Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Synchronized Tiger Census In Hosur Forest Division - Feb 2010

I was under the impression that I was in for Tiger Census in the  Hosur FD, Although I am generally not very well informed I knew  the Tiger Census were over. However keeping my skepticism aside I  plunged in volunteering for the task.

A little about the survey, organized by KANS (Kenneth  Anderson Nature Society) jointly with the forest authorities during the weekend of 20th and21st of Feb. The  idea was to gather volunteers, break them into groups and send  them to different divisions. The group itself will be broken into  at max 2 people plus the Forest Guards to trek into the forests  through a path called the beat. Day one was for Direct sighting,  so volunteers were to keep their eyes and ear open and of course  mouth shut for direct sightings of animals and birds. Day two was  for gathering indirect evidences of the fauna through collecting  scats and  examining/photographing pug/hoof marks. All the groups would enter  the forests at the same time so that the chances of sighting  increases and counting the same animal is reduced. We were to establish credential that Tigers/Leopards are in the area.  This way the forests that are currently only under Reserve Forests status get promoted to Sanctuary status, as its counterparts in the Karnataka Forest division. Higher the status, more security, hence more chances that the forests are protected from the human interferences.

 It has been quite a while I was out in the wilds and in the company of people who felt drawn to nature the way I do. So, I was  all for it. When Sanjeev (He is KANS V.P.) said that because of the overwhelming response from all together 80 odd people they  have to draw lottery I didn't really think about it. Its like I  was almost dead sure to get in, you could say I had some sort of  divine foresight :). And Voila! I was in.

Somehow no matter how much of preparation you put to get geared  for a trip you know you have missed out A-LOT-OF essential stuff  behind. So me minus a cap and jungle tracks packed bags for Hosur.

I had no means of transport and even after the numerous mails being exchanged to carpool and stuff the following day still left  me with no clear idea of how to reach the cattle farm at Hosur where all the volunteers were asked to assemble at 6pm. And then Chitra (seriously it was like God sent an angel to my rescue) called the only other female in my group. We were assigned to the same Denkanikottai range.

So, after a few negotiations I was excused from office at 4pm. Me,  Arun, Valli and Chandan squeezed into Chitra's car at Silk Board and headed to the cattle farm.

I knew KANS is a well established society, what I didn't expect  is the kind of reception that welcomed me. All the people who came together for the survey were the kinds you could call tree huggers, nature freaks, people who were deeply concerned about the retreating forest covers and depleting numbers of the wildlife. We  had a roaring discussion until 8-9ish about this and that. Then  the ACF, Mrs Padmavathi updated us about the intentions of the  survey and the necessary precaution we are to take that included changing your socks and not using perfumes.. :). The DFO, Mr Ganesan then spoke lengthily into the night about his experiences in  various forest ranges he has been so far. Most of us felt disgruntled at his attitude for comparing the present range with  ones that are known to be thickly populated with wildlife and thus  declaring the current region "very-poor-in-wildlife" . But yes,  despite his pessimism one must appreciate his never fading sense of responsibility to protect the forests and love for the creatures that live in it. He spoke and lot about Makhanas in  particular and the increasing number of their sightings. Makhanas are the male elephants that have no tusks or very small ones hence appear as females. He was speculating about the theory whether this is a reaction to the rampant killing of  tuskers in these areas by the poachers. Well, we did keep our eyes peeled to sight  a makhana but as luck goes, we did not even sight a single elephant, let  alone a makhana.

The guest house at Denkanikottai came as a rude shock to the volunteers who were all geared up with sleeping bags and what not only to be given well maintained rooms with fans and Television sets!

We sat until the late night talking about places we have visited and all the freaky naturalists we have met along the way. Arun recounted all his travelogues while Chitra kept us giggling over this one forest officer, who hit her at the knuckles jovially for not getting  the names of the birds right (Mr. Chinnappa himself!).

Early morning 5am we were divided into groups of 2s, Me and  Arun and Chitra and Akshay were given the Aiyur division. We sort of played a bit of politics to get assigned to the most dense region of the Denkanikottai forest range :).

Not until 9am did we actually begin our walk into the beats thanks  to the Forest officer who did not get the data sheets and was being  severely reprimanded by the DFO. He was asked to get back to the HQ to  fetch them and hence the delay. But we were sort of cajoled by the sightings of Yellow wattled Lapwing and the awesome guest house at  Aiyur that sported 3 cane huts and a watchtower.

Watch tower at Aiyur guest house

The forests of Aiyur division came as a different surprise all  together. The stretch of bamboo forests smoothly mixing into dry shrub forest to deciduous to kinda evergreen where the small springs flowed. However, the dense foliage left us no aerial view  hence, denied us of the pleasures of birding. Same with the direct sighting, Even if an animal stood a few feet from us, there was no way we would know. So great would be its camouflage, The only way  we would know, would be when it moved, which they wouldn't because they  know before they see us, of our coming. So much worse for us since we are not only denied sighting a wild creature but also totally unprotected. The Guards were very jumpy, they had a death of a  fellow guard in the hands of an elephant just a few days ago. We still made most of the time we spent in the forests, we have  preferred them over all and any paradise man has to offer. We covered a beat area of 3km, the guards did this measurement using a length of rope.

