Jackals are disappearing from Nilgiri forests (With Image)

January 25th, 2009 - 10:14 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 25 (IANS) Jackals, a protected species, are fast disappearing from Karnataka’s southwestern Kodagu region in the Nilgiris. Alarmed conservationists are now starting a study to find out what is going wrong with nature’s scavengers.The region, with forests and coffee, tea and spice plantations, was once home to many jackals. Today their sightings have become rare.

The NGO Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) has initiated a study in the area, covering the Nagarhole National Park and the Brahmagiri Wildlife Sanctuary, to find out why jackals are disappearing.

Of the three similar species worldwide, the Golden jackal or Canis aureus is found in India. The other two are side-striped jackal and black-backed jackal.

Jackals are omnivorous. They hunt small mammals, birds and reptiles. Many live close to human settlements.

WTI says there could be a variety of reasons for their vanishing act. One could be disease. They may also fall victim to food poisoning after eating contaminated carcasses.

Jackals can be very badly affected if their prey is contaminated with pesticides. Many plantations in Kodagu, especially spice plantations, use pesticides.

Bipul Chakrabarty of WTI says: “Jackals are scavengers. They eat carcasses and that is why they are vulnerable to poisoning and disease.”

Jackals are important “pest control agents”, Chakrabarty pointed out, “by preying on rodents, among others. They are therefore an important part of the food web”. Still, they are often killed as they are considered chicken thieves by poultry farmers. Rapid urbanisation is also shrinking the habitat in which they live.

Chakrabarty said there was some evidence that jackals were also being poached for their fur, though this had not been established. “But we do know that except in the protected areas, their population is declining all over India.”

“Jackals were once common in and around Delhi. Today they are confined just to the neighbouring Sultanpur and Asola Bhatti wildlife sanctuaries,” he pointed out.

The WTI study, in collaboration with the Coorg Wildlife Society and Britain’s David Shepherd Foundation, will also look at how other animals are doing in the area.

The Nagarhole and Brahmagiri reserves are part of the Nilgiri Biosphere in the Western Ghats, which has a rich diversity of flora and fauna.

Jackals are protected by the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the animal in the “lower risk” category. India’s Recognition of Zoo Rules 1992 categorises them as endangered species.

The golden jackal is also found in Europe and other parts of Asia. The gestation period is usually 60-63 days and it gives birth to a litter of 1-9 at a time. The pups wean at four months and reach sexual maturity between one and two years.

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