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Wildlife & Biodiversity

US says ivory-billed woodpecker, 22 other species extinct

By Associated Press

It’s a rare move for wildlife officials to give up hope on a plant or animal, but government scientists say they’ve exhausted to find these 23. And they warn climate change, on top of other pressures, could make such disappearances more common as a warming planet adds to the dangers facing imperiled plants and wildlife.

The ivory-billed woodpecker was perhaps the best known species the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared extinct. The woodpecker went out stubbornly and with fanfare, making unconfirmed appearances in recent decades that ignited a frenzy of ultimately fruitless searches in the swamps of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.

Others such as the flat pigtoe, a freshwater mussel in the southeastern U.S., were identified in the wild only a few times and never seen again, meaning by the time they got a name they were fading from existence.

“When I see one of those really rare ones, it’s always in the back of my mind that I might be the last one to see this animal again,” said Anthony “Andy” Ford, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist in Tennessee who specializes in freshwater mussels.

The factors behind the disappearances vary — too much development, water pollution, logging, competition from invasive species, birds killed for feathers and animals captured by private collectors. In each case, humans were the ultimate cause.

Another thing they share: All 23 were thought to have at least a slim chance of survival when added to the endangered species list beginning in the 1960s. Only 11 species previously have been removed due to extinction in the almost half-century since the Endangered Species Act was signed into law.

The announcement kicks off a three-month comment period before the species status changes become final.

Around the globe, some 902 species have been documented as extinct. The actual number is thought to be much higher because some are never formally identified, and many scientists warn the earth is in an “extinction crisis” with flora and fauna now disappearing at 1,000 times the historical rate.

It’s possible one or more of the 23 species named Wednesday could reappear, several scientists said.

A leading figure in the hunt for the ivory-billed woodpecker said it was premature to call off the effort, after millions of dollars spent on searches and habitat preservation efforts.

“Little is gained and much is lost” with an extinction declaration, said Cornell University bird biologist John Fitzpatrick, lead author of a 2005 study that claimed the woodpecker had been rediscovered in eastern Arkansas.

“A bird this iconic, and this representative of the major old-growth forests of the southeast, keeping it on the list of endangered species keeps attention on it, keeps states thinking about managing habitat on the off chance it still exists,” he said.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, a Switzerland-based group that tracks extinctions globally, is not putting the ivory-billed woodpecker into its extinction column because it’s possible the birds still exist in Cuba, said the group’s Craig Hilton-Taylor.

Hilton-Taylor said there can be unintended but damaging consequences if extinction is declared prematurely. “Suddenly the (conservation) money is no longer there, and then suddenly you do drive it to extinction because you stop investing in it,” he said.

But wildlife officials said in an analysis released Wednesday that that there have been no definitive sightings of the woodpecker since 1944 and “there is no objective evidence” of its continued existence.

They said the 23 extinction declarations were driven by a desire to clear a backlog of recommended status changes for species that had not been acted upon for years. They said it would free up resources for on-the-ground conservation efforts for species that still have a chance for recovery.

What’s lost when those efforts fail are creatures often uniquely adapted to their environments. Freshwater mussel species like the ones the government says have gone extinct reproduce by attracting fish with a lure-like appendage, then sending out a cloud of larvae that attach to gills of fish until they’ve grown enough to drop off and live on their own.

The odds are slim against any freshwater mussel surviving into adulthood — a one in a million chance, according to Ford of the wildlife service — but those that do can live a century or longer.

Hawaii has the most species on the list — eight woodland birds and one plant. That’s in part because the islands have so many plants and animals that many have extremely small ranges and can blink out quickly.

The most recent to go extinct was the teeny po’ouli, a type of bird known as a honeycreeper discovered in 1973.

By the late 1990s just three remained — a male and two females. After failures to mate them in the wild, the male was captured for potential breeding and died in 2004. The two females were never seen again.

The fate of Hawaii’s birds helped push Duke University extinction expert Stuart Pimm into his field. Despite the grim nature of the government’s proposal to move more species into the extinct column, Pimm said the toll would probably have been much higher without the Endangered Species Act.

