenation, Protection, and Management of River Ganga was set up in 2016. It replaced the National River Ganga Basin Authority (NRGBA).
  • The National Ganga Council is formed under the Environment (Protection) Act (EPA), 1986.The council consists of chief ministers from five states along the Ganga — Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Bihar and Jharkhand along with nine Union ministers and NITI Aayog vice-chairman.
  • The central objective of the council is to work on the “protection, prevention, control and abatement of environmental pollution in River Ganga and its rejuvenation to its natural and pristine condition and to ensure continuous adequate flow of water”.
  • The council is supposed to meet every year, but since its inception in 2016, no meeting has taken place.National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG) acts as an implementation arm of the National Ganga Council.
  • NMCG which was established in the year 2011 as a registered society has a two-tier management structure and comprises of Governing Council and Executive Committee.

About Gangetic Dolphin:

  • According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF),the Gangetic river dolphins were officially discovered in 1801 and are one of the oldest creatures in the world along with some species of turtles, crocodiles and sharks.
  • The Ganges river dolphin is found in parts of the Ganges-Meghna-Brahmaputra and Karnaphuli-Sangu river systems in India, Nepal, and Bangladesh.
  • The Gangetic river dolphin is India’s National Aquatic Animal and is popularly known as ‘Susu’.The Gangetic river dolphins can only live in freshwater, are blind and catch their prey in a unique manner, using ultrasonic sound waves.
  • These dolphins prefer deep waters and, as per WWF, they are distributed across seven states in India: Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal.It is among the four freshwater dolphins in the world- the other Three are:
  1. 1. The ‘Baiji’ now likely extinct from the Yangtze River in China,
  2. 2. The ‘Bhulan’ of the Indus in Pakistan, and
  3. 3. The ‘Boto’ of the Amazon River in Latin America.
  4. 4. These four species live only in rivers and lakes.
  • Its presence indicates the health of the riverine ecosystem.

Protection Status:

  • Some of the efforts made to preserve and increase the numbers of these dolphins include the setting up of the Conservation Action Plan for the Gangetic Dolphin (2010-2020).
  • Conservation Action Plan for the Gangetic Dolphin (2010-2020) has identified threats to Gangetic dolphins and impact of river traffic, irrigation canals and depletion of prey-base on dolphin populations.
  • They are placed under “endangered”category by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
  • It is listed on CITES Appendix-I and are classified under Schedule 1, Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 providing absolute protection and offences under these are prescribed the highest penalties.
  • Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary (VGDS)in Bihar’s Bhagalpur district is India’s only sanctuary for its National Aquatic Animal.
  • They are also one among the 21 species identified under the centrally sponsored scheme, “Development of Wildlife Habitat”.

Threats to Gangetic Dolphin:

  • Pollution:It faces a number of threats such as dumping of single-use plastics in water bodies, industrial pollution, and fishing.
  • Restrictive Flow of Water:The increase in the number of barrages and dams is also affecting their growth as such structures impede the flow of water.
  • Poaching:Dolphins are also poached for their flesh, fat, and oil, which are used as a prey to catch fish, as an ointment and as a supposed aphrodisiac.
  • Shipping & Dredging: It is also called a blind dolphin because it doesn’t have an eye lens and uses echolocation to navigate and hunt.
  • Like bats, they produce high-frequency sounds which help them to detect objects when the sound waves bounce off them.
  • Due to their dependence on echolocation, the Gangetic dolphins also suffer from the noise pollution created by large ship propellers, and by dredging.

What does the Statistics say?

  • According to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, at last count, the rivers of Assam and Uttar Pradesh had 962 and 1,275 Gangetic dolphins, respectively.
  • In Assam, the latest available data is for the period between January and March 2018, while the latest available data for UP is for the period between 2012 and 2015.
  • In UP, 671 dolphins were recorded and in 2015, 1272 were recorded.
  • According to the ministry, in Assam, the assessment was carried out in three rivers, with the Brahmaputra accounting for 877 of the 962 dolphins in the state.
  • In addition to the species being India’s national aquatic animal, the Gangetic dolphin has been notified by the Assam government as the state aquatic animal, too.
  • Silting and sand lifting from rivers in Assam has been stopped to maintain its population.

