July 01, 2010
Just outside my apartment window off Santhome High Road in Chennai, are a row of trees reaching up to the 3rd floor. The trees host a variety of birds – many I’m seeing for the first time, and with the Internet, able to identify.
For as long as I remember, there have been crows and squirrels in plenty, with a fair share of the Common Sparrow thrown in. But in recent times, the common sparrows have dwindled in number, and are rare to find. But many other birds have become frequent visitors
– largely due to the upcoming Adyar Eco Park that’s just a stone throw away from here.
A small group of Coppersmith Barbets are one of the most frequent and my favourite visitors. The first time I set my eyes on one of them, I was captivated by their beauty. Only as big as the sparrow, with glossy greenish wings and plumes of
red and yellow on the crown and chest – they are truly a piece of art! And their call is so unique a “tuk…tuk…tuk…” that resembles a coppersmith banging on the metal – and hence their name. And once you hear that sound – it’s almost impossible not to recognize
where it comes from. Creatures of habit, they seem to be, and make themselves present on the same branches everyday at morning before the sun gets too harsh, and in the evening at dusk. The other day, I spotted a curious little fellow just outside my wind
– craning his neck to listen to my daughter practicing on the Piano!
And then there are the Black Drongos, who think they own the air space! The fiercest fighters of the bird world, their aerial sorties while chasing the crows are just as thrilling as the ones we see at air shows. And that brings me to the subject
of the crows who seem to be sharing India’s predicament – a population explosion. With a surge in number comes food scarcity, as the crows these days are never content with scavenging – and so they fly in and out of balconies, helping themselves to food straight
from the kitchen, rummaging in other nests, eating eggs, feeding on fledglings and generally creating a ruckus.
But the crows are not really as smart as they seem. They are frequently outwitted by the
Asian Koel that often usurps its nest and even fools the crow into raising its young. When the crow is away, the Koel pushes out the crow’s eggs from its nest and lays its own. And then the gullible crow sits on the eggs, hatches it and rears
the young – though the fledgling looks and sounds so very different from its own young. I guess this is what that Victorian idiom “penny-wise, pound-foolish” actually means!
And just outside my balcony is this industrious little squirrel, busy building her nest – for about a week now. From dawn till dusk, she runs up and down the tree, collecting building material that includes tiny twigs, fiber, coir, cotton, foam and even sheets
of plastic! Her nest looks cozy now, and I’m looking forward to seeing her little ones soon.
There are many other birds too – mynahs prowling the ground on their dainty feet and tailor birds looking for leaves to stitch up. And even as I’m blogging, there is this tiny brown fellow with a grayish chest and belly preening on one of the branches. His
mate is here too, flitting among the leaves. They are so tiny, smaller than even the tailor bird – I just can't wait to google them out… now!
June 29, 2010
Trekking in the Western Ghats!
The Mookambika Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the Udupi district of Karnataka, Kollur and was established in 1974 covering an area of 247 sq km. The vegetation type is a mix of evergreen, semi-evergreen and moist deciduous
forests covering the steep slopes typical of the Western Ghats Mountains. This forest comes under the Medicinal Plants Conservation Areas. (Local communities are actively involved in this conservation effort. MPCAs serve as the study sites for conservation
biology related research and also the source of authentic and quality planting material for propagation).
Longitudes : 13o41'25.87"E to 13o58'51.85"E
Latitudes : 74o39'8.68"N to 74o56'8.84"N.
Annual rainfall : 4,593 mm
Elevation ranges : 9-1,315 m above sea level.
The sanctuary receives an annual rainfall of 4,593 mm and the elevation here ranges from 9-1,315 m above sea level. Water sources include the Chakra nadi, Kollur River, 27 perennial streams, 36 large seasonal streams, several smaller streams, two seasonal natural
lakes, one spring and 20 artificial water tanks. (Source from Atree’s Website)
I hadn't heard of Mookambika WLS and didnt know what to expect. I had gone on work and was pleasantly surprised when i reached this forest. It reminded me so much of Anshi( Dandeli- Anshi Tiger Reserve). We had planned our day so we could complete 2 treks.One
trek was focused on identifying the butterflies. This is being done to Educate tourist's on the different colorful species of the forest. The butterfly life was amazing and the list of butterflies seen was good. These forests can support a myriad of butterflies
due to the varied plant composition and diversity. I was amazed at their numbers. This place was teaming with butterflies all hovering about. On the trek i noticed a snake up on a tree. It was a lovely ornate flying snake. We completed this trek and rested
before we headed out to complete the birds trail.
A wide variety of butterflies, reptiles and birds are found here. My trek through this beautiful forest opened my eyes further on the beauty and endemism of species of flora and fauna seen in this region. I was completely amazed at the beauty of this forest.
