Wildlife & Biodiversity

Global Eco Watch: 1.2 million Indians died of snake bites in last 20 years

Down To Earth brings you the top happenings in the world of global ecology

By DTE Staff
Published: Saturday 11 July 2020
1.2 million Indians were killed in the last 20 years due to snake bites mostly involving Russell's Vipers, Kraits and Cobras. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A total of 1.2 million Indians died from snake bites in the last 20 years, according to a new study published recently.

Half of the victims were between 30 and 69 years of age while a quarter were children. Half of the deaths happened in the summer monsoon between June and September and most of the victims were bit on the legs.

Most of the deaths happened because people could not access swift medical care.

Between 2001 and 2014, 70 per cent of the snake bite deaths occurred in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh (including Telangana) Rajasthan and Gujarat.

The snake species most responsible were Russell’s vipers, kraits and cobras.

The study was published in the journal eLife. It was based on data collected from India’s Million Death Study.

Unesco designates 15 new geoparks in Asia, Europe, and Latin America

Unesco’s executive board has approved the designation of 15 new UNESCO Global Geoparks, which brings the number of sites participating in the Global Geoparks Network to 162 in 44 countries. The executive board also approved the extension of the Kula-Salihli UNESCO Global Geopark in Turkey.

UNESCO Global Geoparks were designated for the first time in Nicaragua, the Russian Federation and Serbia.

The newly designated Geoparks are:

  • Cliffs of Fundy UNESCO Global Geopark (Canada)
  • Discovery UNESCO Global Geopark (Canada)
  • Xiangxi UNESCO Global Geopark (China)
  • Zhangye UNESCO Global Geopark (China)
  • Lauhanvuori-Hämeenkangas UNESCO Global Geopark (Finland)
  • Toba Caldera UNESCO Global Geopark (Indonesia)
  • Rio Coco UNESCO Global Geopark (Nicaragua)
  • Estrela UNESCO Global Geopark (Portugal)
  • Hantangang River UNESCO Global Geopark (Republic of Korea)
  • Yangan-Tau UNESCO Global Geopark (Russian Federation)
  • Djerdap UNESCO Global Geopark (Serbia)
  • Granada UNESCO Global Geopark (Spain)
  • Maestrazgo UNESCO Global Geopark (Spain)
  • The Black Country UNESCO Global Geopark (United Kingdom)
  • Dak Nong UNESCO Global Geopark (Viet Nam)
  • Kula-Salihli UNESCO Global Geopark (Turkey) (Extended)

Wheat and rice yields in Haryana could decline in just 15 years if temperature continues to rise: Study

The yields for wheat and rice in Haryana could decline in just 15 years if temperatures continue to rise due to climate change, a study by Guru Jambheshwar University of Science and Technology, Hisar has predicted.

Wheat yield will decline by eight per cent and rice by 11 per cent if temperatures continue to rise. By 2095, wheat yield will decline by 57 per cent and rice by 34 per cent.

For the study, Haryana was divided into three climatic zones: dry sub-humid, semi-arid and arid. The Marskim DSSAT weather generator meteorological data tool was used for forecasting temperature and rainfall between 2010 and 2095.

The study gave the examples of temperature increase in three districts – Ambala, Karnal and Hisar – that belong to the three climatic zones as well as parallel increase in rainfall between 2010 and 2095.

Haryana ranks fourth in India in wheat cultivation and tenth in rice cultivation according to the statistics of 2017.

Not only honey bees, native bees may also be facing a ‘pandemic’: Scientists

A fungal pathogen has been infecting bees around the world for at least two decades. And scientists are calling it a pandemic.

The unicellular pathogen Nosema causes the most common and widespread disease in adult honey bees. It has been exclusively documented in European honeybee, though it is also found in bees across Europe, Canada and Kenya. The pathogen is impacting the native, solitary bees, the extent of which is unknown, according to University of Colorado Boulder researchers. 

The results were published in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

The information is crucial as solitary bees comprise a majority of the approximately 20,000 bee species on the planet.

“More work needs to be done to understand Nosema infections in native bee species and the potential consequences to native ecosystems, if native bees suffer a similar fate as honeybees when infected,” said Arthur Grupe, lead author and researcher in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

The different strains of Nosema — Nosema apisNosema ceranae, Nosema bombi — are the most common strains to cause infections in bees. Nosema ceranae causes year-round infections in hives; so far, only Nosema bombi, which infects bumblebees, has been documented in Colorado.

