Young snakes born in India


This 17 January 2017 video says about itself:

Venomous Red-Tailed Viper Snake giving birth to 12 babies in India – National Geographic

New frog species discovery in India


This video from India says about itself:

Euphlyctis karaavali: CR Naik

25 December 2016

Video clip of Karaavali skittering frog. This is part of supplementary video clip of the article published in Asian Herpetological Research 2016, 7(4): 229–241; DOI: 10.16373/j.cnki.ahr.160020

From BirdLife:

The frog we thought was a kingfisher

By Tim Knight, 24 Jan 2017

A coastal survey in western India has spawned the discovery of a new species hiding in plain sight.

Tadpoles turning into frogs are nothing new, but when a bird is miraculously transformed into an amphibian – and a previously unknown one at that – it’s time to sit up and take notice. In a bizarre turn of events that gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘metamorphosis’, a frog whose call was initially mistaken for the more familiar sound made by a white-throated kingfisher has just been confirmed as a new species.

It was citizen science that first shed light on the true identity of the Karaavali skittering frog, named after the region where it was first recorded. In the local Kannada language widely spoken in the state of Karnataka, Karaavali is the name for India’s west coast.

A local forester, C R Naik, was monitoring the biodiversity around his coastal village in order to document the bird, snake and frog species in the vicinity. Having realised that the kingfisher-like call was actually being emitted by a frog, he had the presence of mind to record it on his mobile phone. During subsequent fieldwork in the Western Ghats he played back the recording to a team of scientists, including several herpetologists, who naturally assumed that they were listening to a bird.

Leap of the imagination

Among them was Seshadri K S, winner of a 2010 Conservation Leadership Programme (CLP) award who is currently studying for a PhD at the National University of Singapore. Intrigued by Naik’s claim that the call belonged to a frog and not, in fact, to the commonly heard White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon gularis, Seshadri resolved to visit the coastal site and investigate the mystery for himself. Sure enough, a few hours of nocturnal detective work amid flooded paddy fields in the company of Naik revealed that the forester’s story was not an elaborate hoax. Subsequent analysis of the call helped to confirm that the species was indeed new to science.

“Often, such scientific discoveries happen because there are foot soldiers like Mr Naik working hard in the field”, Seshadri observed. “Him being a forest official and making observations on nature makes this discovery special. We hope this discovery will inspire the staff of the forest departments and research is encouraged. By joining hands with researchers, Naik has come to the forefront of biodiversity conservation. Such efforts will [help to put] biological research in India on a par with [the rest] of the world.”

In a wonderful example of the results that can be achieved when enthusiastic and knowledgeable citizens join forces with experts, Naik is among the co-authors of a paper recently published in the December 2016 issue of Asian Herpetological Research, which brought the Karaavali skittering frog discovery to the attention of the wider scientific community.

Public engagement

Dr Gururaj K V, a renowned frog researcher and another co-author of the recent paper, who performed the bioacoustics analysis of the call, is a strong advocate of the need to engage the general public in scientific pursuits and was therefore particularly gratified that citizen science had played such a key role in the discovery: “We were certain that the call was of a bird and [that] he was taking us for a ride; however, Mr Naik was adamant. We conceded that the call ought to be explored more and asked Naik to make a video next time he heard it. He immediately got to work and sent us short video clips and said this was a new species of frog.”

Naik himself was equally elated: “I am so happy that a new frog [has been] discovered from my native place and I am doubly delighted to be part of this discovery. I am thankful for the entire team of scientists who took trusted in me. This discovery has motivated me and I will continue making observations, not only about frogs, but in other [areas of] natural history. Such observations can help in creating awareness among citizens about nature.”

The newly discovered species is already threatened by nearby infrastructure development in the shape of highway construction and conversion of agricultural land. The paper’s authors highlight the fact that the frog appears to be restricted to just three districts in the coastal plains of Karnataka, and recommend that it should be officially classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

See also here.

New bird habitat discovery in India


This 2013 video from India is called Papikonda Wildlife Sanctuary – East Godavari.

From BirdLife:

New vital bird habitat identified in India

By Alex Dale, 18 Nov 2016

To date, more than 12,000 Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) have been identified by BirdLife – making it the largest list of globally-important biodiverse sites in the world. And as we continue to perform vital research in remote, rugged areas, the number of identified IBAs will only continue to grow. The latest to be recognised is Papikonda National Park, a 1,012 sq km region of deep forested valleys and steep hills nestled in the Eastern Ghats, a mountain range that stretches across India’s eastern coast.

The IBA was identified during a Conservation Leadership Programme-funded study of mammals in the Eastern Ghats. The area’s tropical forests are a biodiversity hotspot, hosting many endangered plants and animals, but unfortunately it was unsafe for many years to conduct research in the area … However, this threat has recently decreased and the area is once again accessible for research.

The primary purpose of the study, which was undertaken by the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), was to assess the effects that landscape change and habitat degradation are having on the mammals that live in the region. However, during the course of the project, ATREE also conducted a week-long intensive bird study alongside the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS, BirdLife in India). Numerous globally-threatened birds were spotted during this exercise, including Pale-capped Pigeon Columba punicea(VU), Yellow-throated bulbul Pycnonotus xantholaemus (VU), Black-bellied Tern Sterna acuticauda (EN) and Malabar Pied Hornbill Anthracoceros coronatus (NT). Also, the Critically Endangered Forest Owlet Heteroglaux blewetti was spotted near the park’s northern border. From this, the researchers were able to provide a site assessment of the national park and declare it an IBA. However, this fledgling IBA is already in danger, with the most ominous threats including the expansion of nearby commerical plantations, forest fires, hunting, mining and the ongoing construction of Indira Sagar Multipurpose Dam across the Godavari River, which runs close to the park’s eastern border.

