Friday, December 24, 2010

Kanha Tigers

Immensely popular as the best tiger habitat in the World, Kanha justifies all glory. This pristine forest has always been a tiger habitat and offers a suitable home to amazing mammals and biodiversity.

For me Kanha remains a mystery in spite of many many visits since last thirty years. From a conservation center in infancy to ideal tiger heaven today. No wonder it is the most visited park in India for tiger safaris. As per latest news, the reserve is host to more than 90 tigers in the wild. It is an ideal breeding ground for tigers, as I have seen since years.

Tiger sightings are often bleak and often magnificent. That is how the animal is, mysterious, elusive and mystical. It can be days before one sees a tiger or sometimes there is a windfall. Tiger sightings are by no means estimation of its population at Kanha, but one comes across a lot of tell tale signs. These are indicator of the tiger's presence and trained eyes can make them out. Kanha tigers are in good health though menace of poaching and man animal conflicts loom overhead. Any kind of complacency can be disastrous as has been observed at Panna and Sariska. The conservation centers in India should be alert and protective of this species.

Recently I was at Kanha Tiger Reserve and visited the fine habitats near the Kanha meadow. Due to weather conditions the animals kept themselves in deep confines. But any way I was able to come across a tigress after lot of efforts. My guests wore fat smiles'... after lot of dejection earlier.

Tiger sightings are more by chance but there is always an option for a sleuth he!he!. One can come to conclusions that increase the chance of sighting the tiger in its home. I received a lot of handshakes and pats on the back. I was happy with the driver of the Kanha resort were I was staying. Some of the wildlife lodges make special efforts in training their drivers and naturalists. responsible tourism most of the staff is local.

Kanha safaris are highly organised and one must follow the rules and regulations fully. The park authorities cooperate with the tourism industry but do not allow tourists to go against the rules. This helps in offering the tourists a holistic experience of the preserve. As part of responsibility the tourists themselves must set an example of responsible behaviour while on safaris. After all we are in the land of the tiger and millions of life forms that are making their last stand in such forests.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Less Seen Animals - Central Indian Tiger Reserves

The tiger reserves in Central India are major focus of attention as far as tiger tourism is concerned. This comes through high visibility of this extremely endangered animal in the country. Tiger chase in the parks have given a bad name to tourism by an large in these magnificent reserves.

Not surprising every one wishes to see the tiger. It is our beloved Earth's most coveted animal, charismatic to the bone and mystical. Irrespective of conservation ethos of our ancient scriptures we have managed the reverse. Wild tiger sighting is an experience of a life time. First time or last you never come out of it.

The reserves of Central India or MP have high density of tigers namely Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Pench. Besides they are intact ecosystem with amazing biodiversity. This is to be experienced in totality in order to enjoy nature. As interest in nature deepens a desire for holistic experience of eco systems is a natural precursor.

Every element of nature's wonderful creation excites and thrills. It gives meaning to our own existence on Earth. A life time is not enough to experience these pristine tiger havens in totality. But whatever more you experience is enough.

On tiger safaris other animals seen in the forests and grasslands are Nilgai, swamp deer (Kanha), sambar, spotted deer, langur, wild boar, jackal, wild dog, bison and oft barking deer. A leopard sighting is a thrill of the lifetime and so is that of the sloth bear.

Rarely seen is the mouse deer recently discovered at Kanha, four horned deer - endemic species, Indian wolf - highly endangered and hyena. It is most exciting to see the nightlife albeit night safaris in the park are not allowed. One can certainly go through on the common roads outside the park. Animals often seen on night rounds are leopards on prowl, sloth bear, jungle cats, civet cats, porcupine, fox, ratel, mouse deer? some birds like night jars, large owls, Eurasian thicknee. It is possible to see Hyena and Wolf at nighttime wherever they survive.

The reptiles are shy and extremely nocturnal, most commonly seen are the monitor lizard, python, cobra, krait, viper, rat snake, keelbacks and grass snakes. Many species of tortoise can be seen in ponds. The rivers in these tiger reserves do not hold mugger or gharial. They are found in Ken River Sanctuary near Panna National Park.

In India wild safaris hold an element of surprise. Animals en masse are rarely seen. A dull day can turn into a electrifying moment in one go. Trekking skills help a lot but it is luck that dominates for one and all.

The tiger reserves are places for exciting birding in Madhya Pradesh for birders. More than two hundred fifty avian species can be check listed. These are ideal destinations for forest birding in India.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Wildlife Tourism - Changing Paradigm

The Central Indian tiger reserves are the most popular wildlife safari destinations in India. Incidentally they have become the hub of tiger tourism. This has opened up an industry that is unique and unparalleled in Madhya Pradesh. People from all walks of life in the vicinity and far are being benefited due to influx of large number of tourists for tiger safaris.

Tourism though a big money earner has its own burden to carry forth. But whence the heritage is in perfect state of preservation and tourism is responsible, the benefits far outweigh the negative. Nevertheless the status of the tiger and wildlife in general in India is precariously threatened. Hence it is imperative to keep pressure of tiger tourism at lowest level - which is already being done in the tiger reserves as a gradual process.

For some the onus of animals being endangered and ecosystems being ravaged lies on eco tourism. This is a gross misconception bordering on ignorance and perhaps prejudice. The proponent of such notions need to redefine such notions taking into account a wider perspective. The impelling disaster is due to extensive deforestation, man animal conflict and organized poaching. Much needs to be done as regards these factors. In breeding and disease are the next big one's.

I have been visiting Kanha and Bandhavgarh since seventies whence tiger tourism was ready to take off. Subsequently the number of tourists swelled four fold and so did the wild animals. In this period the ecosystems peaked with conservative measure in action.

