Saturday, May 21, 2011

Chandaka Dampara Wildlife Sanctuary

Satellite picture below taken from Google Earth shows Chandaka Sanctuary. Growing population and city limits is inevitable. At least in the case of other smaller sanctuaries present in the state , the pressure of growing city limit is not there. But Chandaka Sanctuary is not lucky that way. Concrete jungle of Bhubaneswar on Eastern fringe, NH5 on southern side, roads along the northern edge separating the sanctuary from Mahanadi River is what is more prominent than the green Forest coverage of Chandaka Dampara Wildlife Sanctuary.

Satelite Image of Chandaka Damapara Wildlife Sanctuary ( Source: Google Earth)

There are two entry points. One at Godibari near Chandaka village and other at Kantabada. Today we have some 50 odd Elephants strangled in a patch of forests covering 193sq km. More often than not you would come across news articles of Pachyderms straying into Patia or near by places of Khandagiri. A century ago Chandaka was well connected with the Forests of Daspalla (present day Baisipalli and Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary) through corridors of fine wooded forests. These corridors have vanished over a period of time leaving wild animals stranded in these last thick cover of forests in Chandaka Dampara Sanctuary. Scientifically it has been proven that there needs to have proper gene flow between different source populations for sustainance over a longer period of time. In case of Chandaka’s elephants I am not sure how much intermingling happens between Athagarh & Dhenkanal side elephants and with those of Chandaka’s. During my first and only visit to the sanctuary in November 2010, I didn’t come across any animals except for a Cheetal . But later on I came to know from others that I should not be that much disappointed, as I was lucky enough to see a Cheetal in Chandaka. Its not that Cheetals are not present in Chandaka Sanctuary but actual sighting is difficult.

Quite Common in Chandaka

I am sure that number of Herbivores would increase over next decade or so. Reason being no or very few predators present on the top of Food Cycle. As far as I know there are no Leopards present in the sanctuary as per the last census. But couple of months backs a sad story of Leopard (suspected to have moved out of Chandaka) being pelted to death on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar was heart breaking. First of all we never come to know whether there are Leopards in Chandaka or not and when we get to know that there is some Leopard sighting, its when these sad news articles get printed. To add to the woo was unconfirmed reports which said some local News Channel guy actually incited the pelting so that he could get a good shot to show in the “Breaking News”. Investigations happening, arrests being made and some news clippings getting published. This is what maximum that would be done. But in what way we stop human beings from being demons and this society from becoming a group of creatures who at every point of time would see an eye for eye, get drenched in the ocean of egoism and sleep under the false assumption of being powerful & almighty. Nature has its own way of answering back and that time is not far away when all the false assumptions of human beings being ultra powerful and being intelligent would come crashing down in front of the invincible phenomenon called as “Nature”. The site where the poor leopard was killed is so near to the Capital and how come forest officials could not reach in time is just what someone can’t think off.

Chandaka Sanctuary boasts of a boundary line of approximately 170 km and is spread over districts of Cuttack and Khurda. Divided over two ranges of Chandaka and Dampara, the Sanctuary also shares a common boundary with the Nandankanan Zoo in the North Eastern part. There are 5 hamlets inside the sanctuary and almost 6000 odd tribal from Sabara community reside here. There has been some efforts going on for relocation of these settlements to outside of the sanctuary but it has not been totally successful. Some 80 odd families from Behentasahi were relocated to Krushnanagar outside the sanctuary. But the process has not been that encouraging for the other families to relocate. The old story of failed promises is to be heard from everyone who has been affected by the process. Area allocated in the new settlement is not that fertile. Water sources are scarce. News of scuffles between the relocated villagers and the people of neighboring villages was also reported over scarcity of resources. One thing is very clear that Wildlife and Human Population cannot coexist over a longer run. Resources would have to be shared between animals and human beings eg grasslands& water for Cattle stock and deers. There would be incidents of Wild Boars causing havocs in the agricultural fields which is inevitable. Elephants in search of easy food would feast on paddy fields. This cant be simply stopped. Over a longer run relocation of the villages has to be done. But not at the cost of poor tribal who have been living since ages. If they have to be relocated it has to be a voluntary process. Proper land allocation, compensation and facilities like primary Health care, schooling and more importantly alternative sources of income has to be provided. If a person has been doing honey collection in Forests and you ask him to do Cattle breeding, it may be difficult for him. Both from skill point of view and the mental attachment that he would be having with the work itself. But if you train him on scientific methods of Bee Culture it may be more or less same job that he would be doing in his new home outside the sanctuary.

