The Monarch of the Anamalais: Monitoring Nilgiri Tahr Populations to Inform Conservation

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In India, the words, Mountain ungulates- Wild sheep and goat of the subfamily Caprinae-, often invokes the images of flamboyant species like  the Ibex (Capra sibirica), standing atop a crag in the snowy Himalayas. Aptly titled “Mountain Monarchs” by the legendary conservationist Dr. George Schaller, given their elaborate horns (particularly on males), mountain ungulates of High Asia are mesmerizing species.  However, beyond the Himalayan heights, there is also the Nilgiri Tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius), a mountain monarch … Read More

How the tiger can regain its stripes

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This article was written for/first published in The Hindu, OpEd page, August 13, 2020, titled “How the tiger can regain its stripes”.

Tiger conservation needs a reboot to match the scale of India’s aspirations in other domains.

On International Tiger Day, July 29, authorities proudly declared that India should “celebrate” the increase in tigers from about 2,000 in 1970 to about 3,000 now. This is an annual growth rate lower than 1% after 50 years of incredible, sometimes heroic, efforts. … Read More

A Flawed Vision — Demystifying India’s Tiger Counts

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This article was originally published in The Telegraph.

For some reason, reports on India’s ‘tiger numbers’ get a lot of people excited. This was the case on July 28, 2020 when a report on the country’s tiger numbers from 2018 was released accompanied by profuse self-laudatory statements. The fact is there is nothing new in this report because the same results were released by the prime minister a year earlier. Perhaps everyone was bedazzled by the beautiful tiger photos and … Read More

Dholes in the Western Ghats

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Large carnivores across the world face several threats even as they continue to decline in numbers. Understanding where these species occur, how they use their habitats and what factors influence these patterns are important for their conservation. The Asiatic wild dog or dhole (Cuon alpinus) is a unique endangered predator. It is the only social, wild canid that almost exclusively inhabits forest areas in Asia. Historically treated as ‘vermin’, dholes were bounty-hunted across the India until they were protected under … Read More

Striped Hyena Persistence in India — Insights from Kumbhalgarh and Esrana in Rajasthan

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A threatened but poorly understood species, the Striped Hyena (Hyaena hyaena) is thought to occur in arid ecosystems across India. It is found in human-dominated landscapes in Rajasthan, a region with 4.3 percent of land area protected under nature reserves. This large carnivore predominantly scavenges on domestic and wild ungulate carcasses. At present, we lack robust estimates of hyena densities and understanding of factors that influence their persistence and distribution.

Authors Priya Singh, Arjun M. Gopalaswamy, and K. Read More

The Elusive Leopard Cats of India

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Small felids, like jungle cats, leopard cats, fishing cats and marbled cats (among others) constitute more than 60% of all cat species in the world. But most of these small cats remain understudied because they are generally secretive, elusive and difficult to observe and monitor. In this aspect, the leopard cat presents a fascinating case study.

Leopard cats are among the world’s most widely occurring small cat species. There have been substantial studies of their ecology in Southeast Asia. In … Read More

Gharial Population Estimation in the Chambal and Conservation Implications

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India’s Chambal River hosts the largest population of the critically endangered Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus). In the 1970s, the total population of the Gharial was estimated at less than 200, following which conservation programmes involving the creation of protected areas and rear-and-release programmes were established. But, despite the release of over 5000 gharials into various Indian rivers over the past few decades, only about 200 breeding adults reportedly still survive. These programmes were poorly monitored and their outcome never … Read More

Large Carnivores in Human Dominated Landscapes

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The conservation of large carnivores like wolves, bears, tigers and lions is always a challenging task in our modern and crowded world. Humans have modified and fragmented habitats and often experience a diversity of conflicts with large predatory neighbours. There is currently a major debate going on among conservationists about how to best go about achieving large carnivore conservation. Alternatives range from a focus on fencing carnivores into protected areas to allowing them to reoccupy shared landscapes where they must … Read More

Understanding the Distribution and Occurrence of India’s Smallest Bovid: The Chousingha

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Endemic to the Indian sub-continent, the four-horned antelope (FHA) or Chousingha is listed as Vulnerable (C2a (i)) in the IUCN Red list. In 2008, there were an estimated 10,000 adults in the wild in Nepal and India. Being a low-density species, FHA are particularly sensitive to changing habitat conditions and anthropogenic pressures. In India, the species is protected under Schedule-I of the Wildlife Protection Act (1972).

At present, there is little scientific information available on the four-horned antelope, and the … Read More

WII Report: Status of Great Indian Bustard and Associated Wildlife in the Thar Desert Landscape

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The Wildlife Institute of India (WII) and the Rajasthan Forest Department have recently conducted a joint assessment of Great Indian Bustard status in Thar. The enclosed report describes the survey protocol and provides information on distribution, abundance and habitat of GIB and key associated wildlife in this crucial conservation landscape. We hope to replicate such surveys in other bustard landscapes with the kind cooperation of State Forest Departments so as to help managers in prioritizing and implementing site-specific actions.

The … Read More

Counting Squirrels in Indian Forests

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Although the ecology of squirrels has been extensively studied, most past work is characterized by the failure to account for detection and heavy reliance on indices rather than directly measuring abundance. This has involved acoustic and visual surveys, sign surveys (tracks, middens and dreys) and capture-recapture sampling (trapping rates) methods are adopted to estimate squirrel abundance. Such field studies assume the detection probability of the species to be equal in all sites, leading to incorrect estimates of true abundance.

Authors … Read More

Counting Tigers Reliably — Combining Information From Multiple Sources

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Authors Arjun M. Gopalaswamy, K. Ullas Karanth, Andy Royle, Mohan Delampady, James D. Nichols and David W. Macdonald demonstrate innovative approaches that integrate information from photographic capture-recapture and genetic data to derive more robust estimates of tiger densities in Bandipur Tiger Reserve, India. These are the highlights of their study published in the journal Ecology in 2012.

In landscapes where wildlife occurs in low densities, gathering information from a single method often does not allow accurate estimation of population densities … Read More

Developing Simple and Innovative Techniques to Monitor Elephants

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Authors V. R. Goswami, M.V. Lauretta, M. D. Madhusudan and K. U. Karanth have developed an automated process to identify individual adult male elephants effectively. These are the highlights of their study published in the journal, Animal Conservation in 2011.

There are an estimated 40,000 wild Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) spread across 13 countries in Asia (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka in South Asia and Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam). According … Read More

Small-clawed Otters: Where are they Found?

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The smallest of the world’s otters, the Asian small-clawed otter (Aonyx cinerea) is found widely across Asia from south-western India, through southern China, the Malay Peninsula, to Sumatra, Java, Borneo and the Palawan Island in the Philippines.

Being amphibious in nature, this animal is found in and around a range of habitats including rivers, hill streams, estuaries, marshes, wetlands, and mangroves. As apex predators, the otters function as key links in cycling nutrients between aquatic and terrestrial systems, … Read More

Camera-trapping Mammals in Pakke Tiger Reserve

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Photographs by Forest Department staff of Pakke Tiger Reserve.

Intensive camera trapping by state forest departments (as per Phase-IV of NTCA) to monitor tiger populations, is now being done on a yearly basis in tiger reserves across India. This was done for the first time in Pakke Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh. Here are some stunning images of fabulous mammals captured during this season’s monitoring exercise. This effort has been mainly undertaken by the forest department staff of Pakke … Read More