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Tuesday, July 31

Shifting phytoplankton diversity at Sunderbans is an early sign of climate change

Researchers in India has found a low abundance of a temperature sensitive phytoplankton Ceratium symmetricum at the estuaries and offshore of Sunderbans Biosphere Reserve. The change, which is triggered by the rise in the temperature of the surface water can be an early sign of climate change affecting the mangrove ecosystem of Sunderbans, says the study.
Ceratium symmetricum, phytoplankton, plankton, bio indicator plankton
Ceratium symmetricum
Photo Courtsey: JOTT

Phytoplankton are minute photosynthetic aquatic organism floating on the water surface as a green discoloration of the water surface. Being primary producers, they are the foundation of a marine food web by offering food to fishes and other aquatic organisms.

The study which is the first one to examine the phytoplankton diversity in the Indian side of the Sunderbans, has assessed the presence of genus Ceratium Schrank in connection with physicochemical parameters such as Sea Surface Temperature (SST) in the estuaries of the Hooghly and Ichamati-Raymongal Rivers on the western parts of the Sunderbans.

Phytoplankton as bio-indicators

Phytoplanktons are known for their bio-indicator capabilities since any slight change in water temperature or the environment make big difference in their abundance. Members of Ceratium genus are especially known for their sensitivity towards temperature.

The research team has identified 5 species of phytoplankton from the genus - Ceratium trichoceros, Ceratium symmetricum, Ceratium fusus, Ceratium tripos and Ceratium furca- from the water samples. Among them, Ceratium symmetricum was not reported from the area earlier and was found in low abundance. According to earlier studies, low abundance of certain Ceratium species in the surface water during warm period is a sign of change.

To find out a possible cause for it, the researchers have studied the fluctuation pattern of the Sea Surface Temperature with the help of satellite imagery form 2003 to 2009. The data showed that the winter SST has been showing a rising trend in the area, possibly due to climate change.

Future Impact

 The lower abundance of Ceratium symmetricum and the rising trend in the winter SST are indicators of climate change affecting Sunderbans, says the study which is published in the latest issue of Journal of Threatened Taxa. It also points out that a further rise in the SST in the area may wipe the Ceratium symmetricum away from the Indian part of the Sunderbans, making it the first organism to take the toll of the climate change and the resulting temperature rise.

Anirban Akhand, Anirban Mukhopadhyay, Pranabes Sanyal and Sugata Hazra from the School of Oceanographic Studies, Jadavpur University, Sourav Maity, Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), Indrani Das, Department of Botany, Midnapore College took part in the study.

Do you think Climate Change is a hoax? Have your say here. 

Monday, July 30

Why dragon flies are important to Human beings?

Buddha once said that human has more to study from butterflies than from text books. Same is the case with dragonflies, as far as ecologists are concerned. But why? Wonder why do the elite human race with well-developed brains at his command to survive natural challenges care such a weak creature?

dragonfly, insects of India, kerala insects
Dragonfly resting on a leaf
The first reason is that they are just like us, living creatures. Let them live. But if you insist on getting benefits, there are many.

Best bio-indicators

Recent researches say that dragonflies, just like butterflies, are prominent indicators of ecosystem health. Any change in the ecosystem will first make a visible mark on dragonflies, be it the climate change or a chemical war.

For instance, some districts in the South Indian states of Karnataka and Kerala report large scale health issues among the people due to the areal spray of Endosulfan, a pesticide which is banned in many European countries. The adverse effect of the pesticide was not studied before starting its use. It grabbed media attention only when a doctor practicing in one of the villages noticed large number of cancerous abnormalities among his patients, years later.

But, the sign was visible very early, but nobody had the eyes to see it.

The area recorded an abnormal fall in the population of damsel flies and butterflies. They were the first creatures wiped out by the pesticide reaction. If an ecologist or nature lover detected the change and raised the alarm, they would have been able to avert many of the deaths (thousands of them, which still continue) in the area.

Any such changes to the ecosystem first reflect on these weak creatures. In South Africa, it was found that the species diversity of dragonflies directly relates to human disturbance and resulting degradation of an ecosystem. The dragonflies in the undisturbed areas were rare or endemic to that region while those found at the disturbed riparian patches were common or general in nature.

