The fight to save India’s most elusive cat

The fight to save India’s most elusive cat – BBC Future

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The fishing cat stalks its prey in swamps, wetlands and mangrove forests (Credit: Alamy)

By Kamala Thiagarajan18th April 2021The fishing cat is one of India’s most enigmatic predators, hunting the waterways of its remaining wetlands and swamps. The efforts to save it may also help save a vital buffer against climate change.T

The encounter took place on a cool winter morning in 2012, in the coastal Indian city of Visakhapatnam. A gentle breeze nipped at the air as Murthy Kantimahanti stood transfixed, staring at a metal trap set up on a dirt trail leading to dense bushes and towering neem trees. Inside the trap was a cat – but no ordinary cat. It was bigger than a house cat, but not as big as a leopard or a tiger. It had a squarish face, relatively small ears for the size of its head, a short tail and curiously webbed feet, like an aquatic animal.

Kantimahanti had just arrived at the Indira Gandhi Zoological Park in the heart of the Seethakonda Reserve Forest, where he worked as a biologist. He was used to seeing native wildlife like Sambar deer, the Asiatic wild dog, the Indian leopard and gaur (also known as Indian bison) ranging within the park’s natural enclosures, bordered with hedges and trenches. But this cat was something else entirely.

Kantimahanti’s area of research was cataloguing the behaviour of captive wild dogs in the zoo, located as it was in such proximity to the Eastern Ghats, a biodiverse range of mountains along India’s south-eastern coast. It is an area where cashew and mango plantations abound. The zoo often baited traps to catch feral dogs and he would monitor their behaviour. On that winter morning, he had received a frantic call from a colleague at the zoo, summoning him to a particular cage by the dirt trail.

“I was fascinated, ” he says. “The zoo had laid a trap with beef in it to catch a feral dog. Quite astonishingly, a cat had grabbed at the beef instead, and was ensnared. “

The zoo authorities were puzzled by the animal’s webbed feet and strange appearance. This seemed to be no ordinary cat.

If you ask researchers who study the behaviour of fishing cats in the wild, they will tell you that it never backs off – Murthy Kantimahanti

Kantimahanti recognised the animal at once. To the trained eye, a fishing cat ‘s appearance is distinctive, but if ever there was any doubt, there was one trait that helped Kantimahanti identify it instantly –  sheer aggression. Having eaten its piece of beef, this cat, a male, lunged fiercely and repeatedly at the bars of the trap.

“If you ask researchers who study the behaviour of fishing cats in the wild, they will tell you that it never backs off, ” Kantimahanti says. “Even when they see a human being, they stand their ground. “

The cat was tranquilised, treated for bruises, and released back into the wild. It was the first documented sighting of a fishing cat in coastal Visakhapatnam. India's remaining wetlands are rapidly being encroached by more intensive human activity (Credit: Jonas Gratzer/Lightrockets/Getty Images)

India’s remaining wetlands are rapidly being encroached by more intensive human activity (Credit: Jonas Gratzer/Lightrockets/Getty Images)

Until then, fishing cats had only ever been sighted in the state’s Coringa Wildlife sanctuary, known for its extensive mangrove forests, four hours away. Very little was known about the fishing cat ‘s behaviour, despite it being found in 11 countries across Asia. 

The encounter helped state authorities realise that fishing cats were a natural part of Andhra Pradesh’s wetland landscape and far more widespread than they’d previously assumed. It sparked one of India’s first fishing cat surveys, carried out between 2014 and 2018. Kantimahanti, who went on to found the conservation organisation the Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society, has been working to understand the fishing cat’s behaviour ever since.

Inextricable from the story of fishing cats is that of the wetland habitat itself

The first challenge was to find out how widespread the cat was. Researchers from the Wildlife Institute of India began an arduous scanning of the Coringa wildlife sanctuary as part of the United Nations Development Programme project to document the biodiversity in the region. In 2015, the Krishna Wildlife sanctury, 150 kms (93 miles) south of Coringa was surveyed by the Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society and the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department. Camera traps from the survey revealed the presence of 10 individual fishing cats amidst the vast tracts of tidal mangrove forests, though a population estimate for these elusive cats – which relies on clearly identifying an individual cat’s distinctive markings – evaded them.The fishing cat stalks its prey in swamps, wetlands and mangrove forests (Credit: Alamy)

The fishing cat stalks its prey in swamps, wetlands and mangrove forests (Credit: Alamy)

Besides numbers, the census revealed some of the idiosyncrasies of this elusive cat. The survey identified the first known inland fishing cat, found in freshwater habitats along Srikakulam district in northern Andhra Pradesh. Then in December 2020, Kantimahanti was startled to see camera-trap footage of a cat hunting a freshwater non-venomous snake. Fish had been considered the cats’ mainstay, and the cats were only thought to prey on other animals when there was a dearth of fish – though on this occasion there was plenty of fish available. In another incident, villagers had assumed a large cat attacking their livestock was a leopard, but it turned out to be a fishing cat. Another camera feed showed a fishing cat being run over by a train while chasing goats.

“The name fishing cat is a misnomer,” says Kantimahanti. The cat is a markedly versatile predator. “It can hunt animals bigger than itself, survive anywhere, feed on anything.”

Today, growing awareness of the fishing cat in India has sparked a monumental journey towards conservation. Researchers on the trail of this elusive jungle feline are mapping its habits and habitats across the country and studying pollution, human and environmental threats that harm it. They’re documenting its effects on climate change and through litigation, using wildlife laws to protect its terrain.  

All this, because woven into the story of fishing cats, is that of the wetland habitat itself.

Counting cats

India is home to a rich wetland territory, occupying nearly 5% of its terrain. The Sundarbans in the north-eastern state of West Bengal is the country’s most well-known wetland habitat, stretching over 4,230 square kilometres (1,633 sq miles). A total of 42 sites across the country are considered wetlands of international importance due to their biodiversity, according to the Ramsar Convention, an international agreement on wetland conservation.

The fishing cat is usually found in two types of habitat within a wetland: mangroves and marshes. They take refuge in the reed fields – the long-bladed wetland grasses that grow in swamps. “They prefer shallow wetlands and are nest-making cats,” says Tiasa Adhya, a Kolkata-based conservationist and co-founder of The Fishing Cat Project. Their nests, made with marshy reeds and secluded in the tree holes of mangroves, are why the habitat is so inseparable from the species. “It’s here, where you can find a rich haul of snake-head and cat-fish, on which the fishing cat thrives,” says Adhya.

Predators like wolves are known to shape the landscape in which they live through their predation, but the extent to which the fishing cat influences the nature of the wetlands remains unknown. What is clear, is that a healthy population of fishing cats means a healthy environment to sustain them.Though the cats range across 11 countries, very little is known about them (Credit: Ulat Ifanstasi/Getty Images)

Though the cats range across 11 countries, very little is known about them (Credit: Ulat Ifanstasi/Getty Images)

In one these wetlands, at Chilika Lake in the north-eastern state of Odisha, India’s first census for fishing cats outside of its protected reserve forest areas is now underway, in collaboration with the Chilika Development Authority, a government agency. “Fishing cats inhabit the extensive deltas and flood plains of river systems, the shallow wetlands connected to rivers in South and South East Asia,” she says. 

