Introduction 

The Muria Gonds (Gutthi koyas) are one of the indigenous tribes that inhabit Chhattisgarh. Being the most prominent sub-caste of the Gonds, they dominate the populace of the tribes in Chhattisgarh. The Muria tribesmen primarily reside in the dense forest zones of Narayanpur Tehsil and Kondagon Tehsil of Bastar District. Unlike the primitive social outcasts like the Abhuj Maria and Bison Maria tribes who live isolated in secluded corners of jungles, the Murias are more advanced and broad minded and live in the open, amidst the vast rolling plains and valleys. Muria economy is predominantly agrarian. They get their income by cultivating rice in the monsoons, working as farm labourers and supplement their incomes by selling the seasonal forest produce.

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The Muria Gonds have been migrating into Andhra Pradesh for over a decade. They have mainly migrated into Khammam and Warangal districts. The Murias, though considered more advanced than a few of the tribes in Chhatthisghar, are still very socially backward and live in extreme poverty. A survey done by AID organization on the Muria’s suggests that, there are 1000 or more children in the 4th grade of malnutrition and some of the children who are nearly 3 years were still unable to walk. They lack access to proper health care or education. In the Warangal district the Murias have made their way in to the forests of the Eturnagaram Wildlife Sanctuary, a Protected Area. Our team from HyTiCoS went to study this place and understand the crux of the issue.

Eturnagaram wildlife sanctuary is one of the oldest wildlife sanctuaries in Andhra Pradesh. The sanctuary is 803sqkm of Dry deciduous Teak Forest and Riverine Forest with low hills on the banks of river Godavari. This sanctuary is home to the largest Gaur population in the state and is considered the sacred abode to the country’s most popular tribals gods; Sammakka Sarakka. These sacred and biodiversity rich forest are now under threat because of the migration of Muria Gonds from Chhattisgarh. According to The Times of India report dated June 9, 2013, we have lost a whooping 10,000 hectares of Telengana forestland only in the last three years. We have estimated that the migrations began 18 years ago. Taking these statistics into consideration, we suspect that the state of the forest in these areas is worse than what has been comprehended.

There are 39 settlements currently in Eturnagaram sanctuary with most of these settlements deep inside the forest. The numbers of settlements are increasing year after year and thus posing a grave threat to the forests and wildlife.

The migration of the gutti koyas into the forest has been portrayed as an unfortunate result of the naxal problems in Chhattisghar. We had conducted a ten day study of all the known gutti koya settlements. Through this report, we aim to explain and analyse the main reasons behind these migrations that is occurring in huge numbers even today. We will also explain the problems that this migration is causing to the local tribal populations and the forests.

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During the survey, we observed that, Gutti Koya tribals are highly skilled people. They have the capacity to live deep inside the forest completely isolated from the world outside. They go in search of a suitable place close to a water body, clear the forest, construct houses and start farming. They have the ability to walk more than 20kms if not more, just to reach a town on the outskirts of the forest, making this is one of the main reasons for their successful migration into Eturnagaram Reserve forest. They are skilled in hunting wild animals. Though there are 39 settlements recorded in the forest, the forest department officials suspect that there are many more villages deep inside the forest which are inaccessible by a vehicle or even the forest officers.

The genesis of the problem can be seen as the need of land for agriculture and the demand for cheap labour. The estimates suggest that there must be around 1.2 lakh people who have migrated over a span of ten years into Andhra Pradesh. Although the percentage of immigrant population is more in the Karimnagar district than in Warangal, our study focused mainly on the migration of Gutti Koyas into the Eturnagaram Wildlife Sanctuary.

The Gutti Koya tribesmen are very hardworking people who are ready to work with daily wages as low as 25-30 rupees a day. Though this has now increased to Rs. 100 per day, it is less than the wages of the local labourers. Their willingness to work at such low wage made them a highly demanded group of agricultural labours. The farmers found it cheap to employ them on fields and encouraged their migration in larger numbers. The Gutti Koyas saw this as a good opportunity to earn a living and get easy access to forest land and thus began migrating in large numbers. This unrestricted migration has resulted in a wide variety of problems in the forest of Andhra Pradesh, especially Eturnagaram.

Myth versus Reality!

Myth

The   Gutti koyas are migrating to Andhra Pradesh as a result of the atrocities   they are facing in Chattisghar due to the Salwa Judam.

Reality

80%   of the Gutti koyas settlements in Andhra Pradesh have come in search of land   for agriculture and living .

The Reality about the Naxal Problem and the Gutti Koya (Muria Gonds)-

Most of the Gutti koyas have migrated from three districts of Chhattisgarh (Bastar, Dantewada and Sukuma). These are districts which have been recorded as districts affected by Left wing extremism. The Tribals living in the Somaguda, S.T colony and Gondala cheru are the main areas in the Eturnagaram sanctuary where Gutti Koyas have migrated due to the naxal problems. The rest of the 30 villages we visited clearly stated that they came in search of land and not because of naxalism. They needed large areas of land for cultivation which they could not obtain in their state. Thus, when the land became insufficient for their family they migrated to the forests in Eturnagaram. During the survey, we interacted with one of the Gutti Koya tribals, Mr. Gangiah, he said “I have migrated to Eturnagaram due to the free and easy availability of land in this region. I am also planning to help my brother migrate to this region once I have occupied enough land in the forest”. This shows how they found this place to be suitable for farming. The local people and the officials are slowing beginning to accept their existence, thus encouraging further migration.

Through our study we’ve learnt that these Tribals have not migrated all at once. People have been migrating into the forest of A.P for over twenty years. Some have migrated before the Naxal problems began and a few after the introduction of Salwa Judam in their villages. But it is important to remember that most of them have migrated in search of lands and are continuing to migrate even today.

Problems –

Most of the newspaper and civil/ human rights organisation reports have highlighted the suffering of the G.Ks. But they fail to assess the rampant deforestation and degradation caused to the forests which G.K’s consider their temporary home.  The problems observed and studied have been listed below.

Rampant deforestation-

(according to the A.P state of forest report, 19.28sqkm of forest have been degraded due to encroachments in Khammam which is the highest in the State followed by 6.66sqkm in Warangal.)

The Gotti Koyas are engaging in very unsustainable farming practices. Once they settle down in an area, they begin to clear the forest around them for farming and expand the farm areas every year. They create pockets of open non-forest areas within the dense forest. They use the tree trunks as a whole to make houses, fences and for cooking. Even though they have been warned on a number of occasions by the forest department not to cut more trees and only collect twigs for cooking, they have paid no heed to these warnings and continue to destroy forests around them. They on an average cut one to five trees per day per person. And at this rate the forest will deplete drastically in a short time.