I trekked to Arshinagundi Falls and its a wonderful place for Birding.I spotted the Mountain imperial pigeon, Black headed oriole, Pompadour green pigeon, Malabar Trogon, a lovely pair of painted bush Quail,White bellied treepie and lots more. We also noted
medicinally rare trees like
June 26, 2010
I was bit taken aback by the reach of urbanity as we neared Bharatpur bird sanctuary. The feel was missing but not for long. The wetlands as I discovered are a paradise for bird lovers. I was leading a group of Germans
and this was my first trip to Keoladeo Ghana.
The Sibes have gone but the sanctuary retains much of its glamor. At Bharatpur a two day trip yields a checklist of more than 150 species of wetland birds. Some of the bird we check listed here and at Bund Baretha include:
Little Heron, Black-crowned Night-heron, Glossy Ibis, Siberian ruby throat, Bar Headed Geese, Black-headed Ibis, Eurasian Spoonbill, Asian Open-billed Stork, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Barn Swallow, Wire-tailed Swallow,
House Martin, Hume’s Warbler, Black Bittern, Cotton Teal, Northern Pintail and Eurasian Coot. Grey Francolin, Tickle’s Thrush, Brown Crake, Booted warbler, Great white pelicans, Spot-billed duck, Sykes Warbler, Common Crane, Sarus Crane, Black necked stork,
Dusky Fish Owl, Purple Swamphen, Wood sand piper, Spotted redshank, Green Sandpiper, Bronze-winged Jacana, Greater Spotted Eagle, Eurasian Marsh Harrier, Booted Eagle, Lesser spotted eagle, Black-shouldered Kite, Black Kite, King Vulture, Temminck’s stint,
Oriental Darter, Grey Heron, Indian Cormorant, Great Cormorant, Purple Heron, Painted Stork.
We could sight Indian skimmers at Bund Baretha but could sight whiskered tern, Ferruginous pochard, Spanish sparrow, oriental skylark, Russets sparrow and more....
Our next destination was Chambal River Sanctuary more than an hours drive from Agra. It is a pristine river parts of which are designated as river sanctuary. Chambal is a unique destination as apart from birding this
is a good place to see Gangetic dolphin, Marsh crocodile and the endangered Gharial. On a boat trip we could come across Indian skimmers, sand lark, Isabelline Wheatear, Brown Crake, Long Legged Buzzard, Variable Wheatear, Desert Wheatear, Bonelli's eagle
on nest, brown fish eagle, booted hawk eagle and brownhawk owl.
A day is enough at Chambal River Sanctuary for
birding trip during winters. Most of the bird watching is done on the boat ride but substantial number of birds can be seen on the banks. The
boat ride is about three hours and covers a long distance.
For avid birders Chambal is a must see destination. Most of the tour operators include this destination in their itineraries for birding in Northern India.
June 26, 2010
India had large tract of forests, extensive grasslands, deserts and wetlands all prime ecosystems that supported vast array of wild animals, birds, butterflies and reptiles. The
rapid increase in population and subsequent urgency for agricultural land and fuel wood resulted in destruction of our ecosystems. The demand for commercial wood and trophies all have contributed alongside to destroy nature and wildlife
Though much is still left, the wilderness now thrives in small pockets designated as protected areas -National Parks and
sanctuaries. The protected areas were created to conserve keystone species like tigers and lion in India. The conservation efforts in the seventies and eighties resulted in comeback of most of the endangered species like
the tiger, swamp deer, Indian rhino and Asiatic lion to mention a few.
Project tiger is one such example which after initial success was unable to control poaching and forest destruction. The creation of tiger
reserves was to accord additional protection. Unfortunately the increase in poaching incidence especially for tiger parts in China, skin in Tibet and elsewhere took its toll and still does. The demand created a nexus of smugglers, middlemen and
poachers. The lucrative demand gave rise to poaching incidence even in the best protected tiger reserves like Sariska and Panna National Parks. In many incidences local communities are involved lured by a paltry sum.
The most threatened species is the Bengal tiger. This charismatic big cat in spite of a major conservation efforts continues to be exterminated by the poachers in India. TakingSariska
and Panna into consideration the administration and the law and order machinery appears to be helpless in nabbing and booking those involved in illegal wildlife trade.
Tiger apart from being an important part of our environment is a National Heritage. Indian wildlife is diverse and unique. India is home to many endemic species as well. The country benefits
from conserving its natural wealth and hence protecting the environment. If keystone species become extinct the damage to our environment will be irrevocable.