Biological Pest Control Agents

Damsel flies, ecological services, Damsel flies mating
Damsel flies also offer important ecological services

Dragonfly larvae are known predators of larvae of mosquitoes and black flies which are vectors of fatal diseases. The adult dragonflies devour mosquitoes and similar blood sucking flies which carry diseases.
It has made them effective bio control agents against mosquitoes and insect vectors of some diseases. Granite Ghost (Bradinopyga geminate), a container breeding dragonfly is widely used in Thailand as a biological controller of Aedes mosquito which spreads dengue fever. Its use in the urban areas was proved effective in preventing dengue outbreak and spread.

Similarly, dragonflies help the farmers in pest control too.

Do you know anymore reasons? Share it with us here.

Great Nicobar Crake, a new bird discovered from Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India

Scientists at the Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) have discovered a new bird species from the Andaman and Nicobar islands of India. The bird which is now named as Great Nicobar Crake is an unreported member of the Rallina species of birds which are usually called Water Rails or Crakes.

Great Nicobar Crake, new bird from India, Andaman birds, nicobar birds
Photos of Great Nicobar Crake published by the journal
The discovery is published in the latest edition of the journal Birding Asia, according to which, the bird was seen at Govind Nagar tsunami shelter on the east coast of Great Nicobar, 6 km from Campbell Bay during November last year. 

According to scientists, the Water Crakes or the Rallina species of birds are very rare and only 8 species are known so far. IUCN considers these birds as data deficient since their rarity makes it difficult to compile data on these birds. 

Birds of Rallina species are found in Australia and Asia and 3 are seen in India. Among the three, Andaman Crake (Rallina canningi) which is found in Andaman and Nicobar Islands are endemic and is included under the Near Threatened category. As the report of the new bird is now limited only to Andaman and Nicobar islands, it is highly likely that Great Nicobar Crake is also endemic to the islands.

According to the paper titled "An apparently new species of Rallina crake from Great Nicobar Island, Indiapublished by   S. Rajesh Kumar, C. Raghunathan and P.C. Rasmusssen of ZSI, Great Nicobar Crake cannot fly but can run fast. Usually found near water bodies, Great Nicobar Crake is a thick and short bird, with heavy legs and moderately longer toes and short claws. It has moderately long neck and a short tail. 

The presence of pale green bill, heavy orange-red legs and black banded under parts together makes it different from other known members of Water Crakes.

The discovery was made as part of an ongoing ZSI attempt to map the fauna communities of Great Nicobar Biosphere Reserve (GNBR). The project is being carried out under the man and biosphere programme of UNESCO with the sponsorship of Ministry of Environment and Forests. 

Saturday, July 28

Invasive plant Acacia dealbata reported from the high altitude Himalayan forest of Kedarnath wildlife Sanctuary

Indicating an early sign of proliferation of invasive species in the Himalayan forests, as expected to happen during the phenomenon of global warming, a group of researchers has reported the presence of Acacia dealbata - an invasive alien plant - from the interior of the high altitude protected area of Kedarnath wildlife sanctuary situated in the Indian state of Uttarakhand.
Acacia dealbata in bloom
Photo courtesy :Wikimedia Commons
The team has spotted the plant at an altitude of 2200 from the mean sea level, which makes it the first report of the species from such a high altitude of Garhwal Himalayas, says a research correspondence published in the Current Science Journal. It also turns out o be the first record of the species from the large protected area of Kedarnath Wildlife sanctuary.

The presence of the invasive plant can have serious impact to the Himalayan forests considering the invasive nature of the plant, says the research correspondence.

"Temperature tolerance level of some alien species is very wide, with global warming the temperature fluctuation has become wide giving these species ample scope to survive", says Jahangeer A. Bhat, Researcher in Forest Ecology at  H.N.B Garhwal University.

According to him, there is no clue on how this plant reached to this elevation. "We guess it might be  through some food source or something else", he said.

"There was no human settlement near this plant patch and neither we found this species below this elevation nor above this elevation. these plants were only present in a patch at the reported altitude", said the research team which found the plant.
Jahangeer A. Bhat, Munesh Kumar, Ajeet K. Negi and N. P. Todaria at the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, HNB Garhwal University, Srinagar-Garhwal have reported the species, as per the correspondence published.

