Current Affairs - Conservation

Indian Railways Initiates AI-Based Surveillance to Safeguard Elephants on Tracks

In a significant move to mitigate elephant fatalities on railway tracks, Indian Railways pioneers an innovative solution: AI-Based Surveillance System.

Key Points

  • AI System to Alert Loco Pilots: The Indian Railways introduces an AI-based surveillance system to promptly alert loco pilots about the presence of elephants on tracks, addressing a critical safety concern.
  • Project Cost and Implementation: Allocating Rs 181 crore, the initiative aims to install the AI-based surveillance system along 700 kilometers of tracks passing through crucial forest areas, providing a comprehensive solution to the issue.
  • Successful Implementation and Enhancements: Trialled on a 150-kilometer stretch in Assam, the system demonstrated an impressive 99.5% accuracy in detecting elephants on tracks.
  • The technology, credited with saving numerous elephants, is slated for expansion in collaboration with forest departments.
  • Elimination of Elephant Deaths in Northeast Corridors: Building on success, the Northeast Frontier Railway reported zero train-elephant collisions in 11 corridors after the system's introduction, emphasizing its effectiveness.
  • Intrusion Detection System (IDS) Milestones: Introduced in December 2022, the IDS sounded 9,768 alerts in eight months, averting potential collisions in elephant corridors and establishing its pivotal role.
  • How Does the System Work? Every time an elephant steps on the track, the system generates an alert to the train controller, station master, train drivers, and other stakeholders who take precautionary measures to avoid imminent danger.
  • Impact and Future Prospects: The success of the IDS brings hope to significantly reduce elephant casualties due to train collisions, leveraging the optical fibre cable laid beneath the tracks for effective implementation.
  • The system's ability to detect and locate moving elephants up to 5 meters from the fibre optical cable marks a substantial advancement in wildlife protection on railway tracks.

Threat to Kadalundi's Vital Mudflats

The once 8-hectare nutrient-rich mudflats in Kadalundi, along the south-west coast, have recently dwindled to a mere 1 hectare, raising concerns for the thousands of migrant shorebirds that flock to the region in winter.

Key Points

  • Mudflat Erosion Threatens Kadalundi: The estuary of Kadalundipuzha River witnesses a drastic reduction in mudflats from 8 to 1 hectare, jeopardizing the habitat for migrating shorebirds.
  • Urgent Need for Protection and Restoration: Researchers emphasize the urgent need to protect and restore the mudflats to prevent Kadalundi's disappearance as a global hub for migrant shorebirds.
  • Decline in Prey and Invasive Elements: The decline in mudflats reduces prey availability for shorebirds, while invasive elements like sandbanks and mangroves further threaten the ecosystem.
  • Passive Government Response: Despite efforts to convey the importance of protecting mudflats, the government's response has been passive, according to researchers studying ecological changes in Kadalundi.
  • Ecotourism Initiatives and Mangrove Proliferation: Efforts to promote ecotourism in the Kadalundi-Vallikunnu Community Reserve involve expanding mangroves, which have grown from less than 50 to over 60 hectares. New mangrove species are being planted to enhance eco-tourism.
  • Carbon Sequestration Debate: The mangrove lobby emphasizes carbon sequestration, but researchers argue for the significance of soil and mud, containing twice the carbon compared to the atmosphere, vegetation, and animals.
  • Shorebird Preferences and Mangrove Invasion: Mangroves, proliferating due to sedimentation on mudflats, fail to attract shorebirds that prefer open mudflats for safety from predators.
  • The aggressive invasion of viviparous mangroves negatively impacts the foraging behavior of migrant bird species.
  • Impact of Floods and Migration Shift: Devastating floods in 2018 and 2019 accelerated degradation in Kadalundi.
  • Migrant birds with site fidelity are now seeking alternatives on neighboring coastlines due to prey depletion caused by sandbanks and mangrove proliferation.

Increasing Soil Erosion Threatens Western Ghats Biodiversity

Recently, a study by IIT Bombay reveals a staggering 94% increase in soil erosion in the Western Ghats Region (WGR) from 1990 to 2020, posing a severe threat to the biodiversity hotspot.

