Wildlife & Biodiversity

Global Eco Watch: Animals unfed by tourists in Japan, Thailand, invade city streets

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

By DTE Staff
Published: Sunday 15 March 2020
Deer in Nara city, Japan. Photo from Twitter
Deer in Nara city, Japan. Photo from Twitter Deer in Nara city, Japan. Photo from Twitter

Two instances of how the novel coronavirus disease outbreak (COVID-19) is affecting animals and tourism in Asia have come to light recently.

In Japan, deer in the city of Nara invaded the streets after not having been fed for weeks by tourists, whose numbers have declined ever since COVID-19 started.

The deer are usually fed by the tourists who buy rice crackers from local vendors. Deer are sacred to the city given their association with it in traditional folklore.

Images were shared by social media users that showed deer feasting on grass in the city centre and train centre

Meanwhile, in Thailand, social media was agog after a user shared a video showing a brawl between monkey ‘gangs’ over a bowl of yoghurt in Lopburi, northeast of Bangkok.

Like the deer in Nara, Lopburi is famous for its monkeys that are usually fed by tourists. And like Japan and much of the world, Thailand’s tourist industry has also been badly hit by COVID-19.

Gaur back in Valmiki Reserve thanks to increase in grassland cover

Gaur (Bos Gaurus), the largest extant bovine in the world, have not only returned to Bihar’s Valmiki Tiger Reserve (VTR), but are also breeding there due to an increase in grassland cover, officials have said.

A large number of gaur had been spotted in camera traps — a sign of improving biodiversity and a positive development for VTR, field director Hemkant Roy told Down To Earth on March 9, 2020.

“Gaur have been attracted to VTR due to the increase in grassland cover. Gaur are grassland specialists and their main food is grass,” Roy said.

He added that there were more than 150 gaur including calves, in VTR currently. “We will try and bring further improvement to the habitat so that these animals add to biodiversity,” he said.

VTR was set up in the early 1990s. It is spread over 899 square kilometres in Bihar’s West Champaran district, bordering Nepal’s Chitwan National Park to its north and Uttar Pradesh to its west.

Gaur, which are native to south and southeast Asia, had shifted to Chitwan a few years back due to grassland destruction in VTR. The species is listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species since 1986. They are heavily built, with body weight varying between 400 and 1,200 kilogram.

In the last one decade, VTR had increased its grassland cover to 15 per cent from four per cent and had created 22 water holes to provide easy sources of water for wild animals within the reserve area, according to Roy.

This unique Himachal ‘restaurant’ saves vulture species

A unique ‘restaurant’ in Himachal Pradesh has attracted the attention of the local populace for conserving several species of vultures.

Being natural scavengers, vultures have, for a long time, suffered from rapid urbanisation and deteriorating climate. Their population in the state dwindled as an increase in man-made activities reduced their food sources.

This is where the ‘Vulture Restaurant’ — established at Sukhnara village in Kangra district — came in.

The state forest department’s wildlife wing — which operates the ‘restaurant’ spread across an area of 100 by 100 square metres — allows the local population to bring their dead pets and livestock as food for vultures.

People are allowed to bring dead animals to the ‘restaurant’ any time between 10 am to 4 pm.

The state government had sought to protect the dwindling number of vultures in 2004, when figures revealed there were only 26 vulture nests with 23 baby vultures in the district's Pongdam wetland area.

State government officials decided that only a natural habitat could save the species.

After the ‘restaurant’ was established in 2008, this number increased to 387 nests, carrying 352 baby vultures in 2019. Eight of the world's 16 vulture species — including the Himalayan vulture and European vulture — have been sighted at the restaurant.

The creation of the restaurant gave an impetus to the conservation of vultures in the area, according to Pradeep Thakur, the state’s chief wildlife conservator of forests.

Participation of the local population in conservation efforts also increased because of the ‘restaurant’. It also helped researchers study vultures in close quarters, according to him.

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