The tiger made a come back in the parks, though persecution continued in non protected areas outside. The administration had a double task of managing wildlife, burgeoning tourists numbers and accommodations. This was well done, the regulations in place did a fine job of containing tourism in the core zones.

The recent changes in Kanha, Bandhavgarh and Pench are suggestive of this ongoing process of managing tourism. But the paranoia that exists vis a vis tiger status sometimes leads to ad hoc polices perhaps with out consultation with the industry.

More Info: Tiger Conservation Group Kanha

In my personal opinion tiger tourism has played a crucial role in education and creating awareness of our wonderful wild heritage. This has propelled conservation in India and augured a new value system for wilderness. Old hunting records suggest that wild animals were treated as pariahs especially the carnivores. This is one of the prime reason for extermination of tigers, leopards, wild dogs, hyena, wolf and so forth in many parts of India.

This drastic perception has been removed amongst a large set of people who have visited these ecosystems. They have certainly voiced their opinions elsewhere. Visitation is a close encounter of the first kind...and the voice has gone far. Even those who have never been to tiger reserves have changed their outlook to positive.

A more conciliatory approach is required as far a wildlife tourism in India is concerned. Wildlife safaris are a non destructive way of appreciating nature at close. The age old concept of wildlife as an elite indulgence has to be done away with. The increasing cost of tiger tourism will have a limiting effect on benefits that accrue. There should be special packages for school groups, NGOs and the underprivileged such that message spreads far and wide.

Eco tourism encourages empowerment of local communities, is profit sharing, educative and entertaining as well. Why not?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Wild Bovids: Indian Bison

Though not as popular as the tiger, Indian bison or gaur is an extremely majestic animal. The appearance is striking with reach of five and a half feet to six feet and a weight of 700 to 1000 kg. The species is extremely muscular and shapely with white stocking...nature's striking adornment. The protruding dorsal ridge and dewlaps are typical to males who are glistening black (violet) in color. The fawn coloured females are smaller with inward horns and less prominent dorsal ridge. The animal is an epitome of fierce strength, and looks fearful, though it is shy by nature.

Gaur belong to the ox race and the name bison is a misnomer. It is gregarious animal and as a coarse feeder, it has penchant for floral elements on hill sides. It is a hill animal, and is stressed out to descend up to the grasslands or meadows in Kanha and elsewhere in summers. The only species of Guar North of Narmada was at Bandhavgarh but disease took its toll and none survive.

The largest population of Gaur (Bos gaurus) is found in Melghat tiger reserve followed by Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh India. The animals live in herds of ten to forty and forage in grasslands at Kanha. Docile by nature they can ferociously defend their calves from charging tigers. Mostly silent the calls are series of gutturals and woofs.

The big cat is their only predator and hunts the young ones and often adults. But tiger predation is not to a threatening extent...diseases are. The species is susceptible to rinderpest and foot and mouth disease. An epidemic in 1976 at Kanha tiger reserve took a heavy toll of this majestic bovine. The animals are very shy and like swamp deer cannot survive along with man.

Not much is known about the species, but they are hardy animals, true to their order and survive in many National Parks of India. Their closest relative is the Banteng found in Eastern India.

The disease carriers are the live stock in the villages nearby the park. As a rule the livestock has to be inoculated against such disease. The animals in protected areas not in danger but those outside are unheard of leaving Kanha and Pench.

The herd consist of young ones and females, and is lead by an old female. The adult males take over herd during breeding and then stay separate in groups on 2 or 3 or even solitary. The animal has a crucial role in the food chain and preserving the ecosystem of dense forests.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Table Land Bandhavgarh & Kanha

The tiger reserves in Central India are unique with diverse terrain - typically rising and falling. The undulating terrain creates niche habitats often extensive.

While Bandhavgarh, North of Narmada is situated on the fringe of Vindhya Hill Range the forest extend to meet Achanakmar wildlife sanctuary which is partially contiguous with Kanha. Maikal Hill Range of Satpuda extend into Maharastra where Melghat Tiger Reserve is situated. Kanha is partially contiguous with Pench Tiger Reserve in Satpuda/Satpura Hills. This was once contiguous forest patch spreading more than five thousand sq km.

Described as Central Indian Highlands By James Forsyth, the reserves are the true tiger havens. The topography accords bewildering diversity to floral elements which in turn creates habitats for multitudinous life forms. Once flourishing with tigers and Central Indian mammals the preserves have been brought back from certain denudation and catastrophe by conservation programs.

Though the forests have been reduced due to continuous wood logging in the past, the pristine forests still retain their glory.

Short hills and table land are unique to all tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh albeit degree may vary slightly. Hillocks at Kanha called Dadars, are not as steep as some are in Bandhavgarh - more of a cliffs than mountains. The walls of the cliffs at places are steep and rocky an provide excellent nesting grounds for vultures and eagles.

Bahmni Dadar at Kanha and Bandhavgarh Hill at Bandhavgarh have large table land or plateau. The floral elements vary at every climb eventually giving rise to spectacular scape at the top. As you move up these mountains, change in canopy is evident. The slopes covered with bamboo give rise to more complex as mix of herbs, shrubs, vines and mix forests. The ecosystem differs from the grounds below.

Rather than chasing tigers in the meadows these plateau offer new grounds for exploration. Less seen species of birds and mammals could be sighted on these table top mountains.

The plateau is flat mostly edaphic grasslands with scattered tree line. In Kanha, I have seen the four horned deer often at Bamni Dadar though no record is found in the plains. Out of reach these are perfect breeding grounds and shelter for tigers. This could be one reason for high fecundity seen in these tiger reserves. Tigers in plains adjoining the villages are more susceptible to disease and poaching.

