Press on Environment and Wildlife
56 sites identified for eco-tourism in Kerala (December Week 4 (2005)) OVER the past few years, eco-tourism has become a key focus area for Kerala's tourism authorities.
The eco-tourism wing of the Department of Tourism has identified 56 places in the State that have the potential to be developed as eco-tourism centres. While six of these sites are already functional eco-tourism projects, work on another 10 projects has been started, said a senior official of the tourism department. Most of these projects are expected to be commissioned in the next six-seven months, he added.
All these projects are being implemented with participation from the local community and the forest department, he explained. For instance, the eco-tourism project at the Periyar Tiger Reserve in Thekkady is run by the local community and includes products such as a jungle camp and bullock cart rides along the periphery of the sanctuary.
Another unique eco-tourism project currently being implemented is at Konni in the State's Pathanamthitta district. Inspired by the region's association with elephants and elephant-related folklore, the Konni eco-tourism project focuses on elephants. When completed, this project is expected to include an elephant museum, elephant rides and visits to a training camp for elephants.
The tourism authorities are also developing eco-tourism projects in locations such as the Eravikulam National Park and the Chinnar Wildlife Sanctuary. In all these locations, treks managed by the local community will be a highlight. In other eco-tourism projects such as those at Nelliyampathy and Nilambur, the focus will include activities such as plantation and farm visits, reports the hindu Business Line.
Last tigers count days as Namdapha readies for census (December Week 4 (2005)) Tigers still survive in the Namdapha National Park, insists Field Director L.K. Pait. His hopeful words are echoed by Chakma villagers settled across Noa Dehing river along the park boundary, who suffer occasional livestock losses. “We saw one last month. We have tigers here,” vow three forest guards in unison.
But they can’t tell how many. Nobody can. Nobody has ever set foot in many stretches of this 1,985 sq km vast tiger reserve in Arunachal Pradesh’s eastern reaches, reports The Indian Express..
Signs of the big cat’s presence are rare in the 700 sq km stretch covered during tiger census. Little wonder nobody takes the official count — 64 in 2003 — seriously. Ecologist Aparajita Dutta, who has walked 1000-plus km here, can vouch for only two. The unofficial consensus in Deban claims a population of 5 to 15. “Let’s wait till the census result due in mid-January,” says Pait.
After Namdapha was declared a national park and tiger reserve in 1983, the only road through the forest — connecting Miao and Vijaynagar at the Myanmar border — was abandoned. Out of bound from Deban, the pristine forest would have remained reasonably safe but people belonging to the Lisu tribe started encroaching from the Myanmar side in the late 1980s. Soon the decision to abandon the Miao-Vijaynagar (MV) road backfired.
While most tribals around Namdapha hunt for meat, the Lisu tribals, originally from Myanmar, knows the market value of tigers. A number of forest ground staff and locals hold that the Lisus have killed many tigers and smuggled them out across the Myanmar border. Some consignments are also sent across the Chinese border to Tibet.
As the Lisus carry on with their poaching racket, forest guards mostly sit helpless at Deban. The only way they can reach the Lisu settlements deep inside the core area is on foot. It takes a few days when the weather holds.
Pait sounds helpless: “We don’t have the manpower. The police can’t help as the settlements are often inaccessible from the Miao side. There are funds problems and infrastructure is poor.”
A decision to reconstruct the MV road will first require the PWD and the forest department to resolve a longstanding dispute over who controls it.
Meanwhile, whatever be the number of surviving tigers, their future seems sealed. Consider how Project Tiger functions in Namdapha:
• There are only 18 forest personnel to patrol the 1985 sq km reserve. Leaving out the unexplored areas, it is impossible for them to man even the 700 sq km “accessible area”.
• Under the shadow of insurgency, arms and weapons are best kept under lock and key. All four vehicles are kept in Miao headquarters.
• With no bridge across the Noa Dehing flowing along the reserve boundary, the staff take turns to visit Miao regularly to maintain supply. This effectively means about 70 per cent staff presence at any given time at Deban.
• During the seven-month long monsoon, the bumpy 24-km ride to Miao is a nightmare. Desperate measures to get emergency supplies across the river have often proved to be fatal. “A couple of our staff died trying to cross the river on boat,” says Deban ranger A.K. Dev. The promised suspension bridge has been under construction since last year.
• A number of forest and other government officials flout conservation norms openly. A former park manager was renowned for his fishing skills. Another former field director was forced to leave Namdapha for preventing some PWD officials from hunting deer. Top officials, allege the ground staff, stay put at Miao and rarely visit Deban.
