Occupancy Survey Training Workshop was held at Atmakur (Kurnool) 16-18 of Oct ’15.
HyTiCos along with WCS and Andhra Pradesh Forest department held the workshop in NSTR Forest for first two days and the final session at YSR Smriti Vanam.
Training session was held for volunteers and forest staff. Compass, map reading, field tracking and gps use were highlight of the training sessions.
Imran addressing forest staff at YSR Smriti vanam
Forest staff and volunteers attending session
Curious Ants looking at me!
Photos by Asif Siddiqui
A first time hyticos volunteering experience by Padmaja:
My first field course, packed the stuff and set out for travelling. I spent 3 days travelling around NSTR visiting Peddacheruvu with Hyticos team.
Friday 16th October
We arrived at Atmakur at about 5am and then by walk to forest guest house. By 7am had breakfast and head out on my first drive. We reached to Peddacheruvu base camp which was our luxury suite.
“On my way I was extremely lucky to see a Dhole and Spotted Deers as my first sighting.”
We were joined by a team from WCS who were conservationist and scientist who on our first day began by explaining technicalities and protocols of occupancy survey. Later that afternoon we walked on trail to spot foot prints of tigers and herbivores.
It was an interesting experience for a volunteer.
Saturday 17th October
Another day with big hopes! The teams were divided into 4 different groups to do survey at different locations. We came upon a small lake, sighted the first foot prints of tiger and leopard also heard songs of Babblers and Black headed Golden Oriole. The other team was able to see the photos of tiger taken by camera trap.
That evening we were also able to see the fresh kill by the leopard hidden inside the bush. This was the highlight for me, although another group had spotted Sloth Bear. I have yet to see tigers and sloth bear in NSTR.
“I was lucky to get a unique insight into an early stage of volunteering.”
We left having improved our focus on techniques from the sessions and with a lot of food for thought.
Sunday 18th October
Early the next morning we discovered how close we were to the wildlife last night. We left to Atmakur and participated in the conference held by Hyticos collaborated with WCS along with Forest Dept. The conference was quite affluent and the support given to Hyticos for further functioning is valuable. On the way back to Atmakur we then settled down for our last evening in NSTR.
Folks,I could say having done something with purpose and dedicating myself to it gives great happiness! You also learn to understand nature and how everything interacts and impact on each other. I would recommend people to volunteer for Hyticos, knowing that they have contributed to preserving and conservation of nature. Will keep encouraging people to take on the adventure and to give their life a new meaning.
The surreal feel of Tiger prowling around especially while walking on trails is remarkable. Nothing else instils the kind of respect and fear as a Tiger does, it takes the game to next level.
Came in the confirmed news of a Tiger in Kawal Tiger reserve, this was in second week of September 2015, Sambar and Gaur were killed in forest in the preceding weeks itself hinting the Tiger.
It may be one of the many that embark and prowl in corridor.
This particular Tiger that I tried tracking in past three days restricted itself to heavy cover near hills of Kawal Tiger Reserve. Walking the trails reminds me of the former years and the treks in Tiger census along with Imran, once during annual estimations of the year 2001, twelve Tigers were recorded at Kawal.
In my first morning trip with DFO to the Tiger trail, the four wheel drive Jeep got stuck in the wet sand of the flowing stream. The water makes the sand loose and more the driver raced – further the Jeep dug itself. We had to get down and put large stones under the both front tyres that gave us luck.
The forest looks beautiful amidst the rain filled streams, the unremitting sound of water flowing and battering the small turns and drops make consistent soothing sound. We took off shoes for a stream and rambled deeper winding paths through the forest – but that day we had no luck. Wild Dogs seem to rule here as they rejoice in packs, their tracks in sand unfolds their story.
On the way back we requested the DFO and he obliged to speak to villagers, they were told to claim cattle kill compensations and avoid harming the Tiger, Yellam also spoke along with the DFO and I yearn that the twenty odd that gathered heed and won’t eliminate this Tiger.
In subsequent days we tried using motorcycles to crisscross the streams and venture as much as possible; we put lot of camera traps all along the way. At my count we did cross six streams before we could walk. At one point half of the bike sunk in sand, the wheel spinning but to no avail, we were stuck!!
One fine morning we trekked to lorry bata, which literally means ‘truck’s way’. This way is on top of the hills at 500 meter height like a highway on a plateau, it was used earlier to bring the bamboo from interior forest by the sirpur mills.
On the plateau a familiar lone Hyena’s trail were seen. Gaur signs show they are in good number here. We lay another two infra-red cameras here. On our teams descend back into the valley, we found lot of flower bloom, yellow & orange hues dominating among them.
