The red hot ball of the sun was rising from the horizon as we raced from Hyderabad to Kawal Tiger Reserve. The distance is 250km. I was
with Farida Tampal, Director and PSM Srinivas, Regional Manager –South, colleagues from WWF-India and the latter was on the wheel.
My brief visit to the Reserve was to understand as much as possible about the newly established but the problem ridden Reserve. We were
also accompanied by Imran Siddiqui of HYTICOS (Hyderabad Tiger Conservation Society) and Karthik Vasudevan from LaCONES
(Laboratory of Conservation of Endangered Species and CCMB, Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology).

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Imran has extensive experience of knowing Kawal for more than a decade now and according to him barking deer and hyena are the two species which possibly have become extinct in the Reserve in the recent years.
Kawal was a Game Reserve till 1965 and the Nizam of Hyderabad had the hunting rights here. This Reserve is reported to be the home of
both red and grey jungle fowl. Other noteworthy biological attribute is the occurrence of gaur, chinkara, blackbuck, nilgai, dhole, wolf, jackal
and Indian fox. Not many protected areas in the country support such a wide ranging assemblage of mammals. The great conservation value
of this protected area is it forms the catchment area for the Pranahita and Peddavagu- tributaries of the Godavari river.
Kawal was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary in 1972 and the final notification of which came in August 1999. The announcement as the 42ndTiger Reserve came in 2012 with a core of 892 sq.km and a buffer of 1123 sq.km. The core of the Reserve has six ranges: Pembi, Kadem, Birsaipet, Indanpalli, Jannaram and Tadlapet and the buffer four: Khanapur, Tiryani, Asifabad and Ichodda. The Reserve is in the southernmost tip of the large Central Indian Tiger Landscape. Tadoba-Andhari TR, an excellent tiger source habitat, is 100km to the north and Indrawati TR, a tiger sink habitat is 150 km to the east. While Allapalli and Sironcha RFs seem to provide excellent connectivity between Kawal and Indrawati and the connectivity between Kawal and Tadoba-Andhari is fragile. According to Ravikiran Goverkar, National Tiger Conservation Authority, the threats to this corridor are encroachments, various forms of mining, timber smuggling, reservoirs and roads and railway tracks.
The landscape is largely tenanted by Gonds and other tribals living here are Nayakpod and Kolam. Nomads visiting this area are Lambada and
Banjara gypsies (recognized as Scheduled Tribes by the Government in 1976). There are 37 recognized villages in the core and 21 in the buffer. Besides there 35 illegal hamlets in the Reserve. Encroachments, poaching, timber (particularly teak) smuggling and cattle grazing are the inherent problems in this landscape. The landscape is under severe threat from encroachment after FRA 2006 (The Recognition of Schedule Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Forest Rights Act) came into force. Around 2007, encouraged by local mafias encroachments and timber smuggling were rampant.

Asif Siddiqui, another active member of HYTICOS, said that Kawal as a wildlife sanctuary had about 10 tigers, there were four tigers when it was proposed as a tiger reserve but all of them got poisoned and killed as soon as the area was declared as a tiger reserve. The reason attributed was the tribals were misled that they will be forcefully evicted. Till 10 years ago this tiger landscape suffered a lot, at least for a decade, in terms of poaching and other associated problems as a result of Maoists occupancy as well lack of good forest officers.
During the brief period we were there (21st to 23rd forenoon, October 2014) we visited four ranges (Birsaipet, Kadam, Indanpalli and Tadlapet), walked in total c.15 km and drove c. 200 km. No ungulate was seen. Groups of rhesus macaques were seen along the roads. Many dry stream beds with golden sand are an attractive future of the Reserve. The problems seen were abundance of cattle, invasion of exotic weed Hyptis suaveolens and lack of regeneration of food plants.
One of our drives was in Tadiapet Range where with the assistance of WWF-India a solar water pump has been installed. Two canals, a major and a minor, taking water from the Kadam reservoir ran through the Range and as a result the moisture level in that part of Range where we drove was excellent resulting in abundant grass. The area seemed to be perfect habitat for gaur and sambar.