The wildlife also attracts tourists from all over the World. The increase in eco-tourism brings in crucial funds. These funds are employed in conservation, economic upliftment of local communities
as well as the tourism industry. The need of the hours is
responsible wildlife tourism and tiger safari that promotes conservation. Tourism also brings into focus the understanding of the ecosystem and wildlife
Stringent laws that prevent poaching and destruction of our ecosystems are required urgently. The protected areas are created with conservation. But tourism should not be discouraged. The
activity should be restricted and monitored. Neglected areas are more susceptible to poaching since the public eye is absent. Tourists along with local communities play an important role in conservation of our National Heritage.
Aparna V K
June 23, 2010
Sunlight penetrates in tiny patches just enough to give the seeds a chance to sprout but not to grow, creepers as thick as my waist having spiraled round its victim tree, blooms on touching the sunlight, on the canopy above and gripping its victim more
securely into a death embrace. Birds whose whistling and cacophony keeps your neck stretched backwards drives you mad with the impossibility of sighting them within the lush green layer or rather floors of leaves. Welcome to the Evergreen forests of Sharavathi
The sanctuary covers the Sharavathi Valley Region, near the western border of Karnataka. It is spread over an area of 431 Kms and is nourished by the Sharavathi River.
Me, Guru and Ananth visited this amazing secret world one weekend. A rather bumpy ride that almost broke our backs, being unfortunate to get the last 3 seats on the KSRTC bus, headed towards Linganamakki, left a red eyed tousled trio embark at Kargal that
is around 5kms from Jog. Gangadhar, our guide who had arranged our stay, collected us and dropped us at Kanooru, a tiny village with hardly 8-10 families. Being enthusiast Birders and wary of wild crowds from Bangalore we kept away from the main group to
explore the Kanooru forests.
Filling up with the idlis we filed out into the jungle. Having been cautioned with many a thrilling tale of leeches, I fell into a state of anxiety, this being my very first experience of leeches. I almost had exaggerated them into centipede sizes swarming
all over, biting into you and slowly leaking out your blood, while you howl with pain. (I know I was reading too much into horror movies!).
I was laughed at my attempts to wear the shoes and socks and a tucked in cargo's into my ankle length army shoes, nothing could possibly prevent the crawlies! Well I had my last laugh! Take my advise, Ankle length shoes with the ends of your pants tucked
into them does protect you from leech bites! So I can safely say not even a single one could feast on my blood!
Dharma, our guide took us along a path that steadily went down until it opened up into the stream that eventually joins Sharavathi. Having had enough of leeches we (read Guru and Ananth :)) decided its safer to trek along the stream. The most arduous
length was when we has to climb up a vertical cliff to get to the other side, our nimble guide swung himself up and helped us all. Ananth had a hard time climbing up ;).
The guys while engaged in a luxurious river bath and our guide prepared fire to cook our lunch I went to explore upstream and catch some nap.
One of the many irritating thing about being a gal and that too a gal engaged in wildlife conservation is that not only your team thinks twice before taking you along and take manifold precautions and planning before they embark on the trip, that can
generally dampen the whole wild experience, but it also means you cannot participate in things like jumping into the river and swim wild like monkey. :( .
Anyway the time I spent upstream, was one of the highlights of my trip, it gave me some time on my own to soak in the beauty of that place. A constantly tumbling water in the stream. An eerie silence of no-activity that sometimes is interrupted by a flutter
of wings and sometimes a distant call of some unknown bird. The dance of the light on the water splashing sliver of silvery ribbons. Some wonderfully coloured butterflies and beetles hovering over the stream lazily. A scene of content and perfect solitude.
On a glance it might seem that the Sharavathi Valley is devoid of wildlife, that's just an illusion. The denizens of these forests above all prefer to come out during the times the sun is down. And being there at dawn or dusk still does not increase your
chances of catching a glimpse of these shy creatures, they possess another weapon - camouflage not to mention the dense foliage that completely renders them invisible to an untrained eye. The sanctuary is a refuge of the endangered Lion-tailed macaque.
Other mammals include tiger, leopard (black panther), wild dog, jackal, sloth bear, spotted deer, sambar, barking deer, mouse deer, wild pig, common langur, bonnet macaque, Malabar giant squirrel, giant flying squirrel, porcupine, otter and pangolin.
Reptiles include king cobra, python, rat snake, crocodile and monitor lizard. Some of the avian species found in the sanctuary include three species of hornbill, paradise flycatcher,fairy blue bird, malabar whistling thrush, blue-throated barbet and Indian
lories and lorikeets. There are many butterflies in the sanctuary.
