Wednesday, April 26, 2006


13, 14 April 2006

I had been to Bhanjanagar, in the southern part of Orissa, along with a few colleagues from Wild Orissa in the second week of April. We had been invited by a Bhubaneswar based NGO to a ‘consultation’ on tribal rights vs. wildlife conservation. While the so-called ‘consultation’ turned out to be a complete failure, we stole the opportunity to tour the forests of Ghumusar North and South.

One of the last places in India where the extremely endangered Blackbuck lives safe from poachers and gun toting film stars is the area around the villages of Ballipadar and Bhetnoi. There is no forest here and nor is it a sanctuary. The locals believe that their crops will fail if the antelopes don’t feed from their fields. They strictly protect the animals and even rescue injured and sick animals. This belief has led to what is now a model for community protection of wildlife. Only 4-5 kms after the village of Ballipadar, we were stopped by Amulya Upadhyaya, head of the Black buck protection community. On the roadside, what had to us been just another paddy field scenery, he pointed out to us our first wild blackbuck. It was a splendid male; looking very much like Africa’s ubiquitous Thomson’s gazelle, only black in color. The females are fawn colored with a white belly and a thick black streak separating the two colors. As we tramped the fields, almost forgetting the heat and humidity in our excitement, we saw over fifty or sixty more of these critically endangered antelopes in less than 30 minutes. The locals say that they are even more concentrated in the monsoon and winter but they scatter in search of food in summer. The area is estimated to have around 900 blackbucks (and the figure is growing). In the absence of natural habitat (open grasslands) they are totally dependent on cultivated crops. Talking to Mr. Upadhyaya we learnt that the area was suffering severely due to a shortage of water in the summer and that they had thus stopped growing their summer crop. This is affecting both the people and the animals. With only one crop in a year, the people are finding it increasingly difficult to share their crop with the antelopes. A reservoir is necessary so that the monsoon waters last through the summer and this amiable relationship continue.

We returned to Bhanjanagar in the afternoon to prepare for a visit to the Kaliamba Reserve Forest only 6 kms away. From there we drove through the forest on a dirt track for 7kms to the century old Kaliamba Rest House. The drive yielded no sightings save a couple of spotted doves. There is a huge banyan tree in front of the rest house, which houses a few giant squirrels. The watcher offered to take us for a round of the forest. We asked him to take us on his beat. From the animal tracks and scat on the ground we concluded that barking deer, sambar, wolf and bear were prolific. Elephants are migratory here. We came across one leopard pugmark, a medium sized male, and are unsure of a second, smaller pugmark. The area also holds a few gaur and we saw one hoof mark. It should, however, be kept in mind that this walk lasted only an hour and half and there certainly is more wildlife here than what our search revealed. The last big cat census revealed the area was devoid of tigers but the watcher said he had seen a pugmark just before the census. Leopard sightings are common in the area and cattle kills happen occasionally. The watcher was just telling us about a recent king cobra sighting when we came across the shed skin of a spectacled cobra.

The next day was our day of departure and we made an early start from Bhanjanagar. Beautiful ‘sal’ forests start around 10 kms after Bhanjanagar, on the Bhanjanagar-Dasapalla road. This is the Tarasingh Reserve Forest of the Ghumusar North Division. The road is narrow and with very little traffic and sightings are said to be high on this road. We dropped in at the Tarasingh Range Office and since we didn’t have enough time to tour the forests we had to satisfy ourselves with whatever the Forest Deptt. staff had to say. According to them, the area has bears, wild boar, barking deer, jungle fowl and peafowl. The last census revealed 15 leopards and 1 tiger. The ranger showed me the plaster casts of the pugmarks. The leopards seemed fine but the tiger pugmark was very small and was more likely that of a leopard, exaggerated in size since it was found on sand. They said it could be a tigress but I am still skeptical. The Forest Deptt. is notorious for faking the existence of tigers and this is one example of just how easily they can create fake figures.

The staff showed us a little barking deer fawn which had been colleted from villagers. A villager had trapped it from the jungle and on receiving this information the Forest Deptt. staff proceeded to seize it. They were greeted by a large group of villagers armed with sticks and they finally had to buy the animal for Rs. 400! This is the state of our Forest administration. When it can’t even seize a fawn from a villager, how can one expect the Forest Deptt. to fight gangs of poachers armed with sophisticated weapons? They are given guns but even if they fire it in self-defense, they have to prove this in court. And everyone knows that courts in India can take years for even simple cases like robbery. There is an immediate necessity to give full police powers to the Forest Department and to give magisterial powers to officers above the rank of Conservator.

Both the above areas are highly affected by timber theft and forest fires. Nevertheless, the entire area shows excellent potential for wildlife conservation, if it is declared a sanctuary. It has corridors with other wildlife rich areas like Baissipalli-Satkosia, Dasapalla, Berbera, etc. and these areas, with the exception of Dasapalla, have tigers and elephants which are in desperate need of un-fragmented rich forests if they are to survive.

1 comment:

ReclMav said...

It was really nice to come across such a well described note around the wildlife in Orissa.

This fine morning i woke up with a thought of Bhanjanagar, I grew up there and opened the newspaper to find the so called brouhaha around human exhibit of tribals in orissa..

It just seems sad to me that the good things rarely come to front as did this google search result pointing to your blog talking about the black bucks..