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Indian bull frog: the Andamans’ new colonisers

A narrow road bifurcates the hyper-green paddy fields of Webi village in Middle Andaman, in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. A clear stream flows around the Webi, home to the Karen community, brought to these shores from Myanmar 93 years ago.

At dusk, as fading sunlight paints the surrounding hills in silhouette, the calls of cicadas, crickets and frogs rise in crescendo. In the cacophonic stillness, a centipede winds its way across the empty weathered road. And then, in the blink of an eye, it’s gone, swallowed whole by a recent migrant to the island — the Indian bullfrog (Hoplobatrachus tigerinus).

Barely 10 cm long, this particular specimen is small. But the larger ones weigh at least half a kilo. The golden stripe on their backs and the glitter around their throats shine in the diffused light of a mobile phone. Less than two feet from the centipede-eater sits another frog. Next to that, one more, and another, and another… scores of frogs in varied sizes, basking in the warmth of the asphalt. Every now and then, one of them leaps toward the murky waters of the paddy fields. There is nothing frog-like about the deep, guttural croaks of these prolific breeders. Rather, they sound more like a bull with a sore throat.

“It wasn’t here even five years ago. Now they’ve taken over the village,” says Nau Thaw Raytoo, a mother of four, who lives in a concrete-bamboo house with her children, their wives, and her six grandchildren. Her broken Hindi shifts to fluent, high-pitched Karen when instructing raucous kids.

The bullfrog is only the latest entrant in the Andamans’ 150-year-old history of invasives. Picture shows Gannatabla village at Diglipur in North Andaman.

The bullfrog is only the latest entrant in the Andamans’ 150-year-old history of invasives. Picture shows Gannatabla village at Diglipur in North Andaman.   | Photo Credit: K. Murali KumarMORE-INGround Zero

The Indian bull frog, a recent arrival from the mainland, is steadily occupying the islands’ ecosystem and threatening the local economy. Mohit M. Rao reports on the bizarre man-frog conflict brewing in the islands

Barely 10 cm long, this particular specimen is small. But the larger ones weigh at least half a kilo. The golden stripe on their backs and the glitter around their throats shine in the diffused light of a mobile phone. Less than two feet from the centipede-eater sits another frog. Next to that, one more, and another, and another… scores of frogs in varied sizes, basking in the warmth of the asphalt. Every now and then, one of them leaps toward the murky waters of the paddy fields. There is nothing frog-like about the deep, guttural croaks of these prolific breeders. Rather, they sound more like a bull with a sore throat.

“It wasn’t here even five years ago. Now they’ve taken over the village,” says Nau Thaw Raytoo, a mother of four, who lives in a concrete-bamboo house with her children, their wives, and her six grandchildren. Her broken Hindi shifts to fluent, high-pitched Karen when instructing raucous kids.

Webi is just among the scores of villages in the islands where the amphibian has arrived in hordes. An unusual man-frog conflict is brewing. The voracious animal gulps down anything that would fit in its jaws: centipedes, leeches, native frogs, lizards, small snakes, and even chicks and ducklings, which are an important source of food for the islanders.

“I’ve seen them eat chicks, swallowing the head whole,” says Raytoo, adding that of the 15 chicks hatched in the family’s chicken coop this year, only three have survived. Balakishore, whose father is Ranchi (an overarching term for Jharkhand tribals who were settled here to clear the forests decades ago) and mother is Karen, has lost 50 ducklings to the frogs. When grown, each duck would have fetched at least ₹300 in the local market.

In the villages carved out of the virgin Andaman forests, the amphibian invader has evoked both surprise (“where did they come from?”) — and anxiety (“when will they go away?”). The bullfrog, found widely in mainland India and protected under Schedule IV of the Indian Wildlife Act 1972, is making the most of a free run that it’s enjoying in the erstwhile penal colony.

In the Andaman Islands, it can rain eight months of the year. The first rains in May are the signal for the bullfrogs to come out of the streams and agricultural ponds that have become their shelters. They breed by the hundreds, with each female able to lay between 3,500 and 20,000 eggs. Not all survive, but enough live to breed again, ensuring that the horde extends their range. With an average life span of seven years, and time to sexual maturity of 10-12 months, their population can dramatically shoot up in a very short time, which is precisely what happened once they landed in the islands.

