As many as 54 species of reptiles and 44 species of amphibians – a total of 98 species – were identified in the first phase of the four-day herpetofaunal survey at the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary from September 26 to 29.
Of these, 9 amphibians and 5 reptiles were spotted for the first time at the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary. Fourteen of the newly-identified species are endemic to Western Ghats.
As many as 75 volunteers from Kerala and around 60 wildlife officials and naturalists from Wayanad participated in the herpetofaunal survey, which aims to protect small animals like amphibians and reptiles.
This was the second herpetofaunal survey to be held in Kerala this year. The first event was held in Peechi-Chimmini Wildlife Sanctuary in August.
In Wayanad, a reptile survey was held in 2009 under the aegis of Forest Department and Malabar Natural History Society (MNHS) and Dr. Mohammed Jafar Palot.
Twelve amphibians recorded in the latest survey fall under the The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. Among them, Ponmudi Bush Frog (Raorchestes Ponmudi) has been listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. Malabar Torrent Toad (Ghatophryne Ornata) and Malabar Tree Toad (Pedostibes Tuberculosis) have been in the endangered list.
Of the 54 reptile species, Wayanad Day Gecko (Cnemaspis Wynadensis) has been included in the Endangered list, while Indian Flapshell Turtle (Lissemys Punctata) and Mugger Crocodile (Crocodylus Palustris) have been categorised as vulnerable.
IUCN's red list of threatened species is the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animal, fungi and plant species. The IUCN red list divides species into nine categories in the increasing order of threats. They are: Not Evaluated, Data Deficient, Least Concern, Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild and Extinct.
The survey was organised by the Kerala Forest Department, along with Malabar Natural History Society (MNHS), and Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE). As many as 20 camps were set up in different habitat zones to document species diversity. A team of four volunteers and three wildlife officials were part of each camp.
The herpetofaunal survey bucked the regular practice of conducting surveys at night as the protected area is home to a large number of elephants and tigers. Instead, volunteers went to the field for the survey from morning till evening. “A second phase of the survey will be conducted at night with better protection and safety measures as it would help to record more number of amphibians and reptiles in this area,” said Sandeep Das, one of the co-ordinators and research scholar at the Kerala Forest Research Institute.
Wayanad Bush Frog (Pseudophilautus Wynaadensis), which is commonly found in Kerala, Minervarya and Bicolored frog (Clinotarsus Curtipes) were widely spotted during the survey.
Other major findings include Microhyla frog, Monitor Lizard, Bronze Grass Skink, Flying Lizard/ Draco, Russells Viper, Jerdons Bush Frog, and Small Tree Frog.
“Usually, people come to the sanctuary to spot tigers, bison and elephants. In fact there are many other things people often ignore. Such surveys help us identify the rich biodiversity in our sanctuary as well as give an awareness among the people about the importance of small species as well," said PK Asif, Wayanad Wildlife warden.
Those who participated in the survey felt that the Purple Frog (popularly known as Mahabali Frog, scientific name: Nasikabatrachus Sahyadrensis) should be given the status of Kerala's state amphibian and that efforts must be taken to protect small species as we ensure lives of tigers and elephants.
Wayanad Wildlife warden PK Asif, assistant wildlife wardens Remya Raghavan, P Ratheesan, Sunil Kumar and P Sunil, Sandeep Das, and KP Rajkumar, research scholars of KFRI, Prof K Abdul Riyas of Government Arts and Science College, Kozhikode, Nithin Divakar, researcher, Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, Pookode, and O Vishnu, Biologist of Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary coordinated the survey.