Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bandhavgarh Villages

Since time immemorial humans have been settling in forest tracts of Central India. Consequently large contiguous tract of forests have been cleared for agriculture and settlement. Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in Vindhya Range was once part of Central Indian Highlands connected with the Maikal Hills of Satpura Range. This is the meeting point of two ranges at Amarkantak Hills.   

With the sharp decline in forested area and destruction of grassland habitats. Due to reducing habitats major species inhabiting these pristine ecosystem began to decline sharply. One such example is the Swamp Deer or Barasingha whose population has declined sharply all over India. The animal is not found anymore in most of its historical range.   

The gaur and the tiger have suffered a similar fate along with many other life forms. The expanding human population have ruthlessly usurped the homes of less fortunate living forms. The initiation of protected areas was to preserve the last remaining shreds of the forests in Central India. The policy much welcomes by nature lovers and the only recourse did not find approval with the locals. 

The protected area concept created core zones and made them inviolable for humans. This was an exercise to provide beleaguered wildlife and nature a living space undisturbed by human interference and resource utilization. This was a timely step and there augured a remarkable recovery in the protected space. 

A substantial number of settlements were relocated but many remained. The presence of large number of human population with livestock and poor agricultural practice has emerged as an insurmountable problem in time to come.    

The man animal conflict:

With constant growth in human population in the villages in the buffer the conflict began to increase. The animals depending upon the periphery of the core zone found the settlements as stumbling blocks. The livestock population and land clearance for agriculture brought about a severe competition between the wild denizens and people. The ingress upon agriculture fields which were once natural grasslands and livestock lifting by big cats initiated revenge killing and encouraged poaching. The inherent corruption in the system makes compensation for livestock kill ineffective. Not every inhabitant labels tiger and others as evil, many worship them.

In absence of proper implantation of  relocation schemes the problem remains in its destructive form. This is further compounded by political interference and administrative lethargy. The constant takeover natural lands augurs severe biotic pressure in the periphery. The dependance of livestock upon forest vitiate the problem further as it invites illegal ingress into the protected area.      

There needs a paradigm shift in conceptualizing the buffer which should now accommodate spill over population if the tiger has to be saved. This calls for urgent relocation of populations with the National Park.

The poor infrastructure, inferior health care facility, poor education and lack of irrigation facilities will continue to hamper the quality of living of populations well below the poverty line. The dependance on minor forest produce does not yield enough and in turn exerts biotic pressure on the ecosystem. The tourism at Bandhavgarh has provided livelihood to the locals but more needs to be done. Proper relocation is the answer that will deliver the beleaguered population in the core and the buffer.    

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The Last Wilderness


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Cheetah Relocation in India

Since the announcement of relocation of Cheetah in India there has been lot of expectancy amongst the crusaders of the wild. The recent news confirms that the exercise is intent to be carried out. The TOI mentions relocation of thirteen Cheetahs from Namibia in West Africa.

The paper cites relocation site as Palpur Kuno in MP and does not mention Noradehi WLS.   The formalities still required to be fulfilled permission from Director General Foreign Trade and clearance from CITES. This animal had become extinct in India  and no stray animal had ever been seen in  the wild since 1947. 

The government of Madhya Pradesh will import 20 animals from Namibia. Palpur Kuno was originally slated to harbor Asiatic Lion from Gujarat but the project is in doldrums as Gujarat Government is unwilling to cooperate.

Palpur Kuno has an area of 344 sq km and has been found as suitable for Cheetah as habitat. It would be interesting to see how the project goes since the exotic cat has to settle down and breed if the project has to succeed.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Panther on loose

The poor animal succumbed to stress and injuries sustained from the cage. It was not the leopard that was intended to be caged, the animal a vanishing hyena was the victim of this fallacy.

The jungles of Dumna were once pristine wildlife habitats with ample wild and bird species. These badly fragmented reserve forests are under constant pressure from development lobby. A forest belt containing a large reservoir has been brought under the umbrella of protected area about 500 hectare. It is known as Dumna Nature Reserve and is excellent place to watch wintering birds like Gray Lag Geese, Eurasian Wigeon, Lesser Whistling Teal, Northern Pintail, Tufted Duck, Red Crested Pochard, Common Pochard, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall and Ruddy Shelduck.  The rest of the forests are entirely dependent upon the man. The airport is situated in this area and a IIIT institute has been set recently. The MPT is planning to bring up a five star hotel here and some defense establishment are in offing.

