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Two conservationists here have taken up a novel initiative of hosting foreigners interested in studying snakes in the forest areas of Papum Pare district, and educating local tribals on the need to conserve reptiles and amphibians. Ahmedabad-based herpetologist Soham Mukherjee and ecologist Mahesh Manghore recently hosted a group of 16 students from Belgium for 10 days at a homestay camp at Sango village in the district. "The students do their field work during their stay here. The communities get economic benefits and learn how valuable their natural resources are. We are trying to establish a relationship with the tribals to spread awareness," Mukherjee said. During a camp, Mukherjee usually moves around in the non-protected forest areas to collect reptiles, while Manghore does most of the interactions with the students and local people. The expert duo collect fees from the visitors and contribute funds from their own resources. The young herpetologist, who is also the director of an animal rehabilitation centre in Ahmedabad, hopes that some reptiles found in the area may well belong to new species. "We discovered what could be a subspecies of the banded trinket snake (Oreocryptophis porphyraceous) during the 10-day camp," said Mukherjee. The Belgian group has spotted some 15 species of snake during their stay at Sango. The group identified the meadow pit viper, brown spotted pit viper and the green rat snake, he said. "The students were lucky to spot unique species of amphibians and even a gorgeous tarantula spider.
Many reptiles could not be identified as there were no taxonomists. We also located five genera of frogs but could not ascertain the species," the herpetologist said. He feels that hunting in the area is no longer required for sustenance and people do it for fun. "Earlier, hunting was for sustenance, now it is a sport. When foreign visitors come to study snakes, the tribal people here realise the importance of preserving wildlife." Mukherjee feels that the initiative could be carried forward to other parts of the North East if the state governments were willing. Appreciating the efforts of Mukherjee and Manghore, Chief Wildlife Warden R Kemp said the department has always encouraged awareness campaigns for preserving the state's rich wildlife species. "In order to determine whether a reptile species is new, certain official formalities have to be taken care of. We are not aware of any new discovery as the conservationists never approached the department," he added.
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