“It’s a shame we didn’t get to those species in time, but when we do, we are usually able to save species,” he said.

Since 1975, 54 species have left the endangered list after recovering, including the bald eagle, brown pelican and most humpback whales.

Climate change is making species recovery harder, bringing drought, floods, wildfires and temperature swings that compound the threats species already faced.

How they are saved also is changing. No longer is the focus on individual species, let alone individual birds. Officials say the broader goal now is to preserve their habitat, which boosts species of all types that live there.

“I hope we’re up to the challenge,” said biologist Michelle Bogardus with the wildlife service in Hawaii. “We don’t have the resources to prevent extinctions unilaterally. We have to think proactively about ecosystem health and how do we maintain it, given all these threats.”

Wildlife & Biodiversity

Biodiversity touches every aspect of our lives – so why has its loss been ignored? image:several species of birds in a wetland in Kaziranga,Chandan Kumar Duarah
From our environment to our economies, our security to our societies, biodiversity is vital. But preserving it will require transformative change

The evidence is unequivocal: biodiversity, important in its own right and essential for current and future generations, is being destroyed by human activities at a rate unprecedented in human history.

Governments around the world recognised this at the Earth summit in Brazil in 1992 and established the Convention on Biological Diversity to protect and conserve biodiversity. But the situation has become more and more dire. I have chaired or co-chaired three international assessments on the state of knowledge of biodiversity, and all have repeated the same message – we are destroying it at an alarming rate. Each time we have called for action, only to be largely ignored.

The continued loss of biodiversity is not only an environmental issue. It risks undermining the achievement of most of the UN sustainable development goals. It is central to development, through food, water and energy security. It has significant economic value, which should be recognised in national accounting systems. It is a security issue in so far as loss of natural resources, especially in developing countries, can lead to conflict. It is an ethical issue because loss of biodiversity hurts the poorest people, further exacerbating an already inequitable world. And it is also a moral issue, because we should not destroy the living planet.

In addition to playing a critical role in providing food, fibre, water, energy, medicines and other genetic materials, biodiversity is equally important in regulating climate, water quality, pollution, pollination, flooding and storm surges. It has vital social value, providing wellbeing when walking through forests or by rivers, or green spaces in cities.

Since 1970, human activities have destroyed and degraded forests, grasslands, wetlands and other ecosystems and significantly altered 75% of the ice-free land surface. Most oceans are polluted with plastics, and over 85% of wetland area has been lost. This destruction of ecosystems has led to a million species (500,000 animals and plants and 500,000 insects) being threatened with extinction, although many are preventable if we improve our management of biodiversity.

The largest driver of biodiversity loss on land in recent decades has been land use change, primarily the conversion of pristine native habitats into agricultural systems to feed the world, while oceans are over-fished . This has been driven in large part by a doubling of the world’s population, a fourfold increase in the global economy, and a tenfold increase in trade.

The challenge is to transform our agricultural and fishing practices, many of which are unsustainable today, into ones that produce the food we need while conserving biodiversity. For agriculture, this means using sustainable agroecological practices; less chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides; and protecting soils and pollinators.

The climate crisis and the loss of biodiversity are issues that affect each other. Global heating adversely affects genetic variability, species richness and ecosystems. Loss of biodiversity can adversely affect climate – deforestation increases the atmospheric abundance of carbon dioxide for example, a greenhouse gas. So it is essential that the issues of biodiversity loss and the climate crisis are addressed together.

To date, climate crisis has received most of the attention. The limited attention on biodiversity tends to focus on saving large charismatic animals, rather than informing the public of the importance of biodiversity to human life.

In 2010, governments around the world agreed to a set of 20 targets for 2020 to protect biodiversity – the Aichi targets. Unfortunately, most countries, including in Europe, will not achieve them. Governments will meet in Kunming, China, next year to establish a plan of action. It will be a critical milestone to see whether there is the political will to implement the transformative changes needed. The challenge is immense, but can be met if countries act individually and collectively.