The leopard has been sighted in this region for decades and finds sanctuary in cordoned and protected nearby. The prey base is reasonably good but depleting thanks to reducing forest cover.  I had seen a leopard with three cubs few year back at Imzhar Ghati some distance away though two of her cubs were killed one survived perhaps.  

The big cat at Dumna Road is often seen by motorists in the evening times. Recently the leopard is being seen as a menace an animal that has been living here for ages. This is a fine example of habitat takeover by humans and then labeling the animal as vermin. The presence has all a sudden become a threat thanks to greater traffic and hence higher visibility. These animals are no longer ignored by the intruding humans albeit no man eating or killing case has occurred. 

There are reports of cubs being present hence of the female is relocated or sent to the zoo the cubs may not survive. Ill conceived ill planned  exercise results from paranoia once people feel insecure in wildlife habitats. These trends augur further depletion of big cat population in India.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Strange Tiger Encounter

In spite of their endangered status tigers pop out from anywhere, I mean any forest. Unlike panthers they do not pop out in the cities albeit some cases have taken place near Dudhwa National Park

I used to visit a village for some purpose near my home town Jabalpur. On the way to the village there is a steep climb or ghat as we call in Hindi. There is a left turn off the Kundam Shahpura Highway that reaches Baghraji. From the main road after few km of drive in the plain you reach the ghat which twists and turns upwards on the rise. As you make a descent you reach Kundwara which has a quaint little rest house and is a favorite picnic place for nature lovers and families from Jabalpur.    

I used to visit this village called Baghraji (Tiger place) often crossing through the good patch of forest on the way. One day while returning back from the village we reached the ghat around 7 pm. It was a busy day since the weekly bazaar was at full swing. I would often come across spotted deers in this patch of Kundwara forest range, but I was sure due to regular movement of villagers I wont see them today.

We began to climb up on my open jeep, me and my salesman beside. At a point on the rising hill there is a sharp S turn and you can see what lies far ahead but no immediately ahead. It was here that my salesman pointed out some animal in dim light.

"It certainly does not look like a spotted deer", I said. "Well lets see", I continued to drive. We were about to reach the spot when I saw one animal climb down the mountain slope and vanish. The other one moved up hill and we could see it climbing slowly as we reached the spot. 

I turned the jeep and threw the head light upon him. I sat stunned for a moment and then in shaky voice whispered, "Its a tiger".    

It was a tiger in fact two of them, the other one a female was sitting down on the slope of the hills perhaps very close to me. I could see the male tiger climbing uphill about ten feet from me. He was hesitant to climb since the female was down there. I had a good look at him before he vanished into the dense canopy.

Not used to big cats my salesman sat petrified frozen to death. I straightened the vehicle and drove off, I could have peeked down the slope but did not. The tigress could have been too close for comfort...her comfort. These animals charge at you in defense if you venture to close.  

We heaved a sigh of relief especially my companion as we reached the main highway. For me it was exciting and encouraging to see tigers outside the protected areas. For my salesman it was a sacred moment as he had come across the vehicle of the Goddess. How ironical, people would kill these magnificent creatures in spite of the such regards.

I heard the mating cries a couple of days later whence I stayed overnight at Kundwara Rest House. This was around three am. The male was scene regularly by the forest ranger near the nursery tank where it came to quench its thirst. The female was never seen...probably breeding in some secluded patch of forest. 

After a year nothing was heard about tigers in Kundwara Forest Range as I did not happen to go there. But certainly the animals might have moved far across the long corridor.  There cubs may be surviving now hope they are for a few tigers more. This patch of forest perhaps connects to Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve in MP. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Luxury Resorts New Trendsetters in Tiger Reserves

From basic amenities in the sixties and seventies the accommodation business has come a long way in the tiger reserves. The rest house still remain but accommodation official visitors, politicians and VIP guests. As tourism  increased the need for accommodation became necessary in parks like Kanha, Pench and Bandhavgarh. 

