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Indian Peafowl

Pavo cristatus

Bird that can be seen in Valparai

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The Indian peafowl or blue peafowl, a large and brightly coloured bird, is a species of peafowl native to South Asia, but introduced in many other parts of the world.

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The male, or peacock, is predominantly blue with a fan-like crest of spatula-tipped wire-like feathers and is best known for the long train made up of elongated upper-tail covert feathers which bear colourful eyespots. These stiff feathers are raised into a fan and quivered in a display during courtship. Despite the length and size of these covert feathers, peacocks are still capable of flight. Peahens lack the train, and have a greenish lower neck and duller brown plumage. The Indian peafowl lives mainly on the ground in open forest or on land under cultivation where they forage for berries, grains but also prey on snakes, lizards, and small rodents. Their loud calls make them easy to detect, and in forest areas often indicate the presence of a predator such as a tiger. They forage on the ground in small groups and usually try to escape on foot through undergrowth and avoid flying, though they fly into tall trees to roost.

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The function of the peacock's elaborate train has been debated for over a century. In the 19th century, Charles Darwin found it a puzzle, hard to explain through ordinary natural selection. His later explanation, sexual selection, is widely but not universally accepted. In the 20th century, Amotz Zahavi argued that the train was a handicap, and that males were honestly signalling their fitness in proportion to the splendour of their trains. Despite extensive study, opinions remain divided on the mechanisms involved.

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The bird is celebrated in Hindu and Greek mythology and is the national bird of India. The Indian peafowl is listed as of Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

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Carl Linnaeus in his work Systema Naturae in 1758 assigned to the Indian peafowl the technical name of Pavo cristatus (means "crested peafowl" in classical Latin).

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The earliest usage of the word in written English is from around 1300 and spelling variants include pecok, pekok, pecokk, peacocke, peocock, pyckock, poucock, pocok, pokok, pokokke, and poocok among others. The current spelling was established in the late 17th century. Chaucer used the word to refer to a proud and ostentatious person in his simile "proud a pekok" in Troilus and Criseyde.

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The Greek word for peacock was taos and was related to the Persian "tavus". The Ancient Hebrew word tuki has been said to have been derived from the Tamil tokei but sometimes traced to the Egyptian tekh. In modern Hebrew the word for peacock is "tavas".

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Peacocks are a larger sized bird with a length from bill to tail of 100 to 115 cm and to the end of a fully grown train as much as 195 to 225 cm and weigh 4–6 kg. The females, or peahens, are smaller at around 95 cm in length and weigh 2.75–4 kg. Indian peafowl are among the largest and heaviest representatives of the Phasianidae. Their size, colour and shape of crest make them unmistakable within their native distribution range. The male is metallic blue on the crown, the feathers of the head being short and curled. The fan-shaped crest on the head is made of feathers with bare black shafts and tipped with bluish-green webbing. A white stripe above the eye and a crescent shaped white patch below the eye are formed by bare white skin. The sides of the head have iridescent greenish blue feathers. The back has scaly bronze-green feathers with black and copper markings. The scapular and the wings are buff and barred in black, the primaries are chestnut and the secondaries are black. The tail is dark brown and the "train" is made up of elongated upper tail coverts (more than 200 feathers, the actual tail has only 20 feathers) and nearly all of these feathers end with an elaborate eye-spot. A few of the outer feathers lack the spot and end in a crescent shaped black tip. The underside is dark glossy green shading into blackish under the tail. The thighs are buff coloured. The male has a spur on the leg above the hind toe.

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The adult peahen has a rufous-brown head with a crest as in the male but the tips are chestnut edged with green. The upper body is brownish with pale mottling. The primaries, secondaries and tail are dark brown. The lower neck is metallic green and the breast feathers are dark brown glossed with green. The remaining underparts are whitish. Downy young are pale buff with a dark brown mark on the nape that connects with the eyes. Young males look like the females but the wings are chestnut coloured.

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The most common calls are a loud pia-ow or may-awe. The frequency of calling increases before the Monsoon season and may be delivered in alarm or when disturbed by loud noises. In forests, their calls often indicate the presence of a predators such as the tiger. They also make many other calls such as a rapid series of ka-aan..ka-aan or a rapid kok-kok. They often emit an explosive low-pitched honk! when agitated.

