Residents protest against ban on cattle grazing in forest areas in the Nilgiris

March 16, 2022 06:11 pm | Updated 06:11 pm IST - UDHAGAMANDALAM

People of Masinagudi, Moyar and Singara staging a protest at Masinagudi on Wednesday.

People of Masinagudi, Moyar and Singara staging a protest at Masinagudi on Wednesday. | Photo Credit: M. Sathyamoorthy

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Residents of Moyar and Masinagudi in the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve (MTR) staged a protest on Wednesday against the Madras High Court’s decision to ban cattle grazing inside forest areas.

Businesses downed shutters and various groups mobilised protestors who claimed that the ban on cattle grazing within the tiger reserve would negatively impact their livelihood. The “complex” issue of allowing grazing within the reserve has been a balancing act for the Forest Department for many years, said top forest officials who spoke to The Hindu. “While the core area is almost completely free of cattle grazing, the same is not true for the buffer zone, where an estimated population of 5,000 to 8,000 cattle roam each day,” said an official.

“A majority of the cattle that are grazed inside the reserve forest are not owned by local residents but by non-tribals from nearby Gudalur and Kerala, who task local communities with looking after their cattle,” said N. Sadiq Ali, founder of the Wildlife and Nature Conservation Trust (WNCT). S. Bharathidasan, from Arulagam, a conservation NGO, said that the communities are paid a few rupees each day to look after the cattle, which are given back to their owners when they are ready for slaughter.

Conservationists argue that many problematic interactions result in MTR due to illegal grazing of livestock. Over the last two years, tigers and dhole have been poisoned by herders, while tiger T23 killed cattle herders in Mudumalai and Gudalur. On Tuesday, another grazer was killed in the tiger reserve when she crossed paths with an elephant that was seeking a water source near Masinagudi.

Mr. Bharathidasan said that cattle belonging to outsiders should not be allowed to graze in the reserve but added that cattle which actually belonged to local communities should be allowed to graze in certain pockets. “Cattle carcasses which are preyed upon by tigers become a source of food for vultures and other wildlife. So, grazing is important in a sense for wildlife in the region. That being said, the department could think of banning grazing in forest areas after they ensure that grazing lands are made available by opening up portions of private estates nearby,” he said, adding that a complete ban on grazing would be detrimental to the well-being of local communities.

“Cattle pens can also be set up and fodder distributed to legitimate cattle owners to control and limit the usage of forests for grazing,” added Mr. Ali.

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