While I write this piece I am hopeful Tiger walks into one of our Camera traps, this will be first Tiger photo in core of Kawal, although many have been captured by our hyticos team lead by Amar in corridor already.
The Tiger’s appearance in not a great amusement, but it is a sign that habitat is still clinging to its last strings, the corridors have the last remaining connectivity, hence their protection and restoration is very vital, the future of this Tiger and many more that wait to inhabit Kawal lies in relocation of few villages and establishing a safe human free zones for them – there is lot of ground work being done in this direction and we hope that it materializes.
My hoary feeling again pricks my mind – what tussle we as individuals and our forest staff are ready to put in to surely save these Tigers?
“Yet, amid the rain filled streams of the misty Kawal forests a Tiger is making its moves”, what can be better than this? For us the Tiger is right now burning bright!
(Special mention of my team during the trip includes Yellam, Shankar, Vamshi, Shankariah and other supporting trackers).
by Asif Siddiqui
“It was still june as Sampath, Moin, Sarada and me from hyticos laden the car for a day long birding trip“.
The weather was cool and pleasant, with slight dampness from showers the previous day, this created the perfect ambience for a bird watching trip. At dawn we started our journey towards Medak to Pocharam Wildlife Sanctuary, located around 120kms from Hyderabad. The Sanctuary encompasses around 130 sqkms comprising of a beautiful lake and a deer breeding centre.
As we drove through the villages, the sun broke out with its first rays accompanied by a slight drizzle. Once the showers resided we started looking out for birds, and managed to catch a few around the fields, coucals, bee eaters, drones, shrikes, pied cuckoo and egrets to start with. And of course, our beloved black shoulder kite was
perched unassumingly on an electric pole.
As we drove down staring into the sunrise was a lone spotted owlet hanging out by a tree, we immediately stopped to get a closer look. Instinctively, the bird flew into a palm tree which to our surprise had a series of tree hole nests. And there we found our bird curiously peeping out of one of them.
On reaching the park we stopped by the forest department office to inform them about our arrival. We got talking to the trackers and were a little disappointed to see that the watchers had very little knowledge of what wildlife was found beyond the boundaries of the breeding centre. We were then escorted into the park by one of the watchers.
On entering the park, we were welcomed by a herd of Chital grazing under the tree cover. It was a pleasure to see those tiny chital fawns in some groups. Interestingly we found one chital stag rutting onto a tree trunk, although we are quite familiar with this behaviour it was a rare sighting.
The surrounding forest was a mix of dry deciduous patches with a few random rough patches of scrub and grass. It was lush green due to the damp weather, the man made saucer pits were filled and an occasional chital jumping across into the bushes from near the water holes.
It glided past smooth and agile, before coming to rest in the bushes right in our view, blissfully unaware of our presence. The monitor lizard was almost four feet long and beautiful and to our delight stayed still on the ground as though posing for our pictures. He seemed to be resting peacefully in the shade probably tired from all the scourging at night. We clicked a few pictures and decided to leave him alone. Just as we turned, we caught a four pairs of eyes staring up at us from the bushes. A group of wild boar hiding and sitting quietly, understanding that we were alerted of their presence some of them started moving around and we saw that there had been more than four sitting in the bushes. Now, riding down the road we spotted a herd of shaggy Sambar deer grazing under the canopy, although they were alerted by us they did not seem to be afraid and allowed us to linger and click a few pictures.
After getting out of the park, we drove further to the lake and walked across a small bridge. While walking we noticed a few male Baya weaver birds building their nests and females observing from the same tree. The nests were beautifully woven and one of them was in the process of construction. On reaching the small dam construction, we sat down to officially start our birding exercise, binoculars and camera in hand.
Female Sambar deer at a water source.
A glamours peacock dances around courting several females early in the morning.
Several species of birds were observed, species of egrets, purple and greyherons, kingfishers- common blue, white throated and pied. We also observed pochard, stints, magpie robin, pied cuckoo, lapwings, white breasted water hen, and pied wagtail. Few of the birds seen were my first sightings, such as Jacana, Cotton pygmy goose. Soaring in the skies above were five spotted eagles another first for us. We spent the next two hours bird watching and we rested looking at the crowd of swallows and swifts fluttering above our heads and the beautiful river terns gliding across the water, occasionally diving down to catch a fish.
(photos by Sarada and Sampath).
“A Gaur was unusually found, tranquilized and captured in remote reserve forest of Nizamabad on 13th June 2015, it was loaded in container and was motored straight to Kawal Tiger Reserve for release”.
