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Monday, January 30, 2017

Phen Wildlife Sanctuary - A Diminished Tail Light

Phen WLS - Micro Core (KTR)

Courtyard House Guests (Kanha) - Sudhir Pawar & Family

The bright sparkling sun hits us as we emerge from the dusty Raipur Highway and enter Phen Wildlife Sanctuary a verdant paradise and heaven.  Albeit smaller than its neighbouring core Kanha Tiger Reserve, the forests are connected to some degree by buffers Motinala Supkhar Range, & Garhi Forests.  The natural corridor (Kanha Achanakmar) formation is reminiscent of era whence the Central Indian Highlands were one large tract of forests teeming with wildlife.   

We are greeted at the Gate by the forest staff who gave us a much required brief on the forests and its wildlife. A pair of gold mantled chloropsis welcome us along side. Filled with exuberance we leave for the safari after a short repast.    
Phen Ecosystem

This was my first visit to Phen, and the scope of making new discoveries was exciting. Barely one hundred and eleven square kilometres in area the conservation unit is full of promise.    

"A good place to sight leopard, sloth bear and wild dog". The staff informs us. 

"And the tiger?" I butt in needlessly. 

"We can make a presence of two from roars and pug marks."  Sure enough we come across generous lay of pug marks of a tigress on the game round.   

The guardians of the ecosystem number only two or four if you add vagrant or un-traced tigers. Any way that did not dampen our excitement as we believe in holistic experience. The tigers, like at many places in India have lost ground here, but more promising future can be accorded with right conservation efforts.  

Phen WaterBody
Hilly, packed with dense canopy, the topography is a turbulent terrain with hills, grasslands and deep valleys. The forest comprises of tropical moist deciduous mixed, Sal and bamboo. Intermittent water bodies in form of Phen River, smaller rivulets, water holes and moist grounds are the life line of the ecosystem.  

While relocation of some villages have already taken place some are yet to be trans-located. 
The park is vital for tiger conservation in Central India. The health of the ecosystem, minimal disturbance is suggestive of a perfect tiger landscape, albeit the prey base is poor - probably due to extensive hunting and poaching in the past.  With an improvement in the prey base, the big cats will get more space for survival. Large herds of spotted deer have already been trans-located from Kanha. 

Phen Canopy
Phen Wildlife offers excellent scope for birding besides safaris. The trip can be accommodated along with tiger safari at Kanha National Park. The distance is two and half hours of drive from KTR along the Bicchia, Motinala Raipur Highway. The micro core is at a distance for 15 km from Motinala.  
Phen Images 

Directors Picturesque Cabin


Jungle Road


Rest House View

Water Body
Trip &  Accommodation

Highly recommended for leopards, sloth bear and wild dog along side great birding. There is no accommodation at Phen, but a rest house at Motinala can be availed.

Accessible from Kanha Tiger Reserve this is good way to spend a day off from hectic safari routine. Also visitors without entry pass at Kanha can make day here. Full day and half day safaris are available at less cost.  Please contact Kanha FD Office at Mandla.    

Please carry all eatable which can be consumed at the rest house and at the Gate. Jeep availability can be made from Kanha. 

More Information Phen  Micro Core

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Wildlife Photos India

I have here a collection of photos of wild animals and birds. These are images belonging to my friends and acquaintances. The intention is to display hard work that goes into the imagery and yes the cost involved.

Striped Hyena - Ghanshyam
Langur Monkey - Dag Larsson

Desert Fox - Ghanshyam Singh
Leopard - Marie & Andrew
Indian Wolf - Monu Dubey

Tiger Teerath Singh 
Bison - Money Dube

Tiger Teerath Singh 
Wild Dog - Nandita Amin

Kanha Tiger  Teerath Singh 
Cinnamon Bittern - Prayut Mandal 

Marsh Crocodile Teerath Singh 
Swamp Deer - Ruchi Patel

Sambar Deer Teerath Singh
Shreyas D - Common Pochard

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Food Chain - Biotic/Abiotic Components & Tigers

Understanding Ecosystem in Tiger Landscapes 

The article's emphasis is on tiger surviving outside the protected areas in India. This is more of a simplification of the biotic components that prevail in an area highly stressed by human and livestock use.    

To understand this phenomenon we have to first under stand food chain in its simplest form. The food chain is best explained using a pyramid. 

How the creation and transfer of energy takes place.  