Being a nocturnal animal, they are more likely to be caught on camera traps than by eye during the day. Over a hundred camera traps are to be left in Chilika lake for 30 days. They’re focusing more on the freshwater dominant areas of the lake, says Adhya, setting up the cameras in areas where they’ve spotted pawprints, or pugmarks. Setting up one camera trap can take up to two hours, and Adhya’s team has recruited local people to help and put out word among the 200,000 strong fishing community in the area so that the camera traps remain undisturbed.

This census is up against the same challenges as the first surveys of fishing cat numbers. Estimating the population of fishing cats is tricky as it relies on getting a clear picture of the cat to analyse its subtle but distinctive body marks, made up of spots, stripes and patches.

Growing threats

Adhya has been observing fishing cats since 2010, ever since she chanced upon its pugmark in the wild as a researcher in the Sunderbans. The footprint intrigued her; it was roughly the size of a dog ‘s paw, but smaller than that of a tiger’s. She learnt that fishing cats were integral to wetlands, but there was little awareness about them, even amidst local communities. And in recent years, researchers have noted several threats.

The first comes from humans: wetlands directly and indirectly support hundreds of thousands of people, providing livelihoods to fisherfolk, indigenous communities and farmers. There are inevitably moments of conflict. Retaliatory killings of fishing cats spurred by human conflict were well known in West Bengal. Adhya launched awareness campaigns and enlisted the help of locals to prevent poachers from hunting fishing cats for meat, which was being sold in local markets. Over the years, she says these efforts have helped mitigate conflict. “While there are still road kills, the retaliatory killing of fishing cats has significantly reduced,” she says.The Sundarbans, in the east of India, is one of the largest remaining wetlands in India (Credit: Jonas Gratzer/Getty Images)

The Sundarbans, in the east of India, is one of the largest remaining wetlands in India (Credit: Jonas Gratzer/Getty Images)

Another threat facing the cat is aquaculture. In recent years, in wetlands across the country, this has become a menace, Kantimahanti says. “People dig ponds, add chemical feed so that naturally occurring fish and prawns grow bigger and fetch better rates in the market. This alters the natural salinity of the soil.”

Aquaculture often leads to increased conflict between humans and fishing cats. Lured by the giant fish, the cats that come to hunt often end up in aggressive face-offs with humans. After a few years, the ponds are abandoned when the water table is too polluted, and the aquaculture farmers move on to a different patch, leaving coastal Andhra Pradesh studded with the abandoned farms.

Other threats involve illegal sand mining and cropping along riverbeds. “Villagers growing crops along the riverine buffer [100-500 m alongside the river] affects the inland fishing cat, because this slip of vegetation is an important habitat,” says Kantimahanti. “Protection of this riverine buffer is quite a challenge for us.”

Another escalating issue is urbanisation. “Wetlands are mostly disregarded as wastelands in development policies,” says Adhya. The Asian Waterbird Census, held in January every year is a part of a global initiative that surveys wetlands, has established that India’s wetlands are rapidly shrinking because of urbanisation.

Mangrove forests depend on a delicate balance to survive

Wetland terrain can often be deceptive, Adhya explains. The fluctuating water level is seasonal – for six months every year, the marshes are flooded with water, but the rest of time they may appear dry but the water table lurks close beneath the soil. Most of the development happens in the dry season, when it is mistaken for barren land, to the detriment of both the cats and the developers, who end up with flooded land. “Habitat destruction is one of the biggest threats to the fishing cat,” says Adhya.

India does have laws to protect its wetlands. Under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, wetlands are categorised as protected areas, especially within national parks. But researchers say that there’s a significant portion of wetland ecosystem that falls outside of these protected zones.

From 2012, activists have been lodging legal petitions against urban development in these areas, citing the destruction of habitat of the fishing cat as one of the primary reasons for the need for protection. Researchers hope that the fishing cat census across India could prevent the further destruction of these ecosystems. Kantimahanti, meanwhile, would also like to see a comprehensive national law protecting all wetlands.

Healthy mangroves, healthy cats

Mangrove forests depend on a delicate balance to survive, says Giridhar Malla, a PhD researcher from the Wildlife Institute of India, who has been studying the fishing cat along the Godavari River delta in Andhra Pradesh, and its links to climate change since 2013. He has documented 15 different fishing cats in the area, monitoring their behaviour, especially during lunar phases. Everything in a mangrove ecosystem depends on the ebb and flow of water, which is linked to the tides governed by the lunar phases.

“The fishing cat hunts during low tide,” says Malla. The cats wait tirelessly for the conditions to hunt to be exactly right. During high tide, the surge of water brings in the fish, but the water must ebb for the fishing cat to hunt. Malla says he observed a fishing cat that had waited eight hours until low tide to catch its fish. “This is one stubborn, unique cat,” he says.

The health of the mangroves is inextricably linked to the health of the fishing cat, he says. While the mangrove habitat supports the cat, it also acts as a carbon sink, sequestering four times as much carbon as other tree species. He’s currently studying its role in mitigating climate change. “Blindly planting mangroves isn’t the answer,” says Kantimahanti, who often works closely with Malla. The trees won’t survive without freshwater, and have to be planted in the right habitat.Fishing communities have targeted the cats in the past, seeing it as a pest which steals precious fish (Credit: Jonas Gratzer/Getty Images)

Fishing communities have targeted the cats in the past, seeing it as a pest which steals precious fish (Credit: Jonas Gratzer/Getty Images)

The absence of buffer land either side of the river is affecting the growth of mangroves too, because cropping prevents freshwater that they need from reaching the mangrove forests. Indiscriminate building of dams, which has become so much a part of India’s industrial growth, can cause this fragile ecosystem considerable stress as well, says Malla. He’s currently petitioning authorities to allow a small amount of water downstream, to prevent the loss of mangrove cover.

“When mangrove seedlings drop into the mud, they need freshwater to germinate and thrive,” he says. The Godavari River, where Malla does his field work, is the second largest river in India, after the Ganges. In the past decades, the river has been dammed in several places, reducing freshwater flow in the area. The impacts of the dams include coastal erosion, as they reduce the flow of sediment to river deltas . “Less water to the mangroves could mean declining fish stock, because it affects the spawning areas for the fish,” says Malla. “It has a direct impact on livelihoods of fishers.”

Since greater awareness was needed of the intertwined fate of mangroves and fishing cats, in 2016, Malla started an initiative called Children for Fishing Cats. Children tend to be easier to educate than adults, he says, and they have helped mitigate conflict situations by identifying the cat and advising their parents against harming it. Malla has since published a childrens book about a fishing cat’s journey in the wild and designed a board game called The Fishing Cat and the Creek. If a player lands in a mangrove patch after a high tide during a full moon, their fishing cat will have access to the richest haul of fish. The fishing cat that feeds the most wins. Feedback on the board game from the fishing communities in area who have played and enjoyed it has largely been positive, says Malla, and has helped deepen understanding.

The fishing cat has proved that it can co-exist with humans, even in this urban wetland habitat – Anya Ratnayaka

Like Malla, researchers across India working on conserving fishing cat habitat and protecting its species have found it beneficial to embrace local communities. “Every wetland patch supports marginalised communities,” says Adhya.  A preprint paper she has co-authored on local communities’ dependency on the wetland ecosystem reveals that 72% of the respondents in Jhakari, a village in West Bengal, depend on the wetlands for their primary livelihood. 