Amidst growing concerns by Dharmanna that we might not be able to leave the forests before dusk, Guru pointed out to the little and only torch we had amidst us and said we will bank on it. How could we hurry? when at every turn the scene grew more beautiful
than the previous and dusk brought home, birds near stream and gave us the opportunity to see them. The last mile brought us to a lovely waterfall. This time again the guys had the time of their lives splashing around the fall and faithfully reminding me what
a unique experience I have missed. During this time I discovered to my dismay that mosquitoes are not the only insects that syringe you for your blood! There are insects that are much larger with much bigger stingers!
Night brought ten thousand fire-flies! OK some hundreds then.. All good-naturedly blinking from the trees surrounding the house, And as we fell asleep on the porch chatting about this and that I fell into a deep sleep wondering why the fire-flies have abandoned
us at cities as everything else that was a part of our childhood , like the multitude of butterflies and sparrows, the little beauties of nature.
The next morning after waiting for Gangadhar who was to be our guide for the day, for quite a while we decided to do with our little buddy Yogaraj. Trekking on the outskirts of the forest we came across this one particular tree that seem to have attracted
a lot of our avian friends, I saw my first fairy blue bird. We decided to spend our morning on the roof of the fall to which my friends seemed to very partial and indeed it was worth all the admiration. A clear view of the valley below sheltered by a fruiting
tree on whose many branches housed several other creepers like a curtain to this awesome world. Some where down a Malabar whistling thrush was on with its singing routine, I could just imagine him going up and down his favourite tree whistling away to lure
his lady love. You have to hear one at its performance and feel one's heart fill with joy as it goes on. You could easily mistake him to be some amateur boy whistling away in the forests, not without reason the Malabar whistling thrush is also called whistling
After a long time of resting in that blessed place we returned back for a round of breakfast. We soon again crashed into the forests, this time journeying through the open fields to visit the hornbill's nest. A hornbill has a very curious behavior about
nesting. It nests in the tree holes. During the time the female hornbill has to lay egg she sheds her feathers (pulls it out on her own!) and makes herself comfortable in the tree hole her mate has found and which she has approved and then shuts herself
in by sealing the hole with mud and grit, leaving just a tiny slit through which the male regularly drops in food.
We spent a major part of our afternoon next to a natural swimming pool, with the guys again splashing and posing and exploring upstream around while I spent time sleeping and listening to music. Just to keep Yoga from getting bored I challenged him on
who could keep their head-down-first into water for long. Needless to say he won ! The way back was quite a bit of journey, crossing the deep pool over a fallen tree trunk, I did that one on all hands and legs! jumping over rocks to keep my shoes dry which
I gave up on the last stretch jumping into the pool thenceforth at every opportunity..
As we trekked back Ananth kept our lungs tickling endlessly by slipping over the dry and wet rocks alike in spectacular fashion. Yoga kept his eyes tuned on him just so he woudn miss the next one coming. So much for the really costly woodland shoes and
the really cheap hawaii chappals that he alternated between! My favourite one was the last fall when while wading across the knee length water he fell on his *** with his camera and binocs held high above his head with a very surprised look on his face!
Wish I had a snap of that! This much I must say to his credit, he took all the jokes aimed at him good-naturedly :).
The last of our adventure in the Kanooru forest winded up on a half done bridge over a stream that was hardly a trickle that summer afternoon.
After a hasty lunch we returned back to Kargal on an auto whose driver insisted us on showing the secret submerged tunnel that opened up into Linganmakki. For me it was the thrill of seeing the swallows mud house underneath the bridge that made the detour
With a lot of time to kill before the return bus to Bangalore from Sagar at 10pm we had a pit stop at Jog Falls. Despite the disappointment of the front view wiped clean of all trees by a concrete corridor giving a naked fall, The Jog falls by itself is
still is a marvel and a beauty to behold. A vertical drop of nearly 900 ft Jog Falls still remains a spectacular sight with multitude of swifts hovering around it. As we three sat there looking at it for a real long time I felt a sense of companionship,
like some perfect understanding passed between us unspoken about what lay ahead of us. A commitment to do everything possible to protect the forests of this land. Although I speak here for myself I am sure we all are of the same opinion.
Aparna V K
June 23, 2010
The last of the ground survey by KANS winded up at Rasimanal. Here is an account of the most wonderful time of my life..
Rasimanal Forest Guest house is around 2 hours drive from Anchetty. The narrow roads sneak up the hills and at one point gave a awe inspiring view of the valley. Tiny villages with hardly around 100-150 families have sprung up all along the way.
I tasted the most refreshing coffee and tea at a tea shop on the way that boasted a very interesting water heater, though I would say it was simply the lower part of water filter set up on a stove! The swooshing movement of mixing up the beverage with milk
and water by the owner was worth filming!
