“As recently as 100 years ago, an estimated one lakh tigers roamed about in Asia. Today we can only count a few hundreds. For every two tiger skins seized from poachers, there are 20 leopard skins. If this situation continues, many species may become extinct at a rate faster than we can think of,” said K. Venkataraman, Director, Zoological Survey of India.

Such a situation also prevails with regard to the 3,000 varieties of coral reef species the country boasts of, he added.

Dr. Venkataraman was inaugurating the refurbished coral and invertebrates gallery at the Government Museum here on Tuesday.

Condemning destructive fishing practices and coral mining activities, he underscored the need to protect sea cucumbers, reef building corals, organ pipe corals, star tortoise and slender loris and many other species that are poached for commercial interests. “Many of the coral reefs are over 50 million year old. Not only is it necessary to protect them in their habitat, but it is also important to preserve the specimens in museums for the benefit of future generations,” he said.

A shortage of people interested in the study of estuaries, mangroves, lagoons and seaweeds has resulted in fewer publications on marine species and behaviour, he added.

The gallery now displays specimens of various coral reef species supported by visual aids, enlarged models of paramecium and bacteria, freshwater and marine water sponges and species of hydroids from the Gulf of Mannar. Parasitic worms and leeches from Krusadai Island are also displayed as wet preserved specimens.

Models of rare animals with information on the implications of illegal trade of ivory items, shahtoosh shawls, certain marine products and reptile skins were displayed at a day-long exhibition on various wildlife crimes. “We need promotional measures to make museums more than a pastime for visitors and increase their educational value. We also need curative measures to help museums guide adults to learn to conserve nature,” said T. S. Sridhar, Principal Secretary and Commissioner of Museums, inaugurating the exhibition.

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