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At the landscape level, the four-horned antelope is confined to tropical dry deciduous forests and within these, their distribution is patchy. Various factors have been proposed as determinants for their patchy distribution within landscapes, but none provided an adequate explanation. We hypothesized that availability of a constant supply of forage influenced the species distribution. We found that the four-horned antelope mainly fed on fruits and flowers, and that a total of 60% of the tree species in Panna Tiger Reserve bore fruits at different times of the year. High tree species richness in habitat patches was considered a surrogate for constant supply of forage for the four-horned antelope. Data from 547 sighting locations between 2002 and 2006 and six spatial layers were analysed using maximum entropy to produce a probability distribution model for the four-horned antelope in Panna Tiger Reserve. Our model predicted that habitat patches summing up to only 9.5% of the 543 km2 of Panna Tiger Reserve had high probability of distribution (>0.5) of four-horned antelope. Although all variables contributed to the distribution model of the four-horned antelope, explanatory power was highest for tree species richness within habitat patches. The distribution of four-horned antelope within tropical dry deciduous forests can be treated as an indicator of high tree diversity and hence habitat quality.
The 3,162 sq. km Desert National Park (DNP) is one of the largest protected areas in India. It represents all of the natural features of the Thar Desert in India. Since its establishment in the early 1980s, the wildlife population has increased, and now the Indian Gazelle, the Great Indian Bustard, the Desert Fox, etc., are easily seen in it. But although many core areas of 500 to 1,000 hectares each have been established, progress in the development of the Park is slow, and now the future of the Park itself is in jeopardy owing to a plan to construct a feeder canal of the main Indira Gandhi Nahar (canal) Project (IGNP), which would bisect the Park. It is feared that such improvement in irrigation facilites would make it impossible to shift the villagers outside the Park boundary, as had been planned earlier—and moreover, it would attract settlers to the Park. Salient features of the DNP, its important fauna, and various options to save the Park, are described in this paper.
Gyps vulture populations across the Indian subcontinent collapsed in the 1990s and continue to decline. Repeated population surveys showed that the rate of decline was so rapid that elevated mortality of adult birds must be a key demographic mechanism. Post mortem examination showed that the majority of dead vultures had visceral gout, due to kidney damage. The realisation that diclofenac, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug potentially nephrotoxic to birds, had become a widely used veterinary medicine led to the identification of diclofenac poisoning as the cause of the decline. Surveys of diclofenac contamination of domestic ungulate carcasses, combined with vulture population modelling, show that the level of contamination is sufficient for it to be the sole cause of the decline. Testing on vultures of meloxicam, an alternative NSAID for livestock treatment, showed that it did not harm them at concentrations likely to be encountered by wild birds and would be a safe replacement for diclofenac. The manufacture of diclofenac for veterinary use has been banned, but its sale has not. Consequently, it may be some years before diclofenac is removed from the vultures' food supply. In the meantime, captive populations of three vulture species have been established to provide sources of birds for future reintroduction programmes.
Swamp Francolin Francolinus gularis is considered Vulnerable to extinction as its native grassland habitat is converted to agricultural land. However, there are virtually no life history data available to allow the impact of these changes on the species to be assessed. Thirteen birds were radio-tracked during the breeding season on agricultural land near Dudwa National Park in Uttar Pradesh, northern India. The study area was dominated by sugar-cane fields, but also contained other crops and natural wet grassland. Home range size varied from 273 m2 to 2,687 m2 and was significantly correlated with tracking duration. We did not detect significant patterns in overall use of habitats at either the home-range level (P = 0.14) or at the radio-location level (P = 0.13). However, some individual habitats appeared to be used in proportions that differed from random expectations. At the home range level, birds appeared to favour tall sugar-cane and grassland whilst at the individual location level, grassland and wet areas were most used. Radio-tagged birds made six nests, of which only two hatched young. One was in an old sugar-cane field and the other on grassland. Although we did not detect statistical significance, we believe that developing an appropriate management regime for this species is so urgent that the results are sufficient to manage adaptively the species' habitat at least on an experimental scale. These data suggest that a matrix of habitats, including agricultural land, can supply the necessary components to satisfy the various requirements of Swamp Francolin. However, some natural grassland habitat associated with wet areas appears to be critical. The crucial challenge is to make sure that agricultural landscapes have these habitats present in the right proportions and spatial arrangements to support viable populations of Swamp Francolin.
Foraging behaviour of the black-necked stork (BNS) Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus was studied in 1996 and 1997 in Dudwa National Park (DNP), Uttar Pradesh, India. The storks were observed using tactile and visual techniques to catch fish. Of the 929 fish seen caught in 2 years, 894 (96%) were caught by a tactile mode of feeding and the remaining 35 (4%) by a visual mode of feeding. The rate of foraging attempts by BNS fluctuates with that of season in DNP and coincides with prey abundance. Immediately after the monsoon when the water level was high, BNS had to search for prey more often, as the prey became widespread. Whereas in summer when the water level decreased, the concentration of the fish was higher, which helps BNS to catch fish in quick succession. Prey behaviour and the condition of the wetland determined the selection of the tactile foraging technique among the BNS in DNP. The black-necked storks were more successful in the early hours of the day (06:00–10:00) and they were generally more successful or preferred to feed on medium-sized fish (i.e. 5–10 cm) in DNP. Prey profitability was highest for larger size fish and decreased as the prey size decreased. Principal component analysis showed that prey size, handling time of each prey, the month and water depth determined foraging success in 1996 and 1997.
Jerdon's courser Rhinoptilus bitorquatus is a nocturnal cursorial bird that is now only known from a small area of scrub jungle in Andhra Pradesh, India. Its population size, distribution and habitat requirements are poorly known because of its elusive habits. We conducted a trial of a survey method that involved deploying an array of 5 m long tracking strips consisting of smoothed fine soil, and checking them for footprints at regular intervals. We developed diagnostic methods for distinguishing the footprints of Jerdon's courser from those of other species. Tracks of Jerdon's courser were obtained on about one strip-night in 30 from areas where the species was known to be present. We suggest a procedure for using tracking strips to survey areas where Jerdon's courser has not yet been detected. The use of tracking strips carries a small risk of misidentification of footprints of other species, especially yellow-wattled lapwing Vanellus malarbaricus, as those of Jerdon's courser, but has the advantage that large areas can be surveyed without the use of expensive equipment or night-time fieldwork. We recommend the use of automatic camera traps to obtain confirmation of records of probable Jerdon's courser footprints.
Wetland and waterfowl protection has become a major concern of the Indian Government recently. Among the 300 or so wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in India, wetland habitat is under-represented. There are nearly 20 bird sanctuaries, but only two wetlands—Bharatpur and Chilka—are listed under the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat (Ramsar Convention). There is certainly great scope to add more sites to the Ramsar list of wetlands. The author has identified one candidate—Dihaila Jheel in Madhya Pradesh state—and exciting new initiatives are now being taken to protect and manage it with a view to recommending it as a Ramsar site.
In 1981, as a result of Dr Sálim Ali's assessment of the deteriorating status of the great Indian bustard, the Bombay Natural History Society embarked on a five-year project to study the ecology and distribution of the bird. The author, who has worked on the great Indian bustard in three places in India and who took part in the BNHS bustard project, describes its findings.
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