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.