A troop of five people descend down the narrow trail juggling their glances between the sky to look out for birds, the trail to look out for scat and pug marks and everywhere else to soak in the heavenly view of the towering hills all around. The call of the Common Hawk Cuckoo also called the Brain Fever Bird reverberates all around.
We are the members of a Kenneth Anderson Nature Society, named after the erstwhile legendary hunter turned conversationalist Kenneth Anderson who roamed these very forests of Melagiri. The Melagiris are a range of hills on the Eastern Ghats, bound by the river Cauvery on the west. The total reserve forest area is around 1295 sq. kms. Inspired by the stories of Anderson the first KANS members ventured into these forests to feel the wild in first person. Over the years however the forests have been infiltrated by the locals for cattle grazing and to obtain the forest produce. The reserved forests are shrinking at the rapidly encroaching agricultural lands , the fauna disappearing by the unrestrained poaching activities.
KANS decided to take on the task of securing this habitat for the Tiger, to restore the region back to its original state.This is being achieved through a mix of passive and active conservation activities like community interaction programmes (afforestation, educational programmes, alternative agricultural practices), equipping the ground forest staff (uniforms, torches), field work to control Man-Elephant conflict, removal of invasive species etc.
Last weekend saw the the bio-diversity survey conducted at Anchetty, The objective of the surveys have been to take stock of the forests. To bring to public light the beauty and diversity of these forests and also highlight the socio-economic issues facing conservation in this region. The inventory of the species and inputs on the human-forest interaction issues are to add in to help to achieve the goal of securing Sanctuary status to the Melagiris.
As we reached the bed of Dodahalla river, that has been a witness to the glorious past, a time when Majestic Tigers roamed this land, a time when Kenneth Anderson set float his hair raising adventures, We grew excited as we IDied the pug marks of leopards. At least one of the bigger carnivore has escaped the same fate as that of the Tigers, although that could be due to the fact that leopards are tinier than its cousin, have an excellent camouflage, very shy but intelligent creature that can live on smaller prey base and very adaptive. We also spotted pug marks and scat samples of Civet, Chital, etc.,However our joy was shadowed by the presence of large amount of Cattle dung scattered everywhere in generous quantity. Cattles are a menace to the forests. Their rampant grazing not only means less grass cover, dwindling the wild herbivore population but also causes seasonal outbreak of diseases to which the wild animals have no resistance. The tigers in this region have been single-handedly wiped out largely by the locals by poisoning the cattle kill (Tigers finish their food in several sittings thus becoming an easy target.) diminished prey numbers and a variety of other reasons due to the never ending interferences by man. If the forests are to be revived their is no go but to stop cattle grazing withing the boundaries of the forests.
We trekked a stretch of 8km approx along the Dodhalla river that is being fed by several small streams originating in the forests. This river finally joins the Cauvery, that forms western boundary of the Melagiri forests. While the forests on the other side of the Cauvery within the Karnataka state borders are Sanctuary the Melagiris are only Reserved forests. While the protection provided by the Sanctuary tag has helped sustain the Tigers in the Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary they have vanished from the Melagiris.
The Tiger census that yielded the numbers 1411 has created a huge wave of alarm and people across the country have risen up in arms to protect them by raising funds through running marathons and what not. While money is continuously pouring into already protected Tiger Sanctuaries securing them and tightening the protection, we have sadly not hit the mark. The numbers 1411 are of the number of tigers that can be accommodated in the Tiger Reserves. You cannot stuff in more, in fact the recent Tiger Cub deaths we have been reading are by the Adult Tigers is to reduce the competition for territory. Internal fighting have become common, the excess tigers have began to search for new territories and are frequently seen on the fringes of the Sanctuary boundaries inadvertently going for the cattle kill and what happens? A Ranathambore episode is inevitable. Man-Animal conflict is on rise. And here its just not Tigers, Elephants are seasonal migrants. They do not recognize the boundaries set by man.
Bannerghatta National Park (BNP), Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary (CWS), Nagarhole (Rajiv Gandhi NP), Bandipur Tiger reserve, BRT and the Hosur forest Division ( Melagiris) forms a continuous region making it a major bio-diversity belt and Elephant corridor. With Melagiris assuming the Sanctuary status, the excess Tigers from The CWS, BNP and BRT can be soaked by this region. This indeed is an viable option since securing the Melagiris is cheaper than trying to extend the already existing tiger reserves that have swarms of villages littered on its fringes. Not only the Elephant Corridor is secured minimizing Elephant-Human conflict but also sustains the life-source of Karnataka-Tamil Nadu, Cauvery.
With the Anchetty Survey, ends the last of the bio-diversity survey by KANS. KANS with ANCF has found both direct/indirect evidences of the rare Grizzled Giant Squirrel, Four horned Antelope and Leopards. The Flora contains almost 20 Red listed species, these were discovered during the survey, considering the Melagiris are almost 1200sq km (An area covered by putting Nagarhole and Bandipur together) there could be many more surprises waiting to be discovered. Unless this region is declared immediately with effect - Sanctuary, the poaching/ extraction of non-timber forest produce and infringement of the Forests by the local farmers and cattle grazers will only deteriorate them further snatching away the last chance for the Tigers in this zone to grow back to respectable numbers, increasing the Man-Elephant conflict , depleting the Cauvery - a death-blow to the farmers in Tamil Nadu and increasing tension between the two states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.