Andhra Pradesh

Hidden Chenchus and crouching tigers of Nallamala

Tough task: A group of tiger protection watchers move out to deep forests from the Rollapenta base camp near Dornala in Prakasam district.

Tough task: A group of tiger protection watchers move out to deep forests from the Rollapenta base camp near Dornala in Prakasam district.  

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Blending into the natural habitat, they are conserving the big cats in the Nagarjunasagar Srisailam Tiger Reserve

If there’s really someone who understands tigers and help them let live and multiply, its the Chenchus. Members of the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG), the Chenchus toil day in and day out in the expansive Nallamala forests manning the base camps.

While this is so, the number of big cats in Andhra Pradesh has been put at 48 as per the assessment done by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), the maiden one in the State after bifurcation.

Track and record

A group of five Chenchus man each of the base camps and move into the interior forests at dawn each day conscientiously to digitally capture pug marks and other remnants left by the big cats in the sprawling Nallamala forests. Equipped with GPS-based Garmin GPS72h equipment, the tiger trackers record the droppings and other evidence left by the wild animals overnight in the Nagarjunasagar Srisailam Tiger Reserve (NSTR), the biggest sanctury in the country.

Referred to as ‘Pancha Pandavas’ locally, they work tirelessly unmindful of trecherous terrain to provide a safe environment for the big cats and other wild animals and generate vast data from the ground for analysis by the NTCA authorities who come out with the tiger census every four years.

On moving into the deep forests from Pulicheruvu, the water body visited by the big cats and other wild animals, a tiger watcher, Dasari Naganna shows a pug mark of a big cat. The grassroots-level workers trek up to 5 km in the rugged terrain and record all the findings in the GPS-based equipment which works perfectly fine even in case of heavy tree cover. Then it is uploaded into a computer in the forest range offices like Dornala, Ganjivaripalli, Markapur etc.

Living in harmony

“We have been co-existing with big cats and other wild animals without disturbing the natural environment in the forest for long,” says another proud tiger watcher Kudumla Anjaiah who is well-versed with the topography and can sense the movement of fast approaching wild animals by practice to move in time to safety.

Their ancestors have provided safe passage to Vijayanagara emperor Srikrishnadevaraya in the past, they recall before recording the animal droppings digitally with the user-friendly GPS-based equipment with an USB connection. They can very well differentiate the pug marks of the royal Bengal tigers from leopards and other wild animals. “We also ensure enough water for the wild animals by scrapping the water holes,” adds another co-worker Dasari Guravaiah to ensure water and fodder for herbivores especially during dry spells.

Protecting the green cover

“In all, 125 protection watchers are engaged in the Markapur Division of the Forest Department,” Dornala Deputy Forest Range Officer Mukka Prasad Reddy said. An equal number of Chenchus work on temporary basis to create firebreaks to stop spreading of wildfire especially between January and May. “Firebreaks also created by employing workers, mostly tribals under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MG-NREGS) to protect the green cover,” he adds.

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Printable version | Dec 14, 2019 8:10:59 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/andhra-pradesh/hidden-chenchus-and-crouching-tigers-of-nallamala/article28763206.ece

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