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Thursday, July 19

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

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