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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Mating Time Kanha



The male and female tigers kept calling each other in broad daylight. We sat in our jeep waiting in expectation as the ethereal sound waves collided in our ears. The effect was magical in those serene surroundings of dense jungles of Kanha National Park.   

We were listening the mating calls of the pair hidden in the deep confines of the jungles. The pair did not emerge from the bush but nevertheless we enjoyed understanding the mating behavior of tigers. The call ceased after some time and the pair moved uphill away from us in to undisturbed area to mate in complete privacy.    

In protected areas like Kanha only the dominant male is able to mate with tigress in estrous. The competition is fierce and weaklings are pushed into subjugation. The dominance ensures transfer of best genetic trait much required for survival in wild terrain that the preserve is.   

In our tiger safari we found lot of evidence of tigers mating, some lucky one's may have witnessed this solemn event. Field biologists have understood much about breeding biology of big cats and more has to be discovered. This is required for tiger conservation in India for mating ensures arrival of new generation of big cats and hence augment numbers.      

Kanha National Park is situated in the Central Indian State of Madhya Pradesh in India. It is habitat of long lit of mammals, birds, reptiles and insects. The floral diversity is bewildering and requires training in advance botany to understand.  

Understanding our wilderness is not reserved for researchers alone, each and everyone can make a valuable contribution to save the tiger and its home. The mating increases in Kanha during the winters to some extent since the predators breed throughout the year.   

We were lucky to witness a young tigress searching for male tiger near the Kanha Meadow. The chemical communication is highly developed in big cats and they find others from scent in the urine sprayed on the trees. They also use scat and sprays on bushes to communicate. Using a process called flehmen they discover tigress in estrous or scent of the male nearby.   

The tigress sucked the effervescence of fresh urine on a Salai tree and grimaced with her tongue hanging out. The flehmen enables air to be sent to the vomeronasal or Jackobsons' organ situated in the roof of the mouth. The processing lets the big cats to discover other tigers especially females in estrous. 

My group was able to photograph this event from close. There were more tigers to be seen later besides the enchanting wildlife and avian species. 

People come from far and wide to experience this magical mystical land called Kanha. Tourism benefits wildlife and local communities in a positive manner. The preserve is the best managed in India and tourism is controlled such that it remains friendly to the ecosystem and its wild denizens. Large scale employment is generated by the hotels in Kanha which follow responsible tourism guide lines. The resorts depend upon the tourists to survive which arrive here in plenty every year.    

Best time to visit is anytime whence the park is open (16th Oct.- 31st June). Depending upon weather preference you can organize your trip. It is cold till the month of February and the heat increases after words. Avoid holidays and weekends. The park is closed for evening safaris on all Wednesdays.    

Friday, November 25, 2011

Bandhavgarh: Breeding tigers

The last nights telltale event was clearly etched on the soft jungle road. The sordid saga of survival in the tortured terrain of Bandhavgarh National Park. We followed the drag marks for a long distance till they crossed over into the dense forest.  

The predator had killed a chital doe and dragged it to the spot where her cubs were located. The struggle was evident, the drag marks formed a narrow strip of depression on the road turning and twisting in a bizarre fashion. The tigress had put it all in to take the dead prey all the way along to her cubs. 

Ignoring the bitter cold of early morning we waited at a spot at Churbohera Road in expectation. The kill was probably consumed and she was likely to emerge near the rivulet or her favorite perch next to it. After some time we decided to check the large slab of igneous rock which was her favored retiring place.     

We could see nothing till two cubs decided to play. The mother had carefully placed herself behind a clump of bamboo and the cubs stayed alongside her as she lay asleep. We could see the three little tigers about 3/4 months old but it was not possible to photograph them. Kankati had at last brought her cubs out of hiding, The challenging race for survival in the wilds had begun for the cubs, the tigress will mentor and tutor them for two years before making them independent.  This is necessary since this predator is a solitary animal and does not live in pair or a pride.

It was heartening to see the cubs as they loitered around close to their mother. I had seen small cubs before but after a gap of ten years perhaps. The spectacle is a memorable event, the cubs threw a cautious inquisitive glance at us and quickly retracted behind the bamboo. The hide and seek game went along for some time before they vanished out of sight alongside their mother. They where probably seeing humans and their bizarre contraption for first time since birth.

We were on tiger safari at Bandhavgarh National Park - me and my French group.  We saw more than the tigers - birds and mammals - a successful nature photography tour. Bandhavgarh is a prime tiger habitat in Central India with high rate of success in breeding. I could find evidence of about sixteen cubs in the park during my visit from 20th November to 23rd November. A new generation of tigers was emerging in this nature preserve auguring hope for the survival of its race. Sound policies, effective protection and positive conservation may fetch this species from jaws of extinction in the country.   

There was a mother with four cubs at Tala Zone on a kill. We could hear the squealing and mock fights but failed to see them. A just delivered litter of four was discovered in Magdhi Range besides sighting of tigress with three cubs probably 6/7 month old. Three cubs were seen on Mahaman Road by the guards. 