HOW INDIA LOST ITS SPOTS?

Why in News?

  • In the recent UNCCD COP 14 (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification), held in Delhi, a researcher from India pronounced desertification as the primary cause of the extinction of the cheetah in India.
  • This has reinvigorated debate around Cheetah extinction and slow progress of Cheetah Reintroduction project that was initiated in 2009.

About Cheetah:

  • It is the fastest land animal in the world.
  • They can be distinguished from other big cats by their smaller size, small head and ears and distinctive “tear stripes” from eye to nose.
  • They are diurnal animals and hunt mostly during the late morning or Early Evening.

Habitat:

  • Open tall grasslands, scrubs, bushlands, arid and semi-arid open lands.
  • Found mostly in open savannah.

Distribution:

  • Historically cheetahs were found throughout Africa and Asia including India particularly sal forests in east-central India.
  • Today they are now confined to eastern, central and southwestern Africa and a small portion of Iran.
  • About 9,000 cheetahs remain in the wild in Africa. In Iran, around 50 cheetahs live in small isolated populations.

Reasons Behind Extinction of Cheetah:

  • Loss of grassland habitat: Inability to breed while in captivity meant that wild cheetahs were only found in natural habitats. Thus loss of habitat meant detrimental to Cheetah population which was highlighted at UNCCD COP-14.
  • Cheetahs were classified as vermin (harmful to crops and spreads diseases) during British period. This led to rewarding the act of killing of Cheetah.
  • Cheetahs were impossible to breed in captivity.
  • Hunting because Cheetahs were known to be easy to hunt

Cheetah Reintroduction Programme:

  • The last Cheetah died in Chhattisgarh in 1947 after which it was declared extinct in India in 1952.
  • Since 1970s India is trying to bring back the big cat from Iran. However due to lower number of cheetahs in Iran it was not considered to be feasible.
  • In 2009, the reintroduction project has got a fillip and India was exploring a plan of importing the South African cheetah from Namibia for reintroduction in India.
  • 3 regions were shortlisted for reintroduction including:
  • The Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary and Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuaries in Madhya Pradesh and the Shahgarh bulge landscape in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan.
  • However the project did not take off finally.

Roadblocks encountered in re-introduction of Cheetahs:

  • IUCN guidelines require a no-objection certificate for translocation of wildlife species. Besides the guidelines warn against the introduction of alien or exotic species. Finally in December 2018, IUCN gave no-objection certificate for translocation.
  • The reintroduction plan to Kuno-Palpur Wildlife Sanctuary hit a roadblock as it was also been shortlisted for introduction of Asiatic Lions from Gir forest in Gujarat. A petition is filed in the Supreme Court with respect to this and the matter is still subjudice.
  • Lack of funds hindered the reintroduction project in Nauradehi sanctuary in MP. Recently MP has shown interest in revival of the cheetah reintroduction project here.

About UNCCD:

  • United Nations Conference to Combat Desertification
  • Established in 1994, UNCCD is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management.
  • The Convention addresses specifically the arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, known as the drylands, where some of the most vulnerable ecosystems and peoples can be found.
  • The Convention’s 197 parties work together to improve the living conditions for people in drylands, to maintain and restore land and soil productivity, and to mitigate the effects of drought. The UNCCD is particularly committed to a bottom-up approach, encouraging the participation of local people in combating desertification and land degradation.
  • The UNCCD secretariat facilitates cooperation between developed and developing countries, particularly around knowledge and technology transfer for sustainable land management.
  • The permanent Secretariat of the UNCCD was established during the first Conference of the parties (COP 1) held in Rome in 1997. It has been located in Bonn, Germany since January 1999.

OPERATION CLEAN ART

Why in News?

  • A  raid conducted by Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) under Special Operation named ‘Operation Clean Art’ has seized over 50,000 Mongoose hair brushes across 5 state recently.

