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.