Land rights and Identification cards- Through our talks with the gutti koyas in the sanctuary , the officials of ITDA and the MRO office we drew the following conclusion. The gutti koya have strong political backing and this is helping them get the required identification cards and land rights.

As explained in the human rights organisations report  The g.k have a right to get an identify and employment, but by providing them these services while they will inside the wildlife sanctuary cannot be a sustainable solution.

 

Koyas and the Gutti koyas-

The koyas, one of the local tribals in A.P have adjusted to the presence of gutti koyas in their area. They initially they were against the migration but over the years they have learnt to tolerate them. In some areas, people prefer to have gutti koyas around as they work better at lower wages, than the local laborers. Because of this reason in some areas the locals have invited them to live in the forests. But in other places the local resent the fact that the  gutti koyas are able to cultivate acres and acres of land inside the forest whereas the koyas are force to be restricted to their field.

Gutti Koyas and Forest department-

The forest officers have been trying to evacuate the villages for  years now. They have tried all means possible from verbal threats to physical abuse. There have been instances where the government officials have burnt houses and transported them back to the border.  But the gutti koyas always find their way back. They refuse to leave the forest and  are not scared of being arrested. (The Beat Officer Chiranjeevi ….? had booked a case against g.k in his beat for cutting trees inside the forest.) In most cases the arrests have been to an advantage for the gutti koyas. Whenever a member of the gutti koya gets arrested for cutting trees  or encroachment, the politicians come to their rescue. They ensure that the gutti koyas are free. Along with giving them their freedom, the politicians ensure that they get some kind of benefits like a ration or Adhaar card. Thus, the gutti koyas have learnt that getting arrested puts them in the limelight which works to their advantage.

The department has been taking bribes from the gutti koyas as well. A confidential informant for the government told us how some of the beat officers are themselves aiding this encroachment and profiting from it. The problems that the forest department are facing with the gutti koyas don’t end here, as the gutti koyas encroach the interiors of the forests, the locals living around are cutting down the forests the from outside.

NGOs role- The Siri and the Lodhi foundation are the two main organizations working to provide education, medical aid and other facilities to the gutti koya villages. By providing these facilities the gutti koyas find no reason to leave the forest, as everything is being delivered.

Solutions-

 The gutti koyas find the forests lucrative to live in. They have access to a water source, large areas of land, medicines, education, fire wood and food. The forest department needs to work with the ITDA and provide them lands outside the forest. They need to help the people who have been genuinely affected by the naxal problem and those people who are living in Eturnagaram for more than ten years. The gutti koyas are worried that they may not get jobs outside the forest and fear the language barrier. The ITDA should take up the role of education  and provide them jobs when they leave the forest. A further detail assessment needs to be done regarding this problem and the problem needs to be tackled from the roots.

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Swetha along with the Murias

Links for news reports-

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-06-09/hyderabad/39849308_1_forest-land-tribals-state-forest 

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:-OCzSEDS0skJ:www.firstpost.com/politics/chhattisgarh-attack-is-ddlj-attitude-the-heart-of-naxal-problem-824869.html+&cd=3&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=in&client=firefox-a

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-andhrapradesh/were-like-secondclass-citizens-gutti-koyas/article2160396.ece

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-andhrapradesh/gutti-koya-tribal-people-being-chased-away-huts-set-ablaze/article2297961.ece 

http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-andhrapradesh/migrant-gutti-koyas-in-a-piquant-situation-in-state/article2926870.ece

with inputs from Swetha

Hunting wild animals has been an important part of the culture of many Tribal communities and villages of India. Preventing this is a laborious task. How do you stop people from committing this crime when they don’t consider it as a crime? Whom will you imprison if 90% of the people in the village engage in hunting wild animals? And even if you try to imprison a few of the most notorious poachers of the village, none of them will even have 1000 Rupees to post bail. This was the situation in Bejjur, a small town in the corridor areas of the newly formed Telangana State.

On our journey though the corridor forests of Telenagana, I met Mr. Asarla Appaiah, a Range Officer who had a possible solution to this problem.

Mr. Appaiah was the Ranger officer of Bejjur Reserve forest from 2008 to 2012. When he was first posted in this region, he realized that the wildlife crime in that area was very high. People in this village were so used to eating wild meat, that a day’s meal would not be complete without it. In every function, it was almost mandatory that the hosts serve wild meat to all their guests. When he realized what was happening, he initially resorted to catching them and filing cases under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. But this only worsened the already negative impression which the people had about the forest department.

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Protecting a forest and its wildlife is a tough job, but protecting the wildlife without the support of the local people is almost impossible. Mr. Appaiah realized that using the given protocol and guidelines would not solve the problem. He thus resorted to a new approach. He zeroed in on Gondapally and Ellur, the two villages which had the most notorious poachers.

In Gondapally he visited very house in the village along with his forest staff. He introduced himself and applied Teeka (a red powder applied on the forehead) to each and every person in the village. While applying this teeka, he took the promise from each person that they would stop hunting wild animals and cutting trees. In India the tradition of applying teeka is a common practice among relatives and family members. It is a symbol of respect. By applying teeka, Mr. Appaiah was able to create a bond with them. He showed them that he respected every one of them. He treated them as a member of his family. This approach was very impactful as it was able to spread the message that hunting was morally wrong. He also educated the women in the village about their importance in preventing poaching. Slowly, within a few months of working with the village, he was able to bring about the change in their mind set. This brought down the crime rate in that village to almost zero.

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His second innovative approach was carried out in Ellur village. This was another village which had a few high profile poachers. One of them was Sambaya. Sambaya would place live high tension wires that stretched kilometers into the forest. Any animal that would cross these wires would immediately get electrocuted and die. Mr. Appaiah spoke to Sambaya’s family. His wife explained to Mr. Appaiah that all the money Sambaya would make through poaching would never come home. He would all spend the money on alcohol and physically abuse her when he got back home. She said that she is willing to support Mr. Appaiah in changing her husband. On a Sunday, Mr. Appaiah called for a public meeting. He felicitated Sambaya with garlands and told the people in the village that Sambaya, from that very moment, would never hunt again. He symbolically presented him with vegetable, suggesting that the days of hunting for Sambaya are over. In this way, he ensured that all the villagers got to know what Sambaya was involved in. This prevented him from repeating this act, as it would tarnish the respect he had now gained in his village.

It is inspiring to see the change that can be brought about by a single dedicated officer with a little creative thinking.

By Swetha

Nagarjunasagar Srisailam Tiger Reserve

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Gorgeous Hills

“Huge hills, green forests filled with ample water, noisy birds, buzzing insects and plenty of deer, the true realm of the striped charm.”

