T R Shankar Raman
Scientist, Western Ghats
I like to imagine that I am a writer turned wildlife scientist turned writer, living in a landscape of rainforests and plantations in the Anamalai hills of southern India. As a wildlife scientist, I focus on the ecology and conservation of tropical forests and wildlife—especially rainforest plants, birds, and mammals—mainly in the Western Ghats. I write creative nonfiction and essays on nature and conservation for newspapers, magazines, and blogs, besides occasional book reviews and op-ed or feature articles.
My book The Wild Heart of India: Nature and Conservation in the City, the Country, and the Wild was published in 2019 by Oxford University Press, India. In 2018, I co-authored Pillars of Life: Magnificent Trees of the Western Ghats with Divya Mudappa (Illustrations by Nirupa Rao and Sartaj Ghuman).
As a participant in an open initiative called WikiProject Nature and Conservation in India, I have also been contributing media (my images, video and audio recordings) to Wikimedia Commons and editing Wikipedia pages related to nature and conservation in India. Here is my Wikipedia user page, and you can find my Wikimedia Commons photo gallery here (works in progress). I also like to read a fair bit and you can see what I am reading here.
Wildlife and shifting cultivation
Forest, wildlife, jhum, and plantations in the Dampa landscape, Mizoram
- Book Chapter2018Expanding nature conservation: considering wide landscapes and deep histories.Pages 249-267 in G. Cederlöf and M. Rangarajan (editors), 'At Nature's Edge: The Global Present and Long-Term History,' Oxford University Press, New Delhi. 331 pp.
- Book2018Pillars of Life: Magnificent Trees of the Western GhatsNature Conservation Foundation, Mysore.
For millions of years, the forests of the Western Ghats mountains have been home to a host of extraordinary trees. These range from the peculiar conifer, Nageia, whose family origins can be traced back to the age of the dinosaurs, to the grand trees in the rudraksh family, to the jack and fig trees that occupy a familiar presence in India’s forests and countryside. This book showcases thirty remarkable tree species through beautiful illustrations and artwork. It conveys the wonder arising from the beauty, the diversity, the individuality, and magnificence of trees in the Western Ghats, and evokes a greater sensitivity to the diverse values and enrichment that trees bring to our lives.
Foreword by Pradip Krishen
Botanical Illustrations by Nirupa Rao
Sketches by Sartaj Ghuman
Available here: https://www.instamojo.com/NCF/pillars-of-life/
- Journal Article2018Breeding biology of Great Hornbill Buceros bicornis in tropical rainforest and human-modified plantation landscape in Western Ghats, IndiaOrnithological Science, 17:205-216Download
PDF, 356 KB
Loss of mature tropical forests to agricultural expansion often creates landscapes with forest fragments embedded within a matrix of human-modified habitats and land uses. Such habitat fragmentation may be detrimental to species with specialized habitat and foraging requirements and their ability to persist in such landscapes may depend on their adaptability to habitat modification. Great Hornbills Buceros bicornis, among the largest birds in Asian tropical rainforests, depend on large trees for nesting and a diverse array of patchily distributed fruiting trees. In the human-modified landscape of the Anamalai Hills, India, we compared the breeding biology and nesting behaviour of Great Hornbills in contiguous rainforest (N=3 nests) and in modified habitat consisting of coffee plantations and rainforest fragments (N=5 nests). The nesting cycle of seven of the eight nests monitored varied between 114 and 130 days. Nest provisioning behaviour was similar in contiguous forest and modified habitat in terms of visitation and food delivery rates, but visitation tended to be higher and food delivery rate lower during the nestling phase than during incubation. As expected, tree density and native food plant diversity were lower in modified habitat than in continuous forest. The diversity of food provisioned was lower in modified habitat with a 57.5% dietary overlap with contiguous forest. Hornbills in the modified habitat of coffee plantations used non-native tree species for nesting and foraging, indicating their adaptability to modified landscapes.
- Journal Article2018Understanding perceptions of people towards lion-tailed macaques in a fragmented landscape of the Anamalai Hills, Western Ghats, IndiaPrimate Conservation 32: 11 pp.Download
PDF, 2.24 MB
The fragmentation of the rainforests of India’s Western Ghats mountains has left the endemic lion-tailed macaque sur- viving in numerous forest patches in a mosaic of commercial tea and coffee plantations. On the Valparai Plateau, Anamalai Hills, some macaque groups have evidently altered their behavior, becoming habituated to people, suffering from frequent roadkill, and facing problems related to people feeding them and their use of open waste dumps. We carried out a questionnaire survey around three rainforest fragments (Puthuthottam, Korangumudi, Old Valparai) and the town of Valparai to understand people’s percep- tions towards macaques, and to identify appropriate conflict-mitigation measures. Macaques near Korangumudi and Old Valparai rarely ventured near residences, and most people were unaware of their presence. Respondents in and around Puthuthottam were aware of the macaques, and most (68%) had negative perceptions of them because the macaques often visited houses in the area. Most respondents (87%) believed that macaques visited houses in search of food and garbage, and 84% reported that macaques were doing this only over the last 10 years. Housing conditions influenced people's perceptions: people living in tiled-roof houses that were vulnerable to incursions by the macaques had higher negative perceptions (84.5%) compared to people living in asbestos-roof and concrete structures. To reduce negative interactions with people and promote harmonious human-macaque co-existence, we suggest implementing a combination of measures that would involve plantation management, conservation orga- nizations, and the state forest and municipal authorities. The measures include cost-effective monkey-proofing of houses, regular garbage collection, preventing open waste disposal and the feeding of macaques, mitigating the effects of roads, and promoting people’s awareness, rainforest restoration, and the use of native shade trees in plantations.
