Current Affairs - Biodiversity
Recently, during a study focused on leopards conducted by conservation scientist, the presence of a leucistic sambar deer has been recently documented in the Sangama range of Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary.
- A Rare Discovery: The team observed a female sambar deer with leucism, a condition that causes the loss of pigmentation, resulting in white or pale skin.
- This unique individual was spotted alongside another adult female sambar, leading to speculation that it may be a sub-adult accompanied by its mother.
- Historical Significance: This marks the first recorded photographic evidence of a white form of sambar deer in this particular landscape.
- Notably, a white sambar deer had previously been recorded in Bandipur Tiger Reserve back in 2014.
- Understanding Leucism: Leucism, different from albinism, is characterized by the absence of pigmentation in an animal's skin.
- Unlike albinos, leucistic animals do not have pink or reddish eyes. This condition can arise naturally from birth due to a phenotype with developmental defects.
- Insights for Research: The data captured in this photograph offers valuable insights into the biology and ecology of these herbivores, which remains an area of exploration for researchers.
- The sambar deer is categorized as a vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List, emphasizing the importance of ongoing studies, especially when unique occurrences like this are observed.
On 21st August, 2023, a research was published on collaborative effort among researchers from Gujarat, Maharashtra, the United Kingdom, and Germany that has led to the identification of a novel genus and species of colubrid snakes thriving within the ecologically diverse Western Ghats.
- Unveiling a New Snake Genus: The research culminated in the revelation of a hitherto unknown genus of snakes, which has been designated as Sahyadriophis.
- The name is a fusion of 'Sahyadri,' the Sanskrit term for the Western Ghats, and 'Ophis,' the Greek word for snakes.
- Species Discovery: The newfound species, christened Sahyadriophis Uttaraghati or the Northern Sahyadri keelback, was found in the northern realms of the Western Ghats.
- Behavior and Attributes: Snakes belonging to this newly identified genus predominantly exhibit activity during monsoons.
- Their primary dietary preference encompasses frogs and their eggs.
- These snakes exhibit remarkable docility, seldom resorting to biting when handled.
- Notably, juvenile specimens bear a conspicuous blotch or collar mark on the nape, a feature that fades as the snake matures.
- Distinguishing itself from its Southern counterpart, Sahyadriophis beddomei, the new species showcases a higher count of subcaudal scales on the tail's underside and a substantially elongated tail.
Researchers hailing from Germany, the United States, and Peru have bestowed a unique honour upon acclaimed actor Harrison Ford by naming a newly discovered snake species after him.
- Snake Named in Tribute: The recently identified snake species has been officially named Tachymenoides harrisonfordi in tribute to Harrison Ford.
- The tribute stems from Ford's renowned role as Indiana Jones, a character closely associated with perilous snake encounters.
- Snake's Distinctive Features: Tachymenoides harrisonfordi boasts a length of 16 inches (40.6 centimetres).
- The snake exhibits a yellowish-brown hue adorned with scattered black blotches, accompanied by a black underbelly.
- A striking vertical streak graces its copper-coloured eye, rendering the snake visually distinctive.
- Details of Snake Discovery: The sole specimen, a male snake, was encountered sunbathing in a marsh nestled within the Peruvian Andes, situated at an impressive elevation of approximately 3,248 meters above sea level.
Recently, the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) has published a report titled "75 Endemic Birds of India," shedding light on the significance of the country's unique avian species.
- Endemic Bird Diversity: The ZSI publication reveals that approximately 5% of the bird species found in India are endemic, meaning they are not found in any other part of the world.
- Indian Bird Diversity: India is home to 1,353 bird species, which accounts for around 12.40% of the global bird diversity.
- Endemic Species: Among the Indian bird species, 78 (5%) are endemic to the country, underscoring the unique avian diversity found within its borders.
- Notable Absences: Some of these endemic species have not been sighted in recent decades, including the Manipur Bush Quail, Himalayan Quail, and Jerdon’s Courser.
- Importance of Conservation: The publication emphasizes the need to conserve habitats of endemic species to prevent their decline and loss.
- Distribution Patterns: The report highlights that these 75 endemic bird species belong to 11 different orders, 31 families, and 55 genera, showcasing their diverse distribution across India.
- Regional Concentration: The Western Ghats record the highest number of endemic species, with 28 bird species unique to this bio-geographic hotspot.
