This is the story of rare opportunity provided by conservation of domestic cattle which in turn benefiting many wild species of grassland in many small pockets of South Central Karnataka. The grasslands which are rearing these animals are called Kavals or Amrith Mahal Kavals.
History: The Amruth Mahal literally means milk department. This is an establishment for the breeding of a race of cattle peculiar to the erstwhile state of Mysore and famous for it utility for military purpose. The establishment was founded some time during the Vijaya nagara dynasty during 1512, with special privileges as regards to grazing, but it's maintenance for special purposes of supplying draught cattle for artillery is due to Hydher Ali. After death of Tippu and Hyder, the management was taken over by the British. The Amruth Mahal was re established in December 1857 with the assistance of Maharaja of Mysore. The cattle were divided in to 30 herds containing from 200 to 700 head of cattle each; for grazing of which 208 kaavals or pasture grounds were allotted from various part of erstwhile Mysore State. They were divided into hot weather, wet weather and Cold weather Kaavals according to the seasons of the year during which they are of most use. Hot weather kaavals are generally the beds of tanks in which grass springs up during hot month, and in which there are trees for affording shade to the cattle during heat waves. These are very valuable kaavals and are reserved solely for Government Cattle. A cold and wet weather kaval are those which during those seasons have plenty of grass and water, but during the hot weather dries up and are little useful for the department, here in this kaval cattle's of farmers are also permitted to graze in certain fixed portions. The head of these kaval are permitted to sell some part of grazing, and from funds thus obtained the kavalgar or guards are paid and other expenses met.
The Amruth Mahal cattle comprise of 3 varieties. Viz Hallikar, Hagalwadi, Chitraldoorg.
In 1915-1916 the control of this department was given to Agriculture Department and the Animal Husbandry. In 1945 it came under department of Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Sciences in Mysore State
During 1956, a total of 92801 acres of land out of 165000 acres of kaaval lands in the entire state were taken back for distributing them to landless agriculturist and other developmental works.
Department of Animal Husbandry claims possession of 65,925.36 acres of Amrut Mahal kaval lands in 62 locations in 6 districts - Chikmagalur, Chitradurga, Hassan, Tumkur, Mandya and Davanagere and the land area varies from Kaval to Kaval.
Presently the total Kaval land area under the Department of Animal Husbandry is 27,468.9 ha (65,925.36 acres) in 62 villages of six districts. The number of Amruthmahal cattle here, however, is 1,298.
According to the report, nearly 45.58 per cent of the landmass has disappeared due to different pressures of encroachment.
Around 15.60 per cent of the land is protected through afforestation with the help of the Department of Forest, leaving only 23.92 per cent of land for grazing and fodder development.
With the advancement in wildlife conservation, conservationists started to notice the array of animals living inside these kavals. Since Kavals have kept the natural vegetation without disturbance for centuries, they somewhat give a picture of bygone era surrounded by modern human influences. The existence of grass land fauna like wolf, black bucks, fox etc... in these Kavals are testimony for the health of these grasslands. But unlike many of our PA'S, these Kavals do not come under Forest department and are susceptible to development, since wildlife in these grasslands are not officially recognized. each Kaval is facing its own level of threats and problems.
Animals which are normally associated with grassland habitats like Wolf, Blackbuck, Jackal, Hyena, fox, Pangolin, Hare, etc... And numerous bird species of both avian and ground dwelling type.
Why Kavals are important?
One should know Karnataka is not only about Elephants and Tigers, they are just part of a story. Actually Karnataka has 2nd highest dry scrub land after Rajasthan. But most of Karnataka's protected areas falls in Tiger and Elephants forest. Apart from 2 or 3 small WL sanctuaries, there are no notable wildlife area allotted to scrub and grassland animals. They are completely neglected. So in that context Kavals have immense importance.
In long run, if proper protection is provided to wildlife of these grasslands, these Kavals can become mirror images of Velvadhar Blackbuck Sanctuary of Gujarat.
Check the following links to learn the fate of 3 such Kavals in modern India.
1. The one (Basur Kaval) in Chikamagalore district which received sufficient attention but still not entirely free of development clutches.
2.Konehalli Kaval in Tumkur District with mixed bag
3.The worst, which happened to a Kaval in Chitradurga District
Note: Anyone who is working on wildlife of Kavals or anyone who knows about other Kavals or pictures taken, please share them.