In eighties people familiar with jungle life established resorts with basic amenities. Since modern commodities had to be fetched from far of towns the offerings where simple. Tourists came in small numbers and accepted whatever the resorts offered as there was no other option. These resorts did brisk business whence tourist numbers increased.

By nineties there was a bull rush for setting up of hotels and resorts in these parks and elsewhere. The awareness generated by various films made on tigers and other wildlife increased the number of visitors to the park. With better tourism infrastructure coming into the picture the number of visitors wishing to stay in luxury also increased. The demand for luxury and 3 star accommodation has increased in the preserves.

A large number of 3 star resorts hotels well equipped for tourism has sprung up in recent times. Besides accommodations and organizing tiger safari the plush resorts offer spa facilities and even Ayurveda massage. But what is desired more is a company of naturalist guide, well stocked library, wildlife interpretation center, hides for bird watching etc. Big concerns like Taj Hotels have established resorts in Central Indian Parks. Club Mahindra Holidays are also planning to establish property at Kanha National Park.      

Comforts. clean hygienic food, ample luxuries are what these luxury resort hotels offer to the tourists. Kanha Pench and Bandhavgarh are full of such accommodations that offer 3 star facilities. Of late competition has forced many properties to be sold or wind up.           

There should be norms or rules set up for establishing properties in the buffer zones. Some laws have been enacted which will restrict construction near the parks. 

Useful forest trees

For tribal communities the jungle means more that tigers and leopards. In time of duress they had survived on offerings of the forests. Pushed into deep recess of the forest by invading civilization they lived for long with the womb of the jungles. With a benevolent governance things began to change but then massive destruction of the forest lands left nothing for the forest dwellers.  

Any way time had come for them to join the mainstream. But with very little understanding of the modern world and little education they are trapped in the quagmire of an overpowering civilization. Likewise the wild denizens are in a greater stress due to terribly reduced habitat. The man animal conflict have pushed many species to the brink of extinction. 

The tribal communities still survive on minor forest produce like Mahua, Chironzi, Ber, Amla, Palas and many shrubs that are used as medicine. These produce are in short supplies and their saleability is going down. Mahua fruits in obtained from the Mahua tree which grows well in the jungles. The  fruits are used to  make butter and liquor the latter from dried fruits. The tree has many medicinal properties as well. 

Similarly the Char tree yields a very tasty fruit and the seed is used to garnish condiments. The tree grows well in the Central Indian forests. Amla or Gooseberry tree is the boon of the forests as the fruit is rich in vitamin C and consumed by vast population in India. Ber is a popular fruit eaten all over India. The tree is a medium sized shrub that grows few feet above the ground. Palas tree yields a yellow orange dye that is used in coloring and in the Holi festival. The Palas Bark exudes a resinous substance called Lac in Hindi. It is used for sealing envelops and other packaging.  

The powdered bark of Arjun tree found near streams and nullahs is used as a blood pressure medicine. Similary many forest trees yield edible fruits like Bel, Kaitha, Morchhali, Jamun to name a few. The forest help conserve water but also offer survival materials to humans.

The destruction of habitats has not only exterminated endemic species. It has resulted in loss of many natural products useful to humans. If we do not save our trees a wonderful natural heritage would be lost for ever.          

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pench Tiger Reserve

Situated in dense forested hills of Satpura Ranges, Pench Tiger Reserve is tiger heaven in MP India. It is about 80 km drive from Nagpur Airport and about 200 km drive form Jabalpur Airport. Rudyard Kipling made these hills of Seoni popular in his "Jungle Book" which was later made into a film by Walt Disney. 

The forests is home to the characters of Jungle Book but not in same numbers. The wolf at Pench is in decline. the tiger thrives in good enough numbers so do leopard, wild dogs and many species of deer. You encounter a tiger more often than the leopard on safaris but the leopard it is more sighted here than any other place is Central India. The Indian wolf is seen outside the park but keeps moving as human pressure is a troubling factor.    

The reserve is best place to see the bison about 700 hundred live here. the herbivores exhibit excellent health and are larger then their counterparts in other reserves in MP.  Many films have been made on wildlife of this National Park. The popularity has resulted in more visitors coming on wildlife safari every year. Birding is excellent in these forests a treat to bird watchers. Less work has been done here on avian species therefore more discoveries are in offing.    