Bison or Gaur retreat to hill side and perhaps the plateau during verdant season in winters as they are coarse feeders. Unfortunately the bovine is extinct in Bandhavgarh.

The plateau at Bandhavgarh and Kanha are worth exploring on jungle safari in the parks. A holistic insight into wildlife and the ecosystem is the way to enjoy these tiger havens. The pristine forests have so much to offer that a life time is not enough.

Bandhavgarh fort plateau, Ghoda Damn, Cave No 10 and Bamni Dadar at Kanha are a must visit on a long haul stay.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tigers in the grasslands

Large extensive edaphic grasslands are typical to many of our tiger reserves. Earlier inhabited by local tribesmen these precious habitats were vacated for subsistence of wild species to whom the habitat belonged since eons.

The grasslands are prime habitat for deer specie especially for animals like the swamp deer. Swamp deer survive solely on marshy grasslands in India. The swamp deer or Barasingha at Kanha is an exception as it has adapted for existence on hard ground.

The grassy meadows are at the fulcrum of activities in our tiger reserves. Most of the prey and predator saga unfolds here - the grassland are vital element of the food chain.

Bandhavgarh is a prime example of grassland ecosystem interspersed with dense Sal forests. Many of the grasslands inhabited by tribesmen have been vacated. Inundated by rivulets, the wet marshy grass lands are preferred hunting grounds for the majestic tigers. Bandhavgarh though small is a prolific breeding ground for Bengal tigers. The undulating terrain, inaccessibility, dense canopy and large prey base is the reason. The survival rate of the cubs is very high in this picturesque animal kingdom.

The tall grass act as effective camouflage and hence allow the tigers to creep close to the prey before striking. Unlike lions, tigers cannot run for a long distance hence they hunt by ambush. The marshy grasslands are effective killing grounds and the big cats love them. They are excellent for raring cubs in absolute safety and shelter.

The grassland ecosystem is frequented by large number of herbivores hence are ideal prey base. The most powerful of the tigers reign over these habitats. The meadows are also frequented by territorial females and young males. The struggle for survival means the fittest should exist. Prime grasslands in BTR are Chur Bohera, Raj Bohera, Chakradhara, Bathan, Sehra and Mahman.

High fecundity, low mortality and abundant prey makes the preserve ideal tiger habitat with highest density. As the reason tiger sightings in the wild is very high. The jungle roads intersect prime tiger habitats in order to accord high visibility of these magical cats.

The tourism infrastructure is well developed. A large number wildlife resorts are available for stay in Bandhavgarh. One can avail of best packages for accommodation. For safari jeeps can be hired at Tala village or are arranged by the hotels.

The tiger reserve is well protected though danger looms all over. Bandhavgarh nature preserve in India is best place to see tigers in the wild. Every year thousands from all over the World visit the park.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Birds of Kanha

Kanha Forest though popular for tiger safaris is an excellent bird habitat. Though a diverse habitat by all means it lacks large water bodies. The wetlands basically comprise of Sondhar and Bisanpura and a medium sized tank at Kanha Meadow called Shravan Taal. There are many small shallow lakes besides the rivers Banjar and Halon and there tributaries. The water bodies are habitat of quite a number of aquatic birds but not as impressive as in other birding habitats.

The National Park is an excellent habitat for forest birds as well as some grasslands birds. The surveys conducted by me and many naturalists checklist an exciting number of resident and migratory birds.

Most popular birds of Kanha are those that are easily seen. Among them are Grey Headed Barbet, Coppersmith Barbet, Racket Tailed Drongo, Golden and Black Headed Oriole, Shama, Blackrumped Flameback, Grey Francolin, Painted Francolin, Northern Pintail, Lesser Whistling Teal, Common Teal, Malabar Pied Hornbill, Grey Hornbill, Alexandrine Parakeet, Red Billed Malkoha, Plum Headed Parakeet, Rose Ringed Parakeet, Crested Hawk Eagle, Crested Serpent Eagle, Grey Headed Fishing Eagle,White Eyed Buzzard, Oriental honey Buzzard, Shikra, Osprey, White Backed Vulture, King Vulture, Egyptian Vulture, Brown Fish Owl, tawny Fish Owl, Mottled Fish Owl, Jungle Owlet, Spotted Owlet, Indian Scimitar Babbler, Paradise Flycatcher, Lesser Adjutant Stork, Open Billed Stork, Painted Stork, Woolly Necked Stork, Black Ibis, White Ibis, Great Cormorant, Egrets, Orange Headed Ground Thrush, Common Iora, Brown Cheeked Fulvetta, Spangled Drongo, White Bellied Drongo, Ashy Drongo, Black Drongo, Gold Mantled Chloropsis, Jerdon’s Leaf Bird, Common Wood Shrike, Large Cuckoo Shrike, Black Headed Cuckoo Shrike, Oriental Turtle Dove, Red Collared Dove, Emerald Dove, Green Footed Pigeon, Laughing Dove, Spotted Dove, Eurasian Ring Dove, Black Naped Monarch, Verditor Flycatcher, Blue Capped Rock Thrush, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Red Throated Flycatcher, Ultramarine Flycatcher, Tickell’s Blue Flycatcher, Grey Headed Canary Flycatcher, Little Minivet, Black redstart, Rosy Starling, Jungle Myna, Chestnut Bellied Nuthatch, Velvet Fronted Nuthatch, Great Tit, Black Lored Tit, Wire Tailed Swallow, Plain Martin, Barn Swallow, Red Rumped Swallow, Streak Throated Swallow, Grey Breasted Prinia, Crested Tree Swift, Plain Prinia, Hume’s Warbler, Lesser White Throat, Common Chiff Chaff, Tickell’s Leaf Warbler, Sulphur Bellied Warbler, Tawny Bellied Babbler, Yellow Eyed Babbler, Purple Swamphen, Black and White Ibis, Peacock, red Jungle Fowl, and many more birds.