One morning we walked through a bamboo grove along the bank of Kalladavagu in Indanapalli Range. It is an extremely productive habitat with many large Garuga pinnata trees. The fruits of this species is fondly eaten by ungulates. Other valuable forage trees seen were Bridelia retusa where yellow-legged pigeons were seen feeding, Terminalia belerica and Madhuca indica. But none of these tree species had saplings where we walked. There were pig diggings on the bamboo-leaf covered forest floor and there were chinkara pellets along the trail. One group of langur was seen. In the afternoon we walked along a stream (Peddavagu) in a beautiful valley habitat in Birsaipet Range to a Terminalia arjuna tree from the roots of which clean drinkable fresh water exudes. A flying squirrel glided in to the nearby teak patch from a large Ficus racemosa tree. The valley seemed to be a superb area for gaur and sambar but their signs were absent. There was profuse regeneration of Buchanania lanzan and Semecarpus anacardium. Phoenix lourerii, a frequent fire indicator species and abundance of which can reduce the carrying capacity of the area for ungulates, was common. Grewia hirsuta, fruits of which are eaten by sloth bear and edible to humans, was abundant. The cool valley habitat was possibly rich in insects as our trail in many places was blocked by the strands of the webs of the giant wood spider, Nephila maculata.

 

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Golden sands in the river beds can attract the sand smuggling mafia. In winter months (December-January) walks along the river beds can help in quantifying large mammal signs.

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Groups of rhesus monkeys were commonly seen along the highway at the edge of the forest.

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Strong-smelling and unpalatable Hyptis suaveolens has taken over the flat areas
vital for the chital

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One of the major problems in the landscape is the abundance of livestock which can lead to conflict with carnivores, transmit diseases to wild ungulates, compete with them for forage and water and can be the source of disturbance.
The most interesting part of our walk was the trek towards Peddarajulakorda, a temple in Birsaipet Range. Due to lack of time we trekked two kilometer closer to the temple and returned. Yet the climb across bamboo covered hills and the plateau habitat on the top gave an excellent idea of the potential of the hilly terrain. Interestingly there were nilgai dung even up in the hilly habitat. This I have not seen any where else. The young leaves of Thespesia lampas had been browsed. This is the only place where we saw abundant regeneration of Terminalia tomentosa, a valuable forage tree. There was an attractive small patch of grassland with species such as Chrysopogon fulvus and Heteropogon contortus. Only on this trek I saw gaur dung that too only one. There were some domestic cattle dung too. In the hilly area there was one whooping call of a langur group but in the valley where possibly there was water there were at least four calls. Water should be a limiting factor for animals in this hilly area in summer.
One remarkable achievement by the Reserve management is the stopping of the truck traffic along the 40 km Highway which goes between Nirmal and Luxetipet along the southern boundary of the Reserve.

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Butea superba stifling a tree
Suggestions:
Control of prey poaching
Control of both ungulate and tiger poaching should be the priority in this Reserve. This can be achieved only when there is local support and motivated anti-poaching teams. The teams can be effective only when they are led by dedicated Range forest officers who are willing to walk with them and stay with them in the forest. Mere establishment of anti-poaching camps will not serve much purpose.
Creation of an inviolate area
The staff accompanying us to Peddarjulakorda said that there is a possibility to create a 350 sq.km inviolate area as the people of the villages Mysampet, Alinagar, Islampur, Malliat and Dongapalli have evinced interest to be resettled out of the Reserve. If they go even the people of Gandhigopalpur hamlet will follow them and move out.
Creation of such an inviolate area and control of poaching can bring back the abundance of prey, particularly sambar, eventually paving way for the survival of tiger in the Reserve.
Enlisting the support of the people
There is immense possibility to get the support of the local people in conservation as numerous villages get benefit from the Kadam reservoir built in 1964 which is in the Reserve and irrigates nearly 400 sq.km area. Large number of families make a living by fishing in the reservoir. Seeking and institutionalizing the support of these people who depend on the reservoir for irrigation and fishing to help in protecting the values of the Reserve could be the priority task of the conservation community working in this landscape. By seeking the support of the District collector the exotic Ipomoea cornea from the waterbodies in the agriculture landscape and in other places around the Reserve should be eradicated which can help in enhancing the fish abundance in the area benefitting the people. Water birds, particularly shore birds, benefit a lot by the eradication of this noxious weed.
Growing firewood and distribution of fuel efficient chulas
Since the firewood comes ‘free’ from the forest the fuel wood consumption by the restaurants and may be by the households seem to be enormous. With the involvement of the Public Welfare Department there should be an effort to grow firewood on either side of the road. Each village can be ‘given’ certain distance along the road where firewood can be grown. As the land is exceedingly fertile and well-watered species such as Dalbergia sissoo, Acacia auriculiformis, Cassia siamia,and Casuarina equisetifolia can be easily grown which after a few years would reduce the dependency of the people on the forests for firewood. The last three are exotic species but do not become a problem by becoming invasive. It will be worthwhile to have a program
to distribute to the people around the Reserve fuel efficient chulas and water heaters with a plea to support conservation in the area.
As firewood is freely available large chulas are used even to make tea
Fuel efficient water heater distributed in the villages around Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary, Maharashtra
Control of Hyptis suaveolens
Efforts should be made to control Hyptis suaveolens. Uprooting the plant individually will be a monumental task and therefore help of a specially made machinery should be sought to plough through the area and uproot the noxious species. It should also be experimented whether fire can help in controlling the species. Large stretches of flat areas, ideal chital habitat, is under this strong-smelling noxious invasive.
Strengthening the connectivity with Tadoba-Andhari landscape
Serious efforts should be made to identify and strengthen the existing connectivity with the Tadoba-Andhari landscape giving an opportunity to the tigers to move into Kawal Tiger Reserve when the ground situation in the Reserve improves. Extensive knowledge available with Imran Siddiqui and Asif Siddiqui on this corridor should be put into use.
Acknowledgements:
Thanks to PK Sharma, PCCF WL and Chief Wildlife Warden for giving me an opportunity to brief him about my visit to Kawal Tiger Reserve. Divisional forest officers, Vinod Kumar and Damodar Reddy, are thanked for their help and information provided. Imran Siddique and Asif Siddiqui (HYTICOS) are thanked for briefing me about the Reserve and Karthik Vasudevan (LaCONES) and his son Gautam made the trip to the Reserve enjoyable. Farida Tampal, Director, WWF-India Andhra Pradesh State office; PSM Srinivas, Regional Manager-South; Ravi Singh, Secretary General and CEO, WWF-India and Dipankar Ghose, Director, Species and Landscapes Program, WWF-India are all thanked for their help and facilitating my visit. Farida Tampal provided the needed information to make this report complete.