Flame of the forest tree

We did spot morph paradise flycatcher and red vented bulbuls and squeezed in so much talks in between. Arun has this vast enthusiasm for everything about wildlife and forests that kept me hooked in to everything he has to say. The best treat however was at the end, at the Sameri lake. We spotted a Grey headed fish  eagle and several drongos and barn swallows hovering lazily. The guards overcome with exhaustion dozed off underneath the bamboo clumps while we sat still for a long time in the shimmering afternoon sun enjoying the voices of the jungle. I had an eerie  feeling as if the jungle was observing us, appraising of what promise we held. Of whether we would stand true to our  conscience and protect her from our fellow beings. A vast feeling of sadness swept over me for seeing her helpless, of have brought  her to this state. If each one of us would wake up to the fact  that we are moving rapidly towards a doom, by depleting the  forest covers and killing the wildlife relentlessly until they go extinct, has upset the fragile balance of our earth, perhaps there is still some hope for us .

Sameri Lake

We arranged our stay with the DFO to stay the night at Aiyur guesthouse, so that we could be closer to the forests. The idea of returning to Denkanikottai simply did not tempt us. Evening brought us a flood of visitors. Mr. Prasanna (treasurer of KANS) ,  Mr. Jayaram and few others, mainly a journalist from Frontline , camera  crew were in the region, to shoot a documentary about KANS. We accompanied them to the Spider Valley. The view point at Spider valley is simply breathtaking. The rows of hill softly melting into one another, fog that refused to fade even at the height of  summer afternoon, the shrill call of the Black Eagle that flew in  circles above us all created a sense of solitude. Of being absolutely at peace.

Gutherayan silhouette from Spider valley

Next we hurried to take our places at the Samieri watchtower. Its generally predicted that at dusk the elephants gather at the Sameri  lake. However, owning to a large number of people pouring in, the noise levels could not be controlled and we had no such luck with elephant sighting. They must have known about our presence a mile away. Elephants are very sensitive creatures, though their bulk would make you think otherwise. They can catch movements, they pick up sound waves through the ground, through their incredibly sensitive feet. They are extremely smart too, like crows and chimps, they  learn very fast, no man made enclosure can keep them bound for long. Of late, elephants have become very aggressive thanks to the  poaching of the tuskers and drastic changes in their habitat. They  have lost their natural water places and feeding areas to the ever increasing desires of man. Elephants migrate to the same place every year. One time there is a sprawling green bamboo field, next  year a village has come up, what would you expect? And thus Man- Animal  conflict keeps rising. We need to realize that this place not only belongs to us but to them as well. We must learn to share.

That night we gathered our Binocs and did some amazing star gazing. Just when I was beginning to feel that buying a 10*40  binocs was the worst thing I did,  its so heavy, I can't hold it steady for more than a minute and as the experts say higher the power more are the disturbances magnified. I only realized its worth when we did Raptor birding and star gazing. Suddenly my much criticized binocs became a hot commodity! Thanks to Akshay we sat under the star lit skies and identified several constellations and satellites. We were simply amazed at the amount of stars clustered  in M31, the globular cluster in constellation Orion.

While the rest turned in early after a sumptuous meal given by the  forest officers at the guest house ( I tasted the most yummy rasam ever!) me and Arun took our positions at the watchtower to have a  glimpse of the much hyped Mottled owls that were resident at the tree next to the watch tower. Not until 12 or 1 am when we were  paying the least attention a huge bird swooped above our heads  into the night like some sort of grey ghost. The resident Mottled wood owl! We tried unsuccessfully to go out for a night stroll. The Guards were simply not taking any chances, they had closed the main gates during the night and hoped the trenches all along the guest house borders would keep the elephants from crossing.

The next morning's birding brought another string of surprises, I saw my first ever Indian Pitta. Tiny bird colored in green and the most vibrant blue on its rump and saffron on the vent. We walked right from the guest house until the Sameri lake, a stretch of 5km. Our faithful companion or must I say our Canine guard, the dog at the guest house who I have fondly named Courage, the silly  dog :) kept us company all along, sniffing the trails before we  reached it. No new sightings, though we did have fun since the  guard kept forgetting the way and took us amidst the the thick bamboo groves and thorny lantanas. But as it goes we had no luck  getting lost since he kept turning and we ended up on the road  again and again. We finished our last trail again by ending up at  the lake and observing the Grey headed fish eagle.

Thus my trip to the Hosur forest winds up by us returning to the  Hosur cattle farm and giving a few details of our sightings to Sanjeev and returning to Bangalore at around 3pm.

And what follows is disorientation. Like its told in 'Gods must be crazy' re-adapting to the ways of man.


Blogger Anuradha Shankar said...

Fantastic! Wish I could have been there....

October 12, 2010 at 9:33 PM  

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