The birds check listed include resident and winter migrants. There are more than two hundred and fifty avian species in Kanha Nature Preserve in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

Best birding season is winters from Mid October to March. After March migrants depart from the tiger reserve. Kanha offers best tiger sightings and wildlife watching. Like in Bandhavgarh preserve one can enjoy birding as well tiger safaris at Kanha. Most of the birds can be sighted on tiger safaris in the park while trekking in the buffer zone will yield more sightings.

Birding in Central India is becoming very popular as the concept of forest birding dawns upon the tourists. The added fun of enjoying the preserves is having an all encompassing outlook. Bird watching adds to you experience at Central Indian Parks. Seek a good naturalist.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Bandhavgarh Personified













The jungles of India intrigue and fascinate humans. They exude an aura of mystery and mystical charm and unparalleled natural beauty. The animal kingdoms in India since thousands of years have bedazzled humans and attracted them to admire, explore, study and record aspects of the nature's masterpiece. Throughout in annals of history animals and birds and forests find mention by the kings, court historians, writers, poets, ascetics and local communities.
Photos By. Mr.Kamaljeet Hora

Bandhavgarh jungle
was once contiguous with Central India Highlands and Vindhyan Ranges. It is now more or less fragmented and isolated, connected perhaps with Kanha and Achanakmar with nonviable badly deforested corridors.

Small and confined, the jungles of Bandhavgarh are an epitome of exceptional beauty and exude an aura of mystique. The spectacular esoteric, fairy tale settings and element of mystery remains. The terrain is unique of steep rocky hills, marshy grasslands and dense canopy of tropical moist forests. In between the forested slopes and marshy glens traverse small rivers - life lines of the ecosystem. The enigmatic landscape heightens perception of depth, stirs imagination and peppers mind and body.

The thrill of exploring mysterious jungle life is heightened by equally mysterious elusive animals that exude charisma, fear and awe. The tiger rules supreme, King personified and embellished in myths, arts, literature and cultures all over the World.

Bandhavgarh in its niche habitats, unfathomable caves amidst rocky crevices, towering hillocks and sun baked plateaus nourishes remains of ancient kingdoms. Of Kings and Queens who ruled in glorious times and eventually vanquished by conquerors. The ruins lie scattered unfolding saga of human civilizations that sought shelter in unreachable and secure womb of these dense forests.

Bandhavgarh is a fascinating blend of ancient history and equally fascinating jungle life. The pristine forests, prehistoric petrographic and man made caves, zoomorphic idols, ancient temples, stables, reservoirs and a magnificent fort stand testimony to ancient civilizations that coexisted with nature.

The park is the best place to watch tigers in the wild. In a small area of 400 plus sq.km a large population of Bengal tigers survive. The tigers of Bandhavgarh have been epitomized and made eternal by film makers, wild life photographers and story tellers alike. Be it the legendary Badka, Sita or awesome Charger all have been objects of sustained documentation and study. The stars of this wildlife resort have propelled it to International fame and mention. Visited by large number of inbound and Indian tourists the park invites more and more visitors every year. One can see large cross section of the park on safaris and enjoy big game and birding. The resort offers all king of hotel accommodation from super luxurious to budget.

The core focus in Bandhavgarh National Park in MP has always been on tiger due to high visibility and fecundity. On safari besides tigers and leopards, one can see many deer species, lesser carnivores and small often nocturnal mammals. Bird life at Bandhavgarh is interesting and invites many birdwatchers to the preserve. The impressive biodiversity is best experienced during a long stay and repeated visits.

The park is accessible from Jabalpur by road (4 hrs +) which is connected by flight service with New Delhi. Utkal Express makes a short stop at Umaria rail head about 32 km from the tiger preserve. From Khajuraho BTR is 6 to 7 hours drive.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Big Cats - Downslide continues

In spite of strong conservation measures the big cats in Central India continue to loose ground. The tragic death of Jhurjura tigress at Bandhavgarh and poaching of leopards at Sijhora and at Satpura Tiger Reserve is heart breaking.

For many these are mere statistics and news items but for wildlife lovers this is in distressing. What is frightening is the manner and number in which leopards are being killed. The animals is bold and dares venture near human habitation with easy albeit at times under duress. The primary targets are live stock, tame dogs and often poultry.

The leopard is the first to face the scourge of locals who cannot bear to loose livestock. I have witnessed at Kanha National Park one such incident of cattle killing by a leopard. Luckily the carcass as moved to human precincts in order to avoid poison killing of the cat. So many such incidents occur all over India and are a regular feature at periphery of National Parks like Kanha Kisli near Mandla, Bandhavgarh and Pench Tiger Reserve.

At times ire of locals is understandable but it man who is the trespasser in areas reserved for other life forms. In order to manage over board human population we are putting lot of stress on our natural resources and the future is bleak.

Continued intrusion in left over ecosystems and destruction of habit is an ongoing feature and there is little hope for the beleaguered animals. Due to lack of proper planning, implementation and innovative approach the problems in and around protected areas are taking demonic form.

The lack of political will is most unsurprisingly due to fear of loosing popularity and hence vote bank. This quite evident in case of relocation programs in tiger reserves and wildlife sanctuaries all over India. It is clearly man before animals and disregard for other life forms. The wild animals in India are third grade citizens or may be lower down.

The big cats are loosing ground but the main reason at present seems to be man animal conflict, demand for tiger parts and skins especially in Tibet and China. And our inability to provide physical protection to the endangered species closeted in smalls pockets augurs the death knell. We are clearly helpless guarding our forests and precious wildlife.

