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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.

Wildlife & Biodiversity

Butterflies are migrating early in southern India this year

In a departure from the past, the annual migration of butterflies from the hill ranges of the Eastern Ghats towards the Western Ghats is an early phenomenon this year.

Usually, butterfly migration in south India begins in October-November, with the onset of the northeast monsoon, from the plains to the Ghats, and in April-June, just before the advent of the southwest monsoon, from the Ghats to the plains.

The southwest monsoon is the season for the breeding of butterflies, especially milkweed butterflies, in plains of south India, after which they migrate.


Migratory paths of butterflies in South India
Migratory paths of butterflies in South India

But this year, the first migratory sighting was recorded in the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve in Palakkad district by forest watchers on July 14. Later, butterfly enthusiasts in Salem, Erode, Tiruppur, Coimbatore and the Nilgiris observed their movement in large numbers from August 21, which is still continuing. Butterfly migration has also been recorded in Mysuru, Bengaluru, Kolar and Coorg districts in Karnataka.

“The migration started early after a gap of eight years. The Eastern Ghats complex of the Yercaud hills (Shevaroy hills), Pachamalai, Kolli hills, Kalvarayan hills are the major originating places for the migrating species. The movement was observed towards the Nilgiris, the Anamalai Tiger Reserve, and Palani hills also, apart from the Western Ghats hill ranges in the Coimbatore district,” said A. Pavendhan of The Nature and Butterfly Society (TNBS).

A recent study revealed that four species of milkweed butterflies belonging to the Danainae subfamily are mainly involved in the migration — the Dark Blue Tiger, Blue Tiger, Common Crow and the Double-branded (commonly known as tigers and crows). Species like Lime Swallowtail, Lemon Pansy, Common Leopard, Blue Pansy, Common Emigrant and Lemon Emigrants are also involved in the migration but their numbers are very low. However, the number of Lime Swallowtail butterflies had increased considerably this year, P.A.Vinayan, president, Ferns Nature Conservation Society (FNCS), Wayanad, told The Hindu.

Observers noted that Blue Tiger and Dark Blue Tiger accounted for 90% of the butterflies involved in migration. Lime Butterfly and Common Emigrant were higher in numbers than the crows.

“The change in rainfall pattern and a considerable increase in the number of sunny days may be the major reasons for the earlier migration,” Mr. Vinayan added.

Mr. Pavendhan said peak migration was observed over Coimbatore district on August 25. The starting rate of movement was 180 individuals per hour, when the counting was done over a band of about 10 metres in the morning, and the movement reached a peak of 1,060 individuals per hour around noon.

A congregation of butterflies sighted at Appapara in North Wayanad forest division

Wildlife & Biodiversity

Assam Keelback snake rediscovered 129 years after its last sighting by a Britisher

New Delhi: The Assam keelback or Herpetoreas pealii, a snake species endemic to Assam, was found 129 years after it was last spotted by British tea planter Samuel Edward Peal in 1891.

Peal had collected two male specimens of the non-venomous brown snake in the state’s Sivasagar district and deposited them in a museum. British zoologist William Lutley Sclater, the same year, had described the snake as a new species, naming it after Peal and the place where it was found. While one of the two specimens collected was kept at the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) in Kolkata, the other was sent to the Natural History Museum in London. No sighting of the snake had been reported since and it was considered a lost species.

In September 2018, a team of scientists from the Wildlife Institute of India (WWI) found it along the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border, while retracing the steps of the Abor Expedition — a military expedition by the British against the Abors in 1911. But Abhijit Das, who was part of the WII team, said that the specimen at ZSI Kolkata was “destroyed” by the time they rediscovered the snake and the team had to collaborate with the Natural History Museum to identify it.

Their peer-reviewed findings were finally published in the June 2020 issue of Vertebrate Zoology, a journal published by the Museum of Dresden in Germany.

Wildlife & Biodiversity

Baghjan: A classic example of plunder by extracting industries on endangered ecosystems

Durlov Gogoi was an alumnus of my college. An ace footballer, Durlov had been a goalkeeper in the Assam State team. His consistent excellence in the field earned him the job of a fire fighter in Oil India Limited (OIL). On June 10, Durlov’s body was recovered from a pond in OIL’s production well site in Baghjan area of Assam’s easternmost district Tinsukia.

Durlov, along with fellow fire fighter Tikheswar Gohain was pressed to service when a massive fire broke out on June 9 after a 14-day uncontrollable oil leak from the damaged oil well. The two fire fighters were reported to be missing till their bodies were recovered the next day by the SDRF-NDRF team.