- Andaman and Nicobar Islands: The Andaman and Nicobar Islands host 25 endemic bird species, likely due to their geographical isolation.
- Conservation Status: Of the 78 endemic species, 25 are classified as 'Threatened' by the IUCN. Some species are 'Critically Endangered,' 'Endangered,' 'Vulnerable,' or 'Near Threatened.'
- Comprehensive Insights: The publication offers in-depth information about each endemic species, including scientific names, historical relevance, distinguishing traits, habitats, breeding habits, and more.
- Conservation Efforts: The report aims to raise awareness about the importance of conserving endemic bird species and their habitats.
On 25th July, 2023, the Lok Sabha passed the Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill, 2023 by a voice vote.
- Key Amendments in the Bill: The Bill amends the Biological Diversity Act, 2002, focusing on decriminalizing biodiversity offenses and promoting ease of doing business.
- Users need written approval from the National Biodiversity Authority for transferring any research results on biological resources or associated traditional knowledge.
- Foreign companies align with the definition given in the Companies Act, 2013, for regulatory framework and patent acquisition.
- New sections emphasize monitoring of biological resources obtained from foreign countries and enable state governments to develop conservation and sustainable use strategies.
- Exemptions: The concept of "codified traditional knowledge" exempts users, including practitioners of Indian systems of medicine, from approvals and benefit sharing.
- Domestic companies can use biodiversity without requiring permission from biodiversity boards, while foreign-controlled companies will need permission.
- Punishment: Violations of the Act will be punishable only with penalties, removing imprisonment as a penalty option.
- Critics' Concerns: Activists and legal experts express dissatisfaction, stating the amendments fail to address biodiversity conservation issues in India.
- Concerns have been raised about decriminalizing offenses and imposing penalties instead of imprisonment.
Recently, a remarkable fossil was discovered in northeastern China, depicting a fierce badger-like mammal engaging in a predatory attack on a plant-eating dinosaur around 125 million years ago.
- A Fossilized Struggle: The fossil, originating from the Cretaceous Period, offers a captivating sight of an ancient battle between Repenomamus robustus, a four-legged mammal about the size of a domestic cat, and Psittacosaurus lujiatunensis, a two-legged dinosaur comparable to a medium-sized dog.
- Buried in Combat: Scientists believe that the entangled Repenomamus and Psittacosaurus were caught in a mortal struggle, meeting their fate when a volcanic mudflow swiftly buried them alive.
- Challenging Traditional Notions: The finding challenges the long-standing belief that dinosaurs always preyed on smaller mammals during the Mesozoic Era.
- Repenomamus' Remarkable Characteristics: The Dinosaur Age's large mammal Repenomamus, one of the largest mammals during the dinosaur age, exhibited distinctive features, including short and sprawling limbs, a long tail, a robust skull, and shearing teeth.
Recently, scientists from Agharkar Research Institute (ARI), Pune, discovered 62 Desiccation-Tolerant (DT) Vascular plant species in Western Ghats. These plants have a remarkable ability to withstand extreme dehydration, losing up to 95% of their water content, and revive themselves when water is available again.
- Rich Biodiversity: The study sheds light on the biodiversity and ecology of Western Ghats, providing valuable information for conservation efforts.
- Global Hotspot: Among the 62 species, 16 are Indian endemic, and 12 are exclusive to the Western Ghats, highlighting the region's significance as a global biodiversity hotspot.
- Drought Resistance Potential: Understanding the mechanisms behind DT plants' dehydration tolerance may lead to the development of crops that are more drought-resistant and require less water, contributing to sustainable agriculture.
- Diverse Habitats: The DT species were found not only in rock outcrops but also on tree trunks in partially shaded forests, expanding our understanding of their habitat preferences.
- Potential Agricultural Applications: The DT plants' ability to survive in harsh, arid environments makes them potentially valuable for agriculture, especially in water-scarce regions. They could offer insights for developing drought-resistant crops.
- New Genera Reported: The research reported nine new genera of DT plants, including Tripogon capillatus, a native species found in Southern Arabian Peninsula, India to Myanmar, and the first record of an epiphytic DT angiosperm.
On 22 December 2022, at the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (at Montreal) “Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework” (GBF) was adopted.
- The “Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework” (GBF), includes four goals and 23 targets to be achieved by 2030.
- The first part of COP 15 took place in Kunming, China and reinforced the commitment to address the biodiversity crisis and the Kunming Declaration was adopted by over 100 countries.