The habitat at Pench differs from Kanha and Bandhavgarh since it is dry to a greater degree and the rainfall is quiet deficient. The park is well protected and tiger have increased during the lat decade. Sloth bear, wild dogs and small cats are often seen. The Nilgai herds are impressive with some reaching their full growth. Other animals seen are the wild boar, langur, rhesus macaque, jackal, fox, civet cats, ratel, porcupine and jungle cat. Some of these are nocturnal and can be easily seen of night safaris.      

The park is named after the Pench River which intersects the park to reach the Totladoh Dam. This reservoir is excellent for the wetland birds and a crucial lifeline during the dry summers. Birds like Osprey, Ruddy Shells Duck, Northern Pintail, storks, Marsh Harriers, Booted eagle, Vultures are draw among the birders. 

Pench attracts lot of tourists on tiger safari in MP in India. The number is growing every year in terms of inbound travelers. There are a number of wildlife camps in the jungle which offer budget accommodation. For upscale tourists luxury lodges in Pench offer finest accommodations at reasonable price. The park guides conduct safaris in the park. A vehicle entry fee has to be paid for entering inside. The safaris have to be booked in advance since number of vehicles are restricted. It is best to ask you hotel to do the booking before you arrive.   

Central India Predators

The ecosystem is a complex web of life interconnected for sustenance and survival. The food chain governs the elements of the whole system. Without an effective food chain the populations would cause havoc and the habitat would come into imbalance. 

The predators consume the herbivores in order survive and in the process control their population. This prevent overgrazing which would be disastrous for the habitat. In this manner they also act as seed dispersal agents. The top level carnivores are tertiary carnivores like the tiger and the leopards. Other come below the pyramid and some like the Jackal are both hunters and scavengers.   

Hyena and Wolf are predators that are more often found in open scrub and dry habitats. These are getting scarcer as human civilization has moved. The predator play an important role in the food chain hence utilization of energy.

The tiger at the top consumes anything that moves but its prime prey is the deer, wild boar, Nilgai, Langur, Bison and sometimes other predators.  It kills other animals like the omnivorous sloth bear and porcupine. The leopard kills smaller animals like spotted deer, barking deer, langurs, wild boars and so on. 

Wild dogs survive on deer but are not able to kill bison and large Sambar. They are pack hunters and consume their prey while it is still alive.  Jackal and fox survive on  small animals like rodents, fawns, reptiles, and even insects. These animals can also survive on vegetation especially fruits and berries.

Hence these animals often treated as vermin play a crucial role in preservation of an ecosystem and the habitats there in. Tiger number has drastically reduced in India and they are in danger of becoming extinct. Since it is an indicator species as well its loss will be a major blow to natural Earth. 

Forest trees of Central India

Well renowned for it biodiversity the trees of the forest have been sidelined in favor of more charismatic mega fauna and birds. This blog gives a basic idea of some well known trees. Larger trees which dominate are Sal and Teak. The associates are Saaj, Salai, Tendu, Dhava, Harra, Bahera, Tinsa, Palas, Jamun, Char, Bel, Lyndia, Kosum, and more.

The Banyan Tree is present in almost all habitats, so is the Peepal tree, the Jack fruit is very popular for its edible fruit. The skeletal ghost tree or Kurlu is an amazing spectacle in the forest. The riverside tree is Arjun omnipresent near the nullahs and rivulets. It is an important element of water preservation system.    

The local trees are a boon to the communities that abound near the forests. Mahua is fine example of utility a liquor is made from its fruits which is nutrient rich. The butter derived from its seeds is edible and used by the locals. Many herbs and shrubs are part of the local medicine system invaluable for health care in inaccessible regions. Modern medicine also uses many derivatives of forest vegetation to create new drugs for health care.

Prolific growth of medicinal plants takes place in Pachmarhi. The is due the geography of the region with varying altitude, extant of sunlight and levels of humidity.

Peepal. Pakur and Banyan are part of ficus species and are well known for their fruits. These provide sustenance to many birds such as horn bills. The trees are filled with birds, squirrels, monkeys and what not whence they fruit. 