As raging fire engulfed the area, burning house after house, people fled leaving everything behind for the safety of their lives. Hundreds of families from Natun Gaon village were forced to take shelter in two schools at Guijan, some four kilometers away.

Baghjan: A classic example of plunder by extracting industries on endangered ecosystems 1
Image credit: TC Mohan
On May 27 at about 10:30 am, the rig ‘DGR – Location 5’ blew out with a huge blast. The blowout led to an uncontrolled release of crude oil and natural gas as the well’s pressure control systems failed. Immediately, more than 600 families (mostly from the indigenous Assamese and tea tribe communities) of two villages–Baghjan and Dighaltarang were evacuated to the nearby Baghjan Government ME school premises.

“There had been a loud hissing sound and soon news spread that a pipe blasted and we have to leave home that moment,” Renu Moran (name changed) recounted the incident on May 27.

“I had just finished cooking, but had to leave everything behind—our belongings, livestock and all essentials because many of us experienced breathing difficulties,” continued the middle-aged woman with a choking voice “even the fodder for our livestock has been covered with oil.” People ran helter-skelter when they saw a cloud of gas and a rain of oil.

Some 12 shelters had been set up till now and thousands of people have shared space in the constricted facilities without caring for the essential social distancing norms amid the ongoing nationwide lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Recurring tremors in the area frighten the panic-stricken people all the more. Cracks appeared in the walls of many houses.

Unimaginable catastrophe

On June 6, Asomiya Pratidin, the highest circulating vernacular daily of Assam, reported that five people lost their lives at Natun Gaon in greater Baghjan after inhaling the toxic gaseous substance. Petu Kishan (26) died on June 1 while Bumoni Dutta (36) and Janmoni Sonowal died on June 3.

A day later two other people Prabin Dutta (55) and Axom Gohain had died. The report further stated that the local people have leveled serious allegations that these deaths were due to the poisonous effect of the toxic crude.

“People complained of severe headache, nausea. Everything smelled of kerosene,” said an elderly woman taking shelter in the make-shift camp.

“Nobody ever imagined such a catastrophe would hit our Baghjan area. I had to leave everything–my poultry and five pigs. I saw one of the pigs dying as I left,” cried another woman in front of reporters.

Burnt carcasses of livestock lie here and there in the deserted villages. “The fire gutted everything. From as high as the betel nut trees to small tea plantations-everything burnt down,” said Jagat Lagasu, who lives near the Brahmaputra on the edge of the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park. “The continuous roaring noise from the blowout has become an irritant, taking toll on the health of people,” he added.

Baghjan: A classic example of plunder by extracting industries on endangered ecosystems 2
Image credit: Nirantar Gohain
Air, water and soil have become equally polluted with the spilled over oil forming a thick toxic layer over croplands, fisheries, tea plantations and forests. Although oil leakage in the area is not a new problem but this is for the first time such a massive disaster has hit affecting lives and livelihood and devastating he fragile ecosystems.

The International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL) calls for accountability and justice for the oil well catastrophe to indigenous Assam communities and to the environment of Northeast India.

“Just days after the commemoration of World Environment Day, reality confronts us on how State actions and big corporations continue to worsen Indigenous Peoples (IP) vulnerabilities and fail in protecting endangered ecosystems,” stated an IPMSDL report.

Irreversible damage to already endangered ecosystems

The accident site was within the eco sensitive zones of two richest bio-diverse areas in northeastern India– the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park also a biosphere reserve and the Maguri-Motapung Beel—one of the most important wetlands in the region.

In 2013, the sighting of a Baikal bush warbler in the Maguri beel increased the number of avian species seen in India to 1,225. Reckoned as a rich wildlife habitat and a haven of rare avian population– both endemic and migratory–Dibru Saikhowa is one of the last refuges of the endangered White-winged Wood Duck.

The area is also known for its rich herpetofauna. The rescue of a black soft-shell turtle (nilssonia nigricans) thought to have been extinct in the wild in the Baghjan Tea Estate near the Maguri beel a few years back rejuvenated herpetofauna conservation efforts in the state. Those efforts have now been severely jeopardized by the spill of crude followed by the inferno that brought doom to the different ecosystems–river, wetland and grasslands.

The oil spill reached these two hotspots and three rivers connected with the Brahmaputra within no time. Two days after the incident the carcass of an endangered Gangetic dolphin was recovered from one of the river channels.