We waited at the last hamlet for the forest guard (who incidentally never turned up) for the guest house keys. When the waiting became intolerable a few of us started walking along the jungle path for birding, a few of the locals began telling me no to
go any further as elephants frequented the path beyond the farm. I would have loved to see some. As fate could have its last laugh I was again denied the elephant encounters. The heat of the afternoon gave way to the soothing evening breeze and my troop giving
up the hope of the guest house keys collected the rest of the wandering gang and started moving towards RasiManal. Rasimanal belongs to the Anchetty range and here the Cauvery and Dodhalla meet up and continue their way into Tamil Nadu. With the pre-monsoon
showers Cauvery had indeed swollen and was gushing away noisily.
You could feel it in the air that you were about to witness the unexpected. As is usual to me I floated away.. day dreaming wide awake. Wild Jasmine shrubs also called Kadu Mallige in Kannada littered the forest grounds profusely.. Its scent rose in spirals
and set the scene of ancient Indian lore, For some reason I began to recount the tale of Shakuntala, that that lovely maiden must have sometime run around here with those wild flowers in her ear lobes..
We spotted a pair green imperial pigeon, my very first. Indeed a very beautiful bird found reportedly in the Western Ghats.The forest guard who accompanied us in the jeep prepared us for the sight of a half cooked elephant! Apparently during one of the beats
last week they found a dead elephant , and had gathered dry twigs and set fire to the corpse. We found it alright, smelling it, meters away!
Finally we reached Rasimanal, my eyes all hooked at the Watchtower that guaranteed a bird's view of the valley with Cauvery just a few feet away. I accompanied the group that was hurrying to set the camera traps. We set a pair on the banks of the Cauvery
around a kilometer or two from the watch tower. There were these huge trees with white bark and roots that almost seemed like skeletons hugging the loose boulders and keeping them in place reminding me of the Angkor Vat temples in Cambodia. I am guessing they
were Dhindilu or dhindal , Scientific name Anogeissus latifolia belonging to the family Combretaceae
The Camera traps are motion detectors. When an animal crosses its range of detection, it sets off the camera that normally sleeps during inactivity. If I am not wrong the camera is active only for a period of 5 seconds in a minute. After a lot of circus
to hold the camera facing the stretch that seemed to have seen a lot of animal activity we rushed back to the watch tower as it was getting dark and the time for the elephants and the nocturnal animals to come to the river bed. As we crashed back we almost
lost our way. Its really a wonder how the forests guards can make out the way even during night. I can easily get lost on the back streets of my house! We were still discussing the camera traps when flash-flash something eerily silver seems to have floated
past and my heart simply jumped into my mouth.. On a closer look however they turned out to be trees whose bark had a lustrous silver sheen, I am not sure what they are called though.
Night fall brought a lot of surprises including Mr. Thillai god-bless-him who brought food and beverages (U know ...) During the time the whole troop devoured the fish curry and idlis I sat at the foot of the tower facing the river and the forests listening
to light music and watching the greatest drama ever unroll, Nature unleashing its power.
As minutes trickled by dark clouds began gathering at the horizon that until now did not even have the white clouds , wind that ever so gently lifted tufts of my hair began to blow in real earnest almost pinning me to my side. The entire forests quivered
in unease as the unrelenting winds grew in strength and a thunderstorm began to brew and very soon lightning forked the skies and a series of ear-splitting thunders rolled almost making you shiver at its intensity and cower in fear. For almost a hour this
continued with no sign of relenting and giving way to rain, and we gathered on the watchtower's roof almost scared to stand at full height for fearing the lightning strike us!
And then with a whispering that grew louder than the howling wind it began to rain. Some of us staggered into the jeep some into the safe sanctuary of the watch tower and the rest of us filed on the side of the watch tower that provided at least little bit
of shade from the onslaught of the rain. We shivered and laughed enjoying the whole scene like little children enjoying ice-cream.. We talked into sleeping all the adventures we have had every time peeking at the river bed for the sight of the crocs. The over
crowded watch tower that day welcome eight of us tightly packed with me, the only girl in the group asleep facing everyone's feet!
Just imagine a perfect morning, a vast blue flushed sky , a mighty river with sandy bed and dark smooth stones jutting into her and you bend down to wash your face with the cool water. I wished my every morning would start that way! Me, Guru and Somyajit
walked across for about 2 hours birding and we were lucky to see the Crested Hawk Eagle, a pair of otters who almost sauntered very close by finally beating a hasty retreat realizing our presence.