About Operation Clean Art:

  • Operation Clean Art was the first pan India operation to crackdown on the smuggling of mongoose hair in the country.
  • This is an special operation of WCCB to conduct raids across various states to keep a check on the factories that were making brushes with mongoose hair.
  • Painters prefer brushes made of mongoose hair because they are superior and hold colour better, and there is no better alternatives it.
  • During this raid approximately 26,000 brushes and over 100 kg of raw mongoose hair was seized.
  • It has to be noted that for about 150 kg of mongoose hair, at least 6,000 animals would have been killed.

About Mongoose species:

  • There are six species of mongoose found in India.
  • All mongoose species found in India are protected under Schedule II (Part II) of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, which prohibits all trade of animals listed in it.
  • IUCN Status –  Least concern.

Government Interventions:

  • There have been instances in which mongoose hair has been transported using courier companies. So, Postal Department authorities are also trying to spread awareness and identify illegal trade in wildlife.
  • There is also a campaign on social media where concerned organisations are urging artists to take a pledge to refrain from using brushes made of mongoose hair.

About WCCB:

  • WCCB is statutory multi-disciplinary body under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) to combat organized wildlife crime in the country.
  • It was established in June 2007 by amending the Wildlife (Protection) Act (WLPA), 1972.
  • It is headquartered in New Delhi and has five regional offices.

Functions of WCCB:

  • Under Section 38 (Z) of WLPA, 1972, it is mandated it to state and other enforcement agencies for immediate action.to collect and collate intelligence related to organized wildlife crime and disseminate it to state and other enforcement agencies for immediate action.
  • It assist foreign authorities and international organization concerned to facilitate co-ordination and universal action for wildlife crime control www.techuseful.com.
  • It is tasked with capacity building of the wildlife crime enforcement agencies for scientific and professional investigation into wildlife crimes and assist states to ensure success in wildlife crimes prosecutions.Don’t waste time and money on repairs or staging. Sell your Arkansas house to https://www.webuyhouses-7.com/new-york/ for a fast and easy transaction.

GREAT BARRIER REEF’S CORAL SPAWNING

Why in News?

  • A mass coral spawning has begun on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef recently.

About Great Barrier Reef:

  • The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands.
  • The reef is located in the Coral Sea (North-East Coast), off the coast of Queensland, Australia.
  • The Great Barrier Reef can be seen from outer space and is the world’s biggest single structure made by living organisms.
  • The reef structure is composed of and built by billions of tiny organisms, known as coral polyps. It was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981.

Coral Bleaching:

  • The stunning colours in corals come from marine algae called zooxanthellae, which live inside their tissues.
  • This algae provides the corals with an easy food supply thanks to photosynthesis, which gives the corals energy, allowing them to grow and reproduce.
  • When corals get stressed, from things such as heat or pollution, they react by expelling this algae, leaving a ghostly, transparent skeleton behind.
  • This is known as ‘coral bleaching’. Some corals can feed themselves, but without the zooxanthellae most corals starve.
  • Causes for Coral Bleaching include Change in Ocean Temperature, Runoff and Pollution, Overexposure to sunlight and Extreme low tides.

Hard Corals and Soft Corals:

  • Hard corals have hard, calcium-based skeletons. Most hard corals — also called stony corals — consist of numerous single polyps living together in colonies.
  • A single polyp consists of a sea-anemone like organism that secretes the calcium-based structure of the colony’s skeleton.
  • All hard corals’ polyps have rings of six smooth tentacles which provide the majority of structure on coral reefs.
  • While hard corals secrete calcium-based skeletons, soft corals do not. Instead, Soft corals contain structures within their tissues called spiracles that support their bodies. Additionally, soft corals have eight fuzzy tentacles for feeding.

What is Coral Spawning?

