By Danuska Da Gama I NT BUZZ
How do you feel that a lizard species has been named after you?
I can now say that this is one of my claims of immortality! (Kidding). It’s a great feeling, not because the species is named after me, but young Indian researchers with whom I am associated in one way or other, did it. As a researcher, I have always had a dream to describe a new species and we did some new descriptions in the past. In doing so we also named a few species after people and places. But having a species named after yourself is very overwhelming.
Can you tell us in brief about the research on this species of lizard found in the Western Ghats?
This species of lizards, dubbed Cnemaspis Girii are commonly called dwarf or day geckos. It was first spotted near the famous Kaas plateau — or the valley of flowers, in Satara district which is part of Western Ghats, by a team of young scientists. Unlike other geckos in India, they have a round pupil and is not vertical. These lizards are one of the poorly studied species in India. To my knowledge, Saunak Pal who is one of the co-authors in this paper is one of the experts on this group. He is doing excellent work on dwarf geckos in the Western Ghats.
You also have a snake species names after you. Comment.
Gernot Vogel and Johan Van Rooijen, renowned herpetologists from Germany described a species of snake, Dendrelaphisgirii in 2011. They named this species after me. This snake is mostly seen on trees and only known in the Western Ghats. Very little is known about this snake.
What fascinates you most about your job?
I love herpetology (study of amphibians and reptiles), as everything is very fascinating about these little known and highly neglected creatures. They are one of the poorly known groups of animals in India. Every moment I spent on studying them was a fascinating learning experience. Most of the species are new to science and recently described. Many species are not yet described. We really do not know how they breed, what they feed on and their present status. Thus, information found about them is vital and every moment you spend in knowing them is noteworthy. I wish to say that each and every facet of this field is fascinating. This field is also responsible for my identity and I have found many good friends due to herpetology.
Western Ghats is a home of various endemic species. What are your observations about it?
The Western Ghats is one of the biodiversity hotspots in the world. This is not because this region has a rich diversity; many of those are endemic to this region. More that 70 per cent amphibians and reptiles are common to this region. The last two-decades have brought in a large influx of researchers in this field which has resulted in new discoveries. The discovery of the lizard is one of them. This brings in one more crucial point and that we may be losing many unknown species as this region is under tremendous anthropogenic pressure (environmental pollution and pollutants). Losing something which is strictly endemic to this region is saddening. We are still struggling with documentation, as there is a great need to initiate some conservation programs to conserve this unique diversity.
Can you tell us some of your observations made in Goa in relation to herpetology?
I have been to Goa many times. Thanks to Paresh Porob—the range forest officer at Mhadei wildlife sanctuary. Goa is a crucial place in the Western Ghats as many of the species, which are endemic to the Western Ghats, have their distribution till Goa and these species do not exist in Maharashtra. This is a transition zone which is very crucial. We have described one legless caecilian Gegeneophispareshi (named after Paresh Porob) in 2011. Apart from that the forests of Goa are rich in the diversity of amphibians and reptiles but are poorly studied. I personally feel that there is strong need of studies on amphibians and reptiles in Goa. I have some plans with the Forest Department of Goa and hope to initiate some studies in near future with the help of Paresh.
What is your biggest worry in your field of work?
This is the golden era for Indian Herpetology. There are many young researchers who are entering this field. But unfortunately due to lack of funds they are not continuing. I am really concerned about this.
You take on development.
We need to define what development really is. If it involves large scale destruction then I will not support it. The Western Ghats is a dynamic process and what we see today is a result of lakhs of years. We have done enormous destruction and now it’s high time to conserve whatever little we have.
What’s next on your agenda?
I love this subject and wish to spend my entire life studying it. If given a chance I wish to bring as many people as possible in this field. I also wish to do a serious study on rocky plateaus in Maharashtra. I also wish to contribute towards conservation of potential wildlife corridors in the northern Western Ghats.