The plant is already declared as an invasive species in the Indian Himalayan region, while it is reported as a problem species in Portugal, northwest Spain, New Zealand, France and Italy where it is found to be replacing native plant species and taking a high toll on the biodiversity of indigenous plants.

Plants of Acacia genus have been notorious for their ability to invade native forests and replace grass lands. They are also found to increase water loss in riparian zones and thus gradually change the ecological nature of the area.

However, it is ironic that social forestry wings of many state forest departments were once encouraging planting Acacia plants in public places as part of aforestation attempts. The adverse consequences of the plant like its potential to drain up groundwater tables and to produce allergic pollens during flowering season were understood later only.

However, India is still to have a unified central policy on how to manage invasive species in its native forests.

Is there any invasive species raising threat to native plants or animals in your area? Please share us the information here.

Meanwhile, read more on IBT's coverage on invasive species in India.

Thursday, July 26

Tamil Nadu shuts down tourist facilities in tiger reserves in the state

Following the Supreme Court order to ban tourist activitiesin the core zone of the Tiger Reserves in the country, government of Tamil Nadu has directed the officials to close down tourists activities in three of the tiger reserves in the state until further order from the Supreme Court.

Pilgrim camps made inside KMTR during pilgrim season
The government authorities has informed that three tiger reserves – Mudumalai in Udagamandalam, Kalakkadu-Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve inTirunelveli and Anamali near Pollachi should not allow tourist activities in their core zones.

Following the order, the tourists facilities in these tiger reserves are now are closed.

The tourist activities as well as pilgrim activities in the corearea of these reserves have made huge amount of human intervention in the area which has disturbed these forests which are the last resorts of the vanishing Tiger species.

However it is not yet clear if the order actually apples to the seasonal pilgrim activities happening in the tiger reserves like Mundanthurai which is part of Kalakkad Mundanthurai in Tamil Nadu and Sabarimala in Periyar Tiger Reserve in Kerala. Central government has formulated a set of guidelines to control pilgriminflux into forest areas, but it is yet to be practiced by the states.

Wednesday, July 25

8 best practices to eliminate weeds in Conservation Agriculture method

Conservation agriculture is a new method of agriculture which avoids the conventional methods of tilling the land before sowing the seed. Instead, it focuses on minimal soil disturbance and retention of residue to keep the moisture of the soil and to avoid erosion of manure and herbicides.

Maize,Conservation Agriculture, Conservation Agriculture methods, weed management method, weeds in conservation agriculture
Maize under Conservation Agriculture in Malawi
Photo courtesy CIMMYT
 However, a major issue with the method is the presence of weeds. Following are some of the best practices to avoid weeds in conservation agriculture. However, they are modified to meet sustainable agricultural practices.
The methods avoid chemical herbicides as they cause environment pollution and turn less effective in long term.

1. Prevent weeds

·         Prevention is always better than herbicides. So make sure that you use clean crop seeds and machinery for seeding, harvesting and threshing, since many weed seeds actually reaches the seed bed in this way.

·         Keep field margins and irrigation canals free from weeds.

2. Stale seedbed techniques

·         Irrigate the seedbed lightly in advance so that the weed seeds which are often found in the soil surface germinate in two three days. Once they germinate in this period, first clear them off manually or using organic herbicides.
·         It is also advised to encourage seed predator insects or birds in the seed bed before sawing.

3. Adjust time of crop sowing

·         Make the crop sowing early in the season so that the crop gets a competitive edge over late germinating weeds.

·         This method has been proved successful in North India against certain weeds like Phalaris minor (Red Rice) when wheat crop was sowed early in the season.

4. Grow a cover crop which gives thick mulch

·         Grow crops like cowpea or sun hemp, which will produce thicker residue, between two main crops. Then cut down it before the main crop season.

·         The dead mulch of the cover crop not only helps retaining the moisture of the farm land, it also suppresses the weed germination by releasing allelo-chemicals and blocking sunlight which is needed for the seeds to germinate.

5. Use of narrow row spacing

·         Place crop rows closer so that they grow thicker, often blocking the sunlight to the space in between two rows, thus decreasing the chances of weed growth in between two consecutive crop rows.