“This is an invasion,” says Nitya Mohanty, a doctoral student at the Centre for Invasion Biology at Stellenbosch University (South Africa). His research, done with the Andaman and Nicobar Environment Team, has been on invasive species — first on the chitals (spotted deer) that have established their herds in the Andamans, and now on the bullfrog invasion.

So far, the bullfrog has been found in six out of the eight major inhabited islands. In 2017, it was even found in Little Andaman, which is separated from the Greater Andaman Islands by more than 55 km of sea. “This kind of incursion into remote islands is not naturally possible in such a short time,” says Mohanty.

The frog has acquired many names in the course of its journey through multi-cultural settlements of the island: shona beng (‘Golden frog’, for the prominent golden stripe) among the Bengali settlers; haramendak (‘Green frog’, for its olive-green skin) in Ranchi villages, where you could hear Oraon, Sadri or Munda being spoken; and dey-phala (‘Green frog”) in villages where the 2,500-odd Karen community stays. Whatever the name or language, the narrative of economic loss and ecological threat is a constant.

How they spread

Mohanty’s team sought to define the contours of this “invasion” through interviews with locals. As early as 2001, the bullfrog had already established breeding populations in one village. By 2009, it had spread to seven villages. Since then, at least 53 villages have reported the bullfrog in worrying densities.

Like most contemporary tales in the archipelago, the bullfrog story may also have to do with the earthquake and the tsunami that devastated large parts of Andaman and Nicobar islands in 2004. Following the decline of natural fish stock, the local administration encouraged integrated farming, with aquaculture in agricultural ponds. There are now over 2,500 such ponds in the islands, most of them filled with stocks of exotic, fast-growing fish imported from the mainland.

The fishling stocks (mostly from Kolkata) released into some of these ponds were contaminated with bullfrog eggs and tadpoles. All fingers point at the local fisheries department, which has, however, dismissed these claims and accused private traders of having brought the invader to the islands.

Most villagers believe that the bullfrog’s first hop into the islands was in Diglipur, in the northern tip of the Andamans, where its prolific spread first became a talking point. By 2011, it was spotted at Mayabunder in Middle Andaman, and by 2013, it was found in Wandoor, near the southern tip of the Andamans, around 300 km from Diglipur. While many were accidental releases, in some areas, it had been released by villagers as a fast-breeding cheap food.

Researchers Harikrishnan Surendran and Karthikeyan Vasudevan had been working in Wandoor since 2008, and were the first to report the presence of the bullfrog as an invasive in a scientific journal. “[The spread] is not surprising at all, given the high reproductive output of Indian bullfrogs and their association with agricultural areas… it was only a matter of time before they got introduced to other islands,” says Surendran.

Nearly two years ago, while engaged in construction and repairs at a resort near Wandoor in South Andaman, M. Alazhagan, 35, saw a multitude of frogs thronging the swimming pool. Some, he says, had turned yellow, with blue globules on their throat — males decked up for the breeding season. He approached one, and it froze. He decided to take a selfie: him grinning in the foreground, with the frog posing meditatively in the background. “It looked so strange! So much bigger than the frogs we were used to seeing and so colourful,” he recalls.

But fascination soon gave way to frustration. In North Wandoor village, located at the edge of the Lohabarrack Salt Water Crocodile Sanctuary, it isn’t the crocs that villagers keep an eye on.

The tsunami had created salty channels in the area and rendered large tracts infertile. So, many had turned to creating agricultural ponds — to rear fish and also because they would serve as sources of freshwater when the rains filled it up. Shushil Mondal found that his pond had been taken over by frogs. “Earlier I could get 20 kg of fish whenever I spread the net. Now, I get only shona beng. There is no fish left now. It has eaten everything,” he says.

The frogs pose a threat particularly to the livelihoods of landless labourers, such as Parimal Das and his family of eight. They had migrated to the Andamans from Kolkata nearly 20 years ago, and are now nomads, leasing land wherever it is available to grow vegetables. Agriculture in a rain-heavy, saline-rich soil is difficult, and free-range chickens are an important and steady source of income, with each fetching up to ₹600. “I’ve lost six chicks this year already. We had to build a murghi ghar [wooden makeshift cage on stilts] to lock the chickens at night, but even then the frogs manage to squeeze through,” he says.

