Wildlife & Biodiversity

Global Eco Watch: Reindeer may have been domesticated 2,000 years ago

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

By DTE Staff
Published: Sunday 21 June 2020
Reindeer are found in the Arctic regions of northern Europe, Siberia and North America. Photo: Flickr

Reindeer might have been domesticated and used for pulling sleds 2,000 years ago, a new study by the University of Alberta in Canada has found.

In May and June of last year, an anthropologist from the university and his team found a number of artifacts that appeared to resemble reindeer harness as well as antler pieces at a site called Ust’-Polui near Salekhard in northern Siberia.

Radiocarbon dating of the items showed they were at least 2,000 years old.

The team showed the items to the local Nenets people, who are traditional pastoralists and live with reindeer.

The Nenets identified the artifacts to be headgear parts for training young reindeer in pulling sleds.

According to previous studies, reindeer domestication started only a few hundred years ago in northern Europe, perhaps as early as the eleventh century in northern Siberia, based on evidence of genetic changes in reindeer.

Plants can camouflage odours to avoid being eaten: Study

Plants in dense tropical forests have evolved to emit similar odours to avoid being eaten by insects, a new study has said.

Researchers from Europe and North America studied 28 species of insects and 20 species of plants in Chamela-Cuixmala, a tropical forest reserve on the western coast of Mexico.

They collected the odours of the plants in silicon tubes that were brought back to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, London, to be studied.

The scientists then used a combination of ‘information theory’ that is used to understand communication patterns in humans and existing understandings of evolutionary biology to reach their conclusion.

What locust attack? Great Indian Bustards make a meal of pests, reproduce more

The locust invasion, while proving to be a disaster for farmers across Rajasthan, has become a literal movable feast for the local biodiversity, including the endangered Great Indian Bustard (GIB) in the state.

Locusts, that are very rich in protein, are being eaten by the local fauna, helping them increase their reproduction rate.

The pests are considered such an important source of nutrition that even captive GIBs under Wildlife Institute of India’s (WII), Habitat Improvement and Conservation Breeding of Great Indian Bustard - An Integrated Approach project are being fed locusts.

“Locust is a very important food for GIB. Due to the high nutritional status of locusts, the fecundity of the bird has become high,” YV Jhala, dean of WII and head of the GIB conservation project, said.

 “Usually, there are four-five eggs laid every year, but last year we found 15 eggs,” he added.

The locusts are fed to the GIB both for their nutritional and recreational value as the birds like to chase the insects around.

Jhala added that last year, his team also found evidence of re-nesting after the egg was removed. “Re-nesting is directly linked to improved nutritional intake,” he said.

GIB isn’t the only species that is benefiting from the locust invasion. Locusts are also eaten by moneys, lizards, foxes, desert cats, jackals and wolves.

“Whenever there is a pest invasion like the current locust invasion, it is associated with an increase in the population of species. This has also been seen with cricket upsurges and increases in fox populations earlier,” Jhala said.

The increased reproduction rates last for one-two years as the animals make the most of this additional nutrition that becomes suddenly available and reproduce more.

Protein is an important growth nutrient which the animals feed their young.

International Horseshoe Crab Day: Species under grave threat in Odisha

Horseshoe crabs face an uncertain future in Odisha, their largest habitat in India, even as the world celebrated the first-ever ‘International Horseshoe Crab Day’ on June 20, 2020.

Horseshoe crabs in Odisha are in danger as poachers kill them for their meat, that is popularly believed to have aphrodisiac qualities. It is estimated that hundreds of horseshoe crabs have been killed in Odisha each year to supply their meat and shells to Jharkhand, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and other states.

“It is believed that consumption of horseshoe crab meat can lengthen a person’s lifespan. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this. Many quacks also crush its carapace and mix it with water to prepare a paste, which is applied onto scars. It is shocking that the trade in horseshoe crabs is rampant in many states,” Siddhartha Pati, a noted horseshoe crab expert and director of Association for Biodiversity Conservation and Research of Odisha, said.

Horseshoe crabs are picked from the seaside areas of Kendrapara, Balasore and Bhadrak districts and are sent to other states. But so far, agencies are yet to nab any horseshoe crab smuggler in the state, Pati added.

The crackdown on horseshoe crab poachers requires superior, inter-state coordination among police and wildlife authorities of Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand and other states, he noted.

We are doing conservation work with the fishing and coastal communities of Odisha and trying our best to convince them not to kill horseshoe crabs, he said.

2 leopard skins, bones recovered in Odisha, 1 arrested

The Special Task Force (STF) of the Odisha Crime Branch recovered two leopard skins and bones at Ranapur in Nayagarh district and arrested a poacher on June 14.

The STF also recovered some photos where the poacher, Laxmidhar Nayak, a Panchayat Samiti member, and two other persons could be purportedly seen skinning the leopard in a forest. The police are on the lookout for the other two people.

“We disguised as regular customers and caught him red-handed in the Sana Maninag forest area. We seized two leopard skins and some photos. We will produce photographic evidence in court,” said Prasan Bhoi, superintendent of police, STF.

He added that seized skins and bones will be sent to Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, for chemical examination.

STF officials brought the accused to Bhubaneswar from Ranapur and are questioning him. More persons will be arrested in the case, added Bhoi.

“Preliminary investigation suggested that both leopards were shot down. The STF is investigating all angles to ascertain the exact location of poaching,” added Bhoi.

Leopards are protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Over the last 10 years, at least 155 leopards have been poached across Odisha. Leopards have been targeted by poachers for their expensive hides and other body parts.

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