Aaranyak, in its attempt to find newer ways to wildlife research and conservation in order to yield more reliable answers to the pressing ecological questions, finally braved a helical leap in January 2008 by launching a new division in its domain called Wildlife Genetics Division (WGD), with an establishment of Wildlife Genetics Laboratory (WGL). The laboratory is first of its kind in the region and first at the NGO level in the country.
Since the time of its inception, the major objectives of the division are to:
WGD has been offering support to various State Forest Departments of Northeast India in genetic monitoring of threatened mammalian species. Office of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), Govt. of Assam as recognized Wildlife Genetics Laboratory as a facility for wildlife genetic and forensic DNA analysis in the state of Assam, vide letter no. WL/FG/FORENSIC/2014 dated 28 April 2014. Apart from its work in India, WGD has been offering consultancy and technical support to conservation genetic projects undertaken internationally, including countries like Indonesia and Bhutan.
Facilities at Wildlife Genetics Laboratory (WGL)
As the core of WGD’s functioning, Aaranyak has established a Wildlife Genetics Laboratory (WGL) at Guwahati in order to undertake DNA based work on various wildlife species. As part of a three-year plan of establishing a high-throughput laboratory, we have already procured all that is required to start DNA based work. At present, we have following facilities in the laboratory:
Apart from this, WGL has back-up system for uninterrupted power supply to thermal cycler, electrophoresis, and freezers etc.
In-house Expertise at Wildlife Genetics Laboratory
Research Work by WGD
Ecology of Tigers in North Bengal
The project includes assessment of tiger population in the Protected Areas network of North Bengal and study ecological aspects such as population dynamics, prey-predator relationships, territoriality and home range related aspects and finally to develop a tiger conservation plan for the landscape. The project includes mapping of tiger presence and distribution in the PA network of North Bengal using sign survey and genetic sampling based species identification of genuine tiger samples and subsequent population estimation using genetic as well as photographic capture recapture.
Ecology of Leopards in North Bengal
The project primarily focusses on assessment of leopard population status in North Bengal, assessment of leopard distribution, prey preferences and territorial behavior and most importantly to investigate the driving factors of human leopard conflict, in order to develop a leopard management plan for the landscape. The project follows a grid based survey of leopard presence through questionnaire, sign survey and genetic sampling as well as assessment of human leopard conflict intensities through questionnaire and secondary information collection.
Population monitoring of Greater one-horned rhino in India
WGD has been conducting population genetic monitoring of greater one-horned rhinos (Rhinoceros unicorns) in India for past five years, through assessment of contemporary levels and spatial distribution of genetic diversity in the rhino bearing protected areas of Assam and West Bengal. Current work in this area includes optimization of methodology for genetic capture-recapture based population estimation in Jaldapara National Park, West Bengal and population genetic assessment of rhino population in Dudhwa National Park, Uttar Pradesh.
Population Genetic monitoring of Javan and Sumatran Rhinos In Indonesia
WGD worked jointly with Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology, Jakarta, IRF and WWF to monitor population status of Critically Endangered Javan (Rhinoceros sondaicus) and Sumatran rhinos (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) in Indonesia. WGD’s role in this work is to oversee the methodological aspects of genetic analysis and to provide technical guidance to the Researchers working in the laboratory of Eijkman Institute at Jakarta. This project aims at determining population size of these species in situ through genetic capture-recapture analysis and to determine the contemporary levels of genetic diversity, extent of inbreeding and other founder effects in the last remaining populations of these species for formulating sound management recommendations.
Population monitoring of tiger and other carnivores in Northeast India
WGD is working for past 6 years on tiger (Panthera tigris) population monitoring in various Tiger Reserves and other protected areas of Eastern India. So far, the laboratory has worked in Buxa Tiger Reserve of West Bengal, Palamau Tiger Reserve of Jharkhand, Dampa Tiger Reserve of Mizoram, Namdapha and Pakke Tiger Reserve of Arunachal Pradesh and Manas Tiger Reserve of Assam to determine the minimum number of tigers present in these areas. In addition, the laboratory has worked in Orang National Park in Assam to standardise methodology for tiger population estimation using genetic capture-recapture using a maximum likelihood based single session sampling design.
Evaluation of genetic diversity of White-bellied Heron in Bhutan
WGD has collaborated with Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN), Bhutan to work on Critically Endangered White-bellied Heron (Ardea insignis) population in Bhutan. Work has been initiated on preliminary assessment of mitochondrial genetic diversity of the species from various nesting colonies in Bhutan. Samples used in this study were collected by RSPN Biologists during nest monitoring of this species in some of the known localities within Bhutan.
Genetic monitoring of Snow Leopard in Wangchuck Centennial Park, Bhutan
WGD is offering support to Wangchuck Centennial Park, Bhutan in genetic analysis of snow leopard (Uncia uncia) faecal samples, in order to estimate minimum number of individual present in the area. This is the largest National Park of Bhutan, bordering Tibet to the North and with an altitudinal range of 2,500 metres to 5,100 metres. It is worth mentioning that the snow leopard faecal samples collected by the Park authority comes from an high altitudinal range of 3,100 metres to 4,700 metres.
Molecular phylogenetics of Himalayan birds
WGD worked as a collaborator in a joint project undertaken by Prof. Trevor Price of Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Chicago, USA and Wildlife Institute of India, on the analysis of regional variation in bird species diversity along the Himalayas.
Chronology of Achievements
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