1) At the lowest level are the autotrophs the living beings that use abiotic elements like sunlight, soil, water, Co2 in order to produce energy. These are also called producers. Examples are plants, grass, herbs, shrubs, some micro-organisms and trees.   

2) Consumers or primary consumers subsist on the autotrophs so as to enable transfer of energy. Herbivores are the example . Deer, Wild Ox, Bison, Elephants, Primates and so on.    

3) Secondary Consumers are small predators and omnivorous creatures who subsist on primary consumers. Examples are fox, jackal, wild dog, raptors etc. 

4) Tertiary Consumers are large predators which subsist on primary consumers and to some extant on secondary consumers.   Like Tigers, Lions, Cheetahs & Leopards, some bears etc. These are also known as Apex predators, Normally these are designated as indicator species since their presence is a sign of a healthy ecosystem.    

5) Decomposers  or scavengers feed on dead organism they are small predators, hyena, vultures, eagles, corvids, bacteria and so on. 

Each layer from 2nd stage acts as population control mechanism, in order to maintain an equilibrium in the environment. All components are instrumental in maintaining humidity/moisture and composition of gases. Hence tigers are major control elements, and as top predators they are indicators of healthy ecosystem. I think this should justify conservation to all minds, Further understanding should arise by reading literature from acclaimed field biologists, conservationists etc.    

When the tiger habitats contain a perfect ecosystem, the animal's survival is presence of protection from nefarious human activities like poaching. Land grab is another major threat to ecosystems all over. Niche habitats are destroyed by expanding human settlements, industrialisation and agriculture. We have lost large tracts of grasslands, marshlands, estuaries, river, marine ecosystems and forests...all on massive scale.    

In areas outside the critical tiger habitats, multiple pressure arise from agricultural practices, human habitation, livestock and waste including toxic chemicals. The latter are as a result of widespread use of toiletries, fertilisers and pesticides. Fumes emanating from vehicles, cooking, noise pollution also contribute to damage to some extent. 

Livestock compete with natural inhabitants for vegetable matters and are instrumental in damaging the fragile ecosystem. They have been seen to easily outnumber the natural consumers reducing prey base for predators including the tigers. In most of the buffer areas of our NPs the big cats are dependent on cattle and other live stock.  Besides conflict with man they are susceptible to contagious disease.

Tree felling in order to feed livestock is another practice that reduces the canopy. Denuded land is easily subject to loss of top soil, proliferation by weeds like parthenium or carrot grass and  lantana.  As a result altered weather can inhibit breeding of tigers along with reduced prey base. 

Another reason for denudation is our dependency on wood for energy, furniture and construction.  In the past clear felling was resorted for commercial logging resulting in wide scale denudation as done by agricultural practices. Mining has the same impact as the latter besides contributing to hazardous environmental pollution.  

Hence we depend on tigers as well as all life forms for our survival plus not forgetting the purity of abiotic elements.  

Lack of planning has resulted in indiscriminate use of our land and not leaving the niche habitats inviolate. As we aim for high economic growth further pressure is created. PA's are good example of wise land use but we need this on larger scale to preserve all that we can.   

Humans should minimise land use and let the Earth flourish. 

This article is in order to create an impressive group of thinkers, nature lovers and environmentalist. A large voice/pressure group would mean the implementation of better policies which would save critically endangered species like the tiger in India and elsewhere.     

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Wildlife Tourism And Local Communities

Wildlife tourism though earlier considered to be the prerogative of elite has come far down the line. It has assimilated in its wake many fruitful aspects with the passage of time. Though still promoted with hiccups, and often seen in a narrow perspective, the industry has empowered local communities like none has.

It also augurs crucial foreign exchange through thousands of wildlife enthusiasts from overseas. Tiger tourism is in the wishlist of uncountable number of travellers all over the Globe. 

I have been visiting tiger reserves since more than three decades, and seen the positive. The ecosystems have grown to their completeness and round about holistic benefits have accrued. There have been a tremendous rise in converts as far as awareness of our environment is concerned. The reserves have also experienced a turn  around in animal populations (read bio-diversity). A new vocation has been generated in conservation research and skills of exploration i.e. guiding, birding, photography etc amidst the youth.

