Sunday, October 26, 2008

The High Ranges

An Article by Mohan Pai

South of the Nilgiris
The High Ranges

Shooting Point, Anamalais - Pic by Mohan Pai

Immediately after the Nilgiris, the High Ranges begin south of the Palakkad Gap. Most of this high elevation hilly tract lies within the Idukky district of Kerala but some portion of it - its eastern flanks extend into Tamil Nadu (Thirunelveli - Kottabomman, Kamarajar, Madurai, Dindigul and Coimbatore districts).The area covered here extends approximately 9 20’ N to 10 20’ N latitude and 76 30’ E longitude.
This high elevation hilly tract covers the Nelliyampathies, the Anaimalais, the Palni Hills, the High Wavies, the Varushanad Hills, the Cardamom Hills and a few smaller radiating spurs. The Anaimudi Peak is located at the south western corner of the ridge. The Palni Hills or the Kodaikanal Hills extend due east from the north eastern corner of the High Ranges almost like a spur. Most of the area of Anamalais and Palni Hills are in Tamil Nadu.

This is the most important catchment area for Kerala and southern Tamil Nadu rivers. All the west flowing rivers - Periyar, Moovattpuza, Meenachil and Manimala receive all their waters from this tract. Some portion of Chalakudy and Pamba river is also in this tract. The Amaravathy, a tributary of Kaveri, and Vaigai originate from the eastern flanks of the High Ranges and flow east in Tamil Nadu.

The High Ranges and the adjacent hill tracts to the east in Tamil Nadu across the state boundary together extend over 7500 - 8000 sq km in area. It ranges in elevation from near sea level to over 2660 m and is exposed to an extraordinary range of climatic conditions. This area had a very long span of geological stability and hence and hence nurtured an exceptional ecological richness and diversity. The very difficult terrain and inclement weather conditions have sheltered the ecosystems in this hill ranges from severe human depredations.
It was the advent of the missionaries, military explorers, suveyors and adventurers from Europe that brought the area into wider attention since the early 19th century. Soon its suitability for tropical cash crops such as coffee, tea, cardamom, pepper, cinchona, rubber, cocoa and a host of sub-temperate fruits and vegetables enticed many Europeans to open up the interior forests and raise extensive plantations. Many river valley projects came up both for irrigation and hydroelectric power. For its total geographical extent, the High Ranges now have the maximum number of major and medium dams in the entire Southern Western Ghats. In fact now more than 75% of Kerala’s electricity comes exclusively from this tract.

Munnar Valley - Pic by Mohan Pai
There is a wide range of variation in weather parameters within the tract. Many deep valleys along the western edge have an annual rainfall well over 6000 mm. The rainfall decreases sharply towards the east. The rainfall decreases sharply towards the east with sheltered effect produced by the very high ridges in reduced rainfall (less than 600 mm) in regions like Chinar and Anjanad Valley.

All reaches of the tract below 900 m elevation are humid tropical with two monsoon seasons where the annual average temperature remains within 32 - 16 C. Range with only 2-3 rainless months. Elevation between 900 m and upto 1600 m have subzero at times during winter nights with high wind chill factor. Frost prevails regularly and these areas have much lower annual total rainfall, lower humidity and a uniformly lower maximum temperature.

Denudation of Forests
Beginning of the 19th century, probably the entire area was practically covered by natural closed canopy forest vegetation and high elevation montane grasslands. Then plantations were established by the European settlers in a series of waves throughout the 1880’s and the early 1900’s till almost the beginning of the Second World War. No worthwhile extent of natural forest area survived these early onslaughts in the Mount Plateau-Peermade Plateau areas. Further north, in the heart of the High Ranges, in 1877 almost 500 sq km of forests were leased out for what later to be the Kannan Devan Hill Produce Company.

Most of the remaining areas of the High Ranges, particularly in the valleys and western slopes remained forested, reserved as government forests. However, over the years, most of it has vanished into the reservoirs for dams, encroachments and even townships.

Mattuppetty Reservoir - Pic by Mohan Pai
The Sholas
The High Ranges have the maximum extent of shola grassland habitat remaining in any part of the Western Ghats. The Sholas are subtropical evergreen forests which are relict vegetation and harbour species which have outlasted the gradual climatic and ecological changes since the last glaciation, 30,000 to 20,000 years ago. These Pleistocene refugia are mostly restricted to the Western Ghats south of Coorg and are among the most endangered ecosystems in our country. Most of these grasslands have already been drastically modified. The loss of biodiversity from this region is unknown and the erosion still continues.

Cardamom Hills - Pic by Mohan Pai

Kerala Grass’
The cultivation of ganja (marijuana), started in the High Ranges has become a serious problem causing extensive deforestation and with disastrous repercussions for the whole country. Ganja cultivation has now spread to all reaches of the Southern Western Ghats.

The Tribals
The High Ranges have a fairly large population of hill men and forest dwellers. Among them the Muthuvas, the Mannans, the Malapulayans, the Ooralis, the Mala Arayas and the Malampandarams are the important surviving communities.
The earler inhabitants of the High Ranges whom we classify as tribal people are essentially of two categories - the true older forest inhabitants and the late migrants form the Tamil Nadu plains. The former were possibly occupying the western valley forests and the foothill forests. These people were in social organization and a culture more aboriginal. They used to hunt, collect forest produce for consumption and some for barter, while some groups practised shifting cultivation. They were gradually ousted from the more fertile low lands. As forests degraded due to the pressure of ‘civilized’ plains people and its diversity became depleted they could collect only less and less produce for their use. At present forests all along the western edge of Idukky district, near the noth western edge of the Periyar Tiger Reserve, and the extensive Anaimudi Reserved Forest area where the tribal survival and forest preservation are apparently in conflict.
Apart from these hill men, throughout the past these hills have been refuges or retreats for many groups of people from the plains. Hindu, Buddhist and Jain monuments occur in many locations, now mostly in ruins.

Author at the base of Anaimudi Peak

Protected Areas in the High Ranges

The Northern cluster in the High Ranges area has the Peechi-Vazani WS,Chimmony WS, Parambikulam WS, Eravikulam NP and Chinnar WS in Kerala and the Anaimalai WS (Indira Gandhi WS) in Tamil Nadu. The Thattakkad Bird Sanctuary extending over 25 sq km consists mostly of heavily distributed lowland forests and is located along the north western edge of the High Range forest belt in the Pooyamkutty valley.
The Southern cluster has the Periyar Tiger Reserve and the Grizzled Giant Squirrel Sanctuary in Kadyanalloor hills of Tamil Nadu.

Peechi - Vazhani & Chimmony WLS

Located in the extreme north west and extends along the lower foothills of Nelliyampathies bordering the Palakkad gap in Thrissur district. This 125 sq km sanctuary is contiguous along its south eastern boundary with Chimmony WLS (90 sq km) occupying the western slopes of Nelliyampathies. The moist deciduous forests of the Trichur Peechi Vazhani national park are a haven for a variety of wildlife that consists of many rare species of animals, birds and plants as well. The sanctuary is situated in the basin of the Peechi and Vazhani dams of Trichur.
This sanctuary was established in the year 1958 in Kerala. There is a rich variety of flora and fauna in this sanctuary. One can find more than 60 varieties of plants that include rosewood, teakwood and orchids along with plants of medicinal value. Among the wildlife, one can find animals like leopards, sambar deer, wild dogs, barking deer, spotted deer, bison and elephants.
You can also find many types of snakes and other reptiles here. There is a hill near the sanctuary known as the Ponmudi peak, which goes up to a height of 923 meters. Take a trek on this peak and look at the breath-taking view of the sanctuary from the top of the peak.

Parambikulam WLS

Spread over an area of 285 sq km, Parambikulam WLS shares an eastern border with Anaimalai WLS.The sanctuary lies in between the Anamalai hills and Nelliyampathy hills. Much of the sanctuary is part of Anamalai hills with peaks up to 1,438m (Karimala Gopuram) in the southern boundary of the sanctuary, 1,120m (Vengoli malai) in the eastern boundary, 1,010m (Puliyarapadam) in the west and 1,290m (Pandaravarai peak) in the north. Though the sanctuary is blessed with rain during both South West monsoon and North East monsoon, the former contributes maximum to the total precipitation recorded in the sanctuary. In addition, pre-monsoon showers are experienced during April and May.

Eravikulam National Park

Originally established to protect the Nilgiri Tahr, the Eravikulam Park is situated in Devikulam taluk of the Idukki district. It was declared as a sanctuary in 1975, and considering its ecological, faunal, floral, geo-morphological and zoological significance, it was declared as a National Park in 1978. It covers an area of 97 sq km of rolling grasslands and high level shoalas. The park is breath-takingly beautiful and is comparable to the best of mountain ranges in the Alps.The area is undulating, dotted with grass hillocks and sholas. Anamudi (2694m), the highest peak, south of the Himalays, is situated in the south of the park.The area receives heavy rains during both the monsoons. This is one of the wettest areas of the world. During the winter months of December to February, the occurrence of frost is quite common.The major portion of this area is covered with grasslands, but there are several patches of sholas seen in hollows and valleys..Tiger, panther and wild dogs are usually sighted in both the open grass land sholas forests. Civet cat and jungle cat also live in the sholas. Sloth bear, Nilgiri langur and wild boar are generally found in sholas and their fringes. The Atlas moth, the largest of its kind in the world, is seen in this park. The population of the world famous Nilgiri Tahr is 1317 according to the 1991 census.