Forest birding in Madhya Pradesh

Though MP is known as the tiger state it is a good birding destination as well. The tiger reserves hitherto popular for tiger safaris as ideal birding spots for those interested in forest species. Most of the tiger reserves in the state are home wetland species as well but the habitats are not extensive like in Bharatpur. Nevertheless on can see them in impressive numbers.    

Among the forest species the most sought after are the Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Shama, Racket Tailed Drongo, Indian Scimitar Babbler, Painted Francolin, Black Naped Flycatcher, Iora, Gold Mantled Chloropsis, Jerdon's Leaf Bird, Golden Oriole, Black Hooded Oriole, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Verditor Flycatcher, Brown Fish Owl, Mottled Wood Owl, Malabar whistling Thrush (Pachmarhi), Crested Serpent Eagle, Changeable Hawk Eagle, White Eyed Buzzard, Honey Buzzard, and many more. 

The best places for birding in the state are Kanha, Bandhavgarh, Pench, Pachmarhi, Nauradehi, Amarkantak, Satpura Tiger Reserve, Bori and many other wildlife sanctuaries. The habitat type differs depending upon the degree of humidity and food factor. The state has tropical dry deciduous, dry deciduous moist, mixed forests, broadleaved Teak forests, Sal Forests, Bamboo Zones  which are excellent habitats for diverse species. Similary grassland in the preserve and places like Karera Bustard Sanctuary are home to many grass dwelling species.    

Pachmarhi, Nauradehi, Amarkantak are lesser known destinations in MP hence tourism in not popular. While accommodation is available in Pachmarhi and Amakantak subject to advance booking, Nauradehi can be visited from Jabalpur where there is no shortage of accommodations. All three are reachable from Jabalpur City in Madhya Pradesh.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tiger tourism at Bandhavgarh National Park

With the highest density of tigers in India Bandhavgarh tiger reserve is most popular tiger tourism destination. The reserves offers best wildlife watching and highest tiger sightings in the World. It also offers unique sightseeing of ancient temples, fort, man made caves and stables.

The tiger preserve is situated in Umaria District of the State of Madhya Pradesh. It is under the aegis of Project Tiger Program that aims at conserving the Bengal Tiger in India. The preserve in home to many wild mammals beside the big cat. 

BTR as it is known is good place for wildlife watching and birding. The park and its wildlife have been filmed many a times in recent years hence the popularity. Till seventies and eighties the preserve was not that famous but occasional big cat photographs and the electronic media helped discover the paradise. The forests are home to some of the magnificent Male Tigers pictures of whom have found place on first page of major Indian newspapers. Tourism has increased at a rapid pace since then and thousand of visitors come here to have a glimpse of the elusive big cats.

Home to humans hundreds of year back the tell tale sign of old civilizations still exist.  The Fort is a testimony to that besides number of temples, man made caves and statues of Lord Vishnu. One comes across plenty of ancient ruins while on safari in the park.

Bandhavgarh is beautiful park enhanced by 32 hillock which form narrow glens inundated by rivulets and marshy grasslands. The panoramic splendor is breath taking in this land of the pristine forests and tiger.l 

Wildlife safari in MP

The state of Madhya Pradesh has many wildlife sanctuaries and National Parks. But for wildlife safaris most visited places are Kanha, Bandhavgarh. and Pench. Besides these Panna and Satpura National Park receive many visitors.   

These preserve are also very good birding destinations in Central India. More than 250 avian species make the places there home the numbers include winter migrants. These are also places where tiger sightings are more frequent as compared to other tiger reserves in India  

Lesser known places like Pachmarhi, Amarkantak and Nauradehi are also upcoming birding destinations. Nauradehi Wildlife Sanctuary is slated for Cheetah relocation in MP, India. All the tree places are accessible from Jabalpur City in Madhya Pradesh. The city is well connected by air with New Delhi and Mumbai. another sanctuary near Bhopal is Ratapani which is home to many wildlife and tigers as well. This is were Bhimbetika caves with prehistoric paintings are situated.        

Bhimebetika is said to date back more than 100000 years and is situated in Raisen District. But it is very near to Bhopal the capital city of Madhya Pradesh,. The paintings depict ritualistic lifestyle of inhabitants and several animals including those which are not found in the state anymore.    

There are more than 700 rock shelters with 243 in Bhimbetka Rock Shelter Group and about 178 in Lakha Juar Group.