Business as usual and scenarios that focus on economic growth and regional competition will lead to continued loss of biodiversity. Sustainable consumption practices can slow, but not completely eliminate, future loss of biodiversity, in part because warming will continue in all scenarios.

Incremental changes will not suffice.

Concerted efforts are needed to address the causes of nature deterioration – poor governance, unsustainable economic systems, inequalities, lack of cross-sectoral planning and incentives, unsustainable social narratives and values. We need to steer away from the limiting paradigm of economic growth that prioritises GDPand recognise the social values of biodiversity and the social costs of environmental degredation. We also need to eliminate harmful agricultural, energy and transportation subsidies and incentivise sustainable production.

Governments, the private sector and civil society must work together to address the human-induced climate crisis and biodiversity loss.

Is there room for optimism? Yes.

The youth of today are standing up and demanding action. School strikes and marches are sending a loud and clear message: “You are destroying our future, we demand action now”. Every one of us who lives in a democratic society must vote for politicians who care about these issues.

Robert Watson is the former chair of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services

Wildlife & Biodiversity

Rare white deer spotted in Assam’s Kaziranga National Park

GUWAHATI, June 16: Spotting of a rare white hog deer in Kaziranga National Park has created widespread interest among wildlife conservationists and nature lovers with many flocking to the world heritage site to catch a glimpse of the animal.

After spotting the deer, locals had informed nature photographer Jayanta Kumar Sarma who managed to capture the white deer on his camera in the Burapahar Range of the park. Sarma spotted the animal at a grassland near the 12 line area of Amguri Tea Estate under the Kaliabor Sub-division in Nagaon district on Monday.

Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Kaziranga National Park (KNP) Ramesh Gogoi said that this particular white deer was seen for the first time in the park a few days ago, and it sometimes comes out of the park and wanders with other brown deer to feed on grass, he said. The white colour of the deer is a purely genetic matter, caused due to mutation of the gene, and it is not a different species of the deer family, the DFO said.
Chandan Kumar Duworah, a science journalist from Golaghat said, this white deer is not representing a different species or sub-species. It is result of albumin and its future siblings unlikely to inherete this colour. Although animals do manufacture their own melanin, they can’t make many other pigments. … Another factor is the ability of the bird to metabolize carotenoid pigments to create plumage pigmentation of a different color than the ingested pigment. Many wild animals have variations in colors. In white-tailed deer, melanism – as the coloration is known – is a recessive genetic trait that can be inherited,he said. It causes an excess of dark pigment, believed to be due to mutations in the melanicortin 1 receptor gene (MC1R). Out of the total 40,000 hog deer in Kaziranga, one or two such kinds of uncommon white hog deer can be found, Gogoi added. The park is thronged by domestic and international tourists in large numbers for its famed one-horned rhinos.

Wildlife & Biodiversity

Indonesia has announced sightings of two Javan rhino calves this year in Ujung Kulon National Park, the last place on Earth where the critically endangered species is found.
The new additions bring the estimated population of the species to 73; conservationists have recorded at least one new calf a year joining the population since 2012.
Despite the stable population growth, the rhinos remain under the looming threat of disease, natural disaster, and a resurgence in encroachment.
JAKARTA — Conservation officials in Indonesia have reported a sighting of two new Javan rhinoceros calves, boosting hopes for stable population growth of the nearly extinct species.

The calves, a female and a male, were spotted on different occasions in March by camera traps in Ujung Kulon National Park on the western tip of Indonesia’s Java Island, the Javan rhino’s (Rhinoceros sondaicus) last habitat on Earth.

The addition of the two calves brings the species’ total population to 73 individuals, comprising 40 males and 33 females. There has been at least one newborn Javan rhino calf recorded every year since 2012, according to the International Rhino Foundation (IRF).

“The steady natural birth of the Javan rhinoceros in Ujung Kulon National Park indicates the success of the full protection policy implemented across its habitat in the park,” the Indonesian environment ministry said in a statement issued June 12.

