Thursday, July 31, 2008

Wildlife thieves planned to sell haul on Internet

22 Jul, 2008, 1652 hrs IST, AFP

KOLKATA: Two Czech scientists arrested in India for stealing rare butterfly and insect species were planning to sell them on the Internet, an official said on Tuesday.

Emil Kucera, 52, and Petr Svacha, 51, were arrested last month at a hotel in Darjeeling in eastern India where officials say they were caught with more than 50 species of butterflies and rare insects, captured from a national park.

The pair appeared in court on Monday and were denied bail, assistant divisional forest officer Utpal Nag said, adding that their next court appearance was set for July 23.

"We have received copies of material downloaded by them from the Internet that reveal their intention," he said, adding that Svacha had posted a note online offering to sell the butterflies for a specified price.

"They are not as ignorant as they claim. A pen drive seized from the two Czech nationals contains the map of the Singalllia National Park where they were collecting insects and butterflies," Nag said.

The pair, who deny the charges, have received support from the international scientific community and a petition with more than 500 signatures demanding their release has been presented to the Indian prime minister.


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Milkweed counters caterpillars' appetite with fast repair

23 Jul, 2008, 1352 hrs IST, ANI

WASHINGTON: Indian-origin Cornell University researcher Anurag Agrawal says that milkweed plants seem to be shifting away from elaborate defences against caterpillars, and adopting a more energy-efficient approach.

He has observed that a monarch butterfly caterpillar, when about to devour a milkweed leaf, first disarms the plant's natural defence system by cutting its veins that deliver a toxic and sticky latex.

According to him, as the caterpillar has evolved specialised strategies to feed on the plant, milkweeds have started to put in more efforts into repairing themselves faster rather than resisting their predators.

"An important question with co-evolution is where does it end? One answer is when it becomes too costly. Some plants seem to have shifted away from resisting herbivory (plant eating) and have taken that same energy and used it to repair themselves," said Agrawal, Cornell associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, and lead author of a paper in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researcher says that his study sheds light on key theories of co-evolution, and shows that pressure by foraging insects makes plants diversify as they evolve new defensive strategies, and that such diversification follows trends in one direction or another.

During the study, he observed that some caterpillars cut a leaf's veins in a circle, and then eat it in the middle where the latex does not flow.

He also found that the monarch caterpillar had become immune to the heart poisons called cardenolides in the plant's tissues.

Using DNA sequence data to look at relationships between 38 species of milkweed, Agrawal and his colleagues found evolutionary declines in the plants' three most important resistance traits -- hairs on their leaves, cardenolides and latex -- and an escalation in their ability to re-grow.

Agrawal said that he was surprised to find that the plant became more tolerant rather than more diverse in its defences.

He speculated the reason could be because as its predators have become so specialized, the plant was better off choosing a new defensive tactic "to tolerate the herbivory damage instead of resisting it."

He, however, added that it was yet unknown whether such strategies had also evolved in animals trying to evade parasites.

He said that his study, funded by the National Science Foundation, might give plant scientists clues about profitable pest control strategies.


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Czech 'insect thieves' granted 'interim' bail

Crime Reporter
The two Czech nationals arrested for wildlife offence near Darjeeling on June 22, have been granted 'interim' bail till August 12 by the court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate, UK Nandi. However, as requested by the prosecution, the court has set several conditions to prevent them from leaving India.

The two foreigners, Petr Svacha and Emil Kucera were arrested for illegally collecting rare insects in Singhalila National Park, violating Indian wildlife laws. About 500 live and preserved insects were seized from their hotel room in Shrikhola near Darjeeling. Among their collection, which was sent to the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) for identification, the forest officials in Darjeeling had identified Delias sanaca, a butterfly listed under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act.

The prosecution had, during earlier hearings, requested denial of their bail on grounds that the accused could possibly jump it to avoid the proceedings against them.

Saurabh Sharma, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) advocate, who is assisting the prosecution, said, "We were hoping that they would not be granted bail. Alternatively, if granted, we had pleaded for a 'conditional' bail to prevent them from escaping. On several occasions, foreigners who have committed crimes in India have managed to escape conviction by jumping bail."