I have always liked to witness the wilderness in true sense, but it is the plight of our modern times that fragmentation is on the rise.

Though Nagarjuna Sagar-Srisailam still possesses vast swatches of forest without human habitations. The forest here are mostly dry, with occasional streams that hold some water. There are traditional waterholes and lakes that also attract animals. Walking long distance in these forests along with my hyticos volunteers have really helped me understand a little about the dynamics that define this wilderness.

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Tiger Pugmarks

The number of deer in comparison to the landscape size is fewer, the tough terrain complimented by  traditional poaching practices may have been a contributing factor.

Chenchus have always been integral to these forests, the APFD have to be applauded for involving them in conservative initiatives. But  I also increasingly feel we need to reassess their mind set, have informal surveys to gauge what the youth have in them. Understanding them and tapping them at inception ensures they wont seek illegal means of incomes that may adversely affect wildlife.

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Pugmarks Collection by staff
The Hills act like forts I feel, the wildlife truly flourishes in deep forests inside these natural forts. Wild grasses are plenty for Sambar and other deer, invariably benefiting Tigers, but it is very in-appropriate to assume the whole NSTR is a Tiger haven. With human habitations like we have in Mannanur Range, it is imperative  that threats like poisoning loom large, as witnessed during the Tiger poisoned in January this year.

Pilgrims who walk through the forests for temple trash the area, if their movement is synchronized in controlled fashion will certainly help evade issues. Certain designated points where pilgrims can halt and what they carry inside the park needs to be regulated, awareness and monitoring them would really help to avoid any mishaps.

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Crested hawk eagle

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Huge Bamboo forests
The base camps of NSTR are equipped with basic necessities and wireless communication, the staff staying in base camps need to be further encouraged to play an active role in monitoring, informing and having a greater role in ensuring Tigers are safe. They are no doubt the front-line guardians of our Tigers.

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Our Team at Forest Base Camp

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Tawny Castor

 

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Natural Grass plots
NSTR forest still represent the best Andhra Pradesh has to offer in terms of well protected forests, but to sustain these forests and to further improve  Tiger protection will require great insight, resolve and effort. Fresh novel approach towards conservation is needed at a war footing. HYTICOS supports science and reason based approaches to reclaim these forests.

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A Vignesha Carving

 

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Pedda Cheruvu
I am not inclined to write in detail about my experiences here, as I am more concerned that these forests remain pristine and free from further human pressure and habitations, I wish Tiger prosper well here and deers thrive in great numbers ,  it is always great to be at Srisailam.. “Gorgeous hills, the mighty Krishna, vast forests, Tigers and Chenchus, our fascination for this forest was once new is now growing old.”

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Chenchu’s Bikes for reaching the Road

Text and Photos by Asif

(Scroll down for Kawal experience by Ashvij)…..

Kawal Tiger Reserve

“Tiger Conservation- To conserve Tiger, conserve its Prey; to conserve Prey, conserve the forest; to conserve the Forest, conserve the Tiger.”

Trail- It is a path/track in the forest, used in the estimation of carnivores like tiger, leopard, Wild Dog, Sloth Bear etc. using indirect signs like scat (faeces or droppings), pug marks (foot prints), scent marks (urine marks), rake marks (scratches on trees), and scrape marks (scratches on the ground); and direct sighting of carnivores.

Transect-It is a sampling method used for estimating the population densities of the principal prey of tigers like deer, antelope, wild boar, gaur etc. using direct sightings of the animal and by indirect signs like pellets (faeces or droppings), hoof marks, shed antlers etc. and mapping the vegetation of a particular forest.

Kawal Tiger Reserve (KTR) is India’s 42nd Tiger reserve and is situated in the Adilabad District of Telangana State. Jannaram, a small town in the district, is the Headquarters of operations for the Kawal Tiger Reserve. Volunteering for HYTICOS (Hyderabad Tiger Conservation Society), I had learnt about the All India Tiger, Co-predators and Prey Estimation 2014 to be held in the Kawal Tiger Reserve. I immediately seized the opportunity and set out along with a few more members of HYTICOS, to Jannaram on 17th Jan 2014 to take part in the census.

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Kawal Tiger Reserve, though a protected area has a lot of human disturbance. Major roads connecting Jannaram to Nirmal and Adilabad traverse through the reserve. As we drove through the reserve late that night, we saw three Wild Pigs killed in a road accident. This was disturbing, as we were going there to estimate wildlife populations in the reserve but instead, were welcomed by a rather disappointing sight.

The first morning, we met Mr. Rama Krishna Gubbala, the Divisional Forest Officer of KTR, to discuss  the plan for the wildlife census and various conservation issues in Kawal Tiger Reserve. As we finished our meeting and stepped out of his office, we were greeted by a flock of Black-hooded Golden Orioles. Later that evening two of our team members, Mr.Praveen and Mr.Venkat had been on trails to Mallial beat where they spotted a herd of Sambar Deer and a Sloth Bear. Another team of Mr.Sampat and Ms.Sarada that went to Millara Morri, had spotted few Gray Langur and collected the scat of a leopard.

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Early morning on the second day, Praveen and I, went to walk transect at Kawal beat. Unfortunately, we couldn’t spot any animals other than one Gray Langur. However, we did spot indirect signs of ungulates (hooved animals like deer or antelope) like pellets of Nilgai (Blue Bull) and Chital (Spotted Deer) and the quill, scat and remains of a tree bark eaten by a Porcupine. On the way back we were lucky enough to spot pug marks of a leopard which led us to a water hole. We found Kawal to be a Dry Deciduous Mixed type of forest with trees like Teak, Crocodile Bark Tree and Axlewood tree. One of the other volunteers, Venkat who went for transect to Indanapalli had encountered few Nilgai and Chinkara (Indian Gazelle). Mr. Sampat, who had been to Narlapur beat sighted few Langur and Nilgai apart from indirect signs such as pellets of Sambar deer, Chausingha (Four-Horned Antelope) and Chinkara. After he finished his transect he also spotted three more Chinkara, a Nilgai bull and another herd of 5 Nilgai. That evening, Venkat and I went to Udampur for trail, where we found the scat of a Sloth Bear. Following the trail we went to a nearby lake where we saw various water birds such as Egrets, Cormorant and the Common Sandpiper.

