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).

Map

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.