The fishing cat, on the other hand, may prove to be a hardier species than first thought. Though the IUCN has categorised the fishing cat as vulnerable, researchers studying these cats across Asia now marvel at how adaptable it really is. Anya Ratnayaka is a Sri Lankan researcher who has been studying the fishing cat ‘s behaviour and adaptation in a completely urban environment.

“Twenty square kilometres of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, is natural wetlands,” she says. “The fishing cat has proved that it can co-exist with humans, even in this urban wetland habitat.”

Her work began in 2015, after escalating conflict incidents involving the fishing cat. “People would pick up abandoned kittens from the city, thinking they were domestic cats, but quickly return them to authorities, startled by how aggressive they were,” she says.

In the same year, a fishing cat was caught on camera, stealing expensive Japanese koi fish from a pond. Ratnayaka set up 10 camera traps in different locations, and for months, attempted to follow this cat across the cityscape after tagging it with a GPS device. “I was stunned. It went everywhere,” she says. “It visited people’s gardens, sunned itself on rooftops, fed from private ponds. It even visited the premises of a movie theatre in the heart of the city, quite fittingly, during the premiere of the Monkey Kingdom.”

If fishing cats are to have a home alongside humans in a rapidly developing world, this ingenuity could prove essential to its survival.

Stop the Illegal Wildlife Trade: Tragic tale of India’s illicit turtle trafficking industry

Despite being protected under numerous laws, tens of thousands of turtles and tortoises continue to be poached across India each year, writes Namita Singh

3 days ago comments

https://www.independent.co.uk/stop-the-illegal-wildlife-trade/india-illegal-trade-turtle-tortoise-b1812027.html

<img src="https://static.independent.co.uk/2021/03/04/16/GettyImages-166292519.jpg?width=982&height=726&auto=webp&quality=75&quot; alt="<p>File Image: Newly-hatched Olive Ridley turtles make their way to the ocean at a beach in the Indian state of Odisha

File Image: Newly-hatched Olive Ridley turtles make their way to the ocean at a beach in the Indian state of Odisha(Getty Images)

ometimes it’s the SUVs, sometimes a Mercedes, other times a sedan, but this time it was a closed container carrier truck being used to transport turtles in India.

Law enforcement agencies had sprung into action when they were tipped off about the consignment that was on its way from the most populous state of Uttar Pradesh to West Bengal, which shares its borders with Bangladesh. 

Police believe if all had gone to plan, the two suspects, now in custody, would have successfully transported the turtles to the animal markets in West Bengal. There, the reptiles would have either been sold as meat to the locals or exported across the border.

“The accused had stuffed more than 1,300 Indian Softshell turtles in 37 big gunny bags,” H V Girisha, an Indian Forest Service officer and regional deputy director for the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau told The Independent. The turtles, which normally have a lifespan of somewhere between 20 to 50 years, could not endure the stress of the journey and conditions in which they were kept, and about 30 of them had died.  Pandemic Pets Has Led to ‘Mafia-Style’ Puppy Tradehttps://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.446.1_en.html#goog_1648242297

“When we opened the seized bags, we found that 1,283 of them were alive, 13 were severely injured and 30 were almost dead,” said Mr Girisha. The entire consignment and the truck itself were then seized. 

STOP THE ILLEGAL WILDLIFE TRADE

We are working with conservation charities Space for Giants and Freeland to protect wildlife at risk from poachers due to the conservation funding crisis caused by Covid-19. Help is desperately needed to support wildlife rangers, local communities and law enforcement personnel to prevent wildlife crime. Donate to help Stop the Illegal Wildlife Trade HERE

The trade of turtles and tortoises is illegal in India. Most of these reptiles are protected under the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 and their international trade is further regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to which India has been a signatory since 1976. 

Placed under schedule – I of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972, turtles and tortoises have the highest level of legal protection in the country. “So if a species protected under the schedule – I of the Wild Life Protection Act, their trade invite a minimum of three years of imprisonment extendable to seven years. It is a non-bailable, cognisable offence,” Jose Louies, deputy director and chief of the Wildlife Crime Control Division at Wildlife Trust of India told The Independent. “They, therefore, have legal protection which is at par with big cats like tiger and leopard.” Please enter your email addressPlease enter a valid email addressPlease enter a valid email addressSIGN UPI would like to be emailed about offers, events and updates from The Independent.Read our privacy notice

But despite the high level of protection, their trade is flourishing. A 2019 report by TRAFFIC, an international wildlife trade monitoring organisation, found that a minimum of 100,000 tortoises and freshwater turtles were illegally traded between September 2009 and September 2019 in India. about:blankabout:blankhttps://26eb9ca206948afa8cb32ab292bf67c7.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.htmljavascript:false

The trade of these animals is so rampant, they were observed to be illegally transported through roadways, railways and airways. 

A 2017 research by Freeland, one of two charities The Independent  is working with as part of its Stop The Illegal Wildlife Trade, found at least 15 of India’s 28 tortoise and freshwater turtle (TFT) species were illegally harvested between 2011 and 2015.Top ArticlesREAD MOREStarmer’s clash over NHS pay was dull, but it madeJohnson squirm | John RentoulSKIP AD

The research, conducted in association with Turtle Survival Alliance- India, found about 58,000 live animals were seized during this period across India, Bangladesh, Thailand and China, nearly 90 per cent of which were being traded illegally. Of these, over 70 per cent of seizures were made in transit. 

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But it is not just the meat, for which these reptiles are traded. There is also a superstitious and mythological value attached to them. “According to Hindu mythological text, they are said to be an avatar of Lord Vishnu, so there is a belief that with it, goddess Laxmi– the goddess of money and prosperity– would also come along,” Mr Louies said. “Across different cultures, they are believed to bring in luck.” 

Turtles and tortoises are also pretty low maintenance pets. “Any reptile is very easy to keep. In fact, you can send a turtle or tortoise by courier. Even they do not eat for two or three days, as long as they are not bashed around, the tortoise or turtle would survive and reach in as good a condition as it was sent,” said Aniruddha Mookerjee, a consultant wildlife adviser for the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) at Oxford University. 

Yet, despite their ability to withstand tough conditions, their rehabilitation after the seizure is a big concern among wildlife activists and experts. 

“When an animal is put in gunny bags for days, it would be under high stress,” said Mr Girisha. “They have to be relaxed and need immediate medical attention for conditioning them before they are sent to the natural environment. The doctor there has to make an assessment, whether the reptile is healthy enough to be released into the wild.” 

“The welfare issues in this trade are really abysmal,” added Mr Mookerjee. “They are taped up, not fed for many many days and are exported miles away from the natural environment they are endemic to. Obviously, trade mortality is very very high.” 

“In fact, in many of the places where they are rescued, people do not know whether they are water turtles or dry land turtles and they are released in the water body. The reptile drowns and dies,” he said. 

Another concern about releasing an alien turtle into freshwater bodies is that they could overpower the native population and become dominant there, as seen in the case of the American red-eared slider turtle. Though native to the central and eastern United States, the species was accidentally released to the Sukhna Lake in the north Indian state of Punjab and is now dominating other reptiles found in the area. 

