Pongal spells peril for Salem’s foxes

GS Paper I

Topic: Ancient history and culture

Prelims: Vanga Nari 

What’s the News?

With Kaanum Pongal, the fourth and final day of the harvest festival, less than a week away, Forest Department officials in Salem are gearing up to prevent an unusual jallikattu-Vanga nari involving foxes.                                 

Vanga nari (Fox)

  • It is a jallikattu-like event using foxes in Tamil, is usually organised on Kaanum Pongal on the outskirts of the district as villagers.
  • This is a medium-sized fox with an elongated muzzle with black hair in small patches on the upper part of the muzzle. Its large, bushy, black-tipped tail is its most prominent feature, accounting for as much as 60% of the length of its body.
  • These are protected under Part 1 of Schedule II of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and hunting or capturing them is prohibited.
  • IUCN Red List– Least Concerned.

Cultural importance:

It is believed by villagers that it will bring bountiful rain and good fortune.

Against animal rights:

  • Despite a ban, the event has been organised for decades now.
  • Officials said foxes are a protected species under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and hunting or capturing them is prohibited.
  • The medium-sized Bengal foxes are generally found near agricultural areas. The animal undergoes cruel treatment in the name of this festival.
  • The animal is gagged and the hind legs are tied. Capturing a wild animal itself is an offence, and this helpless animal is tortured in the name of the festival.

Kaziranga has one of the highest number of wetland birds

GS Paper III

Topic: Environment and conservation

Prelims: Indian rhino vision

What’s the News?

Kaziranga, home of the world’s most one-horned rhinos, has 96 species of wetland birds — one of the highest for wildlife preserves in India.

Kaziranga tiger reserve:

  • Kaziranga, about 220 km east of Guwahati, has a total area (tiger reserve) of 1,030 sq km with a core area of 430 sq. km.
  • The park also has more than 250 seasonal water bodies, besides the Dipholu River running through it.
  • It was granted a UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1985.

Its importance:

Kaziranga is regarded as one of the finest wildlife refuges in the world.

  • The park’s contribution in saving the Indian one-horned rhinoceros from the brink of extinction at the turn of the 20th century to harbouring the single largest population of this species is a spectacular conservation achievement.
  • The other species with sizeable numbers include gadwall, common coot, lesser whistling duck, Indian spot-billed duck, little cormorant, ferruginous duck, tufted duck, Eurasian wigeon, Asian openbill, northern lapwing, ruddy shelduck and spot-billed pelican.
  • Kaziranga is also home to nine of the 14 species of primates found in the Indian subcontinent.

Wetland survey:

  • The first wetland bird survey in Kaziranga, was conducted in 2018. Rabindra Sarma, the park’s research officer said avian surveys could have been done in the 115-year-old Kaziranga earlier, but no records were maintained.

Importance of data:

  • Data on avian wealth is important because the wetlands nourish Kaziranga’s ecosystem. Increase or decrease in the number of birds is indicative of the park’s health.
  • The survey, as in 2018, was done by dividing the bird roosting areas into blocks and ensuring that errors in counting were at a minimum.

Conservation in kaziranga national park:

  • Much of the focus of conservation efforts in Kaziranga are focused on the ‘big four’ species— rhino, elephant, Royal Bengal tiger and Asiatic water buffalo.
  • There are three species of rhino in Asia—greater one-horned, Javan and Sumatran. Javan and Sumatran Rhino are critically endangered but the greater one-horned (or Indian) rhino vulnerable.
  • The 2018 census had yielded 2,413 rhinos and approximately 1,100 elephants. The tiger census of 2014 said Kaziranga had an estimated 103 tigers, the third highest population of the striped cat in India after Jim Corbett National Park (215) in Uttarakhand and Bandipur National Park (120) in Karnataka.                                   

Indian Rhino Vision 2020:

  • Its partners worked with local communities and park and government authorities to improve protection and monitoring of existing populations, constructing guard posts, patrol roads, and bridges.
  • Rhino translocations began in April 2008, and over the next 4 years, IRV 2020 moved 18 Indian rhinos from Pabitora Wildlife Sanctuary and Kaziranga National Park to Manas National Park (a protected area and UNESCO World Heritage site that had previously been home to a large rhino population before the poaching crisis).
  • An additional eight rhinos were moved to Manas by the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation.

National Rhino Conservation Strategy

  • Recently, the government of India has also launched the National Rhino Conservation Strategy for India.
  • It called for active engagement between India and Nepal to protect the species.

Conclusion:

  • Despite these successes, however, Indian rhinos are still threatened by poaching and habitat loss.  Kaziranga National Park in Assam, India, holds about 70% of the world population.
  • The park may have reached its carrying capacity and might not be able to support any more rhinos; and the entire species’ population could decimated because by a disease outbreak, natural disaster, or another acute threat.