I almost ran back to the watchtower remembering Thillai's promise for a tasty Maggie for breakfast. Guru made a watery albeit tasty maggie noodles scorching Thillai's shiny vessel with black soot from the make-shift stove we made using half dry twigs and
And there ends my most memorable day so far, rested between those soft hills and those dark angry clouds for ever.
Aparna V K
June 23, 2010
The first learning during my stay at Bandipur during the 3rd week of March was Forest Fires. I was under the impression that Forest fires were caused mainly due to dry boughs rubbing against each other (taking into consideration a large amount of dry
dead leaves littering the forest floor) , due to lightning during storms and sometimes by man. I was in for a rude shock when I came to know that all forest fires in India were caused by Man!
We are so much influenced by American way of life through the medium of television, that we know a lot more about their wildlife than our native species, we know the emu and the ostrich than the Bustard, we know about the cougar more than we know about
our panthers, we know a lot more about African elephants than about their Asian cousins and so also I was under the impression about forest fires through natural causes through the widely televised events shown in TVs about the fires in US.
Indian forests are mostly deciduous type . Even during the driest season they contain enough moisture to rule out fire due to natural causes. Unfortunately the same cannot be told about the invasive species -lantana, eucalyptus and the Australian wattle
which the government has planted everywhere to suck out the underground water, to wipe out the native species and thus deny the herbivores that depend on them for food, and hence to go extinction ( the introduced species neither provide good shelter nor
do they provide fodder) and to support fire to spread easily (these trees are so dry and the leaves litter do not decompose fast and contain oil thus encouraging fire). Of course that wasn't their idea, their logic seemed to simply rotate around the fast
growing nature of these trees. How could the govt without a scientific analysis on the impact from these trees to the native environment do mass planting everywhere ? why do they still continue doing so even after the impact is so visible and screamed
out loud by the scientific community?
Our forests are fragile. Every successive fires caused accidentally or deliberately by people living within and the fringes of the forest areas inadvertently causes irreversible damages to the ecosystem. Fires bring down century old trees that are destroyed
beyond repair and encourage rampant lantana growth in the successive rainy season. Not to mention the animals that perish in the fires. Bandipur this Summer saw fires breaking out all around. The concerned forest authorities were helpless. They lack resources
to control and prevent fires. They lack man-power and motivation. True they don't take steps to secure but dare I point at them? Isn't it true that the number of forest watchers and guards are at their record low? That there haven been any new permanent
posting, the govt happy to appoint guards on contract basis and pay them poorly.
So, what is the solution? Encourage forestation with native species. Check the growth of lantanas. Educate the tribal and villages encircling the forests about the menace of forest fires and steps they must take to prevent accidental fires. Educate tourists
on the same lines. Post more guards and watchers. Raise their salaries to the level of hawaldars in the civil dept. Provide them with equipments to control fire in case of forest fires. Its a big task ahead of us. Educating the masses , mobilizing them
to protect this rare treasure that's in our hands.
Aparna V K
June 23, 2010
A strong odour of cattle dung hit us even before our eyes caughtsight of it littered everywhere like shopping freaks in Bangalore'sMall. And here we were in the middle of a thick scrub jungle come todo a census on the flora and fauna of the Hosur Forests
also called asMelagiris. Kenneth Anderson Nature Society together with Asian NatureConservation Foundation have taken up several surveys in this regionthat spreads over an area of almost 1200 sq kms containing a mix ofseveral vegetation but mainly abounded
by the dry scrub forest to studythese forests and restore the region back to its original state.
Theseforests face manifold threats and perhaps the one by cattle grazingtops the list. Cattle here are grazed in large numbers and pegged downin large cattle-pen called pattis. The absence of large carnivores anda blind eye by the forest department has
made the Hosur forests acattle grazing grounds for the locals. There is a suspicion that thecattle that's been grazed belongs to the wealthier families in TamilNadu living far away from Hosur employing the services of the local.While the locals are allowed
to graze cattle and sheep, grazing goatsis illegal, though one can frequently come across goats grazing in theMelagiris. This has been made illegal because while the cattle/sheepfeed mainly on grass the goat eats up tender shoots thus denying theforests to
Chital that is so abundant inthe other side of the Cauvery, on the Karnataka side, that you yawnwhen you sight herd after herd thudding away in your wake has in thisregion become a sight to feast on. So why have the herbivores beenthinning out even as the
forests remain? Answer, human interference andCattle Grazing. These herbivores have been hunted down for meat andskin. Also since they naturally avoid man increased human interferencehas made them to flee these forests. The dwindling grass cover by thecattle
even as it sprouts and the foot and mouth disease, poaching formeat has all played a major role in wiping out the larger populationof the herbivores. With such a small prey base and poaching has wipedout the tigers, not to mention cattle-kill poisoning carried
out bytheir distraught owners long ago. Although we have recorded pug marksof leopards and wild dogs, tigers and hyena have are no longer to be found although the locals claim to have seen one or two a while.