<img src="https://static.independent.co.uk/2021/03/04/16/GettyImages-540654146.jpg?width=982&height=726&auto=webp&quality=75&quot; alt="<p>File Image: An Indian star tortoise uses a prosthetic wheel fitted after an injury to move around an enclosure at the Araingar Anna Zoological park in Chennai on 16 June 2016

File Image: An Indian star tortoise uses a prosthetic wheel fitted after an injury to move around an enclosure at the Araingar Anna Zoological park in Chennai on 16 June 2016(AFP via Getty Images)

While the turtle and tortoise trade has been a menace in India for a long time, it did not always receive this level of protection domestically or internationally. 

The concern was first raised seriously in 17th Conference of Parties of CITES held in 2016 in Johannesburg. The international body undertook an investigation according to which between 2000 to 2015, more than 300,000 turtles and tortoise were illegally traded across the world.  

Among those, Indian Star Tortoise accounted for roughly 35,000. “More than 10 per cent. This is when we did not know the actual scale of the illegal trade in freshwater turtle and tortoise trade. The real numbers would be much higher,” said Mr Girisha. 

In fact, a separate study published in the journal Nature Conservation by WildCRU showed that in 2014 alone, at least 55,000 Indian Star Tortoises were poached in India.  

“Star tortoise, which is endemic to India is largely traded for petting purposes mostly because these are ornamental species,” explained Mr Mookerjee, one of the co-authors of the study. “These are ornamental but it is believed that some part of it is also sent to China where it is believed to be consumed as food.” 

Read more

In a boost to India’s bid to protect endangered animal species, the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Geneva in August 2019 banned illegal international trade of Indian star tortoise, as it moved the species to Appendix I, giving it the highest level of international protection from commercial trade. 

Earlier, the species was in Appendix II of the CITES, under which their trade was not completely restricted but regulated. 

“Turtles are natural scavengers of the aquatic ecosystem. They help in cleaning the river by scavenging dead organic material and diseased fish, controlling fish population and other aquatic plants and weeds” explained Mr Girisha. And this is what makes them such an important part of India’s Ganga rejuvenation programme called Namami Gange, he said. 

But despite, such strict regulations, the cross border trade of turtles and tortoise continues with impunity. “In true sense, the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 is a strict law. But there are weaknesses in the enforcement system,” said Mr Girisha, elaborating on the implementation-related roadblock that the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau of India and other enforcement agencies face. 

“There is no deployment of forest officers in the Indo-Gangetic Plain for they are supposed to be deployed in forested areas. That is not where the trade of these reptiles happens. It happens in crowded places like towns and villages located alongside the riverbank.” 

“More importantly, the forest department of the country does not have an intelligence unit of its own, to process and convert the tip-offs into actionable inputs,” said Mr Girisha. “In essence, we do not have a robust system in place that backs the act.” 

Bird flu gives wings to the demand for plant-based meat in India

https://kr-asia.com/bird-flu-gives-wings-to-the-demand-of-plant-based-meat-in-india

Written by Monika Ghosh Published on 4 Mar 2021  •  7 mins readShare

Big Idea Ventures (BIV), a US-based venture capital firm plans to launch an ‘Alternative Protein Fund’ and an accelerator exclusively for Indian entrepreneurs.


In 2008, when faux fish was served during a religious gathering of strict vegetarians, people got angry at the sight of fish on their plates, and in no time, chaos ensued. The customers failed to understand how fish could be plant-based, said Harish Jadhvani, co-founder and CEO of Ahimsa Food.

“We had to explain to the clients that the product was completely plant-based, but there was a lot of anger among the gatherers,” Jadhvani told KrASIA.

Over the years as people got aware of what mock meats are and their benefits, the 12-year-old Delhi-headquartered company managed to earn its customers’ trust and respect.

Ahimsa Foods is one of the few brands that offer plant-based meat dishes to users who are trying to eat healthy by avoiding non-vegetarian food. The wave of people turning vegans has also been catching on in India, fuelling the migration away from animal meat.

This trend has resulted in a major innovation in the food and restaurant industry that is now trying to appease such clientele with plant-based dishes that taste like chicken, fish, or mutton.

Similar to Ahimsa Food, Rajasthan-based Gooddot sells ready-to-cook vegan meat dishes, while its quick-service restaurant subsidiary Gooddo sells plant-based dishes that look like meat. The company said its raw plant-based meat has been perfected to match the texture of real meat, while the end taste is derived from the cooking style. For instance, to make Thai Green Curry, the startup has partnered with chefs and culinary experts from Thailand to ensure it has its authentic taste.

These companies use a combination of protein rich ingredients like chickpeas, soybean, and other similar legumes.

“Most people are drawn to meat for its texture,” said Abhinav Sinha, vice-president of Strategy, Gooddot.

“There’s a big difference in the overall philosophy of food between the West and the East,” said Sinha. In the West, the meat itself is considered to be the most important ingredient and the recipes involve preserving the integrity and freshness of the meat, he said. But in India, meat is simply a textural component that carries different flavors, which are the most important aspects of an Indian dish, he added.

Read this: China’s answer to Beyond Meat predilects local cuisine: Inside China’s Startups

Although India was slow to adopt an alternative animal protein diet, things have changed over the decade. And with bird flu quickly emerging as the new pandemic threat, people are looking for alternate options to animal meat for their protein intake. Europe and Asia are battling their worst outbreak of bird flu and as of February 12, 14 Indian states have confirmed avian flu outbreaks with Maharashtra being the worst affected.

Even last year, while the COVID-19 pandemic was raging on, the faux meat market in India gained prominence amid fears of disease transmission. During the pandemic, Sinha said, “We saw an almost 50% jump in our overall sales, queries, as well as website hits.”

Ahimsa Food, however, experienced a decline in sales due to logistics disruption and restaurant shutdowns amid the nationwide lockdowns, although its online sales increased. The startup is yet to recover to pre-COVID-19 levels.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and now followed by the bird flu outbreak, awareness of alternative protein products was seeing steady growth, albeit slowly. “The Western culture has been significantly moving away from animal meat over the past five years, and there is a similar follow-on effect in India,” said Sinha. There has been an increase in awareness, acceptance, and purchase intent for plant-based meats in India, he added.

A 2018 report said the plant protein market of India captures around 10% of the Asia-Pacific plant protein market. It said the major drivers of this market are the rising purchasing power of middle income and lower-income families, growing youngsters, and the middle-aged population interested in lactose and gluten-free products. By 2023, it said, the plant protein market will be worth USD 565.1 million, registering at a CAGR of 8.6%.

Increasing popularity

India is misconstrued to be mainly a vegetarian country as nearly 70% of the country’s population consumes animal protein. But the demand for plant-based protein is coming from both sides of the food habit spectrum. “I think about two-thirds of our customers are non-vegetarians and about one-third are vegetarians,” said Sinha.

Even strict vegetarians are now looking at plant-based protein for health reasons.

While talking to KrASIA, Mumbai-based plant-based alternative protein startup Evo Food’s co-founder and CEO Kartik Dixit reminisced about one of the conversations with a prospective customer.