Since last to decades solutions from all sources have been sought but there is none. Why not take the bull by horn and catch the poacher red handed followed by stringent punitive measures.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tourism at Bandhavgarh

Well known for its tigers and wildlife safaris Bandhavgarh is the most picturesque resort in the World. Not as large as Kanha or Pench it is quintessentially a tiger reserve. The density of tiger is the highest here. It is the topography that supports tigers the best. The topography comprises of steep hills and hillocks with table land at the top. The diversity of life forms is worth observing.

In between are deep glens with forested slopes, rivers and grasslands. The terrain does not permit human movement at many places. There are many inaccessible areas some of which are motor able but the tourists rarely go there. The inaccessibility has prevented human encroachment. This has been one of the reason for eventual survival of the tigers at Bandhavgarh. The prey base is excellent and the marshy grasslands are ideal hunting grounds of dominant tigers.

Like Kanha the park offers the best chance to see the tiger in the wild on jeep safari. The tourism zone comprises of marshy grasslands where in tiger abound. They can be seen in broad daylight by chance. The dense canopy of forested region offers little chance to see the tiger since there is plenty of cover.

The tigers are every where even near the resorts in Bandhavgarh National Park. They can be seen with luck on road to Tala and near some villages. There are incidences of man animal conflict and the animal is the sufferer. There are many villages yet to be relocated from within the park.

Tiger Safari

Tiger safari is conducted in the core zone of the park. There are two safaris in the jungle early morning and late evenings. There are now two entrance gates but the Tala Gate is very popular. The road runs parallel to Charanganga River offering a good chance to sight the big cat especially in summers. There is a split at some juncture one jungle road leads to Chur Bohera meadow. This is again a good spot to see the tigers in the wild. Wildlife safaris in Bandhavgarh Jungle would now be route based for individual vehicles. This is good an prevents concentration of vehicles at one spot.

One can score Mahaman and Raj Bohera for some exciting moments. Waiting patiently at Gopal Talao and other water bodies could fetch some exciting mammal sightings including tiger. On jeep safari silence is the rule and keen eyes are a necessity. This is essential to catch sight of wild animals or hear tell tale signs of their presence. Pug mark trekking is also good but by the time you have come across the mark the tiger has already slithered away.

Having a holistic experience is essential way of holidaying at tiger reserves and National Parks in India. The jungle has so much to offer in terms of wildlife sightings, birding and a soothing calm in pristine environment.

Wildlife & Tourism

Other animals to be seen at Bandhavgarh are Leopard, Sambar Deer, Spotted Deer, Wild Dog, Barking Deer, Sloth Bear, Four Horned Deer, Langurs, Wild Boar, Jungle Cat, Jackal, Fox and Rhesus Macaque. A night safari outside the park could yield small mammals, civet cats, ratel and porcupine. Night safaris are not allowed inside the preserve. Pythons and other reptiles are seen with luck.

Nilgai is often seen at Bathan but Hyena and Indian Wolf are scare .... I have never seen them at the scrub outside the park. The nature preserve offers the finest birding opportunity for forest birds and often some wetland birds.

Places of interest are the ancient Bandhavgarh Fort, temples, stables, Sesh Shaiyya, man made caves with ancient Brahmi script and zoomorphic avatars of Lord Vishnu.

The tourism infrastructure is well set in the reserve. The safaris are regulated by the forest department. It is a must to hire park guide on safaris. At the gates, fee is charged on per vehicle basis and separate fee has to be paid for filming equipment - cameras, videos and movie cameras. There is a wildlife interpretation center at Tala Gate. Tala village is a small shopping center and eatables are available.

The jeeps are available for hire most of the hotels of Bandhavgarh arrange jeep safaris. Hence those on jungle plan benefit a lot. There are many hotels, wildlife resorts and lodges outside the preserve. The rates are for all budgets - super luxury to budget accommodation.

Season

The park opens in October and closes in June end. All time is good time to holiday at this reserve but avoid holiday season especially major festivals.

The winters are very cold hence warm clothing, hand gloves and head gear is must. Summer are hot...not for those who cannot bear heat.

How to Reach

The park can be reached by 5 hrs drive from Jabalpur by road and rail (Umaria). Jabalur is connected by air with New Delhi. Overnight train from New Delhi - Utkal Express reaches Umaria in the morning. This rail head is about 32 km from the park gate.

Plan your safaris well and enjoy the most exciting heart throbbing wildlife holiday ever.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Swamp Deer at Kanha

The park management at Kanha National Park swells with pride whence the swamp deer comes into the picture. The swamp deer or Hard Ground Barasingha is a race found only at Kanha in MP, India. The taxonomic classification is Cervus duavcelli branderi. Named after Dunbar Brander who first discovered the fact.

The difference lies in the hoof which has modified into adapting the hard ground. The hoof is not spread out or splayed unlike other species of the deer. The swampy grounds in Kanha are not extensive hence the modification. This red deer species is one of the most charismatic animal along with the tiger.

The deer is primarily dependent upon certain species of grass and rarely goes for coarse feed. The habitat are the grasslands of Kanha, mainly Saunf meadow where they breed, Bisanpura and Saunder. They are slowly occupying other grasslands a well. In summers large number of swamp deer can be seen around Kanha meadow. On instances I have seen the deer entering the thick canopy.

The fully grown stag weighs approximately 180 kgs and is smaller in dimension than the sambar deer. The females are smaller and light brown in color. Like all deer species they are devoid of horns. The twelve tines have accorded it the name Barasingha (Bara=12, singha=horns). But the horns do not contain twelve tines always and the number can be less or up to 14 on the average. The reddish brown fur and shapely antlers make this a charismatic mammal.