Thick lantana jungle has sprung up everywherewiping away the native plant species. Its likely that these dry bushescatch up fire at the slightest chance building up into a roaringfurnace and destroying the forest. KANS (Kenneth Anderson NatureSociety) has
drawn plans to employ locals to remove this invasive weedfrom the roots. However no amount of de-weeding can remove themforever, the seeds of lantana are spread by birds and need but a briefspell of rain to grow back to numbers. A sustained effort over timeonly
can put a cap on the lantana jungle.
Man-Elephantconflict is on steady rise. The Elephants have taken to crop-raidingdue to a variety of reasons - perhaps because the farms have replacedtheir original forests? or because they face shortage of food withinforests due to expansive cattle grazing?
Some also say the Elephantshave taken a liking to easily available farm produce while othersvehemently deny it stating elephants are shy of humans and doeverything in their power to avoid human habitation. And havingexperienced that first hand I must say
I agree with the latter belief.Human death toll is getting higher too. Unwary locals and forestguards have been trampled by bulls occasionally.
Atseveral places Villages have taken permanent residence within theforest boundaries. Re-settling these villages from the Melagiris isessential to give the forests and wildlife a chance to revive. Howeverthis is a very sensitive issue, the tribals in this
region have beenliving in the forests are called Poojaries and have since timeimmemorial developed a culture that is deeply associated with theforests. It is indeed very difficult to separate the original settlersfrom the new families that must have taken
residence in the recentpast. A fair approach must be followed and enough compensation must begiven for the families to persuade them to move out of the forests. Afew of the natives could be soaked in as the forest staff as theirknowledge of these forests
is exhaustive and indispensable towardsstudying and protecting them.
The locals have beenusing the forests to extract a variety of forest produce includingfirewood, tamarind pods, honey to list a few. KANS has drawn up plans to provide LPG gas to the families to cut down on the firewoodgathering. Farmlands are extending their
tentacles into the forestlands steadily. When the Melagiris assume Sanctuary status, withenough security, it can be said that Timber extraction, poaching andsuch illegal activities can be capped.
RecklessTourism is another contributing factor. Although Melagiris arerelatively unknown patch of forests it can be predicted that with allthe conservation activities in progress, the limelight on the floraand fauna will inevitably attract a steady stream
of picnic-goers.Already tourists are seen loitering around. At a prominent lake wherethe elephants usually gather in large numbers at dusk touristsunmindful of the danger have been seen in groups. Although there is nostraight forward solution to the Tourism
issue but it must be handledwith caution.
Although the list of threats does notend here, they are not new. Our forests throughout India are reelingunder the same tell-tale signs. We have only around 3% land underforest cover protecting a fragile eco-system. New lands are almostimpossible to secure
for the already threatened plants and animals and the majority of the forests in this 3% fall as reserved forests. Theforest staff are few, they are underpaid and not well equipped to fightthe poachers. There are many problems and many more solutions. Todaythe
cry of the hour is to guarantee the security of our remainingforests, to guarantee a life to the many beasts and wild plants thatabound our lands. The time is to act.
Aparna V K
June 23, 2010
Atroop of five people descend down the narrow trail juggling theirglances between the sky to look out for birds, the trail to look outfor scat and pug marks and everywhere else to soak in the heavenly viewof the towering hills all around. The call of the
Common Hawk Cuckooalso called the Brain Fever Bird reverberates all around.
Weare the members of a Kenneth Anderson Nature Society, named after theerstwhile legendary hunter turned conversationalist Kenneth Andersonwho roamed these very forests of Melagiri. The Melagiris are a range ofhills on the Eastern Ghats, bound by the river
Cauvery on the west. Thetotal reserve forest area is around 1295 sq. kms. Inspired by thestories of Anderson the first KANS members ventured into these foreststo feel the wild in first person. Over the years however the forestshave been infiltrated by the
locals for cattle grazing and to obtainthe forest produce. The reserved forests are shrinking at the rapidlyencroaching agricultural lands , the fauna disappearing by theunrestrained poaching activities.
KANS decided to takeon the task of securing this habitat for the Tiger, to restore theregion back to its original state.This is being achieved through a mixof passive and active conservation activities like communityinteraction programmes (afforestation,
educational programmes,alternative agricultural practices), equipping the ground forest staff(uniforms, torches), field work to control Man-Elephant conflict,removal of invasive species etc.
