1. 12 cheetahs from South Africa enter quarantine in Kuno National Park
IAF aircraft carrying seven males and five females landed at Gwalior airport, and the animals were taken to their new home by helicopter; they will be kept in quarantine for at least a month before being moved into acclimatisation enclosures
Twelve cheetahs arrived in Madhya Pradesh from South Africa on Saturday and were released into the quarantine enclosures at the Kuno National Park in Sheopur district, five months after the first batch of eight were brought from Namibia, another African nation.
The inter-continental translocation of cheetahs is part of the Union government’s programme to reintroduce these animals seven decades after they became extinct in the country. India’s last cheetah died in Koriya district of present-day Chhattisgarh in 1947, and the species was declared extinct in 1952.
With the addition of 12 new arrivals, the cheetah count at the park has gone up to 20. Prime Minister Narendra Modi released eight felines from Namibia on September 17, 2022.
Kept in wooden boxes
An Indian Air Force (IAF) transport aircraft carrying seven male and five female cheetahs from South Africa landed at the Gwalior airport around 10 a.m. These spotted animals had embarked on a journey to their new home from the O.R. Tambo International Airport at Gauteng in South Africa shortly before midnight. Each cheetah was kept in a separate wooden box during the flight.
After their arrival in Gwalior, the cheetahs were flown on IAF helicopters to Kuno, a road distance of around 165 km.
Wearing forest-green sleeveless jackets and hats, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Union Environment and Forests Minister Bhupender Yadav released the cheetahs into the quarantine bomas after the animals arrived at the park around noon.
While eight cheetahs were put up in separate quarantine enclosures, four were kept in two bomas in pairs.
With their arrival, there are now 10 male cheetahs and as many females at the park.
The South African big cats will be kept in the quarantine enclosures for at least a month before they are moved into the acclimatisation bomas. A decision on it will be taken by the task force on cheetahs, officials said.
2. Rhododendrons carpet Darjeeling and Sikkim Himalayas
The Darjeeling and Sikkim Himalayas are home to more than one-third of all types of rhododendrons found in India, reveals the latest publication of the Botanical Survey of India (BSI). The publication, titled Rhododendrons of Sikkim and Darjeeling Himalaya — An Illustrated Account, lists 45 taxa of rhododendrons (36 species, one subspecies, two variety and seven natural hybrids).
There are 132 taxa (80 species, 25 subspecies and 27 varieties) of rhododendrons found in India.
Of the 45 taxa recorded in the publication, 24 are found in the Darjeeling Himalayas and 44 in the Sikkim Himalayas.
“Darjeeling and Sikkim Himalayas comprise only 0.3% of India’s geographical area but the region is home to one-third (34%) of all rhododendron types. This highlights the ecological significance of the region as far as an indicator species like rhododendron is concerned,” Rajib Gogoi, scientist and Regional Head of BSI in Sikkim and the lead author of the publication, told The Hindu.
Of the 45 taxa documented by the BSI, five are facing a high threat due to anthropological pressures and climate change, according to scientists. Rhododendron edgeworthii, with white campanulate flowers, recorded a huge habitat decline in both Darjeeling and Sikkim. Rhododendron niveum, with big purple flowers, found in the Lachung area of north Sikkim is facing threats from rampant construction. Rhododendron baileyi, Rhododendron lindleyi and Rhododendron maddenii are also under threat.
Rhododendron, meaning rose tree in Greek, is considered an indicator species for climate change. The BSI in 2017 published Rhododendron of North East India: A Pictorial Handbook, suggesting that there are 132 taxa.
According to A.A. Mao, Director of BSI and fellow author of the publication, the flowering season for rhododendrons starts in March and continues till May. However, recently, flowering was found to begin as early as in January for some species. “This is an indication that those areas are getting warmer. The phenology of rhododendrons can be an important indicator of climate change,” he added.
Rhododendrons have a prominent place in the country’s botanical history. They were first recorded by Captain Hardwick in Jammu and Kashmir in 1776 where he spotted Rhododendron arboreum. However, it was a visit by the British botanist Joseph D. Hooker to Sikkim between 1848 and 1850 that revealed the rhododendron wealth of the Sikkim and Darjeeling Himalayas.