  • One of the most spectacular events to occur on the Great Barrier Reef is the annual synchronised spawning of corals.
  • This mass reproduction only happens once a year. It involves colonies and species of coral polyps simultaneously releasing tiny egg and sperm bundles from their gut cavity into the water.
  • By expelling the eggs and sperm at the same time, the coral increases the likelihood that fertilisation will take place.
  • The mass spawning occurs after a full moon and only after rising water temperatures have stimulated the maturation of the gametes within the adult coral. The day length, tide height and salinity levels also appear to be factors in deciding when the event will happen.
  • The spawning lasts between a few days and a week. This is because different species release their eggs and sperm on different days to prevent hybrids from being produced.
  • The phenomenon — which only happens at night — resembles an underwater snowstorm. But rather than being all white, there are also clouds of red, yellow and orange. All the bundles rise slowly to the surface where the process of fertilisation begins.
  • While spawning takes place on a large scale, it doesn’t happen across the entire Reef all at once.
  • Instead, the time of year that corals spawn depends on their location. Those on inshore reefs usually start spawning one to six nights after the first full moon in October, whereas those in outer reefs spawn during November or December.
  • When an egg is fertilised by a sperm it develops into coral larva called a planula that floats around in the water for several days or weeks before settling on the ocean floor. After the planula has settled in a particular area it starts to bud and the coral colony develops.
  • The mass spawning also provides ready food for other marine creatures, particularly nocturnal animals such as plankton and some fish species.

COMPENSATORY AFFORESTATION FUND

Why in News?

  • The Union Environment Ministry has transferred ₹47,436 crore to 27 States for afforestation.

Highlights:

  • The funds are long-pending dues, part of the Compensatory Afforestation Fund (CAF), that has been collected for nearly a decade as environmental compensation from industry.
  • The centre expects that states will utilize the funds towards forestry activities to achieve the objectives of the Nationally-Determined Contributions (NDCs) of increasing forest & tree cover.

Compensatory Afforestation Fund:

  • The CAF Act was passed in 2016 and the related rules were notified in 2018.
  • The CAF Act was enacted to manage the funds collected for compensatory afforestation which till then was managed by ad hoc Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA).
  • As per the rules, 90% of the CAF money is to be given to the states while 10% is to be retained by the Centre.
  • The funds can be used for treatment of catchment areas, assisted natural generation, forest management, wildlife protection and management, relocation of villages from protected areas, managing human-wildlife conflicts, training and awareness generation, supply of wood saving devices and allied activities.

Compensatory afforestation:

  • It means that every time forest land is diverted for non-forest purposes such as mining or industry, the user agency pays for planting forests over an equal area of non-forest land, or when such land is not available, twice the area of degraded forest land.

VANISHING WILDLIFE: 22 SPECIES HAVE GONE EXTINCT IN INDIA

Context :

  • The data tabled in the Lok Sabha by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change states that four species of fauna and 18 species of flora have gone extinct in India in the past few centuries.

Highlights of the BSI report:

  • As per information given by the BSI (Botanical survey of India), 18 species of plants — four non-flowering and 14 flowering — have gone extinct.
  • The notable species among them are:
    • 1.Lastreopsis wattii, a fern in Manipur discovered by George Watt in 1882
    • 2.Three species from the genus Ophiorrhiza (Ophiorrhiza brunonis , Ophiorrhiza caudate and Ophiorrhiza radican ), all discovered from peninsular India.
    • 3.Corypha taliera Roxb, a palm species discovered in Myanmar and the Bengal region by William Roxburgh is also extinct.
    • 4.Among mammals, the cheetah (Acionyx jubatus) and the Sumatran rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensisi) are considered extinct in India.
    • 5. The pink-headed duck (Rhodonessa caryophyllaceai) is feared extinct since 1950 and the Himalayan quail (Ophrysia supercililios) was last reported in 1876.
  • The major factors that have led to these extinctions are competition, predation, natural selection, and human induced factors like hunting, habitat degradation.
  • Other important facts:

    • As per Botanical Survey of India (BSI) said India is home to 11.5% of all flora in the world.
    • As per Zoological survey of India(ZSI), India has about 6.49% of all the fauna species in the world.
    • According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, since 1750 more than double the number of plants have disappeared from the wild than birds, mammals and amphibians combined.

