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Current Affair – July 3, 2021

WASH Report

  • A Joint Monitoring Report has been published by the Wash Institute. Wash institute is a global non-profit organisation.

Findings of the Report

  • India was responsible for the largest drop in open defecation since 2015, in terms of absolute numbers.
    • Within India, open defecation had been highly variable regionally since at least 2006. In 2006, the third round of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) found open defecation to be practiced by less than 10% of the population in four states and the Union Territory of Delhi, but by more than half the population in 11 states.
    • By 2016, when the fourth round of the NFHS was conducted, open defecation had decreased in all states, with the largest drops seen in Himachal Pradesh and Haryana.
  • Progress in curbing open defecation in sub-Saharan Africa was slow.
  • It emphasised universal access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) to achieve the United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 in achieving universal access to basic water, sanitation and hygiene services.

Progress on SDG 6

  • SDG 6 states that ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all by 2030 entails that water must be accessible at source, available when needed and free from any contamination.
  • The report noted some progress towards the achieving SDG 6.
  • Between 2016 and 2020, the global population with access to safely managed drinking water at home increased to 74% from 70%.

An improvement in at-source water resources including piped water, boreholes or tube wells, protected dug wells, protected springs, rainwater and packaged or delivered water, has been shown in the report.

  • There was an increase in safely managed sanitation services to 54% from 47% between 2016 and 2020.
  • Onsite sanitation system, a system in which excreta and wastewater are collected, stored and / or treated on the plot where they are generated had shown a significant global increase.
  • Globally, access to safely managed sanitation services increased over the 2000- 2020 period by an average of 1.27 percentage points per year.
  • Hand washing facilities with soap and water increased to 71% from 67%.
  • However, 3 in 10 people worldwide could not wash their hands with soap and water at home during the COVID-19 pandemic due to lack of water resources.
Water sources are considered ‘accessible on premises’ if the point of water collection is within the dwelling, compound, yard or plot, or is supplied to the household through piped supply or tanks. Water is counted as ‘available when needed’ if households report having ‘sufficient water. For the purposes of global monitoring, drinking water is considered ‘free from contamination’ if the water is free and safe from contamination of bacteria like E Coli.  

Way forward

  • In order to ensure long-term sustainability of both centralised and decentralised sanitation, proper funding and investment was required.
  • Hand hygiene becomes very important for COVID-19 response and is known to be an effective measure of many diseases.
  • In June 2020, the World Health Organization and Unicef jointly launched the ‘Hand Hygiene for All’ initiative, which aims to improve access to hand washing infrastructure as well as stimulating changes in hand washing practices where facilities are available.
Source: Down-to-earth

Shutting down National parks during monsoons

  • Uttarakhand Forest Minister recently announced that the state’s two Tiger Reserves — Corbett and Rajaji — would now remain open for tourism round the year.
  • The statement has sparked a debate with many warning that tourism activities in the rainy season will disturb tigers in their mating season.

About the opening and closing schedules of National parks

  • Until now, the reserves would remain closed to tourists during the monsoon for 4-5 months every year.
  • Rajaji’s Jhilmil and Corbett’s Jhrirna zones remained open round the year, while the latter’s Bijrani zone closed for four months from June 15 to October 15. The rest of Corbett and Rajaji usually remained shut for tourism between June 15 and November 15.
  • The dates vary due to variation in forest quality, topography and climate. For example, the peripheral forests of Jhirna remain open throughout. Bijrani is not as affected by seasonal streams as the northern parts of Corbett and opens a month early.
  • In comparison, meagre rainfall in Rajasthan allows Ranthambhore National Park to stay open for 9 months between October and June. And high monsoon in Assam forces Kaziranga National Park to stay practically shut for six months between May and October.

Animal breeding

  • Tigers breed round the year. Except when raising a litter, a tigress comes into oestrus every 21 days. Even in the event of stillbirth or premature death of cubs, it comes into oestrus again within a month.
    • Clearly, such readiness belies every imaginary seasonal restriction, even though extreme winters of the Russian Far East are known to force a semblance of seasonality in the Amur tiger’s breeding behavior.
  • In India, if there is any seasonal bias for mating, observational evidence suggests it is towards the autumn-spring window. The rainy season is not the best time for tiger breeding.
  • The elephant, the other iconic species of Corbett and Rajaji, does not seem to particularly prefer the monsoon for species propagation either.
    • While elephant breeding is indeed linked to rainfall patterns — they breed round the year in places where it rains likewise — a high number of births are observed in the winter months of November-January in India, indicating a surge in mating in the pre- and early monsoon months of May-July.
    • A 2009 paper on reproductive behavior of elephants in Rajaji noted the “must phenomenon in adult male elephants was mostly observed during February to July, which was dominated by dry period” and peak breeding season in “largely the warm period” starting May.

