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Croak! Hiss! Survey finds 55 new species

- First joint study in Manas transborder area

Jorhat, July 8: At least 55 species of herpetofauna, comprising 20 amphibian species and 35 reptile species, were found during a survey conducted in the Indo-Bhutan Manas trans-border landscape, which is one of the single largest protected area landscapes in the world.

Interestingly, some of these species, especially the green tree frog, bubble nest frog, twin-spotted tree frog, blue fan-throated lizard, water monitor lizard, king cobra and pope’s pit viper, were recorded for the first time in the landscape, spreading across both India and Bhutan.

The Indian part of this landscape, the Manas National Park holds the status of a Unesco natural World Heritage Site.

Although the rich diversity of mammals and birds of the landscape has been well documented, there has been hitherto scanty information regarding the reptiles and amphibians in the area. As such a rapid herpetofaunal survey was undertaken from June 16 to June 24 last. The survey was part of a trans-boundary conservation initiative and was funded and led by the authorities of Manas National Park, India and Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan.

Manas National Park deputy director Sonali Ghosh told The Telegraph over phone that it was the first time that a joint survey was carried out in the landscape to ascertain the amphibian and reptile population.

The technical team was led by herpetologist Abhijit Das of Wildlife Institute of India (WII) along with other researchers from WII, Arya Vidyapeeth College, Gauhati University and NGO Aaranyak along with the frontline staff of various anti-poaching camps of the national parks.

Ghosh said some of the noteworthy species recorded in the trans-border landscape were green tree frogs, bubble nest frogs, twin spotted tree frogs, blue fan-throated lizards, water monitor lizards, king cobras and pope’s pit vipers.

“This is the first time that these species were recorded in the particular landscape,” she said.

She said some of the species found were of utmost scientific interest. Habitat patches at Lotajhar and Doimari inside Manas National Park were found to be particularly rich in forest species whereas grassland-wetland areas such as Kuribeel under Bansbari range was identified as a critical turtle habitat of the park.

The forest official said other components of this trans-boundary conservation initiative was to train the frontline staff of the forest department in both the study locations, in MNP and RMNP to inculcate in them an understanding towards reptile and amphibian conservation in their respective areas.

“To fulfil this aim, power point presentations and hands on training on survey methodology, acoustics search in case of amphibians, reptile handling, identification of venomous and non-venomous snakes, morphometry of frogs and lizards, photo documentation and data maintenance were also imparted to the field staff,” she said.

A release issued by Manas National Park authorities quoted Abhijit Das stating that the survey indicated a bewildering herpetofaunal diversity of the landscape, much of which is still unknown.

He emphasised the need for conducting long term and periodic surveys to have a better understanding of the species’ richness and ecology.

R.P. Agarwalla, principal chief conservator of forest and chief wildlife warden of Assam, welcomed the initiative and urged the Manas National Park authorities to propose annual faunal surveys in the landscape.


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