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.