Key Highlights of the Framework
Aim of the Framework
- Address biodiversity loss, restore ecosystems and protect indigenous rights. The plan includes concrete measures to halt and reverse nature loss, including putting 30 per cent of the planet and 30 per cent of degraded ecosystems under protection by 2030.
- GBF includes 4 goals and 23 targets for achievement by 2030.
- Effective conservation and management of at least 30 per cent of the world’s land, coastal areas and oceans.
- Currently, 17 per cent of land and 10 per cent of marine areas are under protection.
- Reduce to near zero the loss of areas of high biodiversity importance and high ecological integrity
- Halving global food waste
- Phasing out or reforming subsidies that harm biodiversity by at least $500 billion per year, while scaling up positive incentives for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use
- Mobilizing at least $200 billion per year from public and private sources for biodiversity-related funding
- Raising international financial flows from developed to developing countries to at least US$ 30 billion per year
- Requiring transnational companies and financial institutions to monitor, assess, and transparently disclose risks and impacts on biodiversity through their operations, portfolios, supply and value chains
Reporting of the Outcomes
- The countries will monitor and report every five years or less on a large set of indicators related to progress. The CBD will combine national information submitted by late February 2026 and late June 2029 into global trends and progress reports.
Creation of a Dedicated Fund
- The Global Environment Facility has been requested to establish a Special Trust Fund to support the implementation of the Global Biodiversity Framework (“GBF Fund”). This is to ensure successful implementation.
Big Companies Report Impacts on Biodiversity
- Companies should analyse and report how their operations affect and are affected by biodiversity issues.
Pollution and Pesticides
- One of the deal’s more controversial targets sought to reduce the use of pesticides by up to two-thirds.
- Overall, the Kunming-Montreal agreement will focus on reducing the negative impacts of pollution to levels that are not considered harmful to nature, but the text provides no quantifiable target here.
India at the Conference
- India mainly put forward the arguments for supporting the case of developing countries and suggested for the creation of a biodiversity fund to help developing countries successfully implement the global framework.
- India also called for the application of the ‘Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities’ (CBDR) principle.
- India was represented at the conference by Union Environment Minister Mr. Bhupendra Yadav.
About Convention on Biodiversity (CBD)
- The CBD known informally as the Biodiversity Convention is a multilateral treaty having its origin at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.
- It is a legally binding treaty to conserve biodiversity that has been in force since 1993 and has been ratified by 196 nations.
- The convention has three main goals: the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components, the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from genetic resources.
- Its objective is to develop national strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, and it is often seen as the key document regarding sustainable development.
- The CBD Secretariat is based in Montreal, Canada.
- It has two supplementary agreements, the Cartagena Protocol and Nagoya Protocol.
- In 2000, Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety was adopted. It came into force on 11th September 2003.
- The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization (ABS) was adopted in 2010.
- It was adopted at COP10 in Nagoya, Japan; and entered into force on 12th October 2014.
- The second edition of the State of Finance for Nature report launched on December 01, 2022, reveals that nature-based solutions are still significantly under-financed.
- The report was released jointly by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) along with
- The Economics of Land Degradation initiative of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) of Germany;
- United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD); and
- European Commission.
- The report comes 10 days after the end of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties 27 (COP27) and a week before the start of the UN Conference on Biodiversity (COP15 CBD) in Montreal.
- If the world wants to halt biodiversity loss, limit climate change to below 1.50C and achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030, current finance flows to Nature-based Solutions (NbS) must urgently double by 2025 and triple by 2030.
- Delayed action is not an option in the face of the devastating effects of climate change, the extinction crisis, and severe land degradation globally.
- The key focus should be on doubling finance flows to NbS and reducing it for activities that increase greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
- Public funds make up 83% of the total and the private sector contributes approximately 17%.
- Total finance flows to NbS have increased by USD 3.9 billion from USD 150 billion (SFN 2021) to USD 154 billion per year.
- This represents year-on-year growth in investment of 2.6% in real terms across the sum of public and private financial flows.
- Finance flows to marine NbS are roughly USD 14 billion, 9% of total (terrestrial and marine).
- Annual domestic government expenditure in marine NbS is over USD 10 billion per year, including spending on marine protected areas, sustainable management of fisheries and research and development of fisheries.
- Public financial support for nature-negative activities ranges from USD 500 to 1,100 billion per year at present, which is three to seven times larger than current investments in NbS.
