by Jessica Luis
Tadoba Tiger Reserve is the oldest National Park in Maharashtra. It was declared a tiger reserve way back in 1935. Apart from being home to around a whopping 60 tigers, you will also find diverse wildlife like leopards, sloth bears, gaur, wild dogs, Indian Muggers, civets and many species of deer.
Like all national parks, Tadoba is divided into a core and a buffer where you find most villages. But these boundaries don't mean that humans and animals are separated in compartments, humans outside the forest and animals inside. Both end up having to share the same space. And when you stay so close to the forest, you're definitely going to have VERY close encounters with the animals that live in it.
|The light green area shows the core region of Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve|
Map from: www.indiawildliferesorts.com
Earlier in September, a few of us volunteered for a conflict survey at Tadoba, where we had to go to around 200 villages near the forest and talk to tribals staying there, about animals they had seen coming into their villages or crop fields, and whether those animals cause them any trouble (or the other way around!). We showed them pictures of animals found in Tadoba and asked them whether they had seen any while going to collect firewood from the forest or roaming around in their fields. They also had to tell us the names of these animals. We had to learn the Marathi names of these animals (some animals like the Four Horned Antelope had MANY different names!)
|The Four Horned Antelope is called Chouran or Chousingh among many other names|
Pic from : www.itsnature.org
Human-wildlife conflict is the term used to describe interactions between wild animals and people that impact either of them negatively. The 'Creating Co-existence' workshop defined human-wildlife conflict like this: “Human-wildlife conflict occurs when the needs and behaviour of wildlife impact negatively on the goals of humans or when the goals of humans negatively impact the needs of wildlife."
The photo identification part of the survey always managed to draw huge crowds. We started off interviewing one person and by the time you looked up there was a whole audience around! We got a huge range of answers, depending how close or far the village was from the forest core region. People living in villages far away from the core said the only place they had seen most of these animals was on Discovery! A lot of them called the nilgai "zebra" and the foxes "tiger and giraffe", clear influences from the Serengeti show on Discovery. Not surprisingly, schoolkids were pros at photo identification!
People living close to the core, like in one village called Sitaram Pet, carnivores encounters are an everyday occurrence. A lot of times they also said that the "bibat" (leopard) or "patta wallah wagh" (what many villagers call the tiger) attacked their cattle when they're grazing near the forest. Sometimes they, and also jackals and wolves, enter villages to take off easy prey like goats. In Sitaram, we saw a recent kill near the main road, a cow that had fallen prey to a tiger (actually just the bones of the cow remaining!). The tiger usually kept coming back around 7.00 in the evening, the villagers even showed some of us a video of that very tiger marking it's scent on trees nearby, something they do to "draw" their turf! Others said that when they went into the jungle to gather firewood they frequently came face to face with Sloth Bears!
The biggest conflict, as the villagers there say, is herbivores polishing off their crops. Many of them grow rice, jowar and other crops which are fast food for deer, wild boars and langurs. People are trying to come up with new ways to keep them out.
In one field that we passed, we saw a large group of Hanuman langurs munching on newly grown soya bean crops while villagers tried to scare them away by shouting and waving sticks at them. Some langurs on a tree kept deftly dodging the stones being pelted at them! Another time, we were driving back almost at night when we chanced upon a herd of around twenty wild boar (including piglets!) moving stealthily through the bushes. They were probably on their way to the nearest rice field. We were amused by the sighting, but a lot of villagers (who see it everyday) think the wild boar is a pesky nuisance.
A lot of people have started fencing their fields to keep the animals out. Or sometimes putting up machans (or watchtowers) in their fields to watch for "raiders" at night. One person told us that the wild boars no longer get scared when they aim torches at them! We asked people to come up with solutions. Some people told us there should be a HUGE wall around the forest so the animals stay inside the forest and don't come out into their fields.
The conflict survey made us ask a lot of questions. Are the animals invading the places where these villagers stay? Or did the people get into the place where animals live, since they've been in the forest for probably longer than us? Who's space is it really?
This man-animal conflict occurs not only in Tadoba, but all around India, (even in Mumbai!) and we can't exactly say who is in whose space? Conservationists around the country are trying to look for ways that animals and humans can co-exist peacefully before it turns into a turf war.
Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve (TATR) is also a brilliant place to see wildlife in the monsoons. On our trip there we saw a huge variety of birds, which we usually overlook in national parks. We came across many of Baya weaver nests lining the road when we zipped from village to village to do surveys. This bird makes around 500 trips over as many as 20 days to gather dried grass for these impressive looking nests! Another bird we frequently saw sitting on electric pole wires along the road was the Long-Tailed Shrike.
|Baya weaver nests|
Pic from: www.wildventures.com
After getting done with our field work we went for a small safari. Most national parks around India are closed for safaris during the monsoons, there is a just a nine kilometer tar road in TATR open for vehicles doing safris. The erst of the mud roads apparently sink during the monsoons, which makes them off limits.
Here's a glimpse of what we saw at Tadoba...
|On a night trail in the buffer zone...a fresh pug mark left by a 11-month-old tiger cub|
|A Sri Lankan Bullfrog coming out of it's hideout at night|
|A juvenile Crested Serpent Eagle|
|Spotting a herd of Spotted Deer. The male in the middle is sporting new "velvet" antlers that he has regrown after shedding his old ones|
|A Sambar Deer grazes undisturbed. Herds of them sometimes enter villagers fields to eat rice and jowar|
|A Ruddy Mongoose looks up from his food (could have been a snake it was eating)|
|Only a nine kilometer tar road is open for safaris in Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve during the monsoons...|
|A Grey Junglefowl crossing the road...|