There may be more breeding tigresses in this little paradise. This augurs hope for the tiger's survival in India - thanks to good conservation measures. The topography of this park provides excellent security and privacy to the tigers besides a good pray base. Most of the hillocks in the preserve are inaccessible and provide safe breeding grounds for the pregnant females. Unfortunately there is disturbance in the buffer and the periphery of the core due to number of villages and livestock.     

Inbreeding threat exists in all the tiger reserves of Madhya Pradesh since they are no more interconnected with each other. A viable corridor is a must for gene transfer, this relates to all reserves in India.    

Mining Menace India

After the recent news of coal mining in the Tadoba Tiger Reserve in Maharashtra it becomes clear about the governments priority as far as tiger conservation is concerned. The coals mines on the periphery of the reserve posse a threat to the habitat of tigers. To make matters worse new coal mining permission has been allotted by the Union Government in Chandrapur.    

Illegal mining in critical tiger habitats in India is posing a major threat. A strong will is desired to  get rid of this menace.  Sariska and Buxa are prime examples.

This reminds one of brick kiln menace around the Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh. Diamond mining around the Panna National Park and so on. Large amount if forest tract come under the axe for development projects in India. 

The major threat to tigers in India has always been the loss of habitats and not poaching. The tiger needs forests with dense cover to survive. The reserved forests in India are badly managed and subject to tremendous biotic pressure and timber smuggling. Most of the forests outside the protected areas do not harbor any wildlife and the big cats have been exterminated by local poachers and the reducing habitat. About 5000 crore lingers unspent due to lack of decision making and legal tussle. This fund meant for forest regeneration schemes. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Enclosure Therapy - Kanha

After the success of Swamp Deer conservation at Kanha National Park it is the black bucks turn. The former program aimed at conserving the highly endangered hard ground barasingha or swamp deer the only of its kind on the World.   The species have adapted to inhabit hard ground with evolutionary change in its hooves. Unlike other Barasinghas in India these are not as splayed and hence work well on hard ground.     

At Kanha the animals recovered from a lowly sixty to more than 300 hundred now. Once these animals thrived in thousands in this region but due to habitat conversion and over hunting the number is pathetically low.  A small population was unable to cope with predation and hence was kept in a large enclosure devoid off all predators including tiger and pythons. This was to prevent predation and increase the survival rate of the fawns. The plan was a  success and the human intervention brought name and fame to the conservation unit.  

The enclosure worked well and may have been used often. Recently about 4 black bucks where introduced in the enclosure at Kanha Tiger Reserve.  About 32 heads of this antelope survived at the preserve during the sixties. It is obvious that the animal did not belong to the ecosystem since open scrub and extensive grasslands do not exist here. The black buck survives on grass and crops in India. After the relocation of human populace from the core the agriculture fields became redundant and turned into edaphic grasslands. Stiff competition for endemic herbivores pushed the antelope to extinction.     

The exercise to reintroduce this animal in the wilds of Kanha is ill conceived since the habitat is not suitable. A high population here would mean increased competition between the deer population in the grasslands. The foreign element could affect the population and breeding of the highly endangered swamp deer.

One reason that can come to mind regarding introduction of black buck at Kanha is to increase tourist attraction. This is a highly myopic exercise and a damaging step. The tiger reserve is a conservation unit and offers scope for tourism which support hundreds of local populace. Besides tourism delivers a positive impact on tourists who come on tiger safaris and birding. People understand the value of conservation by observing the complex web of life at work. Kanha has enough species of deer and does not need an exotic species that could have a negative impact on the fragile web of life which is natural. The animal could survive on the periphery but that would lead to already severe man animal conflict. 

The program should be brought to halt with immediate effect. Species like the Indian wolf and hyena have lost ground  here due to colonization in the buffer zone. These animal should be brought back to status that the National Park can support. The crucial resources should be spent on these beleaguered animals.       

Friday, November 11, 2011

Fantastic Wildlife of Nauradehi

The chinkara leaped over the a ditch and vanished into the forest canopy adjoining the road. Taken completely by surprise that animal gave one look at us and vanished. This was a rare sight for me as most of the chinkara antelopes or Indian Gazelle have become extinct from Jabalpur and its surroundings.  

Nauradehi is a unique wildlife having up till now lost in the annals of history neglected since the end of the hunting era. It was my friend Shri Avinash Bhai landlord and business man who stirred an interest in me to visit this wonderful tiger haven. Being an avid naturalist he had frequented this wildlife sanctuary on few occasions.    

This was our third trip together after the news of a tigress found dead due to natural causes couple of months before. We were not on a tiger safari but on a quick status survey. We met few officials of the sanctuary who have been working hard to conserve the invaluable diversity of the preserve.     

November, December and January the crocodile sightings are assured. About two hundred crocodiles are found in the Bamner River and numerous water bodies that have been meticulous preserved by the forest department SDO Mr. Narendra Singh and RO Mr.Manohar Lal and his team. Their helplessness is evident as the number of villages inside is alarming. The relocation order has come in and many villages are willing to move out. But funds allocated are being channeled elsewhere at the moment. In other preserves as the officials say. 

