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Uncovering Valmiki’s treasures: Four more species added to the Tiger Reserve baseline

Valmiki Tiger Reserve, August 6, 2013: “There has been such a buzz and excitement in the Valmiki Tiger Reserve for the last two months – and surprisingly, it’s not a tiger-spotting that has caused it this time”, says Dr. Samir Kumar Sinha, Wildlife Trust of India’s Regional Head in Bihar.

Samir is talking about an animal that was caught on camera traps placed by Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) last week – a crab-eating mongoose.

The crab-eating mongoose (Herpestes urva), listed as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List, is a mongoose species found in a variety of habitats across northeast India and South-east Asia. It grey, with a thick white stripe on its neck extending to its chest.

The crab-eating mongoose caught on camera
Photo credit: WTI/Bihar Forest Department

“This is a great find,” said Vivek Menon, WTI’s Executive Director, adding that this would mean modification on the species' range in India in his 'Field Guide to Indian Mammals'. "It was earlier found only in northeast India. Valmiki will now be added in the crab-eating mongoose’s habitat range!”

Samir added, “When we started working here, almost ten years ago, we were faced with a number of challenges: neglect, intense biotic pressure from villages around, and a lack of baseline data on tigers, despite it being a tiger reserve! Since then it has come a long way. People have taken notice of Valmiki and some great collaborative efforts are in place to help its revival.”

There has been no official record of this mongoose ever having been spotted in Valmiki Tiger Reserve before. “We placed 15 camera traps in different strategic areas of the reserve, in order to photograph a tiger in the monsoons – breeding season for the national animal,” said Samir. “We didn’t manage to spot a tigress or cubs, like we had hoped, but we did see other beauties like a sloth bear and a leopard. But nothing compared to the feeling of discovering the presence of an animal that has never been seen here before.”

The last two months seem to have been full of serendipitous discoveries. “The Bihar Forest Department also identified two other new species in the same time, when we put out camera traps in collaboration with WWF – a Himalayan serow (Capricornis thar) and Yellow-throated marten (Martes flavigula),” said Santosh Tiwari, the Field Director of the park.

Samir had earlier also spotted a hoary-bellied squirrel (Callosciurus pygerythrus) , which, too, is not listed in the Zoological Survey of India records for the area.

The hoary-bellied squirrel. Photo credit: Samir Sinha/WTI

All these species have been recorded in the neighbouring Chitwan National Park in Nepal, which forms the northern boundary of the Valmiki. “Wildlife has been known to migrate into the reserve from across the border, but when we record individual mammals' range extension, it is still a very special feeling,” says Samir. “Valmiki is the exclusive habitat in India for several wildlife species  – including the Indian gaur and wild dog. Discovering these new mammals has only added to the diversity and richness of the area.”

Camera traps have proved to be a vital tool to record wildlife in Valmiki, where spotting wildlife is directly is touch, with the dense under-storey vegetation and the uneven terrain. They work on a simple principle – as soon as the heat sensor in the camera registers a temperature difference – the shutter of the camera clicks, thus trapping the image of the animal in front of it. Wildlife Trust of India has been using camera traps to record wild animals in the reserve since 2005, apart from implementing measures to reduce villagers’ dependency on the reserve, with support from US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) and Sir Dorabji Tata Trust (SDTT).

The Himalayan serow and Yellow-throated marten
Photo credit: WWF-India/Bihar Forest Department

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