Day 3 started with a herd of 8 Chinkara at Dost Nagar beat even before the start of the transect. This transect was more fruitful as I had seen two herds of Spotted deer, each consisting about 8-10 animals including a few fawn. We also observed lot of fresh and older pellets of Nilgai and Spotted Deer. The forest there was more of a Dry Deciduous forest with Teak being the predominant species. The Forest Beat Officer Mr Shankar, after the transect, invited me to see more of the forest in his beat. He took me deeper into the forest where we did some bird watching. We spotted birds like Rufous Treepie, Plum-headed Parakeets, White-eyed Buzzard and water birds such as Little Ringed Plower, Marsh Sandpiper, Darter, Black Ibis and White-necked Stork. While walking through the forest we saw a lot of pug marks of Jungle Cat and a few scats with pieces of crab in them.

Although the census was supposed to go on for a week, our team had to come back to Hyderabad sooner than expected. The opportunity to walk in a Tiger Reserve and that too in order to help the forest department in an important step towards tiger and wildlife conservation was a very educative and self-satisfying one. With the flora and fauna being so good and conducive for the large cats like the Tiger, I felt sad to learn that there is not even a single Tiger in Kawal Tiger Reserve. We, as wildlife conservationists and activists along with the forest department need to work more strongly towards bringing Tigers back to Kawal. Reducing human intervention into the forests, preventing cattle grazing, preventing poachers from killing wildlife and punishing the wildlife criminals can all help in conserving wildlife better. As I left Kawal, my hunger for walking in the wild may have been satisfied to an extent but the thirst to see a Tiger roaming freely and majestically, without fear of humans in Kawal Tiger Reserve increased exceedingly.

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I will return to Kawal, very soon……

by Asvij Putta

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 Anantagiri Hills

A limitless blue sky gave way to escaping clouds as we drove past the city limits, ficus trees bordered the road on both sides, as we  saw pastures, fields and few occasional villages all along.

“An object flew away in air, hey a bird.. one remarked! .. few saw just a splash of color,
another was left perplexed, felt it was a joke… Welcome to Bird watching!”

Excitement was nice all around with no worries then. It was already past 7:00 a.m.!!!
Midway at Chevella town,  we had our breakfast of idli, dosas and tea.
The august air was warm so early in the day, but the hues around us were an absolute delight.
Then an hour past our breakfast we were in Anantagiri Hills.

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 Our Group at Kotepalli Lake
We shed our vehicle on plateau and ventured the wild scrub.
Although our focus was on birds, but for a while butterfly checklist had outnumbered the bird list!
Everyone experiencing and enjoying with these little beauties. We had once a Blue Tiger on our right and a Leopard on our left tree. (Butterflies have been named as tigers, sailors and wanderers)
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Blue Tiger

Butterflies we saw:
1. Crimson Rose
2. One spot grassy yellow
3. Common lime
4. Common crow
5. Blue Tiger
6. Plain Tiger
7. Common Leopard
8. Striped Tiger
9. Blue Pansy
10. Common Rose
11. Common Emigrant
12. Bright babul blue
13. White Orange Tip

 

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Plain Tiger
Overall the birds were less as expected, but the munias were quite often seen.
“Wow a White eye”, Satvik called and a little later all went after a Tickell’s blue.

Similarly the next hour flew past us, till we tracked our way back through forest cross-roads to conclude our trek.

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Panoramic view from Hills
Once again the engine roared, further we drove past dharur village and went for Kotepalli reservoir.
The lake was as placid I left it last time, with lots of Larks on edges, the Pied busy hovering & diving for fish.
We all sat down quiet, under the solo tree bordering the lake.
Soon the birds descended all around. A Lark’s crest was upright, another lark specie dived in  mid air, two pipers descended in distance, a stork flew and what not!

Birds we saw:
1. Indian Silverbill
2. Cattle Egret
2. Greater Coucal
3. Little Egret
4. Rose Ringed Parakeet
5. Lauighing dove
6. Tickles blue flycatacher
7. Red Vented bulbul
8. Oriental white eye
9. Black shouldered kite
10. Copper smith barbet
11. Common Myna
12. Green Bee-Eater
13. Ahsy Crowned Sparrow Lark
14. Crested Skykes Lark
15. Little Cormorant
16. Grey Heron
17. Black Ibis
18. Medium Egret
19. Red Wattled Lapwing
20. Common Sand Piper
21. Indian Short Toed Lark
22. River Tern
23. Iora
24. Hoopoe
25. Common Wagtail
26. White Browed Babbler
27. Warbler
28. White Headed Babbler
29. Streak throated swallow
30. Common swallow

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Green Bee-Eater
After a little Birding we also explored the lake’s edge, the lake floods the forest patch on other side
and smooth grasses carpet till this edge.
Mongoose were seen disappearing quietly in holes, a big raptor probably Bonellis was annoyed and flew away.
At an outlet of the lake we found a dead 5 kg Channa fish , Bharath climbed down the slope to turn the fish enabling a picture.  “Local fish folk had informed me in a 2004 survey, that some parasite killed almost all big Channa here.”

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The Placid Kotepalli Lake

After snacks, again we did a small trek in Anantagiri hills.
Giant wood spider were almost everywhere, each except males nestled at core of their webs.
The sun had left everything hot by now, eventually we got tired & gave up.

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Painted Stork

Post our lunch stop, and a little sleepy.. we were driven back to Hyderabad.

Written by Asif Siddiqui (photos taken by Satvik & Asif)

Leave Me Alone

 

A Chervu

A local Chervu (lake)

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Tiger Pugmark

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Sambar Stag – Killed and eaten by a Tiger

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Hyticos team (with Chenchu Trackers and Pedda-Chervu staff)

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A Scops Owl – Spotted at daytime

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Variegated Kukree Snake near base camp

Vast expanse of Forest in Hills

Mighty Forest in Hills

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A Deep Ravine: inside core area

Pedda Chervu - during the day.

Pedda-Chervu

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Rufous bellied Hawk Eagle

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Crested Hawk Eagle – lazy in early morning

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PeddaChervu – base camp

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Our team

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GPS recording at site of indirect evidence of Tiger

The Annual Wildlife estimations at onset of May 2013 gave us a chance to explore Peddachervu landscape of NSTR. We are thankful to Prl. Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) who helped us with permissions and  CCF (PT), DFO and other forest staff  for support provided to us during volunteering.

We happen to volunteer for trails in Pedda Chervu and Pangidi Beats. These beats are very critical source areas for Tigers of  NSTR. Many a times Chenchu trackers have accompanied us on trails, Armed with Bows and Arrows for safety they take pride in performing their work. As Chenchus live inside forests  the A.P Forest Department wisely involved local chenchus in conservation.

