October 2010: Corridors are a lifeline for the future of Indian wildlife. One of the most important yet unrecognised large mammal corridors in the Nilgiri landscape is the stretch between the Mukurthy National Park (NP) and the Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary (WLS) that includes the Naduvattam, Gudalur, Ouchterlony Valley (O'Valley) and Singara ranges.
The other potential route for large mammals from the Mannarkad Forest Division (FD)–Silent Valley NP to Mudumalai WLS via Kallar corridor, across Coimbatore-Ooty Highway is beset with numerous problems. The possibility of large mammal movement from Silent Valley, crossing the Nilambur FD, to either Wyannad WLS or Mudumalai WLS is also bleak as the habitat on either side of Highway 212 has been converted into tea estates. The best route for a large mammal, such as a tiger, to reach the Mudumalai WLS from Mannarkad FD-Silent Valley NP is to reach the Mukurthy NP via Silent Valley and then descend to the Mudumalai WLS. Our rapid surveys suggest that east of the Mukurthy NP, large mammals use two forested tracts to move to Mudumalai, broadly to the east and west of the Naduvattam township and surrounding estates. The first route follows the west bank of the Mukurthy and Pykara reservoirs through Pandiar (Naduvattam range) and then onto the Glenmorgan hill and down into the Singara range and Mudumalai WLS. The other is through the O’Valley range and then onto the Gudalur Malai/ Kokkal Malai (Gudalur range/O’Valley range) and Deivamalai – Wilson’s plantation (Naduvattam range) to enter Singara range through parts of Silver Cloud Estate (30 sq. km., Gudalur and Naduvattam ranges) to reach Mudumalai WLS. These routes traverse patches of natural vegetation and stretches of exotic plantations including tea gardens.
The forests between Wilson’s plantation and Gudalur Malai are under intensive fuelwood extraction largely by the people of Gudalur township. There is also a great risk of large-scale development in the region (such as tourism resorts, holiday homes, etc.)
The primary recommendations to maintain the integrity of this corridor are:
Disallow any major development projects in the Naduvattam/Pykara region. While the livelihood of existing locals should not be interfered with, it is important to ensure that there is no large-scale immigration of people into the region. The Tamil Nadu State Government and the Central Government need to render full support to the State Forest Department in identifying and evicting large-scale encroachments by tea plantations and estates on a priority basis. It is well known that large parts of the ecologically vital and scenic Ouchterlony Valley range of the Gudalur FD have already been lost to encroachment.
It is admirable that the Forest Department is confident of recovering the encroached land from estates such as Manjushree Estate (18.21 sq. km.) and Mahaveer Plantations (4.65 sq. km.). Tea estates such as Mahaveer, Tantea (Naduvattam Division) and Terrace (3 sq. km.) appear to be in a state of upheaval, as the management seems to be unable to pay timely and proper wages to the labourers. The Government must acquire such under-performing estates in this critical wildlife corridor so as to allow the restoration of wildlife habitat in Naduvattam range and Gudalur range to further strengthen the connectivity between Mukurthy NP and Mudumalai WLS. At the same time, alternative livelihoods for the labourers of these estates need to be looked into. If this plan is successful, it is strongly recommended that Deivamalai Village (40-50 households of which only three to four families own patta land), which is close to the 27th mile anti-poaching camp, be voluntarily relocated on a priority basis by offering them a generous resettlement package and all amenities.
A programme to control and minimise the excessive fuelwood extraction must be implemented immediately. This can be done easily, as all the wood passes through the Forest Department check post at Silver Cloud Estate. Alternatives to fuelwood should also be made available to those who need them. The Forest Department should explore the possibility of growing fuelwood and fodder species in Janmam lands around Gudalur, with the help of local Eco-development Committees.
It is also important that we acquire farms that are not under cultivation at the junction of Masinagudi, Kargudi and Gudalore ranges so that they do not fall into the hands of unlawful elements who build weekend homes in the area for indulging in poaching. These farms are visible from Mudumalai View Point. Some of these farms also use inordinately large quantities of water from one of the tributaries to the Moyar river for poultry and pig farming and even to wash the clothes of children from elite schools in Ooty! In addition to the overuse of water, there are considerable pollutants entering the water from these farms just before it enters Mudumalai’s critical tiger habitat. The high levels of pollution have contributed to the disappearance of species such as the Indian mottled eel Anquilla bengalensis, the snake-headed fish or the murrel Channa marulius and the orange-finned mahseer Tor moyarensis from the river within the Sanctuary limits.
Conservation action on these recommendations would help the large mammals of the area (tiger, sambar, leopard, dhole, elephant and gaur) move much more freely between the Mukurthy NP and the Mudumalai WLS.
Dr. A.J.T. Johnsingh and R. Raghunath work with the Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), Mysore and Tarsh Thekaekara is with The Shola Trust, Gudalur.
Sanctuary readers should write to the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and the Ministry of Environment and Forests stating the above four points.
The Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu,
Chief Minister's Office, Secretariat, Chennai 600 009
Fax: 044 – 25671441
Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF)
Paryavaran Bhavan, CGO Complex, Lodhi Road, New Delhi – 110 003.
Fax: 011 – 24365633/24362222