Good to see the forest roads devoid of any traffic

Rampant Collection of Firewood from the Sanctuay Area

During my trip I could see local tribal ladies collecting firewood from the sanctuary area. But park being devoid of any traffic, there is no fear of deforestation activities. And the place where above picture has been taken is hardly five minutes drive from the nearest beat house. I also informed the guard at the entrance gate about the incident, but what I could make out from the conversation is that it’s a common phenomenon. Despite regular warnings and patrolling the villagers were persisting with the illegal activity. This is the reason we need to relocate the villages but as earlier said, “ We need to keep our promises and give enough on the pallet for the villagers to relocate”. Or else it would be very hard to save the last dense patches of Chandaka Wildlife Sanctuary.

Not everything is grim. Some efforts have been made to promote Eco tourism. Back waters of Deras dam has always been a place of attraction for Picnic goers of Bhubaneswar. Winters would see hoards of unregulated number of tourists entering the sanctuary without having basic sense of respect for the forests and its denizens. It’s not their mistake. For that matter we have never been taught this at school. For us Picnic in any forest means “ Bana Bhoji” or simply Feast in Wild. With due respect to our Zoology Teachers who have taught us in our schools, I would say that school children are getting deprived of the basic education on nature and its resources. Study tours would largely involve taking students to places of historical importance and rarely to places like sanctuaries. At best sometimes to Zoos. Even if you get to see some one interested in Wildlife, it would be only Tiger or Elephant that they would be attracted to. This does not help the cause of forests in a longer run. For some one interested in seeing tigers or leopards, Chandaka would be a place of boredom. But if Chandaka can be propagated amongst school children as a place of seeing Birds in their natural surroundings, it may create at least some future naturalists who would fight for the cause. If one gets to see some wild animals then it’s a bonus. Some of the educated and unemployed youth from the surrounding villages can be trained to be forest guides.

Ambilo Watchtower cum Accomodation Facility

Backwaters of Deras Reservoir

A watch tower at Ambilo has been constructed where wildlife lovers can stay overnight. All basic amenities are there. Forest Guards stay near by and will help you out in your Dinner and Luch. But I hope people don’t come over here only to have a round of drink and vanish the next day and tell others “ kichi nahin dekhibaku Chandaka re”. One can get the permission from DFO’s office and make reservation in Ambilo. If you have time then I suggest you also visit Kumarkhunti where domesticated elephants Nandan and Rajkumar are undergoing Kumki training. This is basically to make them disciplined and to train them for future operations where wild herds of Elephants have to kept away from human settlements. One thing to remember is that two wheelers are not allowed inside the sanctuary and only 4 wheelers can be taken inside.

Trip to Chandaka Damapara wildlife sanctuary was not a disappointing affair for me and I came across birds like Indian Roller, Wire Tailed Swifts , Painted Storks and not to forget the sole Cheetal. I wish I would have spend some more time in Chandka when I was staying in Bhubaneswar during Graduation days. But never mind, there would be enough opportunities in future to visit this nestled Sanctuary reeling under human pressure. But I am closing this article with a lot of hope and optimism . Would like to see more and more people , especially kids going to Chandaka like they go to Nandankanan. Just can dream of this small but beautiful sanctuary getting devoid of any human habitation inside but Wildlife habitats.