    LARGE-SCALE BURNING OF GRASSLANDS DETRIMENTAL TO INVERTEBRATES: STUDY

    • Context: A recent study on “prescribed burning” of large tracts of grassland in the Eravikulam National Park (ENP) reveals that such burning is detrimental to endemic invertebrates.

    What Are Grasslands?

    • Grasslands are open areas of land where grasses or grass like plants are the dominant species.
    • Other forms of vegetation such as trees are rare in grasslands because they are not suited to thrive in the grassland’s dry environment.
    • Grassland ecosystems are influenced over time by the organisms and plants that live there, the local climate, the natural landscape and natural disturbances to the environment such as fires or floods.
    • Physical features of grasslands such as wide-open grass-covered plains or scattered trees located next to scarce streams help to create a diverse environment within the grassland ecosystem.

    What is Prescribed Burning?

    • It is the intentional, controlled application of fire to a forest to accomplish the objectives of forest management.
    • Fire is a natural part of both forest and grassland ecology and controlled fire can be a tool for foresters. Controlled burning stimulates the germination of some desirable forest trees, thus renewing the forest.
    • Some seeds, such as sequoia, remain dormant until fire breaks down the seed coating.
    • Traditionally, the grasslands of the Eravikulam National Park (ENP) are managed by prescribed “cold” burning (cold season burning) with the help of the local tribal community.

    Highlights of The Study:

    • Study from Eravikulam National Park says ‘prescribed’ strategy to conserve threatened ungulates adversely impacts many species.
    • The study on “prescribed burning” of large tracts of grassland for the conservation of threatened ungulates in the Eravikulam National Park (ENP), a biodiversity hotspot in the Western Ghats, reveals that such burning is detrimental to endemic invertebrates, including grasshoppers.
    • Grasshoppers are sensitive to grasslands management and an indicator of grasslands quality, health and restoration success.
    • As grasshoppers represent a major faunal component of grasslands, effects of fire on them can be easily studied in grassland habitats.
    • The endemic and wingless creatures are sensitive to environmental change and exhibit a high extinction risk. Hence, their response to fire management is of high interest.
    • Since the target of the management is to improve the status of mammal species, the impact on other groups, especially invertebrates, has been neglected.
    • There are 130 species of grasshoppers reported in Kerala, of which 54 species were found in PKMTR and 18 species were found in the ENP.
    • It is suspected that prescribed burning in the park for the past many decades is a major cause for the decline of grasshoppers.
    • The study suggested that the interval of burning should be extended to more than five years, and the area of burning should be made only in small plots with unburned adjacent areas between plots.

    CORAL REHAB PROGRAMME

    Why in News?

    • The National Centre for Coastal Research’s (NCCR) proposal of dropping ‘melted plastic rocks or slabs’ on the seabed for growing coral reefs and address the problem of disposal of plastic waste has drawn criticism from the Gulf of Mannar (GoM) Marine National Park, which has been implementing coral rehabilitation programme since 2002.

    Coral Rehabilitation Programme:

    • The GoM Marine National Park has been implementing the corral rehabilitation programme since 2002. It has so far covered eight sq km areas in GoM region, where coral reefs suffered bleaching and degradation due to climate change and high temperature.
    • The program employs ‘concrete frame slabs’ method.
    • Corals would start growing in 60 days using the concrete frames as sub-state. The acropora coral species grow by 10 to 12 cm per year on these slabs.

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    MAHARASHTRA: ENVIRONMENT MINISTRY SEEKS REPORT ON GM CROP SOWING IN STATE

    Why in News:

    • The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) has sought a detailed report on the sowing of unapproved genetically modified (GM) cotton and brinjal in Maharashtra.

    Details:

    • 1,000 farmers had publicly sown unapproved transgenic cotton and brinjal in Akoli Jahangir village of Akot taluka in Akola district.
    • The farmer’s union organised the gathering aimed at demanding introduction of Herbicide Tolerant (Ht) Bt cotton and Bt brinjal, which reduces the cost of production.
    • In India, introduction of GM seeds requires approval of the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), a body under the MoEF.
    • Till date, commercial release is granted for Bt cotton, but similar approvals for Bt mustard and Bt brinjal are awaited.