- Journal Article2018Herpetofaunal survey in rainforest remnants of the Western Ghats, IndiaThe Herpetological Bulletin 146: 8-17.Download
PDF, 3.85 MB
We undertook amphibian and reptile surveys in six rainforest remnants of the Anamalai Hills in the Western Ghats, India. Over a two-month period, 36 species of herpetofauna were recorded from these remnants, including one species of caecilian, 19 frog species, 8 lizard species and 8 species of snake. Six species were either critically endangered or endangered. We also recorded one species of frog (Nyctibatrachus acanthodermis) outside of its type locality for the first time since its original description. The study demonstrated the presence of several threatened species of herpetofauna in these small forest remnants, the protection and restoration of which are important for the conservation of biodiversity in the Western Ghats.
- Report2018Population assessment of the Nilgiri tahr (Nilgiritragus hylocrius) using the Double-observer Survey method in the Anamalai Tiger ReserveTechnical Report, Nature Conservation Foundation, Mysore, India
- Journal Article2018Seasonal variation in wildlife roadkills in plantations and tropical rainforest in the Anamalai Hills, Western Ghats, IndiaCurrent Science. 114(3): 619-626.
- Book Chapter2017Birds in Relation to Farming and Livestock Grazing in the Indian Trans-HimalayasIn Bird Migration across the Himalayas: Wetland Functioning amidst Mountains and Glaciers
- Journal Article2017Successional status, seed dispersal mode and overstorey species influence tree regeneration in tropical rain-forest fragments in Western Ghats, IndiaJournal of Tropical Ecology 33: 270-284. DOI: 10.1017/S0266467417000219
The effects of fragmentation and overstorey tree diversity on tree regeneration were assessed in tropical rain forests of the Western Ghats, India. Ninety plots were sampled for saplings (1–5 cm diameter at breast height (dbh); 5×5-m plots) and overstorey trees (>9.55 cm dbh; 20×20-m plots) within two fragments (32 ha and 18 ha) and two continuous forests. We tested the hypotheses that fragmentation and expected seed-dispersal declines (1) reduce sapling densities and species richness of all species and old-growth species, and increase recruitment of early-successional species, (2) reduce the prevalence of dispersed recruits and (3) increase influence of local overstorey on sapling densities and richness. Continuous forests and fragments had similar sapling densities and species richness overall, but density and richness of old-growth species declined by 62% and 48%, respectively, in fragments. Fragments had 39% lower densities and 24% lower richness of immigrant saplings (presumed dispersed into sites as conspecific adults were absent nearby), and immigrant densities of old-growth bird-dispersed species declined by 79%. Sapling species richness (overall and old-growth) increased with overstorey species richness in fragments, but was unrelated to overstorey richness in continuous forests. Our results show that while forest fragments retain significant sapling diversity, losses of immigrant recruits and increased overstorey influence strengthen barriers to natural regeneration of old-growth tropical rain forests.
- Journal Article2017Conflict to coexistence: Human – leopard interactions in a plantation landscape in Anamalai Hills, IndiaConservation and Society 15(4): 474-482.Download
PDF, 1.18 MB
When leopards are found in human-dominated landscapes, conflicts may arise due to attacks on people or livestock loss or when people retaliate following real and perceived threats. In the plantation landscape of the Valparai plateau, we studied incidents of injury and loss of life of people and livestock over time (15 – 25 y) and carried out questionnaire surveys in 29 plantation colonies and eight tribal villages to study correlates of livestock depredation, people's perception of leopards, and preferred management options for human – leopard interactions. Leopards were implicated in an average of 1.3 (± 0.4 SE) incidents/year (1990 – 2014) involving humans and 3.6 (± 0.8 SE) incidents/year (1999 – 2014) involving livestock, with no statistically significant increasing trend over time. Most incidents of injury or loss of life involved young children or unattended livestock, and occurred between afternoon and night. At the colony level, livestock depredation was positively related to the number of livestock, but decreased with the distance from protected area and number of residents. Half the respondents reported seeing a leopard in a neutral situation, under conditions that resulted in no harm. All tribal and 52% of estate respondents had neutral perceptions of leopards and most (81.9%, n = 161 respondents) indicated changing their own behaviour as a preferred option to manage negative interactions with leopards, rather than capture or removal of leopards. Perception was unrelated to livestock depredation, but tended to be more negative when human attacks had occurred in a colony. A combination of measures including safety precautions for adults and children at night, better livestock herding and cattle-sheds, and building on people's neutral perception and tolerance can mitigate negative interactions and support continued human – leopard coexistence.