Friday, May 29, 2015

Tales from the dry, deciduous forest of Kuno.

Tales from the dry, deciduous forest of Kuno
Kuno is an incredibly dry deciduous (dhonk) tree forest of central India. Almost a decade ago this area came into focus, when the government decided to develop it as a second home for Asiatic lion.

Madhya Pradesh has ample forest area, but this 2,000 sq km consolidated forest chunk is unique because there exists no such huge dry deciduous forest in India. Mostly forests here have exotic tree species or left in stunted growth. Impact of the sparse human population cannot be seen much on the forest cover, but even after driving 50 km through the forest, you might not see a single herbivore or even a peacock. The reason is probably the severe poaching in the region.

In order to provide safe home to the lion, the government relocated around two dozen villages from the best part of the land and developed it in lines of a good sanctuary. Wildlife increased in the protected area of 345 sq km space, but the rest of Kuno landscape is majorly devoid of large wildlife. And the sanctuary is still awaiting the big cat for which it was developed. Gujarat state folks, politicians and even wildlife conservationists are very possessive of their unique big cat (Asiatic lion) and are unwilling to share them with other states.

Personally, I feel the area is more suitable for tigers. This legislation is going on since many years but leaving big cats aside, many vulture species, including the most endangered white rumped vulture, are found here. Not only in the protected Kuno, but also outside of it. Considering there are no big animals there, it is a good thing that at least cattle exist providing the much needed source of food for the vultures of Kuno. These cattle belong to the settlers from Rajasthan who used to bring their cattle every monsoon — some of them have settled here now with their big herds.

When I go to the Kuno, I always go to Kali Telai. This small village has lots of red cows, a special breed called Marwari cows. The area is notorious for dacoits and bandits. But apparently, the villagers have found a saviour in a senior police officer, originally from Rajasthan, who has given them fire arm licences. For the police, it’s a win-win situation too: the villagers have formed a strong community against the bandits.

In 2004, I saw a group of 30 white-rumped vultures. Ever since, every year I get to see this group. Recently, I spotted 28 vultures but among them were four Indian vultures and two Griffon. They were feeding on a dead calf. After a while, a pack of five dogs reached there and they snatched the carcass. And when vultures finally reached a small pond to quench their thirst, they were again chased away by a dog. The dog tried at least four times to catch them. It is true that the community is supportive of the vultures, but, if you ask me, these dogs are obviously a huge problem for the survival of vultures, which are now considered critically endangered.

(The writer is a conservation biologist at Tiger Watch, Ranthambore)

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