Nilgiri Tahr - Pic by Mohan Pai

Chinnar WLS

Lying at Devikulam taluk of Idukki district, Chinnar was declared as a wildlife sanctuary in 1984. It is located in the rain shadow region of the Western Ghats. It is the second habitat for the endangered giant grizzled squirrel in India. With an area of 90.422 sq. Km, Chinnar has the unique thorny scrub forest with Xerophytic species.The undulated terrain with rocky patches increases the scenic splendour of the sanctuary. As the altitude varies from 500 to 2,400 meters within a few kilometer radius, there is a drastic variation in the climate and vegetation. The highest peaks are Kottakombumalai (2144m), Vellaikal malai (1863m) and Viriyoottu malai (1845m). Unlike in most other forests of Kerala, Chinnar gets only about 48 rainy days in a year during October-November (Northeast monsoons). The forest types comprise thorny scrub forests, dry deciduous forest, high sholas and wet grasslands.

Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary

The one and only sanctuary of its kind in Kerala, the Thattekkad Bird Sanctuary was constituted in 1983. Situated in Eranakulam district, this bird sanctuary is a feast to the eyes and music to the ears. Several kinds of birds usually found in South India are seen here. The famous ornithologist, Dr. Salim Ali, was the architect of this sanctuary. He is reported to have identified 167 birds and his student, Dr. Sugathan, 207. In addition, the Bombay Natural History Society has identified 253 kinds of birds. Spread over an extent of 25.16 sq.kms, Thattekkad attracts nature lovers from far and wide. As is common on the Western Ghats, the terrain is undulating and elevation ranges between 35m and 523m. The tallest point is the Njayapilli peak (523m high).
Lake : the sancutary is the catchment area of Bhoothanthankett dam. Maximum depth 15m. The flora consists of tropical evergreen forests, tropical semi-evergreen forests and tropical deciduous forests. There are patches of grasslands also.


The elephant is an occasional visitor. Leopard, bear, porcupine, python and cobra are sighted.BirdsIndian roller, cuckoo, common snipe, crow pheasant, jungle nightjar, kite, grey drongo, Malabar trogon, woodpeckeer, large pied wagtail, baya sparrow, grey jungle fowl, Indian hill myna, robin bird, jungle babbler and darter.

Cheeyapara Waterfalls - Pic by Mohan Pai

Rare Birds

Crimson-throated barbet, bee-eater, sunbird, shrike, fairy blue-bird, grey-headed fishing eagle, blackwinged kite, night heron, grey heron, Malabar shama, common grey hornbill and Malabar hornbill.

Idukki WLS

Idukki Wildlife Sanctuary which came into existence in 1976, spreads over an area of 77sq. Km. within Thodupuzha and Udumbanchola taluks in Idukki district. This wild life sanctuary with a plenty of elephants is blessed with different kinds of flora and fauna. The world famous Idukki arch dam and the vast lake increase the importance of this place. Before the formation of Shenduruny as a wildlife sanctuary, the area was under the Thenmala Forest Division. Both clear felling and selection felling were once practised in this area to a large extent. Large tracts of forests were clearfelled and such areas were converted to plantations. Besides, the widening of the Thiruvananthapuram - Shencottah road (T.S.Road) during the 40's also enhanced the deterioration of the Shenduruny forests. Despite all these disturbances the fauna status of Shenduruny valley was found to be some what well, especially in the eastern mountainous zone. So, according to the recommendations by the Quilon Circle Committee report, the Government declared Shenduruny as wildlife sanctuary on August 25, 1984.

Periyar Tiger Reserve

Periyar Tiger reserve lies in the districts of Idukki and Pathanamthitta. The protected area covers an area of 777 km², out of which a 350 km² part of the core zone was made into the Periyar National Park and Tiger Reserve, sometimes dubbed the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. The park is often called by the name Thekkady also. Thekkady is located four km from Kumily, approximately 100 km east of Alappuzha, 110 km west of Madurai and 120 km southeast from Kochi.

Periyar Lake - Pic by Mohan Pai

The Periyar protected area lies in the middle of a mountainous area of the Cardamom Hills. In the north and the east it is bounded by mountain ridges of over 1700 metres altitude and toward the west it expands into a 1200 Meter high plateau. From this level the altitude drops steeply to the deepest point of the reserve, the 100 Meter valley of the Pamba River. The highest peak is the 2019 Meter high Kottamalai.The sanctuary surrounds picturesque 26 km² Periyar lake, formed by the building of Mullaperiyar Dam in 1895. This reservoir and the Periyar River meander around the contours of the wooded hills, providing a permanent source of water for the local wildlife.The temperatures vary depending upon the altitude and it ranges between 15° Celsius in December and January and 31° Celsius in April and May. The annual amount of precipitation lies between 2000 and 3000 mm. About two thirds of the precipitation occurs during the south west monsoon between June to September. A smaller amount of precipitation occurs during the north east monsoon between October and December.

Elephant herd

Approximately 75% of the entire area is covered with evergreen or semi-evergreen rain forest. They are typically tall tropical tree species reaching heights of 40 to 50 Metres. Scarcely 13% consists of damp leaves forest, 7% of Eucalyptus plantation and 1.5% of grassland. The remainder (around 3.5%) of the protected area is covered by the Periyar artificial lake as well as the Periyar River and Pamba rivers.Altogether 62 different kinds of mammal have been recorded in Periyar, including many threatened ones. There are an estimated 24 tigers in the reserve. Tourists also come here to view the Indian elephants in the act of ablution and playfulness by the Periyar lake. The elephant number around 900 to 1000 individuals. Other mammals found here include gaur, sambar (horse deer), barking deer, mouse deer, Dholes (Indian wild dogs), mongoose, foxes and leopards. Also inhabiting the park, though rarely seen, are the elusive Nilgiri tahr.Four species of primates are found at Periyar - the rare lion-tailed macaque, the Nilgiri Langur, the common langur, and the Bonnet Macaque.So far 320 different kinds have been counted in Periyar. The bird life includes darters, cormorants, kingfishers, the great Malabar hornbill and racket-tailed Drongos.There are 45 different kinds of reptile in the protected area out of which there are 30 snake, two turtle, and 13 lizard species. Among those are Monitor lizards that can be spotted basking in the sun on the rocks along the lake shore. Visitors who trek into the Periyar national park often see a Python and sometimes even a King Cobra.

Dhole (Wild Dogs)

Hill Stations in the High Ranges

Pre-historic artefacts have been found around Kodaikanal, indicating that it was once the home of now forgotten people who left behind mysterious megalithic structures, burial grounds, and tombs containing copper and brass implements and ornaments. In 1834 the collector of Madurai, built a house at the head of Shembagannur pass and the development of Kodaikanal began. Kodaikanal is situated on the upper crust of the Palni Hills at an elevation of 2000 m.

The first permanent homes in Kodaikanal were erected by a group of American missionaries, who had been based in Madurai who suffered many deaths from a fearful attack of cholera. They built a bungalow in Sirmalai hills, but its altitude of 4,000 ft gave some relief from the after effects of cholera, but not from malaria. They appealed to the British to help locate a more suitable site and soon the first two crude bungalows, named Sunnyside and Shelton, had appeared in Kodaikanal basin and six American families moved in. Soon British neighbours settled around them and Kodaikanal was on the map of South India.
Kodaikanal because of its situation is protected from the heavy monsoons which deluge nearby ranges from May to September. As light rain falls throughout the year the region is spared the occasional dry spells and water shortages which affect the Nilgiris. The scenery with its grassy rolling downs and beautiful little shola woods and perennial streams flowing through them attracted the Europeans.

Munnar, at 1,652 metres (5,420 ft), is a small town surrounded by the Anaimalai Hills and tea estates. It stands at the confluence of three rivers - the Muthirappuzha, Nallathani and Kundala. Moonu in Tamil means ‘three’ and aar ‘river’.

Club House at Munnar - Pic by Mohan Pai

The highest peak in South India - Anaimudi 2,695 m is just 20 kms from Munnar. Munnar was the favourite summer resort of European settlers for centuries but has taken place on the tourism map of India only recently. It was the best-kept secret among hill station destinations.
Until the second half of the 19th century, Munnar was part of an inhospitable and inaccessible area of thickly forested mountains. Its sole inhabitants were a tribal community called the Madhuvans, expert hunters and gatherers, who practised slash and burn cultivation. They still retain their customs although the pressures of modern life are eroding them. Officially Munnar belonged to the Poonjar Rajas of the state of Travancore.The first European to venture into the area
appears to have been the Duke of Wellington, when, as Colonel Arthur Wellesly, he marched across the ghats to fight Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore in 1790. With Tipu’s defeat, though not at the hands of Wellington’s column, British influence in Kerala became supreme. Malabar was annexed from Mysore and the Rajas of Travancore and Cochin were subject to British interference.

Tea Gardens of Munnar - Pic by Mohan Pai
The year 1887 marked the beginning of the opening up of the High Ranges. John Daniel Munro of Pimmede, an officer of Travancore state and superintendent of the Cardamom hills leased the hill tract from the government. Munroe explored the area by following elephant paths and began to bring planters, mainly Scots, to join him in clearing the jungle. Life for pioneers was hard.
In the 1890s, The Finlay Muir company moved into the hills and persuaded some of the proprietary planters to work for them. The company came to control almost all the estates in the area and its name is still preserved in the Indian company, Tata Finlay Ltd, which now owns them.Finlay Muir’s arrival did not make life any easier on the plantations. The hills were still inaccessible, except from the Tamil Nadu side. And so Tamil labourers were brought up to man the estates. Planters experimented with rubber and chinchona before settling for tea which was transported by ropeways from Top Station outside Munnar to Bottom Station where it was packed in Imperial Chests shipped out from Britain and despatched to Tuticorin harbour. In 1908 a light railway was opened to take the tea from Munnar to Top Station, but it was destroyed by floods in 1924. In 1931, the ghat road from the Cochin side to Munnar was finally opened and Top Station was no longer needed to transport the tea.