Ground nuts under Conservation Agriculture
Photo courtesy CIMMYT
·         The space between two rows is a vulnerability of the conventional method which actually helps weeds, especially in maize and soya bean cultivation. Narrowing the gap between two consecutive rows can control weeds to a great extent.

·         15 centimeter row spacing is found very successful against P.minor.

·         Long term adoption of the method will bring down the availability of viable weed seeds in a seed bed.

6. Higher seeding rates

·         Increased crop density sometimes helps the crops compete better against weeds.

·         Higher seeding rate is proved to help in weedy or partially weedy seedbeds, though the method may not bring good yield in weed-free environments.

7. Use of weed competitive cultivar

·         The wild or traditional seed varieties which produce long shoot plants are more weed competitive though their yield is not on par with the short stature, high yielding modern seeds.

·         A continuous use of conventional weed-competitive cultivars coupled with narrow row spacing and other methods will bring down the weed presence and number of available weed seeds in a seed bed considerably if the farmers are ready to afford the decrease in production during a short term.

8. Adopting crop rotation

·         Crop rotation helps decrease certain crop specific weeds like P. minor in the case of rice or wheat crops.

·         Rotating the rice crop with a non-rice crop like maize or soybean can disrupt the lifecycle of such weeds.

·         Rotation the management practices also disrupts weed life cycle.

·         Crop rotation improves the soil quality too.

These methods are proved as effective weed management methods in conservation agriculture practices. Many of them are effective in other types of agriculture practices too. However, anyone of these methods when practiced alone may not bring a good result in eliminating weeds. But a brilliant coupling of different methods will surely produce a good result.

If you know any other weed management methods, share it for our readers in the comments.

 Chauhan, B. S. & Mahajan, G (2012), Role of integrated weed management strategies in sustaining conservation agriculture systems, Current Science Journal, Volume 103, Issue 2, July 25, 2012, Indian Academy of Sciences, Bangalore, Retrieved from on July 25, 2012.

Tuesday, July 24

'No tourism in core areas of Tiger reservs', Says Supreme Court Order

Giving relief to environmentalists and nature lovers in the country, the apex court has issued a landmark ruling regarding the tourist activities in the tiger reserves in India. The Supreme Court has ordered a carpet ban on the tourism activities in the core zones of the protected areas in the country which are declared tiger reserves.
This applies to the 40 tiger reserves in the country.

Chital trying to cross the road as tourist vehicles approach
in Kalakkadu Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu
Photo: Indian Biodiversity Talks

The court has also slapped a 10000 rupees fine for six states which have shown laxity in implementing the tiger protection directives issued earlier. The order comes at a time when the country is recording high tiger mortality from its protected areas mainly due to poaching and other factors related to human intervention.

Environmentalists and nature lovers across the country and elsewhere have welcomed the ruling, as they hope it may help improve the conservation status of the striped cat in the jungles of India. According to latest available tiger census report, India houses some 1700 tigers. The figure is a pathetic number for the country which is estimated to have a 100000 strength tiger population a century ago.

The court has issued the verdict during the hearing of a public interest litigation filed by conservation activist Ajay Dubey against commercial tourist activities in the core areas of tiger reserves in the country.
Though a majority of the tourism activities in India’s tiger reserves takes place in the buffer zones- an area of 10 km radius from the boundary of the tiger reserves-, certain states have made some relaxations for some tourist activities like safaris and trekking into the core areas. Most often, the restrictions are lifted for religious occasions related to pilgrim centersinside the forest areas.

Monday, July 23

Ahmedabad city records highest number of big trees

Ahmedabad city got a unique green feather on its cap recently when a tree count taken up by the Municipal Corporation has revealed that the city has the highest number of big and old trees in the state. The tree count recorded 6.18 lakh trees in the city, among which 22,880 were big trees.

Ahmedabad City: A Panoramic View (source: WikiMedia Commons)
A tree, according to the counting procedure used, is considered big when the girth size of their trunk is more than 200 cm. Thus 3.7 percent of the total trees in the city turned out to be big trees. This is a far better amount than that of India’s greenest city Gandingagr. 