I entered Jannaram late one night from Hyderabad-Mancherial highway. I was afraid to cross the guest house without noticing it in the intermittent passing by village lights. Thanks to DFO and his staff especially Yellam (a research biologist with forest department), we women travelling to a supposedly “notorious naxalite” area with anticipation was relieved on reaching the reserve. Kawal TR was invisible to my apprehensive eyes due to black cover of night on forests but with dawn, the glimpse of this relatively new tiger reserve presented a good scene. Our guest house which was located at the beginning of Jannaram mandal, opposite to an Interpretation center amidst a secluded area, presented a rustic plus wilderness charm of its own. A river on left and an ungulate captive breeding center on the right provided an exciting birding and wilderness in the backyard experience. Still I was not that impressed by the tiger reserve! In beginning a baffled I found myself flipping through past report and management plans of the park to get a clue of why this forest is important on a national platform or whether it had significant historical biodiversity riches. It turned out to be a hunting/sporting ground for Nizams of Hyderabad (one of the oldest game reserves) but in newer national wildlife platform, where it stands was ambiguous to me.

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Surveying area for cameratrapping, I realized the tiger reserve was destitute of continuous forest patch and was also not at all devoid of human presence/ encroachment. Developed settlements (with electricity lines, mobile signals), livestock sightings can give an impression of any protected area but tiger reserve? Still not impressed! With big difficulty of figuring out where to start cameratrapping we started the exercise of finding out what this reserve has in store for us. The pugmark of leopard i didn’t find in my survey area but few days later, scat of leopard…excited!! There were occasional sightings of four-horned antelope, nilgai and chital but first ray of hope was sighting of Indian fox in Kadamb range. Though at the back of my head it was always a mystery that why do we sight so less chital, a species so dominant in any other forest of India. Slowly through 2 months of working and moving in forests, the enigma started charming me. The animals are present, but how are they surviving in the close proximity of humans? It was a big challenge as well as adventurous excursion to study biodiversity in an area like Kawal tiger reserve. Interestingly, I started working in Kawal of Andhra Pradesh and left it as Kawal of Telangana. Changing and advancing, I hope future will see it as a stronghold representative of Eastern Ghats. As most of the people know, this protected area of Telangana was declared a tiger reserve for its crucial position of being in southern portion of central Indian landscape and acting a sink for Tadoba tiger reserve population of tigers.

 

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What most of the people in wildlife fraternity does not know is that this reserve serves as a suitable habitat for peninsular wolves (a sighting by one of my colleague proved it for sure). The intermittent water-bodies provides good habitat for migratory as well as resident birds. Saw spot-billed ducks, lesser whistling ducks, Asian openbill, greater painted snipe, woolly necked stork, black headed ibis, little grebe, little winged plover, black winged stint can be seen at one water body itself. By the end of my survey I saw five Jacobin cuckoo on a tree right next to Jannaram road, sadly reminding me that I will miss rains in kawal.