Mr. Mao added that the first species Rhododendron from northeast India — Rhododendron dalhousiae — was reported from Sikkim by Hooker in 1848 in his book The Rhododendrons of Sikkim Himalaya.
The authors of the BSI publication include scientists and researchers Norbu Sherpa, Samuel Rai and Subrata Gupta. The authors are working on a book on rhododendron, with which they hope to reach not just researchers but the common man too, to promote ecotourism from a conservation perspective.
3. Why environmental surveillance for avian influenza is vital
Birds infected with avian influenza virus shed large quantities of virus in their faeces as well as in their saliva and nasal secretions for about a week
The world’s largest northern gannet colony at the Bass Rock,an island off the coast of North Berwick, Scotland has been recently decimated by avian influenza (H5N1) or bird flu. H5N1 has caused unprecedented loss of tens of thousands of birds in the U.K. The annual congregations on breeding grounds quickly turned into a super-spreader event as highly pathogenic H5N1 ripped through bird colonies, leaving many lying dead on the beaches or remote islands.
The impact of this disease is very serious for bird conservationists. Recently, intra-mammal transmission of H5N1 in captivity in mink farms was recorded, posing a bigger concern in relation to zoonotic potential.
In India, the latest major avian flu outbreak in2020-2021 swept through many States causing mass mortality of wild birds which brought the concerns on the lack of active surveillance to the forefront, and how wetland and waterfowl habitats at the interface of poultry need to be monitored.
While the avian flu outbreaks coincide with the peak migratory season leading to post-outbreak surveillance and culling, there are also reports of outbreaks in the off-season suggesting endemic transmission within the poultry sector.India is the fastest growing egg producer in the world, but unlike in Europe, poultry birds here are not vaccinated against flu. Furthermore, the farms with a diversity of animals or in the vicinity of nearby wetlands increases the potential for the viruses to undergo reassortment that can potentially generate more virulent strains—H5N1 or H7N9—which could then infect humans.
Despite this potential,there is noactive surveillance in the poultry sector. There may be no efficient human-to-human transmission mechanism yet, however, the risk cannot be ruled out as the virus continues to evolve.
We need an active and passive year-round surveillance network under One Health which connects monitoring of human and animals in a shared environment.
Wastewater-based epidemiology or pathogen surveillancehas become an integral component of environmental surveillance providing near real-time information on health and community exposure to pathogens.Whileenvironmental surveillanceis not a new concept and has been used widely for monitoring several pathogens, it offers an excellent tool.
Birds infected with avian influenza virus shed large quantities of virus in their faeces, saliva and nasal secretions for about a week.Wild aquatic birds in the OrdersAnseriformesandCharadriiformesare the primordial reservoir for the virus.The transmission of the virus within these wild bird populations is dependent on faecal/oral transmission via contaminated water.
Avian influenza viruses have been isolated from unconcentrated water in lakes in the U.S., Canada and China.Recurrent infections of animal hosts with the virus have posed a persistent threat.Having alarge-scale influenza A virus surveillance network in place across multiple sites is crucial for improving our understanding on the diversity, seasonal and geographical distributions of the virus in environments associated with poultry and wild birds.
Avian influenza viruses can remain viable for extended periods of time in surface water and carcasses, suggesting that lakes and wetlands can act as environmental reservoirs at variable temperatures for several months.In a study in Hong Kong, an H3N2 virus was isolated from faeces and pond water every month during a one-year period, and the maintenance of this virus was proposed to be dependent on environmental persistence and the continued introduction of susceptible ducklings.
Domestic ducks are recognised as an important reservoir for H5N1. Environmental surveillance is an important area that can enhance the information on prevalence diversity of avian influenza viruses in free-ranging domestic flocks or under confinement conditions where faeces or other effluent are deposited into the environment.
Currently, virussurveillance is reactive and relies on sampling dead birds. Environmental surveillance would be a great non-invasive tool that can be done without disturbing the birds and can be used to obtain both host and viral genetic material.
Most importantly, environmental surveillance should be complemented with effective carcass collection and testing, and better biosecurity on poultry farms to improve preparedness and response in the future.