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There are several colour mutations of Indian peafowl. These very rarely occur in the wild, but selective breeding has made them common in captivity. The black-shouldered or Japanned mutation was initially considered as a subspecies P. c. nigripennis (or even a species), and was a topic of some interest during Darwin's time. It is however only a case of genetic variation within the population. In this mutation, the adult male is melanistic with black wings. Young birds with the nigripennis mutation are creamy white with fulvous tipped wings. The gene produces melanism in the male and in the peahen it produces a dilution of colour with creamy white and brown markings. Other variations include the pied and white forms all of which are the result of allelic variation at specific loci.

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Cross between a male green peafowl, Pavo muticus and a female Indian peafowl, P. cristatus, produces a stable hybrid called a "spalding", named after Mrs. Keith Spalding, a bird fancier in California. There can be problems if birds of unknown pedigree are released into the wild, as the viability of such hybrids and their offspring is often reduced.

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The Indian peafowl is a resident breeder across the Indian subcontinent and is found in the drier lowland areas of Sri Lanka. In South Asia, it is found mainly below an altitude of 1,800 m and in rare cases seen at about 2,000 m. It is found in moist and dry-deciduous forests, but can adapt to live in cultivated regions and around human habitations and is usually found where water is available. In many parts of northern India, they are protected by religious practices and will forage around villages and towns for scraps. Some have suggested that the peacock was introduced into Europe by Alexander the Great, while others say the bird had reached Athens by 450 BCE and may have been introduced even earlier. It has since been introduced in many other parts of the world and has become feral in some areas.

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Besides its native habitat, the bird has been introduced by humans to the United States, Mexico, Honduras, Colombia, Guyana, Suriname, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, South Africa, Portugal, Madagascar, Mauritius, Réunion, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Croatia (Split, island of Lokrum), and elsewhere. In isolated cases, the Indian peafowl has been known to be able to adapt to harsher climates, such as those of northern Canada. The species has been spotted by Hunters as far north as Huntsville, Ontario thriving in its newly adapted northern climate.

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Peafowl are best known for the male's extravagant display feathers which, despite actually growing from their back, are thought of as a tail. The "train" is in reality made up of the enormously elongated upper tail coverts. The tail itself is brown and short as in the peahen. The colours result not from any green or blue pigments but from the micro-structure of the feathers and the resulting optical phenomena. The long train feathers (and tarsal spurs) of the male develop only after the second year of life. Fully developed trains are found in birds older than four years. In northern India, these begin to develop each February and are moulted at the end of August. The moult of the flight feathers may be spread out across the year.

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Peafowl forage on the ground in small groups, known as musters, that usually have a cock and 3 to 5 hens. After the breeding season, the flocks tend to be made up only of females and young. They are found in the open early in the mornings and tend to stay in cover during the heat of the day. They are fond of dust-bathing and at dusk, groups walk in single file to a favourite waterhole to drink. When disturbed, they usually escape by running and rarely take to flight.

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Peafowl produce loud calls especially in the breeding season. They may call at night when alarmed and neighbouring birds may call in a relay like series. Nearly seven different call variants have been identified in the peacocks apart from six alarm calls that are commonly produced by both sexes.

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Peafowl roost in groups during the night on tall trees but may sometimes make use of rocks, buildings or pylons. In the Gir forest, they chose tall trees in steep river banks. Birds arrive at dusk and call frequently before taking their position on the roost trees. Due to this habit of congregating at the roost, many population studies are made at these sites. The population structure is not well understood. In a study in northern India, the number of males was 170–210 for 100 females but a study involving evening counts at the roost site in southern India suggested a ratio of 47 males for 100 females.

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The colours of the peacock and the contrast with the much duller peahen were a puzzle to early thinkers. Charles Darwin wrote to Asa Gray that the "sight of a feather in a peacock's tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!" as he failed to see an adaptive advantage for the extravagant tail which seemed only to be an encumbrance. Darwin developed a second principle of sexual selection to resolve the problem, though in the prevailing intellectual trends of Victorian Britain, the theory failed to gain widespread attention.