“A 65-year-old man from Haridwar who is a purely spiritual man and has never consumed any kind of animal-based product in his life, reached out to us saying that he wanted to try plant-based eggs for his dad because of his protein requirements.” Haridwar is a small Hindu pilgrimage city where the sale of meat and eggs is prohibited by law.

Keeping the health-conscious customer base in mind, Evo markets its product as a plant-based alternative to egg, with the same taste, color, and texture, but with nutrition as its prime focus. Evo has ensured that its product has zero cholesterol and is infused with amino acids and Vitamin D.

The startup has been testing its liquid egg in the market over the last six months and is preparing to launch it commercially by next week. Dixit believes focusing on an egg alternative gives Evo a better chance at gaining a foothold in the fast-crowding mock meat market.

“Companies are really not playing in this area of plant-based eggs so we want to be dedicated to that,” said Dixit. Besides, “egg is a sort of protein source for most people, that they are not really that much passionate about. People really love chicken and mutton recipes, but an egg is sort of functional protein-based food and people with different kinds of religious beliefs eat it,” even a subset of vegetarians, he added.

Egg scramble made of plant proteins by Evo. Photo courtesy of Evo.

Evo has signed agreements with 20 brands to introduce Evo egg as a part of their menu in restaurants. However, once the product becomes well accepted, the startup plans to also sell through online channels as a raw ingredient that can be cooked as per choice, said Dixit.

Alternative animal proteins have gained traction in metropolitans as well as semi-urban areas. And the customers come from both upper and lower-middle-income groups.

Gooddot sells its products through restaurants, direct sellers, and its online website. Its subsidiary Gooddo sells its faux meat-based dishes through QSR outlets across Mumbai, Udaipur, and Jaipur.

The startup partners with culinary experts to ensure the authentic end taste of its dishes. Ultimately, Gooddot’s main focus is to create an impact by lowering animal cruelty and slaughter, said Sinha.

According to him, Gooddot’s partnership with RCM, an FMCG direct selling company with an extensive network of stores across India, along with Gooddot’s relatively low-price points has helped the startup generate significant sales volume from the low and middle-income segments.

Market outlook

The total plant protein market, which includes dairy and egg substitutes apart from meat, was estimated to be worth USD 374.1 million in 2018 and is expected to grow at 8.6% CAGR to USD 565.1 million by 2023.

Both Ahimsa Food and Gooddot have grown steadily over the years. Ahimsa Food has witnessed a 25% to 30% year-on-year growth since its inception. Gooddot has been growing 100% year-on-year and currently sells over 15,000 packets of ready-to-cook mock meat dishes every day.

Investors are also bullish on the plant-based protein market in India.

“There is great potential for the faux meat market in India because of the country’s long-established history with plant-based foods and vegetarianism,” said Andrew D. Ive, General Managing Partner of Big Idea Ventures (BIV), a US-based venture capital firm that focuses on food-tech companies. “We think that faux meat strikes a chord with Indian millennials who are particularly keen on eating healthy and ethically-produced food.”

Last year, BIV invested in Evo, which went through its accelerator program. In October last year, BIV also announced its plans to launch an ‘Alternative Protein Fund’ and an accelerator exclusively for Indian entrepreneurs. The Mumbai-based accelerator is set to accept applications this year, while it has started raising capital for its USD 25 million fund.

According to Ive, “The alternative protein sector is in a phase of rapid global growth, and India is one of the most promising markets for an ecosystem of world-class startups to emerge. The conditions in India are ripe for innovation in the alternative protein space,” he said. That’s because India has the largest vegetarian population in the world, and Indian consumers have indicated a strong willingness to try more plant-based products for health and environmental reasons.

With the growing demand for meat and the need for sustainability in the face of climate change, plant-based and other faux meat and animal protein substitutes are not just a choice, but also a necessity. However, adopting a strictly vegan diet may be difficult, and hard to sustain.

Therefore, “We are not telling people to become 100% vegan. The first step is to become a flexitarian. If you’re flexible, you eliminate one day of eating meat, and you substitute it, and slowly get used to the diet,” said Jadhvani.

Afraid of eating chicken due to bird flu? Try these five vegetarian foods high in protein for a balanced diet

HealthSalome PhelameiUpdated Jan 18, 2021 | 11:29 IST

https://www.timesnownews.com/health/article/afraid-of-eating-chicken-due-to-bird-flu-try-these-five-vegetarian-foods-high-in-protein-for-a-balanced-diet/708540

Mounting evidence suggests that replacing animal proteins with plant-based proteins can benefit your health in numerous ways.

Afraid of eating chicken due to bird flu? Try these five vegetarian foods high in protein for a balanced dietAfraid of eating chicken due to bird flu? Try these five vegetarian foods high in protein for a balanced diet  |  Photo Credit: iStock Images

KEY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Vegetables and fruits are an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet
  • Research has shown that replacing animal-based foods with plant-based foods lowers the risk of many diseases
  • Here are some of the best vegetarian foods loaded with protein, fibre and other essential nutrients you can add to your diet for a healthier, fitter you

New Delhi: We all know the fact that protein is an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet. Research has proven that a high-protein diet can increase muscle mass and strength, boost metabolism and aid weight loss. But who says one needs to eat poultry, beef, or fish to create a delicious and fulfilling meal? Mounting evidence suggests that replacing animal proteins with plant-based proteins can benefit your health in numerous ways, including lowering the risk of death from cancer and heart disease.

So, whether you’re trying to avoid consumption of chicken and eggs due to bird flu scare or simply want to improve your diet, swapping meats in dishes for those nutrient-dense, fresh veggies could be one of the simplest and healthiest ways to improve health and well-being. And here’s a list of vegetarian foods that are packed full of protein.

Vegetarian foods high in protein

  1. Lentils: Lentils, like beans, are chock full of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. One-half cup of cooked lentils contains about 1 grams of protein, which is more than the amount in a hamburger. Lentils make for an excellent replacement for meat in your diet. They are also an excellent source of B vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc.
  2. Black beans: A diet rich in plant-based foods such as beans has been linked to a reduced risk of several serious medical conditions, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. It can also help your body process calories more effectively. High in protein, fibre, antioxidants and other essential nutrients, black beans are another healthy vegetable swap for meat in your diet. What’s more, they are low in fat and have no cholesterol. One serving of cooked black beans (1/2 cup) can give you about 8 grams of protein.
  3. Chickpeas: Chickpeas are another legume packed full of nutrients. Apart from protein, they are high in fibre and several vitamins and minerals with a moderate amount of calories. Their health benefits range from aiding weight management to supporting blood sugar control and protecting against certain cancers. One cup of cooked chickpeas contains about 15 grams of protein.
  4. Soya beans: A complete protein, comparable in quality with animal proteins, soya beans or soybeans are high in dietary fibre and other essential nutrients like iron. They are low in fat and free of cholesterol. In fact, soy is one of the few known plant foods that have all the essential amino acids – like those found in meats. One cup of soyabeans contains about 31 grams of protein.
  5. Tofu and tempeh: Both originate from soybeans, tofu and tempeh are a complete source of protein. They also contain high amounts of several other nutrients and antioxidants that can improve health in a number of ways. They can be used in a variety of recipes such as burgers, soups, etc. Both tofu can tempeh come with about 10-19 grams of protein per 100 grams.