Though tourism is not contributing factor, at least not directly, but then safaris have become a learning experience for populations with no idea of how the ecosystems work, and how nature contributes to preservation of our immediate environment. The people who have worked hard to preserve our inheritance have brought about this turnaround.  
Tribal Family - Courtesy Neeraj Vegad 

On one sight of the big cats and other predators, the first impression that is done away with is the vermin concept. I too used to think of tigers and leopards as blood thirsty animals that would devour human beings on the first go. I now fear the ever burgeoning unruly traffic and hoodlums in our society a far greater threat than being accidentally mauled by wild animals. The activity has also brought forth the National Pride that we hold at our incredible inheritance,        

I remember witnessing my first tiger at a very young age. It was a dead tiger, it lay listless at peace in its final slumber. It was legal hunted at Nauradehi WLS in MP before the legislation, but still to me it appeared an unpardonable crime against the nature. I was too small to understand the implication of this heinous misdeed. The hunter moved amongst us...with his story of valour.. and had us running around him. This team of hunters visited us every year along with a wealthy relative far removed.  (sic).  The legislation put stop to this. 

Why I am writing about all this?

Well our impression about other life forms eventually shape our policies, and our attitude towards them. Today modern education has inculcated teachings about things precious to our environment, earlier it was not so. Contemporary conservation is based upon an equity...what we value, and the literature at our behest. India has been blessed with ancient conservation ethos but that has not proven to be enough...look where we stand today?    

In absence of (regulated) wildlife tourism, awareness about ecosystems would have moved back in to a deep recess. Our attitude towards wilderness would have been uncaring and drastic...well it stills is in case of many people. Secondly in a populist democracy hard facts have to be drained down the gullets of those who administer this country...with syrup. 

It is the hotel/tourism industry which has been at the forefront of local employment apart from the administration...namely the forest department. The work experience and training imparted have been contributing factor towards empowerment. This has subsequently resulted in greater job opportunities and hence better standard of living. Such initiative has been taken by Kanha administration in conjunction with an NGO as well, and trainees are finding job opportunities in the industry all over. There may be many more such examples.   These are aspects that are rarely talked about and little appreciated.

Most of the employees are locals who have the developed skill to work in many faculties. This has come about with time and tourism. With experience and skill development they have become part of vocations and small  businesses as well. And some in tourism industry do distribute fruits of labour towards local infrastructure in form of donations or contributions.  

Benefits have accrued to the displaced lot as well as those living in the periphery.  From being in far flung remote areas they been connected by the hospitality industry with the mainstream and contribute to Nation development greatly.     

Tiger Conservation The Buck Stops Here

The passing of legislation (Wildlife Protect Act 1972) and creation of protected areas, and the Project Tiger Program were milestones that laid the foundation of nature conservation in India. For the first time after independence the country had a serious look at the status of its wilderness. 

Subsequently a series of corrective measures were taken. Tiger was at the helm of conservative initiatives. The beleaguered animal had lost lot of ground, thanks to indiscriminate hunting, poaching and extensive loss of habitat.

The creation of protected areas was a master stroke, especially the inviolate core zones. In the core zones no human habitation except that of the forest staff is allowed, all activities relating to forest produce do not take place. As a result the ecosystems have vastly improved. The outer ring of the forests contains the buffer zone which is an amalgamation of forests patches, villages, fields and public road network. The buffer forests are patchily linked with  the regular forests, status of which is anybody's guess. 

Tiger Image Courtesy: Mukund Yadav

With proper initiatives, the the big cat has gained some ground in the recent times. Many well managed parks have seen a rise in population. But with the success have arisen problems galore. 

The buffer zone is inept in containing the swelling population of big cats and the prey. There is a regular decline in the forest cover due to illegal logging which has reduced the habitats into fragments often degraded, some of which are completely nonviable.      

The human population in India is swelling here like anywhere else and this is hampering the movement of wild animals. The extreme biotic pressure is weighing down on the wild  inhabitants of the ecosystems. The loss of space as degradation increases is apparent, so is altered behaviour seen among the big cats.    

If we have to see a constant rise in population of tertiary consumers space is vital. The maximum number of conflicts with humans occur in the buffer. Animals do not understand the concept of protected area, for them any good habitat is worth moving into. The presence of humans in large numbers and their activities are discouraging for a tiger seeking new pastures. 

The tiger is sensitive to human presence like the hard ground swamp deer. Though the big cat survives along with humans its breeding and life span are reduced. The conflict amplifies whence it is forced to prey of livestock.  In many of our tiger reserves a large number of livestock are regularly preyed upon, and besides the human antipathy generated the big cat becomes susceptible to disease transmission and poaching as well.         