On the other side of the Greater Andaman islands, the Andaman Trunk Road snakes its way through dense forests. Trees form a seemingly impenetrable canopy, creepers drape branches in a gown of broad leaves, and undergrowth form layers upon layers above the damp soil. Amidst the shades of green, the Andaman Crape Myrtle, a deciduous tree, bursts in bouquets of small lilac flowers.

Five kilometres of these forests separate Gannatabla village — a settlement of Jharkhand tribals — from the nearest village in North Andaman. The village is a clump of 50 houses and a series of rectangular paddy fields. There is no pond here where fish is cultured. The bullfrog, however, lurks in these fields and drinking water wells.

Gannatabla village at Diglipur in North Andaman.

“We don’t know how it has come here. Three years ago, we spotted it in the streams that come through the forests when we went fishing for kala macchi (black fish). Now the fish is hardly seen but the frog is everywhere,” says 29-year-old Johnson Kirketa, suggesting that the bullfrog had crossed the forests through channels and streams.

Colonisers among the natives

Bullfrogs are found all over mainland India, but it is in the unique ecosystem of the islands that it becomes a major threat. Unlike the mainland, resources on the islands are scarce for big animals, while natural calamities are more frequent. The wildlife here has evolved in a miniature setting: there are no large herbivores (the largest is the Andaman wild pig) or large carnivores.

“Islands have fewer species, but their nature make them irreplaceable. They are found no where else in the world… This makes the entire food web in the islands very different from that of the mainland,” says Vasudevan, senior principal scientist at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad.

The Zoological Survey of India has found that out of the 9,130 marine and terrestrial species discovered so far in the islands, 1,032 species (or 11.30%) are endemic (found only in the Andamans). In the constraints of land, this endemicity increases to nearly 25%, or 816 out of the 3,271 land species. These creatures had evolved to cope with natural disaster, but have little capacity to withstand rapid, human-induced impacts. “There is not much room for redundancy and refuges in these islands,” says Vasudevan.

But the bullfrog is only the latest entrant in the Andamans’ 150-year-old history of invasives, with alien species introduced in waves by the British, Japanese, and ‘mainland’ Indians having gradually colonised many parts of the island territory. These include the elephant(introduced for logging and later abandoned), chital, hog deer, and barking deer (all three for game meat).

In 2013, using satellite imagery, Rauf Ali from the Puducherry-based Foundation for Ecological Research, Advocacy and Learning found that forests with elephants and chitals had suffered significant degradation (Interview Island) compared to places where they were absent (Little Andaman). It’s a one-two punch: elephants knock down trees and strip barks, while chitals prevent regeneration of forests by grazing on seedlings.

The Indian bullfrog

Invasives have come in all forms to the Andamans. The Japanese introduced the Giant African Snail, one of the 100 worst invasive species as described by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in the 1940s during their three-year occupation. It has now established itself as a major agricultural pest. Meanwhile, about 90% of the fish being bred in ponds are carps and other exotic fish which have even established natural breeding sites outside human-created ponds. Similarly, the islands are home to at least 592 introduced alien plant species, some indirectly pushing endemic plants to the fringe.

Away from the obvious economic impact, it is in the sounds of the night that one can perhaps gauge the ecological impact of the invasive bullfrog. Across infested villages, residents say sightings of native species of frogs have reduced. Full grown natives pale in size to even a young bullfrog. Water snakes, a common accompaniment for the paddy farmer, and centipedes are in decline.

But even more worrying signs were found in the gut of the frog. For months, Mohanty and his associates captured and “stomach flushed” contents out of 798 individuals belonging to two native species and the invasive bullfrog. From the gut of the bullfrog came out native frogs, the endemic Andaman blind snake, the endemic emerald gecko, skinks and others. “Adult bullfrogs pose a threat to small endemic vertebrates [from frogs to birds]. Within frog species, it can have a two-pronged impact on the Limnonectes genus of frogs. Bullfrogs not only eat the native frogs, even their diets overlap, indicating a possibility of competition,” he says.

It isn’t just their size that works to their advantage. It’s their appetite for meat, even at the tadpole stage. Bullfrog tadpoles are highly carnivorous, preying on other tadpoles (even native tadpoles) heavily.