The ministry added that the female calf, estimated to be 3-5 months old, appeared to be the second offspring of a rhino known as Ambu, who was known to have first given birth in 2017. The male calf, estimated to be 1 year old, was seen with his mother, whom conservationists have named Palasari.

A Javan rhino calf spotted on camera trap in Ujung Kulon National Park on March 27, 2021. Image courtesy of the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

A Javan rhino calf spotted on camera trap in Ujung Kulon National Park on May 16, 2021. Image courtesy of the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry.
The species once ranged north through mainland Southeast Asia, as far as eastern India. But its population was hammered by poaching and human encroachment into its habitat. The Javan rhino’s last safe haven is Ujung Kulon, where strict protection has meant there have been no reported poaching attempts in more than 20 years. This is thanks largely thanks to the work of patrol teams known as rhino protection units.

However, rhino experts have highlighted other threats to the habitat, such as illegal fishing and lobster trapping in the protected waters of the park. The Indonesian government in May 2020 resumed the catching of lobster larvae from the wild for export, effectively opening up the shores of Ujung Kulon to fishers.

Ujung Kulon also sits in the shadow of Anak Krakatau, the active volcano left over from the historic eruption of 1883. In December 2018, a massive eruption tore off part of the slope and sent it sliding into the sea. This generated a tsunami that hit Ujung Kulon and nearby areas, killing more than 400 people, including two park officials. The rhinos were far inland and unharmed during the incident.

But the prospect of a single catastrophic event wiping out the last remaining population of the species, whether a tsunami or a disease outbreak from neighboring livestock herds, has led to calls for finding another suitable habitat in which to establish a new Javan rhino population. While these plans have been discussed for years, no alternative site has been chosen, with the Indonesian government instead opted to expand the usable habitat within Ujung Kulon.

A decade ago, the Javan rhino population was estimated at fewer than 50 individuals. The last of the species outside Java were believed to occur in Vietnam, but were declared extinct there in 2010 due to poaching.

Wildlife & Biodiversity

China’s wandering elephants become international stars

image: Wild Asian elephants lie on the ground and rest in Jinning district of Kunming, Yunnan province, China June 7, 2021. A herd of 15 wild elephants has trekked hundreds of kilometres after leaving their forest habitat in Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, according to local media. Picture taken June 7, 2021 with a drone. | Photo Credit: CHINA DAILY VIA REUTERS.

by AP

Major global media are chronicling the herd’s more than yearlong, 500-kilometre trek from their home in a wildlife reserve in mountainous southwest Yunnan province to the outskirts of the provincial capital of Kunming.

Twitter and YouTube are full of clips of their various antics, particularly those of two calves who slipped into an irrigation ditch and had to be helped out by older members of the group.

“We should be more like the elephant and be more family oriented, take family vacations and help and care for and protect each other,” read one comment on YouTube signed MrDeterministicchaos.

The elephants have been trending for days on China’s Weibo microblogging service with photos of the group sleeping attracting 25,000 posts and 200 million views Monday night.

Wild Asian elephants lie on the ground and rest in Jinning district of Kunming, Yunnan province, China June 7, 2021. A herd of 15 wild elephants has trekked hundreds of kilometres after leaving their forest habitat in Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, according to local media. Picture taken June 7, 2021 with a drone.
Wild Asian elephants lie on the ground and rest in Jinning district of Kunming, Yunnan province, China June 7, 2021. A herd of 15 wild elephants has trekked hundreds of kilometres after leaving their forest habitat in Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, according to local media. Picture taken June 7, 2021 with a drone. |

The 15-member herd has been caught at night trotting down urban streets by security cameras, filmed constantly from the air by more than a dozen drones and followed by those seeking to minimise damage and keep both pachyderms and people out of harm’s way.

They’ve raided farms for food and water, visited a car dealership and even showed up at a retirement home, where they poked their trunks into some of the rooms, prompting one elderly man to hide under his bed.

While no animals or people have been hurt, reports put damage to crops at more than $1 million.

Sixteen animals were originally in the group, but the government says two returned home and a baby was born during the walk. The herd is now composed of six female and three male adults, three juveniles and three calves, according to official reports.

