1. Study on butterflies’ migration opens door for conservation
Winged beauties: (From left) Striped tiger, Blue tiger, Dark blue tiger and Plain tiger.Special Arrangement
Millions of milkweed butterflies undertake a migration between the Eastern and the Western Ghats in southern India, seeking refuge from the harsh summer.
This spectacular ecological phenomenon had been recorded more than a century ago but received little research and conservation attention until recently. However, a recent study by a team of researchers has shed light on the migration patterns of milkweed butterflies in southern India, which has the potential to contribute to the conservation of these butterflies and their migration in the face of ongoing changes in land use, habitat degradation, and climate warming.
The study was published in the recent issue of the Journal of Insect Conservation. After southwest monsoon, milkweed butterflies migrate westward from the Eastern Ghats and plains to the Western Ghats, becoming active for more than two months upon their arrival.
Between October and April, most of the milkweed butterflies in the Western Ghats congregate in large numbers at specific sites during winter and dry seasons. When the summer rain cools southern India, the butterflies migrate eastwards into the Eastern Ghats and the plains.
The studies reveal that the wings of the majority of butterflies during their eastward journey are battered than that in the westward migration.
Also, the researchers found that the dominant species involved in the migration, Dark blue tiger and Double-branded crow, are not found breeding in the mid and high-altitude evergreen and semi-evergreen forests of the Western Ghats.
P.A. Vinayan, who led the study, says the adults of Dark blue tiger and Double-branded crow that arrived in the Western Ghats may be migrating reversely and breeding in the Eastern Ghats and the plains of southern India. However, further studies are needed to confirm the finding, says Mr. Vinayan, who is also the president of the Ferns Nature Conservation Society.
“The migration of milkweed butterflies also plays a vital ecological role during the migration. As pollinators, their movements can impact entire ecosystems. Their migration is threatened by habitat destruction and climate change. Studying their migration patterns and feeding habits can throw light on the interconnectedness of plant and animal life. By unravelling the mysteries of their migration, we can help protect these beautiful creatures and their ecosystems,” says Mr. Vinayan.
“The Ferns society has begun tagging these migrating butterflies. Our hope is that their long-term monitoring of these tagged individuals will reveal more about the darker aspects of their migration,” he says.
M.A. Yedhumon, researcher, Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun; M.R. Anoop, researcher, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bengaluru; and N.S. Sujin, researcher, The Sálim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, Comibatore; were the other members of the team.
2. Gaganyaan: parachutes for re-entry capsule sent to ISRO facility in Bengaluru
The Gaganyaan crew module will carry three astronauts as part of India’s first human space flight programme.
Indigenously developed parachutes for the safe return of the capsule that will carry astronauts under the proposed Gaganyaan programme are set to undergo fitment tests at an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) facility in Bengaluru in July.
The Aerial Delivery Research and Development Establishment (ADRDE), the Agra-based laboratory under the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), has developed the parachutes for India’s manned space flight programme, Gaganyaan, which envisages putting a crew of three astronauts in low-earth orbit.
On Saturday, the flight unit of the parachutes was flagged off from ADRDE to the ISRO Satellite Integration and Testing Establishment in Bengaluru.
“The first test demonstration is likely to take place in July this year, with the first unmanned mission to be undertaken only after the success of two such demonstrations,” the ADRDE said in a statement. The Test Vehicle Demonstration (TVD-1) flight will be a significant milestone toward realising the nation’s ambitious Gaganyaan programme, it stated.
The parachute configuration consists of 10 parachutes. During flight the sequence starts with deployment of two parachutes of “apex cover separation parachute”, which is protection cover for the crew module parachute compartment, followed by two more of “drogue parachute deployment” to stabilise and bring down the velocity. Upon the drogue parachute release, three parachutes of the “pilot parachute” system will be used to extract three parachutes of the “main parachute” individually, to reduce the speed of the crew module to safe levels during its landing, the statement explained.
Stating that each parachute’s performance must be evaluated by complex testing methods, the ADRDE said that individual parachutes have undergone sub-system level testing.
3. A break in the Western Ghats
Often called as a significant discontinuity in the Western Ghats, the Palghat Gap is about 40 km wide, with the steep Nilgiris and Anamalai hills, both rising above 2,000 msl, on either side.
The Palghat Gap has historically been important as a significant gateway into the State of Kerala.
It is a corridor for both roads and railways that connects Coimbatore with Palakkad. The Bharathappuzha river flows through it.