Conservationists – the CLP is now accepting grant applications for 2017. The deadline for applications is 28th November.

Ancient Indian primates discovered


This video is called 54 Million Year Old Fossils Point To India As Key In Primate Evolution.

From Science News:

Fossils hint at India’s crucial role in primate evolution

Limb bones may reveal what common ancestor looked like

By Bruce Bower

9:00am, September 8, 2016

Remarkably preserved bones of rat-sized creatures excavated in an Indian coal mine may come from close relatives of the first primatelike animals, researchers say.

A set of 25 arm, leg, ankle and foot fossils, dating to roughly 54.5 million years ago, raises India’s profile as a possible hotbed of early primate evolution, say evolutionary biologist Rachel Dunn of Des Moines University in Iowa and her colleagues. Bones from Vastan coal mine in Gujarat, India’s westernmost state, indicate that these tiny tree-dwellers resembled the first primates from as early as 65 million years ago, the scientists report in the October Journal of Human Evolution.

These discoveries add to previously reported jaws, teeth and limb bones of four ancient primate species found in the same mine. “The Vastan primates probably approximate a common primate ancestor better than any fossils found previously,” says paleontologist and study coauthor Kenneth Rose of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The Vastan animals were about the size of living gray mouse lemurs and dwarf lemurs, weighing roughly 150 to 300 grams (roughly half a pound), the investigators estimate. Dunn’s group has posted 3-D scans of the fossils to Morphosource.org (SN: 3/19/16, p. 28) so other researchers can download and study the material.

Most Vastan individuals possessed a basic climbing ability unlike the more specialized builds of members of the two ancient primate groups that gave rise to present-day primates, the researchers say. One of those groups, omomyids, consisted of relatives of tarsiers, monkeys and apes. The other group, adapoids, included relatives of lemurs, lorises and bushbabies. The Indian primates were tree-dwellers but could not leap from branch to branch like lemurs or ascend trees with the slow-but-sure grips of lorises, the new report concludes.

Vastan primates probably descended from a common ancestor of omomyids and adapoids, the researchers propose. India was a drifting landmass headed north toward a collision with mainland Asia when the Vastan primates were alive. Isolated on a huge chunk of land, the Indian primates evolved relatively slowly, retaining a great number of ancestral skeletal traits, Rose suspects.

“It’s possible that India played an important role in primate evolution,” says evolutionary anthropologist Doug Boyer of Duke University. A team led by Boyer reported in 2010 that a roughly 65-million-year-old fossil found in southern India might be a close relative of the common ancestor of primates, tree shrews and flying lemurs (which glide rather than fly and are not true lemurs).

One possibility is that primates and their close relatives evolved in isolation on the island continent of India between around 65 million and 55 million years ago, Boyer suggests. Primates then spread around the world once India joined Asia by about 50 million years ago.

That’s a controversial idea. An increasing number of scientists suspect primates originated in Asia. Chinese primate fossils dating to 56 million to 55 million years ago are slightly older than the Vastan primates (SN: 6/29/13, p. 14; SN: 1/3/04, p. 4). The Chinese finds show signs of having been omomyids.

And in at least one respect, Boyer says, some of the new Vastan fossils may be more specialized than their discoverers claim. Vastan ankle bones, for instance, look enough like those of modern lemurs to raise doubts that the Indian primates were direct descendants of primate precursors, he holds.

Dunn, however, regards the overall anatomy of the Vastan fossils as “the most direct evidence we have” that ancestors of early primates lacked lemurs’ leaping abilities, contrary to what some researchers have argued.

Indians mourn elephants killed by power lines


This video from India says about itself:

Two elephants die of electrocution in tea garden – ANI News

Siliguri, Sep 11 2016 (ANI): Two elephants were found dead in Kiranchandra tea garden, 30km from Siliguri under Darjeeling district of West-Bengal. The villagers yesterday alleged that elephants from Bagdogra forest used to come to their villages regularly to feed on paddy crops and the tuskers might have been electrocuted after coming in contact with the electric pole.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

Electrocuted elephants get funeral in India

Today, 15:25

Two elephants have been given a ceremonial funeral in a town in northeast India. The animals were electrocuted yesterday by a high voltage cable on a tea plantation.

Dozens of residents of Darjeeling town came to the farewell ceremony for the elephants. The Indians laid flowers on the dead bodies of the animals. Some crouched at the corpses to pray. Many Indians consider elephants to be sacred animals.

High voltage cable

The animals belonged to a herd of thirty elephants crossing the tea plantation. “These two became entangled in high-voltage cables,” says an Indian ranger. “Because it was raining hard, the animals were electrocuted.”

According to the villagers first one of the elephants got stuck in the power lines. The other animal is said to have become trapped when it tried to free its comrade.

Elephants play an important role in Hinduism, the most numerous religion in India. One of the principal Hindu deities Shri Ganesh is depicted with the head of an elephant.

It looks like these elephants might have been still alive, if that power line would have been either underground or so high that it could not harm elephants or other wildlife. Work should start now making power lines safe for wildlife, in Darjeeling and all over the world. The example of Sudan shows this is possible.