What exactly motivated them to make the epic journey remains a mystery, although they appear to be especially attracted to corn, tropical fruit and other crops that are tasty, plentiful and easy to obtain in the lush tropical region that is home to about 300 of the animals. Others have speculated their leader may be simply lost.

Asian elephants are loyal to their home ranges unless there have been disturbances, loss of resources or development, in which case they may move out, according to Nilanga Jayasinghe, manager for Asian species conservation at the World Wildlife Fund.

“In this case, we don’t really know why they left their home range, but do know that there has been significant habitat loss due to agriculture and conversion of forests into plantations within that range in the last few decades,” Jayasinghe wrote in an email. “What possibly happened here is that in their search for new habitat, they got lost along the way and kept going.”

Authorities have been working to avoid negative interactions and “must determine what the best next steps here are and keep human-elephant conflict at bay,” Jayasinghe wrote.

Kunming is to host the upcoming Convention on Biological Diversity’s Convention of Parties to discuss topics such as human-wildlife conflict, and “this is a real-time example of the importance of addressing the issue and its root causes for the benefit of both wildlife and people,” she wrote.

Elephants are given the top level of protection in China, allowing their numbers to steadily increase even as their natural habitat shrinks, and requiring farmers and others to exercise maximum restraint when encountering them. Government orders have told people to stay inside and not to gawk at them or use firecrackers or otherwise attempt to scare them away.

So far, more passive means are being used to keep them out of urban areas, including the parking of trucks and construction equipment to block roads and the use of food drops to lure them away.

As of Tuesday, the herd remained on the outskirts of Kunming, a city of 7 million, with one of the males having moved away on his own, creating even more excitement — and worry — for those attempting to keep tabs on them.

A statement Monday from a provincial command center set up to monitor the group said the elephants appeared to be resting, while more than 410 emergency response personnel and police personnel, scores of vehicles and 14 drones were deployed to monitor them. Area residents were evacuated, temporary traffic control measures implemented, and 2 tons of elephant food put in place.

Another objective was to “maintain silence to create conditions for guiding the elephant group to migrate west and south,” the command center said.

Asian elephants, the continent’s largest land animal, are declining overall, with less than 50,000 left in the wild. Habitat loss and resulting human-wildlife conflict are their biggest threats, along with poaching and population isolation.

Wildlife & Biodiversity

Close Encounter in the Wild: Hair-raising Video of a Rhino Chasing Away Tiger in Kaziranga by Niloy Bhattacharjee: For this particular video, Bishwajit Chetry had to patiently wait for half an hour. And then it all happened in a flash. The 25-year- old, who has been working as a tourist guide in the world heritage Kaziranga National Park for the past five years, was accompanying a group of three visitors from Mumbai in early April. Driving a few kilometres inside the Bagori range of the national park, he stopped his vehicle near a small freshwater body.

“There was this rhino, a tall and huge one, drinking water. I could sense something, so I told the tourists that we will go no further and wait near the water till the next movement of the animal. After around thirty minutes or so, the female adult rhino noticed a Royal Bengal tiger a few meters away. The mother rhino had its calf along with it and in such a situation they become very alert and ferocious. It started chasing the tiger. The rhino ensured that the tiger was out of the water. I filmed the entire chase. It was one of the rare, fortunate moments for me and a lifetime experience for the tourists,” says Bishwajit Chetry.

The tiger population in Kaziranga National Park has increased to 111, according to the 2017 census. In 2014, the number was just 83. The sanctuary hosts two-thirds of the world’s great one-horned rhinoceroses. According to the census held in March 2018, jointly conducted by the forest department of Assam and some recognized wildlife NGOs, the rhino population in Kaziranga National Park is 2,413. It comprises 1,641 adult rhinos (642 males, 793 females, 206 unsexed), 387 sub-adults (116 males, 149 females, 122 unsexed), and 385 calves.

As India Crosses 22-Crore Mark, Gender Gap in Vaccine Remains Worse Than Countrys Sex Ratio
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Kaziranga is a vast expanse of tall elephant grass, marshland, and dense tropical moist broadleaf forests, crisscrossed by four major rivers, including the Brahmaputra, and the park has numerous small bodies of water.

