| The endangered Himalayan salamander. Picture by Rajat Chakraborty
The Nature Environment and Wildlife Society (NEWS) has embarked on a project aimed at the conservation of a rare and endangered animal — the Himalayan salamander. The tiny amphibian, falling within Schedule II of the Wildlife Act, has been fast disappearing from the eastern Himalayas, as well as from countries like Thailand, Nepal, Myanmar and China.
The one year, US-funded project, titled ‘Conservation of the salamander in West Bengal’, touched base at Calcutta on Saturday for a workshop. The project has met with success, not only in identifying a natural habitat of salamanders in the Namthingpokhri area of Kurseong district, but also in facilitating captive breeding of the rare animal.
Sujit Chakrabarty, chief scientist of the project and a retired scientist of Zoological Survey of India, is “ecstatic” with the findings of his seven-member team: “The Himalayan salamander is a rare animal in the sense that it is the only tailed amphibian found in the country. It is very important to biologists and considered a ‘missing link’ in evolution. The fact that we have not only located a natural population of the animal in the temporary wetland of Kurseong but have also opened up the possibility of captive breeding, should pave the way for its survival.”
Back in 1985, the government of West Bengal had notified the small 0.04 sq-km-wide Jodhpokhri lake of Darjeeling as a salamander sanctuary. “This has been on the decline due to various man-made causes. It is very difficult to find a single salamander in Jodhpokhri now and the central government is contemplating denotifying it,” observed a wildlife expert.
The findings of the NEWS project are far more encouraging. “The project effectively began late last year. Actually, we stumbled upon the salamander habitat in connection with another project and thought that a separate move should be undertaken to conserve this habitat,” observed project coordinator Biswajit Roy Choudhury.
The project team soon found a large number of salamanders, “scattered around the dry bed of the Namthingpokhri lake”, falling prey to the local populace. The salamanders only ventured into the lake once the monsoon water started to fill up in the second week of June. The population is “quite significant” and an experiment with their breeding has proved “highly successful”.
“We took two male and female adults simultaneously in a specially-designed aquarium and they mated successfully. About 60 eggs were laid within one hour, of which about 50 per cent hatched into larvae. Then, 20 youngs were released into the lake waters,” said Chakrabarty. A small research laboratory has been built at the project site.
“The key to the success of the project, however, is to motivate locals to take the lead in protecting the salamander,” concluded field associates Partha De and Rajat Chakraborty.