  • Each volunteer walked 40 -50 kms (approx) in a span of 4 days
  • Atleast 5-6 different Tiger Pugmarks were recorded by our team
  • Tiger scats were also found in atleast 10 locations
  • Few occasional Leopard signs were also present
  • Tiger pugmarks, scats, scrapes were seen all along trails
  • Camera traps data will help further define the individual identities and count
  • Both beats have excellent water bodies that attract Deer and Tigers
  • We also heard a Tiger roar in early morning at Pangidi Base camp on 4th  of May
  • Bears share the landscape quite well as their signs are almost found across many trails

“Tigers seem to be doing good  here and these beats are very critical source population areas.”

Sambar were prominent in Pangidi but Spotted deer dominate the Pedda Cheruvu landscape.
Juvenile Trinket snake and Sand Boa were recorded, host of birds and other wildlife was also observed.  Emerald Pigeon was a treat for our eyes, and raptors were also seen at many instances.

HYTICOS appreciates the efforts of front-line field staff, that works with available facilities to protect NSTR.

We also noted and concluded:

  • People passing for pilgrimage can also be guided & monitored.
  • Mechanisms for intelligence gathering and anti poaching squads will further fortify these forests.

updated by Asif Siddiqui

Small contours of Rali Forest could be seen from quite a distance as we drove past the fields. Kadem canal’s extension work was in progress, soon we parked jeep and crossed the canal to venture into the forest.

Forest from Canal

Rali Forest.

 

Rocky Hill

Our team.


The Forest on other side of canal is good enough with occasional felling.
The climb was rocky and difficult. Wild dogs scats were seen. Also a Leopard scat was found soon.

Once we reached the top of the plateau the forest was better and thicker.
Human presence was absent, although weeds show that cattle do come here, parthenium had occupied the vast plateau.

Water Hole

Water Hole.

We walked on a significant game trail and soon we hit a small rocky hill.
Our forest floor was only rock now and we found deep holes filled with water.
(similar ones are seen in Deepam banda, Birsaipet)
Few signs of blood were seen near water hole, some slaughter and feast had taken place earlier (some ritual maybe).
But the forest was good around, and some larger termenalia were also seen around here.

Sambar Dropping (doe and fawn)

Sambar Doe and Fawn droppings.

The deer are predominantly Sambar here, all sambar hoof marks were around us.
Rutting was quite obvious on trees.

Sambar Rut

Sambar Rutting on trees.

We spend an hour on the plateau, but the team was tired and restless now.
We started to descend, on the descend we found some villagers were around the hills edge.

We climbed down soon and found three men felling with axes.
staff confiscated the axes and we returned to the Jeep.

Forest Type

Forest Type.

Tiger can find good Sambar here, but due to rocky nature of floor (with sharp stones) their longer presence can be doubtful. Although further deep in the forest we need to visit and asses it further.

Note: Rali Block forms one of the critical corridor for Kawal Tiger Reserve.

WORKSHOP ON LAW ENFORCEMENT

Date:18, 19 & 20 October  ’2012

Place: Kawal Tiger Reserve, Andhra Pradesh

Venue: Training Hall, Forest Nursery, Jannaram

Details: The Chief Conservator of Adilabad Mr. Nalini Mohan and the D.F.O Jannaram Mr. RamaKrishna Rao with 35 staff members (Range Officers, DRO’s, FSO’s, & FBO’s) have attended the workshop on Law Enforcement that was funded by Panthera.

Resource Person: Mr. Saurab Sharma, Advocate, Hon’ble Supreme Courts

KTR Staff attending the sessions.

Objective: To educate the forest staff about the Wildlife Protection Act and the methods to implement it. To build up the confidence level of the staff so that they can accomplish their task and contribute their services in protecting the wildlife and their habitat.

The Chief Conservator of Adilabad Mr. Nalini Mohan and the D.F.O Jannaram Mr. RamaKrishna Rao with 35 staff members (Range Officers, DRO’s, FSO’s, & FBO’s) have attended the workshop on Law Enforcement. The workshop began at 10:30 A.M with an introduction speech delivered by the D.F.O. A questionnaire was given to all the participants for the pre-session analysis. A resource book containing the Wildlife Protection Act, investigation related drafts were also distributed to the staff. Sandy did the telugu translation simultaneously.

After completing the first session the staff was divided into six different teams wherein each team was given a case scenario to be solved. The participants were asked to write the investigation steps, sections to be invoked and a draft of the seizure memo.

After the lunch three Crime Scenes were arranged in different areas at the venue. Two teams were sent for investigation in each area of crime. The staff participated and did their mock investigation. Later they shared their experience with the DFO and had given a positive feedback.

The D.F.O and Mr. Sharma has inaugurated the “Toll Free” poster which would be displayed in all the villages within the Tiger Reserve. (The poster was designed and published by Asif and Imran).

The staff dispersed to their respective Ranges after collecting their participation certificates.
DAY 2:
Today the session began at 9.30 A.M. Thirty staff members from Adilabad & Utnur ranges have attended the workshop. Imran has also added few more points in the workshop. The session was completed by 5:30 P.M.
DAY 3
The day started with a Nature trail near the canal (Alinagar) at 6:00 A.M. We saw few spotted deers and then visited one of the base camps. As we couldn’t spend much time inside the forest because of the workshop. The workshop began at 10:00 A.M. Twenty Two staff members from Nirmal, Pembi & Kadam Range have attended the workshop. The Sub-DFO Mr. Kondal Rao and the ACF Mr. Mohan have also attended the workshop.The workshop finished at 5.30 P.M after which Imran and Mr. Saurabh Sharma left to Nirmal. The training for the staff at NSTR would be followed.Special effort from Imran in arranging this training and participating in it. Also help from Sandy, Giri and Shankar is appreciated.
Mr. Sharma’s field session with DFO and staff.


On the 15th of August, 6 a.m  we entered Nehru Zoological Gardens for Birdwatching.
Imran discussed basics of Birding while the Birds kept distracting his audience – Birds were active early!

We were 6 members and a Naturalist named Sandeep working at zoo who also guided us.
“Black swans were moved inside for breeding”, Sandeep told us and he also gave lots of insights and updates….

We moved at a very slow pace and observed keenly all along the walk.

The Birds List (recorded by us):
a. Rose ringed Parakeets
b. Spotted Dove
c. Common Myna
d. Tickells Blue Flycatcher
e. Night Heron
f. Purple Heron
g. Grey Heron
h. Silver Bill
i. Ashy Prinia
j. Tailor Bird
h. Cormorant
i. Koel
j. White Breasted KingFisher
k. Drongo
l. White headed babbler (also called Yellow Billed Babbler)
m. Peacocks
n. Painted Stork

o. Red Wattled Lapwing
p. Purple Sunbird
q. Pied Wagtail
r. Warbler
s. Indian Robin
Note: This list is from my notes, please add/report the birds I missed out.

The night herons looked amazing! they were at least a hundred or so near the beautiful pond next to Elephant enclosure. The deer enclosures as well looked fabulous for Birding .