Muthirapuza river - Pic by Mohan Pai

There are roads to Munnar from Cochin, 224 km to the west, and Thekkady, 117 km away. There is also a mountain road which links Munnar with Kodaikanal only 92 km to the east. This road is extremely beautiful and lonely. Munnar has now become quite a popular hill station with many tourist resorts.

Thekkady, at an elevation of 3,300 ft above sea level has become a popular tiger reserve and is set around Periyar lake. Periyar lake itself is an artificial lake formed during the construction of the Mullaperiyar dam in 1895 - that explains the dead tree trunks and branches sticking out of the water. These trees were submerged in the waters of the dam. The Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary is spread over 777 sq. km, roughly half of which is dense evergreen forest, savannah grassland and moist deciduous forest.
The sanctuary was declared a tiger reserve in 1978 under Project Tiger, and so the name Periyar Tiger Reserve is sometimes used to denote the place as well. Thekkady Junction is the central part of the Periyar sanctuary, and has a number of tourist resorts.

Nelliyampathy is another hill station destination which is becoming popular of late. This is a small, tea-and-orange hill station situated 75 km from Palakkad and 40 km south of Nenmara, the nearest town.
Nelliyampathy is in the midst of evergreen forests and orange plantations. The forests are part of the Sahya Range of the Western Ghats. There are a number of hill resorts at the top including one run by Kerala District Tourist Promotion Council.
Nelliyampathy Reservoir - Pic by Mohan Pai


Sathis Chandran Nair “The High Ranges” published by INTACH 1994, Information & Public Relations Dept, Government of Kerala, Wikipedia, Mohan Pai “The Western Ghats” 2005.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Tadoba Andhari

Saturday, July 26, 2008
An Aricle by Mohan Pai

Tiger Reserve

The Central Highlands of India, the enchanting land of Kipling’s Jungle Book.
Land of the "The Jungle Book:"

The Central Highlands of the Satpura Range is the original setting of Rudyard Kipling's most famous work, The Jungle Book. Kipling borrowed heavily from Robert Armitage Strendale's books 'Seonee', 'Mammalia of India and Ceylon' and 'Denizens of the Jungle' for the topography, wildlife, and its ways. Mowgli was inspired by Sir William Henry Sleeman's pamphlet, 'An Account of Wolves Nurturing Children in Their Dens' which describes a wolf-boy captured in Seoni district near the village of Sant Baori in 1831. Many of The Jungle Book's locations are actual locations in Seoni District, like the Waingunga river with its gorge where Sherkhan was killed, Kanhiwara villlage and the 'Seeonee hills'.
This is the largest contiguous tiger habitat in the world and as such crucial for the Tiger’s survival. The Satpuras are not only home to majestic tiger, but also host other endangered species like the forest owlet, otter, pangolin, chinkara and mouse deer. Its grasslands are home to barasingha, while giant squirrels inhabit the canopy of the moist deciduous forests. The forests of the Satpuras need to be protected for their contribution to augmenting India’s supply of that most precious of resources - water. The Satpuras give birth to important rivers such as Wardha, Tapi, Purna, Denwa, Tawa and Narmada which sustain millions of Indians.

The entire Satpura landscape includes 13 Protected Areas (PAs) covering approximately 6,500 sq km. These PAs are connected by vital wildlife corridors and the inclusion of these takes the range’s contiguous cover to around 10,000 sq km. The famous tiger reserves of Melghat in Maharashtra and Pench, Bori-Satpura and Kanha in Madhya Pradesh all lie within the Satpuras. Tadoba-Andhari Tiger reserve is at the southern part of this complex.
Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve is the pristine and unique eco-system situated in the Chandrapur district of the Maharashtra State located at a distance of 40 km fro Chandrapur. The Reserve contains some of the best of forest tracks and endowed with rich biodiversity. It is famous for its natural heritage. Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve is the second Tiger Reserve in the State of Maharashtra.Tadoba-Andhari Tiger reserve was created in 1995. The area of the Reserve is 625.40 sq. km. This includes Tadoba National Park, created in 1955 with an area of 116.55 sq. km. and Andhari Wildlife Sanctuary created in 1986 with an area of 508.85 sq. km. The Reserve is constituted with 577.96 sq. km. of reserve forest, 32.51 sq. km of protected forest and 14.93 sq. km. other areas.
The name 'Tadoba' is the name of the God 'Tadoba'or "Taru", praised by the tribal which is supposed to live in the dense forests of Tadoba and Andhari region.
The National Park is 623 km² in area, consisting of two forested rectangles of the Tadoba and Andhari range. It is the biggest National park in Maharashtra. Thickly clad hills form the northern and western boundary of the Tiger Reserve. To the southwest is a huge lake which acts as a buffer between the park's forest and the extensive farmland which extends up to Irai Lake.Adjacent to the core forested hills is the Chichghat valley. The Tadoba Tiger Reserve is a comparatively undisturbed forest not visited by many tourists. Tadoba Tiger Reserve is open throughout the year. The camp is a three-hour road journey from the city of Nagpur, Maharashtra.
Forest Types
Southern tropical Dry Deciduous Forest
Wild Life
Apart from around 40 tigers, Tadoba Tiger Reserve is home to rare Indian wildlife like leopards, sloth bears, gaur, wild dogs, hyenas, civet and jungle cats, and many species of Indian deer like sambar, cheetal, nilgai, and barking deer. The Tadoba lake sustains the Marsh Crocodile, which were once common all over Maharashtra. Tadoba is also an ornithologist's paradise with a varied diversity of aquatic birdlife, and Raptors.

Serpent Eagle
Marsh Crocodile
Tadoba is part of a very important corridor of central India’s contiguous forests which makes it the largest tiger corridor connected to Madhya Pradesh's best tigerlands. Below is a panoramic view of Tadoba's dry deciduous forest and the Tadoba reservoir, which is known as the 'Heart of Tadoba'.

At least 31 people have been killed by tigers from Tadoba since April 2005, according to forest department records. But only two of these killings took place inside the reserve. The rest occurred in the thickly forested Mul, Shioni, Talodhi, Nagbhid and Brahmapuri forest ranges adjoining the reserve’s eastern border, where most villages are located and most roads are being built.The attacks have affected the rural economy. Most villagers are wary of venturing into the forests to collect forest produce. In Talodhi range’s Jankapur village, where three persons were killed by tigers in recent years, half the villagers haven’t cultivated their land since June 2007.Forest officials aren’t clear what’s prompting the attacks. Last November the department killed a supposed man-eater in Talodhi, but that didn’t stop the attacks. Poonam and Harsh Dhanwatey of the Tiger Research and Conservation Trust, who have been working in forests outside the reserve, suggest the attacks might be due to seasonal wildlife pattern changes. However, Amrut Dhanwatey, wildlife photographer and owner of the Tiger Trails resort on the western side of the reserve, says road-building and tourist activities is disturbing the tigers and their prey base and forcing the cats to move outside the reserve.Both conservationists and forest officials allege local villagers’ forays in to the forests to graze cattle and collect forest produce is the lead cause of the attacks.Villagers also blame the development activities. Last year, for instance, Jankapur villagers lost around 485.6 ha to a canal being built as part of the Gosekhurd dam project. This included their entire grazing land and a village tank. Since they are losing land, villagers are forced to go into the forest to graze their cattle. “Officials don’t understand how crucial forests are for us,” says Dhondabai Kusram of Jankapur.
Acknowledgements: Satpura Foundation, Atul Dhamankar

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Fauna of the Northeast India

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Fauna of the Northeast India
An Article by Mohan Pai

