About This ProjectBurmese python populations are declining across their native ranges in Asia and we don't know why. This is why we are proposing to conduct a radio-telemetry study of these pythons in Bangladesh so we can begin to understand their ecological needs. Through this, we can provide habitat protection and restoration recommendations for the Burmese python, as well as engage the public and mitigate human persecution upon these magnificent creatures.
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What is the context of this research?
Burmese pythons (Python molurus bivittatus) are one of the largest snakes of the world, native to South and Southeast Asia. It is an extremely familiar and charismatic snake to most of the public because of the pet trade, and outside of captivity it is known for their invasive capabilities in the Florida Everglades. Consequently, almost all research on this species has been on the invasive population. Therefore, Burmese pythons are either seen by most people as inhabitants of glass cages or as ecological villains in Florida. As a result, there is not an appreciation for this snake in its native wild range primarily due to lack of knowledge of this species’ ecology and status in Asia. However, the little that is known strongly suggests that Burmese pythons are declining across Asia. The species is endangered in Bangladesh, India and is critically endangered in Vietnam and China; it is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN, and is regulated on CITES Appendix 1. Despite its current status, almost nothing is known about its biology. In particular, there is little to no detailed information available on python thermal biology, habitat preference, movement patterns, behavior or home range size. This lack makes conservation and management strategies difficult to develop and implement. In particular, such information would provide great insight into the role that habitat loss may play in python declines.
Once contiguously distributed in Bangladesh, python populations there are now largely fragmented in small and disjunct populations. The persistence of Burmese pythons in Asia is important because this species acts as an apex
predator and plays a crucial role in maintaining the natural balance of the ecosystem. Furthermore, giant pythons are ancient snakes and have likely played an important role in the development of human attitudes towards all snakes. One reason for its decline in Bangladesh could be human exploitation, as a food for humans, and out of fear by local ethnic groups. There is a pressing need for detailed field studies on python, and awareness programs.
Our study site is located at Lawachara National Park (LNP)
(24º20'N, 91º47'E). LNP is a 1250 hectares mixed evergreen forest situated in northeastern Bangladesh. LNP was established in 1996 and is one of the last remaining patches of mixed-evergreen forest in the country. LNP is surrounded by tea plantation in all sides. In addition to the national park, we will focus in two of the surrounding tea plantation estates. Pythons are found in these tea estates as well as the park, and will provide us an opportunity to compare habitat within the national park to that within a more disturbed environment.
Specific research questions:
1) What habitat types are
used by free-ranging native pythons?
2) What are natural movement rates in Burmese pythons?
3) Are there thermal limits to python habitat use?
4) Is local participation in research and outreach presentations an effective tool for python conservation?
We will implant python with 28-gram radio transmitters with 3-year life spans and i-button temperature loggers into the coelomic cavity. Radio tracking will be with the help of local parabiologists that we have already trained. Each time a snake is located, we will obtain a GPS coordinate that can be used to map movements and quantify various aspects of its spatial ecology (e.g., home range size). We will also obtain information on habitat use by measuring environmental parameters, such as vegetation characteristics (e.g., canopy cover). Habitat data from known locations will be compared to data from random locations and then analyzed in a multivariate framework to provide information on habitat preference. Each time we track a snake, we will quantify its behavior (e.g., moving, perch height, conspecific interaction). At the end of the first year, the snake will be captured and the data from the implanted data loggers will be downloaded for analyses of thermal ecology. We will conduct a series of outreach presentations to offer educational opportunities to local people. The presentation will include information on the natural history of Burmese python, as well as the value of this snake to the tropical forest ecological community. To evaluate outreach presentations, we will design both pre- and post-awareness questionnaires to assess how attitudes are affected by our educational efforts. Surveys will be developed in cooperation with Bangladeshi stakeholders to recognize the range of typical attitudes toward snakes and how they might be changed. We will also ask questions relating to the primary concerns or interest relating to python; this will help us to understand the social and economic effects python conservation might have. If initial questionnaires indicate that we are not reaching our objectives, we will work to improve presentations to address these weaknesses.
What is the significance of this project?
The result will be significant from both scientific and conservation perspective. The major impact of this project will be
advancing conservation of the Burmese python in Bangladesh by identifying habitat associations, movement patterns, and thermal requirements, and incorporating local stakeholders. This will not only provide basic information that is highly needed for python conservation, but will plant the seeds in the local community for longer-term conservation efforts. Here we highlight the primary impacts of the project in different category.
Basic ecology: Boas and pythons in general have not been the subject of snake ecology studies, and as a result, there is much information that is required to understand their basic biology. Burmese pythons have been used for physiological experiments in captivity and are receiving much attention as an invasive species in Florida, but almost nothing is known in its native range. In particular, we have limited information on habitat use, space use and thermal preferences all of which are foci of this study. Therefore, this study will immediately contribute to the field of boa and python biology and to the general study of large ectothermic vertebrates. It will also help address some specific questions currently being asked of large tropical snakes, such as whether pythons are truly sit-and-wait predators or more active foragers, and also whether thermoregulation is important for tropical snakes in environments where seasonal variation is less pronounced than in temperate areas. Furthermore, the knowledge gained from the study will provide important insights on their impact and potential range expansion in United States.
