Notes from my Diary.
For the first time I am writing about Nagarjuna-Sagar Srisailam Tiger Reserve.It was the yearly estimations of Tigers, Leopards and carnivores that APFD was carrying out. Although the Nallamalla landscape is a very vast with 3500 Sq kms of Forest, we had selected to volunteer for the huge Mannanur Range.
It was 3rd of May 2012 and was already dark in the night by the time we drove to Mannanur. To my surprise Mr. Ramakishen the in charge ACF, had served in Kawal as a Range Officer. He not only knew me, but offered best in class air conditioned accommodation and was prompt to discuss next morning’s activity. It was also possible for us to go to Farhabad camp he told. Vardhman and Bharat had traveled with me in Jeep, although we were ready to venture in forest that night itself, but tired trackers and guards were not present for our night adventure.
Our First Morning in Forest
Next morning were delegated with 2 staff members (FSO and an FBO) . We went straight to see the Tiger Pug marks which were reported couple of days ago in farhabad.
It was a good feeling to see huge tracks carved in the soil, the rain helped the paws deep into soil. Plaster casts were already taken but we still got GPS recordings.
Wild Flowers at Gudem
We also examined another natural lake and followed it up with drive to Gudem which holds water in deep arches cut out in granite. APFD has supplemented these natural water bodies with cement saucer pits, that are filled using a water tanker.
Grey Hornbill on fruits laden Ficus tree.
Sightings were common across the forest drive, Chital, Four Horned Antelope and Nilgai were abundant. Our Jeep needed stops in quick intervals for viewing deers. We also spent some afternoon time at farhabad view point, that overlooks the great valley and its forests below.
Trek, discussions and plan:
Another two volunteers Raj and Jyoti joined us in Mannanur. As staff had been posted in a chinchu hamlet for checking pugmarks, we planned to go there in evening. After parking the Jeep in a village inside forest we trekked 6 kms along with FSO to reach another Chinchu village, earlier rocky terrain made the jeep drive impossible and eventually we had to walk.
Team Hyticos Trekking Across Forest.
Prominently an old temple ruin with lake in backdrop looked classic. Our stay was planned in a chinchu hut on the farther side of lake bund. The FSO who accompanied us was disappointed that most of water holes had already dried. Maps which I had carried were out, in torch light at the chinchu hut we discussed the plan next. Our officer was clueless how to reach to effectively carry our estimations in far off sections bordering Krishna river. I advised him as thr Krishna runs parallel to this range and all points will be accessible if a boat is tried for survey.
A Chichu Hut
We decided and broke in 2 teams, first team trekked 20 kms to find Tiger Pugmarks near the next water hole. Bharat, Raj and Jyoti went ahead under this plan, and also as the FSO was concerned that nothing had been reported in the northern and southern parts of his section, he hinted me to go back and visit it next day.
A Reddy King’s temple ruin.
Tiger PugMarks and many deers
We slept on the floor outside the hut, it was windy all night, early morning me and Vardhaman trekked back to Jeep, we found a Leopard trail all along our way. That day evening we checked another team stationed at remote chinchu hamlet, They had found 2 Tiger pugmarks. but looked wearied down and tired.
Staff with Tiger pugmark plaster casts.
We had great sighting on the drive back to mannanur. Once I saw at least 8 Sambar alerted by my Jeep! It was an awesome sighting.
In the night I had discussion with DFO and Ranger, they quickly agreed to provide a Boat for me with Beat Officer, driver and got 100 litres of Kerosene for our trip to Vemuna Vaya.
Boat drive to Vemuna Vaya:
It was a very sunny morning, Sampath and Praveen had joined the previous night. We drove to Sunnipenta and waited couple of hours for driver and kerosene to arrive.
Around 11:00 a.m we sailed our boat in Krishna, soon near a hill slope a pack of Wilddogs were seen, the pack leader made strange noises and the pack retreated.
Wild dog on rocky slope.
On driving further we met our counterpart team, they had trekked and hit Krishna, they had to walk 35-40 kms they told and they were looking totally tired. Soon we zoom passed them in our boat, we checked accessible base of valleys and forest openings by our boat, basically we wished for some luck for signs of carnivores. We found a carcass of huge Sambar, it was killed and eaten by Tiger the beat officer told. In another sandy patch bordering river I found some Cat’s pugmarks. Those looked huge for a Jungle Cat, but not like a Leopards in size. The cat had moved to water and back all across this sandy 20 X 6 mts patch. Beat officer was sure that it was a Fishing Cat!
Our counterpart team.
Probable fishing Cat Pugmark.
Illegal fishing all along the river was seen, drag nets, gill nets and all kinds of nets were around us. There were atleast 50 settlements bordering the river, every 2 kms we found huts on the rocky slopes and these people were from Vizag. They had makeshift huts some looked even puccca constructions. We took lunch break in near one such settlement on the slope, it also had a temple consutructed in cement.
Illegal fishing across Krishna River.
Krishna river with hills on both sides is magnificent, they just look gorgeous in bright hues of brown, gray and tanned orange. The valleys open sometimes into the river and here we found wild grasses and flowers. The soil is hard and was difficult to get pugmarks our beat officer complained, while our boat driver did a great job making possible for the boat reach such critical points. We finally stopped near Vemuna Vaya in late evening, it was a muddy bank which lead into the forest and it was here we settled for the night.
Flower from flower Valley.
That night also it was windy and no stars were seen due to clouds, as we lay in awe in natures lap enjoying every moment of it. In night we heard low squeals of Otters which were seen dotting 5o mt from our Boat, the activity continued in dark as we got bored and slept. Next morning one team went inside towards forest and met chinchus from the local area, they told a Tiger had killed a horse last week. We had breakfast in the boat itself, we had prepared puli hara out of the rice that was leftover last night.
Our Motor Boat and driver.
We reach back Sunnipenta by lunch, after finishing the formalities I headed back to Hyderabad. Our team had lots of fun, while I was very content to get some idea about Mannanur Range.
“Nallamala landscape is last stronghold of Tigers in Andhra Pradesh. If it were to be protected then we need to understand the landscape, wildlife and its tribes, also scientific studies by our team members will help our strategies. Now is the moment to try unravel all mysteries and ensure Tigers find save haven here forever.”
Text and Photos by Asif Siddiqui