This is a unique biotope since the fauna seen here is much less seen in popular tiger reserves of Madhya Pradesh. It is a dry deciduous mix forest with preponderance of teak most of which has been logged out and the plunder continues. Bamboo is scarce because of gregarious farming, Tendu, Saaj, Salai, Dhok, Banyan, Peepal, Lyndia, Jamun, Amaltas, Char, Bahera, Harra and many fruiting trees.  

There is no lack of will and efforts by the team at Noradehi but the problem is very large. Indiscriminate collection of fire wood and minor forest produce is also a problem. But in limited numbers the team is doing all it can to safeguard this valuable reserve. In spite of action whenever possible the problems persist.   There about 60 plus villages in the sanctuary and human intrusion is damaging.    

We are thankful to the officials for their interpretation of the ecosystem and wildlife of Nauradehi. As per the departmental census there are about 4/5 tigers, 4/5 leopards in an area of 1100 plus sq.km. Besides the fauna comprises of Indian Wolf,  Sloth Bear, Wild Dog, Nilgai, Chinkara, Spotted Deer, Sambar, Fox, wild Boar, Otters, Jackal and more.There are extensive grasslands with the preserve which support healthy population of black buck and chinkara besides deer species. This is why the WLS is been chosen for Cheetah relocation in Centra India  

The bird life is amazing with many species that are not easily seen in other parks. At Cheola Lake I could sight verditor flycatcher, common wood shrike, paradise flycatcher, white browed flycatcher, black redstart, lesser whistling teal, black ibis, common chiff, blue throat female, Blyth's reed warbler, black drongo, bay backed shrike, pied wagtail, grey wagtail, marsh sand piper, green sandpiper, egrets, king vulture, white bellied sea eagle (?), common tailor bird, jungle babbler, plain prinia, ashy prinia, lesser white throat, Hume's warbler, rose ringed parakeet, grey hornbill, plum headed parakeet, pied starling, common myna, open billed stork, white headed ibis and pied cuckoo.

The sanctuary has diverse habitat including large grasslands and many wetlands. Thus forest birds, grassland birds and wetland species can be seen in a few day visit. A day visit can also yield  good sighting but 2/3 days is recommended.

Nauradehi is about 86 km from Jabalpur and little less from Sagar District of Madhya Pradesh. The best approach is from Jabalpur which is directly connected by flight from New Delhi and Mumbai. The city is extensively connected by rail with metros and many other cities. 

A day  trip can be organized from Jabalpur. Some popular MP tourism companies also arrange safari package and bird watching in the preserve. Naurdehi has little accommodation accept forest accommodation with two rooms. This is available only with prior permission of DFO at Sagar.

One can make a to and fro trip from Jabalpur with ease. The tour operators provide packed  food for the day and arrange jeeps from taxi services in Jabalpur City and Sagar Township . Jeeps are preferred mode of transport in the park. The gate fee is less than Kanha, Pench and Bandhavgarh National Park. The safari guides are not available hence naturalist from Jabalpur or forest guard are required if you wish for an extensive wildlife safari in the preserve.      

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

India's Vanishing Wildlife

The connotation in the title means many species in India that are critically endangered.  This is evident from the status of the tiger. The Asiatic Lion in India stands isolated in a small pocket.

All efforts to settle the lion in a new habitat has failed. There seems to be no tangible solution in this imbroglio, and the Asiatic Lion is under threat. Here is an excellent example of human interest counting over other life forms. Another example of political ignorance that often works on parochial sentiments rather than a rational approach. 

Another example is demand for rights in fragile ecosystems, especially the forests which like all are severely limited in extant. What hampers creation of corridors to offer a safe passage to beleaguered migrants.  The passing of genes offer protection from inbreeding. But humans vote other do not. The planners lack a concise effort to offer alternative means to the tribal in a country making leaps and bounds  in economic race. Most of the activists are ignorant of conservation ethos and have utter disregard for wildlife in India. It is for the people, for the people. I am not quoting any instrument mind you it is plain fact.     

The protected areas conserve but the policies are myopic. Why degraded forests are not being reforested the way they should? There are many species that cannot stand human activities in their habitat. Crucial resources are lying strangled in a legal tussle and simple lack of corrective policies.  Restored ecosystems have tremendous potential to inhabit species which have been pushed to extinction.  

Reckless development schemes in order to generate employment are causing great harm and benefiting a few. Rampant industrialization has not benefited the West as is evident in the recent crunch. In constructing  Mega Dams large scale forest are inundated and the rest chopped as about to be. No ecological cost exercise is taken into consideration as no project may be deemed fit in natural places.  

Large scale agriculture lands created by overtaking left over natural places are redundant and innumerable are with shamelessly poor yield. The cost incurred in clearing forests and grassland is phenomenal in terms of damage to the environment.

Humans are capable of creating instruments of survival alternatively, other forms are not, they are dependent on nature. In trillions of years nature has created a fragile and complex web of life supports. Once this is destroyed it is impossible for humans to recreate.

Let us do something as urgency. What is being left for posterity should be an another concern for one and all.