After the Birding at sharp 8 a.m flag hoisting function was attended by the team.
Mr. Mallikarjun the zoo Director hoisted the flag. We later had a small discussion with him.
Some members of our team had breakfast with the staff.
It was a wonderful Independence day outing for team hyticos.

Kawal: In the Rain.

        

         

Misty Hills.

“Forests have forever fascinated me and wilderness has intrigued my curiosity. But experiencing Kawal transform in rains has always been a special experience”.

In this trip we witnessed the nature’s transformation in full rage. Green shades were all around, with insects buzzing, frogs croaking and also birds feasting on grubs. Larvae were seen transform into butterflies and lot’s more.

Larva.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We loaded our Jeep with minimum rations of rice and dal and went to Gangapur in Kadem Range. As we drove on the road from Jannaram towards utnoor, butterflies in hundreds were seen migrating towards south.

A Langur’s Skull.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lemon Pansy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our stay was planned in an old antique building which is now used as base camp of 8 forest guards. After cooking and eating dal, boiled eggs and rice we started to explore forest around Gangapur. Gaurs had come very close to us we heard them yet thickness of bush in hills made sighting impossible.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Team

Giridhar, Vasal Ramesh, Gangaram, Shakar and Chendu were my accomplice.  Next morning we drove to Morripeta and had trekked along Cheekman River to Palaragodi. We eat bread and jam near Cheekman River which has some flow going thanks to recent rains.
Grey Headed Fishing Eagle took wing overhead and we trekked all along the river. The fruit bearing Jamun trees were found,the water plants were multiplying in pools along with plankton. Small fishes and tadpoles swelled in these water pools.

Fruit laden Jamun Trees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Illegal clearings and harvesting along forests of Cheekman.

On the rivers left was Wasepalli Forest of Pembi. The villagers at Palaragodi were pleasant and welcomed us, the Patel offered black tea. Later our dal and rice was cooked there. They asked us why they were not getting rains?  to which I replied because you have lost all Tigers! They didn’t understand then we explained how destructing forest and wildlife can induce climate changes affecting rains.

They lost faith for any compensations from Forest Department for Cattle Killed by carnivores. They have been doing and are bound to poison carcasses! It is shameful that we  continue to lose carnivores to this evil practice.

On our way back we trekked through forest which was easier compare to walking in River bed.

Bronze backed Snake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On reaching jannaram we got information of a cow killed by a Leopard. Next morning we found it difficult to trace exact point but with help of GPS we reached the exact point. Nothing much was left  a skull lay there with few shreds of torn body lie around.

I spoke to local beat officer and asked him to complete the report and panchnama, Later DFO assured me payment will be made soon. DFO also agrees that compensation cannot be delayed, he wants to put more posters for awareness in Kawal and around neighboring hamlets where cattle might get killed by carnivores.

On one evening of my trip Shankar and I took the newly appointed trackers to forests beyond canal near malial. We did little birding, Pied Cuckoos, Falmeback Woodpeckers, Mynas were commonly seen.

Common Gull.

Importantly we discussed in length about how to go about wildlife tracking, anti poaching, forming informers inside villages for curbing local hunts and vigilance, their queries were answered too. We got to see Barking deer and Peafowls on our drive back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eggs and Mating Frogs.

Also I happen to spend some time in Kalpakunta on my last day, it was mystical in the morning mist.
The hills were covered in mist, the frogs made so much croaking that we couldn’t talk.


Flower Blooming in Kalpakunta!

A Seprent Eagle was indolently moving on a distant branch of a high tree. A pair of Wolly necked storks sat on huge tree next to us. I drove little further spend some time beyond Rampur to call it a day!

In this trip it was heartening to see Chendu and Giridhar collecting data and monitoring the activities of trackers. They will need more support, volunteering and help from us in coming months. It was a very pleasing trip and I am inclined for spending more time in Kawal pretty soon!

Text & Photos by Asif Siddiqui

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.

Tiger Pugmarks.

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.

Chital Stag.

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

 

 

The picturesque Kawal forest has suffered much abuse over the past few years – excessive grazing, poaching, firewood extraction and lack of effective management have combined to contribute to its decline. With its tiger reserve status the park has been given a new lease of life. Credit:Imran Siddiqui 

 

August 2011: It was a surprisingly pleasant morning. As the convoy made its way through the forests of Kawal, the air was thick with anticipation. Their fingers crossed, forest officials scoured the surrounding trees for signs of wildlife. It was June 1, 2011 and Nadendla Manohar, Speaker, Andhra Pradesh Assembly, was visiting the neglected Kawal Wildlife Sanctuary along with members of the Legislative Assembly Committee for Environment and Wildlife (LACEW) including G. Arvind Reddy, the host MLA and M. Rajesh Kumar, the state’s youngest MLA. 

 

I was doubtful that we would see any animals – our convoy alone had 20 vehicles and several more police vans were making rounds in the forest. As we drove past the Kadam canal we spotted a herd of 55 wild pigs and three gaur including a huge male. Just before this, we had sighted a pair of nilgai peeking at us shyly through the trees and very soon, a herd of seven chital in the foliage. From a tourism perspective, this was not much, but for Kawal enthusiasts like us who had seen the area in a horribly degenerate condition, it was a heartwarming sight.

 

IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

 

Sanctuary readers are well aware of Kawal’s history (Vol. XXX No. 6, December 2010). Once a proud repository of stunning biodiversity, the combination of poaching, indiscriminate land use and government neglect led to its downfall. Forest corridors connecting Kawal to the Tadoba-Andhari and Indravati Tiger Reserves faced severe degradation and fragmentation. Local communities led by some shortsighted politicians took advantage of the Forest Rights Act and carved out large chunks of the forest for themselves. Naxalism had weakened local administration and the influx of migrants in search of ‘land for nothing’ from nearby areas added to the pressure on limited resources. Aborginal Gonds, Kollams and Naikapodus, who the Forest Rights Act wished to benefit, actually faced a major threat to their way of life, just the same way as Kawal’s wildlife did. This anthropogenic pressure whittled the prey base and adversely affected the large cat population. In just one year of patrolling, 400 traps, 12 poaching attempts and 20 smuggling networks were exposed by the Wildlife Trust of India and the Nimmagadda Foundation working under the name ‘Kawal Conservation Project.’ If not for this handful of NGOs and committed wildlife lovers, Kawal’s downward spiral seemed predestined.

