Night of the Elephants (December Week 4 (2005))
In the backyards of Assam’s tea gardens, small-time solutions are laying ground for answers to the human-animal conflict. Jay Mazoomdaar of Indian Express reports.
Manbahadur Vishwakarma is too soft-spoken a man for his profession. Sitting next to a pile of sickles, swords and kukris, the village blacksmith of Kalamati, in upper Assam, closes his eyes and touches his forehead before breaking into a muffled monotone: ‘‘Ganesh
baba takes this alley to the village in the night. I peep through my door and pray: ‘Spare me and my hut, Ganesh baba, I never harmed you or anybody else’.’’ Till now, his prayers have been answered each night. Tomorrow is always another day.
A few yards from his hut, two village youngsters sound pragmatic. Santosh is a Bhumich and Rahul’s forefathers settled here from Nepal. ‘‘God or not, elephants should not be harmed. The (forest) department has finally put up an electric fencing. Hope it helps.’’
Otherwise, they will keep joining the villagers and create a racket with crackers and some plain shouting every night when the giants walk in. ‘‘That’s all we can do and hope the noise drives them away. We can’t fight them.’’
THEIR homes come in the way of the elephant corridor, their crop is fodder, their people easy casualty. ‘‘The problem is compounded by rapid loss or fragmentation of habitat and corridors. Elephants don’t roam about everywhere. Along the north bank of the Brahmaputra,
they use specific corridors to move from one forest pocket to another. If you encroach those corridors, conflict is bound to happen,’’ says Tariq Aziz, head of WWF-India’s Elephant and Rhino programmes.
Owner of 22 bigha paddy fields near Bhobla village, Khagen Chandra Das suffers about 50 per cent damage every year. ‘‘Do something. Anything. Farmers kill elephants in other states. And here nobody cares for us.’’
Sometimes, this anger boils over. And even gods are not immune to poison offered in the garb of delicious wheat dough. No wonder, Sonitpur district, the hotbed of human-elephant conflict in Assam, logged 32 elephant and 20 human deaths in 2003.
Last year, the count came down to 10 elephants and 15 human deaths, thanks to a WWF-sponsored project involving domesticated (kunki) elephants. This year, while 16 people died, only six elephants lost their lives. The basic strategy is simple:
• As a short-term measure, use kunkis to chase out wild herds back to forests. This minimises chances of casualty. Also experiments are on with innovative ideas like chilli fencing (with Bhut Jalokiya).
• The locals are also advised to brew away from the villages. Alcohol attracts these jumbos like nothing else and many have developed a taste for the local brew.
Bungling of funds in afforestation scheme (December Week 4 (2005))
The misappropriation in afforestation carried under the Japan bank-aided scheme in the state is not limited to the Pathankot forest range. The Tribune team visited the Mehengrowal forest range falling under the Hoshiarpur division.
Large areas in the range were brought under the Japan bank-aided afforestation scheme. The schemes were named as per the measurement of the land in which they were executed. The schemes comprised of 26 acre, 36 acre and 50 acre forest areas falling under the
Mehangrowal and other villages.
As per the norms about 5,00 sampling were planted per hectare in the said scheme. Under these parameters about 25,000 sampling were planted under 50 acre scheme, 18,300 in 36 acre schemes and 13,300 under 26 acre scheme.
However, few hundred plants were visible in the most of the schemes against thousands shown in papers. The condition was worse deep inside the forests. Deep inside the forests hardly any sampling had survived. Besides areas in which the plantations were carried
the path leading to areas was also infested by lantana. In some of the area the sapling were lying on the ground packed in plastic bags. The labourers employed had just thrown them on the ground rather sowing and taking care.
Most of the areas brought under the afforestation scheme in Mehengrowal range were fenced with cement pillars and wires to protect the saplings from animal. However, only two inch pillar stood at the spot. The wiring was missing.
Labourers employed by the Department of Forests to take care of plantation said that most of the sampling planted had perished due lack of maintenance. Nobody goes deep inside the forests to maintain the fresh sampling. So, whatever plantations were carried
out, have perished due wild growth of lantana and other shrubs.
Interestingly, the Department of Forests was supposed to take care of the plantations for five years. Budget of lakhs is spent every year for the maintenance of plantations carried out under the scheme.
The department claims the success rate of its plantations at above 90 per cent. However, the areas located deep in the forest not even 10 per cent of the plantations have survived.
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
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