What is Nature-based Solution (NbS)?
- The NbS refers to sustainable management and use of nature to tackle socio-environmental challenges, which range from disaster risk reduction, climate change and biodiversity loss to food and water security as well as human health.
- NbS creates harmony between people and nature, enables ecological development and represents a holistic, people-centred response to climate change.
About United Nations Environment Programme
India has designated five (5) new wetlands of International importance making a total of 54 Ramsar sites in the country.
The recently added sites are in three states:
1. Pala Wetland
1. Sakhya Sagar
A Brief on the Newly Recognised Sites
Karikili Bird Sanctuary
- The Karikili Bird Sanctuary is located partly in Maduranthagam Taluk, Chengalpattu District & partly in Kancheepuram District of Tamil Nadu.
- It provides habitat for a variety of resident and migratory birds, most of them waterbirds, as well as a few species of scavengers.
- The near-threatened oriental darter (Anhinga melanogaster) and spot-billed pelican (Pelecanus philippensis) breed here.
- The wetland also supports several mammal, reptile and amphibian species such as the jungle cat, bonnet macaque, jackal, python, sand boa and frogs.
- The Site was declared a Birds Sanctuary in 1972.
Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve Forest
- This freshwater marsh and partly saline wetland situated about 20 kilometres south of the city of Chennai serves as an aquatic buffer of the flood-prone Chennai and Chengalpattu districts.
- The diverse ecosystem of the marshland supports some 115 bird species, ten mammals, 21 reptiles, ten amphibians, 46 fish, nine molluscs, five crustaceans, and seven butterfly species. These include notable species such as Russell’s viper (Daboia siamensis) and birds such as the glossy ibis (Plegadis falcinellus), grey-headed lapwings (Vanellus cinereus) and Pheasant-tailed jacana (Hydrophasianus chirurgus).
- Apart from its biodiversity value, the wetland also plays a vital role in the prevention of flooding for the city of Chennai, soaking up water during wet periods and releasing it during dry spells.
- Inhabitants of seven surrounding villages partially depend on the wetland for their subsistence.
- Threat: The Site is threatened by invasive and non-native species, household sewage, urban wastewater and droughts.
- It is one of the largest mangrove ecosystems in India, located between the prominent estuaries of the Vellar and Coleroon Rivers in Cuddalore district of Tamil Nadu.
- Pichavaram Mangrove supports several threatened species such as the critically endangered great white-bellied heron (Ardea insignis) and spoon-billed sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus), the endangered spotted greenshank (Tringa guttifer) and the vulnerable olive ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea).
- The Site also provides spawning and nursing ground for commercially important prawns, mainly white prawn (Penaeus indicus) and tiger prawn (P. monodon), crabs and fish.
- In addition to this exceptional biodiversity, the Site supports the livelihoods of over 1,000 families through artisanal fishing, firewood collection, non-timber forest product harvesting, and grazing lands for livestock.
- The mangroves are revered by the local communities due to the significant spiritual value associated with Excoecaria agallocha, a mangrove with toxic properties commonly known as “Tillai”.
- Pala Wetland is the largest natural wetland in the state of Mizoram.
- The wetland supports a rich diversity of animal species, including at least seven mammals, 222 birds, 11 amphibians and 21 reptiles.
- The low-lying marshy areas within the wetland provide excellent habitat for many herbivores such as sambar deer (Cervus unicolor), wild pig (Sus scrofa) and barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak). Various species of primate also inhabit the wetland, such as the endangered Hoolock gibbon (Hoolock hoolock) and Phayre’s leaf monkey (Trachypithecus phayrei).
- Pala Wetland is revered by the local Mara people and has a deep connection with their history.
- Threat: Although classified as a Wetland Reserve by the national authorities, the Site is threatened by the construction of roads and railroads, hunting and collecting of land animals, illegal logging and wood harvesting.
- Sakhya Sagar is a human-made reservoir on the outskirts of Shivpuri town of Madhya Pradesh within the Madhav National Park.
- This wetland provides a permanent source of water for wildlife, and habitat for animals including thousands of migratory waterfowl and also mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris).
- In total, the wetland supports 19 species of fish, nine reptiles and 19 mammals, and is an important staging ground for 73 bird species.
- The wetland also plays a vital role in nutrient cycling, groundwater recharge, and regulating the micro-climate of the area.