May 19, 2012

The Nilgiris Affair - Killoor Slopes

Another large mammal census and another opportunity to learn from nature by being in it. I was off to the Nilgiris for the census and turned out to be initially disappointed as I was given the Killor fragmented forests adjoining the Chamraj Tea Estate in the Bengal Mattam area. This area is far from the ethereal forests of Mukurthi National Park and I was for one, apprehensive about the Killoor Region.

But first surprises first - the ranger turned out to be a jolly fellow, the guard Panneer Kumar an equally respectable person and the watcher Mani - an absolutely potent house of information on forest, even the forest quarters possibly the best I have ever seen in the past several years. Though I wanted to feel bad, yet knew from the bottom of the heart that this will be an unique experience, tough yet an eye opener.

Tough - Walked 21 km of rugged Nilgiri Shola terrain on the first day, a little lesser on the next day. Tiring yes, but a complete eye opener about the way fragmented forests operate. Also, saw the good work being done by tea companies like Chamraj.

The forests were broken into various Reserve areas such as Maryland and so on and each patch of forest was anything between 500 metes to 1 km from each other interspersed by tea or habitations. What happens to the animals then. Do they remain stuck in their respective islands. From what I understood, the reverse is true. They happily roam about, moving from one shola patch to the next. Two rather large families of gaurs have infact made a part of the Chmamraj estate as their own, living literrally of the tea bushes. I saw leopard scats on the main road which means that they are roaming in the vicinity of the villages. There were plenty more leopard scats in the boundary regions of the tea and forest. There were tiger rake marks, perhaps him marking his territory but the poor tree had a deep gash from the tiger, must have felt bad, for the tree.
The walks were tough and we covered a deep patch of sholas and lots of tea country roads. There was also this profusement of wattle that has taken over large parts of the Nilgiri South Division. The plentiful animal signs are indicative of the dependence these beings have on the small patches of forests, both as a cover and a resting place but also as safe hunting grounds. There was infact a lot of prey signs around and we managed to see a lot of sambar signs and had direct sightings as well. Another unique thing was the phenomenal signs of porcupine scat, literally every 100 metres in whichever direction we went to. Maybe this is a sign that porcupines prefer boundary zones.
After two days of intensive walking, I went back to Ooty. The Killoor census is unique for I had crossed this area since 2004 and had always wondered what lies inside these dense but fragmented forests. Thanks to this census, got to see a complex interrelationship between forests and man and the fact that the forests seem to be thriving in place where man is not forcing himself into the denser zones of the forest. These small fragmented forests may or may not be connected to the ultimate climax zone of Mukurthi but yes they are definitely linked with other large patches of Nilgiri South Division. What was also unique was that the people, though mostly migrants to the Nilgiris in the past decades are quite comfortable with the idea of having predators around. If we talk to them about a tiger in the forest patch nearby, they get interested and scared at the same time. If we ask whether they have seen predators, almost the entire population says yes. If we ask about any problems, they say no..... Wonder if the traditional villager only gets pissed off when their own cattle is killed or whether they indeed respect the predators enough to let them live in peace in the small shola patches.