“With the approach of the evening you would hear the uninterrupted cacophony of insects in the Maguri beel. That has now fallen silent,” said Jainal Abedin who runs an eco tourism business in the area. “I can’t hear the croaks of the frogs as well,” he said.

“With many of the insect and amphibian species on the decline from the crude spill, wonder how the next season of migratory birds would be? No doubt OIL would compensate for lives and property. But what would be the compensation for the ecological disaster? How would OIL compensate for the damage that has become irreversible,” asked Chandan Kumar Duarah, a science and environment reporter.

“The indigenous communities engaged in agriculture and fishing would otherwise have been busy in their paddy fields at this time of the year. They would definitely return to their homes from these make-shift camps but most of them would lose their livelihood as their land become unproductive, water sources poisoned. This is one perfect example of the continuing plunder of indigenous territories for corporate take-over and profit,” he added.

Lack of preparedness wreaked havoc

Although, India’s minister for petroleum and natural gas Dharmendra Pradhan discussed the situation with the heads of OIL as well as of the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) and directed to take all necessary steps to ensure safety and all possible support to the local population, the situation could not be brought under control. A Singapore-based disaster control team that arrived at the site the day the fire broke out said that it might take weeks to stop the fire and oil leaks.

The lack of preparedness on part of the operating agencies has led to widespread condemnation while protests against drilling permission in this eco-sensitive area have grown louder. There have been increasing concerns by environmentalists over this issue and they have now been joined by local students unions.

Meanwhile, an FIR has been registered against Oil India Limited (OIL) and its outsourced well operator John Energy for the Baghjan blowout under the Indian Penal Code and the Disaster Management Act. Two officials responsible for the blowout well, have been placed under suspension, said OIL chairman and MD Sushil Chandra Mishra. The Company formed a five-member inquiry committee to look into any prima facie evidence of human error.

The disaster struck in the midst of a raging controversy following environmental clearance to Oil India Limited by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change for drilling and hydrocarbon testing at seven locations inside Dibru-Saikhowa National Park surrounded by six rivers–Lohit, Dibang and Disang on the north and Anantanala, Dangori and Dibru on the south.

‘There has been a trend to grant clearances to projects that destroy sensitive wildlife habitats, based on poor assessments. The main problem in environment protection is the current environmental decision-making process. We don’t believe in expert committees and the regulatory authorities concerned as they seem to be hand-in-gloves with the operating industries,” said environmentalist Jayanta Kumar Das.

“India is a signatory to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the draft agreement, published in January and likely to be adopted in October, calls for protection of at least 30% of land and sea areas to stop catastrophic loss of biodiversity by 2030.

This commitment will require creation and regeneration of new protected areas, prioritizing areas of abundant biodiversity. Yet, we want to destroy the richest biodiversity abundant areas like Dibru Saikhowa, Dehing Patkai and Dibang valley! Giving precedence to extractive industries over natural forests is regressive, increase GHG emissions will add to the climate crisis,” said Rituraj Phukan, secretary general of Green Guard Nature Organization.

The country’s national policies like North East Hydrocarbon Vision 2030, the Manipur Hydro Power Policy 2012, Indian Oilfield Act 1948 and New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP) enabled extensive corporatization, privatization and exploitation of Indigenous Peoples lands through drilling, mining and energy projects.

As the Union Government turned to the Northeast–the most resource-rich landscape but largely untapped region in the country– communities now find themselves in a quandary. Indigenous communities want recognition of their ownership over natural resources.

Tribal communities in Nagaland and Meghalaya are approaching courts to protect their rights over oil and coal and those in Mizoram, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh are struggling to retain control over their forests. In Assam, protests have continued against big dams and river interlinking. The recent times have been witness to the growing concerns against coal mining and oil exploration.
by Mubina Akhtar