Species conservation: This project will directly benefit not only the conservation of Burmese pythons, but also other species that share their habitat. Due to their large size and likelihood that they use multiple habitats, pythons may function as umbrella species for the Southeast Asian forests and wetlands. An umbrella species is a species that has habitat requirements that overlap with a variety of other species. We will present the results of our research to relevant agencies responsible for managing and protecting natural resources, such as the Forest Department of Bangladesh. Burmese pythons are an endangered species in Bangladesh, and so there is government interest in preserving this species. The information we will produce on habitat use and movement can be used to prioritize areas for protection or python management as well as monitoring to reduce illegal poaching of this snake. Furthermore, the simple act of publishing and presenting our study results to an international audience will draw attention to the fact that Burmese pythons are a conservation priority in Asia and not just a pet or invasive nuisance. This will be very important for getting the pythons on the conservation radar, and can provide momentum for continued actions.
Social impacts: Incorporating local people in Burmese python conservation efforts is essential because, in addition to habitat loss, threats to this species include human persecution and exploitation. Therefore, it is important that local communities value pythons and understand the need for sustainable use. We will train Bangladeshi university level students and involve local villagers in the actual conservation research; this will allow them to see the snakes in the wild and begin to understand the natural history and value of pythons, as well provide a small source of employment. We will provide multiple outreach and education presentations to familiarize locals with the python and help to dispel myths or misconceptions about the snakes. This will also create awareness of the problems the snake faces as well as develop an appreciation for the snake as an important part of the Bangladeshi environment and heritage. We will also listen to the concerns of local people regarding the snakes both from a fear standpoint (snakes may occasionally attack people) and from an economic aspect (people may rely on snake hunting for income). While it is unlikely that these concerns will have easy answers, we will be able to serve as an intermediary for communication between local stakeholders, conservationists, and government officials to figure out the best strategies to meet the needs of all parties while still protecting the snake. Overall, we will emphasize the decline of this snake and why it is important to maintain this apex predator species as part of the ecological communities of Bangladesh, but work towards a solution that is sustainable for both snakes and people.
What are the goals of the project?
Our study will primarily be a radio-telemetry study of Burmese pythons. Snakes will be tracked throughout the 12 month duration of the current study, and outreach efforts will take place concurrently with radio tracking efforts. Currently we are tracking two pythons at the moment and we plan to radio track additional eight adult pythons. Field work will be conducted primarily by residents of Bangladesh, including students from Bangladeshi universities and representatives from the local communities surrounding the national park.
The overall goal of this project is to increase our knowledge of python ecology and use that knowledge to prioritize areas for protection as well as monitoring to reduce illegal poaching. However, even improved knowledge of python ecology will not be suffice if human attitudes and activities do not change. Therefore, another important component our project is to educate local people about python to increase appreciation of the importance of the snake. Local people will be directly involved in research and we will conduct outreach activities to reach a larger local audience. Currently, Bangladesh does not have the broad-scale python exploitation that is found in Indonesia, Vietnam, and China; instead, python hunting takes place at a more dispersed local level. Thus, local outreach should have a much greater impact than top-down regulation. Although my objectives are largely focused on conservation of the species, our study will have clear benefits to basic knowledge of large snake ecology. This study will provide information on what limits Burmese python distribution, its movement, and how important thermal factors are for a large-bodied tropical snake. Specific objectives are:
1. Quantify seasonal movement patterns, home range characteristics, and habitat use of free-ranging pythons
2. Obtain data on various aspects of python natural history, including reproduction, diet and growth.
3. Describe the thermal ecology of free ranging Burmese python using surgically implanted miniature iButton temperature data loggers.
4. Involve students and the local community in educational programs focused on ecology and conservation of python and its habitats and methods of scientific research.
5. Leverage year one results to attract additional funding for longer term research.
6. Publish results in the peer-reviewed scientific literature and the popular press.
7. Develop management recommendations to aid in the preservation of python and the habitats on which its depends.
Your donations will provide us with the necessary equipment to expand our tracking study and include a sufficient number of animals to draw statistically relevant conclusions. It will also provide a stipend to our local tribal field assistants to carry out the daily tracking of all the pythons in the study. The budget here is for 12 months of the study period. Any additional funds raised beyond this requested amount will be put to further continue the project.
Meet the Team
Team BioMy name is Scott Trageser and I am a US based herpetologist and professional photographer. I am involved with python research in Bangladesh and acting as an international coordinator of the project. The lead researcher, Caesar Rahman is based out of Dhaka, Bangladesh and coordinates all efforts on the ground. Caesar has several assistants in Lawachara National Park: Rodip Bakti, Kanai Das, Rupa Datta, and Ashique Faisal. And Caesar's collaborator, Dr. SMA Rashid of Center for Advanced Research in Natural Resources in Management - CARINAM.
Press and MediaBangladesh Python Project in conducted in colloboration with the Center for Advanced Research in Natural Resources and Management (CARINAM), Bangladesh, and the Forest Department of Bangladesh, with initial financial and technical support from The Orianne Society, USA.
Additional InformationHere are some relevant publications from the study thus far:
Rahman, S.C. Python molurus bivittatus. (Burmese Python). 2013. NESTING. Herpetological Review: 44 (2).
Rahman, S.C., Rashid, S.M.A., Das, K and Luiselli, L. 2013. Composition and structure of a snake assemblage in an altered tropical forest-plantation mosaic in Bangladesh. Amphibia-Reptilia: 34 (1).
Rahman, S.C., Rashid, S.M.A., Das, K and Luiselli, L. Monsoon does matter: annual activity patterns in a snake assemblage from Bangladesh. Herpetological Journal 23 (203-308).
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