However, splitting up the total number of big trees in the city, it was found that 14150 trees marked in the counting had a girth size between 200 cm to 250 cm, while 6420 trees were sized between 251 to 300 centimeters. There was 2310 tress with a girth size of over 300 cm, owing to their old age. 

big trees, trees in Ahemedabad, indian city
The counting also found that the average tree size in Ahmedabad is bigger than other cities of Gujarat. The tree count has recorded 33619 tress from all the eight municipal corporations of Gujarat. While in all other municipal corporations, trees with more than 200 centimeter of girth size constitute only 1.31 percent of the total trees. 

The ancient nature and rich heritage of the city when compared to other cities is said to be the reason for the presence of more old, big trees in the area. 

However, it is yet to see how long the city will hold the title as the concrete jungle is razing down the remaining natural vegetation in the satellite areas of the corporation like Bopal, Sanand and Bhal. 

Meanwhile, Bhavnagr, which had the highest number of trees, recorded lower average tree size. According to officials, it is mainly due to the large number of Acacia trees in the Victoria Park in the city.

Saturday, July 21

India to declare Critical Bustard Areas to save Great Indian Bustard, Bengal Florican and Lesser Florican

Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, has issued a set of guidelines to the states to set up Bustard Conservation Committees (BCCs) and to declare potential breeding areas of three grass land birds - Great Indian Bustard, Bengal Florican and Lesser Florican as Critical Bustard Areas to prevent human intervention in these areas.
Ardeotis nigriceps, Critical Bustard Areas, birds in India
Great Indian Bustard(Ardeotis nigriceps)
According to the guidelines, cattle grazing, construction activities and hunting will be completely banned in these areas during the breeding season of the birds. A 5 kilometre radius of the area will be declared as minimal infrastructure zone preventing constructions here to avoid bird mortality, says an official MoEF document.
The Critical Bustard Areas will be decided by the BCCs based on the field surveys conducted by forest officials to identify potential breeding, nesting and feeding sites of these birds.
The population of these birds have fallen alarmingly in India in the last decade which left just 300 or less Great Indian Bustards remaining, which happens to be the only breeding population of the bird in the whole world. Bengal Florican, a sub species is facing a same fate with just 350 members remaining in India. Lesser Florican is estimated to have a 2500 individuals remaining but is considered under Critically Endangered by IUCN.
The BCCs should chalk out state level action plans which extend from 5 to 10 years to make site-specific action conservation efforts to establish a viable breeding population of these birds to remove from critically endangered tag on the species.
Running Ex-situ breeding programme and efforts like making Bustard Gene banks and similar attempts are also suggested. It also directs the states to clear invasive species of plants since they obstruct visibility during breeding season. It also urges state forest departments to take over revenue land which are breeding sites.

Local community participation in Bustard Conservation                                                                  

The central guidelines also stress on the importance of local community participation in conservation. BCCs should have members from the local panchyats and the field studies will also record the major livelihood means of nearby villages of the Critical Bustard Areas, says the MoEF guidelines.
Distribution of Great Indian Bustard in India
Habitat Distribution of Great Indian Bustard in India
It also urges the state governments to make a compensatory mechanism, public consultations, awareness campaigns and help people to find alternate sources of livelihood to stop hunting and stealing Bustard eggs.
Fencing of the critically Bustard Areas and daily monitoring of such areas with local community participation is also suggested.

Friday, July 20

African catfish, Clarias gariepinus – a major threat to native fish species in Western Ghats Rivers

African Mushi, that is what the farmers in Kerala called that beefy fish, which guaranteed profit for meager investment and care. It ate anything from wastes from slaughter houses and was able to live in any type of water qualities. Moreover, the fish grew faster and bulkier. Within months, a harvest will fetch you kilograms of fish meat from an average fish pond.
Clarias gariepinus, African mushi, invasive fish, exotic fish, exotic fish in western ghats
Clarias gariepinus

But the after effects were horrid. Recent research reports indicate that the fish has started appearing in fish catches from rivers and lakes in Kerala. Multiple reports suggest that this fish is now commonly caught by fishermen in the lower reaches of Periyar River in Kerala, which is known to house fresh water fresh species only found in Western Ghats Rivers.  Similar reports also indicate that the fish is present in the commercial catches from the Periyar Lake also.  

The writing on the wall is clear. The fish has escaped from fish farms which were connected to natural water bodies and have proliferated in the Western Ghats Rivers and other water bodies in the area. The species is known to devour and sweep away native fish species and other aquatic organisms locally.