While N apis was the only known unicellular honey bee pathogen until 1996, when the second species, N ceranae, was identified from the Asian honey bee.

Reserachers have underlined the need to better understand how these Nosema strains travel through the globe and affect native, solitary bees.

The strains could contribute to colony collapse, a phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a honey bee colony disappear, leaving behind a queen, food, and a few nurse bees to care for the remaining immature bees.

Elephant found dead in Odisha’s Keonjhar, third within a month

The carcass of a four-year-old male elephant was found in Odisha’s mineral-rich Keonjhar district July 8, 2020. The carcass — the third elephant death in the district and the fourth in the state in a month — was found in Choramalada forest under the Barbil range.

The elephant carcass was in a state of decay when it was found, something that points to the death likely having occurred more than a week ago. Locals saw the carcass in the forest and soon informed forest officials. A team of the officials reached the spot and sent the carcass for an autopsy, after which it was buried.

Forest officials believe the dead elephant belonged to a herd of elephants roaming in the area recently. An investigation into the death is underway, said Santosh Joshi, the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of Keonjhar.

“Stern action will be taken against those who will be found guilty,” he added.

Bhitarkanika: Man taken by estuarine croc in fatal attack 

A 42-year-old man was missing, presumed dead, after being dragged into a river by an estuarine crocodile in Odisha’s Bhitarkanika National Park on July 7, 2020.

Ranjan Mohanty, a milk supplier, was attacked in the morning while he was standing near the bank of the crocodile-inhabited Bausagali river in Satabhaya village, waiting to cross it and reach the nearby market at Gupti to supply milk.

“The crocodile suddenly exploded out of the knee-length water, clamping its vice-like jaws and pulled him in. Some villagers raised an alarm and tried to save him. But it was futile,” Karunakar Behera, a boatman at the ghat where Mohanty was standing, said.

“Forest officials, fire brigade personnel and locals launched a search operation. The man’s body is yet to be retrieved. The forest department will provide a compensation amount of Rs 4 lakh to the family members of the victim after due inquiry,” Bikash Ranjan Dash, the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) of the park, said.

After bats, do not make marmots into villains: Expert

Do not make marmots the new villains after bats, an expert cautioned on July 7, 2020, even as reports emerged of an outbreak of bubonic plague in Mongolia, China and the Russian Far East.

“We already have had the vilification of bats due to COVID-19. Please do not shift your attention to marmots now,” Sabuj Bhattacharyya, a member of the Lagomorph Specialist Group in Species Survival Commission (SSC), International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Switzerland.

Although Bhattacharya is not an expert on rodents, the group that marmots belong to and rather studies lagomorphs or members of the rabbit family, he has nevertheless frequently come across marmots during his study of pikas, lagomorphs that share marmot habitat.

Marmots are essentially a type of squirrel and are found on the continents of Europe, Asia and North America.

South Asia or the Indian Subcontinent is home to the Himalayan Marmot as well as the Long-tailed Marmot. The incidents of plague in Mongolia, China and the Russian Far East have been caused largely after locals consumed the Tarbagan Marmot, which is found in the region.

“Marmots are eaten in China and Mongolia. High altitude regions lack proteins. Pastoral nomads usually eat these during their days out on the steppe, when they do not have any other means of sustenance. But I don’t know whether marmots are the principal diet of people in the region,” Bhattacharya, said.

Marmots are also hunted for their fur.

The squirrels may have been mentioned in antiquity as well. According to one hypothesis, the story of the “Gold-digging ant” reported by Herodotus in Ancient Greece, originated with the Himalayan marmot, whose burrows would be dug by local tribes to collect gold dust.

“Marmots play a very important role in Himalayan ecology. They are prey species for predators including the snow leopard, red fox, hawks, kestrels and eagles,” Bhattacharyya said.

“Marmots also eat plants. Every time they dig burrows, they increase aeration in the soil that also increases nutrient circulation and helps different plants to propagate. These are the ecosystem services that the marmots offer. If they are eradicated, these services will stop,” he added.

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