“When I take tourists, I follow deer calls to locate tigers. This year there have been maximum sightings. Almost all tourists whom I have accompanied have been fortunate to see the Royal Bengal tiger at Kaziranga. Despite four spells of floods, I have possibly seen the Royal Bengal tigers a hundred times this year. The maximum sightings have been in the Kohora Range. You need to be patient to sight a Royal Bengal tiger in its lair,” says Chetry. He has first-hand knowledge of 400 species of birds found in the national park and also runs a jeep safari service for tourists.

According to Bishwajit Chetry, whose father works as a forest guard in the national park, the tiger seen in the video was injured in a territorial fight and had head wounds. It was resting in the waterbody, something tigers normally don’t do for a long duration. They come to drink water and then leave.

Wildlife & Biodiversity

India’s deep seas are home to 4,371 species of fauna, reveals ZSI by Shiv Sahai Singh .
India is home to 4,371 species of deep-sea fauna, including 1,032 species under the kingdom Protista and 3,339 species under the kingdom Animalia, a recent publication by the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) has revealed.

The deep-sea ecosystem is considered to be below a depth of 200 metres, where solar energy cannot support primary productivity through photosynthesis. This publication is the first detailed work on deep-sea organisms of the country.

Published by Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, the book titled ‘Deep Sea Faunal Diversity in India’ is the work of five authors and several other contributors over 41 chapters.

India is surrounded by the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, the Andaman Sea and the Laccadive Sea (Lakshadweep Sea). Of the 4,371 species, the maximum of 2,766 species has been reported from deep sea areas of the Arabian Sea, followed by 1,964 species from the Bay of Bengal, 1,396 species from the Andaman Sea, and only 253 species from the Laccadive Sea.

RIMS ship investigator
The authors behind the book point out that India is one of the countries that made a pioneering exploration in the deep Indian Ocean region in 1874 by commissioning a RIMS (Royal Indian Marine Survey) ship investigator, which conducted enormous studies in seas around India. “This RIMS investigator continued to work till 1926. After that, several other vessels, including vessels of the Indian Navy and scientists from the ZSI and other institutions, conducted deep sea explorations, gathering information about the fauna. This publication is a result of the work put together by several scientists across three centuries,” C. Raghunathan, ZSI Acting Director, one of the authors of the publication, said. The marine biologist said deep sea fauna had a vast diversity, starting from unicellular eukaryotes, sponges, corals, echinoderms and fishes, and also mammals.

Kailash Chandra, former ZSI Director, said that the deep sea ecosystem was the most unexplored ecosystem across the world. It included hydrothermal vents, submarine canyons, deep sea trenches, sea mounts, cold seeps, and mud volcanoes. “This publication, the first of its kind, provides baseline information on all groups of fauna and biological organisms in the Indian deep seas. Not only will this support our knowledge on conserving and managing deep sea faunal resources, but it will also pave way for their sustainable utilisation,” Dr. Chandra said.

31 species of sea mammals
There are 31 species of sea mammals which are found in deep sea ecosystem of Indian waters, including the Critically Endangered Irrawaddy Dolphin. Two other species, the Indo-Pacific Finless Porpoise and the Sperm Whale, are recorded as ‘Vulnerable’ in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classification.

The list of mammals includes Cuvier’s Beaked Whale and Short-beaked Common Dolphin, which dive as deep as 8,000 metres below the Earth’s surface.

Marine turtles
Out of the seven species of marine turtles found across the world, five species have been recorded from Indian waters. India is known as one of the best and largest breeding grounds for sea turtles, especially for Olive Ridley and Leatherback Turtles, across the world.

Indicative map of Deep-Sea fauna of Indian seas
Indicative map of Deep-Sea fauna of Indian seas

The publication’s chapter-wise description includes details of 36 species of sponges, 30 species of hard corals, 92 species of octocorals, 124 species of hydrozoans, seven species of jellyfish, and seven species of comb jellies.