Addressing the concerns of the prosecution, the court set several conditions on the bail to restrict their movement. According to the court, the accused will have to deposit their passports with the Inquiry Officer and will have to take prior permission from the court for leaving Darjeeling Sub-division. They will also have to report to the Police Inspector In-charge of Darjeeling Sadar, twice-a-week. Additionally, the accused will have to submit two surety bonds of Rs 1500 and a personal bond of Rs 3000 each. They have also been warned not to interfere in the investigations against them.

The accused had, during the time of their arrest, pleaded that they were collecting the insects for research purposes and that they were unaware of the Indian laws. However, post-arrest investigation had revealed that Kucera, a forester, was involved in the trade of insects. They were also found to have violated other administrative procedures, as required by the local laws.

Utpal Kumar Nag, ADFO, Wildlife Division-1, who had led the arrest a month ago, said, "This is just an interim bail and they have been confined to Darjeeling. So, it is not likely to be able to hurt the case."

"The ZSI has given a preliminary report; the insects have not yet been classified to the species level. However, the authorities in ZSI suspect that the collection has certain species listed under Schedule I and Schedule II Part II," Nag added.

Ashok Kumar, vice-chairman, WTI, said, "An interim bail is different from a normal bail, in that, it can be withdrawn easily without any hearing, if they are found to have tried anything against the conditions set by the court. A full bail, on the other hand, has to undergo a lengthy process for cancellation."

"The case has been quite highly publicised because of the profiles of the accused. This was a good thing, because if this had not happened, they could have easily camouflaged themselves among other foreign tourists and escaped to Nepal through the porous borders. But, because of the publicity, escape attempts may prove to be more difficult as they are easily identifiable now," he added.


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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

World Heritage Committee to meet in Quebec to inscribe new sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List

Monday, June 23, 2008

The World Heritage Committee will consider requests for the inscription of new sites on UNESCO's World Heritage List when it meets for its 32nd session in Québec, Canada, from 2 to 10 July.

Natural properties submitted for inscription to the World Heritage List: Quarry of the Fabrica Nacional de Cementos S.A. (FANCESA), Cal Orck’O, Sucre, Departamento Chuquisaca (Bolivia), an extension to the Pirin National Park (Bulgaria), The Joggins Fossil Cliffs (Canada), Mount Sanqingshan National Park (China), Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems (France), Surtsey (Iceland), Bradyseism in Phlegraean Area (Italy), Saryarka – Steppe and Lakes of Northern Kazakhstan (Kazakhstan), Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (Mexico), Hovsgol Lake and its Watershed (Mongolia), “The Putorana Plateau” Nature Complex (Russian Federation), Swiss Tectonic Arena Sardona (Switzerland), Socotra Archipelago (Yemen).


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Beautiful butterflies

Butterflies are important indicators of the health of the ecosystem.

Colours of nature : Beauty at its best.
In India, there are about 1,500 varieties of butterflies. The best places to find them are Arunachal Pradesh, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Darjeeling and Sikkim, Ladakh, Nilgiris and Nainital.Dwindling numbers

There was a time when there was a roaring trade of butterflies. People, calling themselves research scholars. The local people trapped the butterflies, believing them. The rate per butterfly varied from Rs. 10 to Rs. 1500 per piece.

Butterflies were trapped using the colour trap, the misture trap, the rini and stool trap, the vinegar trap, the illusion trap and finally catpturing them with the use of a net.

Although illegal trade has been stopped, habitat destruction and pollution, the use of chemical pesticides and insecticides have taken their toll.

As a health indicator of the ecosystem, detailed study of this magnificent variety of animal becomes all the more important and demanding.


Rashtrapati Bhawan to boast of 'nature trail'

New Delhi (PTI): The palatial Rashtrapati Bhawan will soon have a 'Nature Trail,' on the lines of a mini-ecosystem at the official residence of Delhi Chief Minister.

"Showcasing the rich biodiversity having scenic beauty, indigenous and exotic trees and birds, reptiles and small mammals besides pheasants, the trail will ensure a best and richest treat for the green lovers," Christy L Fernandes, Secretary to the President, told PTI.

He said the nature walk will be organised every Saturday for the visitors arriving to watch Ceremonial Changing of the Guard organised at the forecourt of the Bhawan.

As per plan "around 2 km-long walk will be developed starting from Dahikhana till the Golf Course. The visitors will get a glimpse of rich assortment of flora and fauna flourishing at the Estate on the way," Fernandez said.