The issue is not restricted to rivers in Kerala. It is reported that this invasive fish has also reached the Indrayani River in the southern Deccan Plateau eco-region. It presently raises serious threat to the only existing population of rare Sisorid catfish Glyptothorax poonaensis found in India. Sisorid catfish is listed as endangered by IUCN.

According to IUCN, the southernmost region of the Western Ghats Rivers house more endemic and lesser known fishes in the region. Unfortunately, the devouring African Cat fish has infected the same parts.
Globally Threatened fish species in the Western Ghats Rivers
Abundance of Globally Threatened fish species 

in Western Ghats Rivers. It can be seen that they are 
more found in the Southern region.
Experts have also expressed concern over the impact of the presence of this African catfishes on lesser known subterranean fishes in Western Ghats. Ichthyologists were able to record just six to seven species from these enigmatic fishes which live in a subsurface ecosystem found under the laterite foot hills of Western Ghats. The chances of the African Cat fish eliminating many of these enigmatic creatures even before the researchers are able to spot and record them are not rare.

There is an urgent need to restrict the aquarium trade and unregulated fish farming. Educating buyers and farmers as well as formulating a proper policy for the management of invasive species are exigencies in this regard. 

Thursday, July 19

Center to bring regulations for pilgrim influx inside forest areas

In a very apt move the central Ministry of Environment and Forest has submitted a set of guidelines which put forward suggestions on how pilgrim activities can be restricted inside forest areas in the country.
The guidelines which were submitted to the Supreme Court as part of the proceedings of a progressing case seek to restrict unregulated surge of pilgrims during festival periods in shrines situated inside protected forest areas.

Pilgrims at  Sorimuthaiyan Temple  inside
the Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu
They put forward suggestions to the temple authorities to take measures that will decrease the number of pilgrims in order to protect the ecological integrity of the area. The guidelines which are pending notification assert that temple authorities and related departments should implement them within three years of its notification.

Through the guidelines, MoEF also demands that such pilgrim areas should comply with the sections of the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and Environmental Protection Act, 1986. Such compliance, according to the guidelines, will help prevent further expansion of such pilgrim centers.It is also suggested that the temple authorities should channel 10 percent of the earning of the temple for the benefit of the local communities with the help of Gram Sabha.

The guidelines have also formulated a detailed framework for planning, developing, implementation and monitoring of eco-tourism in and around natural ecosystems. The guidelines related to ecotourism is also applicable to all protected forest areas in the country which seeks the state governments to take a 10 percent of the turnover of all tourist facilities within a five kilometer range of ecologically sensitive areas as local conservation fee.

Presently there are many pilgrim centers situated inside crucial protected areas in the country, even in Tiger Reserves. Sabarimala in Kerala is situated in Periyar Tiger Reserve while Sorimuthu Ayyanar temple is situated in the core area of Kalakkad Mundanthurai TigerReserve. The influx of pilgrims to these pilgrim centers and related activities have provide to be taking heavy toll of the wild life and ecological integrity of these areas. The guidelines set up by the Ministry may regulate the pilgrim influx to these places.

However, environmentalists are skeptical that the guidelines may be diluted by the government due to pressure from political parties and religious organizations to make it just a scare crow, before it gets officially notified. 

Aadi amavasai festival threatens wildlife and ecology of Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

Plastic and litter in a stream in the temple premises. 
Waste is the biggest visible aftermath of the fest, 
says forest officials. 

Heaping up waste

If poaching is an issue which is not yet noticed, waste is the biggest one yet noticed. According to a high ranking official of the Forest Intelligent Squad, Tirunelveli, management of the heaping up waste and its disposal after the festival is a big head ache for the forest authorities after the festival days.

“There will be a lot of plastic waste, especially glasses and packets scattered all over the place. It is a one week long Herculean task to clear them up as we got no help from other agencies except some NGO for the operation. We collect all the waste and then bring trucks to take them down leaving no trace of plastic in the forest area”, says he.

However, the removal of plastic is no mean feat here as a stroll on the odd 10 km road stretch that goes to the temple will show you that plastic litter is everywhere during the festive times, not to mention the temple premises.

Though many study reports in other protected areas have indicated the hazards brought by plastic containers to animals who are lured by the colors and salty taste of the wrappers, such studies are yet to take place in KMTR.