Research officer S.S. Chandramani laments the lack of interest in Namdapha: “Tigers apart, three other big cats — common, snow and clouded leopards — are also found here. Namdapha has an altitudinal variation of 200-4571 m. The flora ranges from the peninsular to the alpine. We need better management to look after this unique biosphere.”
Latest technologies for tiger census 2006 (December Week 4 (2005)) The forthcoming tiger census in 2006 will have the latest in technologies. Apart from the use of the GPS (Global Positioning System) to monitor and map the movements of the survey teams, the 2006 census will also use a software developed by the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI), Kolkata for the laboratory analysis of the raw field data. The project, a UNDP scheme, was allocated funds to the tune of Rs 9 lakh, reports the Indian Express.
The census will be an elaborate process with the entire country being divided into six zones, namely, the northern zone, central zone, north eastern zone, Eastern Ghats, Western Ghats and the Sunderbans.
The Sunderbans Reserve Forest comprising the Sunderbans tiger reserve and a part of the 24 parganas (South) forest division, spans an expanse of 4,200 square kilometres.
The modus operandi in the Sunderbans Reserve Forest will be quite different from that in the other forest zones. This is mainly due to the mangrove forests in the area, which makes it a difficult terrain for the survey teams.
The area earmarked for the survey has been divided into 50 census units and five to eight teams will scan the entire region as part of the wild animals encounter survey. “The teams, each consisting of three to four members will be essentially looking for various tiger signs like pug marks, roars, scat (tiger excreta), scratch marks on tree trunks and even an actual sighting of the tiger will be noted down,” said Atanu Raha, chief conservator, forest.
All traces of the various encounter signs that the teams come across in their census units will be put down on sign survey forms.
This is the first phase of the census and is held over a four-day period from January 5 to January 8. The next phase, from January 9 to January 10, is devoted to “ungulate survey” where field data collected from the survey area will help establish a predator-prey relationship.
In this phase, the teams, travelling along the river, stop after every half hour to assess the situation on the ground. “They will take note of the quality of the vegetation that grows in that area. Our teams will also look for any signs of human disturbances like ‘chopping and lopping’ in the area,” said Raha.
The encounter signs of the herbivores like wild boars and spotted deers will be carefully taken into account. Forest officials said that the number of herbivores in a given area will help to predict whether the area is at all suitable as a tiger habitat.
“We then tally the figures with our estimates of the tiger population in that particular area. A high number of prey will mean that the area is a good habitat for tigers and if the tiger count in that particular area is found to be low, then it signals a discrepancy in our count,” explained Raha.
After field data is compiled, we demarcate the entire span of survey area into high encounter, low encounter and moderate encounter zones. Twenty per cent of total number of units in each zone are randomly selected, for a second round of intensive field-work.
The plaster casts of left hind pug marks of tigers are collected from these selected areas which are later taken for laboratory analysis by the Wildlife Institute of India. This will confirm whether the pug marks belong to separate tigers or not, quite like the finger print analysis in crime departments. It is after this that the authorities will be able to come with a probable range for the tiger count by applying the sample result to the entire area.
Poaching continues (December Week 4 (2005)) Police arrested Three persons on Wednesday for hunting the National Bird peacock in this district's Laar Banjraya forest, 17 km from here, reports the Pioneer.
Pota village residents Fhatan, Ajit and Khurcha, who killed three peacocks, were caught by Forest Guard Jagdish Dubey with the help of villagers.
The number of peacocks in the jungle has plummeted from 200-300 to a mere 15-20.
The Hindu reported that forest officials of Kerala have seized tiger skin and elephant tusks valued at Rs.50 lakhs from a three-member gang that had been allegedly operating in the Tamil Nadu area of Gudalur.
On the orders of the Joint director of the Periyar Tiger Sanctuary, a team of officials visited the border areas in the guise of traders and seized tiger skin and tusks from the gang, Department sources said here today. Investigations revealed that the gang had been selling it to tourists visiting the area.
The gang had been shifting its operations between Tamil Nadu and Kerala to escape arrest. The Kerala officials arrested the gang members who belonged to the State. — PTI
New mines on uranium map (Issue of the week, December Week 3 (2005)) Two new uranium deposits, one in Karnataka and the other in
Rajasthan, have come up on the national map.
The sites have been identified by the Atomic Mineral Division (AMD), a wing of
the department of atomic energy, reports The Telegraph.
About the two new projects that the UCIL has taken up in Meghalaya and Andhra Pradesh, Diwakar Acharya, general manager (mines), UCIL, said: "In Andhra Pradesh, mining operation will be undertaken in two districts — Nalgonda and Cuddapah while West Khasi hills in Meghalaya has been identified for mining operations there."