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The American artist Abbott Handerson Thayer tried to show, from his own imagination, the value of the eyespots as disruptive camouflage in a 1907 painting. He used the painting in his 1909 book Concealing-Coloration in the Animal Kingdom, denying the possibility of sexual selection and arguing that essentially all forms of animal coloration had evolved as camouflage. He was roundly criticized in a lengthy paper by Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote that Thayer had only managed to paint the peacock's plumage as camouflage by sleight of hand, "with the blue sky showing through the leaves in just sufficient quantity here and there to warrant the author-artists explaining that the wonderful blue hues of the peacock's neck are obliterative because they make it fade into the sky."

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In the 1970s a possible resolution to the apparent contradiction between natural selection and sexual selection was proposed. Amotz Zahavi argued that peacocks honestly signalled the handicap of having a large and costly train. However, the mechanism may be less straightforward than it seems – the cost could arise from depression of the immune system by the hormones that enhance feather development.

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The ornate train is believed to be the result of sexual selection by the females. Males use their ornate trains in a courtship display: they raise the feathers into a fan and quiver them. However, recent studies have failed to find a relation between the number of displayed eyespots and mating success. Marion Petrie tested whether or not these displays signaled a male's genetic quality by studying a feral population of peafowl in Whipsnade Wildlife Park in southern England. She showed that the number of eyespots in the train predicted a male's mating success, and this success could be manipulated by cutting the eyespots off some of the male's ornate feathers. Although the removal of eyespots makes males less successful in mating, eyespot removal substantially changes the appearance of male peafowls. It is likely that females mistake these males for sub-adults, or perceive that the males are physically damaged. Moreover, in a feral peafowl population, there is little variation in the number of eyespots in adult males. It is rare for adult males to lose a significant number of eyespots. Therefore, females' selection might depend on other sexual traits of males' trains. The quality of train is an honest signal of the condition of males; peahens do select males on the basis of their plumage. A recent study on a natural population of Indian peafowls in the Shivalik area of India has proposed a "high maintenance handicap" theory. It states that only the fittest males can afford the time and energy to maintain a long tail. Therefore, the long train is an indicator of good body condition, which results in greater mating success. While train length seems to correlate positively with MHC diversity in males, females do not appear to use train length to choose males. A study in Japan also suggests that peahens do not choose peacocks based on their ornamental plumage, including train length, number of eyespots and train symmetry. Another study in France brings up two possible explanations for the conflicting results that exist. The first explanation is that there might be a genetic variation of the trait of interest under different geographical areas due to a founder effect and/or a genetic drift. The second explanation suggests that "the cost of trait expression may vary with environmental conditions," so that a trait that is indicative of a particular quality may not work in another environment.

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Fisher's runaway model proposes positive feedback between female preference for elaborate trains and the elaborate train itself. This model assumes that the male train is a relatively recent evolutionary adaptation. However, a molecular phylogeny study on peacock-pheasants shows the opposite; the most recently evolved species is actually the least ornamented one. This finding suggests a chase-away sexual selection, in which "females evolve resistance to male ploys". A study in Japan goes on to conclude that the "peacocks' train is an obsolete signal for which female preference has already been lost or weakened".

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However, some disagreement has arisen in recent years concerning whether or not female peafowl do indeed select males with more ornamented trains. In contrast to Petrie's findings, a seven-year Japanese study of free-ranging peafowl came to the conclusion that female peafowl do not select mates solely on the basis of their trains. Mariko Takahashi found no evidence that peahens expressed any preference for peacocks with more elaborate trains (such as trains having more ocelli), a more symmetrical arrangement, or a greater length. Takahashi determined that the peacock's train was not the universal target of female mate choice, showed little variance across male populations, and, based on physiological data collected from this group of peafowl, do not correlate to male physical conditions. Adeline Loyau and her colleagues responded to Takahashi's study by voicing concern that alternative explanations for these results had been overlooked, and that these might be essential for the understanding of the complexity of mate choice. They concluded that female choice might indeed vary in different ecological conditions.

