Friday, November 11, 2011

Similipal Diaries - 3

Every good thing comes to an end and my destiny was no different. My lovely tryst with Similipal was going to end and I was little down in the morning when I woke up. Came out to the perch of the bungalow to have the refreshing look at the meadow in front only to find out a surprise visitor.  I sat on the perch and enjoyed the morning tea seeing the Shrikes playing around and fluttering from one branch to the other of a Sal tree. Wave of optimism crept in and I thought that I have one complete day in hand to do more fruitful work in Similipal. Similipal has so many things hidden in its treasure that one can spend his/her own life discovering them. From the meadows of Chahala and Devasthali to high rising peaks of Meghasani and Khariburu ; from Tigers & Tuskers to Centipedes & Crocodiles; from Maha Brukhya ( the tallest Sal Tree in Similipal) to numerous varieties of Orchids; from waterfalls of Barheipani and Joranda to the serpentine flowing rivers of Khairi, Deo, Budhabalanga & Bandhan; Similipal has numerous things on its pallet to offer to Wildlife Activists, Photographers, Researchers and Nature Lovers. And who can forget the variety of Birds that Similipal hides in. It is a paradise for Ornithologists. I was told god of Ornithology, Late Dr Salim Ali had also visited Similipal and had done a lot of recording of Avifauna life. I decided to make the best use of whatever time I had.

                                                       Common wood Shrike

Ever shining Bronze Drongo

By 8, we did leave for Joranda Waterfalls. Enroute, we stopped at a small ghat where Sun rays were still finding it difficult to pierce through the thick canopy of sky touching Sal Trees. A pair of Bronze Drongo were busy in building a nest. I decided to walk down through a forest path and asked Alok and Prema to follow me after 15 minutes. This way I ensured that the birds did not get disturbed by the sound of three people walking on dried leaves and twigs without compromising on my safety. I recall from one of the chapters of the book “Field Days” authored by famous wildlifer A J T John Singh wherein he says that the best way to make field observations and recordings is by walking alone in the forests. Because of fear, one would walk without creating any noise and the observing power in details enhances. Hence better recording of field data happens. After couple of minutes of walking, I came across a tin board which said “You are in the territory of Tiger No C5. Other Tigers- Male: 0, Female: 0, Cubs 2”. I had mixed emotion seeing this rusted board. This board is a reminiscent of the glorious past of the tiger land called Similipal. It’s not that Similipal is completely lost but one thing is for sure, current leadership team of Similipal now has a lot of catching up to do. It is not that only poachers, Maoists and timber mafias are the reasons for current state of Similipal. A lot of other factors combined with the mentioned three have been the reason for degradation of habitat in North Similipal. These all started from the early 90s. Examples of habitat management can be development of fire lines, digging of water holes and salt licks near beat houses so that poisoning of natural salt licks by poachers is minimised, creation of meadows with good type of forage for herbivores etc. I am not an authority on wildlife management but one thing I can say with conviction is that inviolate secured space with proper prey base is the only way RBTs which have dispersed to South Similipal will again come back to North side. And if that happens, then the rusted tin board hanging untouched since ages on the Sal tree will be re painted and new data filled in by a fortunate future wildlifer. Inshaallah, it will happen one day.

Past Glory of Similipal

I walked ahead and a wonderful friend was waiting for me and silently looking from a top of a stump. A Male Blue Headed Rock thrush in its complete glory was not camera shy at all. I was feeling exultant as before this I had never taken such a clear picture of this bird. This is unlike the White Throated race of Thrush (sighted on first day of the trip) which flies away with little of disturbance. For next 2 hours, the birds that I recorded were Copper Smith Barbet, White Cheeked Barbet, Black Headed Oriole, Small Minivets, Grey Wagtail, Grey Headed Canary Flycatcher and a group of Gold Fronted Chloropsis. Satisfied with my work, I sat along a forest stream and made the field notes. Alok and Prema caught off with me later and we made the move towards Joranda Waterfall.