The male swamp deer live in schools whence young but take over a female herd whence fully grown and out to mate. The mating takes place in winter months of November and December whence grown up male adorn their antlers with long stripe of grass and mud. The mating calls reverberate through out the valley. The stags indulge in power play with each other to mate with doe in estrous. The territorial fights are rarely injurious, as much before the strength is decided. This is natures way of ensuring the best gene transfer with minimal damage.

The gestation period is around six months and usually a single fawn is born. The females care for the young. The fawn mortality is due to carnivores like the tiger, leopard, jackal, wild dog, python and at times due to disease. In order to conserve the species a large mesh wire enclosure has been created in park. This prevents predation from the carnivores and reptiles. The reptiles were physically removed. The enclosure reduces the chances of infectious disease.

This is the saga of success, whence from sixty plus animals the number has grown to over 300 heads. Thanks to George Schaller and other researchers these fact came to light and the enclosure was created. The number has stabilized to over three hundred and efforts are being made to increase the population.

The pride of Kanha National Park in MP is the main tourist attraction during the tiger safaris. With greater conservation efforts and advance research the population of this once gregarious deer should increase.

The increase in population of the hard ground Barasingha is essential if the animal has to be saved from extinction. The gregarious deer once thrived in large numbers in suitable habits around Kanha park. Now confined to the core this animal is highly susceptible from foot and mouth disease and rinderpest. The carriers are the live stock which occupy the buffer zone in very large numbers. Timely inoculation of the live stock is mandatory to prevent disease influx amongst the wild species.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Bandhavgarh ecosystem

Bandhavgarh is a moist deciduous tropical forest type. It is situated in the Vindhya Range that lies in the Central Indian State of Madhya Pradesh. The forest flora comprises of Sal (Shorea Robusta) as the dominant species with Bamboo (Dendrocalamus strictus) on slopes of hills. The other tree elements comprise of Saj, Dhawa, Bhilma,Tendu, Bel, Harra, Bija, Lyndia, Arjun, Mahua, Pipal, Banyan, Kosum, Palas, Salai, Gunjan, Char, Jamun, Aonla, Pakur, Kulu, Amaltas and many more. The woody climbers, herbs and shrubs constitute the understory.

The grasslands of Bandhavgarh are marshy inundated by Charanganga, Johilla and Umrar rivers. The marshy grasslands are ideal ground for hunting for Bengal tigers. Most of the grasslands at Bandhavgarh are edaphic but support the herbivores like spotted deer and sambar. There is no historical record of Swamp deer at Bandhavgarh National Park. The only coarse grazer Indian bison or gaur has lost ground here.

The terrain is undulating and comprises of steep rocky cliffs many with forested slopes. The valleys that hold marshy grasslands, forest and criss crossing rivulets are prime habitats of the herbivores and carnivores follow them here.

There are thirty two hillocks of which Bandhavgarh Hill is the highest. This where the Fort is situated alongside Laxman Temple. On the way to the hill is Sesh Shaiiya a fairy pool with reclining Vishnu carved out of rock. On the way up there are many zoomorphic forms of Lord Vishnu carved out of the rocks. The hill expresses solitude and an esoteric charm difficult to behold. Very few tourists visit this place.

Of the grasslands called bahera, Chakradhara and Chur Bahera are famous for tiger safaris in Bandhavgarh. It is here that lot many tiger sightings take place. The Raj Bahera perhaps the largest was home to the gaurs and herds of deer and wild boar. I have experienced few tiger sightings here. Other interesting places are Shera Dadra, Mahaman, Bathan, Ghoda Daman and Andheri Jhiriya.

There are many water bodies, small lakes, ponds, water holes and small streams that form the life support system of the park. Besides one can spot some water birds as well. The preserve is rich in bird life and can be constituted as major birding spot for forest birds.

The tiger sits at the apex of food chain and hence is the keystone species being a tertiary carnivore. The leopards, wild dogs are at the top rung of the food chain a degree less than the tigers. The consumers comprise mainly of spotted deer, sambar, barking deer and four horned deer. The Nilgai keeps to open areas of the park on exterior of Bathan and elsewhere. The chinkara have not been seen in my numerous visits since last decade. The nocturnal animals are less seen as night safaris are not allowed in the park. Sloth bear, fox, ratel, porcupine, civet cats, flying squirrel and the rest can be seen on night drive on the periphery on public roads. Jackal, mongoose and jungle cats are diurnal. Flash and spotting lights are not allowed. Hyena and Indian wolf are less seen and there status is unknown. The sighting of caracal is not confirmed. Mouse deer recently discovered in Kanha wildlife preserve is not check listed here.

The reptiles common are grass snakes, pythons, cobra, krait, viper, rat snake, keel backs, tree snakes and many more are less seen perhaps more apparent during the monsoons whence the preserve is closed. Monitor lizards and flying lizards are present here.

The insect life in thousands is yet to be discovered with butterflies being the most exciting elements. Signature spiders and other species are widespread while moths can be sighted here and there.

The producers are indescribable...perhaps a botanist would do a better job. But the floral diversity is as striking as the fuana is. From micro organisms to algae and fungi and exotic plants as Sundew (Drossera indica) The park is limited by its canopy spread and the designated area by Project Tiger holds little meaning. The supports systems are all around and habitats outside park confines are as important.

Bandhavgarh forests where earlier favored hunting ground for Maharajas or Rewa. The intact ecosystem as of today is perhaps as a result of zealous preservation of the forests for their sport. After Independence Bandhavgarh Park was declared as tiger reserve. The project initiated by the government of India is to conserve tiger habitats and its tigers. The park has shown excellent response to conservation efforts. The tigers and other wildlife flourish with gusto.