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Wild dog packs can be easily sighted in the reserve and if you are not very careful, their yelping can startle you. Honey badger is another animal which is not well studied and Kawal provides a perfect opportunity to do so. Though sighting this nocturnal animal has never been easy in any of its distribution range. Apart from carnivore (which attracts everyone mostly), Kawal can provide a study station for herpeto-fauna as fan- throated lizard is very commonly seen. The trees are high and of thick girth which clearly implies them to belong to one of the oldest and finest stand of pristine forests. It represents the Eastern Ghats which is quite understudied. For researchers there is loads of opportunity to study wildlife as a baseline checklist of birds, herps, insects and butterflies can be worked upon. Also a more intensive method or maybe a novel method to estimate the less sighted ungulates is needed. The regular monitoring of biodiversity helps to study the dynamic habitat changes that occur in a place and especially a baseline data can be prepared for protected area where relocation of villages are proffered. Tribals are integral part of forests and good for the health of forests in most cases, but in Kawal the cultural singularity of these tribals are quite vague. Their everyday life is a concoction of urban and rural adaptations. Still their festivals and marriages are an unusual pleasant feast to eyes.

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Kawal TR needs more protection to sustain its rich biodiversity. Also the dispersing tiger from Tadoba will move in on their own finding the suitable habitat of Kawal. Inside the boundary, a more systematic survey and cameratrapping will disclose the population of carnivores. If the park is deprived of tiger for long, large preys like gaur, nilgai and sambar would possibly increase in number with no top down control, consequently affecting the habitat retrogressively. A clear demarcation of the boundary, inclusion of more staff, regular training and monitoring will bring the status of not so charismatic reserve to a pristine, unique tiger reserve of Telangana.

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The sightings of fan-throated lizard right near our base camp in Jannaram, nests of Indian silverbill right on the highly motorable bridge, petronia female feeding its chicks, yelping of wild dogs on sensing us, tree branches rustling and banging with eachother up so high for us to detect, nilgai and chowsingha standing still amidst bamboo and trees waiting for us to signal with our camera, leopard and sloth bear moving right behind our settlements when we were not looking, navigating through bush thicket to realize a hidden waterhole hosting variety of birds, porcupine quills, if such joyous encounter and mystery does not intrigue you enough to pay this beautiful place a visit, then what will?

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Pedda Cheruvu Landscape

Among the infinite wonders of a forest trail, sighting a Tiger is most enthralling for me, the Tiger continues to incite curiosity in unimaginably different ways. What I gather from city folks is awe and the fear of Tiger’s might, mostly it evolves around derivatives of the rarest supposed man-eater or the british saheb’s adventure with his gun as written in vivid essays.

But from the very first pugmark we saw in Eturnagaram, to the direct Tiger sightings and the most recent one in NSTR on May 11 2014, my sympathy for the Tiger multiples further. It is a striped charmer just longing for its realm, the realm which we wrongly destruct and vociferously conferred as ours as if an ancestral right.

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Bamboo trail

I have had wonderful experience spending long hours in forest, just checking insects, watching fishes, birds and bees. With all my love for forests I never simply blame an animal for frantic alarm calls or charging at me, I attribute it to their innocent behavior involving serious  attempts to avoid a human conflict. I have been charged by an angry sub-adult Gaur, luckily some huge rocks and boulders separated the angered bull and us, only to follow it against all advise to find it rejoining the herd. It simply thought that we stood in its way, it decided to give a fight then followed it with a flight.

 

Lovely Giant Squirrel Pair

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On another occasion in 2002, we also encountered a pair of full grown Sloth bears, the male charged at us, I was trying a shot with a hotshot camera as we allowed it to come closer, then furious shouts from Imran, me and Linganna sent it back inside deep woods with its mate. We realized it were private moments for bears and our disturbance irritated them.

 

The Tiger that we encountered in Atmakur forests was typically guarding the Sambar kill, as written by many observers it guards its kill with lot of verve and caution. Sampath and I were walking along with two chenchu trackers in evening, the sun shone bright that day. The clarity was good, blue sky with light winds as we paved our way on wild trail.

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Pugmarks of Tiger.                              

