Dry spell forces Nagarhole wildlife onto nearby farms

Vishwanath Kulkarni Bengaluru | Updated on January 15, 2018 Published on March 27, 2017

Deer venture outside the Nagarhole National Park near Mysuru   -  Bhagya Prakash K

It has become fairly routine these days to see deer, sometimes in herds, straying in search of water into Metikuppe, a small village in HD Kote taluk of Mysuru district.

“You can sight them almost every evening,” says AT Nagaraj, a tobacco farmer in Metikuppe, on the periphery of the Nagarhole National Park. On occasions, they stray into the fields, which have a standing sugarcane or banana crop, he adds. Most of the fields are fallow on account of poor rains, but the farmers who have raised sugarcane or maize, among other crops, have been forced to put up solar-powered fences to guard their crops. Except for tobacco, no other crops are safe, says Nagaraj, adding that farmers have to face losses when the animals enter the fields.

The story is similar in Raje Gowdana Hundi, a hamlet 10-15 kms away, bordering the same national park, with one difference: “It is mostly elephants that come here in search of water,” says RC Suresh, a farmer.

The Elephant Prevention Trenches (EPTs) dug up by the Forest Department across the border of the Nagarhole National Park have not been able to keep out the jumbo herds.

“The elephants have found smart ways to cross the trenches. There is a need to widen and deepen the EPTs,” Suresh adds.

Farmers in the region have taken to growing tobacco, the smell of whose leaves keeps wildlife away. Similarly, farmers in the dry belts around HD Kote region, where cotton is the main crop, have taken to chia seeds, which are untouched by animals. A better price for tobacco and a higher output this year have helped farmers offset their losses. “Earlier, the elephants used to stay away from cotton, but not any more,” Suresh adds.

Villagers, livestock at risk

The number of instances of animals making ‘surprise visits’ to hamlets and villages bordering national parks such as Nagarhole or the Kabini Wildlife Sanctuary in search of water and fodder poses risks to the lives of villagers and their livestock.

“There have been reports of chital, gaur and sambar straying from their natural habitat,” says Praveen Bhargava, Managing Trustee of Wildlife First, a conservation advocacy organisation. “However, there is no data to establish there has been a perceptible increase in the number of incidents of human-wildlife conflict due to adverse climatic conditions in the Nagarahole-Bandipur landscape,” he adds.

Wildlife habitats in southern Karnataka have also witnessed a rise in the number of forest fires this year. “Three ranges of Bandipur Tiger Reserve, which predominantly contain moist deciduous forests, have been ravaged by forest fires this year,” says Bhargava.

“There have been fires in two ranges of the Nagarahole Tiger Reserve. The exact extent of forest area burnt has still not been officially disclosed, but the Forest Survey of India has documented a total of 703 fire points in Bandipur alone in February and March this year.”

Strikingly, adds Bhargava, the forest fires have not affected some of driest ranges — “which negates the theory that the drought has aggravated the situation.”

“The impact of the annual forest fires on wildlife habitats is devastating. Many important under-storey plants get annihilated and are replaced by inedible weeds, which affects the availability of nutritious forage for herbivores. This has an impact all the way up the food chain. Fires also destroy insects, reptiles and even the young of deer and tiger,” Bhargava said.

Published on March 27, 2017
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