Monday, May 10, 2010

Outnumbered - Noradehi Wildlife

Nauradehi Wilderness

In spite of being one of the largest wildlife sanctuary in India the preserve has no respite. Naurdehi is spread over an area of 1197 sq km. The forest types are Southern Tropical Dry Deciduous  Mix with average rainfall of 1200mm. This unique eco region in India is home to less seen species (now endangered)  like Indian Wolf, Nilgai and Chinkara or Indian Gazelle. Indian mugger or marsh crocodile inhabits Bamner and Byarma River systems. Smooth Indian Otter is reported and so is the Spotted Creeper (bird). Other animals that inhabit this sanctuary are spotted deer, sambar, sloth bear, barking deer, jackal, fox, wild boar, langur, rhesus macaque and perhaps hyena and wild dog. Night safaris can confirm existence of other small mammals and reptiles. Unfortunately human populace far outnumbers the wildlife here.

The bird life is interesting and one gets chance to spot interesting birds of forest and wetland ecosystem at one destination. The Chivla Lake is interesting spot for wetland birds and is surrounded by forests all around. This could be the main birding spot here. I have visited few more lakes or water bodies in the park which I am sure would be harboring many migrants in winters. The water retention capacity of the ecosystem is  high with large water bodies and rivers filled up during extreme heat in summers.  The rivers and water bodies are not only life line of the preserve and its inhabitant the villages depend upon them too. The Mohli Lake is completely surrounded by the village and does not support wildlife.  

"The sanctuary sets an ideal  example of how intact ecosystems benefit all life forms."              

What could have been one of the best tiger heavens in India, Noradehi lies neglected and exploited... entirely at the mercy of the humans. The tiger is not seen anymore and the status of the leopard is unknown. Noradehi encompasses three districts of Madhya Pradesh - Sagar, Damoh and Narsinghpur. It can be best approached from Jabalpur at a distance of eighty six km. The topography is more or less even with minor variation in flora and fauna at places. No systemic survey has been carried in case of avian species. The statistics of mammalian numbers and species present are not available. 

Visiting lesser known wildlife heavens offers greater insight into the state of forested habitats in Central India and  the problems that they face.

Like all ecosystems Noradehi faces a similar problem -  unchecked Human Habitation. There are more than sixty villages in the sanctuary with varying population. The bigger villages like Mohli are fast expanding and getting urbanized.  This village with population or more than two thousand is located right next to Chevla Lake which is inhabited by major mammals and birds. 

Of the sixty or more villages none have been relocated outside the sanctuary though the proposal is on paper since a number of years. Some of the villages are notorious for smuggling precious wood and poaching wild animals of the preserve. The staff is helplessly out numbered, under stress and fear, and exasperated. The matter is made worse by the ineffectiveness of the legal system. 

As per reports most of the wood smugglers and poachers operate  with impunity. The fear of punitive measure is not there. For some villages, wildlife crime has become a regular activity. Due to fear of violence and  at times political interference, the lower staff prefers to avoid any cudgels rather then face the repercussions. Nevertheless I have found them to be sincere in their task.     

The villages depend upon wood from the forest and grazing ground for their live stock The movement in the sanctuary is unchecked though efforts are made to prevent intrusion in the core areas. Most of the movement is as a right of the way from one village to another. Jabalpur - Sagar highway is frequented throughout the day and night by  vehicles.       

Nauradehi at best can be defined as a fragmented habitat under serious ecological stress and human intrusion. The wildlife survives because of some inviolate areas - out of reach perhaps.  The  big cats are rare of extinct while keystone specie is Indian Wolf. The exact population of wolves in Nauradehi is not known, though the sightings are said to be frequent..

The management is active in creating support base. Wildlife monitoring camps have been set up with regular patrolling. Water retention capacity of water bodies is being increased. Fire control measures are in place. The management is understaffed and resources are limited as the sanctuary does not enjoy the same privilege as tiger reserves of Madhya Pradesh.

The biggest problem that the sanctuary faces is large human population and live stock. Poaching and wood smuggling is there but the extent is not known. Intrusion for minor forest produce and fire wood is also a problem albeit the latter is more serious. The canopy is reduced at many places which adds to habitat degradation. There appears to be no re-plantation program.    

Tourism at Noradehi     

Nuaradehi has great potential for bird watching tourism especially for species like  spotted creeper, endangered vultures, sarus cranes,  storks and raptors - many more to be check listed  It is a good place for wildlife watching in order  to see Indian  Wolf, Nilgai, Fox and Chinkara. Tourism is limited to Chevala Lake and surrounding forest trails in the Mohli Range. The preserve could be a good trekking country as well.  For naturalist and birders this is a journey of discovery.

Due to poor infrastructure, tourism is limited to few picnickers every year. Most of the tourists are locally from Jabalpur town and Sagar nearby. There  is no wildlife interpretation center and the foresters guide the tourists around. The accommodation is basic in two rest houses which require prior reservation.       
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