The Bamboo bordered in clusters as tall grasses made it a difficult walk. It was our first day in annual estimates of wildlife and it was our first trek, we saw a Peacock and after that it was lull. No sightings whatsoever, we sweated and snaked through heavy jungle counting the pug marks and Sambar signs.

A secluded roar brushed  my ears as we passed a heavy patch, but it was while returning back we heard clear roars of the Tiger, Aaah aahhooh ahhhrr aaaaahooh… it dimmed to again bound back clear. We were in business, the Tiger lay near our track, if not the chenchus we wouldn’t have darted towards the Tiger. We just traced our trail then finally left our trail and ventured towards the calls of the Tiger! DSC_6429

Tiger sighting team

The Chenchu tracker climbed couple of trees like a monkey and searched for the Tiger sighting ahead. He was fancying an early sighting to help us with a direct sighting. His voice was lost, he was now compelled by the Tiger and he searched for the beast like a possessed soul. Our caution was suppressed by excitement and our fear eloped the moment we heard the first roars. DSC_6371

Searching a Tiger from tree              

From the third tree which he climbed he saw the Tiger, angry and restless, and we also saw the tall dry grass vigorously moving, but yet Tiger couldn’t be seen, we  had 3 Cameras, I had a Nikon with 300 mm lens mounted. But the roars that had gone louder and louder, we never thought a second of the cameras.

Suddenly the Tiger showed great courage to come out of the grass in leaps and shouted loud AAAohhhhhhhhhh Aaaahhhhhohhhh in a flash we saw it in front of us, just twenty five meters separated us.. The moment didn’t last very long, though we were all awe stuck..we had our  Tiger in front of us, staring direct and roaring at us…it was great feeling and will continue to be forever. We were out of words! we thoroughly got captivated by the Tiger.

Well again it was just an animal fearing for the kill it earned with great effort, it just wanted us to leave it alone, that’s it and nothing else. The magnificent Tiger wants seclusion, and I was disappointed too that our curiosity had caused it great anger! DSC_6313

A Shama

We had our beautiful moments in this trip, like watching Sailors, Limes and others migrating roughly north and settling down on watered holes. Or the elegant Shama that greeted us as we waited at Rollapenta entrance. Even the stories of Chenchus and Guards..Or the wild lazy wind that brushed my hair and that beautiful morning and endless night at Pangidi Camp.

For me its the Jungle I love, I admire most and I wish remains as it is in lasting peace, for ever and ever and ever…  Text and photos by Asif Siddiqui

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Medini

“Oh Yes! At last I get to go there!” That’s how I felt when I was given the opportunity to take part in the Otter Survey on River Kaveri. Excited and enthusiastic, I packed my gear and started off for Talkad, a place cosily resting in the lap of Mother Kaveri, at-least that’s what I felt, until I really got there. My excitement soon turned to sadness and pity for the river and its animals. Was this the place I was dreaming of?

Taking its birth as a small stream in the sacred Thala Kaveri, River Kaveri, flows through the Western Ghats of Karnataka. Meandering its way through the plains of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu where eight tributaries a few of them from the neighbouring states of Kerala and Pondicherry join it, forming a basin of about 81,155 sq.kms before it sets its feet into the Bay of Bengal. Apart from being a major source of water for many cities including Mysore, Bangalore and Mandya, it also serves as a major habitat for various animals including two species of otters (Smooth-coated and the Small-clawed) and diverse species of fish, amphibians and other aquatic animals and more sadly it serves as drainage for industrial and household sewage and waste for cities and towns along its course.

I had been to Talkad in Karnataka, from the 22nd to the 24th of February 2014 to volunteer in a survey for Otters conducted by wildlife biologist Mr Nisarg Prakash in association with Nature Conservation Foundation. We had to row over the River Kaveri to assess the various anthropogenic stresses that the Otters and other aquatic fauna are facing. We had rowed for three days from Talkad to Medini, Medini to Sathegala and from Srirangapatna to Sangama, over 30 kms of River Kaveri.

 

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 Otter’s Spraint

Poaching

No sooner that the survey started, we reached an island where we discovered three wire snares laid for capturing crocodiles or otters. This was the first sign of stress the humans were causing. Snares are usually put on rivers for two reasons; poaching for skin, and by fishermen to kill the crocodile or otter as they steal the fish from nets. Over the years, as skin trade has been rampant in various parts of India, the number of animals has come down drastically and poachers are shifting for one animal to another to fulfil the greed of humans. Fishermen tend to slay the otters and crocodiles for stealing their catch or when they are accidentally caught in their fishing nets. I had earlier come to know of this issue when I had visited one of the crocodile sanctuaries on River Godavari.