Controlling invasives

In a few villages, the explosion in population from May onward sees a feast of bullfrogs: skin fried to a crisp, their legs boiled or fried. Here, a kilo (roughly three medium-sized frogs) is sold for ₹60 — the cheapest source of protein in the market. In other places, it is anger that has humans killing the frog. “Whenever I find it on the road, I beat it with a stick. If it jumps, I’ll jump into the paddy field and chase it. One dead frog means one lesser mother laying thousands of eggs,” says a villager in North Andaman, whose name has been withheld as killing bullfrogs is a criminal act under wildlife laws. In Wandoor, a family claims to have killed nearly 50 frogs in July.

However, these are mere dents in a burgeoning population. “It is difficult…I don’t see a way to stop it. The government should think of something. Else, in five years, poora basti bhar jayega  [the village will be filled with frogs],” says Krishna Singh at Mohanpur village in North Andaman. He claims to have lost 30 chicks to the frog.

Murmurs of the conflict have started, with the issue being raised by local political representatives. “It really is a big menace. But we have to see how the population stabilises,” says S. Dam Roy, Principal Scientist at the Central Island Agricultural Research Institute, Port Blair, which operates the local agriculture helpline.

Stung by the inflow of invasives, and with the fear that more could come, it was in the serene, undulating plantations that form the CIARI headquarters that a plan was hatched five years ago to start a ₹40-crore bio-security laboratory for quarantine and research. The plan did not materialise.

Globally, invasive species, particularly in islands, are becoming the focus of numerous organisations. The Convention on Biological Diversity has said that invasives have contributed to 40% of all animal extinctions since the 17th century. The IUCN has formulated guidelines for managing invasives specifically in islands, largely involving data collection, community engagement, policy measures and management plans.

Far away from the concerns of scientific papers and environmentalists, in the government offices at Port Blair, there is little panic about invasives. “They are just animals, and nature will find a way to live in harmony,” says Tarun Coomar, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, who also holds the post of Environment Secretary in the relatively small administration governing the islands.

This confidence is not reflected among the villagers. While many are resigned to the invasion, some suggest commercial harvest for export to South-East Asia, for history has shown that animal populations crash when they have an economic value attached to them.

But for now, it is an unchecked invasion. “Bullfrogs have reached little Andaman, the next frontier is Nicobar. There are other islands they are yet to invade, and we must do everything to stop that. Signs at jetties about the adverse economic impact of bullfrogs and the need to check contamination of fish stocks could be useful,” says Mohanty.

For millenia, the islands, now a Union Territory, were largely disconnected, literally and figuratively, from the mainland. In more ways than one, the landscape here resembles those in Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia than mainland India.

In ethos too, the disconnect remains. In government offices, officials caution outsiders (whose annual numbers touch 6.5 lakh, as compared to 3.9 lakh residents) to take it slow in the islands: “Ye mainland nahiyeh Andaman hai  [This is not the mainland, this is Andaman].” But it may not stay that way for long. As the croaks of the bullfrog reverberate through the islands, their clamour assumes the urgency of a clarion call — to act before it is too late.

Mohit M Rao

Nature, Science

Rare tortoise species sighted for second time in Arunachal

Another ‘impressed’ tortoise, also known as Manouria impressa, was sighted in Arunachal Pradesh recently. This is the second time this tortoise species has been found since its discovery in the state in June this year. 
The second sighting of Manouria Impressa occurred at Kakoi area under Banderdewa forest division in Papum Pare district recently, officials said.

The tortoise is a young male, which was rescued by one Waru Nakong, a native of Kakoi. The rescued tortoise was handed over to Itanagar zoo on Friday. 

It was later handed over to the Itanagar zoo.

The impressed tortoise (Manouria impressa), occurs in mountainous forest areas in Southeast Asia in Burma, southern China, ThailandLaosVietnamCambodiaMalaysia and Northeast India[2]. The species has a golden brown shell and skin. Adults are much smaller than their relatives the Asian forest tortoise (Manouria emys), with a maximum size of 35 cm (14 in) carapace length.

The impressed tortoise lives at high elevations, up to 2,000 m (6,600 ft). Its behavior is little known; diet in the wild may consist largely of mushrooms, although bamboo shoots are also eaten. The species is known for being difficult to keep alive in captivity; although its status in the wild is uncertain, it is eaten widely by local people and little captive breeding has occurred.

Nakong said his father sighted the tortoise and informed him about it. He added that earlier the villagers used to kill tortoises for food, but now he is hopeful that they will not do so as they know these tortoises are an endangered species. 