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A 2013 study that tracked the eye movements of peahens responding to male displays found that they looked in the direction of the upper train of feathers only when at long distances and that they looked only at the lower feathers when males displayed close to them. The rattling of the tail and the shaking of the wings helped in keeping the attention of females.

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Peacocks are polygamous, and the breeding season is spread out but appears to be dependent on the rains. Peafowls usually reach sexual maturity at the age of 2 to 3 years old. Several males may congregate at a lek site and these males are often closely related. Males at lek appear to maintain small territories next to each other and they allow females to visit them and make no attempt to guard harems. Females do not appear to favour specific males. The males display in courtship by raising the upper-tail coverts into an arched fan. The wings are held half open and drooped and it periodically vibrates the long feathers producing a ruffling sound. The cock faces the hen initially and struts and prances around and sometimes turns around to display the tail. Males may also freeze over food to invite a female in a form of courtship feeding. Males may display even in the absence of females. When a male is displaying, females do not appear to show any interest and usually continue their foraging. The peak season in southern India is April to May, January to March in Sri Lanka and June in northern India. The nest is a shallow scrape in the ground lined with leaves, sticks and other debris. Nests are sometimes placed on buildings and in earlier times have been recorded using the disused nest platforms of the white-rumped vultures. The clutch consists of 4–8 fawn to buff white eggs which are incubated only by the female. The eggs take about 28 days to hatch. The chicks are nidifugous and follow the mother around after hatching. Downy young may sometimes climb on their mothers' back and the female may carry them in flight to a safe tree branch. An unusual instance of a male incubating a clutch of eggs has been reported.

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Peafowl are omnivorous and eat seeds, insects, fruits, small mammals and reptiles. They feed on small snakes but keep their distance from larger ones. In the Gir forest of Gujarat, a large percentage of their food is made up of the fallen berries of Zizyphus. Around cultivated areas, peafowl feed on a wide range of crops such as groundnut, tomato, paddy, chili and even bananas. Around human habitations, they feed on a variety of food scraps and even human excreta. In the countryside, it is particularly partial to crops and garden plants.

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Indian Peafowl</p></p>, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Indian Peafowl</p></p>, Bird that can be seen in Valparai
Indian Peafowl</p></p>, Bird that can be seen in Valparai

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Wings over Valparai

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The Anamalai Tiger Reserve and Valparai area in Western-Ghats of Tamilnadu are both perfect bird watching destinations. Birders will marvel at the array of colorful birds like Hornbills, Thrush Family, Flycatchers, woodpeckers and of course the sighting of our national bird, The Indian Peafowl.

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There are more than 350 species of birds found in Anamalais. The list includes resident birds, winter visitors and endemic birds of Anamalais. Nearly 5 % of birds found in Anamalai Tiger Reserve are endemic to Western Ghats

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What is birdwatching?

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Birdwatching or birding is the observation and study of birds with the naked eye or through a visual enhancement device like binoculars. Birding often involves a significant auditory component, as many bird species are more readily detected and identified by ear than by eye. Most birdwatchers pursue this activity mainly for recreational or social reasons, unlike ornithologists, who engage in the study of birds using more formal scientific methods.

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What do you need for birdwatching?

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• The most basic equipment required for bird watching is your eyes. That´s true but you will soon need to have more items with you if you intend to make this a pastime or serious hobby. How far you go is a matter of taste and budget.

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• The most useful thing that you can carry is a notepad and pencil. Use this to make a note of location, time, date, weather and habitat. Do a list of the birds that you see and know. Do a drawing or write down a description of those that you don’t. You can look them up later in you field guide. Your notebook should become a diary of where you have been and what you have seen. It will become a useful record as time passes.

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• A Field guide is a book, normally illustrated with drawings or photographs, which provides descriptions of birds that assists you in their identification. The descriptions use several factors to help you determine the exact bird that you are looking at. As soon as you see a bird that you do not recognize you will need to have access a good field guide. There are many to choose from. They come in various shapes, sizes, weight and cost.

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• Sites guides. These give locations where you can watch birds, the species you are likely to see and the best time to watch.