Animals have been electrocuted, snared, shot and exterminated by poisoning their kill. (Sometimes exterminated legally). Even if some PA's may not be under the scanner of organised poachers opportunists are present everywhere and the cases are on the rise.     

Hence if we wish to increase tiger population in India, we have to conserve effectively all the remaining habitats irrespective of their status. Though it is impossible to create extensive inviolate grounds, conservative initiatives need a paradigm shift as far as human inhabited habitats are concerned.  

Some of the macro solutions could be control and reduction of human populations, alternative to pastoral lifestyle, alternative fuel supply, restriction on construction and commercialisation. Many laudable steps have already been taken but require a greater impetus. In time to come more solutions will emerge.   

Wildlife tourism in buffer zones has been lauded by many conservationists. They believe greater protection measures will augur as a result of increased importance of the status of habitats there. A rise in equity is certain to increase the importance of our wilderness hence well managed tourism does play a part.       

(But safaris in the buffer zones are a poor alternative to the experience in the core. Hence there are few takers.The habitats here do offer good bird watching experience.)    

Friday, December 23, 2016

Does Rise in GDP Absolves us of Environmental Hara-Kiri?

Ongoing destruction of natural places in lieu of development is at the behest of environmental concern in India. We have already lost large tracts of forests and grasslands to human settlements thanks to burgeoning human populations. Clear felling was another blow which did further damage in earlier times.  

In present times managing our environment is a prerogative of the ruling class. Our policies are populist and marred by ever growing human needs and concerns. Nature does not understand human inadequacies; it is sensitive, fragile and perishable.  The long term consequences of destroying the remaining ecosystems in the country are foreseeable. Unstable climate and plunging health indices are warning us to awaken before it is too late.   

A species lost is lost forever. The sad state of the tiger is an indicator of our environmental health not only that of the ecosystem that it is limited to.  The increase in population of lions in Gujarat is nothing to be proud of in absence of requisite habitat. The World is losing huge number of species along with large tracts of precious forests with each passing day.  This should act as an eye opener for us in India.    

Uncontrolled mining and uncontrolled use of natural resources will certainly lead to disastrous consequences, and its effects could be felt by generations. This much after the short term benefit of the materials has come to an end. 

The green house effect and the unstable climate in recent time is as a result of sum total of our negative approach towards the conservation of nature. Cities reeling under choking smog and pathetic living spaces are perfect example of resources being over overburdened.  

Economic growth is of utmost important to the Nation of 1.25 billion people. But that does not negate environmental concerns and absolve us of committing hara-kiri.             

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Do Away With Exotic Pets

Paradoxically this habit prevails even in countries most sensitive to human issues. Keeping exotic pets is an invidious and obsessive hobby of people in many countries. It may be of no consequence if the animals, birds, reptiles and insects are treated with utmost care and love.

Until unless we do not accord a status of equality to all life forms the heinous crimes will continue unabated. Such issues do not cause political or social upheaval sadly.     

This habit is one of the causes of species becoming extinct or critically endangered. Though innocuous it may seem, the demand for exotic pets is giving rise to illegal trade in endangered species. The time and effort spent by agencies to stop or curtail this maddening phenomena is tremendous - financially and physically.

The rise in wildlife crimes is due to the demand for exotic species, body parts like bones for medicine/cosmetics, body adornments, talismans, and of course drawing rooms items (stuffed butterflies) sic.

The desire to consume exotic/endangered life forms is suggestive of cultural inadequacies that should be corrected timely. This malady is widespread prevalent, and can be brought under control or stopped by creating awareness especially through the electronic and social media.     

I do not know how many of the pet keepers are aware of the gory consequences, and of untold misery suffered by these creatures, many of  which are certain to become extinct and hence lost for ever.    

Discouraging such hobby and the hobbyist is first step to prevention of illegal trade in wildlife. Stepping up pressure by people for auguring a protective legislation in place is of utmost necessity.   

India does not allow killing of wild forms as well keeping them as pets.  This sensitivity (Ahimsa) is attributed to Vedic Culture and hence the unique conservation ethos prevalent since thousands of years. Vegetarianism also helps.

But the global demand, certainly, has given rise to a criminal nexus (India) engaged in illegal exports of life forms. The status of tiger is critical due to the demand for its bones in China and other Asian countries used as wonder medicine sic.  
Bunty Jain - Bengal Tiger

Say no to pets before thousands of species perish. Say no to exotic food containing highly endangered species. Say no to cosmetics containing animal parts.....Say No to all that harms other life forms.         