Range forest officer of Raga under Hapoli Forest Division, Bunty Tao, has first discovered the rare species of the tortoise. Right now, there are three Manouria Impressa in the Itanagar Zoo, out of which two are male and one female. The one rescued from Kakoi is a young male tortoise.

Because of the discovery of this rare species of tortoise in Arunachal, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has written a letter of appreciation to the state forest department, informed Tao. 

The discovery of Manouria Impressa in June this year in Yazali under Lower Subansiri district has increased the total number to 29 species of non-marine chelonians and five recorded tortoises in the country.

According to an expert, the male is smaller than the female, which is 30cm in length. This tortoise eats mushroom, cucumber, pumpkin along with few other selective food items, informed SC Paul, a forester in the Itanagar Biological Park.       PTI

Nature, Science

Multiple threats to Himalayan biodiversity

The Indian Himalayas, which constitute about 12% of the country’s landmass, is home to about 30.16% of its fauna, says a new publication from the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI).

The publication, Faunal Diversity of Indian Himalaya, lists 30,377 species/subspecies in the region with the entire identified fauna in the country adding up to 1,00,762.

Spread across six States — from Jammu and Kashmir in the west through Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and West Bengal’s Darjeeling to Arunachal Pradesh in the far east —the Indian Himalayas are divided into two bio-geographic zones — the Trans-Himalaya and the Himalaya, based on physiographic, climatic and eco-biological attributes.

Pit viper

Pit viper

Abundance of species

The entire region, spread over 3.95 lakh sq. km., is home to 280 species of mammals, 940 species of birds, 316 species of fishes, 200 species of reptiles and 80 species of amphibians. This put together accounts for 27.6% of the total vertebrate diversity of the country.

The central Himalayas are the most rich in faunal diversity with 14,183 species, followed by the west Himalayas, which is home to 12,022 species.

Dr. Kailash Chandra, Director of ZSI, one of the authors of the publication, said no other geographic region in the country is as unique and influences the ecology and bio-geography of the country as the Indian Himalayas.

Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) seen near Rhongo village Ladakh (1)

Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) seen near Rhongo village Ladakh 

Extensive collaboration

According to Dr. Chandra, 85 taxonomic experts and specialists of various groups of faunal groups actively collaborated and contributed more than 50 chapters on the organisms, their habitats and the threats facing them.

In addition to Dr. Chandra, the publication has been co-authored by K.C. Gopi, Devanshu Gupta, Bausudev Tripathi and Vikas Kumar.

Measuring the range of species spread over the biotic provinces of the vast Indian Himalayan land mass, the authors aimed to identify areas for future research.

Dr. Chandra said the fauna of the region exhibited an intermingling of both the Oriental and Palaearctic-Ethiopian elements. He explained that the eastern parts of the Indian Himalayas, a bio-diversity hotspot, had tropical elements with their affinities from Indo-Chinese and Malayan sub-regions of the Oriental region. The fauna of the western part of the Indian Himalayas on the other hand, comprises the Mediterranean and Ethiopian elements.

The Indian Himalayas also have 131 protected areas, which cover 9.6% of the entire protected area of the country, almost the same as the Western Ghats (10% of protected areas), another biodiversity hotspot in the country. The protected areas include 20 national parks, 71 wildlife sanctuaries, five tiger reserves, four biosphere reserves and seven Ramsar Wetland sites.

The publication lists 133 vertebrate species of the region cited as threatened in the IUCN Red List. This includes 43 species of mammals like the critically endangered Pygmy Hog, the Namdapha flying squirrel and the endangered Snow leopard, the Red Panda and the Kashmir Gray Langur.

Fifty-two species of birds are also in the threatened category like the critically endangered White-Bellied Heron and Siberian crane and vulnerable species like the Black Necked crane and the Indian Spotted eagle, among others. Of the 940 bird species found in the Indian Himalayas, 39 are endemic to the region.

The Indian Himalayas host 1,249 species/subspecies of butterflies, with the highest density recorded in Arunachal Pradesh. Some of the rare high-altitude butterflies found in the Himalayas are Parnassius stoliczkanus (Ladakh banded Apollo) and Parnassius epaphus (Red Apollo), listed under Schedule I and Schedule II of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, respectively.

Role of climate change

According to experts, most of the threatened species of vertebrates, particularly mammals, require population assessment and study of the role of climate change on their habitat.

