Call of the wild

Call of  the wild

Blooming Biosphere The declaration of two new sanctuaries by the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka governments comes as a hope for many endangered species. Increased protection and awareness, especially in tiger reserves, has already led to resurgence   in tiger numbers in southern India, writes  PU Antony.

World Environment Day being celebrated each year with festivities around the world is primarily meant to invoke political and public action towards issues concerned with the environment.

This year, the day is marked by the creation of corridors that would enable marooned wild life of Nilgiri Biosphere to roam in a larger, more intact ecosystem. The untiring efforts of various green organisations towards this cause in South India resulted in the recent declaration of sanctuary status to two reserve forests and the ban of night traffic on various highways passing through Bandipur, Nagarhole, Mudumalai and Wayanad wildlife sanctuary. These two initiatives from the part of the respective state governments paved way for an unruffled subsistence for wild animals in this belt.

The new Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary (Tamil Nadu) including areas along the River Cauvery in the Hosur and Dharmapuri forest divisions, together with the unique Gutterayan Riverine Forest was first proposed by the noted naturalist, M Krishnan immediately after the promulgation of the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. Later, the proposal being put up since then from time to time by various green organisations became a reality when Chief Minister Jayalalithaa announced its implementation in the Tamil Nadu assembly on May 2 this year.

In a similar move, the Karnataka government has officially declared a part of the Kollegala Range Forest as Male Mahadeshwara Wildlife Sanctuary on May 16,. Out of the 1,224 sq km of the range forest, 906.18 sq km (90,618.75 hectares) has been declared a sanctuary. The declaration has been welcomed by NGOs and greens who had persistently demanded sanctuary status to these forests.
 
A crucial habitat

The new Cauvery wildlife sanctuary is a very crucial habitat dotted with a range of hills covered by dry deciduous and semi-evergreen forests on the Eastern Ghats, bound by the River Cauvery on the West. Some stretches of shola forests too are seen on the slopes of the hills. This is the only forest in Tamil Nadu other than Srivilliputhur that harbours the Grizzled Giant Squirrel, ratufa macroura. The ruling monarch of these jungles is the elephant.

This forest range stretches to sanctuaries of BR Hills and Sathyamangalam including the newly installed Male Mahadeshwara Wildlife Sanctuary and joins the tiger reserves of Nilgiri Biosphere. As the meeting point of the Western Ghats and Eastern Ghats, these forests form a vital link in the elephant corridors of South India, connecting the Bannerghatta National Park and the River Cauvery. It borders some of the prominent tiger sanctuaries of the South. Water sources like Cauvery, Dodahalla, Hebbahalla, Chinnar, Ponnaiar, Anaibiddahalla rivers make these ranges a promising habitat for wild life.

A home to the endangered

Both the proposed sanctuaries are home to many endangered wildlife like four-horned antelope  (tetracerus quadricornis),  Indian gaur (bos gaurus), sambar (cervus unicolor), leopard (panthera pardus), smooth-coated otter (lutrogale perspicillata), sloth bear (melursus ursinus), wild dog (cuon alpines), Indian pangolin (manis crassicaudata), rusty spotted cat (prionailurus rubiginosus), Egyptian vulture (neophron percnopterus), painted stork (mycteria leucocephala), grey headed fish eagle (ichthyophaga ichthyaetus), lesser fish eagle (ichthyophaga humilis) etc. whose protection under Wildlife Protection Act needs to be ensured.

The vegetation type

These sanctuaries host mixed vegetation types such as thorn scrub, dry tropical riverine, dry deciduous, mixed deciduous, dry evergreen and semi evergreen. The forests of the hill harbour many rare plants and trees such as giant mangifera indica, garcinia gummigutta, wild balsam, wild jack, etc. Endangered species such as shorea roxburghii also occur in the division. Significant trees such as old growth mutti (terminalia arjuna), hardwickia binata, ippe (madhuca longifolia), diospyros malabarica etc. occur here.

Habitat fragmentation due to settlements, poaching, cattle grazing, forest fire; exodus of elephant herds from fragmented forests; increase in road network into the forest areas etc. can now be effectively managed for better conservation. Allowing the elephants to disperse haphazardly will be disastrous as the landscape has changed vastly due to human activity. The only option is to contain the elephants within the existing forest divisions by protecting the habitat and making it suitable for elephants. To that extent, the setting up of the two sanctuaries is a positive move.

The nature of forest cover in the Eastern Ghats had become more open with extensive scrub patches. It is reasonable to assume that the trend has continued and probably accelerated in the last decade. The seriousness and intensity of the problems need to be acknowledged and corrective measures need to be put in place.
This can only be done by enhancing the status of the important parts of the region to a protected area and re-orienting the management towards wildlife conservation.

The declaration of the two sanctuaries will create a large tract of contiguous protected area connecting Bannerghatta National Park to the forests of Sathaymangalam through Kollegal and Kanakpura Forest Divisions and Billigirirangaswamy Tiger Reserve. Increased protection and awareness, especially in tiger reserves, are leading to resurgence in tiger numbers and the tiger range in southern India is increasing. Strict protection of the proposed area will lead to a healthy population of ungulate prey species and the area will once again become habitable for the tiger.

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