 

The author was told that these two disoriented four-horned antelope Tetracerus quadricornis fawns followed a herd of goats into a village. Credit:Asif Siddiqui 

 

Fortunately, Kawal, received a breath of life when the sanctuary was adopted by LACEW as a pilot project. A Kawal Advisory Board was formed and meetings are regularly being held to discuss the fate of Kawal under the chairmanship of dynamic forest officer A.V. Joseph, APCCF. Local administration bodies, community leaders and NGOs including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Hyderabad Tiger Conservation Society (HyTiCoS) lent considerable strength to the initiative. This attention was vital to the beleaguered wilderness. Earlier the Chief Minister promised support for Kawal’s tigers, the first sign that political will might come to the aid of tigers in Andhra Pradesh. The 893 sq. km. sanctuary was proposed as a tiger reserve by several politicians and the Forest Department forwarded an application to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). Following a discussion between Nandendla Manohar and Jairam Ramesh, the then Minister for Environment and Forests, an “in-principle approval” was granted.

 

NOT JUST TIGERS

 

Kawal witnesses some unlikely range overlaps, for example gaur-chinkara-blackbuck-nilgai and dhole-wolf-Indian fox. The forest is a living laboratory for students and experienced field biologists who can play a huge role in helping to turn Kawal into a conservation success story.

 

 

 

Though difficult to spot, the signs of tigers, leopards, wolves and wild dogs have been regularly encountered along with sightings of chinkara, nilgai, Indian foxes and chousingha. The teak-dominated landscape is interspersed with bamboo patches, grasslands and semi-evergreen  forests and is watered by a rich network of streams and waterbodies. The checklist for Kawal includes 250 plus birds, more than 30 species of reptiles and over 20 species of bats. The floral diversity includes 600 species, 250 of which are flowering trees. This picturesque landscape is in the catchment area of three major rivers of Adilabad district, the Peddavagu, Kadam and the mighty Godavari.

 

THE WAY FORWARD

 

Progress, though slow, is taking place. The District Collector issued orders to make LPG gas connections available at subsidised rates to villages around the park to reduce their dependency on fuelwood. Elders of two villages have asked that their settlements be shifted nearer to the canal and a stall feeding programme for cattle is underway in one village. The Andhra Pradesh government has put together a tourism development plan for the reserve that positions local communities as the prime beneficiaries. Sixteen anti-poaching camps employing locals have been approved.

 

Pugmark casts have been taken by scientists to prove the wealth of Kawal – a bounty that is now slowly being recongised and with the introduction of limitations on grazing and other measures, a lot is possible. Credit:Asif Siddiqui 

 

The tiger reserve status is Kawal’s best hope for survival. Not opting for protection would deliver the forest into the hands of the timber and mining mafia, to the detriment of both the park and the people living around the park. Without a shadow of doubt, the upgradation will help tribals whose sustenance comes from the forest because this declaration has been designed with them in mind as principal beneficiaries of conservation.

 

Adilabad is a district south of Maharashtra separated by the rivers Penganga and Pranahitha in the heart of which lies the Kawal Wildlife Sanctuary. It forms a major catchment for the Ganga of the South – the Godavari. Originally Kawal was notified as a game sanctuary in 1965 and was given the status of a wildlife sanctuary in 1973. The final notification was issued in 1999 after settlement of rights.

 

These are the steps contemplated right away:

 

  1. A detailed survey of the landscape to identify communities living in and around the park, to document their legitimate needs.
  2. A management plan for the reserve that is grounded in science and such that the benefits of ecosystem restoration are principally fed into forest protection and the local community.
  3. Institute an effective anti-poaching protocol, which can also tackle and expose other illegal activities.
  4. Reinstitute foot patrols to ensure that traps and snares are detected so as to prevent the indiscriminate decimation of wildlife.
  5. Reorganise beats and ranges reducing the average administrative area and filling up of extra posts by offering locals the first option for jobs in the Forest Department and for anti-poaching duties.
  6. A curb on illegal grazing and wood cutting and a programme to incentivise stall feeding and milk cooperatives.
  7. If villages are willing to relocate, baithaks (sittings) to be organised by Gram Sabhas.

 

Progress in Kawal will be slow given the magnitude of the problem but the future looks bright. In a single year of patrolling, a group of NGOs working together were able to retrieve 400 traps such as the ones seen here and foiled several poaching attempts. Credit:Imran Siddiqui 

 

In our view, the above steps will define future conservation policies and strategies for most states in India. As for Kawal, we intend to follow through to ensure that the nay-sayers are countered, whether they be industrialists, or short-sighted social activists whose lack of faith in nature prompts them to mislead and instigate communities to reject even such efforts as might greatly improve their lot.

 

By Imran Siddiqui, Sanctuary Asia, Vol XXXI No. 4, August 2011

A file photo of Tiger in Central India. Photo by Aniruddha Mookerjee

Kawal WLS (Andhra Pradesh), September 30, 2010: Decline in prey due to high poaching pressure and habitat degradation due to severe encroachment and resource extraction notwithstanding, Kawal Wildlife Sanctuary, a critical tiger habitat in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh can potentially support 2.69 tigers per 100 sq km area, according to a recent study. The estimate was an outcome of an MSc research (NCBS and WCS India programme) supported by Department of Science and Technology and implemented under the framework of Kawal Conservation Project, a joint venture of Hyderabad Tiger Conservation Society (HyTiCoS) and Andhra Pradesh Forest Department, supported by Nimmagadda Foundation and the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI).

Team walking a line transect

“One of the main conservation hurdles in Kawal WLS is the lack of baseline data on the populations of tigers and their prey; based on a recent estimate by the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (May 2008), there are a minimum of four tigers here. Our study shows that Kawal has enough ungulate prey to support 20-25 tigers; thus the number of tigers here can be increased with effective conservation measures,” said Imran Siddiqui, HyTiCoS.
Seized poaching equipment
A major catchment of river Godavari and spread over 892.23 sq km, Kawal WLS forms a critical connection between forests in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. In addition to biotic pressure from about 127 villages located within a few kilometers of the sanctuary, Kawal also faces threats from bush meat hunting, teak extraction, and clearing of large tracts of forests in anticipation of the sanctioning of the Forest Rights Act.

kawal sanctuary map

The Kawal Conservation Project was sanctioned as a Rapid Action Project early this year, to address the threats to the tiger population and to minimise habitat destruction in the sanctuary.
“Kawal Conservation project takes a holistic approach to wildlife conservation in Kawal WLS using tigers as flagship,” asserts Radhika Bhagat, Officer-in-Charge, Wild Aid division, WTI. “One of the primary concerns of the project is to generate baseline data which is crucial for strategising conservation actions for the tiger and its habitat. Alongside, the project also helps strengthen anti-poaching efforts, spread awareness and mobilise local support for wildlife conservation.”
As part of capacity building exercise, three trainings and workshops have been organised for Forest Department staff by Dr Rakesh Kumar Singh, Chief Training Officer, WTI. Two trainings were for the frontline staff and were attended by 104 frontline staff and project implementers who were trained on wildlife tracking, patrolling, forming a network of informers and handling wildlife offences. The participants were provided with field kits upon successful attendance at training.

