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Pong witnesses migratory birds taking off due to mild winter

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Himachal Pradesh: The mild weather observed this winter at Pong, located in the Kangra valley of Himalayas, resulted in many migratory bird species leaving the place, wildlife officials said.

Pong is one of the largest man-made wetlands situated in the foothills of the Himalayas in Northern India.

An estimation of waterfowl, both local and migratory, by the state wildlife wing conducted last week at Pong, found that their number has declined by over 30,000 against last year’s count of over 135,000 birds.

Around 128,000 waterfowl from 119 species were recorded in 2014.

The influx of waterfowl in the Pong wetlands every winter is normally over the 120,000 mark.

Around 105,000 waterfowl of 87 species were spotted during the three-day census conducted from February 2.

The decline in their number was mainly due to milder temperatures in the trans-Himalayas, their native habitat, Assistant Conservator of Forests (Pong wetlands) D.S. Dadwal, who was associated with the census, told reporters.

Ornithologists from the Bombay Natural History Society, the Chandigarh Bird Club, the Himachal Bird Club, the Asian Waterfowl Census, wildlife enthusiasts, bird watchers and volunteers participated in the dawn-to-dusk bird counting exercise.

Waterfowl species are those birds that depend on water bodies for roosting and feeding. Last year, 93 species were spotted by the wildlife wing.

Even the count of the bar-headed geese, regular and prominent winter visitors in the Pong Dam wetlands spread over 307 square km, declined massively this winter.

A staggering 71,800 bar-headed geese were recorded last year, a new mark. This year, their number is around 44,000.

Flying thousands of kilometers from their native habitat in high-altitude lakes in Central Asia to avoid the extreme winter chill, the elegant shaped bar-headed geese, an endangered migratory bird species, regularly descend on India.

The Pong Dam wetlands have been emerging as their preferred wintering ground.

Listed under Schedule IV of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, the global population of the bar-headed geese is believed to be around 130,000, wildlife experts say.

Besides the bar-headed goose, other prominent species spotted in Pong in the Kangra Valley, some 250 km from Himachal Pradesh capital Shimla and 190 km from Chandigarh, are the coot, common Pochard, red-crested Pochard, great cormorant, Gadwall, Nnorthern Pintail, river tern and the Spotbill duck.

Other species recorded are the common Shelduck, the greater white fronted goose, the black bellied tern, the Sarus crane, the lesser white-fronted goose, the osprey, the buff bellied pipit and water rail. These species are not common visitors in other wetlands in India.

In Pong, an influx of the bar-headed geese can be spotted in marshy areas along the reservoir like Nagrota Suriyan, Nandpur Batoli, Chatta, Jambal and the Rancer island, say wildlife officials.

Figures from the Met Office show February 5 was the warmest day of the month in Shimla town in the past one decade with the maximum temperature recorded at 21.8 degrees Celsius, 13 degrees higher than the long-term average.

The 307 sq km Pong wetlands are also home to many native birds like the red jungle fowl, large Indian parakeet, Indian cuckoo, bank mynah, wood shrike, yellow-eyed babbler, black ibis, paradise flycatcher, crested lark and the crested bunting.

A total of 423 species of birds, 18 species of snakes, 90 species of butterflies, 24 species of mammals and 27 species of fish have so far been recorded in the Pong Dam wildlife sanctuary. (Vishal Gulati, IANS) (Photo: sbs.com.au)

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Roopkund Bones Study Reveals Mediterranean Migrants in Himalayas

Mediterranean migrants in the Himalayas: Roopkund bones study

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The study involving 28 researchers from institutions in India, the US and Europe revealed that the skeletons belonged to three genetically distinct groups. Pixabay

A study by an international team of scientists has revealed that ancient DNA from mysterious skeletons found in and around Roopkund Lake show there were Mediterranean migrants in Himalayas.

The study involving 28 researchers from institutions in India, the US and Europe revealed that the skeletons belonged to three genetically distinct groups.

The study, published in popular science journal ‘Nature Communications’, covered 38 skeletons found in Roopkund Lake and once thought to have died during a single catastrophic event. However, researchers found that they died in multiple periods separated by at least 1,000 years.

Genome-wide ancient DNA reveals that 23 of the individuals had ancestry that falls within the range of variation of present-day South Asians. A further 14 had ancestry typical of the eastern Mediterranean while one individual was found with Southeast Asian-related ancestry.

According to Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), which was part of the study, it was the first ancient DNA ever reported from India.

Nestled deep in the Himalayan mountains at 5,029 metres above sea level, Roopkund Lake is colloquially referred to as “Skeleton Lake” due to the remains of several hundred ancient humans scattered around its shores.

Himalayas
Nestled deep in the Himalayan mountains at 5,029 metres above sea level, Roopkund Lake is colloquially referred to as “Skeleton Lake”. Pixabay

“Little was known about the origin of these skeletons, as they have never been subjected to systematic anthropological or archaeological scrutiny, in part due to the disturbed nature of the site, which is frequently affected by rockslides, and which is often visited by local pilgrims and hikers who have manipulated the skeletons and removed many of the artifacts,” says the study.

“There have been multiple proposals to explain the origins of these skeletons. Local folklore describes a pilgrimage to the nearby shrine of the mountain goddess, Nanda Devi, undertaken by a king and queen and their many attendants, who “due to their inappropriate, celebratory behaviour” were struck down by the wrath of Nanda Devi. It has also been suggested that these are the remains of an army or group of merchants who were caught in a storm. Finally, it has been suggested that they were the victims of an epidemic.”

The researchers analyzed the remains using a series of bioarcheological analyses, including ancient DNA, stable isotope dietary reconstruction, radiocarbon dating, and osteological analysis.

They obtained genome-wide data from 38 individuals by extracting DNA from powder drilled from long bones, producing next-generation sequencing libraries, and enriching them for approximately 1.2 million single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) from across the genome.

Himalayas
According to Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), which was part of the study, it was the first ancient DNA ever reported from India. Pixabay

A total of 76 skeletal samples (72 long bones and four teeth) were sampled at the Anthropological Survey of India, Kolkata. Skeletal sampling was performed in dedicated ancient DNA facilities at CCMB in Hyderabad.

A subset of samples were further processed at Harvard Medical School, Boston.

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“We first became aware of the presence of multiple distinct groups at Roopkund after sequencing the mitochondrial DNA of 72 skeletons. While many of the individuals possessed genetic information typical of present-day Indian populations, we also identified a large number of individuals with genetic makeup that would be more typical of populations from West Eurasia (a term used in the study to refer to the cluster of ancestry types common in Europe, the Near East, and Iran)” says Kumarasamy Thangaraj, co-senior author and chief scientist at CCMB.

Dr Kumarasamy and then CCMB director Dr Lalji Singh, who is no more, had initiated the work of sampling the skeletons at ancient DNA lab more than a decade ago. (IANS)