Climate change is the major threat as far as mammals and birds are concerned. The impact is visible in the shifting distribution of sensitive species like the Asiatic Black Bear, the Snow leopard, and the Himalayan Marmot. “Carnivores and their habitats are threatened by ever-increasing human-wildlife conflict in the region,” the publication states.

Habitat loss due to land use change, illegal wildlife trade, forest fires and increasing anthropogenic activities pose threats to this Himayalan biodiversity, the publication underlines.

by Shiv Sahay Singh

Environment, Science

Endangered Himalayan yew, high value medicinal plant of Himalaya, on the brink of extinction

by Seema Sharma | TNN |

Kullu based GB Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development based in Himachal Pardesh has
conducted a study on ‘Population Ecology of the Endangered Himalayan Yew, in Khokhan Wildlife Sanctuary (Khokhan WLS) of
North western Himalaya for conservation management.
Yew is an endangered native high value medicinal plant of the Himalayan region. The several medicinal properties of the bark
and leaves of this species have increased its risk of extinction due to pressures for utilization. The species does not regenerate
from seed which is another risk factor. Six forest communities where the species is present were sampled in the study, which
revealed that abundance of the species, impacts of harvesting and its current regeneration patterns indicate that it may soon
be disappear from the Sanctuary. A plan for conservation the remaining sub-population was also presented in the study, which
could provide a template for conservation in other locations where this species is at risk.
The objective of the research were to assess the status of Himalayan yew in the Khokhan WLS to provide factors responsible
for depletion of the population and develop a strategy for conservation of the species in the sanctuary.
Khokhan WLS is located in the Kullu district in North West Himalaya. Globally , the yew is primarily valued for the medicinal
properties of taxol. As per dictionary meaning, a compound, originally obtained from the bark of the yew tree, which has been
found to inhibit the growth of certain cancers. Its anti-cancerous properties were first reported in 1964. In India, the
conservation community became concerned that increased utilisation of Himalayan yew made it more vulnerable. The tree is
also a source of drug Zarnab, which is frequently used in the Unani system of medicine. The extract derived from the bark and
leaves is used to cure bronchitis, asthma, acute headache, cough &cold and poisonous insect bites and is also used as
aphrodisiac.
5/11/2019 Endangered Himalayan yew, high value medicinal plant of Himalaya, on the brink of extinction – Times of India
https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/endangered-himalayan-yew-high-value-medicinal-plant-of-himalaya-on-the-brink-of-extinction/articleshowprint/69250275.cms 2/2
Besides from its medicinal use, yew wood has value as an extremely hard and durable wood product. In East-Anglia and India,
yew wood has been used for making furniture, for wood carving and also for fuel. Because of its many beneficial uses,
Himalayan yew has been exploited to the brink of extinction. Its habitats have been degraded by deforestation and human land
uses. These effects are further exacerbated by the species’ relative intolerance to fire and drought and poor regeneration.
S.S. Samant , head of the GB Pant Institute said, “Although the present study was limited to one location, its finding indicate that
there is an urgent need to develop an appropriate conservation strategy for this species. The population of Himalayan yew
throughout the Indian Himalayan region should be inventoried using standard ecological method.
A monitoring plan should be developed and implemented to determine trends in existing populations. Apart from this,
sustainable methods of bark and leaf extraction should be developed and disseminated to local inhabitant.
Further Research should be done on the regeneration of this species, both vegetative and by seed.” He further recommended
in his study that an effort should be made to enlist the aid of local residents in propagating the species. In-situ conservation of
the species should be promoted. Seedlings developed from seeds and cuttings should be transplanted to appropriate
locations in the sanctuary and their growth and survival should be monitored.
His co-researcher Shreekar Pant mentioned in the study that collection of wood for fuel by the gujjars and inhabitants of the
peripheral villages has caused damage, increased susceptibility to disease and likewise contributed to mortality. The
information gathered during this study indicated that 50% of the surviving yew trees have been affected by bark removal and
remainder are subject to lopping and felling for fuel. Most bark is collected from the largest trees (60% are affected).

Science, Space

India to get another ‘eye in the sky’ on May 22

The Indian Space Research Organisation plans to release the lander once it is in the Moon orbit and make a soft landing near the South Pole of the moon on September 6.

India is set to get another ‘eye in the sky’ as Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) will launch its latest radar imaging satellite (Risat-2BR1) from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on May 22. 