4. Second aubrite meteorite found in India in 170 years
On August 17, 2022, a meteorite streaked over India, breaking apart as it descended through the air, to scatter over two villages in Banaskantha, Gujarat. One piece struck a neem tree in Rantila village and shattered into several pieces. Another landed on the porch of a house in Ravel village, 10 km away, and met a similar fate.
‘A rare specimen’
The meteorite is a “rare, unique specimen” of aubrite, analysis by a group at the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), Ahmedabad, has revealed.
Hundreds of meteorites have crashed in India, but this is only the second recorded crash of an aubrite. The last was in 1852 in Basti, Uttar Pradesh.
Worldwide, aubrites have crashed in at least 12 locations since 1836, including six in the U.S.
According to one 2003 definition, aubrites are “igneous rocks” that form in oxygen-poor conditions, and thus “contain a variety of exotic minerals that are not found on Earth”. For example, the mineral heideite was first described in the Basti meteorite.
PRL director Anil Bhardwaj, who is also a coauthor of the paper, called it a “rare meteorite fall” in an email and that “we have to bring out the best of science from it”.
The group’s results were published in Current Science on January 25.
Meteors are pieces of some solid object in space that broke away, descended onto a planet or moon. Once they reach the surface, they are called meteorites.
Aubrites are a type of meteorite. Scientists are not yet sure of their origin, although some signs indicate they could be from the asteroid 3103 Eger or from the planet Mercury.
Given the unknown parent body and fragility, “Aubrite meteorites either fall rarely on earth or they might have fragmented in finer fractions before falling or [have got] lost during atmospheric ablation,” Amit Basu Sarbadhikari, associate professor at PRL and the paper’s corresponding author, wrote in an email.
The pieces that fell in the two villages were dubbed the Diyodar meteorite after the taluka. The PRL team obtained two fragments weighing 200 g and 20 g. They used a gamma-ray spectrometer, a spectroradiometer, electron-imaging, and chemical analyses to determine their mineral composition.
Given its rarity, “we have to be very careful to analyse it,” Sujoy Ghosh, an assistant professor of Geology and Geophysics at IIT Kharagpur, told The Hindu. He wasn’t involved with the study.
They found that the fragments shared a crust that indicated they were part of a common larger rock, which they suggest was an aubrite. Around 90% of the meteorite was composed of orthopyroxene. Pyroxenes are silicates consisting of single chains of silica tetrahedra (SiO4); orthopyroxenes are pyroxenes with a certain structure.
Pyroxenes such as diopside and jadeite have been used as gems. Spodumene was historically used as lithium ore. Rocks with pyroxene have also been used to make crushed stone used in construction.
The group also classified the meteorite as a monomict breccia since it consisted of several pyroxene-bearing pieces held together by a scaffold of rocky material.
The conditions in which aubrites form are prevalent on Mercury. However, as per their paper, the researchers don’t have “any known Mercurian samples” in their collection.
“We plan to do a whole-rock elemental and isotopic analysis, the data of which will provide more information about many important aspects of this meteorite,” Dr. Sarbadhikari said.
5. How is the stock market regulated in India?
What is the regulatory framework in place to protect investors from share market volatility? Does the Securities and Exchange Board of India have the powers to act in the interest of investors? What are the laws to help SEBI? When can it step in?
On February 10, the Supreme Court asked the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) and the government to produce the existing regulatory framework in place to protect investors from share market volatility. After short seller Hindenburg Research published a report in January accusing the Adani Group of stock market manipulation and accounting fraud, its shares plummeted and investors were reported to have lost lakhs of crores.
What are the laws governing the market?
The securities market in India is regulated by four key laws — The Companies Act, 2013, the Securities and Exchange Board of India Act, 1992 (SEBI Act), the Securities Contracts (Regulation) Act, 1956 (SCRA) and the Depositories Act, 1996. The framing of these laws reflect the evolution and development of the capital market in India.