The park has highest density of tigers in India and hence the best place to see tigers in the wild. Though not absolutely safe from poachers and wood smugglers the in accessible hilly regions perhaps are a boon to wildlife here.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Wildlife in Bandhavgarh & Kanha Buffer

The National Parks in Madhya Pradesh and elsewhere in India are usually divided into two zones. The main sanctum sanctorum is referred as the core zone while outer forest cover is called as the buffer zone. The sum total of the area of the two zones is the area of the park.

The core zone is devoid of any human settlement sans research center, huts of the forest beat guards and the directors bungalow. The core can have government rest houses usually meant for VIPs and MPT hotel. The core zone is reserved for tiger tourism and wildlife safaris.

The buffer zone has human habitation in non forest land and hotels in non tribal land. Most of the hotels in Bandhavgarh are situated in the buffer zone. I think there is now legislation in place which prohibits hotel construction in areas within some distance from the National Parks.

The buffer zone acts as a barrier for human activities and illegal intrusion in the park. Practically the buffer zone has as much a dense canopy as the core zone. In case of Bandhavgarh and Kanha the buffer zone is devoid of long stretches of grasslands or meadows.

Leaving the grassland dwelling species as the Hard Ground Barasingha all mammals in the core zone inhabit the buffer as well. Some species as the Blue Bull, Indian Wolf and the Hyena prefer open stretches of fallow land and scrub forest. The status of these animals is in peril due intrusion of civilization and expanding agriculture.

It is difficult to see these animals in the park buffer and the Indian wolf is severely persecuted due to myth and fear. The genesis of man animal conflict lies in the buffer zone which is subjected to grazing pressure from live stock of enormous magnitude.

The carnivores at times hunt on the live stock creating ill will amongst the villagers who in turn at time poison the remaining kill. For leopards and tigers who roam in the buffers live stock is an easy prey and the temptation to kill is overwhelming. Though as in Bandhavgarh & Kanha the prey base is sufficient in the buffer zone. The intrusion by deer in the agriculture fields on periphery is another reason for man animal conflict. The irony is that we have intruded in their habitat not the animals. The burgeoning population and increasing dependence on agriculture is the main reason.

The spotted deer come very close to human habitation in the buffer zone in the night but the Bison in case of Kanha are shy. The small deer like the Barking deer and the Four horned deer are shy as well. The Chinkara which was diurnal in nature and frequented open lands is not being seen anymore in wild abundance as before. This could be due to poaching as has happened elsewhere. Nilgai or Blue Bulls are most abundant as they are not killed.

The buffer zone supports varied small mammals most of them are nocturnal. On a night safari one can see civet cats, jungle cats, porcupine, ratel and reptiles. The leopard inhabits the buffer zone on regular basis as the pressure from the tigers pushes them towards the outer areas. This animal is at ease with the ways of the humans and frequents human habitation boldly at times relying on live stock, stray dogs and even the poultry.

Bird life in the buffers is amazing and as much in number as in the core zones. Some niche habitat birds like the Malabar pied Hornbill and the Shama may not be seen in the buffer with ease. On a birding trip one can nevertheless spot a large number of bird species including migrants in the winter.

Though night safaris in the park are not allowed one can move on the common roads at night. Flash and search lights are not permitted but one can see a lot by the jeep lights. Some hotels in Bandhavgarh & Kanha organize night safaris. They follow the guide lines for ethical night safaris which does not disturb the wildlife. Such safaris are only for their tourists using the hotel accommodation.

It is safe to go on a night safari keeping strictly to the jeep and not alighting from it. One cannot venture into the park confines and hence has to keep to the common roads. Early night safari starting in the evening and ending by dinner time is better. Although human traffic is high in day time it eases as evening draws on. The shy animals then emerge from their retreat and can be spotted.

There are some parks in India where night safaris are conducted in an organized manner. for the tourists. This is very good way to observe nocturnal animals in their natural habitat. It could also perhaps reduce pressure in the park by curbing tiger safari rides.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Tiger Conservation & China

In spite of early success of Project Tiger and other conservation measures the status of tiger in India is at an extreme peril. The subsequent reduction in numbers of tigers gained due to Project Tiger perplexed wildlife managers and NGOs in the country.

Thanks to the efforts of WPSI headed by Belinda Wright and other participants and others, it soon downed upon us where the tigers were heading.

Since ages the traditional Chinese medicine system depended heavily on tiger parts to make medicines and aphrodisiac (sic!) that supposedly cured people of various disease. Unfortunately this trend continues in the present scenario creating a mess of tiger conservation in India.

The majority of the tiger poaching incidence in our reserves is due to demand of tiger parts in China and some other Asian countries. But this does not absolve us of the onus of protecting our own natural wealth and wildlife.

There has been some legislation set up in China for the protection of the species. Our Hon. Minister Jairam Ramesh on visit to Tadoba recently pointed out and stressed upon China to do more. More needs to be done as tigers poached in India are smuggled through Tibet, Nepal and Burma. It is very difficult to stop smuggling of tiger parts due to extensive and porous borders.

Another aspect we should look into is to protect tiger within. The statement of the minister assures us that the Government is serious about protecting tigers. But it would require assistance of all concerned - the administration and the people. Pro active protection measures and strict punishment for those involved in poaching is the order of the day.

Since the tiger population in China is practically decimated the demand for dead tigers from India is increasing in that country.

Unlike traditional Chinese system of medicine Indian Ayurvedic system has not laid out stress on animal species albeit regulated consumption of certain rare herbs is the need of the hour.

At present the tiger is secure in few tiger reserves like Kanha and Bandhavgarh but this is a presumption till taken by surprise. The tiger reserves are the target of mafia allegedly responsible for engaging small time local poachers for a paltry sum. The axe has not fallen on tigers alone but on the leopard as well.