The Northeast India represents the transitional zone between the Indian, Indo-Malayan and Indo-Chinese biogeographic regions and is the geographical ‘gateway’ for much of India’s flora and fauna. As a consequence, the area is one of the richest in biological values, high in endemism and holds a large number of rare species that are now under serious threat.Hotspots are areas that are extremely rich in species, have high endemism and are under constant threat due to human pressure (having lost 70% of their original habitat). The Northeast is among the 34 Hot Spots of the world, identified in India, the other being the Western Ghats.
Northeast India
One of the richest biomes of the world, high in endemism and rare species which is now under constant threat.
The Northeast India, (22-30 degree N and 89-97 degree E) spread over 2,62,379, represents the transition zone between the Indian, Indo-Malayan and Indo-Chinese biogeographic regions and a meeting place of the Himalayan Mountains and Peninsular India. It was the part of the northward moving ‘Deccan Peninsula’ that first touched the Asian landmass after the break up of Gondwanaland in the early Tertiary Period. Northeast India is thus the geographical ‘gateway’ for much of India’s flora and fauna. It is in this lowland-highland transition zone that the highest diversity of biomes or ecological communities can be found, and species diversities within these communities are also extremely high.
Hoollock Gibbon - Pic by Ritu Raj Konwar
The region is made up of eight states: Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura and is endowed with a wide range of physiography and eco-climatic conditions. The State of Assam has extensive flood plains, while Khangchendzonga in Sikkim stands 8586 m. tall. Cherrapunjee in the State of Meghalaya holds the record for the highest rainfall in a single month (9,300 mm) as well as the most in a year (26,461 mm) in India, while the nearby Mawsynram has the world’s highest average rainfall (11,873 mm). The forests in the region are extremely diverse in structure and composition and combine tropical and temperate forest types, alpine meadows and cold deserts. There are regions, for example, in the State of Sikkim, where the faunal assemblages also change rapidly from tropical to subtropical, temperate, alpine and finally to cold desert forms.
Northeast India forms one of the major regions of tropical forests in India, especially the species-rich tropical rain forests. The tropical semi-evergreen and moist deciduous forests in the lowlands of this region extend south and west into the subcontinent, and east into Southern China and Southeast Asia. The subtropical forests of the region follow the foothills of the Himalaya to the west; also extend into Southeast China in the east. Himalayan temperate and subalpine zone forests extend from northern Pakistan and adjacent Afghanistan through Northeast India to Southwest China. This region represents an important part of the Indo-Myanmar biodiversity hotspot, one of the 34 global biodiversity hotspots recognized currently (2005). Golden langur - Pic by Arunchs
Global Biodiversity Hotspots
Norman Myers, a conservation biologist, in 1988 first identified ten tropical forest ‘hotspots’ characterised by exceptional levels of plant endemism and by serious levels of habitat loss. In 1990, Myers added another 8 spots to his list. Conservation International adopted Myer’s hotspots as its institutional blue print in 1989, and in1996.To qualify as a hotspot, a region must meet two strict criteria: it must contain at least 1,500 species of vascular plants as endemic and it has to have lost at least 70% of its original habitat. These are the areas which are under constant threat due to human pressure. In the 1999 analysis, in all 25 hotspots were identified. A second major analysis was undertaken and the number or global hotspots stood at 34 in 2005.Overall, the 34 hots pots once covered 15.7% of the Earth’s land surface. In all 86% of the hots pots’ habitat has already been destroyed. The intact remnants of the hotspots now cover only 2.3% of the Earth’s land surface. Over 50% of the world’s plant species and 42% of all terrestrial vertebrate species are endemic to these 34 biodiversity hotspots.Among the 34 hotspots of the world, two have been identified in India - The Eastern Himalayas and the Western Ghats. These are particularly rich in floral wealth and endemism, not only in flowering plants but also reptiles, amphibians, butterflies and mammals.
The Fauna
There appears to be a dearth of exploration and research concerning the fauna of Northeast India. The remoteness of the region, difficult terrain as well as the severe hunting pressures exerted by the people around their immediate surroundings in many parts of the region make it extremely difficult to document the fauna of the region. Primates India sustains eleven species of primates, if we follow the recent revisions in primate taxonomy.
Red Panda
It is but unfortunate that except three species, which could be considered common in Assam, they face an uncertain future in this region.
The Hoolock (Hoolock hoolock) is the only ape in India. The eastern limit for this lesser ape is Salween River in Myanmar and its range extends to Southern China. It occurs in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram in Northeast India, and its continued existence in the State of Nagaland is uncertain. Despite the wide area in which the animal occurs, it has become a rare animal, all over its range. Monogamy, frugivory and adaptation to brachiation make the species highly susceptible to habitat fragmentation and degradation.
Slow Loris
Most of the tropical forests that harbour this species are subjected to slash and burn or shifting cultivation and therefore, the ape’s habitat is highly degraded and fragmented. It is hunted for the pot and the belief that its flesh and blood have medicinal properties has made it a highly prized commodity. It is also highly prized in the pet trade.
The Golden Langur (Trachypithecus geei) is one of the most localized species, between Manas and Sankosh Rivers in the Himalayan foothills along the Assam - Bhutan border areas. In Tripura, one can count seven species of primates. The Phayeri’s Langur (Trachypithecus phayeri) assumes high conservation significance, as this species is restricted in distribution to the State with reported existence of a few troops in North Cachar Hills of Assam, adjacent to the northern boundary of Tripura. Yet another species of particular interest is the newly designated primate species, Semnopethicus schistaceus (Nepal Langur), which is endemic to the higher elevations in Sikkim and Nepal. The Capped Langur (Trachypithecus pileatus) is also a rare animal with limited distribution in Northeast India.The Stump-tailed Macaque (Macaca arctoides) and the Northern Pigtailed Macaque (M. leonina) have sympatric distributions in Northeast India and both have become endangered. The Slow Loris (Nycticebus bengalensis) is an inhabitant of tropical forests south of the Brahmaputra River in Northeast India.


India harbours six largest cats of the world and the State of Arunachal Pradesh prides itself for sustaining four large cats of Asia – the Tiger (Panthera tigris), Leopard (Panthera pardus), Snow Leopard (Uncia uncia) and the Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa). Of these, the Indian population of the Clouded Leopard is restricted to the Northeastern region. With a very long tail for balance and large paws for climbing, the Clouded Leopard is well suited for life in the canopy. It also has the longest upper canines proportional to its skull size of any cat, reminiscent of the saber-toothed cat. Despite the presence of this elusive animal in all the eight states of the region, its habitat is shrinking at an alarming rate. Vast tracts of forests, especially in the State of Arunachal Pradesh, where the animal reigns free, could remain safe for this magnificent animal, provided such forests are kept away from developmental activities, including the construction of roads. Tiger has become a very rare animal in the entire region and perhaps Assam provides the safest asylum for this large cat. The more adaptable Leopard has managed to survive in greater numbers. Little is known about the status of Snow Leopard, which ekes out a living in the high altitudinal zones of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim.Northeast India sustains diverse assemblages of small carnivores, and this region is perhaps the richest region for small carnivores in the entire planet.
Fishing Cat - Pic by Atin Dutt
The tiny State of Manipur, with an area of 22327, apart from sustaining three large cats, harbours the Marbled Cat (Pardofelis marmorata), Golden Cat (Catopuma temmincki), Leopard Cat (Prionailurus bengalensis), Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) and the Jungle Cat (Felis chaus). It also has 3 Mustelids and 7 Viverrids: Yellow-throated Marten (Martes flavigula), Ferret Badger (Melogale sp.), Hog badger (Arctonyx collaris), Eurasian Otter (Lutra lutra); and among the Viverrids, Small Indian Civet (Viverricula indica), Large Indian Civet (Viverra zibetha), Common Palm Civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), Himalayan Palm Civet (Paguma larvata), Binturong (Arctictis binturong) and Spotted Linshang (Prionodon pardicolor). Binturong
Two other species of Otter, namely Smooth-coated Otter (Lutrogale perspicillata) and Small-clawed Otter (Amblonyx cinereus), known from elsewhere in India, may also occur in Manipur State, while Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim, may have even more species of small carnivores than Manipur

The high biodiversity of small carnivores and other biota in the Northeastern States could be attributed to the wide ranging altitudinal variations that one comes across in the region and also to the heavy rainfall and humidity that triggers luxurious plant growth especially in the lower elevations. All these rare animals occupy narrow bands of forests in the hills and valleys of the region, and, living in small populations, they are extremely susceptible to habitat degradation and hunting pressures. Many of the species in lowland forests are already on the verge of extinction as these forests were the first to be occupied, altered and degraded by man. Of the Mustelids, the Ferret Badger and the Hog Badger found in the Northeastern India take the pride of place not only because of their rarity but also because of their uniqueness. The Red Panda (Ailurus fulgens) is yet another flagship species of this region, restricted to the higher altitudes.

All the bear species that occur in India are recorded from the northeastern region. Besides, Northeast India forms the western end of the range for Malayan Sun Bear (Helarctos malayanus). Bears of the lower elevations are under especially serious threats owing to habitat degradation as well as persecution by man, as the bile of the animal is considered highly medicinal.
Wild Dog or Dhole, is yet another rarity in the wilderness of Northeast India. Wild Dog found in Sikkim (and in Kumaon, Nepal and Bhutan) is considered Cuon alpinus primaevus. The Cuon alpinus adjustus found in eastern Arunachal Pradesh is considered to be the same subspecies found in northern Myanmar.

Bats and rodents
Inventories, especially for bats and rodents, are wanting from Northeast India. Though, with about 65 species, bats dominate the mammalian fauna of Northeast India, reliable information available on them is sparse. The Wroughton’s Free-tailed Bat (Otomops wroughtonii), recorded from the Barapede cave in North Kanara district of Karnataka was believed to be a narrow endemic. However, now it has now been reported from Siju Cave in South Garo Hills of Meghalaya in Northeast India, and also from Cambodia. The Government of India has listed the Wroughton’s Free-tailed Bat in Schedule I of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The Namdapha Flying Squirrel (Biswamayopterus biswas) is a little known narrow endemic found in the State of Arunachal Pradesh. The Namdapha National Park, one of the largest parks in the country Holds a number of other squirrels - Hairyfooted Flying Squirrel (Belomys pearsoni) and Particoloured Flying Squirrel (Hylopetes Alboniger), Orange-bellied Himalayan Squirrel (Dremomys lokriah), Malayan Giant Squirrel (Ratufa bicolor), Hoary- bellied Squirrel (Callosciurus pygerythrus) and Himalayan Striped Squirrel (Callosciurus macclellandi) could all be seen in this park.
The Hispid Hare (Caprolagus hispidus) is yet another habitat Specialist that is facing the threat of elimination from the region.

Of the 25000 wild elephants in India, about 33% are found in Northeast India. In fact, Assam alone accounts for more elephants than Myanmar, Thailand, Indonesia or any other country in Asia. However, elephant population is dwindling sharply in Northeast India. There has been a very serious decline in the elephant population in central Assam whereas those in the southern parts have virtually vanished. The population has seriously declined in Tripura and there are only a few elephants left in Manipur and Mizoram and probably none in Nagaland. Heavy loss of prime elephant habitat is an issue of great concern as loss of elephant habitats heralds doom for smaller creatures as well.Great Indian Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) is the largest of all the rhinos now inhabiting the world. In Northeast India this species is now restricted to Kaziranga, Pabitora and Orang in Assam. The population at Manas in Assam is believed to have been decimated in recent years. Historical records suggest that both the One-horned Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) and the Two-horned Sumatran Rhinoceros (Didermocerus sumatrensis) were once found in parts of Northeast India. Both the species are now extinct from the region.The Water Buffalo (Bubalus bubalis) found in Northeastern India is faced with a genetic problem. A large number of domestic buffalo, most of them genetically a ‘cocktail species’ bred by man, are grazed in the habitats of the wild buffalo and the interbreeding revitalizes the domestic strain but has the opposite effect on the wild strains. The Banteng (Bos javanicus) occurred in the hills of Manipur as late as 1990s, but is now not reported from the State.


