Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve (NBR) in South India at the common border between Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu is praised for its conservation success but for some good reasons I feel that NBR is half successful in protecting the greater landscape. Before going further let us understand the rich bio diverse landscapes that straddle the common borders of three southern states.
Map Reference: www.cepf.net/Documents/WesternGhats_outcomes_map.pdf
What is a Biosphere Reserve?
A Biosphere Reserve must work towards a balanced relationship between mankind and nature through different field tests and approaches.
Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve
NBR is currently been mapped around best protected areas such as, Nagarahole(Rajiv Gandhi) NP-Bandipur NP of Karnataka, Waynad WLS-Silent Valley NP of Kerala and Mukurthi NP of Tamil Nadu and many other smaller and larger Reserve Forests. Even parts of Talaimalai and Satymangalam forests of TN are considered to be under NBR.
Since NBR conception itself was based around India's best and well protected regions and where human-wildlife conflict was studied and solutions were arrived decades ego and eco-development was heard earlier than other parts of India, it is enjoying rather good name in the field of ecology and conservation.
Shortcomings of Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve
One must remember and can be verified by the map that NBR is designed to protect Western Ghats and their immediate surroundings. So all the above mentioned forest reserves and human habitations fall within Western Ghats or their immediate out flanks. But one crucial aspect we failed to differentiate is where Western Ghats ends and Eastern Ghats starts in NBR. (Refer Sanctuary Asia Vol.XXXII No.2 April 2012, Page No.93 to know the meeting point of Western and Eastern Ghats)
While parts of Talaimalai-Satymangalam(TN) which show Eastern Ghats drier habitat were included into NBR, true moist and shola Western Ghats forests like Brahmagiri-Aralam-Talakavery-Pushpagiri WLS's on the western end and BiligiriRangaswamy Tiger Reserve (BRT) on the eastern end were left out.
As earlier said, whether these well protected forests being identified with NBR or not may not do much difference them, but surely a lot need to be done for the eco regions which fall further in the crescent.
Why do we need Kavery Biosphere Reserve
Going further after Talaimalai RF of TN, we come across Satymangalarm-Erode-Hosur forest divisions of Tamil Nadu and Kollegala FD-MM Hills RF-Cauvery WLS-Kanakapur FD-Bannerughatta NP of Karnataka. Much of these are hilly areas with elevation between 600-1500 mts on average and compounded by drier climate and drier vegetation in contrast to moist NBR. These Kavery Basin Eastern Ghats hills along with NBR owing to their hilly terrain and vast forests stood as barriers for almost 2000 years in the history of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
Here is one of the worst contradictions when we compare these Kavery Basin Eastern Ghats forests with NBR regarding wildlife conservation and human animal conflict mitigation. Let us see one by one.
- Being considered as tail ends of Eastern Ghats and in no way as rich as Western Ghats they never received the proper recognition. Since Eastern Ghats floral and faunal assemblage is unique to itself, it should never be considered under NBR.
- While Karnataka protected much of its side of forests and hills declaring them as protected like Cauvery WLS, Bannerughatta NP, while Kollegala and M-M hills RF are better protected resulting in the distribution of Tigers to Sathymangal forests from BRT, Tamil Nadu did the very opposite.
- Tamil Nadu is keeping all the major forest on its side as Reserve forests with least protection, all though their overall size can easily beat Nagarhole-Bandipur-Madumalai-Waynad landscape. Only recently did it manage to declare Sathyamangalm as WLS but for other forests, things have already gone wrong. May be this apathy is due Tiger absence and thin distribution of Elephant, Guar and other herbivores thanks to erstwhile brigand Veerappan used by many political parties to achieve their objectives. Recently Karnataka added another 500sq.km area to already existing Cauvery WLS to end up with 1000sq.km protected area. Read about one such forest called Melagiri in TN which comes under Hosur FD bordering Cauvery WLS of Karnataka and learn marked difference between the two.
