Thursday, February 24, 2011

Grasslands larger than life

The Meadows

Unique feature of the tiger reserves of Central India are the grasslands that lie interspersed between rugged mountains and enchanting valleys. Also known as boheras in Bandhavgarh and maidan in Kanha these are hub of activities in the ecosystem.

The grasslands or meadows are the center of attraction for man animals and birds alike. The tourist flock these meadows in order to see the tiger and the deer. Since the thick canopy obstructs wildlife sighting the tourist jeeps prefer to move around the grasslands in order to see the tigers.

Tigers love the tall grasses of the prairies and sulk in between to ambush prey. They love the cover of the tall grass and the shade. In Bandhavgarh tiger reserve the Boheras are marshy and have proven to be excellent hunting grounds for the tigers. The slush hinders fast movement of the deer and the big cats find it easy to pounce upon them.

In Kanha the meadows besides supporting the tigers are home to critically endangered Swamp Deer. This is the only hard ground Barasingha population left in the wild. The deer now survives in good enough numbers after it was brought back from brink of extinction. The swamp deer subsists only on certain species of grass and poses conservation challenge to park authorities.

The grasses are frequented not only by tigers and deer they are home to many species of birds and reptiles. With luck one can see the reticulated python or other snakes. Most often seen grass birds are plain prinia, jungle prinia, zitting cisticola, warblers, common stonechat, pipits and larks, francolins painted and grey, munias or avadavat, storks and many others.

In order to stalk prey tigers frequent these grassy maidans. Since the concentration of deer is very high hunting is much easier. In the open spaces movement is not hampered like in thick canopy. They are easily camouflaged in the dry grass and can hide easily. Hence spotting tigers in grasslands is not as easy as people presume.

The most popular grasslands in Bandhavgarh are Chur Bohera, Raj bohera, bathan and chakradhara. Similarly the Kanha meadow is most popular, preferred by animals and tourists alike. Others are Saunf meadow where Swamp Deer breed, Kisli meadow and Parsa tola to name a few.

Most of the grasslands are small in area whence compared with Dhikala Chuad in Corbett Tiger Reserve. The height is much less than elephant grass. Most of the grasslands in Central Indian Tiger Reserves in MP are edaphic. They were earlier settlements which have been trans located elsewhere. The vacated fields have been overtaken by local species of grass and secondary scrub.

The savannas are always under threat from fire and over grazing. Thankfully live stock is not allowed inside the core area and the park authorities are constantly guarding the habitats from fires. The predators maintain the right population of deer hence prevent overgrazing. A major challenge being faced by conservation team in Kanha emanates from the lendia tree. This tree is slowly encroaching into the grasslands and reducing them. The swamp deer depend entirely on these ecosystems hence to stop the encroachment or leave nature to take care of things is a difficult decision to be taken.

Besides habitats of many species in these National Parks the savannas are vital to the ecosystem. They constitute major support system to these diverse habitats and have tremendous water retention capacity.