The SEBI Act empowers SEBI to protect the interests of investors and to promote the development of the capital/securities market, besides regulating it. SEBI was given the power to register intermediaries like stock brokers, merchant bankers, portfolio managers and regulate their functioning by prescribing eligibility criteria, conditions to carry on activities and periodic inspections. It also has the power to impose penalties such as monetary penalties, including suspending or cancelling the registration. The SCRA empowers SEBI to recognise (and derecognise) stock exchanges, prescribe rules and bye laws for their functioning, and regulate trading, clearing and settlement on stock exchanges. As part of the development of the securities market, Parliament passed the Depositories Act and SEBI made regulations to enforce the provisions. This Act introduced and legitimised the concept of dematerialised securities being held in an electronic form. Today almost all the listed securities are held in dematerialised form. SEBI set up the infrastructure for doing this by registering depositories and depository participants. The depository regulations empower SEBI to regulate functioning of depositories and depository participants by prescribing eligibility conditions, periodic inspections and powers to impose penalties including suspending or cancelling the registration as well as monetary penalties.
Can SEBI step in to curb market volatility?
While SEBI does not interfere to prevent market volatility, exchanges have circuit filters — upper and lower — to prevent excessive volatility. But SEBI can issue directions to those who are associated with the market, and has powers to regulate trading and settlement on stock exchanges. Using these powers, SEBI can direct stock exchanges to stop trading, totally or selectively. It can also prohibit entities or persons from buying, selling or dealing in securities, from raising funds from the market and being associated with intermediaries or listed companies.
What are the guidelines on fund-raising?
The Companies Act, which regulates companies incorporated/registered in India, has delegated the authority to enforce some of its provisions to SEBI, including the regulation of raising capital, corporate governance norms such as periodic disclosures, board composition, oversight management and resolution of investor grievances. In order to regulate fund-raising activities, SEBI first brought out a set of guidelines called the Disclosure and Investor Protection Guidelines which were thereafter subsumed into a more comprehensive Issue of Capital and Disclosure Requirement Regulations. In order to ensure that listed companies followed corporate governance norms, SEBI notified the Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements Regulations in 2015.
Besides these regulations, the Collective Investment Regulations define a CIS (collective investment scheme) and provide for penal actions against those running unregistered CIS schemes. Entities involved in fund-raising through issue of capital such as merchant bankers are also regulated through specific regulations.
What about stock exchanges?
The SCRA has empowered SEBI to recognise and regulate stock exchanges and later commodity exchanges in India; this was earlier done by the Union government. In fact, the term “securities” is defined in the SCRA and powers to declare an instrument as a security remain vested in SEBI. The rules and regulations made by SEBI under the SCRA relate to listing of securities like equity shares, the functioning of stock exchanges including control over their management and administration. These include powers to determine the manner in which a settlement is done on stock exchanges (and to keep them with the times for e.g. T+1) and recognising and regulating clearing corporations, which are central to the management of the trading system.
An important aspect of the regulation of stock exchanges is also the provision for arbitrating disputes that arise between stock brokers who trade on stock exchanges and investors who are clients of such stock brokers. The Act also seeks to protect the interests of investors by creating an Investor Protection Fund for each stock exchange.
What are the safeguards against fraud?
Fraud undermines regulation and prevents a market from being fair and transparent. SEBI notified the Prohibition of Fraudulent and Unfair Trade Practices Regulations in 1995 and the Prohibition of Insider Trading Regulations in 1992 to prevent the two key forms of fraud, market manipulation and insider trading. These regulations, read with provisions of the SEBI Act, define species of fraud, who is an insider and prohibit such fraudulent activity and provide for penalties including disgorgement of ill-gotten gains. It must be noted that violation of these regulations are predicate offences that can lead to a deemed violation of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act. SEBI has been given powers of a civil court to summon persons, seize documents and records, attach bank accounts and property and to carry out investigations. Using these powers, SEBI has acted against entities and individuals like Satyam, Sahara India, Ketan Parekh and Vijay Mallya.
Corporate activities include acquisition of other companies, merger of companies and buy back of shares; SEBI has notified the Substantial Acquisition of Shares and Takeovers Regulations to ensure that acquisitions and change of management are done only after giving an opportunity to public shareholders to exit the company if they want to. The wealth of investors includes a portfolio of securities. SEBI ensures protection of investors’ interests by regulating the listing and trading of equity shares and other securities, and by registering and regulating institutions handling public funds. Appeals against orders of SEBI and the stock exchanges can be made to the Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT) comprising three members. Appeals from the SAT can be made to the Supreme Court.