Risat-2BR1 is much more advanced than the previous Risat-series satellite. “Its launch is due on May 22. Though the new satellite looks same as the old one from outside, its configuration is different from the earlier one launched. The new satellite, therefore, has enhanced surveillance and imaging capabilities,” a source in Isro told TOI. Risat’s X-band synethic aperture radar (SAR) possesses day-night as well as all-weather monitoring capability. The radar can even penetrate clouds and zoom up to a resolution of 1 metre (means it can distinguish between two objects separated by 1 m distance).

“The Risat satellite can take images of a building or an object on the earth at least 2 to 3 times a day,” the source said. Therefore, it can help keep an eye on the activities of jihadi terror camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and infiltrators at terror launchpads along the LoC.

The new imaging satellite will boost all-weather surveillance capabilities of Indian security forces and will help detect any potential threat around the Indian borders. As the satellite can also track hostile ships at sea, it can be used to keep a hawk-eye on Chinese naval vessels in the Indian Ocean and Pakistani warships in the Arabian Sea. The images from old Risat-series satellites were earlier used to plan the surgical strike in 2016 and the air strike on a Jaish camp in Pakistan’s Balakot this year. Risat also enhanced Isro’s capability for disaster management applications.

After the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai in 2008, Risat-2 satellite programme took priority over Risat-1 because of the advanced radar system, manufactured in Israel, and was launched in April 20, 2009 to boost surveillance capabilities of security forces. From 536km altitude, the satellite monitors Indian borders 24×7 and helps security agencies keep an eye on infiltrators.

The synethic aperture radar uses the motion of the radar antenna over a target region to provide finer spatial resolution than conventional beam-scanning radars. The distance the SAR satellite travels over a target in the time taken for the radar pulses to return to the antenna creates the large synthetic antenna aperture. Typically, the larger the aperture, the higher the image resolution will be, regardless of whether the aperture is physical (a large antenna) or synthetic (a moving antenna) – this allows SAR to create high-resolution images with comparatively small physical antennas. 

by Surendra Singh | TNN

India’s Second Visit To Moon Likely To Begin In July, Says Space Agency

The space agency has announced that India’s second visit to the Moon under the Chandrayaan-2 mission will most likely be launched between July 9-16 this year.

The Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) second mission to the Moon entails an orbiter, a lander and moon rover. The expected soft landing on the moon is likely to take place on September 6, 2019. India’s moon rover has been named “Pragyan” or “Knowledge”, since India hopes to understand the geology of Earth’s closest celestial neighbour through a series of unique experiments.

The Rs. 800-crore mission will be launched using the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk III (GSLV Mk III) from Sriharikota.

According to a statement by ISRO, Chandrayaan-2 has three modules — Orbiter, Lander (Vikram) and Rover (Pragyan). The Orbiter and Lander modules will be interfaced mechanically and stacked together as an integrated module and accommodated inside the GSLV MK-III launch vehicle.

The Rover is housed inside the Lander. After a launch into the earth-bound orbit by GSLV MK-III, the integrated module will reach the Moon’s orbit using Orbiter propulsion module. The Lander will then separate from the Orbiter and soft land at the predetermined site close to lunar South Pole. After this, the Rover will roll out to carry out scientific experiments.

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The second mission to the Moon entails an orbiter, a lander and moon rover.

Instruments have also also mounted on the Lander and Orbiter for scientific experiments.

India’s maiden mission to the Moon took place in 2008 under the Chandryaan-1 mission which also involved hard landing the Moon Impact Probe (MIP) on the lunar surface on November 14, 2008.

Chandrayaan-1 gave the first ever signatures of the presence of water molecules on the lunar surface.

The second mission was first delayed because a joint collaboration between India and Russia on the lander unit failed to take off after the Russian lander developed problems. India then had to develop the entire lander module on its own which it named the “Vikram” — after Vikram A Sarabhai, also known as the father of the Indian space programme.

Later, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk-II saw two failures in 2010. The ISRO then found out that the re-configured lander “Vikram” had become too heavy to be lofted using the GSLV Mk-II. When the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mk-III, also known as the “Bahubaali” became available, the agency decided to use the India’s heaviest launcher for the Chandrayaan-2 mission.

The space agency plans to release the lander once it is in the Moon orbit and make a soft landing near the South Pole of the Moon. No other nation has landed on the near side of the South Pole of the Moon yet.

If India succeeds to make a soft landing on the Moon, it will become the forth country after Russia, USA and China to have achieved this feat.