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Markhor survey team in Kashmir
Markhor survey team in the northern Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. The Schaller Conservation Survey established presence of 350 markhors in the state, paving way for the creation of the Kazinag National Park and expansion of Hirapora Wildlife Sanctuary



India is home to more than 400 species of mammals, 1200 birds, 450 reptiles, 200 amphibians and 2500 fish in addition to numerous other life forms. A large proportion of these natural riches is today threatened by circumstances of human creation. Yet, most conservation initiatives across the country focus on few major species even as many others gradually disappear unnoticed and presumably even undiscovered.

It is logical that conservation initiatives targeting a flagship species benefit other wildlife living within the same habitat. However, not all species are fortunate enough to yield these benefits - either because no popular flagship species share their space or because conservation initiatives targeting the flagship concerned are limited.

Many species are in dire need of targeted conservation measures, but a lack of information on their ecology and distribution undermines formulation of an effective conservation plan and its implementation. 



Mishmi takin survey team in Arunachal Pradesh
Mishmi takin (Budorcas taxicolor) survey team in the northeastern Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh.
Inset: A displaced Mishmi takin, rescued by the Deputy Commissioner, Upper Debang Valley, Arunachal Pradesh, in 2007, and handed over to the Forest Department for rehabilitation

For any effective conservation action, baseline information on the species concerned is of critical importance. Hence, research and surveys play a significant role in conservation.

Understanding that a dearth of information hampered conservation of many threatened species, the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) launched its ‘Conservation Survey’ division in 2002. It was later renamed Schaller Conservation Surveys as a tribute to eminent conservationist Dr George Schaller, who had donated a generous sum from an international award accorded to him by the Bombay Natural History Society to WTI.

Schaller Conservation Surveys specifically conducts studies on threatened species that are not in the limelight, to help develop focussed conservation strategies. It aims to generate baseline information on less-studied species, identify threats and recommend actions for their conservation.

The surveys follow appropriate scientific methodologies to generate reliable data on distribution, population, ecology, and even behaviour of the subject species, depending on the need. Often, as the species covered under these surveys have minimal background information available on them to even plan out a formal study, knowledgeable local people are interviewed to collate valuable secondary information.

Over the years, surveys have been conducted on the Phayre’s leaf monkey, Kashmir markhor, Tibetan antelope, Ladakh urial, hangul, wild yak, Mishmi takin, Malabar civet and red jungle fowl, among others.

A herd of Tibetan antelopes in the Chang Thang plateau
A herd of Tibetan antelopes. Schaller Conservation Surveys established the presence of the Tibetan antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii) in Karakoram and Chang Thang in Jammu & Kashmir



A Phayre's leaf monkey in Sepahijala Wildlife Sanctuary, Tripura
Schaller Conservation Surveys established the presence of the Phayre's leaf monkey (Trachypithecus phayrei) in four new areas in northeast India

-- Undertook the first ever comprehensive survey for the Kashmir markhor (Capra falconeri cashmiriensis) in Jammu and Kashmir. The survey found that there were at least 350 of the species still present in Indian territory. This was followed up with assistance to the Jammu and Kashmir government to notify a new national park, Kazinag National Park, and expand a sanctuary, Hirpura Wildlife Sanctuary, for the conservation of the markhor, as recommended by the survey. Learn More

-- Established the presence of the endangered Phayre’s leaf monkey (Trachypithecus phayrei) from four new localities in the north east. The species was previously reported from Dampa Tiger Reserve and Ngengpui Wildlife Sanctuary in Mizoram and Innerline, Patharia, Longai, Tilbhum Reserve Forests and Borojalenga and Silcoorie Tea Estates in Assam. While confirming the continued existence of the species in the previously reported areas, the survey conducted between May 2002 and May 2003, additionally reported the sightings of the species in Murlen National Park, Lengteng and Khawnglung Wildlife Sanctuaries in Mizoram and Irongmara Tea Estate in Assam. Learn More

-- Established the Tibetan antelope and wild yak populations of Ladakh. The Deparment of Wildlife Protection, Jammu & Kashmir along with the Indian Army and WTI carried out the surveys in Chang Thang and Karakoram Wildlife Sanctuaries in Ladakh between 2005 and 2006. The survey team found 250-300 Tibetan antelopes in Karakoram and 55-60 individuals in Chang Thang. A total of 79 wild yaks were found in Chang Thang. Learn More

Wild yak survey
A survey of wild yaks conducted under the Schaller Conservation Surveys found 79 individuals in Chang Thang



A hangul in Dachigam, Jammu & Kashmir
A hangul (Cervus elaphus hanglu) in Dachigam National Park, Jammu & Kashmir. Schaller Conservation Surveys established the presence of hangul in 17 sites outside Dachigam

-- Survey of the threatened goat-antelope Mishmi takin (Budorcas taxicolor) continues, to establish the present distribution and status of the species in two areas each in Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. The surveys will also include identification of threats, and will facilitate awareness programmes and community-based conservation of the species.

A local person in Kupwara, Jammu & Kashmir, displays a hangul horn
A local person in Kupwara, Jammu & Kashmir, displays a hangul antler

-- Between October 2008 – January 2009, surveys were conducted in 33 sites in the North, South and Central Wildlife Divisions in Jammu & Kashmir, to establish the presence of hangul (Cervus elaphus hanglu) outside Dachigam National Park (where a well-established population is known to exist). Through indirect evidences and interviews with local people, hunters, and security personnel who patrol the area, presence of hangul was established in 17 of the 33 sites. Learn More   

-- Previously thought to number 1,500 individuals, the survey conducted in 2003 showed that the population of Ladakh urial (Ovis vignei vignei) had declined to 700-800. Learn More

-- A survey was carried out in River Cauvery in Karnataka to understand the presence and ecology of the otter species. The survey, conducted in February-March, 2003, revealed presence of Oriental small-clawed otter (Amblonyx cinereus) and smooth-coated otter (Lutra perspicillata) along the river. It further revealed that the ecological niches of the two species were clearly separated with the former being found in a wet evergreen forest patch while the latter was found to occur in the plains.
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