Wildlife & Biodiversity

The cost of wildlife exploitation

NEW DELHI: Wildlife trade has become big business and the subsequent exploitation of wild animals puts our health, economies and biodiversity at risk, says World Animal Protection as they launch a campaign today targeting G20 leaders to support a permanent wildlife trade ban to protect wildlife and prevent future zoonotic pandemics.
As part of the campaign, international animal welfare charity, World Animal Protection is asking the Prime Minister of India, who will represent the country at the G20 summit, to support the call for a global ban on wildlife trade forever.
Covid-19 is one of the worst pandemics of animal origin that we have faced in a century. But the charity believes it won’t be the last, unless we urgently ban all commercial trade of wild animals globally.
Businesses are placing profit, estimated between USD 7-23 billion a year, over the health and welfare of both people and animals. The multi-billion-dollar trade in wild animals takes animals from their natural environments or commercially farms them, exposing them to stress and cruelty creating a hotbed for disease. As we have seen with COVID-19, these diseases can then be transferred to humans.
The main reason for the industrial scale commodification of wildlife is public demand for wild animals as food, traditional medicine, exotic pets, entertainment and fashion accessories.
World Animal Protection has been campaigning for many years to shift social attitudes and change industry practice to stop the exploitation of wild animals for the following uses:
Traditional Asian Medicine (TAM)
The demand for traditional medicine has devastating consequences for many species of wildlife traded globally, including bears that are poached and farmed for their bile.
The cruelty and poor conditions these bears suffer on farms leaves them susceptible to diseases which can then be transferred to people in close proximity. This risk to public health from the intensive farming of bears, and many other wildlife species, can be eradicated with a comprehensive wildlife trade ban.
TAM has an estimated value of USD 60 billion a year, and thought to account for nearly 30 per cent of China’s pharmaceutical revenue.
Exotic pets
Each year, millions of wild animals are captured from their natural habitats and bred in cruel captive conditions to be traded around the world as pets. Snakes, parrots, iguanas, lizards, tortoises, and even otters – these are just some of the wildlife species suffering as pets around the world.
Wild animals in the tourist industry
The growth of global tourism has driven the trade of tens of thousands of wild animals to be used for entertainment where they are being beaten, chained and abused.
The animals caught up in this cruel industry have often been legally traded or captive bred and spend many hours a day in close proximity to humans, increasing the potential spread of zoonoses.
“Cruel multi-billion-dollar businesses have been exploiting wild animals on an industrial global scale and we are now all seeing the true cost of that. This pandemic isn’t just about wild animals being sold for food. It’s much bigger than that, it’s about greed and the commodification of wild animals at every level. If we learn anything from this situation, it is that we need to leave wild animals where they belong, in the wild. We all have a responsibility to make a shift in our behaviour and attitudes towards animals that could save the lives of millions of people, animals and our economies. Some measures are being taken at national level, but there is a need for a coordinated global action. We urgently need to persuade the G20 to take steps towards implementing a global wildlife ban to protect us from future pandemics,” said Steve McIvor, CEO at World Animal Protection.
The Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi has been a vocal advocate of wildlife conservation and has repeatedly called for compassion towards animals.
In this address to the nation after announcing the lockdown, the Prime Minister had urged all citizens to care for animals around them.
“The need for a global ban on wildlife trade is urgent and extremely important. What we are witnessing with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic is the result of human exploiting wild animals for their gains. This must stop now. The Prime Minister of India understands the importance of wildlife preservation and has supported animal welfare issues in the past. Now as he prepares to represent India at the G20 summit, we appeal to Narendra Modi to give his support to the call for an end to wildlife trade forever,” said Gajender K Sharma, Country Director, World Animal Protection India.
World Animal Protection has a strong track record of supporting local communities to transition away from incomes based on wildlife cruelty.
It’s urgent that we come together now to implement to a comprehensive wildlife trade ban to eliminate the threats of future pandemics to our health and economies.
Join us and ask Prime Minister Narendra Modi to support the call for an end to global trade of wild animals.
This story is provided by NewsVoir

Wildlife & Biodiversity

Wild boars die in Arunachal as African swine fever kills 15,000 pigs in Assam

As Assam prepares for mass culling to check the spread of African swine fever (ASF) that has killed almost 15,000 domesticated pigs, adjoining Arunachal Pradesh fears that the “foreign” disease may have “gone wild”.

This is the first time that ASF has been reported in India. Assam claims the disease came from China, where almost 60% of pigs have died since 2018.

Officials in Arunachal Pradesh’s East Siang district said six carcases of wild boars, including three piglets, were found in a community forest at Lidor Soyit upstream of Sille River. The spot is about 25 km from district headquarters Pasighat.

There have been unverified reports of several wild boars dying from an unknown disease in East Siang and Upper Siang districts, but the recovery of the carcasses — some partly eaten by scavengers — on Thursday made officials wary of the possibility of ASF having spread from scores of domestic pigs that have died in the State over the last two months.

“A team of forest, veterinary officials and experts trekked about 10 km to locate the carcasses after receiving information from the villages. We suspect ASF is the cause of death, but will have to await confirmation after we send blood and tissue samples to labs outside,” Divisional Forest Officer (Territorial) Tashi Mize told The Hindu on Friday.

