The Olive Ridley and the Indian Wild Ass

The government of Orissa is completing a fishing jetty within eight miles of the turtle rookery. Three more jetties are planned. The beach, hosting the world’s largest congregation of nesting turtles - 610,000 were counted in 1991 borders the Bhitarkanika mangrove sanctuary and is itself relatively free of human predation. Local inhabitants eat neither the creatures nor their eggs: in Indian culture’s myths, turtles are one of the 10 incarnations of the Mahadev Shiva. Om Namah Shivaya is all I can say.

But while mating on shore in the two months before they nest, thousands of turtles are snagged and drowned in gill and drag nets. Each jetty will add at least 500 trawlers, devastating this population of already endangered Olive Ridleys. But there is a human side to this story.

Orissa, one of the poorest of Indian states, has recently initiated several projects to develop its untapped mineral and biological wealth. A few of these efforts such as a shrimp fishery that would have poisoned Chilka Lake, home to 150 species of native and migratory birds have been stopped. Ironically, that accommodation appears to have hardened the government’s resolve to complete the current construction. The government is also building a connecting road through and relocating villages into the sanctuary, in defiance of national laws. According to Banka Behary Das, a local activist, the politicians are intent on gratifying their vote bank of immigrant fishermen
from Bangladesh, who do not share the natives respect for turtles.

The Olive Ridleys seem to arrive from the Indian Ocean, says Binod C. Chaudhury of the Wildlife Institute of India in Dehra Dun. Ideally, we would radio-collar them and track them via satellite. In reality, plastic nooses await.

Similar issues can be seen in the Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary. The Wild Ass Sanctuary, Surendranagar also known as the Indian Wild Ass Sanctuary is situated in the Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, close to the Arabian sea. The marshy land of the Wild Ass Sanctuary of Gujarat is the natural home to a wide variety of animal species. It is also the burial site of the ninteenth century sage, Swami Rukhmi. It is also close to the famous Somnath Temple, one of the twelve most sacred shrines for the Hindus, along with Kedar and Badri in the Himalayas, and others.

The intermittent grassy land of the Wild Ass Sanctuary, Surendranagar is called the baits which is the main vegetation. The Wild Ass Sanctuary, Surendranagar at Gujarat is locally known as ‘Ghud Khar’. The wild ass belongs to the family of Equide that includes horses, zebras and donkeys.
The wild asses in the Wild Ass Sanctuary, Surendranagar in Gujarat are great runners and has the capacity of running at a speed of 70 kilometers per hour during emergency. Apart from the wild asses, ample species of carnivores, reptiles and an array of birds are traced in the Wild Ass Sanctuary, Surendranagar.

In historic times the Asiatic Wild Ass ranged through much of Mongolia, north to Transbaikalia (Russia), east to northeastern Inner Mongolia (China) and possibly western Manchuria (China), and west to Dzhungarian Gate (Grubb 2005). It formerly occurred in Kazakhstan, north to the upper Irtysh and Ural Rivers in Russia, and westward north of the Caucasus and Black Sea to at least the Dniestr River (Ukraine), Anatolia (Turkey), Syria, and southeast of the Caspian Sea in Iran, northern Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, east to Thar Desert of northwestern India (Grubb 2005). It also extended through the Arabian Peninsula as far south as central Saudi Arabia. It survived in Armenia and Azerbaijan until 17th-18th Centuries (Wolfe 1979). The Syrian Wild Ass became extinct in 1927.

By the 19th Century, their range had declined significantly. Today, the most abundant subpopulation of the species occurs in the southern part of Mongolia and adjacent northern China (Feh et al. 2002). The species also survives as isolated populations in the Rann of Kutch (India), the Badkhyz Preserve (Turkmenistan) and at Touran National Park and Bahramgor Reserve (Iran) (Feh et al. 2002). Populations have been re-established as follows: Barsa-Khelmes Island in the Aral Sea (Kazakhstan); Aktay-Buzachinskiy reserve on the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea (Kazakhstan); Andasayskiy reserve and Kapchagayskoye in southeastern Kazakhstan; Dzheiran Ecocentre near Bukhara (Uzbekistan); Meana-Chaacha, Kaakha, Kopet Dag, and Sumbar Valley in southern Turkmenistan (re-introduced populations in Kurtusu and Germab perhaps no longer survive); Sarakamish Lake in northern Turkmenistan; the Beruchi Peninsula (Ukraine), the Negev (southern Israel), and Taïf (Saudi Arabia) (Feh et al. 2002). The re-established populations in Ukraine, Israel and Saudi Arabia are not of the subspecies that originally occurred there (Feh et al. 2002).

There are five generally recognized subspecies (Grubb 2005):
Equus h. hemionus - the Mongolian Khulan (in northern Mongolia) (E. h. luteus - the Gobi Khulan in southern Mongolia and northern China, is probably a synonym of E. h. hemionus (Oakenfull et al. 2000, Grubb 2005))
E. h. khur – the Khur (India)
E. h. kulan the Turkmen Kulan (in Turkmenistan, re-introduced in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine)
E. h. onager - the Onager (Iran, introduced in Saudi Arabia)
E. h. hemippus – the Syrian Wild Ass (Extinct, formerly from Syria south into the Arabian Peninsula)
The reintroduced population in Israel is of hybrid origin (E. h. onager and E. h. kulan).

The largest surviving subpopulation, the Mongolian Khulan (Equus h. hemionus) is in Mongolia, where it was formerly widely distributed throughout steppe and semi-desert habitats, from the extreme west of the country to the Mongolian-Russian-Chinese border in the extreme northeast (Feh et al. 2002, Clark et al. 2006). The Asiatic Wild Ass has experienced a major decline in population size and range size, even in Mongolia (Bannikov 1981) and they are now only found in the Trans Altai Gobi Desert, the Northern Gobi, the Alashani Gobi Desert and the Dzungarian Gobi Desert (Reading et al. 2001, Feh et al. 2002), as far north as Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve in the Eastern Gobi (S. Amgalanbaatar and R. Reading pers. obs.). Recent evidence suggests that the population has either expanded or shifted further north and east over the past 20-25 years, but rarely crosses the Ulaanbaatar-Beijing railway line (Kaczensky et al. in prep.). There are important populations in the Great Gobi Section B Strictly Protected Area, in Dzungarian Gobi, and the Great Gobi Section A Strictly Protected Area in Trans Altai Govi Desert (Feh et al. 2002, Stubbe et al. 2005, Kaczensky et al. in prep.).

The Khur Equus hemionus khur was formerly widespread in the arid zone of northwestern India and Pakistan, westwards through much of central Asia. However, it is now limited to the Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat, India. The khur probably went extinct in Baluchistan and the extreme south of Pakistan, on the Indian border, during the 1960s (Corbet and Hill 1992). There are some recent records of Khur along India-Pakistan border. During the last two decades Khur has shown range expansion along with an increase in their population (Shah 2004).

 
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