The other deep-sea fauna found in Indian waters include, among others, 150 species of molluscs, including 54 species of cephalopods; 134 species of prawns; 23 species of lobsters; 230 species of echinoderms, 53 species of tunicates, 443 species of fishes and 18 species of sea snakes.

The other authors of the book are Honey U.K. Pillai, P. Jasmine and Tamal Mondal.

The publication comes days after the allocation of ₹4,000 crore was made for the Deep Ocean Mission by the government of India in the Union Budget for 2021-22.

Scientists pointed out that while the publication comes up with a baseline figure of 4,371 species, there is an urgent need for greater exploration of Indian deep seas. Most of the earlier explorations were carried to maximum depth of 2,000 metres, whereas parts of Indian seas are deeper than 6,000 metres, Dr. Raghunathan said.

Wildlife & Biodiversity

New species of African violets found in Mizoram
The newly-described species Didymocarpus vickifunkiae (Gesneriaceae) | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement Scientists from IISER Bhopal found the plant in three locations near the Myanmar border
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An ‘African’ flowering plant has been recorded scientifically for the first time in India.

Scientists from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Bhopal found the variant of the African violets in Mizoram.

The newly-described species, Didymocarpus vickifunkiae is currently known from only three locations near the north-eastern State’s border with Myanmar and is considered an endangered species. It is an epiphyte — a plant that grows on trees — and produces light pink flowers during the monsoons.

The species has been named after Vicki Ann Funk, a noted botanist who worked at the Smithsonian Institute in the U.S.

The finding has been published in Systematic Botany, a peer reviewed journal published by American Society for Plant Taxonomists, in a paper co-authored by research scholar Prasanna N.S. and Vinita Gowda, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at IISER Bhopal.

“Commonly known as African violets, Didymocarpus is a genus belonging to the plant family Gesneriaceae whose members are distributed in Asia from Western Himalayas to Sumatra,” Dr. Gowda said.

“Most of these species are narrow endemics and require specialised habitats to survive, thus acting as an indicator of pristine habitats. There are 106 currently known species of this genus, of which 26 are in the northeast,” she told The Hindu.

African violets, native to Tanzania and Kenya have been popular in the horticultural world, often used indoors in European countries.

“The Mizoram plant is new to science which could be restricted to those areas because of reasons to be studied or it could be more widespread in areas where they remain to be spotted. But its discovery has underscored the floral diversity of the northeast that has a unique biogeographic placement as a part of two biodiversity hotspots — the Indo-Burma and the Eastern Himalayas,” Dr. Gowda said.

The new species is an outcome of Mr. Prasanna’s evolutionary study on the Didymocarpus group of plants found across India and the neighbouring countries, including China. The concentration of this genus is in the northeast.

Wildlife & Biodiversity

Rare Himalayan Serow spotted in Spiti

Himalayan Serow, a goat antelope, was sighted and captured in a camera by the state wildlife wing for the first time in Spiti valley today.

byDipender Manta

Himalayan Serow, a goat antelope, was sighted and captured in a camera by the state wildlife wing for the first time in Spiti valley today.

The near-threatened Himalayan Serow had almost disappeared from the cold desert. It was today spotted at Hurling village in Spiti valley of Lahaul-Spiti district, much to the delight of wildlife officials. The officials have captured the movement of this rare animal in the camera near a stream where it was grazing. It fled soon after sensing human movement.

Himalayan Serow is included under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and its hunting is prohibited. It is also listed among the endangered species by the International Union for Conservation for Nature. An official said it was an extremely shy animal and its habitat was dense forests. Only in winter its sighting was possible when it migrated to lower elevations, he said.

Archana Sharma, Principal Chief Conservator, Wildlife Department, congratulated the officials and directed them to ensure the protection of this rare animal. She said Himalayan Serow was earlier spotted at Great Himalayan National Park, Kullu, and in Chamba district. She said the wildlife officials at Kaza had been asked to keep a tight vigil as hunting increased during winters when wild animals descended into lower regions due to heavy snow in higher reaches.