The Brow-antlered Deer (Cervus eldi eldi) is endemic to the State of Manipur. Sangai, as the deer is locally known, is one of the rarest and the most localized subspecies of deer in the world. Reported to be extinct in 1951, this deer was subsequently discovered in a small pocket on the floating mats of vegetation, called ‘phumdi’ in the Loktak Lake. Though just fourteen heads were counted in the first aerial census in 1974, their number has steadily increased since then. Loktak Lake is now a RAMSAR site and there are now about 150 individuals in this undoubtedly the most fragile habitat of the region. The Swamp Deer (Cervus duvauceli) found in Assam is yet another Cervid of great conservation significance. The Serow (Capricornis sumatraensis), Goral (Naemorhedus goral) and Red Goral (Naemorhedus baileyi) are three other species that are of great conservation significance in the region. The Pygmy Hog (Sus salvanius) is the smallest and the rarest wild suid in the world, and only a few isolated wild populations survive in Northeast India.

Other Mammals

In the State of Sikkim, at the heights above 3600 m. where the tree line ends, the alpine Scrub and grasslands support some of the most unique fauna of the planet, the Yak (Bos grunniens), The Tibetan Wild Ass (Equus hemionus kiang), Markhor (Capra falconeri), Ibex (Capra ibex), Great Tibetan Sheep (Ovis ammon hodgsoni), Blue Sheep (Pseudois nayaur), are only to name a few.It is recorded that the Chinese Pangolin (Manis pentadactyla) ranges westwards through Assam and the Eastern Himalaya to Nepal, Myanmar and South China. However, the Indian Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) is also reported from the Indo-Myanmar border areas and this confirms that both species exist in Northeast India.
Ganges River Dolphin (Platanista gangetica) is yet another mammal of great conservation importance that can still be found in the Brahmaputra River in Northeast India.

Northeast India supports some of the rarest, least known and most sought-after birds of the Oriental Region. This region perhaps supports the highest diversity of bird species in the Orient. More than 400 species of birds are recorded from Kaziranga National Park alone in Assam and although not thoroughly explored, the State of Arunachal Pradesh has a record of 665 species of birds.

Crested Serpent Eagle
Though birds are one of the most studied organisms, there is acute paucity of information concerning the avian fauna of the region and at the same time, new species are continuously being added to the region’s list. Poor dispersers such as babblers and laughing thrushes are important forest understorey passerines in the rainforests and they have diversified locally and contribute significantly to the diversity of the avifauna of Northeast India (they constitute about 10% of the Eastern Himalayan avifauna). The Brown-capped Laughing Thrush (Garrulax austeni) is only known from the hills south of the Brahmaputra in the North Cachar Hills (Assam), Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. The bird’s habitat consists of oak and rhododendron forest, secondary growth and bamboo from 1200 m. to 2700 m.The Elliot’s Laughing Thrush (Garrulax elliotii) and Brown-cheeked Laughing Thrush (G. henrici) are two species that have been recently added to the region’s list, from Arunachal Pradesh. Both these species had previously been recorded only in China. The Assam Plains and the Eastern Himalaya have been identified as Endemic Bird Areas by Bird Life International. The Assam Plains holds Blackbreasted Parrotbill (Paradoxornis flavirostris) and the Marsh Babbler (Pellorneum palustre) and in this region one can always hope to rediscover the Manipur Bush Quail (Perdicula manipurensis). The Eastern Himalayan part of Northeast India supports 22 restricted-range bird species (those that have a total world range of less than 50,000 square kilometres); of these 19 are endemics Perhaps, with the exception of Manipur Bush Quail (Perdicula manipurensis), which is considered to be extinct, one could perhaps hope to see all the other 21 bird species in Northeast India, which holds one of the largest concentrations of globally threatened birds in Asia. The relatively high species richness of birds at high altitude zones in the region, compared with other taxa, is also notable.
White-winged Wood Duck (Cairina scutulata) is perhaps the rarest duck in the world today and this bird occupies the pride of place among the avifauna of the region. However, extensive destruction of its natural habitat ranging from Assam and Arunachal Pradesh to Java has pushed this species into isolated groups of small populations. Greater Adjutant (Leptoptilos dubius) is a globally threatened bird with the majority of the world’s population now found in Assam. Spot-billed Pelican (Pelicanus philippensis), Blacknecked Stork (Ephippiorhyncus asiaticus), Lesser Adjutant (Leptotilos javanicus), and Pale-capped Pigeon (Columba punicea), are only to name a few of the globally threatened birds found in the region. Swamp Francolin (Francolinus gularis), found in Northeast India, is endemic to the Indian subcontinent. The Bengal Florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis) is one of the rarest bustards in the world. Manas National Park has the largest population of this bird in the world. Hornbills, too, exhibit high species richness in northeast India, found in few places elsewhere in the world.Lesser Fish Eagle (Icthyophaga humilis) is the rarest of the fish and sea eagles, and there are reports of its sightings in Namdapha in Arunachal Pradesh. Jerdon’s (Blyth’s) Baza (Aviceda jerdoni) is a very rare resident bird of India, and the chances of sighting this globally endangered bird are bright in evergreen forests of Northeast India. Burmese Hobby (Falco severus severus) is an uncommon breeding resident of Northeast India, south of Brahmaputra River. Pied Falconet (Microhierax melanoleucos) is also one of the rarest Indian raptors found in Northeast India. The Sclater‘s Monal (Lophophorus sclateri) and Blyth‘s Tragopan (Tragopan blythii) are among the rare and beautiful pheasants that live in a limited range of the eastern Himalaya. With the exception of a status survey conducted on the Blyth’s Tragopan in Blue Mountain National Park in Mizoram, which is recorded to harbour 38 birds, no detailed study has been carried out to date on these two species in any part of their range. It is even now a custom in certain hill areas of the region to present a Tragopan or Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant (Syrmaticus humiae) to a visiting dignitary (to be slaughtered and eaten). All the pheasant species that occur in this region are to be considered endangered. Ward’s Trogon (Harpactes wardi) is yet another beautiful resident bird reported from Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. The bird is sighted in the State of Manipur also.Buff-throated Partridge (Tetraophasis szechenyii) is a rare resident of rocky ravines and Rhododendron thickets in the subalpine zone of central Arunachal Pradesh. At higher altitudes in Sikkim, birds include Snow Partridge (Lerwa lerwa), Blood Pheasant (Ithaginis cruentus), Himalayan Monal (Lophophorus impejanus) and Ibisbill (Ibidorhyncha struthersii). The highly endangered Rufous-vented Prinia of the eastern population, regarded as a separate species ‘Swamp Prinia’ (Prinia cinerascens), is reported from the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary in Assam. Beautiful Nuthatch (Sitta formosa) is a resident of primary forests of Northeast India. The Khasi Hills Swift (Apus acuticauda) is one of the world’s rarest and least known Apus species, and is known only at its breeding cliff near Cherrapunjee in Meghalaya from late February to the end of April. The movements of this endemic bird outside the breeding period are largely undocumented. Pink-headed Duck (Rhodonessa caryophyllacea), as its local name ‘nganu koknganbi’ suggests that it was once a common bird in Manipur and elsewhere in Northeast India. It is now extinct. India’s only Buff-throated Warbler was collected from Meghalaya in 1953, and no further records exist in India. Rufous-bellied Eagle (Hieraetus kienerii) found in this region is also probably extinct. Burmese Peafowl (Pavo muticus), found in the Indo-Myanmar border areas, is also seldom sighted in the region.Though there is less information about the migration routes of birds in Northeast India, the Brahmaputra River and her tributaries are thought to form a flyway for birds from Northeast Asia.

Lower Vertebrates
The reptilian fauna of northeast India has the greatest affinity to the Oriental, Indo – Malayan and Indo-Chinese regions. According to existing records, there are 137 species of reptiles in Northeast India, but in reality there could be many more species that are yet to be identified. Python

With better sampling and studies on the herpeto-fauna, the number of species is expected to change considerably for each of the states and for the region as a whole.Among the component of reptilian fauna, the Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) found in Brahmaputra River is of great conservation significance. Northeast India has the highest diversity of turtles. Of the 26 species of non-marine chelonians reported from India, 19 are found in this region. However, the information on this group of reptiles is also quite inadequate as most of the available records concerning the known species available are from the Brahmaputra Plain and adjoining areas in lower Eastern Himalaya. The hill states, especially south of Brahmaputra basin, viz., Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya and Mizoram, remain poorly studied. As recently as 2000, a chelonian species -Amyda cartilaginaea, was reported from Mizoram as a first record for India. Asian Roofed Turtle (Kachuga sylhetensis) is endemic to the region. The Elongated Tortoise (Indotestudo elongata), Asian Brown Tortoise (Manouria emys), Narrowheaded Softshell Turtle (Chitra indica) and Indian Flapshell Turtle (Lissemys punctata) are very rare among the recorded species.