Health issues

The issue of pollution not only threatens the wild life of the crucial tiger reserve here, but also damages the health of devotees and the people in Tirunelveli, turticoin and Virudhanagr district to whom the river is the major water source.

Absence of clear waste management plans and facilities like toilets are making things worse. “People camp in unhygienic conditions. They put up a temporary tent and then cook and eat there itself not finding it an issue that the camp mates are often defecating near the camp areas itself”, says a forest official. “Studies have shown that small children who are carried to the festival get diseases like diarrhea and similar illness owing to eating in unhygienic conditions, said he.
Pilgrim camps inside the forest

A recent study down on the water in river shows that the quality of the water is degrading to alarming levels. According to ATREE open defection, animal slaughtering as part of the rituals, cooking, washing and bathing pollutes the origin of the river during the festival.

They have also found high presence of coliform bacteria near the temple and downstream during the period. According to the study, the Kani tribes who live on the banks in the downstream do not use the water during and after many days of the festival since they have found water borne diseases spreading after every festival season.

A.G. Murugesan, Professor at Manonmaniam Sundaranar University who has been studying the falling water quality of the river also made similar findings recently. According to him a surge in the fecal coliform bacteria level in the water is noticed during the festival period.

According to Indian laws to protect the forests, any tourist activity or any disturbance to the core area of a tiger reserve is not allowed. “That is the major concern with the festival and the increasing turn out of the devotees”, said, an informed source at the office of the Deputy Director, Amba Samudram range.

“The festival has been taking place from a long time back, though not with this much devotee presence, but new notifications from MoEF has put the whole area of the KMTR as a core zone which restrict any such activity that disturbs the wild life. So we are trying to bring down the crowd by enforcing stricter regulations and thorough checking which has considerably brought down the number of people turning up”, said he. Authorities are now mulling over bringing down the number of festival days.

Will it become another Sabarimala?

Sorimuthaiyan Temple is believed to house 1008 deities and is considered very sacred by the Hindus in Tamil Nadu. However, it can be seen that it is not just devotion that brings people here. The whole carnival atmosphere is taking people here, many of them adequately equipped with bottles to keep the spirits high.

However, if proper care is not taken and the pilgrim mayhem is not checked immediately in the coming years, it will be suicidal for the one of the last resorts of the vanishing animal –the tiger- the vehicle of goddess Durga- according to Hindu mythology.

The question is more paramount considering the fact that activists are not writing off the chances of religious groups hijacking the fest and attracting more people here as pilgrim centers are not just meant for gods and pilgrims. if it goes that way, it is undoubted that the fest will be another threatening menace to the tiger reserves in the country just like the pilgrimage to Sabarimala in Kerala which is situated at the heart of Periyar Tiger reserve.

Read more on Aadi Amavasai 2012 coverage

Aadi Amavasai festival threatens wildlife and ecology of Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

Central government has recently taken a stand in the court that it is to control the pilgrim related activities in theprotected areas in the country considering the damage to the undisturbed forest patches. However the time coincides with the Aadi Amavasai fest celebrated at Sorimuthaiyan Temple in the banks of Tamiraparani River in the core area of Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve in Tamil Nadu.

The festival which attracts around 5 lakh devotees from the southern districts of the state and the resulting pressure and pollution of KMTR has become a growing concern among environmentalists and forest officials.
“It is a matter of great concern for us. Some five lakh people throng to this area during these days and they camp in the forest during the fest, it is strenuous to prevent hazards like forest fire, stampedes and the degrading hygiene of the place due to the heaping up waste during this time, said a forest official.
Ailing Forest Department
Despite facing acute human power shortage, forest officials are keen to check up all vehicles at least in the beginning days of the festival when the number of vehicles are just hundreds and are allowed only during the day time.  However, once it reaches the two peak days, there is virtually no traffic curb on the road and it is difficult to carry out a carpet check on the thousands of vehicles that move in and out of the sanctuary, admits forest officials.
Adi Amavasi festival, kmtr check post,
The Indian Made foreign Liquor bottles seized from ‘pilgrims’ 
to the Sorimuthaiyan Temple at the first check post of KMTR. 
Photo: Indian Biodiversity Talks

 “ it is difficult to carry out the routine check-up for the vehicles moving into the forest during the festivities when the usual 6pm to 6 am traffic ban in the area is lifted, however we are doing our duty to the best possible level”, says Assistant Conservator of Forests, KMTR. The fact can be understood easily with the heaped up alcoholic bottles which have been seized from the devotees at the first check post.