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Charged By A Massive Tiger

This happened not for the first time. 

I was on safari with guests from Courtyard House Kanha. Jennifer, David, Heather and Mark all enthusiastic travellers from New Zealand.  

The evening ride was organised at Khatia Zone ironically not a preferred one for most. But recently, tigers and leopards have been seen here besides sloth bear, nilgai, barking deer, and the common animals of Kanha.  The area lacks water bodies that retain water during the scorching summers. 
The evening was interesting with some good sightings but no tiger. Since most of the travellers to the reserve come with this majestic predator in mind, I had some thinking head on for coming game rounds. 

While some distance away from the Mocha township a man on motorcycle waived frantically at us to catch our attention.  

"Tiger Ahead!"

I believed the man since Munna the dominant tiger now vanquished often roamed in this area. In no time we reached Budbudi Nala only to be confronted by locals and a retinue of forest staff. We could not see the tiger till the ranger pointed to a bush.

He was sitting in between the opening of two bushes. In the dim light we could see him pensive, staring straight at us. My guests had their first look of the magnificent predator.  Calm prevailed as the ranger informed us that he was Munna.

"Well he looks very big", I informed the guests. My suspicion proved right as the calmness was shattered by the deafening roar as the tiger rushed towards us on all fours crouched as only the cats can. It all happened in a split second and none of us saw him get up from where he was stationed.  

Stunned by the assault we kept looking at him in awe and wonder.  He covered few meters and than retracted but before we could settle down he rushed again this time more viciously with greater intensity. He came to about fifty feet near us. In that dim light photography was not possible.

In an instant the crowd moved far away from the scene of action. Trepidation ran deep among one and all. The snarl and the hiss was blood curdling. The huge tiger retracted once again and remained crouched  ready to charge...which never came.    

"This is Dabang," I exclaimed. Being a cattle lifter he is of aggressive dispensation as all his likes are. He was charging at our jeep and that of another stationed near us.

Dabang is the largest tiger seen so far at Kanha National Park. He had earlier charged us with greater ferocity last June. The charge was close distance and it was terrifying. This was my third sighting of the big cat, much earlier I had seen him at a bison kill on Karia Ghatti Road. He was grimacing and snarling menacingly then.

The ranger signalled us to move on and we did. Much relieved that my guest had seen a tiger and experienced a rare action in making.

Next day the animal was seen near the Ghangar Nala on Bahiar Road that leads to the Courtyard House.  At 3.50 pm. A big passer by crowd had gathered and witnessed another charge on a passing vehicle. The tiger had then moved into the forest leading to the Nala.

The cattle lifters survive among the livestock of impressive size and hence grow big and aggressive, often confronted by the cowherds. Unlike Dabang who is closer to human settlements, most of them live in buffer forests scattered around the core. These are inhabited by people and their livestock. Unlike the core the buffer is not much under scrutiny, man animal encounters and poaching often occur.

With ever increasing population of tigers and leopard, the management of buffer augurs a new look.     

Monday, September 5, 2016

Indian River Systems & Marine Life

India is rich in biodiversity both terrestrial as well as marine. We have amazing giant creatures swimming in our rivers. The notable ones are the Golden Mahseer, Dolphins, Crocodiles including the Gharial,  Ganges Shark, Goonch Cat Fish, Otters and Huge Turtles.  Among the turtles the notable ones are Olive Ridley, Flapshell and the Black Turtle.     

Most of these creatures can be seen in the Indus, Gangetic and Bhramhaputra River Sytems though the mugger is widespread. The large salt water crocodiles are found in estuaries in Sunderbans and some parts of Orissa.  

The marine life is as diverse and can be seen at Pirtoan Marine Park as well as in the seas for Andaman and Nicorbar Islands, Lakswadeep, Goa, Port Blair and numerous islands.  A vast coastal belts of Arabian Sea, Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean are home to millions of sea creatures. 

The marine creatures are the Whales, Elapid snake, coral reef snakes, Dugong, Mottled eel,  scarlet soldier Fish, giant moray rel, red sponge, sea squirt, sweeper fish, angel fish, spotfin, lionfish, starfish, thorny oyster and numerous species of sharks. 

Reef Life of Andaman Video
Aquatic Life of Indian Ocean
Our oceans are facing numerous threats because of climate change, pollution, over fishing and industries on the shores. Nevertheless marine life is little researched and offer vast scope of discoveries during explorations.