Mumbai: While his father leads the state government and his older brother manages the state’s environment ministry, Tejas Thackeray has quietly made waves in the world of zoology and wildlife conservation . The 26-year-old son of Uddhav Thackeray, who runs the Thackeray Wildlife Foundation, has contributed to a number of new scientific discoveries, the latest of which is the discovery of a new species of carnivorous land snail from the conservation reserve of Vishalgad, Kolhapur. The discovery by researchers, including Thackeray and his colleagues Amrut Bhosale and Omkar Yadav, was made in a relatively unexplored region of the Sahyadri range in the middle of the northern Western Ghats. The location was declared a protected area under the Wildlife Act in March 2021.
Experts said the discovery of this new wildlife species, the findings of which were published earlier this month, validates the state government’s decision to declare the area a conservation reserve. The move was first proposed by the State Board for Wildlife (SBWL) in December 2020. The finding is significant, experts say, because land snails are considered bio-indicators and indicate health more wide of the ecosystems they inhabit.
The new species – named Haploptychius sahyadriensis after the habitat in which it was discovered – belongs to a larger family of air-breathing land snails called ‘streptaxidae’, and is the first record of the genus Haploptychius from India. mainland (two species have already been described from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands). It is distinguished from other species of Haploptychius, found throughout Southeast Asia, by its unique reproductive system.
Haploptychius sahyadrianis is also the third carnivorous land snail variant to be discovered in the Sahyadris, the other two belonging to the genus Perrottetia, were first described in 2021. It is the latest addition to a rich diversity of endemic land snails in Western Ghats.
Land snails are “detritivores”, feeding on dead organic matter, adding fertility to soil, and maintaining its chemical and physical properties through faecal discharge, which contains nitrogen-derived uric acid. Snail droppings also promote the growth of important fungi. “They are an integral part of the food chain. Their shells and other body parts contain calcium, making them an important source of nutrition for nesting female birds, which need calcium to produce eggshells,” said Amrut Bhosale, zoologist and one researchers behind this discovery.
“Our findings are the first time anyone has described a new species of Vishalgad CR, and it validates the state government’s decision to put the area under protection. This is a positive step for biodiversity. This study will give impetus to more wildlife surveys in the northwestern ghats, which are relatively under-studied compared to the central and southern ranges,” Bhosale added.
The researchers also explained that India is home to about 5% of the world’s biodiversity of malacofauna (relating to molluscs, which include animals like snails, clams, oysters and octopus) and that almost 50% of this group are endemic to various parts of India, with very small geographical ranges, which makes it all the more important to understand their specific function in the environment and to protect them.
Notably, the discovery of Haploptychius sahyadrianis at Vishalgad is part of a larger project by the same researchers, in which they are conducting an extensive survey of land snails in the Sahyadris and adjacent forests, out of a total of 1,56 761 hectares of land including various wildlife sanctuaries and conservation reserves in Maharashtra.
Since 2016, Tejas Thackeray has published at least 24 scholarly works, most dealing with the description of new species of crabs, fish, birds, snakes, geckos and snails, with a particular focus on the biodiversity of the Western Ghats of Maharashtra. In September 2021, a new species of swamp eel was discovered in a well in Mumbai by Tejas Thackeray and the team from the Thackeray Wildlife Foundation.