PUNE: As many as 25 pairs of the critically endangered forest owlet , which is endemic to India, will be colour-banded to study their distribution, population, demography and ecology. City-based Wildlife Research and Conservation Society (WRCS) plans to carry out the project in Melghat and Tadoba tiger reserves, and in Toranmal in Nandurbar district of the state.
The forest owlet (Heteroglaux blewitti)
The society would make recommendations to help save the species listed in Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act of India, 2002.
Asad Rahmani, director of the Bombay Natural History Society, said the the nesting sites and habitats of the forest owlets must be protected. “This species, of which very few birds are left, is only found in India. With this research, we will be able to understand their ecology better which will help in their conservation.” Rahmani, who has provided the society with guidance in trapping the bird, said individual identification of any species in the wild is always useful for collecting information.
The forest owlet (scientific name Heteroglaux blewitti) is a small-sized (25cm) typical owl, with an almost unspotted crown and heavily banded wings and tail. The bird was considered to be extinct due to lack of authentic records from 1884 till 1997 when it was re-discovered by Pamela Rasmussen and Ben King of the Smithsonian Institute.
“Forest owlets don’t have a roosting habitat. They nest in cavities of trees which makes spotting difficult. Moreover, they don’t have any distinct features to differentiate one from the other,” said executive director Prachi Mehta of WRCS, who will lead the team along with Jayant Kulkarni and field researcher S K Sajan.
One advantage, she added, is that these birds are active during the day. Banding would make it easier to spot and follow them.
In the first phase of the project, a team will capture and mark the birds with differently-coloured bands to ascertain their population and demographic (male: female) size and to study patterns of nesting, breeding and ecological requirements (prey and feeding).
The research has got a thumbs-up from ornithologist Satish Pandey. “Conservation is not possible without scientific observation. More such studies need to be undertaken if we have to understand the dynamics of movement, longevity, pairing patterns and behaviour of fledglings.”
The project, supported by the union department of science and technology and MBZ Species Conservation Fund, follows a survey by the society which reported a heightened risk of loss of the birds’ traditional habitat because of rampant tree-felling and fires.
“Forest Owlets are typically found in teak-dominant forests. However, they were not detected in their historical and natural habitats of Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat and even eastern Madhya Pradesh, possibly because of an increase in biotic influences and rapid deforestation, which is why it is critical to find and understand the factors for their survival,” said Mehta.
“While tourists and bird-watchers have reported sighting the Forest Owlet, this is the first time that a scientific research is being done on their population. It continues to be on the critically endangered list as, not only are they very few in number, but also because they live in fragmented areas,” said Mehta, adding that the largest chunk was believed to be in the protected Melghat Tiger Reserve in the state.
The society, which has already banded a few of the birds in Madhya Pradesh, hopes to begin the process in Maharashtra by September. “We have got permission from the union ministry of environment and forests and also the state,” Mehta said.
“This kind of work is being done all over the world and should be promoted in India too. For the Forest Owlets, it is all the more important since they are critically endangered. If we have to save them, we need more information about them,” he said.
Pandey has suggested fixing of satellite transmitters on the birds. “The birds have been around, even though they were believed to be extinct. Now that they have been spotted, their study will give a boost to their conservation.”
Pandey is also hopeful that the research will clarify the risk of genetic dilution based on theories of cross breeding of forest owlets with other similar breeds around the Melghat Tiger reserve because very few of them were remaining.
The society works on issues related to conservation of wildlife, forests and biodiversity. Their areas of interest include ecological studies, wildlife population monitoring, human-wildlife interactions, community-oriented conservation initiatives and habitat conservation and restoration.
source : timesofindia.indiatimes.com