    GM Crops in India

    • India has the world’s 5th largest GM crop acreage. The world order is – USA, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, India.
    • If that’s not interesting enough, then let me add another fact on this – this rank is largely on the strength of Bt cotton, the only genetically modified crop allowed in the country.
    • At present, 96% of India’s cotton cultivation area is under Bt cotton crops.

    Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC)

    • The Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee (GEAC) was constituted under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) as the apex body under the ‘Rules for Manufacture, Use, Import, Export and Storage of Hazardous Microorganisms/Genetically Engineered Organisms or Cells 1989’ in accordance with the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
    • It is the organization engaged in the appraisal of activities that involve the large-scale usage of hazardous microorganisms and recombinants in industrial production as well as research from an environmental point of view.
    • Its mandate is to ensure that only safe and environmentally harmless activities are done.
    • The organization also appraises proposals related to the release of genetically engineered organisms and products into the environment, including experimental field trials.
    • The ministry’s Special Secretary/Additional Secretary is the Chairman of the GEAC.
    • It is co-chaired by a representative of the Department of Biotechnology.
    • Currently, the GEAC has twenty-four members and meets once every month to carry out its prescribed activities.

    Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee Functions:

    The following are the core functions of the Genetic Engineering Appraisal Committee:

    • To appraise activities involving the large-scale use of hazardous microorganisms and recombinants in research and industrial production from the environmental angle.
    • To appraise proposals relating to release of genetically engineered organisms and products into the environment including experimental field trials.
      The committee or any persons authorized by it has powers to take punitive action under the Environment Protection Act.

    PLANT 25 TREES FOR KILLING 25 VULTURES, GAUHATI HIGH COURT TELLS ASSAM MAN

    Why in news:

    • The Gauhati High Court has ordered a villager in Assam to plant and take care of 25 trees as punishment for poisoning as many vultures to death.

    Details:

    • The State Forest Department had filed a case against Dhanpati Das of Kamalpur, for lacing a goat carcass with pesticide that killed the 25 rare vultures.
    • The High Court granted bail to Das after he had spent 28 days in custody under Section 429 of IPC (mischief by killing, poisoning, maiming animals or rendering them useless) and Section 51(a) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act.

    Wildlife Protection Act, 1972

    • The act provides for the protection of wild animals, birds and plants and matters connected with them, with a view to ensure the ecological and environmental security of India. Extends to the whole of India, except the State of Jammu and Kashmir which has its own wildlife act. It provides for prohibition on use of animal traps except under certain circumstances
    • It provides for protection of hunting rights of the Scheduled Tribes in Andaman and Nicobar Islands
    • Has provisions for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)
    • It has six schedules which give varying degrees of protection
    1. Species listed in Schedule I and part II of Schedule II get absolute protection —offences under these are prescribed the highest penalties
    2. Species listed in Schedule III and Schedule IV are also protected, but the penalties are much lower. Schedule V includes the animals which may be hunted
    3. The plants in Schedule VI are prohibited from cultivation and planting
    • The act constitutes a National Board for Wildlife that
    1. provides guidelines for framing policies and advising Central and State Government on promotion of wildlife conservation and controlling poaching and illegal trade of wildlife and its products;
    2. Making recommendations for setting up and managing national parks, sanctuaries and other protected areas; and
    3. Suggesting measures for improvement of wildlife

    Sanctuaries:

    • The State or Central Government may by notification declare its intention to constitute any area as a sanctuary for protecting wildlife and the environment. The government
    • determines the nature and extent of rights of persons in or over the land within the sanctuary.

    National Parks:

    • The State or Central Government may declare an area, whether inside a sanctuary or not, as a national park for the purpose of protecting and developing wildlife and its environment. The State Government cannot alter the boundaries of a national park except on the recommendation of the National Board for Wildlife.
    • No grazing is allowed inside a national park.

    Conservation Reserves:

    • The State Government after consultations with local communities can declare any area owned by the Government, particularly areas adjacent to national parks or sanctuaries, as conservation reserves. The government constitutes a Conservation Reserve Management Committee to manage and conserve the conservation reserve.