Key Points

  • Tamil Nadu's Disturbing Trend: Tamil Nadu experienced the highest soil loss rate at 121%, indicating the worst-case scenario among the Western Ghats states.
  • Unique Landscape under Threat: The WGR, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and biodiversity hotspot, faces challenges due to unsustainable and unplanned activities, as highlighted in the study.
  • Remote Sensing Data for Assessment: The study, a first-of-its-kind, utilized remote sensing data to quantify long-term soil losses, confirming a progressive increase in erosion rates and alarming state-wise trends.
  • Net Increase of 94%: The figures show a net increase of 94% in soil erosion, emphasizing the detrimental impact on the region's globally significant biodiversity.
  • State-Wise Soil Loss Rates: Tamil Nadu recorded the highest soil loss rate (121%), while Kerala and Karnataka witnessed increases at 90% and 56%, respectively.
  • Methodology: Universal Soil Loss Equation (USLE): The researchers employed the USLE method, considering factors such as rainfall, topography, soil erodibility, land cover management, and conservation practices, providing a novel assessment at the scale of the WGR.

Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP)

Recently, as per the report submitted under the Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP) 2.0 overall tiger population increased 60%.

About GTRP

  • It was launched in 2010 under the Global Tiger Initiative (GTI) by the World Bank to save wild tigers.
  • This initiative set up the ambitious target of reversing the rapid decline of wild tigers across their range and doubling their population numbers by 2022.
  • Alongside these top-level targets, the GTRP set out urgent thematic actions at a national level to strengthen wild tiger conservation in sync with this global goal.
  • The first GTRP helped to pull focus to wild tiger conservation and secure a collective commitment from TRCs.
  • It was endorsed in the St Petersburg Declaration in 2010 which saw 13 tiger range countries committing to reverse the decline of the species population.
  • The 13 tiger range countries are Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China,India, Indonesia, Lao PDR Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Russia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Special Tiger Protection Force for Reserves

On 18th October, 2023, the Arunachal Pradesh cabinet has given its approval for the establishment of a Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF) in accordance with the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) guidelines.

  • This dedicated force will serve the state's three tiger reserves: Namdapha, Pakke, and Kamlang.

Key Points

  • Boosting Tiger Conservation: The STPF will be a dedicated and specialized force tailored to the unique needs of tiger reserves.
  • It will consist of one company, each comprising 112 personnel, designated for the three tiger reserves. Each company will be further organized into three platoons and 18 sections.
  • Aiding Wildlife Protection: The force's creation is expected to enhance the protection of tigers and their habitats, safeguard wildlife areas, combat wildlife trafficking, protect government assets within the reserves, and contribute to the scientific management of forests.
  • Decline in Tiger Population: As per the 2022 national tiger census, Arunachal Pradesh's three reserves currently house a total of nine tigers.
  • This marks a decrease of 20 tigers compared to the previous census conducted in 2018.
  • Economic Development and Investment: The cabinet also approved an amendment to the Arunachal Pradesh State Industrial and Investment Policy 2020.
  • This amendment aims to position the state as an attractive investment destination, offering special incentives like amended power subsidies to large-scale industries.
  • The policy is geared toward boosting the state's economy and generating employment opportunities, along with streamlining tax incentives and facilitating single-window clearance for mandatory licenses.

Tilapia Parvovirus

Tilapia parvovirus (TiPV) has been recently reported for the first time in India, affecting farm-bred tilapia, a freshwater fish species.

  • The virus has led to significant mortality rates in tilapia ponds in Walajah, Ranipet district, Tamil Nadu.

Key Points

  • Tilapia in India: Tilapia, often referred to as "a poor-man's fish," was introduced to Indian freshwater bodies in the 1950s, known as Jilabi in Tamil.
  • These fish are capable of surviving in low-oxygen water conditions and have become invasive across the country.
  • Nile Tilapia, introduced in the 1970s, is a larger variety and is widely cultured and available in markets.
  • Authorized Tilapia Imports: The Indian government authorized the import of only Oreochromis niloticus and red hybrids in 1970 due to their fast growth and market demand.
  • Tilapia Farming in India: Tilapia farming is carried out in various regions of Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, with the fish being sold in domestic markets as whole fish.
  • In 2022, the estimated tilapia production was around 70,000 tonnes, with 30,000 tonnes coming from aquaculture.
  • Global Occurrence: TiPV was first reported in China in 2019 and in Thailand in 2021. India is now the third country to report the occurrence of TiPV.

