In This Issue
- Taking Strides for the Fox on Stilts
- Biodiversity Hotspot Highlight: Western Ghats, India
- Current Literature
Researchers at the National Zoo's Conservation & Research Center in Front Royal, Virginia, are collaborating with scientists in Brazil's Associação Pró-Carnívoros to study the impact of human development on maned wolf ecology, behavior, reproduction, and health in the Serra da Canastra National Park, Minas Gerais State. Besides being the largest canid of South America, the maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) is one of the most unusual canids in the world. It is the only member of its genus, and has an evolutionary history that dates back six million years in South America.
Adult maned wolves weigh 50-60 pounds and usually travel alone, staying in pairs only during breeding seasons. Their thick red coat is long at the neck and shoulders, forming a mane that may become erect when they feel threatened. Having evolved to live in the tall grasses of the South American savannas, the wolves have absurdly long black legs, an elongated snout, a fox-like head, and huge, erect ears, earning them the moniker "fox on stilts."
Maned wolves live in the Cerrado, the second-largest biome in South America, encompassing about 23 percent of Brazil's land mass. Currently, more than 80 percent of the Cerrado has been converted or modified in some way by humans. The greatest impact comes from the growing agricultural frontier, increased colonization, and the creation of many new highways.
Since March 2004, the study's researchers have captured and radio-collared 8 wolves, and have obtained blood and urine samples for analysis of hematology, blood biochemistry, parasitology, and potential exposure to any infectious diseases transmitted by domestic dogs living in 50 farms surrounding the national park. The relatively high density of domestic dogs around the park's boundary represents a disease transmission threat that could potentially wipe out the entire maned wolf population. Currently, the researchers are setting 19 traps in the park and farms to capture more wolves for the study.
The study's collective findings will eventually be offered in a formal report to the National Brazilian Environmental Agency to assist in the development of conservation action plans for the maned wolf and other species sharing the same habitat. The results could provide the basis for more convincing arguments for expanding protected areas, establishing corridors, and limiting changes in land use. The findings will also be useful for adopting captive husbandry and management protocols that are closer to the species' natural conditions, with the ultimate goal of establishing viable, healthy captive populations.
By Jayanti Ray Mukherjee <email@example.com>
Kalakad and Mundanthurai, in the southern Western Ghats mountain range of India, were two separate entities until 1988, when owing to their importance for conservation of threatened plants and animals, the province was proclaimed the Kalakad - Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR). These verdant hills lie along the south-western coast of the Indian Peninsula, which is well known as a global biodiversity hotspot. The KMTR harbors five broad forest types ranging from tropical dry to evergreen forests. Its entire stretch of pristine evergreen forests houses a rich repository of rare and endangered species of flora and fauna, which can be attributed to the biogeography and isolation of this region along with its varied climates.
The area has high plant diversity harboring 1,500 plant species of which 150 are narrow endemics. This domain also provides more than 250 species of medicinal plants and wild relatives of cultivated plants like mango, banana, jackfruit, cardamom, ginger, pepper, tea and coffee. Sixty-six species of orchids have found a home in this region, 8 species with a very narrow distribution. Recently, Paphiopedilum druryi Pfitz., was rediscovered in the wild after having been thought to be extinct for a hundred years.
KMTR has 77 mammal species, 273 bird species, 37 amphibian species, 81 reptile species and 33 fish species. It is the southernmost home for the Indian tiger (Panthera tigris), and also retains several endemic and threatened mammals such as the Nilgiri tahr (Hemitragus hylocrius), lion-tailed macaque (Macaca silenus), the Nilgiri marten (Martes gwatkinsi sub sp.), and others.
Like any other protected area in India, KMTR has threats to its biodiversity. It is bounded by 145 villages along the 5-km stretch of buffer zone, and widespread disturbance processes, such as livestock grazing, fuelwood collection, and sudden outbreaks of fire, occur in parallel with rare instances of poaching, gem stone collection and extraction of minor forest products.
The area was used as a model for World Bank's successful Ecodevelopment Project during which the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, accepted the challenge of conducting a multi-disciplinary research project in KMTR. The major goal of the project was to document various components of biodiversity and to quantify the dependence of the local people on its natural resources for formulating long-term conservation and ecodevelopment goals. Although the project successfully identified a range of important ecological and socio-economic issues facing the KTMR, there remains a long way to go to implement a management strategy based on these findings.
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