    Community Reserves:

    • The State Government can, in consultation with the community or an individual who have volunteered to conserve wildlife, declare any private or community land as community reserve. A Community Reserve Management Committee shall be constituted by State Government for conserving and managing the reserve.

    Tiger Reserve:

    • These areas were reserved for protection tiger in the country. The State Government on the recommendation of the Tiger Conservation Authority may notify an area as a tiger reserve, for which it has to prepare a Tiger Conservation Plan.

    Indian Vulture Crisis

    • India is most favourable region for Vultures: Hindus do not eat cows, which they consider sacred, and when a cow dies, it is left to be fed on by vultures. India has a high species diversity and hence vultures get lot of food.
    • Nine species of vulture can be found living in India. But today, most are in danger of extinction due to a veterinary drug called diclofenac (vultures do not have a particular enzyme to break down diclofenac).

    Diclofenac

    • Diclofenac is a common anti-inflammatory drug administered to livestock and is used to treat the symptoms of inflammation, fevers and/or pain associated with disease or wounds.
    • Diclofenac leads to renal failure in vultures damaging their excretory system [direct inhibition of uric acid secretion in vultures].
    • Gyps species were the most affected by diclofenac.
    • The population of the White-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis) fell 99.7% between 1993 and 2002. The populations of the Indian vulture (Gyps indicus) and the slender-billed vulture (Gyps tenuirostris) fell 97.4%.
    • The percentages differ slightly because the white-rumped vulture is more sensitive to diclofenac than the other two species, but all three were in danger of extinction.
    • Two other species of Gyps, the Himalayan vulture (Gyps himalayensis) and the Eurasian griffon (Gyps fulvus) were less affected because they come to India only in winters
    • They are exclusively mountain-dwelling and hence less vulnerable to diclofenac contamination. Vulture populations have continued to decline in India at a rate of between 20% and 40% each year since 2007.

    INDIA AMONG COUNTRIES WHERE WOMEN FACE MOST VIOLENCE BY PARTNER

    Why in news:

    • Global estimates published by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that about 1 in 3 (35%) women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.

    Details:

    • Worldwide as many as 38% of murders of women are committed by a male intimate partner.
    • In India intimate partner violence is the highest at 37.7% in the WHO South-East Asia region. As per figures released by WHO, the violence ranges from 23.2% in high-income countries and 24.6% in the WHO Western Pacific region to 37% in the WHO Eastern Mediterranean region.
    • Violence against women particularly intimate partner violence and sexual violence is a major public health problem and a violation of women’s human rights. WHO together with UN Women and other partners has developed a framework for prevention of violence against women called Respect which can be used by governments to counter this menace.
    • Healthcare professionals cautioned that violence can negatively affect a woman’s physical, mental, sexual, and reproductive health, and may increase the risk of acquiring HIV.
    • Global health organisation said that men are more likely to perpetrate violence if they have low education, a history of child maltreatment, exposure to domestic violence against their mothers, harmful use of alcohol, unequal gender norms, including attitudes accepting of violence, and a sense of entitlement over women.
    • Women are more likely to experience intimate partner violence if they have low education, exposure to mothers being abused by a partner, abuse during childhood, and attitudes accepting violence, male privilege and women’s subordinate status.
    • Warning that intimate partner violence causes serious short-and long-term problems for women and adversely affect their children besides leading to high social and economic costs for women, their families and societies.

    THIRD PARTY MOTOR INSURANCE PREMIUM TO GET PRICIER AS IRDAI REVISES RATE CARD

    Why in News:

    • Insurance regulator IRDAI proposed an increase in third party (TP) motor insurance premium rates for various categories of automobiles from cars, two-wheelers and school buses to trucks.