The bottom line is, all vegetables come with healthful vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that can help prevent or reduce your risk of disease and promote overall health. Try to add a range of veggies daily to your diet to reap as many health benefits as possible.

Explainer: what is the deadly India-China border dispute about?

At least 20 soldiers have died in fighting along the disputed Himalayan border, the first fatal clash between the nations since 1975

 Indian protesters burn effigies of President Xi after China border clash – video

What has happened?

At least 20 people have died in clashes between Indian and Chinese troops along the disputed Himalayan border running along the Ladakh area of Kashmir. It is the first fatal clash since 1975 and the most serious since 1967.

Fighting broke out on Monday evening when an Indian patrol came across Chinese forces on a narrow ridge. During the confrontation an Indian commanding officer was pushed and fell into the river gorge, sources told the Guardian. Hundreds of troops from both sides were called in and fought with rocks and clubs. Several fell to their deaths.

The Indian Army said there were casualties on both sides, and confirmed three of its soldiers were killed during the clashes, with another 17 later succumbing to injuries.

Beijing has refused to confirm any deaths on its side, but accused India of crossing the border twice and “provoking and attacking Chinese personnel”. The editor in chief of state-run the Global Times, said he understood there had been Chinese casualties, but the People’s Liberation Army wanted to avoid “stoking public mood” by comparing numbers.

Why now?

Tensions have been escalating since late April, when China sent thousands of troops into the disputed territory along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), bringing artillery and vehicles.

Their refusal to leave disputed areas, including the Galwan Valley inside Indian territory, has triggered shouting matches, stone-throwing and fistfights in key border areas. Last month, there was a massive brawl between patrols, but no deaths.

Earlier this month senior military leaders from both sides met and made a commitment to disengagement.

What is the history of the dispute?

India and China fought a war in 1962 over their contested border in the Himalayas. The war ended with a truce and the formation of a de facto boundary, known as the Line of Actual Control.

There has been an uneasy and fragile peace since, punctuated by skirmishes on the border, including in 2013 and 2017.

No official border has ever been negotiated, the region where the clashes occurred is hostile terrain, at high altitude and sparsely populated, running through the Ladakh region bordering Tibet, home to a Buddhist-majority population. It is a popular tourist destination.

What is the Line of Actual Control?

The LAC is a rough demarcation line separating Indian-controlled territory from Chinese-controlled territory. The exact location of sections of the line, particularly in the western Ladakh region, have remained in dispute. Efforts between the two countries to clarify the LAC have stalled in the past two decades, according to Indian media.

What do the two sides want?

Both countries have sought to establish their claims to territory, by heavily militarising the region. Both have built roads, airstrips, outpost stations, and other infrastructure, such as telephone lines. Troops conduct regular patrols along the disputed border. China claims more than 90,000sq km in the eastern Himalayas and another 38,000sq km in the west, both of which are disputed by India.

What next?

The conflict has enormous geopolitical consequences for the world. China and India are the two most populous nations on earth, and both are nuclear powers. They are led by governments run strongly along nationalist lines, and whose militaries are seen as markers of national status and pride.

Both parties have been working towards de-escalation in recent weeks but the loss of life makes the situation even more complicated and precarious.

Chinese state media has reported the PLA is conducting joint military exercises “aimed at the destruction of key hostile hubs in a high-elevation mountainous region”. The PLA Tibet Military Command conducted live fire drills with heavy artillery on Tuesday, with reports linking the PLA’s preparedness for high elevation combat to the clashes with India.

Cruel practice of trapping animals with explosive fruit should stop

Elephants or Wild Boars:  By Shreya | Updated: Monday, June 8, 2020, 13:20 [IST] New Delhi, June 08: The death of a starving, pregnant elephant in Palakkad allegedly consuming a pineapple stuffed with explosives caused outrage on social media. The jumbo went through unthinkable trauma, stood impassively in a river and died a slow death. Video grab Various theories have shrouded the ghastly death of the elephant. While people are blaming the farmer responsible for the incident, it is important to note that the elephant was an unintended target. Primary investigations into the death of pregnant elephant in Kerala has found that it may have accidentally consumed a cracker-stuffed fruit, the environment ministry noted. NGT takes cognisance of elephant death in Kerala, seeks action-taken report from panel India public places reopen even as Covid-19 infections surge by 9000 for 5 days | Oneindia News The government noted that many a times locals resort to an illegal act of planting explosive-filled fruits to repel wild boars from entering plantation farms. In a series of tweets, the ministry has said that one person has been arrested in the matter. “Primary investigations revealed, the elephant may have accidentally consumed in such fruit.” Ministry is in constant touch with Kerala Govt and has sent them detailed advisory for immediate arrest of culprits & stringent action against any erring official that led to elephant’s death,” the ministry said. “As of now, one person has been arrested & efforts are on to nab more individuals who may have participated in this illegal & utterly inhuman act. The @WCCBHQ has also been directed to act on this matter with utmost sense of urgency. #WildlifeProtection,” the ministry posted on its official Twitter handle. So now, it has come to the light that the elephant had strayed into a trap that was intended for wild boars. Wild boars are a chronic problem to farmers because they tend to destroy crops in their search for food. To avert them, farmers have come up with cruel methods like the explosive-laced traps that claimed the elephant’s life. It’s a common practice in most of the Indian states to ward-off the animals. But that does not make this practice less evil and it has to stop at any cost. The intended target is an elephant or a wild boar, it is an inhumane method of dealing with wildlife.

Read more at: https://www.oneindia.com/india/elephants-or-wild-boars-cruel-practice-of-trapping-animals-with-explosive-fruit-strap-should-stop-3101171.html

As 1,821 elephants starve amid lockdown, experts call for end to private ownership of the animal

Elephants under private care are routinely abused and undergo immense stress.

In early April this year, a video was being circulated amongst animal rights activists in Karnataka: A mahout stating that since the lockdown, his 55-year-old captive elephant has not had anything to eat.

The elephant belonged to a temple in Mudhol district, and for the past 40 years, had been living off offerings of jaggery, sugarcane, fruits and grains provided by the people visiting the temple. Since the lockdown, the mahout had not been able to step out and the temple was running out of fodder. The video ends with the mahout appealing for help.

Ever since the lockdown, there have been several such stories that have been doing the rounds on social media, seeking donations to provide food for starving captive elephants.

Joseph Barretto, owner of Jungle Book Resort in Goa, has five elephants in captivity, which are typically used for rides and “showers” for tourists. He released a video seeking donations for “his starving elephants”.

The elephant owners of Amer Fort in Jaipur, Rajasthan, known for using at least a hundred elephants for tourist rides, also complained about the lack of income that disabled them from getting fodder for their elephants. Similarly, elephants held captive by individual owners in Kerala and religious institutions in Karnataka have been seeking help.

“It takes one pandemic to throw things out of gear,” said Suparna Ganguly of Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, an animal rights non-profit based in Bangalore, Karnataka. “It just goes on to show how precarious their situation is when they are in private custody.”

‘Owning’ an elephant

There are 2,675 captive elephants in India, according to the information received by Tamil Nadu-based animal welfare activist Antony Clement Rubin via a Right to Information response from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in November 2019 and available to Mongabay-India.

