Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Kanha Census, Living the Forest!









I ask people why they have deer heads on their walls. They always say because it's such a beautiful animal. There you go. I think my mother is attractive, but I have photographs of her…! Ellen DeGeneres.

Ellen DeGeneres Is an American stand-up comedian, television host and actress.  She has won 13 Emmys and numerous other awards for her work and charitable efforts. Apart from her on screen achievements, we can guess from the quote above her awareness efforts regarding animal conservation! How we measure success of conservation of forests? Well in January second week I received a message from my friend Mr. Jasbir Chauhan who is Director of Kanha park, that can I spare few days for census of animals at Kanha National Park? I said, “Neki aur puch puch!” i.e. what better I could have asked for? Though I wasn’t sure how I will be going to assist in the census yet I knew that it’s must be exiting experience! Before that those who are not familiar with what is a census, it’s same like what we do in census of human being! It’s a process of data collection about forests flora & fauna & animals, mainly tigers & this is conducted once in four years. It’s a six day process in which entire park staff is engaged in the job & to assist them outsiders like me, who have some exposure or back ground of wild life conservation are called in by forest dept!

It’s a six daylong event in which we have to start early in the morning i.e. by 5.30 am & report at camp which has been designated to each participant! For me Sauf camp has been allotted & the first day of census I missed due to flight schedules but traveling whole night & slept for just 2 hours I was at gate clicking the snaps of the moon which was bright in sky at 5.30 am! I had been to forests hundreds of time & rarely so early at such hour of the day & when I looked around the pitch blackness in which except the road ahead with clear fresh pug marks of a tiger walked recently on it, was visible in head lights of gipsy, first signs of fear crept in my mind, that I have to walk in this!  Suddenly the forest which I used to love most started looking like ICU of a hospital which gives you sickening feel! I started thinking whether it’s wise to take such risk as to join the census & what reason I should tell to Mr.Chauhan to quit! And at that time I saw two guards walking ahead in the darkness who must have been going to report at some camp where their duty must have been! Poor fellows weren’t having even a torch with them & they didn’t have the option of quitting the way I had! I thought whether I will go or not there are hundreds of such guards who every day risks their lives to protect this forest which I say I love & like most! And what moral right I would have if I quit just from the job of assisting them that too for few days! At that point I gathered my all courage & headed to Sauf camp for reporting!

There Mr. Dhangad deputy range officer & forest guard Ashok Zariya were waiting for me along with two forest labors. Sauf camp is right in between vast meadows of Sauf which was earlier a village. All along outer border of the meadows runs a jungle road & behind that thick forest covers the terrain with a river flowing on back side of the camp. It was very early morning & think fog has covered the meadows. First three day was to look for any sign of carnivore’s animals mainly Tiger. We started along a fire line, it’s a stretch of forest cleared of any vegetation to cut off the forest fires to spread all around. This type of census is covering nearly 15 km stretch each day with free moment, of the section of forest which comes under jurisdiction of this camp & it covers mainly fire lines, few nallahs, a big river & corridors from where the tigers usually move. Tigers have soft paws & that’s why they use mostly the jungle tracks or ways we can call which are having less vegetation; this also ensures that less noise is generated by stepping on leaves & branches if it walks through vegetation route, so lesser chance of making its preys aware its coming. The census was to look for any sign of the tiger moments around these corridors such as tiger pug marks, tiger droppings, signs of its nail markings on trees like arjun, soil scratching or marking on grass where the tiger has been sit while its search for prey. Each tiger male or female has a habit of marking on trees it’s for two purpose one is for territory defining as well to sharpen its nails. From the height of nail marks on tree you can even guess the size of the tiger & same is true about pug marks. The droppings approximate time span is also noted from the stage of decay it’s in.

Similarly many a times we could hear tiger call itself which for a commoner’s ears are similar to sambhar dear calls unless it’s not actually roaring, we noted such calls also which are direct evidence of the tiger’s existence around us! Interesting thing is while studying the droppings of the tiger you could actually see what kind of animal the tiger has consumed for his meal by the hairs in droppings! Once we saw a “khoor’ i.e. nail piece of toe of a sambhar which was in the droppings of a tiger. Along with this any similar information about the leopard & sloth bear also we were noting down. In a day nearly 12-15km distance is covered on feet & so this went for first three days of census. It’s in these five days I learnt that on feet you rarely sight the tiger as it’s very shy of human being & sleeps inside the thickest vegetation at the first glimpse of the man! Slowly the fear melts away about moving in the forest on feet & I was actually looking ahead for the next day!

