December 19, 2006

Tree Nuptials offer solace

Tree nuptials offer solace
GG2.NET NEWS [06/12/2006]

HUNDREDS of people are flocking to a remote Indian town to offer prayers to two trees that were 'married' off in a bid to keep evil spirits at bay, officials said on Wednesday.

Alarmed by a string of accidental deaths, murders and burglaries, local people decided it was time the trees, one a banyan tree which had wrapped itself around the trunk of the other, tied the knot.

More than 250 people gathered in English Bazaar, in West Bengal state, on Tuesday for the ceremony as priests chanted hymns and decorated the conjoined trunks of two 25-year-old trees with colourful cloth, streaks of vermilion and garlands.

'There was an evil eye casting a spell and a few senior government employees had planted two trees here to bring peace but could not organise the marriage ceremony as they died from illness,' Gouranga Mandal, a local official, told agencies.

'The trees only can save us,' added Lakshmi Das, a 30-year-old housewife, who presented the trees with two saris and other wedding gifts.


Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers, and I linger on the shore, And the individual withers, and the world is more and more.  -- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

December 16, 2006

Let's Celebrate- THE BLACK DAY!!!

Associated Press Writer Wed Dec 13, 2:11 PM ET
BEIJING - A rare, nearly blind white dolphin that survived for millions of years is effectively extinct, an international expedition declared Wednesday after ending a fruitless six-week search of its Yangtze River habitat.
The baiji would be the first large aquatic mammal driven to extinction since hunting and overfishing killed off the Caribbean monk seal in the 1950s.
For the baiji, the culprit was a degraded habitat — busy ship traffic, which confounds the sonar the dolphin uses to find food, and overfishing and pollution in the Yangtze waters of eastern China, the expedition said.
"The baiji is functionally extinct. We might have missed one or two animals but it won't survive in the wild," said August Pfluger, a Swiss economist turned naturalist who helped put together the expedition. "We are all incredibly sad."
The baiji dates back 20 million years. Chinese called it the "goddess of the Yangtze." For China, its disappearance symbolizes how unbridled economic growth is changing the country's environment irreparably, some environmentalists say.
"It's a tremendously sad day when any species goes extinct. It becomes more of a public tragedy to lose a large, charismatic species like the river dolphin," said Chris Williams, manager of river basin conservation for the World Wildlife Fund in Washington.
"The loss of a large animal like a river dolphin is often a harbinger for what's going on in the larger system as whole. It's not only the loss of a beautiful animal but an indication that the way its habitat is being managed, the way we're interacting with the natural environment of the river is deeply flawed ... if a species like this can't survive."
Randall Reeves, chairman of the Swiss-based World Conservation Union's Cetacean Specialist Group, who took part in the Yangtze mission, said expedition participants were surprised at how quickly the dolphins disappeared.
"Some of us didn't want to believe that this would really happen, especially so quickly," he said. "This particular species is the only living representative of a whole family of mammals. This is the end of a whole branch of evolution."
The damage to the baiji's habitat is also affecting the Yangtze finless porpoise, whose numbers have fallen to below 400, the expedition found.
"The situation of the finless porpoise is just like that of the baiji 20 years ago," the group said in a statement citing Wang Ding, a Chinese hydrobiologist and co-leader of the expedition. "Their numbers are declining at an alarming rate. If we do not act soon they will become a second baiji."
Pfluger said China's Agriculture Ministry, which approved the expedition, had hoped the baiji would be another panda, an animal brought back from the brink of extinction in a highly marketable effort that bolstered the country's image.
The expedition was the most professional and meticulous ever launched for the mammal, Pfluger said. The team of 30 scientists and crew from China, the United States and four other countries searched a 1,000-mile heavily trafficked stretch of the Yangtze, where the baiji once thrived.
The expedition's two boats, equipped with high-tech binoculars and underwater microphones, trailed each other an hour apart without radio contact so that a sighting by one vessel would not prejudice the other. When there was fog, he said, the boats waited for the mist to clear to make sure they took every opportunity to spot the mammal.
Around 400 baiji were believed to be living in the Yangtze in the early 1980s, when China was just launching the free-market reforms that have transformed its economy. The last full-fledged search, in 1997, yielded 13 confirmed sightings, and a fisherman claimed to have seen a baiji in 2004.
At least 20 to 25 baiji would now be needed to give the species a chance to survive, said Wang.
For Pfluger, the baiji's demise is a personal defeat. A member of the 1997 expedition, he recalls the excitement of seeing a baiji cavorting in the waters near Dongting Lake.
"It marked me," he said. He went on to set up the Foundation to save the dolphin. In recent years, Pfluger said, scientists like the eminent zoologist George Schaller told him to stop his search, saying the baiji's "lost, forget it."
During the latest expedition, an online diary kept by team members traced a dispiriting situation, as day after day they failed to spot a single baiji.
Even in the expedition's final days, members believed they would find a specimen, trolling a "hotspot" below the industrial city of Wuhan where Baiji were previously sighted, Pfluger said.
"Hope dies last," he said.
On the Net:
The Foundation:
AP writers Lindsay Holmwood in New York and Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.

Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers, and I linger on the shore, And the individual withers, and the world is more and more. -- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

December 15, 2006

Winged visitors protecting farmers crop in Bhal region of Gujarat

Winged visitors protecting farmers crop in Bhal region of Gujarat

Gandhinagar, Dec 8. (PTI): Farmers of Bhal region of Gujarat are very happy these days welcoming hundreds of winged visitors who have come from eastern Europe and are busy protecting their crops.

These visitors are of three varieties of migratory birds known as Harriers, which have come from far off places of Eastern Europe to escape the harsh winter there to the warmer climate of Bhal region of Gujarat near Bhavnagar district.

These migratory birds protect the crops of the farmers by eating up those insects which are detrimental to the crops, according to a senior forest official.

"These Harriers birds are one of the best friends of the farmers because they are voracious eaters of insects including grasshoppers, locusts and other insects which destroy the crops", said the Deputy Conservator of Forest Uday Vora.

The three varieties of Harriers include Pallid Harrier, Montague's Harrier and Eurasian Marsh Harrier which relish insects that eat the crops.

In fact, the capacity of the Harriers to devour the insects is so large that they can together eat up 15 milion insects during their sojourn.

These birds, which are known as raptors, also hunt small animals, rodents and small birds.

One can see nearly 2500 of Harrier birds in the Bhal region which incidentally is the worlds largest roosting ground for these birds.

One of the biggest advantage of the Harriers to the farmers is that their presence reduces the dependence of the farmers on the pesticides.

"The usage of pesticide becomes very less in these regions because these raptor birds eat up the insects. As a result, the farmers do not have to buy large qauntities of pesticides to kill these pests", Vora added.

This not only saves them a considerable amount of money but also helps preventing excessive pollution of the soil because of pesticides, Vora added.

Thus, the birds play a very vital role in conservation, he said adding that at times the birds are killed by the people because of their ignorance.

For instance, in certain parts of China, people used to kill a particular type of sparrow thinking that it was harming their crop when in reality it was actually eating up the worms and insects that damaged their crops, he added.

In Bhal region, in the vicinity of Velavadar Black buck sanctuary one can see more than 2000 Harrier birds hopping in and around the grasslands and the fields of farmers.


Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers, and I linger on the shore, And the individual withers, and the world is more and more.  -- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

December 08, 2006

The bat with the incredibly long tongue

A rare South American bat turns out to have a spectacularly long tongue. At up to 150% the length of its body, it is proportionally the longest of any mammal.

The bat appears to have evolved its incredible tongue in order to feed exclusively from a tubular flower found in the "cloud forests" of Ecuador.

Nectar bats’ tongues have tiny hairs on the end, which they use to mop up nectar and pollen from within flowers. The plants gain from this relationship by depositing pollen on the bat’s head, which it spreads from flower to flower.
Anoura fistulata is only the size of a mouse, but its tongue is around 8.5 centimetres long – more than double the tongue-length of similar nectar bats. Compared with its body, a tongue of this size is second only to the chameleon in terms of vertebrates, and it is the longest of all the mammals.

“It’s like a cat being able to lap milk from two feet away,” says Nathan Muchhala of University of Miami, Florida, US, who first discovered the species in 2003.

Close to heart
Such a small animal has had to evolve a way to store the tongue. “I had all sorts of theories, such as perhaps the tongue folded up inside, or coiled, or maybe its lower lip was critical somehow,” says Mucchala.

It turned out that the tongue extends down into the bat’s chest, and its base is between the heart and sternum. When extended, it stretches by up to three times its stored length.

Muchhala measured the bats’ tongues by training them to drink sugared water from a tube, which was approximately the diameter of a McDonald’s drinking straw.
The straws resemble a flower from the region, called centropogon nigricans, which has a funnel-like neck called a corolla, at the base of which is its nectar.

Competitive advantage
This flower is unique because it relies exclusively on fistulata to pollinate it. Most plants in the region have evolved so all nectar bats can feed from them, but this flower’s neck is too long for other bats to reach down with their tongues.

Such a close co-evolutionary relationship is rare, says Muchhala. It occurs in other species – some plants have evolved so that only hummingbirds can feed from them – but this is the first known example of a flower pollinated by only one species of bat. The flower gains an advantage over other species of plant in the region because it does not have to compete with them to attract the nectar bats.

The finding is also an example of convergent evolution, where two unrelated organisms independently evolve similar traits as they adapt to similar environments, says Muchhala. Other animals such as scaly anteaters have evolved similarly long tongues, which they use to feed.

Journal reference: Nature (vol 444, p 701)