Of these, 1,821 are in private custody and the rest are under the care of the forest department of various states. Among the elephants in private custody, some are owned by individuals and others by institutions like temples and circuses.

The Indian Elephant is protected under Schedule one of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, which affords maximal protection. It is listed as “Endangered” in the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Under Section 1(5) of the Wildlife Protection Act, a captive animal is “captured, or kept or bred in captivity”. Section 40 of the Act gives special status regarding possession, inheritance, or acquisition of the animal. “This exception was originally created for the elephants that were already in captivity at the time, to regularise their possession. But it is being used to capture more elephants and issue new ownership certificates,” said Alok Hisarwala, a Goa-based lawyer who manages the Elephant Rights Campaign for Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations.

Explaining it further, he said, “It’s like this. If I step into the forest and see a wild elephant and if I get caught trying to capture it, I have committed an offence. But if the next morning, I happen to walk to the Chief Wildlife Warden’s office, telling him that I have an elephant in my backyard and that he/she is listening to all my commands, I will get the ownership certificate. They won’t ask me how I acquired the elephant.”

There are 2,675 captive elephants in India. Credit: Radhika Agarwal/Mongabay

Currently, there are 1,251 captive elephants with ownership certificates and 723 elephants whose ownership certificates are still under process. “These captive elephants are brought as baby calves from the Northeast to Rajasthan and trained for tourist rides,” said Abhishek Singh, an animal welfare activist based in Jaipur. “A [memorandum of understanding] was passed between the Forest Department and some of the non-profits in the area, about four to five years back that no more new elephants will be brought to the state,” he said. “But the rules continue to be flouted.”

Moreover, elephants are used for commercial purposes. Under the Performing Animals Registration Rules, 2001 – part of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 – using captive elephants for commercial purposes such as tourism is strictly prohibited unless specific permission is obtained by the Animal Welfare Board of India. There are several state-specific laws, as well.

Elephants under stress

In 2017, members of the Animal Welfare Board of India attempted to conduct health checks on the elephants in Jaipur. Out of the 102 elephants tested, at least ten showed symptoms of tuberculosis, a zoonotic disease. The report also revealed that elephants were suffering from blindness, had their tusks removed, and were under extreme psychological stress. However, no action was taken at the time.

“We tried to organise a health camp earlier this year, but that was also cancelled at the last minute,” said Singh. In fact, earlier in March, PETA wrote a letter to the chief minister of Rajasthan, urging him to stop the elephant rides because of the potential risk to tourists of contracting tuberculosis.

“The elephants are constantly abused, they are made to stay in concrete stalls, they have foot diseases, ankush [a sharp instrument used by mahouts] is used to control them, and they are constantly under stress,” said Singh.

In August 2019, a study assessing physiological stress in captive Asian elephants was published by scientists at CSIR- Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad. The study checked the amount of stress hormones called glucocorticoids in 870 dung samples from 37 captive elephants. The samples were collected from elephants that were engaged in different activities – from Mysore zoo, Mysore Dussehra temporary elephant camp, Mudumalai Tiger reserve elephant camp, and Bandhavgarh Tiger reserve elephant camp.

The elephants from the Mysore Dussehra camp, which were made to perform at religious ceremonies had a higher amount of stress hormones than others. The study explained that heightened levels of stress can cause infertility, hyperglycemia, suppression of immune response, imperfect wound healing, and neuronal cell death.

“Elephants are social animals, they need other elephants around them, and when they are kept isolated environments such as temples, it automatically elevates their stress hormones,” said Sreedhar Vijayakrishnan, a researcher on elephant behavior at National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore.

“In females, this disrupts their reproductive cycle,” he said. Male elephants go into musth at around 20-21 years of age. Their testosterone level goes up and their raging behavior increases. “This means they travel a larger distance than normal, in search of a mate. When you keep them in captivity in one place, it automatically increases their stress level,” he said.

“Some of the manifestations of stress include stereotypic behaviour – rocking, swaying, head-bobbing, and other repetitive movements,” said Dr Shantanu Kalambi, wildlife veterinarian and consultant at Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, based in Bangalore. “This sometimes causes them to walk in an awkward manner, leading to arthritis and spondylosis.”

Further explaining the physiological problems captive elephants go through, feet are the “biggest issue” for them, he said. “Thanks to constantly standing or walking on unsuitable hard surfaces, they have bad feet, abscess in the foot and hips, broken nails, and develop arthritis over time,” he added.

Other issues they face include blindness and cataract, “since they are out in the sun all the time.” If they had their own will, they would find shade, he said.

Elephants in captivity are often not allowed to have mud baths. “Mud acts like sunscreen for them, and keeps away ectoparasites,” said Kalambi. As a result, they develop skin problems.

“Increasing cases of conflict in captivity, manifested in the form of property damages and human casualties, is another issue in captive conditions,” said Vijayakrishnan. Several times a year, local papers report headlines such as “Elephant runs amok during temple festival in Kerala” or “Elephant crushes mahout to death”. “This is an area that is often overlooked, and is also a result of stress and inadequate rest for the elephant,” he said.

Research shows that isolation, confinement and increased workload causes stress in elephants, which manifests itself in various physiological problems. Credit: Shantanu Kalambi via Mongabay

Response to pandemic

Conservationists and activists say that an average middle-aged healthy elephant needs 100-150 kg of food per day, consisting of grass, foliage, hay, banana stock, ragi, rice, gingelly oil, vegetables, pulses and fruits, along with 5,000 gallons of water. Captive elephants are heavily dependent on human intervention for their well-being, especially their mahouts, who play an active role in their positive reinforcement. The ones that are medically unfit require regular veterinary assistance. On average, the bare minimum cost for providing nutrition, medical needs and logistic support for one captive elephant amounts to approximately Rs one lakh per month.

In response to the current Covid-19 crisis, Singh explained that each elephant handler in Jaipur was given Rs 600 per day for the food and upkeep of the elephant, by the Rajasthan forest department. “This is too less an amount,” said Singh. “One needs at least Rs 2,000-Rs 3,000 per day for an elephant.”

In Kerala, the state government released Rs five crore for animal welfare, which includes the 479 privately-owned captive elephants in the state. In Karnataka, the high court passed an order on April 9, asking the state’s forest department to ensure the upkeep of the state’s privately-owned elephants.

In Tamil Nadu, activist Antony Rubin sent a letter to the forest department, requesting them to allocate appropriate funds, food and veterinary attention to the state’s captive elephants, as well as to the mahouts. The confidential letter is available with Mongabay-India.

Need of the hour

While a long term policy change is the need of the hour, experts offer a variety of views for handling the gentle giants in captivity. The CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology study on captive elephant stress recommends “minimising participation in religious activities, processions” and creating opportunities “for elephants to interact with other elephants in the facility.”

“We need an urgent policy change to completely ban the ownership of elephants in private hands,” said Ganguly. “Whether it is owned by an individual or an institution, this needs to be stopped by law.”

She further added, “There are many captive elephants that are currently in good condition, and many in a bad condition. There needs to be formed a neutral committee, that consists of experts in the field, that can make a detailed report on the kind of housing and facility these elephants need.

