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Indian wildlife team to visit African Savannah in July to train in relocating cheetah to MP’s Kuno National Park

June 14, 2021

Delayed by over a decade, the government's plans to reintroduce cheetah into the Indian wildlife is likely to gain pace as an Indian team heads to African Savannah for the first set of basic training in July. The team will learn about handling the cheetah population set to be relocated to Madhya Pradesh's Kuno National Park by the end of the year.

Two lakh trees and water security at stake in Buxwaha’s Bunder diamond mining project

June 14, 2021

The proposed Bunder diamond block in the Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh has been in the news for the wrong reasons over the years. The diamond mine project, which is now with Aditya Birla Group’s Essel Mining & Industries Limited (EMIL), is once again facing dark clouds due to protests over ecological concerns, as it could result in the felling of over 200,000 trees.

This is News with Featured Image

Times of India
June 12, 2021

Researchers have described a new species of venomous pit viper found in the Himalayas and named it after Salazar Slytherin, a character in the Harry Potter series who is able to talk to snakes. Lead researcher Zeeshan A. Mirza said they named the new species Salazar’s pit viper “to thank J.K. Rowling for introducing the world to the Harry Potter universe.” The area where the Salazar’s pit viper was found is home to many new discoveries of plants and animals in recent decades, highlighting the need for greater documentation of its biodiversity. The new species is one of 48 known members of the genus Trimeresurus, but scientists believe the true diversity of the genus may be underestimated.

New species of rabbit-like pika discovered in India

June 1, 2021

In the remote upper reaches of the Eastern Himalayas in Sikkim, India, scientists have discovered a new species of pika, a cute rabbit-like mammal. By analyzing the pika’s genetic data sampled from its poop, and comparing it with the DNA of other related pikas, the team found that not only is the Sikkim pika a distinct species, but it is not even closely related to the Moupin pika with which it shares the highest morphological similarities. At the moment, the new species seems to be abundant in Sikkim and may not be immediately threatened by extinction. In the remote upper reaches of the Eastern Himalayas in Sikkim, India, scientists have discovered a new species of pika, a cute rabbit-like mammal. The new species — named Sikkim pika or Ochotona sikimeria — was previously classified as a sub-species of the Moupin pika or Ochotona thibetana, known to occur in the mountains of the eastern Tibetan Plateau and along the Himalayan ridge in China, India, Myanmar, and Bhutan. “Many people have photographed O. sikimaria and there are several specimens in museum collections of India,” lead author Nishma Dahal, a PhD student at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India, told Mongabay. “It is also the most common pika species in Sikkim. So it’s not as if no one had seen this animal before. However, because it looked like O. thibetana, it was classified as a subspecies of this species.” The new species — named Sikkim pika or Ochotona sikimeria — was previously classified as a sub-species of the Moupin pika or Ochotona thibetana. Photo by Prasenjeet Yadav The new species — named Sikkim pika or Ochotona sikimeria — was previously classified as a sub-species of the Moupin pika or Ochotona thibetana. Photo by Prasenjeet Yadav. In fact, the Sikkim and Moupin pika look nearly identical, researchers write in the study published in Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. The slight differences in their morphology — which often go unnoticed in the field — can only be teased apart with careful skull measurements, according to Dahal. So instead of relying on error-prone methods of identifying species based on their morphological features, the researchers turned to the animal’s DNA. By analyzing the pika’s genetic data sampled from its poop, and comparing it with the DNA of other related pikas, the team found that not only is the Sikkim pika a distinct species, it is not even closely related to the Moupin pika with which it shares the highest morphological similarities. “This is a solid study and one that was much needed,” Andrew Smith, a pika expert from the Arizona State University who was not involved in the study, told Mongabay. “It made no sense that O. sikimaria was classified within O. thibetana, but without an investigation, it could not be identified as an independent form. The work was very well done, and addressed the pressing need to determine the status of the pikas found in Sikkim.” The new species, Sikkim pika, is also genetically distinct from its sister species, the Plateau pika (O. curzoniae) that occurs in the Tibetan plateau. Photo by Andrey Lissovsky. The new species, Sikkim pika, is also genetically distinct from its sister species, the Plateau pika (O. curzoniae, shown in the photograph) that occurs in the Tibetan plateau. Photo by Andrey Lissovsky. So far, the new species is known only from the state of Sikkim, the researchers say. Field work in other Himalayan regions of Arunachal Pradesh, Central Nepal (Annapurna and Langtang), Ladakh and Spiti has failed to uncover this species, but further surveys in Bhutan and eastern Nepal are being considered. In fact, since pikas in India occur in remote high elevations of the Himalayas, they remain poorly studied. However, like the American pika that is disappearing across its range due to climate change, the Sikkim pika, too, is likely to be negatively affected by climate change, co-author Uma Ramakrishnan of NCBS told Mongabay. So an improved understanding of the pika’s biology and ecology is necessary to plan conservation efforts for the tiny mammals, she added. But at the moment, the new species seems to be abundant in Sikkim and may not be immediately threatened by extinction. The Sikkim pika’s actual conservation status, however, is yet to be evaluated. “The only data we had on this form of pika indicated that the habitat at the type locality had been trashed and that the population was threatened,” Smith said. “This study not only solved the taxonomic issue, but it found that this pika was very common, thus not at risk of endangerment – which was terrific news.” CITATION: Dahal, N. et al. Genetics, morphology and ecology reveal a cryptic pika lineage in the Sikkim Himalaya. Mol. Phylogenet. Evol. 106, 55-60 (2016) doi: 10.1016/j.ympev.2016.09.015 Article published by Shreya Dasgupta

One point for Slytherin: New Indian pit viper named after Harry Potter character

June 1, 2021

Researchers have described a new species of venomous pit viper found in the Himalayas and named it after Salazar Slytherin, a character in the Harry Potter series who is able to talk to snakes. Lead researcher Zeeshan A. Mirza said they named the new species Salazar’s pit viper “to thank J.K. Rowling for introducing the world to the Harry Potter universe.” The area where the Salazar’s pit viper was found is home to many new discoveries of plants and animals in recent decades, highlighting the need for greater documentation of its biodiversity. The new species is one of 48 known members of the genus Trimeresurus, but scientists believe the true diversity of the genus may be underestimated.

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