Bears and the big broad grin

At 25, the Daroji Bear Sanctuary near Hampi typifies a naturally regenerated forest

The Daroji Bear Sanctuary turned 25 this year. It also celebrates a great conservation effort.

Two major eco-geographical phenomena occurred in 1991 and 1994 in Hospet and Sandur taluks. In 1991, the Hampi Kannada University was founded, and in 1994, the Daroji Bear Sanctuary was formed.

The construction of a new campus for the university across 680 acres of degraded land is a lush green forest. It teems with hundreds of species of birds and other wildlife species.

And, once a barren and degraded forest, the now 82.72-sq-km Daroji Bear Sanctuary is a success story.

Fruitful conservation

Situated close to the World Heritage Site Hampi and surrounded by  industries, the Daroji Bear Sanctuary is home to the Indian sloth bear (Melursus ursinus), Indian leopard (Panthera pardus) and other mammals, reptiles, birds and the typical flora of Deccan Plateau.

This bear sanctuary was formed by the efforts of many forest officials and others as a solution to mitigate the human-bear conflict in the forest between Sandur and Hospet taluks.

The Karnataka Forest Department notified the 55.87 sq km of Bilikal East Reserve forest as Daroji Bear Sanctuary on October 17, 1994. In 2009, an additional area of 26.85 sq km of Bukkasagara Reserve Forest was added to the sanctuary. Thus, the total area became 82.72 sq km.

In the beginning, the forest department officials faced hardship while tackling the rampant encroachment and put in much efforts for the consolidation of boundaries, prevention of hunting, poaching, wood-cutting, sand-mining, quarrying, forest fires, excessive grazing by livestock and so on.

The efforts by different Range Forest Officers (RFO) were commendable.

The first RFO, Shekar Kambali, took on challenges such as eviction of encroachments, consolidation of boundary, identification and construction of watchtowers etc. The second RFO, Sangamesh N Math, took up soil and moisture-conservation works, and created a conducive climate for the flora and fauna there, apart from constructing stone walls and cattle-prevention trenches.

During his tenure, a campaign against ritual hunting was initiated with the support of Society for Wildlife and Nature (SWaN), a local NGO.

The third RFO, Immadi Ravindranath, added up “missing” forest lands to the Daroji land, which resulted in the closure of hundreds of stone quarries. During his tenure, ritual-hunting in the vicinity eventually stopped.

During the tenure of RFO M Gopal and Sirigeri Nagaraj, recommendations for eco-sensitive zones (ESZ) were submitted, and on the basis of this, every stone quarry surrounding the sanctuary was shut down.  

At this juncture, a separate wildlife sub-division was formed in Kamalapura, and M N Kiran was appointed as Assistant Conservator of Forest. However, the sub-division was moved to Kudligi.

No conflict

Now, the sanctuary has completed 25 years of conservation and has become a glaring example of natural regeneration of a forest typical to Deccan Plateau.

Enrichment of the habitat due to soil and moisture-conservation works has resulted in the regeneration of many local plant species. This has also increased the ground water table.

Though the bears are ant and termite-eaters, they also eat fruits. About 26 species of plants found in the sanctuary bear fruits in different seasons, which are eaten by the bears.

For instance, Goravi (Ixora pavetta), Ulupi (Grewia damine), Jane (Grewia arbiculata), Bore (Ziziphus jujube), Kakke- (Cassia fistula) etc are consumed by them.

The seeds that pass through the gastro-intestinal system get acid treatment, and on falling down, through their dung, germinate in the rainy season. Thus bears help in the propagation of the forest.

Because of the availability of food and water inside the sanctuary, along with the serenity, the human-bear conflict is no more.

The bears and the wildlife rest peacefully in the rocky caves and forage in the night. Yet, they invade the crops such as maize, sunflower, groundnut, cereals and millets in the farmlands around.

But the forest department is known to have compensated the farmers for the loss caused. Therefore, the bears are in no way harmed.

Teems with wildlife

A rough estimate suggests that there are about 95-105 bears in the sanctuary and the population is steady and healthy.

Other mammals like Indian leopard, jackal, fox, wild boar, black-naped hare, common and ruddy mongoose, palm and common Indian civet, jungle cat, Hanuman langur, bonnet macaque etc are found in good numbers.

The sanctuary is also home to a number of rare, endangered and threatened species of birds such as yellow-throated bulbul, painted spurfowl, painted sandgrouse.

A rough estimate suggests that there are more than 180 species of birds in and around the sanctuary. The reptiles include star tortoise, Indian rock python, red and Russell’s sand boa, Russell’s viper, cobra, rat snake and vine snake.

More than 50 species of butterflies have been documented. 

About 120 major floral species typical to Deccan Plateau are also recorded.

The jungle, reborn thanks to the efforts of forest officials, local NGOs, wildlife activists and supportive villagers, the Daroji Bear Sanctuary has flourished over the last 25 years as an example of ‘natural regeneration of forest’ offering oxygen bank for the surrounding area.

Hundreds of tourists and photographers also throng to the sanctuary to have a glimpse of green scrub jungle, birds, bears and piggyriding bear cubs, the scene of which, one has to witness.

To commemorate the conservation efforts of the bear sanctuary, the Society for Wildlife and Nature has planned a year-long silver jubilee activities in and around the sanctuary. 

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