The last three day was transit where we have to move along a fix line of 2km length too & fro & note every animal moment while we move. Here we have to move in total silence & in camouflaged manner so not to shoo away the animals. We saw sambhars, cheetals, peacocks, wild boars, barking dears as well barsingas! We used to start in the grass lands as well along the thick forest in team of three. Every animal’s location is marked with GPS as well the count also is recorded. Then we have to check for animal droppings in 15 meter span from the 200 meter pole which included along with dear category even wild cat, rabbits & wild boar also! Along with animals its recording flora & fauna also i.e. types of trees, grass as well shrubs. This we were taking at every 200 meters along the transit line. So many names I learned about the trees as well grass & started noticing them which earlier wasn’t the case. This we did for three days on both the transit lines, collecting data for grass land as well wooded land. All such data from all the teams will be gathered & then the backup team in office will come out with the approximate numbers of the animals like tigers as well other species of trees & shrubs.

At the end when I looked back last five days I realize it’s not just about counting the tigers but its understanding the forest & the huge task these people are doing with limited resources! The guards at these camps are latterly cut of, from the outer world, with no electricity & any modern days amenities like TV or even news paper! I was shocked when they sheepishly offered me tea without milk as they don’t get milk inside forest! The life is no fun & like military it’s high time that the duty period at the camp should not get extended more than two years.  Also high time of modernizing the end level staff with better equipments like good torch, clothes as well living conditions. We can think of providing high capacity invertors here which can be replaced periodically for charging from main base at entrance gate. Good cycles which can be used in mountaineering type terrain should be provided along with better safety shoes which will be light weight as well protective. So many things can be done & I think census should take note of these issues also. Senior officers should stay occasionally at these camps to boost the morale of ground staff. Ultimately it’s these people who are part of forest so to conserve them is also equally important!

Lastly I wrote a message from the forest to my son about how it’s going, I think that will be the best way I can put the entire experience in words….
Dear Rohit,
Its 6 am & moon was bright in the sky! We started before sun rise with thick fog hanging over vast Sauf meadows & awaking sleeping cheetals, sambhars, barsingas & so many other species! The grass was wet & waist high! On a saja tree storks were yet asleep & in such total silence somewhere deep inside forest a tiger was roaring! An experience one has to live it to experience it! It’s not that I haven’t seen forests before but this time it’s actually feeling it with nothing in between myself & the forest & knowing it better way; the way we know a city better when we walk on its road feeding every details in mind. Do you know, this time I started liking the forest even more!

I have realized how curios barsinga males are for us, as they used to stand still watching us with big eyes & with raised neck when other heard ran away & when we reach too close start their run! I know how it feels now when you see a fresh tiger pug mark & knew the tiger is walking just few feet ahead & still you have to continue your march for the search of more signs! And now I know how the heart beats when you can hear roar of tiger around in the bushes but can’t see it; now I understand how cold is flowing water of the river to our naked feet & yet the guards have to cross it every day & night to complete their job! I have experienced how the lantana shrubs fragrance fills in our lungs in wild & also how its branches caresses’ you leaving scratches all over your exposed body parts & realize that pain only at time of taking shower when you are back in your room! Now I have realized how much courage one needs to leave the luxuries’ of the life behind & step in the darkness around to conserve a piece of land we call forest! And I have understood that I too have a responsibility for conservation of these forests even when I will come back to the concrete jungle of ours!

Now I can say I have been in a forest & started knowing it better!

Sanjay Deshpande

Sanjeevani Dev.

MSEDCL (Power) Committee, Credai, Pune

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2 comments:

  1. Kanha in Madhya Pradesh has sometimes been called the N'Gorongoro of India. Tourist across the seas comes here to visit the amazing location and for many travelers who prefer to stay at Kanha jungle resort.

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  2. Everyone knows to make a shelter, but many forget you should do it before dark! It is very hard to set up a tent when it’s dark. If you wait until dark to pitch your tent, you will need to build a fire or light several lanterns to ensure you can see to pitch your tent correctly.
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Sanjay