Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Neglected Mammals of Goa

The Neglected Mammals of Goa

By Dr Nandkumar M Kamat

This is the first part in a series of articles as a curtain raiser for the world environment day - June 5, 2011, and to focus public attention on neglected faunal creatures of Goa.
Goans get carried away by the hype created over a few species of animals which get good press. But in the process the rest of the fauna gets neglected. Understanding animals is a serious biological science which has been diluted by amateur busybodies in Goa.
It is awful to see hundreds of large earthworms crushed under speeding vehicles during the monsoon. It is shocking to see freshwater tortoises being sold in village markets. These unfortunate creatures end up as ‘Xacuti’ in some homes. It is sad to hear gunshots wounding fruit bats (pakhe). Every beat of Goa’s ghumat echoes the death throes of monitor lizards. Every local dish of sharks like ‘mori ambot tikh’ reminds one of the ban imposed on their catching. But our fish markets are full of banned elasmobranches fish.
People love to talk about elephants, tigers, panthers, turtles and frogs - animals which have global support. But there are hundreds of other species which also need our attention. The present knowledge of faunal diversity of Goa is based on surveys conducted by the Zoological survey of India (ZSI). They identified 1326 species of 17 groups. Among these birds dominate with 458 species.
Goa could be called a paradise of birds because 37 per cent of country’s bird diversity is found here. In our small university campus spread over less than two sq. kms area, Prof Shanbhag and his students have catalogued 110 species of birds or 25 per cent of state avian diversity.
Whereas 456 species of reptiles are found in the whole country - Goa scores well with 100 species. The most advanced group of animals - mammals is well presented here with 83 species (21 per cent) out of the total 390 for the whole country.
Mammals of Goa also comprise six marine species - Indopacific Humpback dolphin, common dolphin, spinner dolphin, back finless porpoise, fin whale and dugong. There are reports of killing of dolphins. Dugongs were sighted at Chapora and Anjuna some time back. These are extremely shy and rare marine mammals. There are many reports of whale carcasses washed ashore in coastal Goa. But the forest department doesn’t monitor such events and report these to IUCN or whale and dolphin conservation society.
The other 77 mammal species are listed here. Shrews (chichundri) are represented by Madras tree shrew, common house shrew, Savi’s pigmy shrew. Bats are very important in seed dispersal and pollination. These flying mammals have the gift of echolocation. We need a better knowledge of bats and the viruses which they carry in Goa. I would not advise anyone to consume fruits damaged or punctured by bats because there is a chance of viral transmission of diseases. Some of these viruses are fatal to humans.
The bats of Goa include 26 species - Indian fulvus fruit bat, Indian flying fox, short-nosed fruit bat, lesser Dog-faced fruit bat, Pouch-bearing tomb bat, Long winged tomb bat, Black bearded tomb bat, Theobald’s tomb bat, lesser false vampire bat, Greater false vampire bat, Blyth’s Horse-shoe bat, Rufous Horse shoe bat, fulvus leaf nosed bat, Kelaart’s leaf-nosed bat, Schneider’s leaf-nosed bat, painted bat, Tickell’s bat, Horsfields’ bat, Kellart’s Pipistrelle, Indian Pipistrelle (three subspecies), Asiatic greater yellow house bat, Asiatic lesser yellow house bat, Long-winged bat or Schreibers’ bat and Egyptian Free tailed bat.
The tiny and cute pipistrelle bats routinely visit the corridors of my faculty building during the monsoon. At night sightings of Indian flying foxes is common. They just love to hang on our fruit trees. When I used to keep ripe fruits as baits on my roof they used to descend and smartly pick them. I suspect that a colony of these giant bats may be present on ‘Bat Island’ in the Marmagoa bay.
The primates have a smaller population in Goa - slender loris (vanmanus), Bonnet Macaque (makod/khete) and Hanuman Langur (vandor) - just three out of 25 primate species in the country. There is just a single species of pangolin-Indian pangolin.
The canine family is represented by Indian jackal, Indian wild dog (dhole/kolsun) and Bengal fox. Among these we need to pay special attention to the small surviving population of highly social Indian wild dog found in the Western Ghats.
A single species of sloth bear is what is left of the ursidae family.
The smooth –coated Indian otter (ud) is a wonderful and rare species of Goa. Other wonderful and cute species include - small Indian civet, Palm civet or Toddy cat (catandor), Indian gray Mongoose, Ruddy Mongoose, Striped Hyena, Jungle cat, Leopard Cat, Rusty spotted cat, Leopard/panther, striped tiger, Indian elephant, Indian wild boar, Indian mouse deer, Indian spotted deer or chital, Sambar, Barking deer, Gaur, chosuinga or four Horned antelope.
Squirrels are well represented. The Bondla sanctuary is the best place to watch the Indian Giant Squirrel and common giant flying squirrel. There are two species of Indian giant squirrel. Other local species include three striped jungle squirrel and the Indian five striped northern palm squirrel. The latter is very common in Goa and abounds in our gardens.
Why should Goa host so many species of rats? The family of wild rats and mice, muridae family is represented by Indian Gerbil or Antelope Rat, Long tailed tree mouse, Metad rat, House rat or Roof rat, white bellied rat, Norvey rat, Indian bush rat, common house mouse, little Indian field mouse, lesser bandicoot rat and Large bandicoot rat (three subspecies). The Indian crested porcupine can be seen at the Bondla zoo.
The Indian black napped hare (soso) has been hunted down in Goa for centuries. Occasionally it is spotted after the first monsoon rains in grasslands. During my childhood, attempts to domesticate this species rescued from hunters had failed as our space was not sufficient for this mini kangaroo like creature. It used to jump so high that each leap used to take our breath away.
How much we know and care for the habitat of these 83 mammal species? The wildlife census of the forest department lists only a few species. They don’t care about the other life forms. What about the species outside the forest areas? The peculiar call of the Indian jackal is missed in the villages of Goa. Farmers now hate the monkeys destroying their plantation crops. The nocturnal and shy toddy cat now finds it difficult to hide itself, feed and reproduce as constructions have come up close to coconut plantations.

(To be concluded)

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