    Background:

    • The upward revision proposed for cars is in excess of 14% — for two-wheelers it is up to 21.11% and public goods carriers (trucks) over 11%. The increase recommended for school buses is 5.29% in basic rate and 5.34% per licensed passenger.
    • However, there will be no change in the long-term premium rates for new cars and two- wheelers — such covers come for three years in the case of new cars and five years for new two-wheelers. By issuing an exposure draft for the current fiscal (2019-20), the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) on Monday put to rest any expectations on continuing with the existing premium rates.
    • Usually, the new rates come into force on April 1. It is preceded by an exposure draft that is placed in the public domain seeking comments.
    • The revision proposed in the draft generally becomes the final tariff.

    IRDAI:

    • Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India or the IRDAI is the apex body responsible for regulating and developing the insurance industry in India.
    • It is an autonomous body. It was established by an act of Parliament known as the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority Act, 1999.
    • IRDAI is headquartered in Hyderabad in Telangana. Prior to 2001, it was headquartered in New Delhi. The organization fought for an increase in the FDI limit in the insurance sector to 49% from the previous 26%.
    • The FDI cap was hiked to 49% in July of 2014.
    • Its primary purpose is to protect the rights of the policyholders in India.
    • It gives the registration certificate to insurance companies in the country.
    • It also engages in the renewal, modification, cancellation, etc. of this registration.
    • It also creates regulations to protect policyholders’ interests in India.

    Dreaded Chytrid Fungus

    A disease caused by a highly contagious fungus has wiped out as many as 200 species of frog worldwide since the 1970s, and pushed many more to the brink of extinction. The fungus is mostly limited to moist and cooler environments like rain forests.

    In India:

    • The discovery of the dreaded chytrid fungus in frogs in the Western Ghats got Indian scientists worried seven years ago. Now, a team has detected the pathogen in all major biodiversity hotspots in India.
    • The pathogen is most prevalent in a family of dancing frogs (Micrixalidae) which is endemic to India, and increased with the onset of the monsoon and Bd is prevalent only at a “low level” in all the country’s hotspots.
    • Is present in frogs across the Western Ghats, Eastern Ghats, Himalaya, north-eastern hill ranges, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
    • Genetic analyses of the pathogens showed that they are extremely diverse in India.

    About fungus:

    Chytridiomycosis is an infectious disease in amphibians caused by the chytrid fungi bactrachhochytrium dendrobatids and B.salamandrivorans a nonhyphal zoosporic fungus.

    Chytridiomycosis has been linked to dramatic population decline or even extinctions of amphibian species in western North America, Central America, South America, Eastern Australia, East Africa Caribbean.

    How it Affects:

    It grows on a frog’s ultra-sensitive skin, disrupting the organ’s ability to absorb water and air. Sodium and potassium in the frogs blood goes down really low and they have a heart attack.” Afflicted frogs eventually die of cardiac arrest.

    Measures taken:

    • No effective measure is known for control of the disease in wild populations.
    • A number of options are possible for controlling this disease-causing fungus, though none has proved to be feasible on a large scale.
    • To protect themselves against nasties like the chytrid fungus, frogs secrete antimicrobial peptides, essentially an immune system for the outside of the body. But this fungus is so nasty, so virulent, that it quickly overwhelms its victims, peptides be damned.
    • Another strategy is to coat frogs with a solution containing a fungus-fighting bacterium, though that of course wouldn’t eradicate the fungus itself.
    • Some frogs may be developing a resistance to the deadly chytrid fungus.
    • Right now, researchers are fighting the fungus by capturing vulnerable frogs and bringing them into the lab for captive breeding that focuses on creating a genetically diverse population, ensuring the species doesn’t go extinct if the fungus decimates the wild population. But if you wanted to release the frogs back in the wild, it’s hard to know they’d be able to resist the fungus.

    Cause:

    A new study suggests that changing global temperatures may be responsible for increased proliferation of chytridiomycosis. The combination of decreased daytime temperature and increased night-time temperatures may be providing optimal growth and reproduction for Chytrid fungus which has preferred temperature range between 63° and 77 °F (17° and 25 °C). The fungus dies at temperatures at and above 30 °C

    The disease has been proposed as a contributing factor to a global decline in amphibian populations that apparently has affected about 30% of the amphibian species of the world. It is considered as “the worst infectious disease ever recorded among vertebrates.”

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