Training for all the ACFs and FROs of the Adilabad district

Workshop on Wildlife Protection Act and effective handling of wildlife cases
Additionally, a two-day workshop was organised on Wildlife (Protection) Act and effective handling of wildlife cases for senior Forest Department staff. “It was an excellent workshop and now it is time to act and make this training a success,” said Hitesh Malhotra, Principal Conservator of Forests (wildlife) and Chief Wildlife Warden, Government of Andhra Pradesh, who presided the workshop. “This workshop was an eye opener and will be very useful in filing poaching cases,” added Md Ibrahim, Conservator of Forests (Adilabad).
The project implementers also undertake regular patrolling drives to locate traps placed to capture animals for bush meat or otherwise.

Hunting equipment seized

“On an average, we have been dismantling about 30 different types of traps and foiling four poaching attempts every month. Working with the Forest Department staff, we have been able to stop over 10 instances of teak extraction and are assisting in the prosecution of more than 10 wildlife offenders,” said Siddiqui.“Tigers are known to be a resilient species, and flagging populations can bounce back if provided with sufficient protection, good forest cover and adequate prey density. Our project aims for revival of Kawal and to ensure that tigers thrive here,” said Bhagat.

Rampur.Where Forest meets village
Once again I feel to write and Rampur is the place which appears in my thoughts.
As you pass through this essay, find yourselves in Rampur, the sweet little Tribal Hamlet with its forest and
wildlife to cheer you, appreciate simple life of these tribal people, maybe you will desire the proximity of
wilderness that exist in tribal life. Rampur lays just 4 kms beyond Udumpur on the Utnoor road that bisects Kawal WLS as it passes through jungle.
As I sense of the bus stopping at the very point, where a Tiger carved out of Wood and painted in yellow
and black, I have reached Rampur. It is funny thing that kids and even adults sometimes believe think they
saw a live Tiger as vehicles fly pass this point.

Rampur Village
Forest at Rampur village.
Rampur hamlet stands in close vicinity of thick forest that Kawal ever has to offer.
The beauty of Rampur is dense bush edge coming very close to huts, the simple lives of the villagers, those
great hills of Islampur Range on the southern side and the Mysampet forest on its North.

rampur3Those little huts.
As I get down from the bus in rays of early morning sun, which enlighten the bush and everything around.
I love to shout Elliah Elliah facing towards the huts from the road even before the Bus engine is roaring to
speed ahead and even the dust has failed to settle around. Soon some dogs usually respond and bark uninterruptedly near the huts.

Elliahs hut is a few paces after the little slope on right side of the road. He lives with his wife and family in one of those uncomplicated huts. Some lady, kid or a girl usually rushes to send Elliah for us, as we wait watching birds, right on the road on those tall green massive trees. Minivets, Tits, Orioles, Flycatchers are active and as day proceeds the unmistakable Kluee-wip-wip Klueee-wip-wip calls of Crested Serpent Eagle tear the air and reach all around, usually the bird seen solitary in flight but seen in pair during the mating season. Have you ever seen its Crest upright stare in the wild? If not then consider that is one of the most capturing stare of the wild.
rampur4Elliah and his wife.
I have even gone Rampur just for the sake of fun and spend time at his hut with Akhil. On one such visit apart for Bird watching we saw the drama of a Frog caught in a Checkered Keelback’s mouth. The snake tried to gulp the frog for at least half an hour before it gave up. We heard the subtle shout of this frog in the dry fields, as we were birding and taking snaps of butterflies. That day Snake got something to eat or not I know not, but our Elliah cooked chicken and rice for us as we relaxed in the wooden charpoys near his hut.
A Frog in Checkered Keel Backs mouth. The tribal huts may number around twenty five in this hamlet.
Most lie on the left of the road and some on the right. There are few clearings which serve as agricultural
plots, seen lush green after rains, mostly with BT Cotton as crop and maize at times. Goats and cattle are
also seen around huts.

rampur5
Recording the Migratory cattle.
Migratory cattle have been a regular problem here. As herders settle in small makeshift clearings with cattle
or goats and sometimes even both to destruct the forest around. Well Elliah as others there is a poor a Nayakpod tribal. I love his smile. He is lean tall person with dark complexion, clad in white dhoti and a shirt. Being a tracker he visits around and gives an account of Wildlife activity which we record.
I have gone trekking on numerous occasions all around Birsaipet Range with this guy. Although in his
fifties he is very silent on trails. He picks a Tiger trail or warns about a wild dog pug impression and traces
a Nilgai or Sambar’s din or clamor and shows animal to us without mistake. He is credited for helping us out of forest several times before black night arrives using short cuts during census and other critical trails. Generally very shy and silent unless you foul the way on a trial, he says something or if he finds something of Wildlife which might interests you. Those yellow teeth seen on occasion if his mood is cheerful grow into bursting laughs as well!
To witness, just go along with him on a forest trail. Once on a census evening in summer on trail to Uggimamudi I got a Tiger pug impression after concentrating along a trail for six kilometers. We put plaster of paris in the pug impression and went ahead to check a check-dam still three kilometer ahead, on the way back it was dark, to our dismay we found the plaster didn’t dry. I took Elliahs match stick, assembled some dry fallen leaves on back of cast and burnt them. Elliah suddenly realized the trick and laughed and laughed as he being dark was less seen and his teeth glittered in the available moonlight.
Tigers still exist and have always existed in forest around this village; the relocation of such villages as I
have said earlier can breathe life into Kawals forest. Well what I all have experienced wandering in forest with him is beyond this small essay. And how indebted we are to these poor tribal trackers is worth even greater than gold.
Kawal is usually a empty forest and we move long distances without discovering wildlife, but usually after
walking or driving far interior woods you are rewarded with sightings, which give a immense pleasure, like
a delayed fish gives joy to an patient angler, and embed as a memory for you. Wildlife by nature avoids humans and forgetting this we have left few places even in forest for them to peacefully exist!
I know unlike my other essay this portrays more on Rampur and Elliah, it is a deliberate attempt to acknowledge the kind service of Elliah and other such tribals, whose service has helped foundations of
great conservation battles across India.
I treasure Rampur equally as a forest, maybe because of less obliteration around it and some indescribable
beauty this hamlet possesses, which you need to reach there to fully appreciate.
Text and Photographs,
by Asif.

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