- May be one more reason why Tamil Nadu is taking back seat is, if once declared as protect areas it can not take up any mega projects in these forests especially water related which it wants to safeguard at any cost. Many of these border forests were in the hands of Madras presidency of pre-independent India taken away by British from princely state of Mysore during many wars. So when bifurcation of states happened in 50-60's Tamil Nadu managed to take away key forested areas either for timber or for water security from its neighbor. So many of the forests and hills both in Kavery Basin Eastern Ghats and Nilgiri district are still holding their erstwhile Kannada names but find themselves in Tamil Nadu.
One of the recent ambitious projects of TN is Hogenkal drinking water project right in the heart of prime Elephant corridor which is the only guaranteed water source for migrating Elephants from Bandipur-Madumalai forests till Andhra Pradesh. And why should Karnataka fall behind? So it is planning a Hydro-Electric plant near Mekedatu right inside the Kanakapura FD further up.
While Hogenkal drinking project can be considered since it provides drinking water to two water stricken districts of Tamil Nadu, nothing can justify its unregulated tourism and construction activities on its side of Hogenkal falls while Karnataka side Hogenkal has remained pristine. Similarly Karnataka must understand that, once it destroys spell bounding Mekedatu gorge and it's surrounding, it is only allowing more Human-Elephant conflict to rise.
- With the absence of Tiger and much of their prey in this vast landscape, Elephant is the only stake holder with somewhere around 500-700 elephants using this landscape. But with villages becoming towns and towns to cities with rapid improvement in dry land agriculture, forest departments on either side are feeling the pressure. For example Karnataka forest department tries to push any elephant which comes to Bannerughatta NP bordering Bengaluru to Tamil Nadu side due to its small size, Tamil Nadu reciprocates with the same to protect its farmers. Elephants virtually have become ping pongs balls in these border areas.
- Landscape management must be done earliest since much of the ground ecosystem is lost to invasive Lantana resulting in poor herbivore population in reserve forests. But the situation was not always like this. If one goes through Kenneth Anderson's literature one can imagine how fertile these forests once were.
- There seem to be not too many indigenous tribes in these forests and whoever was have already taken modern life style and may not come in between conservation and forest rights act.
- One of the strong claim can be made is, since Nagarahole-Bandipura-Wayanad-Madumalai landscape had head start in their conservation, already they have reached their capacity and animals have started to spill over. One such positive outcome is Sathyamangalam on the way to get Tiger reserve tag. I'm sure; we don't know what to do with increasing number of Elephants. According to our Indian ethics we can never go for culling of Elephants nor can we drop our guard. Only solution remains is to find enough space to accommodate more and more elephants and the only landscape which can hold such population is this Kavery Basin Eastern Ghats landscape between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. But already Elephants have bypassed these forests and moved into Andhra Pradesh which shows their population density and poor quality of forests in these Kavery basin forest.
What should be done?
- Immediately declare Kavery Biosphere Reserve taking all the Kavery Basin Eastern Ghats forest under its umbrella. This will increase enthusiasm among forest department and better fund can be expected.
- Tamil Nadu must upgrade all its Forest Divisions to Sanctuary status rather than turning them to cattle ranches as they are now being called. This will ensure the state better water availability since improved forest starts to work as sponges to release water all year round and Tamil Nadu can reap double benefit of getting water from both Western Ghats Talakavery source and Eastern Ghats Kavery basin.
- Flat landscapes taken away by humans surrounded by good forested hills on the western side of Malai Mahadeshwara hills of Karnataka must be transferred to forest department, which if properly protected will rival Bandipur flat terrain forests one day.
- Declare Cauvery river valley as core, since this is where Elephants are usually found.
- Since Tiger, Leopard, Dhole, Sloth Bear, Elephant, Chital, Four horned antelope, Sambar and endangered Grizzled Giant Squirrel are all present in these forests; it's easy to offer proper sanctuary status to any of these reserve forests.
So before we loose these forests for ever, both MOEF and Karnataka- Tamil Nadu must come forward to declare KAVERY BIOSPHERE RESERVE.