Some of the carcasses appeared to have been consumed by porcupines. “ASF is confined to porcine creatures, so other animals are unlikely to be affected. But the possibility of becoming carriers of the virus could affect the wild boar population,” he said.

While veterinary officials have advised culling of domesticated pigs in the affected areas, the Forest Department has identified critical areas and advised villagers not to hunt wild boars and consume their meat.

Assam seeks help
The Assam government as sought a financial package of ₹144 crore from the Centre for compensating pig farmers who have lost their only source of income.

“The situation is turning grim with AFS spreading from six to 10 of Assam’s 33 districts and killing 14,919 pigs despite having taken all possible preventive measures. We are discussing other options,” State Animal Husbandry and Veterinary Minister Atul Bora said.

These measures include culling, which the State government was initially reluctant to undertake.

The Veterinary and Forest Departments also got together to dig trenches on the periphery of wildlife reserve, specifically the Kaziranga National Park that houses an estimated 15,000 wild boars, to stop them from coming in contact with domestic pigs reared in adjoining villages.

Officials say there is no cure for ASF, which kills almost 100% of the pigs it strikes.

Wildlife & Biodiversity

Assam gas fire to have long-term impact on biodiversity hotspot

The raging fire at an oil well in Assam’s Tinsukia district has caused irreversible damage to the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and the Maguri Motapung wetland area besides jeopardising livelihood of people dependent on the land, conservationists said on Friday.
The blowout at the Oil India Ltd well occurred on May 27, which has been spewing gas “uncontrollably” for nearly two weeks, and a massive fire engulfed the site, following an explosion at the well on June 9.
The spewing of gas from the well and the subsequent fire have forced people to leave their homes.
The damage to the biosphere reserve, Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, and the Maguri-Motapung wetland was immense and perhaps irreparable, Tinsukia-based environmentalist Ranjan Das told PTI.
More than 1,500 families from nearby areas have been evacuated, rendering nearly 7,000 people homeless, while their paddy fields were destroyed and it is unlikely that the affected-land would be cultivable again, he said.
Most villagers in the area are small tea growers and their gardens have been completely damaged, the expert said.
“We have not been able to assess the damage in real terms as the fire is still raging on and the authorities are not letting us go near the affected areas. People have, however, reached out to us with stories of irreparable damages,” Das said.
The blaze at the well was so massive that it was seen from a distance of more than 30 kilometres with thick black smoke going up several metres high.
The fire that killed two persons is still raging on, while the state-owned company was rushing experts from Singapore to bring the situation under control.
The spewing of gas and the subsequent fire with the pollutants releasing from the smoke will have lasting health hazards and come to the fore in days to come, Das said.
The wells at Baghjan are close to the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and Maguri-Motapung wetland and the damage caused to both is a “matter of great concern”, said Bibhab Talukdar, secretary-general of Aaranyak, an environmental organisation.
“The unabated fire, which spread horizontally, has made a severe impact on human habitation, agricultural fields, wildlife and wetland. We urge the OIL and the government agencies to act immediately to control the fire for the well-being of the local people and to save the environment,” he said.
Talukdar, however, expressed doubt about the capability of the PSU to stop such a fire, saying they have “failed miserably” to prevent leaking of gas.
“It is time for the government to be more cautious and have a full understanding of the capabilities of user agencies before granting them permission in the greater interest of safeguarding people and properties from such mishaps,” he said.
Wildlife biologist Udayan Borthakur said the damage that has already been caused to property, livelihood, security and ecology within the eco-sensitive zone of the national park is “irreversible”.
“Any monetary compensation cannot bring back the lost biodiversity of Dibru-Saikhowa and Maguri wetland,” he said.
Another matter of concern is that few days before the Baghjan well explosion took place, the PSU had received environmental clearances from the Centre for extension of drilling and testing of hydrocarbons at seven more locations under Dibru-Saikhowa National Park Area.
“Some of these locations are less than a kilometre away from the boundary of the national park,” he said.
Dibru-Saikhowa National Park has a core area of 340 sq-km, while the biosphere reserve spreads across an area of 765 sq-km.
The park has a variety of tree species ranging from deciduous, semi-evergreen, wet evergreen, salix swamp to riverine grasslands.
There are at least 36 mammal species including Royal Bengal tiger, sloth bear, Chinese pangolin, Asian elephants, Asian water buffalo and feral horses in the national park, he said, adding that presence of more than 440 bird species has been reported.
Maguri, a large wetland, is an Important Bird Area (IBA) with the presence of nearly 300 species, said Borthakur who is also chief editor of the econNE, a conservation magazine of the northeast region.
“Now the question is whether Oil India will continue with its drilling extension project in Dibru-Saikhowa area, particularly after the Baghjan incident or not. Will the authorities allow them to continue without a thorough investigation into the adherence of precautionary standards,” he asked.