Sand mining

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As we made our way ahead, we found extensive Sand mining practices going on to satisfy the sand hungry concrete jungles like Bangalore and Mysore. We learnt from few workers on the river that they get paid a paltry sum of Rs. 200 for each sand-filled 2 metre diameter circular raft. This, forces them to fill in at-least 4-5 rafts of sand every day. The bank, the islands and the river bed were all not spared. Sand mining was so intense that huge machinery like excavators, cranes and bulldozers were used. It was seen over a 9 km stretch of the river along both the banks and the most disturbing fact was that it was being done legally. Sand mining is one of the leading causes of damage and alternations to the riparian habitats, bed degradation, bed coarsening, bank disruption and lowering of water table. Channel stability in a given river reach occurs from a delicate balance among river flow, channel form, influx of sediment from the watershed and loss of sediment to downstream reaches. River channels transport sediments and water from headwaters to its mouth.

The sediments are built up and maintained by erosion and deposition of sediments during river flows (Hecde, 1986; Whiting, 1998). Sand mining from a relatively confined area triggers erosion of bed and banks, which in turn, increases sediment delivery to the site of original sediment removal.Bed degradation is caused by pit excavation and bar skimming, the two general types of sand mining. It occurs through two primary means: head cutting and “hungry” water effects. Excavation on mining pits in the active channel causes the formation of a ‘nick point’ due to lowering of the bed. This causes increased flow at these points and bed erosion sets in. then the erosion spreads upstream by head cutting (Hartfield 1993; Kondolf 1997). Of the two forms of bed degradation, head cutting is more recognizable in the field and represents greater risk to aquatic resources.

Check Dam

Mini Hydel at Sathegala

As we paddled along, we reached a check dam built for diverting water into micro-irrigation canals. This causes disturbances in the flow of the river and the habitats downstream from the check dam. The construction of check dams is for two reasons; the pooling of water for trapping the alluvial deposits from flowing ahead to help in sand mining, and secondly to help in building micro-irrigation canals for the fields.

Check dams cause trapping of water and sediments upstream thus causing increase in vegetation and lateral displacement of the stream. Downstream, they cause increased erosion as there is increased transport capacity of the water. The channel gets narrower. Damming river flow leads to both a loss of native species and an increase in exotic species which are more likely to become established in degraded habitats. The migratory fish are stopped from travelling upstream. All this leads to isolation of species, thus increasing the susceptibility of disease.

Dynamite fishing

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Following the check dam we went through a part of the river where we had seen a lot of “Dynamite Fishing”. The fishermen actually bomb the river with dynamite to stun and kill fish, which are later collected. This kills the fish which is major diet for the Otters. Sometimes the Otters also can be killed if they are close to the blast. Many fish do not die immediately following the blast. They go into a state of shock and the after effects of the blast take their toll after a day or two. This fish then begins to decompose, thus posing threats to the health of other fish and animals which live by feeding on fish.

Other stressors

Apart from the Sand Mining, Check Dams and Dynamite Fishing, the other anthropogenic stresses the Otters were facing are Fishing, Cattle grazing on islands, Fire set on islands by the fishermen to drive out Otters, setting pumps from the river for irrigating fields, mini-hydel projects, and

Otter signs

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Even as the stressors continued, we were lucky enough to see Otter signs likes like foot prints, spraint (droppings), dens and tail drag marks. These signs were, although not many, encouraging to see that the animals were trying their best to survive or at-least looking for ways to survive.

As we were almost done with our survey with signs of otters but no actual sighting we were given a grand farewell by a pack of five Smooth-coated Otters swimming from one of the islands to the bank of the river. It was an encouraging sight for all of us to see the otters swim across the river ever so elegantly, raising their heads in between to have a breath and look around the surface of the water.

Efforts that can be made to prevent the stressors to Otters and the river:

  • The Sand mining practices that are being practiced need to be monitored. Most times, the length of river where the sand is being mined and the amount of sand being taken are more than the approved limit. Practices like usage of heavy machinery and extensive use of bar skimming can lead to severe damage to the bank and its vegetation and also affect the riverbed and riparian habitat. These can be done in a lesser intensity. Instead of concentrating the whole sand mining in one particular place, multiple smaller places can be identified which do not have much of risks and sand mining can be done there.
  • The dynamite used by fishermen is illegally obtained from nearby stone quarries. Stricter monitoring and auditing of the quantity of dynamite supplied and the amount of dynamite used in the quarries might help in reducing the supply of dynamite to the fishermen, thus preventing Dynamite fishing.
  • Grazing and burning of reeds on islands can be prevented by stricter punishments and enforcement of laws that protect the river and its bio-diversity.
  • Use of illegal fishing techniques like gill nets needs to be stopped and the offenders need to be prosecuted.
  • Hunting of Otters for their pelt is a punishable offence as they are classified in the Schedule II of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. Stricter enforcement of the laws can protect the Otters from being killed.