Tamil Nadu's AI-Based Early Warning System to Protect Wild Elephants

The Forest Department in Tamil Nadu is making significant progress in setting up an artificial intelligence (AI)-based early warning system to protect wild elephants from train collisions along the Ettimadai–Walayar railway section, connecting Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Key Points

  • Installation of E-Surveillance Towers Completed: They have completed the installation of all 12 e-surveillance towers, with thermal imaging cameras fixed on the 'A' line and ongoing work on the 'B' line.
  • Cameras in Vulnerable Areas: The thermal imaging cameras are strategically placed along 7.05 km of the Ettimadai–Walayar section, which passes through the Solakkarai reserve forest of Madukkarai range.
  • AI Programming for Elephant Detection: Once fully operational, the system will alert forest department staff and railway authorities, allowing train operators to reduce speed in response.
  • Positive Results from Railway Underpass: Elephants have already started using the railway underpass on the 'B' line, as evidenced by cameras capturing two elephants passing through on October 12. Another underpass is planned for a different location on the 'B' line.
  • Previous Elephant Collisions: The region has witnessed 11 elephant deaths in train collisions on the Coimbatore-Palakkad railway lines from 2008 to 2022, making this AI-based system crucial for the protection of these animals.

NGT Requests Report on Removal of Mussel Species from Ennore-Pulicat Wetland

Recently, the Southern Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has directed the Fisheries Department and the Tamil Nadu State Wetland Authority to submit a comprehensive report regarding the eradication of invasive mussel species in the Ennore-Pulicat wetland.

Key Points

  • Concern over Invasive Mussel Species: This invasive mussel has spread extensively, hindering prawns' ability to graze or bury themselves in the sediment. Local residents refer to it as "kaaka aazhi."
  • Its presence is believed to be negatively impacting the locally abundant and commercially valuable yellow clams (manja matti) and green mussels (pachai aazhi).
  • Government's Argument: The government pleader argued that "kaaka aazhi" is not an alien species, as it is listed in the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 (WPA).
  • Furthermore, the government contended that the NGT lacks jurisdiction to hear matters related to the WPA, as it is not included in Schedule I of the NGT Act.
  • Directive for Government Action: The Bench issued a directive for the government to provide information on whether dredging activities had commenced or if any action plan had been devised by the Fisheries Department.

Climate Change Emerges as Major Threat to Amphibians

A recent paper analyzing two decades of global data reveals that climate change is becoming one of the most significant threats to frogs, salamanders, and caecilians.

Key Points

  • Climate Change in Focus: A study titled ‘Ongoing declines for the world’s amphibians in the face of emerging threats,’ published in Nature on October 4, unveils the escalating danger climate change poses to amphibians.
  • Findings reveal that 40% of amphibian species face extinction, with these data to be published on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
  • Between 2004 and 2022, over 300 amphibian species moved closer to extinction, with climate change being the primary threat for 39% of them.
  • Amphibians' sensitivity to environmental changes makes climate change particularly perilous for them.
  • Security for Amphibian Habitat: Habitat destruction and degradation due to agriculture and infrastructure development remain common threats, affecting 93% of all threatened amphibian species.
  • Expanded habitat and corridor protection are emphasized to safeguard biodiversity.
  • Global Amphibian Status: The study updates the 2004 document based on the first global amphibian assessment, revealing that 41% of assessed amphibian species are globally threatened.
  • Four amphibian species have gone extinct since 2004, with 27 more critically endangered species possibly extinct.
  • Conservation efforts have improved the status of 120 species since 1980.
  • Relevance to India: India, with its focus on population and infrastructure development, holds significance as a habitat for rare amphibian species.
  • The study will highlight the need for aligning national priorities and fundraising for amphibian conservation efforts within countries, especially in India.

Decline of Bird Species in Tamil Nadu Revealed in SOIB 2023 Report

A recent analysis of the State of India's Birds (SOIB) 2023 report highlights that nearly 110 bird species observed in Tamil Nadu are currently experiencing a decline.

Key Points:

  • Rapid Decline in Tamil Nadu: In Tamil Nadu, 86 bird species, including the garganey, northern shoveler, common sandpiper, and common teal, are categorized as being in a state of "rapid decline."
  • Surprising Findings: Researchers expressed surprise that even bird species previously considered common are now classified as declining. For instance, Indian rollers, once casually seen in open fields, are experiencing a decline across the nation.
  • Importance of Regional Reports: Urbanization and evolving landscapes necessitate detailed regional bird reports to comprehend changing bird patterns.
  • The SOIB report's trends were primarily based on data from eBird, a citizen portal for birders and researchers. However, only 39 out of 451 bird species in Tamil Nadu have sufficient long-term trend data, indicating a data deficiency.
  • Hope for Improved Data: The SOF report acknowledges that conclusive long-term and current annual trends are available for a limited number of species in Tamil Nadu.
  • It suggests that with more contributions from birders to eBird in the future, data deficiencies may decrease, allowing for a more comprehensive analysis of the state's bird species.
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