Chenchus in forefront of protecting big cats in NSTR

Indications of movement even up to the Penna river

Updated - July 29, 2018 04:46 pm IST

Published - July 28, 2018 11:33 pm IST

The sun has not risen yet but the duty-minded group of tribals belonging the the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG) of Chenchus equipped with GPS-based equipment go on a long trek from Thummalabailu deep into the Nallamalla forests to digitally record the signs left by the big cats overnight in the expansive Nagarjunasagar Srisailam Tiger Reserve (NSTR), the largest in the country.

As we reach “Pulicheruvu”, the water body frequented by the majestic Bengal tiger and other wild animals, a proud tribal man Kudumala Bayyanna, who has been engaged as a protection watcher, shows the pugmark of a fox. After walking for some distance, another watcher Chevula Anjaiah explains the subtle differences between the pugmarks of a leopard and a tiger before going ahead with his job of recording the pugmark of tiger with GPS coordinates and also make a mould of it in the traditional manner for reference under the guidance of a forest officer.

“We don’t fear the big cats or any other wild animals as we have been coexisting with them for long without disturbing the ecological balance, which ensures enough water and fodder for the herbivores,” they say before stopping en route for brunch which comprises plain rice and curry prepared by them at dawn.

Resuming their arduous trek, they look for other signs like droppings and record them digitally and, besides ensuring that enough water is available in the waterholes. Management involves the provision of drinking water for animals across the habitat.

This time more remote cameras have been deployed to capture the images of the big cats in 2 sq. km. to arrive at their count more accurately, they add after collecting the chip from the green metal box comprising sophisticated camera with infrared sensors to capture the elegant gait of the big cats in their natural environs. They thenupload the details in the Monitoring System for Tigers - Intensive Protection and Ecological Status (M-StrIPES) available at the base camp.

“It is very user-friendly,” they say before calling it a day at dusk after submitting the vast data collected to the forest officer concerned for uploading of the details on the MStrIPES to enhance the effectiveness and the spatial coverage of the patrols.

Smart phones soon for Chenchus

“We are going to provide soon smart phones to Chenchu tribal men who have been engaged as protection watchers with M-StrIPES software meant for patrol to enhance its effectiveness and ensuring spatial coverage,” Chief Conservator of Forests and Project Tiger Field Director S. Saravanan told The Hindu .

To start with, one smart phone would be provided to each protection watcher in the 65 base camps, he said.

The first All-India Tiger Estimation (AITE) after bifurcation was completed in the Rajiv Gandhi and the Gundla Brahmeswara Wildlife Sanctuaries. “We have submitted the collected data to The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and the Wildlife Institute of India for analysis.”

There are enough indications that the big cats have proliferated outside the NSTR. “Now we will set up camera traps in the Papikondalu National Park in the Godavari districts and the Lankamalleswara Wild Life Sanctuary near Kadapa after indications of movement of the big cats even up to the Penna river,” he said.

There has been a gradual decline in the tiger count since the first AITE done in 2006 as the number has dwindled from 95 in the undivided Andhra Pradesh in 2006 to 72 in 2010 and 68 in 2014 perhaps due to biodiversity loss, according to sources in the Forest department. The tiger count in the new State was arrived at 40 in 2014. Thanks to the conservation efforts, it is likely to go up to 50 plus this time.

“We have sunk eight solar-powered borewells to ensure drinking water for the wild animals in their natural habitat itself and avoid their straying into fringe areas in search of water,” Markapur Division Forest Officer B. Jayachandra Reddy said, adding waterhole management was done in coordination with the Integrated Tribal Development Agency by engaging the Chenchus under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Scheme.

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