King cobra under pressure from habitat loss in Kerala

Published - January 31, 2011 02:13 am IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM:

Large-scale deforestation and the disturbances caused by poachers and illicit liquor-brewers could be forcing king cobras to migrate from their natural habitat in bamboo-rich dense evergreen forests to villages nearby.

A study conducted by the researchers of the Department of Zoology, University of Kerala, and the Reptile Study Group, Thiruvananthapuram, has revealed that the king cobra, the world's longest venomous snake, is under increasing pressure from habitat loss.

The study, presented at the first Indian biodiversity congress held here last month, was aimed at documenting the migration pattern of the dreaded snake in human habitats, recording the seasonal day-night data and establishing a baseline dataset for future comparison.

It was based on a preliminary survey of the sightings of king cobras in human habitats during the period October 2008 to November 2010. Almost all the snakes were caught by local snake-catchers from bathrooms and courtyards of houses and public roads.

A total of 26 sightings were recorded across Kerala, most of which during the rainy season.

According to the paper, the occurrences were strange as king cobras were never known to trespass into human territory.

They also highlighted the danger to humans from the snake that was known to be fierce, agile and capable of delivering up to 600 mg of highly potent neurotoxic venom in a single bite.

The report, prepared by R. Dileep Kumar, S. Baiju, K. Anaswara, L. Divya and O.V. Oommen from the Department of Zoology, and B. Suresh of the Reptile Study Group, observed that much of the king cobra's rainforest-habitat had been lost as a result of deforestation due to an increasing demand for timber and farm land, fuelled by the spiralling human population.

Pointing out that the remaining rainforests of the Western Ghats were heavily fragmented, the study stressed the need for research, education and conservation, both for the survival of the king cobra's habitat and the welfare of the millions of people dependent on forest for resources and water.

Butterflies threatened

Another paper, presented by Brilliant Rajan and others from the School of Environmental Studies under the MG University, Kottayam, observed that the grasslands of the Western Ghats in Kerala, home to a rich collection of butterflies, including endemic species, were under increasing threat from tourism, reclamation of wetlands, clearing of shola forests, and construction of roads and other such activities.

The study, which sought to document the butterfly diversity in Vagamon, a hill station bordering Idukki and Kottayam, recorded 112 species of butterflies belonging to five families, including the Southern Birdwing, Malabar Rose, Nilgiri Tiger and Pygmy Grass Hopper, four species endemic to the Western Ghats.

The Common Emigrant, Common Four Ring and Blue Tiger were the common species recorded by the researchers in the study area. Butterflies were considered ‘flagship taxa' in biodiversity inventories because they were good ecological indicators of human disturbance and habitat quality.

According to a study by the Department of Zoology and the Centre for Geo Information Science and Technology under the University of Kerala, crop raiding constituted the primary cause of conflict between humans and elephants in Kerala.

The survey recorded 222 cases of conflict in 15 settlement areas in the Munnar region from April 2008 to March 2010.

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