The oil leak that started on Wednesday owing to the blast at the Baghjan production well has injuriously harmed the aquatic life of the Dibru River. While the world celebrates Environment Day, a critically endangered Gangetic river a dolphin carcass has been found in Assam’s Dibru River. The outer skin of the dolphin was scaly and peeling.

The rare aquatic animals are frequently seen swimming effortlessly after many years, which many believed that these sightings were a positive impact of nationwide lockdown. But within days, a dolphin has been found dead in the river from Maguri-Motapung Beel close to Baghjan Oilfield blowout.

The gas leak in an oil well is still ongoing in the same extent after a blowout a week ago that is feared to have killed endangered animals and forced 2,500 people to evacuate their homes.

Baghjan village, where the rig is located, is very near to the protected Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and Maguri Beel wetlands, which is a haven to many species of migratory birds, rare wildlife and aquatic species. However, the blowout has contaminated the river and wetlands, with the residue from the oil spill sitting on the surface of the water, leading to the poisoning and suffocation of aquatic species.

Meanwhile, the Tinsukia Wildlife Division removed the carcass of the dolphin from the Dibru River and sent it for forensic tests to determine the cause of death. Though the prima facie inspection revealed that oil spill is the reason, the DFO Wildlife RS Bharti ruled out any poaching act and said that the dolphin must have died at least two days ago.

According to Oil India Limited (OIL), which operates the well, gas was still flowing uncontrollably from the leak. While the company is trying to control the situation, the locals and environmentalists believe that untold damage has been done to the rare biodiversity of the area.

Wildlife & Biodiversity

New species of urban lizard found in Guwahati

The bent-toed gecko, named Cyrtodactylus urbanus, was earlier thought to be same as the Khasi Hills lizard

Guwahati, the largest city in the Northeast, has yielded a new species of lizard – the urban bent-toed gecko.

Markedly different

Jayaditya Purkayastha and Madhurima Das, two of the five herpetologists and researchers who made the discovery, had teamed up with four others to be the first to record the brown blotched Bengal tree frog from urban West Bengal last year.

The new species of lizard, zoologically named Cyrtodactylus urbanus, is markedly different in molecular structure, blotch and colour from the Cyrtodactylus guwahatiensis, or the Guwahati bent-toed gecko, that was discovered two years ago.

The new species of lizard, Cyrtodactylus urbanus.Cyrtodactylus urbanus.

The study on the urban bent-toed gecko has been published in the latest edition of Zootaxa, a peer-reviewed scientific mega journal for animal taxonomists. Apart from Mr. Purkayastha and Ms. Das, the study was co-authored by Sanath Chandra Bohra, Mumbai-based Ishan Agarwal and Aaron M. Bauer, a global authority on geckos based in Pennsylvania, U.S.

“All bent-toed geckos in Northeast India were thought to be a single species, the Cyrtodactylus khasiensis found primarily in the Khasi Hills of Meghalaya. Photographs I had taken of the urban bent-toed from the Basistha area of Guwahati in 2011, when compared with other species, made global experts realise it was a different species,” Mr. Purkayastha told The Hindu.

Though the urban bent-toed gecko falls within the khasiensis group, it differs from other members of this group in mitochondrial sequence data as well as aspects of morphology such as the number and arrangement of certain pores in males, the number of mid-ventral scales and colour pattern.

The study on the urban bent-toed gecko also provided additional information on the Guwahati bent-toed gecko, the first of the two Cyrtodactylus endemic to the areas covered by the city and the fourth from Assam.

12th from Northeast

It was also the 12th recorded gecko from the Northeast.

“What this study tries to establish is that some urban spaces too have life forms that are often overlooked but in danger of being wiped out because of concrete development. More studies need to be done before time runs out for such life forms,” Mr. Purkayastha said, adding more than 50% of the species of bent-toed geckos on earth was described in the last decade.

Guwahati is home to 26 species of amphibians, 57 species of reptiles, 214 species of birds and 36 species of mammals. The city provides that edge for urban biodiversity to thrive because it encompasses 18 hills, eight reserve forests, two wildlife sanctuaries and a Ramsar site  besides the Brahmaputra river.(The Hindu)