The lizard fauna of Northeast India is profoundly influenced by the Indo-Chinese connection. Published records indicate 20 lizard species from the State of Assam, and 18 species from the tiny state of Manipur. Of the three species of Monitor Lizards found in the region, Varanus flavescens is listed in Schedule I under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The Tokay Gecko (Gekko gekko) is the largest gecko alive today and is found in northeast India.
The Burmese Glass Snake (Ophisaurus gracilis) is yet another interesting reptile of Northeast India.Fifty eight species of snakes have been recorded in Assam and 34 from Manipur. Python reticulatus, the largest snake in India, is found in northeast India and Python molurus bivittatus is known from a single specimen from the Arunachal Pradesh, which was a first record for India. One can expect to sight both the snakes in ‘Mouling National Park’ in the Upper Siang District of Arunachal Pradesh. King Cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) is the most awe-inspiring reptile of the region. Typhlops jerdoni, T. tenuicollis, Stoliczkaia khasiensis, Elaphe mandarina, Oligodon melazonotus, Xenochrophis punctulatus, Bungarus bungaroides, Trimeresurus jerdoni are just a few examples of very elusive and rare snakes of Northeast India.

Existing records indicate the presence of 64 species of amphibians in the Northeast India but this figure again could be a gross underestimate as they are a poorly studied group in Northeast India. A survey of amphibians conducted in the State of Nagaland from 1998 to 2002 has resulted in 19 species as new records for the State and 5 species (Megophrys wuliangshanensis, M. glandulosa, Amolops viridimaculatus, Rana humeralis and Rhacophorus gongshanensis) as new records for India. Only four species of caecilians, Ichthyophis garoensis, Ichthyophis hussaini, Ichthyophis sikkimensis and Gegeneophis fulleri are known from Northeast India. The Himalayan Newt (Tylototriton verrucosus) deserves a special mention, as it is the only species of Salamander known from India, occurring in Manipur, Khasi Hills and Sikkim. Hitherto, they were little affected by man, but use of the pesticides in paddy cultivation is posing a threat to the species.

Fish Fauna
Fishes are the most ancient and numerous of vertebrates. Over 24,000 species of fishes are known in the world, and – a majority of these are from warm tropical waters. Northeast India is exceptionally rich in freshwater fishes, and it is heartening to note that the region has been extensively surveyed, and accounts for 236 species. From the State of Manipur alone, 167 species of freshwater species belonging to 11 orders, 31 families and 84 genera are recorded. The fish fauna of Loktak Lake in Manipur comprises 64 species. Two of these species, Monopterus albus and Osteobrama belangeri are restricted in their distribution to the Yunan State of China, Myanmar, and in India only to the State of Manipur. The Loktak Lake also serves as the breeding ground for several species of migratory fishes eg. Labeo dero, L. bata and Cirrhinus reba.

Sone Lake (12.5 km long and 3.0 km. wide), is one of the biggest tectonic lakes in Assam. It sustains 75 species of fishes under 24 families and 49 genera and of which, 20 species are widely distributed while 8 species are native to Northeast India. Despite a very high diversity of fresh-water fishes, Northeast India does not have many endemic species (the fish fauna of India contains 2 endemic families, both of which are absent from the region).

The Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan for Northeast Ecoregion states that 3,624 species of insects and 50 molluscs are recorded from the region. Butterflies and moths are by far the best-studied invertebrate organisms in Northeast India, and the region contributes the maximum number of species for the group in the country. A decade ago, 689 species of butterflies were recorded from the State of Sikkim. An ecological study on Mammals, Birds, Herpeto-fauna and Butterflies carried out in Teesta Basin, Sikkim, revealed nearly 350 species of butterflies in altitudes less than 900 m. (In the study area the family Nymphalidae is recorded to be the most species rich forming 50% of the observed species, followed by Lycaenidae and Pieridae (17.2% each). Papilionidae and Hesperiidae have relatively low species richness, forming only 8.6% and 7.0% of the species, respectively).

Atlas Moth
As species richness in the study area was found to be far greater than that reported earlier, especially at higher altitudes, this particular study highlights the importance of altitudinal gradients in the distribution of butterflies, and in their conservation. One of the largest known tropical Lepidoptera is the Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas), is not uncommon in many parts of Northeast India. Princeps polyctor ganesa, which occurs in Northeast India, is one of the most beautiful butterflies in the country, while, -Erysmia pulchella and Nyctalemon patroclus are very beautiful moths that occur in the region. It is pertinent to add that sericulture is an age-old occupation for some people in states like Assam and Manipur, especially in the ‘Loi’ community in Manipur who have rendered the skill of silkworm rearing and silk weaving to art form.Honey bees, render very valuable ecological services like pollinating wild and cultivated plant species apart from producing honey, and their advanced eusocial behaviour has always been a source of fascination for man. Four indigenous species of honey bees are recognized from India: Apis cerana, A. dorsata, A. florae and A. andreniformes. Of these, Apis andreniformis is only known from a few specimens collected from Northeast India where the species is exceedingly uncommon. It is an unfortunate practice that people in certain parts of Northeast India not only consume the honey and larvae of this insect, but also fry and eat the honey bees themselves.

Fast disappearing forests
& species of the Northeast India

The primary vegetation in extensive areas of the Northeast India has been disturbed and modified and in some places destroyed by seismic activities, frequent landslides and resultant soil erosion. While these natural causes have contributed only marginally to the change in vegetation type, it is the activity of Man that has led to the irreversible transformation in the landscapes and has resulted in colossal loss of biodiversity in the entire region. Human influences have pushed many species to the brink of extinction and have caused havoc to natural fragile ecosystems. Such devastations to natural ecosystems are witnessed almost everywhere in the region and is a cause of great concern.Northeast India has 64% of the total geographical area under forest cover and it is often quoted that it continues to be a forest surplus region. However, the forest cover is rapidly disappearing from the entire region. There has been a decrease of about 1800 in the forest cover between 1991 and 1999 (F.S.I., 2000). More worrisome still is the fact that the quality of the forest is also deteriorating, with the dense forests (canopy closure of 40% or more) becoming degraded into open forest or scrub. Though there is a succession of several edaphic formations, a vast area of land has already been transformed into barren and unproductive wastelands. This being the case, the statistics of ‘more than 64 % of the total geographic area in this region under forest cover’ could be misleading. For example, though the forest cover in Manipur extends to 78% of the total geographic area, only 22% of forest area is under dense forest cover and the rest has been converted to open forests. Except in the Brahmaputra and Barak valleys of Assam where substantial areas are under agriculture, little of the land is available for settled cultivation. Hence, shifting agriculture or slash-and-burn agriculture is the major land use in Northeast India and extends over 1.73 million ha (F S I, 1999). Different agencies have come up with different figures concerning the total area under shifting cultivation (jhum) in the region. What is not disputable is that with an ever shortening jhum cycle, the other human influences have caused environmental degradation with disastrous consequences.Though Northeast India is predominantly mountainous, the region is very rich in aquatic ecosystem diversity. A large number of bheels, ponds and marshlands in the lowlying and floodplain areas of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura represent the diversity in lentic ecosystems. However, deforestation and the resultant loss of soil, especially in the hill areas, are leading to increased siltation of rivers and streams. The deep pools that are the favoured habitats of many species, are rapidly becoming shallow and choked with silt, leading to a decline in habitat. At the same time, swamps, marshes, and other wetlands are increasingly being reclaimed for urban and agricultural expansion.The forests of Assam once acted as a sponge, absorbing the tremendous impact of the monsoons. The natural drainage of the vast northeastern Himalaya is channelled through Assam and with the loss of thick forest cover, Brahmaputra, one of the largest and fastest flowing rivers of the subcontinent is creating havoc in the State. Floods that have devastating effects are now common to Northeast India and protecting the forests is a difficult problem.
A vast majority of the indigenous inhabitants of this region are meat-eating in their food habits and almost all communities have expert hunters, trappers and fishermen. One can find bones, skulls and hides of large and small mammals in tribal huts. It should be noted that though the traditional practices of trapping, snaring etc of animals are carried out in very remote areas, in most parts of Northeast India shooting wild animals with guns is prevalent, giving very little chance for the denizens of the forests to recoup from such pressures. Besides, certain meat is valued as medicinal and such animals are persecuted as great efforts are made by a few individuals to seek such animals and bring back home their body parts. In the past, the hunting/trapping was done with considerable prudence with many taboos and restrictions. For example, the Anaal Naga in Manipur did not consume turtle or tortoise meat. The Maram Naga did not eat pork and the Thangkhul Naga did not eat any member of the cat family. Unfortunately, such taboos no more hold any sway among the people now. It is a great tragedy that in many parts of Northeast India some people poison the rivers, streams and other water bodies to get good catches of fish. Apart from using plant poisons, lime, DDT, copper sulphate (Cu SO4) and, other synthetic chemicals are being used for fishing. Some are even using dynamite and gelatine sticks for the same purpose. This has serious ill effects on the entire aquatic ecosystems. Fish stocks are being entirely wiped out; several species of amphibians, birds and other fish predators are also being affected in the process; and nothing is known as to what happens to human beings on consuming such poisoned fishes.Northeastern India is often called India’s forgotten corner and it was perceived that the remoteness of the place has helped preserve its biodiversity. However, the penetration of roads into interior areas has already exposed the local populace to market economy, unscrupulous urban traders and middlemen in most parts of the region. A series of proposed dams in the Northeastern region may lead to submergence of vast tracts of rainforests. Comprehensive environmental impact assessments, which are mandatory as per the law of the land, reveal the possible danger that these projects pose to the biodiversity of the region. The impregnability of certain forests in Northeast India is a source of only some protection, as this factor itself offers some hope for the survival of many species.
Source: “Biodiversity of Northeast India - An Overview”
by V. Ramakantha, A. K. Gupta and Ajith Kumar

