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.