In contrast to the tropical rainforests of the Western Ghats, the vegetation in the Palghat Gap is classified as dry evergreen forest.
It also marks a divide in the flora and fauna of the region. For example, several species of frogs are found only on one side of the Palghat Gap.
The Gap is a geological shear zone that runs from east to west. Shear zones are weak regions in the earth’s crust — this is the reason why tremors are sometimes felt in Coimbatore.
The origin of the Palghat Gap also stems from the drift of continental shelves after Australia and Africa broke off from the Gondwana landmass.
India and Madagascar remained as one landmass until large-scale volcanic activity split the two, the split occurring where the Palghat Gap is located — this is mirrored in the Ranotsara Gap on the eastern face of Madagascar. How long ago did the Gap originate? The landmass split about 100 million years ago, and the Gap had formed before this; although how long before is debated.
It has been speculated that one reason for the biogeographic distinctions inspecies in north and south of the Gap could be due to an ancient river or an incursion of the sea in the distant past.Elephant populations on the Nilgiris side differ in their mitochondrial DNA from elephants in the Anamalai and the Periyar sanctuaries.
One study from IISc Bangalore has analysed DNA sequence divergence data in populations of the White-bellied Shortwing, an endemic and threatened bird. Birds found around Ooty and Baba Budan are called the Nilgiri blue robin; the Anamalai group differs slightly in appearance, and is called the White-bellied blue robin.
South of the Gap
The biodiversity of a region is expressed in two ways: species richness, which relates to how many species are found in an ecosystem, and phylogenetic diversity, where you add up the evolutionary age of all the species you find.
Both these traits are abundant in the Western Ghats south of the Palghat Gap, as reported in a recent study by groups from the CCMB at Hyderabad and other institutions (Proceedings of the Royal Society B, April 2023). There are over 450 species of trees here, including some such as Magnolia champaca (Champa; Tamil: Sambagan) that have been around for over 130 million years.
Warm weather due to proximity to the equator, and moist air brings plenty of rain to the southern Western Ghats. Therefore, this region has been an island refuge for all forms of life, even as cycles of ice ages and droughts have reduced biodiversity in surrounding areas. The Western Ghats in north of the Palghat Gap receive more rain annually, but the south gets rain more evenly throughout the year.
4. Clash of clans in Manipur
The valley-dwellers, who make up 53% of Manipur’s population, demand ST status for protecting their ‘ancestral land, traditions, culture and language’, while existing tribal groups say the Meiteis enjoy demographic and political advantages.
The existing tribal communities oppose any such move, saying Meiteis are already an advanced community.
Multiple factors led to the ethnic conflict that erupted in Manipur on May 3 that left more than 60 dead, 231 injured, and 1,700 houses, many belonging to tribes of the Kuki group, destroyed. The most recent was a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’, spurred by the Manipur High Court’s March 27 order (issued on April 19) that revived a decade-old demand of a section of the Meitei people that they be granted the Scheduled Tribe status for protecting their “ancestral land, traditions, culture and language”. New Delhi rushed thousands of Central forces to the State as violence spread. An uneasy calm has prevailed over the State ever since, but the equations between communities remain tense.
Manipur, one of the eight northeastern States, covers an area of 22,327 sq. km and has a rich cultural, literary and administrative history. The State’s territory, according to British-era maps in the 1850s, once extended up to the Ningthee or Chindwin river beyond the Kabaw or Kubo Valley in Myanmar. The present-day Manipur can be broadly divided into two valleys that account for a little more than 10% of the landmass and the hills covering the rest.
About 60% of Manipur’s population, largely the non-tribal Meitei, live in the 1,864.44 sq.km Imphal Valley, comprising five districts, almost at the centre of the State. The remaining 40% inhabit the surrounding hills divided into 10 districts besides the 232 sq.km valley of Jiribam, also a district, adjoining southern Assam’s Cachar. Jiribam is the access point of one of the two major National Highways and a railway (partially completed) linking the State’s capital Imphal. The other arterial highway is via Nagaland to the north. Extremism-related and ethnic conflicts have often disrupted vehicular movement on these highways largely through tribal areas, resulting in a fuel, food and medicine scarcity in the Imphal Valley and elsewhere in Manipur. Meiteis account for about 53% of the State’s total population of 2.85 million. Also known as Meetei or Manipuri, the community is spread across the other northeastern States, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. Their language, Meiteilon, is one of 22 recognised tongues that has been included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. Their ancient script, Meitei Mayek, of the sixth-century vintage, is undergoing a process of revival.