Of Insects & Men

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Of Insects & Men

An Article by Mohan Pai

“Go to the ant, thou sluggard - consider her ways and be wise ....”
- King Solomon

Insects have evolved from their wormlike ancestors some 350 million years ago and have been around for a much, much longer period than other forms of life like the reptiles and the mammals and the late comer Homo sapiens (only 2-3 million-year old). Cockroaches (Blattodea), for instance have been around since the upper Carboniferous (300 million years). There are only a few terrestrial habitats and niches that have not been occupied by some group of insects, and a few climatic conditions to which none have become adapted. Even the arctic zones have a sizeable insect fauna (especially flies) even though activity and reproduction in theses extremes is limited to a few months only.
Insects (Class Insecta) are a major group of arthropods and the most diverse group of animals on the Earth, with over a million described species—more than half of all known living organisms—with estimates of undescribed species as high as 30 million, thus potentially representing over 90% of the differing life forms on the planet. Insects may be found in nearly all environments on the planet, although only a small number of species occur in the oceans, a habitat dominated by the other arthropod group of crustaceans.
There are approximately 5,000 dragonfly species, 2,000 praying mantis, 20,000 grasshopper, 170,000 butterfly and moth, 120,000 fly, 82,000 true bug, 360,000 beetle, and 110,000 bee, wasp and ant species described to date. Estimates of the total number of current species, including those not yet known to science, range from two million to fifty million, with newer studies favouring a lower figure of about six to ten million. Adult modern insects range in size from a 0.139 mm (0.00547 in) fairyfly (Dicopomorpha echmepterygis) to a 55.5 cm (21.9 in) long stick insect (Phobaeticus serratipes). The heaviest documented insect was a Giant Weta of 70 g (2½ oz), but other possible candidates include the regius and Goliath beetles Goliathus goliatus, Goliathus Cerambycid beetles such as Titanus giganteus, though no one is certain which is truly the heaviestThe study of insects (from Latin insectus, meaning "cut into sections") is called entomology, from the Greek e?t?ยต??, also meaning "cut into sections”

The overwhelming success of insects is due to at least six major assets that they developed in the endless quest for survival: an external skeleton, small size, flight, metamorphosis, specialized system of reproduction and adaptability, Insects are a living example of the validity of what man now appears to have grasped as truism - “Small is Beautiful”. Unlike ourselves, the demands of insects from our environment (with mostly non-renewable resources) are meagre. The fact that insects were the first animals to develop wings for flight, and that most have still retained, if not perfected them, is a great asset to their overwhelming success. Flight has enabled them to escape from enemies in a jiffy, to traverse large distances to find food and to search efficiently for their mates, besides other obvious advantages.The development of metamorphosis has enabled insects to divide their life stages into four distinct phases and structural adaptations. This kind of pattern has allowed insects to adopt two completely different life-styles - a sort of ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ character, so to speak; the larval and adult stages being able to exploit entirely different food sources and life-styles, to distinct advantage. Unlike humans, who spend only a fifth of our life-span as “immatures”, insects spend almost all their time as inconspicuous and admirably adapted larvae or nymphs; the adult period, efficiently being used only for males and females to find each other, mate and reproduce, ensuring the next generation, which is all that life is really about. On this critical requirement for a generally bisexual living entity, insects have achieved wonders that man still is fumbling for. Winged adults are able to delay fertilization of the egg, even after mating has occurred (by storing the male’s sperm cells in a little sac called spermatheca until the female is able to find proper environmental conditions and food for her young).

Termite mound made by cathedral ants

Social insects (termites, bees, ants, wasps) have even developed ways and means to produce ‘boys or girls’ and even different ‘castes’ to suit, not their fancy, but their genuine requirements !Plants provide food for a great host of insect groups. Leaves are a common plant part that insects consume and some species are remarkable defolators of whole trees. Many other insects live on or inside bark or timber of trees and many species of insects specialize in being ‘undertakers’ which feed on dead plant matter. Most plant that flower have come to depend on special kind of insects to help them in pollination and hence in their regeneration.

Insectivorous plants, on the other hand entice and feed on insects.Insects also have associated themselves with vertebrate animals, either as their food or as their hosts. Some insects have developed into blood-feeders (Mosquitoes & Biting flies) and these cause irritation by their bites in addition to loss of blood. More importantly, insects also assume the role of dangerous vectors of a variety of animal and human diseases.

Predation is widespread among insects and it takes several forms according to the insect group in which it occurs and the prey they attack. Mantids, for instance, wait inconspicuously and motionless for their prey to come within reach of their prehensile forelegs. Dragonflies are master predators of the air, consuming their prey while in flight. Many insects have become parasitic, especially on other insects which they help to keep in tolerable population limits. Much of the parasitism is of special type, which results in the host being completely consumed and in its death. The other is where the host is allowed to survive by the parasite which is in its favour.Most courses in Entomology deal with insects as enemies of man. We have studied insects in the field, classroom, laboratory mainly with the objective of finding ways and means of dealing with the pestiferous species that have hounded us from time immemorial.

To quote American entomologist, S. A. Forbes:

“The struggle between man and insects began long before the dawn of civilization, has continued without cessation to the present time, and will continue, without doubt, as long as the human race endures. It is due to the fact that both men and certain insect species constantly want the same things at the same time. Its intensity is owing to the vital importance to both, of the things they struggle for, and its long continuance is due to the fact that the contestants are so equally matched. We commonly think of ourselves as the lords and conquerors of nature, but insects had thoroughly mastered the world and taken full possession of it long before man began the attempt. They had, consequently, all the advantage of a possession of the field when the contest began, and they have disputed every step of our invasion of their original domain os persistently and so successfully that we can even yet scarcely flatter ourselves that we have gained any important advantage over them. Here and there a truce has been declared, a treaty made, and even partnership established advantageous to both parties of the contract - as with bees and silkworms, for example; but wherever their interests and ours are diametrically opposed, the war still goes on and neither side can claim a final victory. If they want our crops, they still help themselves to them. If they wish the blood of our domestic animals, they pump it out of the veins of our cattle and our horses at their leisure and under our very eyes. If they choose to take up their abode with us, we cannot wholly keep them out of the house we live in. We cannot even protect our very persons from their annoying and pestiferous attacks, and since the world began, we have never yet exterminated - we probably never shall exterminate - so much as a single insect species. They have, in fact, inflicted upon us for ages the most serious evils without our even knowing it”.

Reality in nature (of which man is an integral part) teaches us the fact that while insects do not need man for their survival, man would face certain extinction if insects were to be removed from his ecosystem .Insects belong to pestiferous species (mosquitoes, bedbugs, biting flies, fleas, animal lice) and beneficial species (honeybees, silkworms, lac insect, mealybug, etc.)

Grass hopper

The beneficial species do a great deal for man.

0 Pollination, not only of man’s commercial plants, but also of many wild plants that make up the local flora which are important components of the ecosystem, is perhaps the most beneficial act that insects perform in man’s favour. Insects are responsible for many, if not most, of our fruit, vegetable, ornamental and field crops setting fruit after they pollinate the flowers.

0 The next important task through which insects do us a great amount of good, is by fighting among themselves. The poisonous chemicals that man is compelled to employ (even though they are hazardous to him and his environment), are insignificant tools compared to the multitudinous hordes of insect friends that kill and feed upon his enemies as a daily chore !This predation is the greatest single factor that prevents plant feeding insects from out-competing and overwhelming the rest of the living world is that they attacked and fed upon by other insects. As a hypothetical example, if just one pair of house-flies were able to produce normally, resist disease and combat their natural enemies, they would, in just five or six months, cover the entire planet Earth 50 feet high with their progeny ! But the balance that exists in nature never allows this to happen.

0 Insects are useful to man in their value as food, direct or indirect.

Owing to their huge numbers, though of small size, insects probably exceed all other animal matter (biomass on earth in weight on land. The birds alone probably depend on insects for two-thirds of their food requirements. Many of our commercial fish species subsist largely on aquatic insects. Many animals, especially those like pigs (meat) and fur animals, eat white grub and other insects .Man has survived on insect food in his early evolutionary history, and even now some of our primitive and tribal races delight their palate by eating insects such as termites, grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, caterpillars, ants, etc.

0 Some varieties of insect feed on and destroy plants (weeds) that are harmful to man’s interest.

0 Millions of individuals of subterranean species of insects that live below ground (as immatures or adults, or both) help to improve physical condition of the soil and promote its fertility. Insects help to break up rock particles and expose them to the action of water and other weathering influences by bringing them up to the soil surface. The numerous underground tunnels made by insects facilitate the circulation of much-needed air into soil that is essential for good health of plants. They also add valuable organic matter and humus to soil. Even their dead carcasses accumulating on the soil surface are a great source of fertilizers to plants. Their excreta, in chemical content and in mere volume, far exceeds anything that man or any of the larger animals, in unison, can incorporate into soil.

0 Some of the most helpful insects are those that dutifully perform their role as scavengers of ‘nature’s waste. First, they remove from the surface of the earth the dead and decomposing bodies of plants and animals, converting them into simpler and more assimilable compounds, removing what otherwise would be a health menace. Secondly, they convert they convert dead plants and animals into simpler substances that could then be reused by growing plants as food. Man may find these scavenging animals repulsive, but without them the world would be a cesspool.

0 In medieval ages, almost every insect was supposed to be of medicinal value. Most of these beliefs have now found to be based on superstition. However, some of Insects also produce useful substances such as honey, wax, lacquer and silk. Honey bees have been cultured by humans for thousands of years for honey, although contracting for crop pollination is becoming more significant for beekeepers.