Our team was returning back to Hyderabad from Kawal Tiger Reserve concluding our trip, we stopped the Bolero at a tea joint near Kadam. Imran got busy with a call with forest staff that a Gaur is reaching Kawal with veterinary doc and team. We soon decided to go back to Kawal to be part of this episode.
There was an excitement all around, the night was long for the team and wait went unto wee hours of the 14th June morning, at least 40 persons reached the spot most of them from forest department.
On the way we met G Ravinder the in charge DFO and I spent some time with him as we discussed the release. Imran later joined him and went to Kadam as well for getting along the truck carrying the game.
Vamshi, Amar, Yellam, Shankar, Tirupathi all were excited throughout the night and we all reached the chosen spot Kalpakunta for the release.
Instead of detailing the entire episode I put the shots in sequence.
For me it was a nervy situation as the Gaur charged towards us and just passed by me as I was in corner, earlier I had decided to hide in bamboo on bund to capture the release shots. But to an advise I just got down to the open land where our fellow hyticos members Vamshi, Tirupathi, Yellam were standing, on the release within 2 seconds the Gaur ran and reached us! I just got less than quarter of sec to get out of its way, it was that close! It sneezed as it ran passed me.
But I held my nerve and took his last shot from hind, in a breather it was lost in wilderness!
text and photos by Asif Siddiqui
Our jeep just passed a sheer with shrubs bordering the way, a surprise shower greeted us out of nowhere and before we could rumple, we reached Chenchu children playing with a Sambar deer under a big tree. It was last week of April and our camping amid dense forest of Amrabad Tiger Reserve had just started.
“The Behrapur forest base camp was hundred step away from a Chenchu hamlet of fifteen huts, it lay next to an old temple ruin bordering a white lotus filled lake, Here time cavorted still, the worries departed and we felt belittle under the creation of vast expanse of skies and of course the incredible jungle that has wilderness of all sizes, hues and clamor.”
Although we went for volunteering for the annual wildlife estimations, we were late as the process was almost nearing the end, we had notable interactions with field staff in Behrapur, and couple of them had walked since morning till early evening, concluding their two day estimation work elsewhere in another remote location. One looked tired and couldn’t speak much, as I kept pondering he could have walked in evening instead the noon. The prospect of facing Bears in evening was more terrifying than the walk in sun one of them said.
To each his own but for me to comprehend a forest in its pristine prime is always a charm.
Those valleys, hills and gorges hold beauty of immense value, the breeze just gusting at will and spilled the lakes tranquil, the deer visit the lake in petty to large herds, and all along an occasional hawk cuckoo’s call brrrrn fvvvvvvr… brrnfvvvvvvvr.. kept coming not just in the day but even pierced the moonlit nights.
We cooked all our meals, maggie, tea, we also went trails all mornings and evenings. Some also found time to swim in the lake next to the temple ruins. Our lake was frequented by a herd of fifty spotted deer our first dawn, one laborer lady carrying out the kuccha road work saw Tiger at the lake couple of days prior to our visit, she then ran back to the camp in panic.
The raptors including a solo Black eagle kept flying across all day long, as we sat near our base camp which lay under the ficus tree. Green imperial pigeons swelled in bushes and hogs kept exploring the forest floor. A Fish eagle also visited and other raptors including buzzards were always at sky.
We explored the forest with Chenchu trackers, the forest just went on and on with deep gorges and ravines that finally slit the land, and in those deep valleys at distance lay the huge streams that fill the mighty Krishna River. The camp’s dog kept catching up our stroll in spite of valiant efforts by Chittia to drive it back.
To write about such trips can be endless with no words that can do justice.
On the final day I spent some time with Chenchu men near their hamlet, they had interesting views, woes and ideas. Unravelling the Chenchu life amid the influence of wilderness holds answers for prospect of these forests and Tigers.
(We volunteered this year at Eturnagram and Amrabad Tiger Reserve. I should thank the Chenchu trackers Chittia and Bala without them we couldn’t have explored as much. It is not just easy to plan such trips along its trainings, permissions, logistics and participation. I take a moment to thank all volunteers, supporters (Special mention of Kareem), forest department for all the help)
Impressive number of deer and a Tiger’s roar; Birds always busy with their daily chores.
Lines and Photos by Asif Siddiqui
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).
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.
Strong-smelling and unpalatable Hyptis suaveolens has taken over the flat areas
vital for the chital
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.
Butea superba stifling a tree
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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!
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
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
The Gutti koyas are migrating to Andhra Pradesh as a result of the atrocities they are facing in Chattisghar due to the Salwa Judam.
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.
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.
(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.
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.
Swetha along with the Murias
Links for news reports-
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.
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.
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.