Sunday, 14 August, 2022
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‘To live is to kill’ — a Malabar pit viper and gliding frog affirm nature’s basic law

Amboli Ghat is known as the ‘Cherrapunji’ of Maharashtra. The UNESCO World Heritage Site sustains its ecosystem with nature's most essential law.

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Watching an animal devour another can be a brutal sight, but one animal being other animals’ food is nature’s law. Ancient Indian literature like the Puranas mentions it. The Srimad Bhagavatam says: “Jivo Jivasya Jivanam”, which means “one living entity is the life for another living entity”.

Nachiket Awadhani, the founder of Environmental Conservation Organisation NGO in Maharashtra’s Daund city and an avid wildlife enthusiast, shared a striking image and described to me a chance encounter where he witnessed a Malabar gliding frog falling prey to a Malabar pit viper. He was walking across Amboli Ghat, a mountain pass in the Western Ghats in Maharashtra also known as the Sahyadris.

This 30-km ghat stretch receives heavy rainfall, and a walk through it is a paradise for nature enthusiasts due to its dense forests, fauna and flora variety in addition to natural waterfalls that bathe its landscape in the monsoons. Known as the ‘Cherrapunji’ of Maharashtra, this region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the eight biodiversity hotspots in the world.

While Awadhani was engrossed in observing the reptiles and amphibians, he spotted a green Malabar pit viper (Craspedocephalus malabaricus) that was lying uncannily still on the branch of a tree. Many differently coloured morphs of this species are known to exist, displaying colours like yellow, green, and brown. This particular green morph, virtually invisible to an untrained eye, was beautifully blending in with the algae and leaves around it. The venom of Malabar pit vipers is considered ‘hemotoxic’, so warily, Awadhani observed it from a distance. Generally nocturnal and inactive in the day, the viper was about to give Awadhani an unusual sight to witness.

Not so far away was a Malabar gliding frog (Rhacophorus malabaricus) sitting rather uncomfortably. Characterised by its bright green colouring, this frog has the ability to jump nine to twelve meters, almost 115 times its length. Most likely to be sighted only in the monsoons, this particular frog must have already been attacked by the Malabar pit viper, Awadhani thought. It had managed to scamper away, but its venom had begun to take effect, causing it to sit so incredibly still, reeling from the shock.

Malabar pit vipers are known to be slow-moving but fast strikers. In a flash, as the frog attempted to make another move, the viper sprung forward and grabbed it with its teeth. Awadhani managed to click a picture while the frog struggled to free itself from the poisonous mouth that firmly clutched it.


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Maintaining ‘balance’

Prey and predator populations are dynamic and responsive to each other. Predation is one of the many ways in which nature maintains a balance in the ecosystem and keeps species’ populations under control. Areas where animal populations are greatly declining due to changing land-use patterns, rapid urbanisation and deployment of large-scale predator controls are seeing an increase in populations of mice, rats and several other animals. They not only destroy the habitats needed by wildlife species but also cause an increased risk of zoonotic diseases. Not many realise that large swarms of insects could cover the earth, causing a major threat to all things living if there were not enough predators like frogs, fish, lizards and snakes predating on them.

To live is to kill, and predation also ensures the ‘survival of the fittest’ — nature’s basic law. Old, diseased, or injured animals are easy meals for predators. It can be the young too when they are not fast or strong enough to survive an attack. As for the Malabar pit viper in the image captured by Awadhani, he recalled, “in about ten minutes, the frog stopped moving and the viper decided that now, it was a suitable time to comfortably swallow his hard-earned meal.”

Neha Panchamia is Founder and President, RESQ Charitable Trust. She tweets @NehaPanchamia. Views are personal.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)

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