Last weekend sawthe the bio-diversity survey conducted at Anchetty, The objective ofthe surveys have been to take stock of the forests. To bring to publiclight the beauty and diversity of these forests and also highlight thesocio-economic issues facing conservation
in this region. The inventoryof the species and inputs on the human-forest interaction issues are toadd in to help to achieve the goal of securing Sanctuary status to theMelagiris.(Note: The proposal has not yet been submitted)
Aswe reached the bed of Dodahalla river, that has been a witness to theglorious past, a time when Majestic Tigers roamed this land, a timewhen Kenneth Anderson set float his hair raising adventures, We grewexcited as we IDied the pug marks of leopards. At
least one of thebigger carnivore has escaped the same fate as that of the Tigers,although that could be due to the fact that leopards are tinier thanits cousin, have an excellent camouflage, very shy but intelligentcreature that can live on smaller prey base
and very adaptive. We alsospotted pug marks and scat samples of Civet, Chital, etc.,However ourjoy was shadowed by the presence of large amount of Cattle dungscattered everywhere in generous quantity. Cattles are a menace to theforests. Their rampant grazing
not only means less grass cover,dwindling the wild herbivore population but also causes seasonaloutbreak of diseases to which the wild animals have no resistance. Thetigers in this region have been single-handedly wiped out largely bythe locals by poisoning
the cattle kill (Tigers finish their food inseveral sittings thus becoming an easy target.) diminished prey numbersand a variety of other reasons due to the never ending interferences byman. If the forests are to be revived their is no go but to stopcattle
grazing withing the boundaries of the forests.
Wetrekked a stretch of 8km approx along the Dodhalla river that is beingfed by several small streams originating in the forests. This riverfinally joins the Cauvery, that forms western boundary of the Melagiriforests. While the forests on the other side
of the Cauvery within theKarnataka state borders are Sanctuary the Melagiris are only Reservedforests. While the protection provided by the Sanctuary tag has helpedsustain the Tigers in the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary they have vanishedfrom the Melagiris.
The Tiger census that yieldedthe numbers 1411 has created a huge wave of alarm and people across thecountry have risen up in arms to protect them by raising funds throughrunning marathons and what not. While money is continuously pouringinto already protected
Tiger Sanctuaries securing them and tighteningthe protection, we have sadly not hit the mark. The numbers 1411 are ofthe number of tigers that can be accommodated in the Tiger Reserves.You cannot stuff in more, in fact the recent Tiger Cub deaths we havebeen
reading are by the Adult Tigers is to reduce the competition forterritory. Internal fighting have become common, the excess tigers havebegan to search for new territories and are frequently seen on thefringes of the Sanctuary boundaries inadvertently going
for the cattlekill and what happens? A Ranathambore episode is inevitable. Man-Animalconflict is on rise. And here its just not Tigers, Elephants areseasonal migrants. They do not recognize the boundaries set by man.
BannerghattaNational Park (BNP), Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary (CWS), Nagarhole (RajivGandhi NP), Bandipur Tiger reserve, BRT and the Hosur forest Division (Melagiris) forms a continuous region making it a major bio-diversitybelt and Elephant corridor. With
Melagiris assuming the Sanctuarystatus, the excess Tigers from The CWS, BNP and BRT can be soaked bythis region. This indeed is an viable option since securing theMelagiris is cheaper than trying to extend the already existing tigerreserves that have swarms
of villages littered on its fringes. Not onlythe Elephant Corridor is secured minimizing Elephant-Human conflict butalso sustains the life-source of Karnataka-Tamil Nadu, Cauvery.
Withthe Anchetty Survey, ends the last of the bio-diversity survey by KANS.KANS with ANCF has found both direct/indirect evidences of the rareGrizzled Giant Squirrel, Four horned Antelope and Leopards. The Floracontains almost 20 Red listed species, these
were discovered during thesurvey, considering the Melagiris are almost 1200sq km (An area coveredby putting Nagarhole and Bandipur together) there could be many moresurprises waiting to be discovered. Unless this region is declaredimmediately with effect -
Sanctuary, the poaching/ extraction ofnon-timber forest produce and infringement of the Forests by the localfarmers and cattle grazers will only deteriorate them further snatchingaway the last chance for the Tigers in this zone to grow back torespectable numbers,
increasing the Man-Elephant conflict , depletingthe Cauvery - a death-blow to the farmers in Tamil Nadu and increasingtension between the two states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
June 22, 2010
Kirigalpoththa- A walk through a magical island
Kirigalpoththa is the second highest mountain in Sri Lanka. It is one of the best hiking routes in the island.
This blog updates on exciting places for hiking and camping in the country and also tries to share information on some of the best routes and beautiful locations in Sri Lanka.
URL - http://kirigalpoththa.blogspot.com/