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• Binoculars. These are pretty essential and buy the best that you can afford. A good pair well looked after will last you a lifetime. Take time to choose ones that suit you.

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• Clothing. Bird watching being primarily an outdoor pursuit, it is sensible to have lightweight but warm and waterproof clothing. You will be more comfortable if you wear the right type of clothing for the conditions you are in.

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• Telescope. If you want to get a really close look at birds then you will need to get a bird watching scope and tripod. These are more expensive than binoculars but if you get to be serious about bird watching you will soon want to have them.

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• Camera. A simple point and shoot digital camera is good if you are close to birds, especially if you have a zoom lens. If not close enough to shoot birds it is still good to take general views or mementos of your day out. More expensive cameras, with telephoto lenses, can bring you close in to the birds.

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• Digiscoping. You can take pictures via your Scope–using it as a telephoto lens. You will need attachments for your scope.

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Code of birding ethics

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1. Promote the welfare of birds and their environment.
1. (a) Support the protection of important bird habitat.
1. (b) To avoid stressing birds or exposing them to danger, exercise restraint and caution during observation, photography, sound recording, or filming.
   Limit the use of recordings and other methods of attracting birds, and never use such methods in heavily birded areas, or for attracting any species that is Threatened, Endangered, or of Special Concern, or is rare in your local area;
   Keep well back from nests and nesting colonies, roosts, display areas, and important feeding sites. In such sensitive areas, if there is a need for extended observation, photography, filming, or recording, try to use a blind or hide, and take advantage of natural cover.
   Use artificial light sparingly for filming or photography, especially for close-ups.
1. (c) Before advertising the presence of a rare bird, evaluate the potential for disturbance to the bird, its surroundings, and other people in the area, and proceed only if access can be controlled, disturbance minimized, and permission has been obtained from private land-owners. The sites of rare nesting birds should be divulged only to the proper conservation authorities.
1. (d) Stay on roads, trails, and paths where they exist; otherwise keep habitat disturbance to a minimum.

2. Respect the law, and the rights of others.
2. (a) Do not enter private property without the owner’s explicit permission.
2. (b) Follow all laws, rules, and regulations governing use of roads and public areas, both at home and abroad.
2. (c) Practice common courtesy in contacts with other people. Your exemplary behavior will generate goodwill with birders and non-birders alike.

3. Ensure that feeders, nest structures, and other artificial bird environments are safe.
3. (a) Keep dispensers, water, and food clean, and free of decay or disease. It is important to feed birds continually during harsh weather.
3. (b) Maintain and clean nest structures regularly.
3. (c) If you are attracting birds to an area, ensure the birds are not exposed to predation from cats and other domestic animals, or dangers posed by artificial hazards.

4. Group birding, whether organized or impromptu, requires special care.
  Each individual in the group, in addition to the obligations spelled out in Items #1 and #2, has responsibilities as a Group Member.
4. (a) Respect the interests, rights, and skills of fellow birders, as well as people participating in other legitimate outdoor activities. Freely share your knowledge and experience, except where code 1(c) applies. Be especially helpful to beginning birders.
4. (b) If you witness unethical birding behavior, assess the situation, and intervene if you think it prudent. When interceding, inform the person(s) of the inappropriate action, and attempt, within reason, to have it stopped. If the behavior continues, document it, and notify appropriate individuals or organizations.

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Other highlights for the avid birder will be the sighting of The Great HornBill or Thrush. Learn more about the endamic, migrants and other birds in and around valparai by checking out the list

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The below list is created in the guidance of Mr. K Selva Ganesh, Cinchona Government High School, Valparai who teaches English. Along with his students, won ebird’s Great Backyard Bird Count challenge, 2017. They contributed 360 checklists of birds, the highest number in the bird count challenge, and recorded 111 species.

Images and Data courtesy Mr. K Selva Ganesh, Wikimedia Commons, Wikipedia and ebird.org

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List of Endamic Birds of Western-Ghats you can see in Valparai

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List of Migrant Birds that can be seen in Valparai

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List of Other Birds you can see in Valparai

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