So, why shut tiger reserves?

  • has more to do with humans than tigers (or elephants), really. A tropical forest is least accessible during the monsoons, with lush undergrowth blocking movements and gullies

washing away tracks.

  • In fact, the policy of shutting down a wildlife park is driven by weather across the world.
  • Yellowstone, the first national park in the US, and also the world, shuts every winter in the snow season.
  • Nagarhole and Bandipur Tiger Reserves of Karnataka shut to tourists in the dry summer season to protect animals from stress and the forests from fire.
  • In the north, the rainy months are the most challenging. Inside Corbett, vehicular access is limited to only three (Dhela,

Jhirna and Sultan) of over a dozen tourist accommodations during the rainy season when seasonal nullahs carrying boulders wash away roads and even knock down culverts.

Dhangarhi nallah flows across the Ramnagar-Corbett.  

Why not invest and stay open?

  • It is difficult, although not impossible, due to the topography. A number of southern reserves, including Nagarhole and Bandipur, have invested in such interventions to stay open for tourists round the year.
  • The scale of construction, however, is not comparable to what is required in Uttarakhand’s forests.
    • With lot of rain and the gradient is such that water channels here stay narrow and regular culverts do the trick. In Corbett, there will be need for bridging structures spanning several hundred metres.
  • Besides, tiger breeding is not the only concern. A number of species do breed in the forest during the rainy months and together they maintain the ecological balance, or the food chain, that supports the apex species.
  • Besides, wildlife deserves a break from noise, light and other pollutions tourism brings to their habitat. And given the logistical challenges it poses, the rainy season is the most convenient period for providing that respite.
  • A recent study reported high stress induced by tourist vehicles in tigers in Bandhavgarh and Kanha tiger reserves of Madhya Pradesh by comparing a marker in the scat collected during tourism (January-March) and non- tourism (September) months.

Does opening or shutting parks impact poaching?

  • While opening parks to tourists in the rainy months will not hamper the breeding prospects of the tiger, it may yet put the national animal at risk. Unlike the royal trophy hunters who avoided the dirty rainy months, the poacher considers the monsoon an opportunity when guards struggle to patrol much of the reserve. That is why Project Tiger has always emphasised enhanced vigilance during the monsoon.
  • Uttarakhand has a history of suffering heavy losses to poachers during the rainy season. Diverting the forest staff from ‘Operation Monsoon’ to tourism duties during these tough months will only make the reserves more vulnerable.
Source: Indian Express

Study on behavior of male Asian elephants

  • Researchers from Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR), an autonomous Institute of the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, studied associations of male Asian elephants by collecting and analysing data on behaviour of identified non-musth wild Asian elephants of Nagarahole and Bandipur National Parks.
  • They observed Male elephants and identified them using features of their ears, tails, and tusks and recorded whether males associated with each other in the presence or absence of females. They used six years of field data on 83 identified males for this study, which was published in the open-access journal ‘Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution’.

Findings of the study

  • Time spent by male Asian elephants in all-male and mixed-sex groups depended on the age of the male.
  • Adult Asian male elephants preferred to spend their time alone than in mixed-sex or in all-male groups.
  • Old males were found mostly in the company of their age peers and less frequently with young males (15 to 30 years of age).
    • Young males did not disproportionately initiate associations with old males.
  • Adult male Asian elephants are less social than females.
    • They enter musth — a mate-searching strategy for old (above 30 years of age) males, annually.
    • The researchers hypothesised that when the adult males enter musth, dominance relationships may affect the number of mating opportunities they procure. Hence, it might be more crucial for old males than for young males to test strength with each other and settle dominance relationships during their non-musth time.
    • Since young males associated less with females during musth than non-musth time, they might also be using their non-musth time to search for mating opportunities.
  • All-male groups (in the absence of females) were rare and small.
  • Social learning from older males did not seem to play a big role in male associations. In contrast, African savannah elephants have been found to spend more time in all-male groups and to form larger groups, and young males preferred to associate with older males.
    • This could be due to the difference in the dispersion of food resources in the habitats occupied by the two species.

Significance of study

  • As human-elephant conflicts increase with time and expanding human range, understanding social behavior becomes crucial to the conservation and management of the highly social and endangered Asian elephant.
  • The Asian elephant is a charismatic species with a long history of co-existence with humans. Yet works on male societies of wild elephants based on long-term observations are rare. The study is end behavior to fill this gap.
  • This study is one of the few that examines male associations in species in which males rove between social groups. It provides an example of how ecological differences could possibly drive differences in male societies in related species with similar male reproductive strategies.
Source: PIB


  • Authorities in Bihar’s Valmiki Tiger Reserve (VTR) have started planning for conservation of vultures after 150 of the birds were sighted recently in the protected area.
  • Different species of vultures including Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), Griffon vulture (Gyps fulvus), White- rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis) and Himalayan griffon (Gyps himalayensis) were among the 150 individuals spotted in VTR.
  • About 75-80 vultures, the highest number, were spotted at the Ganauli range, followed by Madanpur and others.