UCIL secretary P.V. Dubey also spoke about their projects in Jadugoda in East Singhbhum, where the company has started two new mines at Banduhurang (open cast) and Bagjata (underground), while a new processing plant is under construction at Turamdih, about 12 km from the city.
"Moreover, efforts are also being made to start underground uranium mining at Mahuldih in Seraikela-Kharsawan district for which a public hearing is slated on
December 20," the senior UCIL official added. The Mahuldih project will be the seventh such project of UCIL in Jharkhand, Dubey said.
It is understood that an environment impact assessment (EIA) report has already been prepared by Mecon, a Ranchi-based consultant firm.
UCIL officials further informed that uranium extracted from different mines in Jharkhand is utilised in 14 nuclear power reactors for generating 2,700 MW of
power.

2,700MW OF POWER IS JUST 2.6% OF TOTAL ENERGY GENERATED IN INDIA. AND THE PEOPLE OF JADUGODA ARE PAYING THE PRICE WITH THEIR LIVES, LIVELIHOODS AND FUTURE.
The Hindu also reported protests against proposed uranium mine

THE VILLAGERS in Gamharia Block of Jharkhand's Saraikela-Kharsawan district are up in arms over plans to mine uranium at Mohuldih. They have vehemently
opposed to the public hearing to be conducted by the Jharkhand Pollution Control Board (PCB) and the Uranium Corporation of India Limited this week on the
proposed mines. In August, an attempt by the PCB and the UCIL to hold a public hearing was thwarted by the residents of more than a dozen villages around
Mohuldih.
The villagers said they neither needed a hearing nor a uranium mine. The hearing was meant to discuss the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report
prepared by UCIL's consultants. Of the proposed 116.68 hectares of leasehold area, 52.41 hectares is agricultural land and 3.83 hectares is grazing land. The rest consists of forestland and surface water bodies.
The EIA report is riddled with inconsistencies. To begin with, it does not qualify as a full EIA baseline data measurement as it is limited to the summer season. An EIA requires all three seasons to be taken into account. The report, which can at best be considered a `Rapid EIA,' omits the other two mining projects in the `core zone' (within a 3 km radius) of the project from assessment. The report is also ambiguous about the number of persons to be displaced or the extent of loss of livelihood to local farmers and agricultural labour.
The UCIL management was aware of a survey conducted by a team led by nuclear physicist Surendra Gadekar that showed a sharp rise in the number of congenital deformities in children in villages around Jadugoda, where the UCIL's uranium mines have been functioning since 1968. The EIA report for the Mohuldih project does not mention that families and workers in the neighbourhood face the risk of
developing health problems. It also does not specify the measures that will be taken to protect workers in the plant from hazards such as exposure to radioactive dust or high levels of noise and vibration.
Canara Bank to help solar water heater users sell carbon (December Week 3 (2005)) A body will be set up to negotiate with foreign buyers
• Loans will be offered to buy solar water heaters at concessional interest rates
• The bank will facilitate aggregation of users of solar water heaters
Canara Bank is bringing together a group of entities buying energy-efficient solar water heaters through a soft loan and help them trade carbon credits or certified emission reductions (CERs) prescribed under the Kyoto Protocol.
CER stands for one tonne equivalent of carbon dioxide reduction and can be traded. In effect, users of solar water heaters will be able to encash the lower emissions through energy saved when entities from any of the 37 developed countries that buy carbon credits from developing nations, including India, to reduce their emissions of six harmful green-house gases. The bank will provide loans to buy solar water heaters at concessional interest rates to individuals at 2 per cent per annum. For institutional users such as colleges and hostels, the interest will be 3 per cent and for commercial and industrial users, including small and medium enterprises, it will be 5 per cent. The bank will facilitate collection and aggregation of users of solar water heaters and form an agency or body that will negotiate with foreign buyers of carbon credits from India.

"We are in talks with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to get technical assistance for a mechanism to bundle this and tag it on to the Clean Development Mechanism projects. Revenue from the sale of carbon credits can flow to the bank, which, in turn, will be passed on to the users of solar water heaters. This creates an additional stream of benefits/incentives to the users," General Manager in-charge of priority sector lending, Canara Bank R. Prabha told The Hindu .
The bank has proposed to the UNEP that a body can negotiate with buyers of carbon credits on behalf of users of the heaters. As part of the bank's `basket of green loan products to popularise use of renewable energy, finance will be given to buy heaters up to 85 per cent of the project cost, including cost of accessories and installation with no upper ceiling.
"In the first year, the bank proposes to finance loans worth Rs. 50 crores, saving energy to the extent of 12-15 MW," he said.
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