A Blue capped Rock Thrush

Moving towards Nawana(N) range where Joranda lies, we again crossed the Barheipani Anti poaching camp. We saw many villagers with Madala (musical drum) on their cycles moving on the kuttcha road. Prema told that all of them their actually heading towards the weekly haat where they would dance and have fun for hours under the influence handia, the fermented rice liquor and to the rhythmic beating of Madala. Some of them eagerly wait for the weekly haats where ganja ladhei(Cockfights) take place and lot of money is put on stake. Makdia, Khadia, Kolha and other ethnic tribes of Similipal are normally used to collection of mahu (honey),siali(creepers), jhuna(Sal resin),paluo( arrow root)and chatu (mushrooms). Some of them are into agriculture also. There is restriction on collection of NTFPs ( Non Timber Based Forest Products)but still they continue collecting them. But they are not completely to be blamed for entering into forest areas and collection of NTFPs. It has been in their blood since time immemorial and sudden restrictions put on them is not working. Until and unless we provide them with some sort of sustainable employment, this breaking of law would happen daily and there is no stopping. This case is very sensitive and needs to be handled very carefully. On one hand we have tribal populations who have been living in these areas since ages and on the other hand we know that animals and human beings cannot coexist. If we need to create inviolate spaces for animals, relocation of villages inside core area has to be carried at any cost and tribal population living around in the buffer zone needs to be provided with alternate source of employment. There has to be a strong motivating factor for them to move out of Similipal. Or else these poor tribals get lured by the poaching and timber mafias. With time, things have changed a lot. The age old tradition of Akhand Shikar(annual month long mass hunting ritual)which used to happen in the month of April is now a round the year ritual. Normally message is spread in the neighboring villages regarding the dates of Akhand Shikar and people join in to carry out bloody massacre inside the sanctuary killing virtually every moving thing that comes across. Some times 350-400 people enter the forest for Akhand Shikar. Just imagine which forest department in India faces this sort of situation. But staff of Similipal faces this. Until and unless we gather the political support, it is very difficult to stop the mass hunting ritual. I was told that as a year round profession not more than 8-10 poachers work in the area, but these few numbered poachers have been detrimental for the whole region. There are no strong records which suggest that Tiger poachers are quite active but slowly Similipal is getting notoriously famous for Elephant Killings. With understaffed force the department cannot function properly, hence greater support from the higher political rings can only help the cause of Similipal. If Indira Gandhi was pivotal in setting up of Project Tiger, today (barring to some extent Dr Jairam Ramesh) we find it very hard to site an example of a current day political leader who is really concerned about wildlife conservation. The importance of Wildlife in India can be guessed from the fact that Shri Jairam Ramesh was “promoted” to Ministry of Rural Development from Ministry of Environment and Wildlife for his good work. What an irony?
We crossed many small villages en-route to Joranda and reached at the site by 1 pm in the afternoon. Joranda waterfalls is of a height of 150m and is a single drop waterfall. The whole beauty of the waterfall is extrapolated with the view of the gorge at Joranda. Joranda is also in Core Area of the reserve but there is hardly any animal sightings that take place here except for erratic Elephant sightings some times. Many Odia movies have been shot here, notable among them being “Phoola Chandan” which was shot in mid-eighties. We came back to Nawana Range office after spending some time at Joranda. Nawana is also the gateway to Debasthali meadows, Jenabil & Upper Barahkamuda Range of South Similipal.

A Spotted Deer makes its way along a bush

The Grey Wagtail- One of the local migratory birds

Joranda Waterfalls falling from a height of 150m

Similipal- The land of magnificent gorges

With Tudu babu(extreme left) and Mallick Babu ( in the middle)

We reached back Chahala. After freshening up, every one gathered at the Lunch table for a wonderful meal. Mallick babu was supposed to accompany us to Jashipur in the evening as he had planned to go to Field Director’s office at Baripada for some official work. I wanted to spend some time in aloofness in front of the meadow with which I had fallen in love over past couple of days. I took a chair and sat under the warmth of winter sun gazing at the Sal tree laden hill in-front of Chahala Range office. These three days had been of so much learning for me. A wide range of flora and fauna I came across and also practical issues on ground. I got to see the life of people inside the forests. With every passing day, my wish list for Similipal went on elongating. Had situation in Similipal been this…had situation in Similipal been that. But bottom line is that we the “human beings” at the end of the day can only make a difference to Similipal; to the smallest of insects who seek a place to hide underneath the trunk of dead trees; to the Sal rich forests from which numerous rivers which form the lifeline of civilizations gets originated; to the tiniest of Birds; to the largest of Tuskers and of course to the king of jungle, the Tigers. During my stay at Similipal, I didn’t sight any Tiger neither came across any signs of Tiger like scat or pugmark but I know that Bagha Mamu (as we lovingly used to call Tiger when we used to be kids) is there in Similipal and one day my rendezvous with him will surely happen and that time is not far away. It is immaterial whether I saw him or not, but I know till the time he exists in these last patches of fine forests of Odisha, the forests and other animals will remain secured. Once it vanishes, everything will end. Similipal symbolizes the wilderness of Odisha and it has to be secured at any cost. Cohesiveness in working of Forest Department, NGOs, Academicians and Whistle Blowers is what is the order of the day. NGOs which work in the region have to spread on this message that every social developmental work that they are doing is also meant for securing the life of Tigers and Wildlife. The day Tigers vanish, development work may stop. Until and unless we spread this message we might not gather support of local villagers. Role of whistle blowers working towards the betterment of Similipal is well appreciated but my only request to them would be not to see Forest Department as their enemies and not set out to Similipal on fault finding missions only. There is so much additional work that they all can do to save Similipal. If they can write in press on the shortcomings of the forest department, they should also very well appreciate good works done by the department. Being understaffed, the forest department will have some limitation and let us accept that. If everyone demotivates these people who actually cover distances on foot and stay in remote beat houses then what will happen to their overall morale. Ego clash is no good for Similipal- the bottom line. Finally I would request to Forest Department that they are the “PRIME CUSTODIANS” of Similipal forests and its habitants. If we don’t save the forests today, we will not be able to face our future generations. It would be utter shameful for us to tell them that “we knew that Tigers were vanishing and still we could not do anything to save them”.
As dusk was setting in, we packed our things hurriedly and loaded in the Sumo. It was a special kind of bonding that I had developed with Tudu babu, Mallick Babu, Bhagirathi and Poorna and parting from them was bit emotional. We thanked them for the wonderful hospitality shown. These three days were very special to me and I knew that I was going back only to return very soon to the enchanting Similipal. I was leaving Chahala with a lot of hope and optimism that Similipal would survive all the wrath of human kind and our next generations would be able to see Tigers and Elephants roam freely in Similipal in their natural habitat without the fear of any one. That would not be a dream but reality.

As we left Brundban gate of Chahala core area, somewhere from behind I could hear this faint words……

parbata parbata,
parbata ra agana,
agana re kheluchi kuanri jharana,
ee mote hata thari karuchi mana…….na …… ………………….


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