About the conservation plan

  • A proposed plan for vulture conservation had been sent to the Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats (IDWH). After approval from IDWH, a formal vulture conservation programme will begin in all five ranges of VTR.
  • A plan of Rs 57 lakh had been made for the first year of vulture conservation work.
  • A rescue centre for vultures will be set up in the Ganauli range according to the conservation plan. This will help increase the number of vultures.
  • The local community, living in nearby villages, will be made aware about the conservation of vultures. A campaign will be launched through street meetings, seminars at villages and other means.

Way forward

The vulture presence in VTR gave fresh hope to save them in the state. It would boost the government plan to develop a vulture-safe zone in the state.

  • Government will have to ensure that there is no use of diclofenac in the 10-km radius of the vulture safe zone.
  • However, vultures in Bihar are very difficult to spot today, unlike till early 2000. Like elsewhere, vultures used to play a vital role in the state by consuming animal carcasses before they decomposed or raised a stink.
  • But after diclofenac was introduced as an anti-inflammatory medicine for livestock, vulture became its victims. Vultures died after consuming the flesh of animals that were administered diclofenac. It resulted in a drastic decline of the vulture population.
The state government has been planning to create a diclofenac-free zone for conservation of vultures in areas bordering Nepal. Vultures from the Himalayan range visit areas in Bihar bordering Nepal during winters.  

About vultures

  • Vulture, any of 22 species of large carrion-eating birds that live predominantly in the tropics and subtropics. The 7 species of New World vultures include condors, and the 15 Old World species include the lammergeier and griffons. Although many members of the two groups appear similar, they are only distantly related.
  • All of the New World vultures and some of the Old World vultures have bare heads, a condition that prevents feathers from matting with blood when the birds reach inside carcasses. Most vultures have a large pouch in the throat (crop) and can go for long periods without food—adaptations to a feast-or-famine scavenging lifestyle. In some species the beak is exceptionally strong and heavy for tearing hide, muscle, and even bone. Eyesight in all vultures is well developed, as is the sense of smell in the turkey vulture. Old World vultures have relatively strong feet, but New World Vultures have flat, weak feet that are poorly adapted for grasping.

New World vultures

  • The turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) is the most widespread New World vulture, breeding from Canada southward to the southern tip of South America.
  • California and Andean condors.
  • The black vulture (Coragyps atratus) is the most abundant vulture species of all. It is a resident of the tropics and subtropics that often wanders far into temperate regions.
  • The king vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) is the most colourful vulture.

Old World vultures

  • The cinereous vulture, sometimes called the black vulture (Aegypius monachus), is one of the largest flying birds. Many scientists consider this bird to be the largest vulture and the largest bird of prey. Entirely black with very broad wings and a short, slightly wedge-shaped tail, it ranges through southern Europe, Asia Minor, and the central steppes and highest mountains of Asia, nesting in tall trees. Many of these regions are also inhabited by the slightly smaller bearded vulture, or lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus).
  • The Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), also called Pharaoh’s chicken, is a small Old World vulture. This vulture’s range is northern and eastern Africa, southern Europe, and the Middle East to Afghanistan and India.
  • The common griffon (Gyps fulvus), or Eurasian griffon, is an Old World vulture of northwestern Africa, the Spanish highlands, southern Russia, and the Balkans.
  • In South Asia three Gyps species, the Asian white-backed vulture (G. bengalensis), the long-billed vulture (G. indicus), and the slender-billed vulture (G. tenuirostris), have been brought close to extinction by feeding on the carcasses of dead cattle that had been given pain-killing drugs; the pain killers cause kidney failure in the vultures.
  • The lappet-faced vulture (Torgos tracheliotus), sometimes called the eared, or Nubian, vulture, is a huge Old World vulture of arid Africa.

The palm-nut vulture (Gypohierax angolensis) lives in western and central Africa. It is unusual in being primarily vegetarian, although it sometimes takes crustaceans and dead fish.

  • The red-headed vulture (Sarcogyps calvus), often called the Pondicherry vulture or the Indian (black) vulture, is an Old World vulture ranging from Pakistan to Malaysia.
  • The white-headed vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis).
Old World vultures comprise the subfamily Aegyptiinae of the hawk and eagle family, Accipitridae, which is part of the order Falconiformes.  
Source: Down-to-earth