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Prep Before Cheetahs Become Free Ranging In Kuno National Park

  When another male cheetah, Obaan,joined the two rock stars – Freddie and Elton -- in yet another bigger enclosure of Kuno national park on November 18, only five female cheetahs remained in smaller bomas in the park where they were released on September 17. Like the three males, the five female spotted cats will also be released soon in larger bomas to run and chase their prey to kill. India’s  wildlife authorities accompanied by the experts from the cheetah conservation fund (CCF) from Namibia   have been taking utmost care and caution  before the  cheetahs in Kuno are ultimately made “free -ranging” meaning released in open to move around the entire length and breadth of the park. “Free ranging cheetahs and their monitoring  will be like a grand finale of the Project Cheetah to be played in Kuno for a longer  period in the coming years'", said a senior official of the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFC&C).  Apprehensions, Concerns  on Chee

Newly Discovered White Cheeked Macaque Faces Threat From Hydro-Power Projects

They were looking for Red Panda but stumbled upon the white-cheeked macaque, the latest among the 23 macaque species on the earth.A group of scientists the Zoological Survey of India were excited after their “newest mammal” species in the country — the White Cheeked Macaque (Macaca leucogenys).Though it was first discovered in China in 2015, its existence was unknown in India before this. The India researchers found the mammal barely 197 kms away from China, in the remote Anjaw district in central Arunachal Pradesh. The discovery has been published in the February 3 issue of international journal ‘Animal Gene’. 

Accidental Discovery 

Long white whiskers extended from the cheeks and chin gives the new monkey its name- the White Cheeked Macaque.The American Journal of Primatology explains their physical features as  “Relative hairless short tail, prominent paleto white side- and chin-whiskers creating a white cheek and round facialappearance, dark facial skin on the muzzle, long and thick hairs on its neck,and a round rather than arrow-shaped male genitalia” .  Their whiskers start growing as they reach adulthood, and their facial skin darkens, scientists explain.  The white cheeked macaque was discovered   while  researchers were exploring Himalayan species. “The discovery was entirely accidental. We were not looking for the White Cheeked Macaque ; we had received a grant of Rs 10 crore for a project to study Himalayan species — this involved exploring biodiversity of the Himalayas and studying large threatened species in the region,” ZSI scientist Dr Mukesh Thakur, also the lead author of thestudy carried out under recently retired director of ZSI, Dr Kailash Chandra, has been quoted in Indian Express . “We conducted surveys in the West Siang, Arunachal Pradesh, India and collected five faeces and two skin samples of macaques that on DNA analysis identified as white cheeked macaques. Subsequently, we undertook intensive field surveys andsuccessfully captured white cheeked macaques in camera traps as well as found acaptive juvenile individual during questionnaires from the same region,”  Indian researchers said in ‘Animal Gene’, an international journal . 

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True to their genus (Macaca), white-cheeked macaques are robust and  heavy-bodied monkeys. The two most recently described macaque species; the white-cheeked macaque andArunachal macaque (Macacamunzala) were discovered from a single biodiversity hotspot,the Eastern Himalaya. The Chinese scientists in 2015 fond White Cheeked Macaque from Medog County, located in the southeast of the Tibet Autonomous Region

 Poaching and Hydro power Stations Are Huge Threat

A lot is required to be researched about this newest mammal. Given the dearth of information about the species, theInternational Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has not yet assessedtheir population numbers or the threats to those populations. They have beenput under the category of  "Not Evaluated",   usually applies to recently described species, like the white-cheeked macaque. But thiscategorization does not mean that these whiskered monkeys are safe. Without extensive study, white-cheeked macaques are not afforded the protections thatbetter-studied species garner. We could lose these monkeys before we even know enough about them to savethem, scientists have apprehended.

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Chinese scientists have already explained thethreats faced by the fascinating monkeys. Humans  are the biggest threat . “Though the threatsare yet to be evaluated, Illegal poaching by local tribes and habitat loss dueto the construction of hydropower stations in Medog are threatening the lives of these monkeys. Ofthese two threats, the hydropower stations are the more ominous”, they warn inAmerican Journal of Primatology . They also fear that extensive tracts ofriverfront forest (white-cheeked macaque habitat) will be flooded and lostforever; new roads will lead to an influx in the human population and in humansettlements—and lead to an increase in the bushmeat trade by providing hunterswith easier access to the macaques. “Even the chief engineer for the geologicalsurvey team associated with the project has warned, Tibet's ecology isextremely vulnerable, and would be very hard to restore if damaged”, NewEngland Primate Conservancy reports. 

Alarm Call for Conservation 

Wildlife researchers also  recognize the discovery of the white-cheekedmacaque as an alarm call for the conservation of the species, along with theconservation and protection of other species  (those already discovered and yet to bediscovered) in this bio-diverse region. They urge additional wildlife surveysand studies and call for environmental protection in southeastern Tibet . 

Also read: Clouded Leopards Kiss Clouds Atop Nagaland Peak 

ArunachalPradesh—known as the “land of dawn-lit mountains” and home towhite-cheeked-macaques—is situated at the junction of the Eastern Himalayas andIndo-Burma regions. Discovery of this new primate species further highlights the high value for biodiversity conservation of southeastern Tibet and calls for more intensive surveys, studies, and environmental protection in this area”. As many as  169 hydropower projects are also proposed  to be built in Arunachal Pradesh. However, it is not known whether any of them would affect the habitat of the white cheeked macaque.

Include the New Mammal In Wildlife Protection Act

The India researchers – Avijit Ghosh,Supriyo Dalui,Tanoy Mukherjee ,Bheem Dutt Joshi, Sujeet Kumar Singh,  Gopinathan Maheswaran,Lalit Kumar Sharma ,Kailash Chandra and Mukesh Thakur - involved in the significant research  have saidthat  “ Unfortunately,white-cheeked macaque has not been yet included in the Wildlife (Protection)Act, 1972 of India and therefore, the present study laid foundation to promotefield studies in Central Arunachal Pradesh to delineate distribution boundaryand population size of white-cheeked macaque in Arunachal Pradesh”. They wrote in the February 3 issue of international journal ‘Animal Gene’, “We also demonstrate the first evidence of possible extended distribution of white-cheeked macaque covering an area ofabout 23,063  sq km.” A white-cheeked macaque geographic range map is not yet available.  The latest discovery takes India’s mammal count from 437 to 438.

Banner Image :New England Primate Conservancy / Dibyendu Ash/Creative Commons 


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