The silkworm has greatly affected human history, as silk-driven trade established relationships between China and the rest of the world. Adult insects such as crickets, and insect larvae of various kinds are also commonly used as fishing bait..Insects have taught man a great many things and have helped him to solve some of the most puzzling problems in natural phenomena. They have also led the way to some of man’s remarkable inventions. The ease of handling them, their rapidity of multiplication, great variability, and low cost of maintenance and rearing, have made insects the ideal experimental animals for the study of physiology, biochemistry and ecology.

The foundation of modern genetics have been derived from studies of the lesser fruit-fly of the genus Drosophila. Studies of variation in populations of single species, geographical distribution, and the relation of colour and pattern to ecological habitat or other surroundings have been greatly advanced through the study of insects, as has the geological history of the earth (continental drift) and a better picture of the planet’s living inhabitant’s evolution. Principles of polyembryony and parthenogenesis have also been discovered by the study of insects.

The behaviour and psychology of higher animals (including man) have been illuminated by a study of the reaction of insects such as the honeybee, and valuable lessons in sociobiology for us have been deduced from a study of the economy of social insects. Insects are also used as an index for stream pollution and such important factors in conservation of our natural resources.
Sources: Encyclopedia Of Indian Natural History by R. E. Hawkins, Wikipedia.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

An Article by Mohan Pai
Water ... the giver of life.

Water has a central place in the practices and beliefs of most religions for two main reasons. Firstly, water cleanses. Water washes away impurities and pollutants, it can make an object look as good as new and wipe away any signs of previous defilement. Water not only purifies objects for ritual use, but can make a person clean, externally or spiritually, ready to come into the presence of his/her focus of worship. Secondly, water is a primary building block of life. Without water there is no life, yet water has the power to destroy as well as to create. We are at the mercy of water just as we are at the mercy of our gods. The significance of water manifests itself differently in different religions and beliefs but it is these two qualities of water that underlie its place in our cultures and faiths.
In India, water has been an object of worship from time immemorial. Primordial water is aadi jalam, kaarana jalam, karana vaari. The sea of primeval water is kaaranavaaridhi. Water represents the non-manifested substratum from which all manifestations arise. Primarily, water is the building block of life. The five elements of nature (panchamahabhuta) include earth, water, fire, air and ether (sky). Adi Shesha, the divine snake who forms the couch of Narayana, represents cosmic waters.
Water-carrier (1882)
Akshitha is imperishable. Water is Akshitham. In the matter of purity it is like eyes. Hence it is also known as Akshitharam. Water is a purifier, life-giver and destroyer of evil. It is life- preserving power par excellence.Although Hinduism encompasses so many different beliefs, most Hindus do share the importance of striving to attain purity and avoiding pollution. This relates to both physical cleanliness and spiritual well being. Water cleanses, washes away impurities and pollutants. The belief that water has spiritually cleansing powers has given it a central place in the practices and beliefs of many a religious ritual. Physically and mentally clean person is enabled to focus on worship. Water as an element of belief system and culture makes Hinduism ‘a religion of holy water’. The words panchapatre, dhaarakam, kudam, kamandalu, kindi and kundi(ka), kalasa are the Indian water vessels for holy use.
Most life on Earth has water as a major component; our cells, and those of plants and animals are made up of approximately 70 percent water. Water is the basic building block for all life on Earth, water is the most plentiful natural resource on the planet; in fact, over two-thirds of the Earth is covered by water. However, 97 percent is held in the oceans, while only 3 percent is freshwater. Of the freshwater, only 1 percent is easily accessible as ground or surface water, the remains are stored in glaciers and icecaps. Moreover, freshwater is not evenly distributed across land surfaces, and there are a number of heavily populated countries located in arid lands where fresh water is scarce.
The Water Cycle
Water also regulates the temperature of the planet and cycles essential nutrients through the land, air, and all living things. The flow of water through the atmosphere, biosphere, lithosphere, and hydrosphere is called the hydrologic, or water, cycle. Thus, water is both the most abundant natural resource on our planet and a fundamental element of life whose preciousness requires diligent management. Vast quantities of water also cycle through the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, land, and biosphere over both short and long time scales. This grand cycling of water is called the hydrologic cycle; it shapes our weather and climate, supports plant growth, and make life itself possible. The water cycle is dominated by oceans, where 96 percent of the water on Earth is found and where the majority global evaporation occurs.
Water is stored for periods of time in various types of reservoirs, primarily the oceans and polar ice and glaciers. There is roughly 50 times as much water stored in the oceans than in polar ice and glaciers, which is the next largest water reservoir. The amount of time that water stays in a reservoir varies: while glaciers retain their water for an average of 40 years, deep groundwater can be held for up to 10,000 years. At the other end of the spectrum, the retention time for rivers, soil moisture, and seasonal snow cover is typically less than 6 months.
When rain and other precipitation falls on land, much of it seeps into the ground. This process, the movement of water into and through the soil and rocks, is called infiltration. How water behaves once it is in the ground is determined by the type of soil or rock through which it moves. It is primarily during this stage of the water cycle that water is purified, although the extent to which it is “cleaned” also depends on the water composition itself as well as the state of the surrounding environment. As water passes through layers of sediment and rock, many pollutants are filtered out. In general, the deeper groundwater is found, the cleaner it will be.
Water not absorbed into the soil flows across the land and into rivers, lakes, streams, and eventually to the oceans. Runoff waters can originate from precipitation or stem from melting snow or ice, although it will vary depending upon an assortment of factors, including the topography, geology, and land cover of a particular area. An expanse of land where the surface runoff and groundwater drains into a common point – usually a stream, lake, or river – is called a watershed, which can range in size from a few acres to many square miles. And, unlike water filtered by the soil, runoff water can serve as a collector of nutrients, sediment, or other pollutants on the land that can affect the quality of water throughout a watershed.
Most water, however, returns to the air in the form of water vapor; the bulk of this evaporation occuring by means of the oceans. Roughly half of land-based evaporation occurs on the surface area of plants, called transpiration. These together are sometimes referred to as evapotranspiration. The process in which water vapor is converted back into liquid form is called condensation. Within the water cycle, it takes place primarily in the atmosphere. As water vapor moves upward in the atmosphere it cools. Droplets develop and collect as a result of gravitational pull to form clouds. Water then returns to Earth through precipitation which, depending on the temperature of the surrounding air, will take either frozen or liquid form; although, it is primarily through precipitation that water moves from the atmosphere to the Earth.
Water Use
Fresh water is one of our most valuable natural resources for which agricultural, industrial, municipal, and environmental uses all compete. Throughout history, cities and villages established themselves, and grew, near sources of water. Today, an adequate supply of fresh water is still needed, with quality being just as important as quantity. However, with continued increases in population, the competition between the various uses will only become more intense. How the allocation, use, and management of water is addressed will have dramatic impacts on the environment, the economy, and our quality of life.
Fresh Water Crisis
By mid century as much as three quarters of the earth’s population could face scarcity of fresh water. Apart from population increase, Global Climate change is exacerbating aridity and reducing supply in many regions.Lack of access to water can lead to starvation, disease, political instability and even armed conflict and failure to take action can have broad and grave consequences. In the absence of concerted action to save water, the combination of population growth and climate change will create scarcity far and wide.
Water Situation in India
India, with a sixth of the world's population, faces a rapidly growing water crisis, both in the urban and rural areas. These include wasteful practices in the use of water, particularly for irrigation, water-logging and salinity, and inadequate access to safe drinking water and sanitation. In cities such as Chennai and Delhi, several localities rely on private water tankers for their daily water needs. Groundwater is the dominant resource that has been developed in rural India to meet the drinking water needs. But often, the shallower wells are found to be affected by fluoride, arsenic, iron, salt and/or microbial contamination. In many States, especially Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, this is a significant concern. Over-use of pesticides and chemicals in agriculture is the primary cause for groundwater pollution in the rural areas. A survey conducted in Uttar Pradesh in 2004 revealed that people in one region are compelled to drink polluted water with a high fluoride content, leading to large-scale dental fluorosis and arthritis.
Average water consumption around the world is about 53 liters per head per day. In India, we expect to soon have only about 20 liters available per head per day. We have had droughts for a long time, and now with global climate change, things will become even more difficult. The glaciers are receding from the Himalayan Mountains. They are about one fifth the size they were about 60 years ago.
Himalayan glaciers
The waters from the Himalayan glaciers provide water for about 70 percent of all the people in Asia. In India, we have three major rivers - the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra – and it is likely that they will drain to small rivers. It will be a very big disaster for India, more than any other country. In most of northern India, there will be no water. Right now there are floods. The flood area has increased from 25 million hectares to 60 millions hectares in the last 30 years. That is an indication that the water is draining away, and these will become dry areas. This will happen in less than 30 years. It is a very serious matter. Already today, irrigation, which has benefitted agriculture in India a lot, has become very difficult. Things have changed since the Green Revolution. The rate of agricultural production has come down. Groundwater, which is already scarce, has gone down to 800 feet (240 meters) or even 1,000 feet (300m) in some regions around Bangalore.
Water Facts
01 Only about 3% of surface water is fresh water.
02 Water covers 71% of the Earth's surface, but one fifth of the world’s population lacks access to clean drinking water.
03 The Earth's oceans are the most important carbon sink on the planet along with rainforests.
04 Floods are the most frequent disaster worldwide.
05 Waterborne diseases affect about four billion people every year.
06 In 2007, Greenland’s ice sheet lost nearly 19 billion tons more ice than in 2006.
07 It is expected that the demand for water will double during the next 30 years.
08 A kilo of industrially produced meat needs about 10,000 liters of water to produce.
09 People in rich countries use ten times more water than people in poor countries.
10 Agriculture takes up 70% of the water we use.