More: https://scroll.in/article/963171/as-1821-elephants-starve-amid-lockdown-experts-call-for-end-to-private-ownership-of-the-animal

Himalayas Visible For First Time In 30 Years As India Lockdown Sparks Stunning Drop In Pollution

Authored by Elias Marat via TheMindUnleashed.com,

For many residents, the sight is something which they have never witnessed in their entire lives…

For the first time in 30 years, India’s snow-covered Dhauladhar mountain range has become visible to locals as a result of plunging pollution levels resulting from measures taken to check the spread of the novel coronavirus.

For many residents, the sight of the Dhauladhar Range—which translates to “White Range” and forms part of the Himalayas—is something which they have never witnessed in their entire lives, reports SBS.

Many have been eager to share their feelings about it on social media, including former Indian cricket player Harbhajan Singh, who wrote:

“Never seen Dhauladar range from my home rooftop in Jalandhar. Never could imagine that’s possible. A clear indication of the impact the pollution has done by us to mother earth.” 

Harbhajan Turbanator

@harbhajan_singh

Never seen Dhauladar range from my home rooftop in Jalandhar..never could imagine that’s possible..clear indication of the impact the pollution has done by us to Mother Earth 🌍.. this is the view

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While anti-pollution activist Sant Balbir Singh Seeechewal told SBS:

“We can see the snow-covered mountains clearly from our roofs. And not just that, stars are visible at night. I have never seen anything like this in recent times.” 

India, a country with upwards of 1.3 billion residents, has been placed under a strict nationwide lockdown from March 22 until at least April 14. The draconian move limits the movement of the entire population, and has been criticized by rights groups as well as figures from private industry who claim that the measure is arbitrary and damages the country and its economy.

On Tuesday, the Economic Times published an opinion piece by auto company executive Rajiv Bajaj arguing that “virtually no country has imposed such a sweeping lockdown as India has; I continue to believe this makes India weak rather than stronger in combating the epidemic.”

However, the lockdown—which shut down factories, marketplaces, small shops, places of worship, most public transportation and construction projects—has also provided a temporary respite from the suffocating pollution levels India is known for. No less than 21 of the world’s 30 most polluted cities are in the South Asian giant.

Arun Arora@Arun2981

From my home town in Punjab…. we had never seen mountains 😊😊

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Aditya@aapkaditya

This is from Jalandhar. Dhauladar Range approx 200-250km

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Seechewal explained:

“Not just normal traffic is off the roads, but most industry is also shut down. This has helped bring the pollution level to unbelievably low levels.”

According to CNN, government data has shown that India’s capital New Delhi has seen a 71 percent plunge of the harmful microscopic particulate matter known as PM 2.5. The particulate matter, which lodges deep into the lungs and passes into vital organs and the bloodstream, causes a number of serious risks to people’s health.

In the meantime, nitrogen dioxide spewed into the air by motor traffic and power plants has also fallen by 71 percent from 52 per cubic meter to 15 in the same period.

Similar drops in air pollutants have been registered in major cities like Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, and Mumbai.

Shailen Pratap शैलेन्द्र 🇮🇳@shailen_pratap

Today’s best news should be that Dhauladar Range,Himachal Pradesh, Himalayas have started to be visible from Jalandhar ( approximately 300 Kms). This has never happened in our lifetime. Loving Views……

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Jyoti Pande Lavakare, the co-founder of Indian environmental organization Care for Air, told the network:

“I have not seen such blue skies in Delhi for the past 10 years …It is a silver lining in terms of this awful crisis that we can step outside and breathe.”

India is hardly alone in experiencing a vast improvement of air quality in association with government clampdowns meant to curb the spread of the pandemic.

From China to Europe and even the notoriously smoggy Los Angeles, business shutdowns and restrictions on movement have seen similar falls in nitrogen dioxide concentrations.

Seechewal is floored by the sharp drop in air pollution. He said:

“I had never imagined I would experience such a clean world around me. The unimaginable has happened. It shows nothing is impossible. We must work together to keep it like that.”

While India Is On Lockdown, Olive Ridley Turtles Start Nesting On Odisha Coast

From pollution levels reducing drastically to now marine life being able to breathe in peace, it seems like the coronavirus lockdown is seriously helping nature recoup.

TWITTER/@_HARIKRISHNAN_S

Olive Ridley sea turtles have come ashore for mass nesting at the six-kilometre-long Rushikulya beach of Odisha’s Ganjam district in the last five days and it’s owing to the coronavirus lockdown.

These rare sea turtles are renowned for their mass nesting and come to Indian shores and Odisha’s coast every nesting season; the areas are their largest nesting site in the region. According to the Odisha Wildlife Organisation ( OWO), nearly 50 per cent of the world population of these rare turtles come to Odisha’s coast for nesting.

On March 22 at around 2 am, 2,000 female Olive Ridleys started coming out of the sea to the beach, Berhampur Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Amlan Nayak, told The Hindu. 

Ankit Kumar, IFS@AnkitKumar_IFS

ARRIBADA ~Spanish Word – means ‘Arrival’ 🐢
Refers to mass-nesting event when 1000s of Turtles come ashore at the same time to lay eggs on the same beach.
Interestingly, females return to the very same beach from where they first hatched, to lay their eggs.
🏖️ Olive Ridley Turtle

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Rumours on coronavirus severely impacting poultry sale in India, say officials

Chickens

NEW DELHI: Rumours claiming spread of coronavirus through chickens, circulated widely through social media platforms such as, WhatsApp, has severely impacted sale of chickens in the country.

Chicken sales have come odwn by 50 percent, said an official from Agribusiness company Godrej Agrovet Limited.

Godrej Agrovet Managing Director B S Yadav said that sales have fallen to 40 million birds from 75 million in just four weeks.

Farmers have also been hurt as they are unable to recover costs earning Rs 30-Rs 35 per bird.

According to some reports, farmers have already started cutting down on production which might cost price hike in coming months.

It is important to note that bird flu is also a huge concern for many people.

In January this year, as many as 900 fowls were culled after the avian influenza virus was detected in a dead bird in Bangalore. “A chicken was found dead on December 29 at a chicken shop in (suburban) Dasarahalli area and it was confirmed after lab tests that the bird was infected with the H5N1 avian influenza virus,” Bruhat Bengaluru Mahagara Palike (BBMP) Joint Commissioner S. garaju told IANS.

China has reported a deadly H5N1 bird flu outbreak among chickens in Hunan province, which lies on the southern border of Hubei, the epicenter of the rapidly spreading coronavirus that has killed 304 people.

More than 100,000 poultry have been culled in 10 provinces and cities of Vietnam where A/H5N6 and A/H5N1 bird flu broke out, Vietnam News Agency cited the country’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development said that between early January and February 24, Vietnam had 34 bird flu outbreaks with over 100,000 poultry culled, among which 29 were A/H5N6 and the rest five were A/H5N1 in 10 provinces and cities of Hanoi, Bac Ninh, Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, Tra Vinh, Thai Binh, Binh Duong, Ninh Binh, Hai Phong, and Quang Ninh.

H5N1 virus-infected birds spread the virus through their saliva, mucus and faeces. Although the virus does not usually infect people, it can cause fever, diarrhoea, respiratory illnesses in some affected people.