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?