Friday, March 16, 2007

Caracals on brink of extinction in India

Foresters concerned about decline in population of many species; asked for numbers, expert says there aren't any

Sreenivas Janyala

Ahmedabad, March 14: While the poaching incident at Gir Sanctuary has drawn attention to the threat that the lion - the most protected animal in the State - faces, the status quo on others species is barely even known. In all, there are 39 protected animals in Gujarat's sanctuaries and national parks including many endangered species. But census has been undertaken for only four: the lion, the leopard, the sloth bear and the Great Indian Bustard.

While census of leopards and sloth bears was conducted in 2006, the results of the Great Indian Bustard census conducted a few months ago are yet to be released. On last count, the number of Great Indian Bustard stood at 45, leopards at a healthy 1,070 and the sloth bear at 247 in State. But when it comes to the wolf, caracal, civet and palm civet, fox, desert fox, stripped hyena and desert cat, there is no official roster maintained on any.

On last count, there were 11 caracals, 30 civets, four palm civets, 28 desert cats, 28 desert fox, one flying squirrel and 11 pangolin in Kutch and Junagadh region. Now, there are no figures, only speculation based on sightings.

The wolf, a Schedule I protected species, which was found commonly till a few years ago in the Wild Ass Sanctuary, the Little Rann of Kutch, the Velavadar Black Buck Sanctuary and Kutch, has become a rare sight now. Dr Y V Jhala of the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) says: "I don't know its status now but the wolf was doing well five years ago." Dr Jhala has radio-collared some wolves that were sighted in and around the Velavadar Black Buck Sanctuary.

But forest officials say wolves are being trapped and killed by shepherds as they prey on sheep and goats. "Wolf dens are destroyed or set on fire by shepherds who also kill the cubs. The wolf status is alarming because their population has gone down drastically and it continues to decline wherever they are found," says Chief Conservator of Forests M L Sharma. "Wolves require large territories and can't be confined to sanctuaries. On moving out of protected areas, they often become targets of shepherds and farmers," he adds.

The caracal is also becoming rarer in the Banni grasslands and Naliya in Kutch where it was sighted often earlier. The Banni grasslands are themselves under threat from the charcoal mafia.

Dr Jhala, who has studied and conducted research on a number of animals in Gujarat, says, "The caracal is on the brink of extinction, but no one knows what its population status is as of now. The Great Indian Bustard too is in the process of being wiped out. It is no longer being sighted in Jamnagar and Surendranagar. Its sightings in Abdasa taluka of Kutch are becoming rarer, too. Across the world there are less than 500 of them left now." Even the Green Sea Turtle which comes to the coast of Porbandar to lay eggs faces a tough challenge with increased fishing activity and cargo ships traffic off the Arabian sea coast. But when it comes to an actual figure, no one's counting.

http://cities.expressindia.com/fullstory.php?newsid=226725

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