It is the year of the tiger in China. I hope the people there stress upon keeping the species alive and thriving as a mark of respect and desist from consuming medicines made of dead tiger.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Bison translocation Bandhavgarh Wildlife Refuge

Bisons in Bandhavgarh were the only population that survived North of the River Narmada in MP, India. The last remaining populations which I saw in late seventies numbered around sixty four animals. The number subsequently went down to about thirty two animals and then perished in late nineties.

The bison (Gaur) of Bandhavgarh are the same species as found in Kanha National Park in Madhya Pradesh, India. The present population at Kanha Tiger Reserve is over 600 animals. The project to trans locate few heads to Bandhavgarh from Kanha or Pench is a good move. The trans location project augurs hope for the animal to survive in another pocket which was home to their erstwhile brethren.

Bison species is by nature local migratory. Being a coarse feeder it moves up the hills in neighbouring forest. In case of Bandhavgarh the population was supposed to migrate to Ghunguhti forests near by. In summer the Gaur herd moved to mainly Raj Bohera meadow in Bandhavgarh. This local migration in summer is to get fodder in form of grass and water as the food/water supply diminishes up the hills. This is also nature way of controlling over grazing at one place.

The problems I presume with the trans location of Bison would be that the animals will be penned for some time, this is in contrary to their nature. What would be better that if the trans located herd desires to express movement, it should be allowed to do so under supervision. The animals should be constantly tracked and monitored. The imperative would be inoculation of disease among live stock in the surroundings. This is the primary reason why Bison did nit survive in the park. The animals are susceptible to rinderpest, foot and mouth disease mainly, and the carriers are the live stock.

It would interesting to see if animals migrate accurately in unknown habitat. Does their instinct built up over thousands of years direct them to safe secure place with food and water supply?

How would trans located wild animal population fare in a suitable but unknown ecosystem?

Another important intervention initially would be protection of fawns by tigers. At Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve the tiger density in the forest zones is very high. Threat to the fawns would be substantial in this park. Large tigers also prey on adult bison successfully. Like the Swamp Deer project at Kanha, fawn predation control would be of great help in this endeavour.

But protection from disease, enabling local migration would be an impertinent if the Bison project has to succeed.

For how long will we be able to resort to human intervention - can't we learn to protect wildlife better in order to avoid such contingencies?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Exciting Birds of Kanha

Kanha National Park earlier known as Kanha Kisli is home to the endangered tiger and hard ground swamp deer. But the tiger overshadows Kanha's popularity over its other famed aspects.

Birding at Kanha Tiger Preserve is highly interesting activity. The bird watching at Kanha is popular among birders who come on tiger safaris in the park. Now many tour operators are planning a full fledged birding tours.

Kanha is a habitat for approximately two hundred and fifty bird species the checklist includes winter visitors. At Kanha wildlife refuge the forest birds are best seen. Since there are no large water bodies, wetland bird watching is not as exciting as Bharatpur in Rajasthan.

Forest birding is very exciting but an arduous task. Long hours of waiting, highly focused vision for spotting birds in canopy and good knowledge of bird calls is a perquisite. This is for both - bird guides and birders. Not forgetting high class pair of binoculars and spotting scope and good bird books.

Most exciting finds (though not rare) are Malabar pied hornbill, Shama, Indian scimitar babbler and Paradise flycatchers. Racket tailed drongo, Spangled Drongo also take the cake. It requires trained eyes and skills to locate these birds since they are mostly hiding in thick foliage. Malabar pied hornbill prefers higher canopy of the tree while the Shama keeps to bushes and low grounds often. Shama is rated as best song bird by Salim Ali. These bird are seen in intact ecosystems of the park, and with difficulty outside in buffer zone.

The common birds are parakeets, orioles, drongos, babblers, bushchats, Indian robin, tree pie, spotted owlet, barred jungle, owlet, orange headed thrush, common gery hornbill and mynas. These birds can easily be seen in and around hotels of Kanha in neighboring forest and gardens. Catch hold of the hotel naturalist to assist you.

Among good finds are chloropsis - blue cheeked and gold mantled. Ultramarine flycatcher and wintering warblers are exciting to see the former with difficulty. Iora, Brown cheeked fulvetta, crimson breasted barbet, grey headed barbet, grey francolin, painted francolin, rain quail, night jars, red spurfowl, Indian scimitar babbler and Shama are more often heard than seen. Some of the birds call consistently in the wildlife preserve. If you develop good ear for bird calls your birding will succeed four fold.

Large owls and raptors are often seen at the wildlife refuge. Brown Hawk Owl can be seen around trees neighboring marshes with luck. Mottled wood owl is often heard in the night, while collared scops owl can be seen often in pairs near the Pakur tree at the Kisli Gate. Among raptors, honey buzzards, pariah kite, and white eyed buzzard along with shikra are often seem. Crested serpent eagle, crested hawk eagle though not rare are exciting to spot. The serpent eagle is a persistent callers in the meadows. One can see Ospreys at the water body before the Kisli Gate in winters. Vultures seen are white backed now rare, King vulture and often Egyptian vulture on the top of the trees.

Water bird can be seen around Sravan Taal, Bishenpura water body and Saundher lake. in winters Northern pintail and common teals arrive in respectable numbers. Lesser whistling teals, Nakta, white necked stork, painted storks, lesser adjutant stork are resident wetland birds.

The list of birds at Kanha is endless. Bird watching is exciting at this park only if you are not involved in a frantic tiger chase. By any tourist an effort should be made to appreciate a more holistic picture of the preserve rather than run after tigers or leopards. The best time for a bird tour is in winters whence the numbers are augmented by migrants.