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.