The experience was an eye-opener for me, as being raised on the banks of River Godavari, I had seen the same stress we humans were causing to the river but never felt it would cause so much of loss to the riverine and riparian habitats. It has really helped me understand in detail about the threats the Otters and other aquatic animals are facing and encouraged me to work for their conservation in a more serious way and try helping them survive.

the more ‘otter it is, the more ‘otter otters likes it- Brian Jacques

Text and exclusive photos by Ashvij Putta

JOINING THE WILD BETWEEN TELANGANA AND MAHASHTRA

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Corridor Map – Kawal Tiger Reserve

In the context of wildlife conservation, the term corridor means a connection or link between two potential clinches, monopoly and a grip of wildlife population or habitats.
According to Walker and Craighead, corridors are defined as avenues along which wide range of animals cane move, plants can proliferate and genetic interchange can occur. Threatened species can be refilled from other area; animals can disperse in response to environmental changes and natural disasters. Thus corridors have an immense significance in landscape ecology.
The other important aspects of corridors are the passage of rivers at the state border, harmony in the cultural activities and social life of different tribes which gives the notion about our ancestors and different cultures promulgation from borders and within the states.
In general corridors connect two source populations of wild animals or two core habitat patches. There are two different types of corridors:
1. Continuous Corridors
2. Stepping Stone Corridors

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Corridor surveying in Sirpur range

Continuous corridor is an undisturbed habitat from where animals can move with minimum conflicts and in stepping stone the habitat will have excessive developmental pressures where the animal have to tolerate with threats, conflicts and movement.

BLOCKAGES
The major obstacle for any corridor in India is the linear infrastructure like railway track and roads. For example the railway tracks of Bellampalli and Mancherial, Chandrapur and Ballershah have blocked the movement of wild animals and created a lot of human occupations. The other serious threat is from the mining activities by Singareni colleries. For example in Asifabad range at certain important habitat the Singareni Colleries have drilled the forest land for testing the presence of coal. The other unavoidable threat is encroachment. The encroachments are taking place at uncontrollable rate and in one such instance, Itkeyal pahad a local village in Sirpur range where the locals have cleared at least 2 compartments of the forest beat, they were supposed to be from Ada village. Two decades ago due to Ada project in Asifabad range, villagers were relocated but they weren’t given any compensatory land for shelter. So most of them had migrated and cleared vast forest landscape. Poaching and smuggling incidents are regular obstacles in unprotected areas.
When a carnivore moves in the corridor forest more often attack on cattle’s. That will cause the governmental bodies to spend huge amounts of fund to the cattle owners to avoid retaliatory killing of the predators.

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A perennial Water body in Bejjur reserve forest.

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Road survey in Bejjur reserve forest.

The concept of corridors came up with the idea of conserving at a landscape level, targeting the Meta population conservation of charismatic species. Small isolated population of wild animals is prone to the local extinction and long term genetic viability is threatened. Therefore connectivity between two habitats and source population is necessary.
Corridors of Telanagana and Maharashtra

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Garlapet reserve forest view from Keri-Meri ghat.

There are four important blocks in Maharashtra which are linked with Telangana forest.
1. Garlapet reserve forest
2. Allapalli reserve forest
3. Sironcha reserve forest
4. Rajura reserve forest
Garlapet reserve forest is present in both Maharashtra and Telangana. Asifabad range and Sirpur ranges are part of Garlapet Reserve Forest and have tremendous potential for the movement of wild animals. The main threat for the forest is from the Sirpur Paper Industry which requires huge extracts of bamboo that are expurgated in bulk quantities and also illegal mining activities. Due to this most areas in Garlapet block can be considered as stepping stone corridors. The main herbivores present in this landscape are Sambar deer, Spotted Deer, Four-horned Antelope and Nilgai. There are always reports of tiger in Garlapet reserve forest block. A part of Asifabad range is in association with the Rajura reserve forest. The main rivers that flow from this block are Wardha and Pedddavagu that unifies in river Pranahitha.