More than 83% of the Meitei people are associated with Hinduism, followed by the Meitei Pangals or Manipuri Muslims (8.4%) and Christians (above 1%). The rest adhere to Sanamahi, an indigenous faith first mentioned in the Cheitharol Kumbaba, the royal chronicle of Kangleipak — the old name of Manipur — from 33-154 CE. The Manipuri dance, one of India’s principal classical dance forms, has its roots in the Lai Haraoba, a festival associated with pleasing the Sanamahi deities. The royal patronage also yielded Thang-ta, a Manipuri martial art involving fighting with swords and spears and gave the world Sagoj Kangjei, which evolved into the modern polo.
Four eras, seven clans
The history of the Meities, broadly divided into four eras from the ancient to the modern, is chronicled in Puyas or texts such as Cheitharol Kumbaba, Ninghthou Kangbalon, Ningthourol Lambuba, Poireiton Khunthokpa and Panthoibi Khongkul. According to the chronicles, the Meiteis are divided into seven Salai or clans — Mangang, Luwang, Khuman, Angom, Moirang Kha, Ngangba, and Sarang Leishangthem. The Meitei kingdom, called Kangleipak, traces its origin to Pakhangba (1445-1405 BCE), who came from present-day China and settled in the Koubru hills, about 35 km northwest of Imphal.
Pakhangba founded the Ningthouja dynasty belonging to the Mangang clan, which exercised some clout until Manipur’s merger with the Indian Union in 1949. Pakhangba is also represented as the presiding deity of both Hindu and pre-Hindu Meitei people and is symbolised as a dragon-like serpent with its tail in its mouth. The symbol is ubiquitous across the areas dominated by the Meiteis. Hinduism penetrated the Meitei kingdom in the late 15th century but large-scale adoption of the religion is attributed to the influence of Vaishnav monks and adherents from Bengal who fled persecution under the sultans of Bengal. The indigenous deities such as Panthoibi were gradually given a Hindu makeover.
Caste entered Manipur via Hinduism. The Meitei community can be broadly divided into three castes — the Bamons or Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, and the Scheduled Castes. The Bamons are believed to have settled from elsewhere in India after marrying locally and are primarily the priests who perform rituals or cook during festivals and other religious functions. The Kshatriyas adopted Singh as the surname but are subtly different from the RKs — Rajkumars and Rajkumaris — who have the royal lineage. The third category of Meitei comprises the Lois and Chakpas, who can be both Hindu and Sanamahi.
While the Sanamahi followers are not SC, those following Hinduism account for the bulk of the State’s 3.8% SC population. A section of the Bamons and Kshatriyas are against the ST status, as are the SCs who feel they will lose out if they compete with Meiteis and existing tribes if they are granted the ST status, first demanded by the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee of Manipur in 2012.
The committee claimed the existence of the Meitei community was under threat from outsiders, primarily the Kuki-Chin people allegedly settling in Manipur from Myanmar illegally. It said the space for the Meitei people is shrinking as the ST people are allowed to buy land in the Imphal Valley while the Meiteis, without the ST tag, are kept away from the hills. The demand was later taken up by the Meetei (Meitei) Tribe Union, which filed a petition in the Manipur High Court. The petitioners claimed the Meiteis were recognised as a tribe before the merger of Manipur with the Union of India, although many contest this theory. Citing a May 2013 letter from the Tribal Affairs Ministry to the Manipur government seeking a specific recommendation along with the latest socio-economic survey and ethnographic report, the court directed the State government to propose the inclusion of the Meitei community in the ST list to the Centre.
The court order led to the ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ organised by the All Tribal Students’ Union of Manipur (ATSUM), representing the State’s 33 tribes divided unequally into Kuki and Naga groups. The union said the Meiteis enjoy a demographic and political advantage (Imphal and Jiribam valleys send 40 MLAs to the 60-member Assembly, while the tribal hills send 20) and are more advanced in every spheres. Pointing out that the Meiteis already have access to benefits associated with the SC, OBC, or Economically Weaker Section status, the union said the demand was a strategy of the valley dwellers to acquire land in the hills and push the tribals out. What followed the march were violent clashes.
More than 83% of the Meitei people are associated with Hinduism, followed by the Meitei Pangals or Manipuri Muslims (8.4%) and Christians (above 1%). The rest adhere to Sanamahi, an indigenous faith
While the Sanamahi followers are not SC, those Meiteis following Hinduism account for the bulk of the State’s 3.8% SC population. the Scheduled Tribe Demand Committee of Manipur has demanded ST status for them