C R Babu, emeritus at Delhi University's Centre for Environmental Management of Degraded Eco-system instrumental in developing the concept, said that the trail will cover around 50 hectares of green landscape of the erstwhile viceregal lodge exposing rare and exotic birds such as hornbill and animals like deer, jackal and peacocks.

"On the way, there will be water settlements to highlight aquatic life, a butterfly garden which we envisage to develop to enrich the biodiversity of the area.

"We will try and ensure that we don't disturb any living creature when we plan the planting pattern of the garden," Babu added.


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Biodiversity Conservation of biotic-abiotic and biotic-biotic interactions

Plant-ecology is serving as shelter and secure place for wild birds. There is no trophic relation of the birds with the sal plant, but in ecological-niche function they are very much related (left); This is mating behaviour of birdwing butterfly (Troides) by hanging with the specific plant the Aristolochia.
BY now the term 'biodiversity conservation' has become very popular but the meaning of it is not clear even to many educated people in the society. It is generally understood that the conservation of living organisms is the conservation of biodiversity. But actually the conservation of the biodiversity is the conservation of interactions in an ecosystem.

Biodiversity means the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are parts. This includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems. Biodiversity has three main components: ecosystem biodiversity; species diversity; and genetic diversity.

  • Ecosystem biodiversity describes the variety of different ecosystems found in a region. A categorisation of the combination of animals, plants, micro-organisms and the physical environment with which they are associated, is the basis for recognising ecosystems.

  • Species diversity describes the number and variety of species in a given area.

  • Genetic diversity describes the range of genetic characteristics found within a species and among different species.
Ecosystem is a system or phenomenon of interaction between abiotic and biotic factors in a certain area of the biosphere. The biosphere may be divided into smaller ecological units each of which is termed as an ecosystem. This is a term first to describe a natural unit that consists of living and non-living parts, interacting to form a stable system. The ecosystem may then be defined as a unit of the biosphere consisting of organisms and their physical and chemical environment tuned in a machine-like organization and driven by an external energy source, the solar radiation. So long as the system receives energy, it is self-sustaining. Fundamental concepts include the flow of energy via food chains and food webs and the cycling of nutrients biogeochemically.

Ecosystem principles can be applied at all scales equally, for instance, to a lake, an ocean, or the whole planet. The ecosystem represents a distinct combination of air, soil and water (habitat), along with vegetation, animal and microbial life, making it self-sustaining. An ecosystem is any spatial or organizational unit which includes a community of living organisms and non-living substances of environment interacting to produce materials between the living and non-living parts. Further, an ecosystem may be natural as a pond, a lake, a river, an estuary, an ocean, a forest, or it may be man-made or artificial like an aquarium, a dam, a cropland, a city and so on.

As the ecosystem is to harbour both species and genetic diversity, so it holds the conservation strategies and the conservation of three types of biodiversity as a whole. Let us see how the biodiversity conservation itself interprets the conservation of biotic-biotic and biotic-abiotic interactions. The interaction between biotic and abiotic factors means the interaction between living organisms (plant and animals) and the atmospheric non-living materials. On the other hand, biotic-biotic interaction means the interactions among the living organisms i.e. between plant and animals or among animals or among plants. Biodiversity conservation holds the conservation of energy-flow in nature among the living organisms in the living form. “Conservation of ecosystem is the vital part of the conservation of biodiversity” because ecosystem diversity is one of the three biodiversity types.

Biodiversity conservation is the assemblage of enhancement of species richness, maintenance of species richness, sustenance of species richness, and survival of species richness in an ecosystem. This means the conservation of interaction of all dynamism of interactions among species diversity, genetic diversity and ecosystem diversity. In the hierarchy of interactions plants occupy the first position and characteristically designated as the first trophic level in the system of energy-flow when biotic factors are in the ladder-steps of the energy-flow in the form of “being eaten”.

Trophic level is the position of an organism in the food chain, determined by the number of transfers of energy that occur between the nonliving energy source and that position. Trophic levels include producers (photosynthesizers and chemosynthesizers that convert light or chemical energy into living material) and several levels of consumers (animals eating plants, animals eating animal, etc. The trophic level of an organism describes how far it is removed from plants in the food chain. Autotrophs constitute the first (producer) trophic level. The second trophic level contains herbivores (primary consumers) and so forth. An organism cannot always be assigned to one trophic level. Thus, some plants, such as sundews, are carnivores (third or fourth trophic level) as well as autotrophs (first trophic level). Many mammals, such as pigs and humans, are omnivores and also belong to several trophic levels because they eat both plants and animals.