Bejjur reserve forest and Girevali reserve forest blocks which are separated by river Pranahitha are in undulation with the Allapalli reserve forest. Here the forest consists of teak and mixed miscellaneous plant species. The ungulates which are present here are Wild pigs, four horned antelope, spotted deer and nilgai. There were sporadic reports of Tiger and Leopard. Sloth bear is a common inhabitant in these forest blocks.

Both the blocks are separated by river Pranahitha.
Chennor reserve forest block is connected with the Sironcha reserve forest. The landscape main trees are Terminalia, Chloroxylon, Hardwickia species etc. River Pranahitha flows between these two blocks. There are no Sāmbhar deer reported or sighted in this habitat, nilgai population is also less, only wild pig and spotted deer populations are present. Chennor reserve forest can be categorized under stepping stone corridors again.

GOING AHEAD

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View from Bejjur reserve forest towards Allapalli reserve forest.

There should be national level guidelines with state specific suggestion to secure the wildlife corridors. It is not practicable to declare the corridor forest as protect areas, however it is possible to prepare corridor management plan and incorporate specific management measures. The plans should follow simple principles of reducing the threats and engaging stakeholders for securing corridors on long term basis. If the remaining wildlife corridors in India can be secured, it would be a powerful contribution to wildlife conservation in recent times.

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A Place as beautiful as its name! 

On 21st February, our HyTiCoS (Hyderabad Tiger Conservation Society) team (Venkat, Bharath and Swetha) visited Malani as a part of our corridor survey. Malani, is a small place in Sirpur range, Kagaznagar division. It comprises of two villages Chenna Malini and Pedda Malini and the forest around them. The word Malani means someone who loves tending to nature. Malani is a very beautiful place with hills covered with forests dominated by Bamboo and large patches of dry deciduous trees. These hills fall on the borders of Telangana and Maharashtra. As they are a part of the Deccan plateau, it has black rocks with rich black soil. The yellow dried bamboo leaves with the dark black of the rocks, makes the landscape a unique one.

After our work in the two villages was done, we climbed the Malani hills. HyTiCoS has been studying the movement of tigers in these areas for the last few months. We placed camera traps on one of the Malani hills and were able to confirm the presence of a tiger in that location (through the picture that was captured by the camera trap). We started climbing the hills late in the morning when the sun was almost high up in the sky. This made the trek up the hill sweaty and a little tiresome. Once we reached the top we were so consumed by the beauty of the hills and the dried grasslands that we forgot all about our fatigue.

We copied the images from the camera traps and continued to explore the forest around. Bharat mentioned that the camera trap images also revealed the presence of a Leopard and Wild boars in that area. As the pictures of the leopard and the tiger were just a few days old, we knew that they were somewhere around us, watching us. It was a great feel to know that we were sharing this forest with these big cats.

As we continued trekking, we saw the hoof marks and pellets of Sambar, Four-horned Antelope, Spotted Deer. Some of the hoof marks of the Sambar deer appeared to be fresh, which indicated that the Sambar deer might have run hearing our footsteps.

We then, went down the hill into a plain field. This place was covered by hills all around and had an abandoned village (Metandhani) with over grown fields. We saw that there were a group of men sitting in one of the broken and abandoned huts. Their presence and the way they were staring at us made us uncomfortable. They did not seem like villagers and as usual your mind jumps to the worst scenario. We thought they could be illegal teak smugglers as this was a known area for teak smuggling. It was a very secluded place with no cell reception and the shortest distance we had to run to get help was not less than 4 kms. The forest guard who was accompanying us went to enquire and to our relief it was the Maharashtra Forest Department. They were a group of 12 men who were camping to keep a check on the smuggling activity. We had almost crossed the border of Telangana and entered Maharashtra. As we made our introductions and explained to them about the tiger movement, they confessed to us that they were also a bit worried to see us and breathed a sigh of relief to know that we were along with the Forest department.  They offered to make us some herbal tea while we went to see a stream nearby.

At the stream, there was a pleasant chill and it felt very refreshing. The stream was covered with bamboo which provided sufficient shade to ensure that the water did not dry up. It was a perfect habitat to find frogs. We saw a few species of Zackirana, Paddy field frog (Limnonectes) and a few unidientified frogs. We also saw a good diversity in Fish (Pisces).

We went back to enjoy the tea and the peace of this isolated place. We had quite an adventure for the day and decided it was time for us to head back into our State. 

Note to myself- rem to add pics of-

We have also taken photographs of forest calotes, unidentified lizard and common skink.

 

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.
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