So the whole staff from the neighboring ranges is drawn to the Mundanthruai range for crowd management operations and to be part of the vehicle checking operation in the three check posts which are put up in the route. Though some hundreds of state police personnel are usually pressed into the service, it is restricted to the peak days only.

“Most often during the peak days, we will be in such a state that we cannot sit for a moment. The continuous standing and checking will leave our backs paining for rest”, said a woman forest guard who was deputed on special duty since the smuggled in alcohol bottles are easier to find if women staff question the women members of the pilgrim group, as per Forest department intelligence. 
Festive time for Poachers too
The festival is causing major concern for many reasons. During the days of the festival, the whole anti-poaching patrolling which is a crucial routine in the tiger reserve is virtually stopped since all the anti-poaching watchers in the Mundanthurai and neighboring ranges of KMTR are deployed at the check posts to make sure that excessive alcohol is not adding to the spirit of the festivities and that no arms and plastic are taken into the forest areas.
It was recently reported that the tiger poaching rackets are alive around the tiger reserves and other protected areas in South India when a six member gang from Haryana was nabbed by forest officials near BRT Tiger reserve in the neighboring state of Karnataka.

Sorimuthaiyan Temple, adi amavasi festival, kmtr, temples in tiger reserve
At least five lakhs people throng to this core area of KMTR 
during the festival, says forest authorities
The group had very clear knowledge about the anti-poaching operations in Tiger reserves and was camped near BRT reserve on specific instruction from the top of the network. The group had an interesting modus operandi which made use of the vulnerabilities of the patrolling system. 

Since the whole anti- poaching patrolling takes place during the day, the poachers used to go to the forest areas in the evening to spread their traps and then kept hiding all through the day to avoid being detected by patrolling party. The move makes it clear that tiger poaching networks are still active in the country and are dangerously organized in when they are on the prowl.

When asked about the chances of poachers making use of the situation, officials told that the chances cannot be completely written off. “There are no anti-poaching patrols taking place these days since all anti-poaching patrol staff have come back there to carry out special duties related to the festival crowd. Though we have not noticed any such poaching taking place in connection with the festival period, the chances cannot be completely set aside”, said a forest official at the rank of forester at KMTR.

“We have a very efficient network of intelligence around the villages neighboring the reserve which will help us get an alert whenever such things happen”, said the Forest Range Officer at KMTR. “We have successfully built up a cordial relationship between the villagers in the surrounding area so that they notice the arrival of strangers and their activities to inform us anytime”, says he. That would be enough prevention towards poaching during this festival period, he said. 
Disturbance to wild life
During this whole festive season, wild life keeps draws itself back into the deep forest, annoyed by the huge human movement and continuous honking of vehicle horns, says a forest official whom we talked to at the tiger reserve. However, no issues of animal –devotee conflict have been reported from this area where leopards and tigers are occasionally spotted while wild boars are usual visitors.
spotted deer, road kills, roads in kmtr,
A  baby spotted deer crossing the road inside KMTR

The chances of forest fire also keep the forest staff on the top vigil to avert an accident. The situation is very prone to trigger a massive fire considering the way at which individual cooking ovens are set up to cook food burning firewood. The presence of dry forest and strong wind add to the chances of such a mishap.
Such a fire will not only destruct the semi deciduous and deciduous areas of the sanctuary, it may also trigger mayhem and stampede among the crowded devotees.

Less is studied about the disturbance caused by the continuous traffic through the roads inside the reserve during the festival season. At an unofficial estimate, more than 500 vehicles pass through the road every day during the festival. Research studies on the impact of roads through protected areas have shown that the roads seriously restrict large mammal’s movements and usual tracks.

Though reports on road kills from KMTR are not available in the form of records, the chances cannot be completely written off. 

Now watch pilgrims/tourists  shooting spotted deer in KMTR

The remaining part of the article can be read here.

Read more on Aadi Amavasai 2012 coverage