Ecosystems seldom have more than five trophic levels. This is because there is not enough food or energy in the top trophic level to feed another level. First, not all the food available at one trophic level is actually eaten by animals at the next level. At each level, the biomass, the total mass of all organisms present, is only partly consumed. Second, most of the energy an animal eats does not go to make it fatterit is used in respiration; for the maintenance and repair of body tissues; and for locomotion, circulation and feeding. As we will expect from the laws of thermodynamics, none of these processes is very efficient. Some useful energy is lost as heat and as entropy each time energy is converted from one form to another. Because of these energy losses from one trophic level to the next, there is not enough energy left to support higher trophic levels. Energy from the sun enters an ecosystem during photosynthesis. Then it passes from one to five trophic levels in the ecosystem's food web.

Now question comes 'whether conservation of biodiversity is the mere conservation of plantation or not'. It is already stated that in the energy-flow system, plant is the basic structural form and first trophic level. This first trophic level is characterized by three characters at a time, whereas the other trophic levels (the animals/different consumers) in an ecosystem are the successive ones and having only two characters. Among the three characters, the plant can convert abiotic energy into biotic molecules and can manufacture its own food (first character); the plant can store the energy in the biotic form (second character); and the plant can transfer the energy to the other trophic levels (to the consumers) (third character) which is occurred by the process of “being eaten”.

In an ecosystem, all other trophic levels (the consumers) are only having with the second and third characters of the first trophic level. So, it is evidenced scientifically that no animals can exist and multiply in an ecosystem if the first trophic level is absent. Directly or indirectly an animal has to depend on the plant in an ecosystem. If plants are available, animals get nutrition first and then can take shelter, can mate, can prepare for nesting, can produce offsprings, can perform social activities (where necessary and essential), can cause the speciation, can enrich the species richness, and can sustain the species richness. This sustenance is the conservation of all living organisms in an area; and then the conservation of biodiversity.

The plants are not only used as the nutritional sources for animals, but they are also used as ecological sources and as the ecological niche-sources. The birds are found to take characteristic rest in the trees, even if these trees are not found to supply them food materials. So need for the trees is multidimensional, many of the needs have yet not been identified and discovered. Another interesting example of the plant association is birdwing butterfly (Troidesscientifically named) with the specific plant (the Indian birthwort, Aristolochiascientifically named). It is to be noted that birdwings are the largest butterflies in the world. Some of the species of the butterfly are available in Bangladesh. They do not found to copulate without the Aristolochia plant. If the specific plant is not found, the butterfly cannot go for successful breeding. For progeny-maintenance of this species, association with the plant is absolutely necessary. This peculiar mating behaviour is a simple example of an interaction of the biotic-biotic factors in an ecosystem.

Fast decrease of Modhupur forest biodiversity has been blamed on the “shrinking of forest”. Many kinds of wild animals including leopard, wild buffalo, wild cow, wild hog, wild cock, peacock, spotted deer, jackal, wild cat, mongoose, wild goat, red mouth monkey, black mouth baboon, porcupine, squirrel, hare and bocat were found in Modhupur forests only a few decades ago(as reported by the Forest Department). Birds including hawks, kites, vultures, mynah, nightingale, swallow, owl, pigeon, dove, skylark, sparrow, wood-pecker, parrot, different vaieties of martin, kingfihers were available in the forest in high population. Of the reptiles, snakes were most available like python and poisonous cobra. Different varieties of frogs were described as amphibian fauna. Number of varieties of environment friendly invertebrates included worms (earthworms), white ants, different kinds of soil dwelling carabeids, most decorative butterflies were mostly available in the Modhupur forests.

To save Modhupur forest-biodiversity it is highly necessary to save the forests meaning as save the plant population and increase the sustenance of plant species richness.

Now the question is why plants and plantation are the major event to go for biodiversity conservation. Because if plant is there initiation of bio-conservation is there, if plant is not there no initiation of bio-conservation. Plantation is the stimulation of the fact-initiation. If there is no stimulation, there is no response; if there is no response there is no fact for happening; if there is no happening (specially among the living beings) there will be no behavioural aspects and then there will be no appearance of conservation functionality in nature.

Dr M A Bashar is Professor Department of Zoology and Ex-Dean, Faculty of Biological Sciences, University of Dhaka.

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