In a significant development, the Visakhapatnam Forest Division recorded presence of the endangered species of Indian wild dogs or dhole and country’s smallest descendent of ungulate species known as Indian mouse deer, both listed in Schedule-I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, in the Kambalakonda Wildlife Sanctuary “with photographic evidence”.
Chief Conservator of Forest Rahul Pandey told The Hindu : “It is for the first time that these species have been spotted with photographic evidence. The findings are a result of the first phase of camera trap monitoring project set up in block 1 in the sanctuary.”
The block one is spread over 25 sq km in the core forest zone where 10 camera traps were placed. In the next phase, the camera traps will be placed in two more blocks within the forest for a scientific survey of habitat distribution of animals and conservation of the endangered wild animals, including the leopards.
Spread over 7,293 hectares of forest area, the Kambalakonda Wildlife Sanctuary is home to several endangered species of fauna. After the first findings from block 1, the camera traps have already been placed in block 2, which is an ecologically sensitive area with reported presence of leopards and more packs of wild dogs.
The latest findings have brought cheer to the Forest Department and conservationists as it establishes the presence of an apex predator in the wild dogs and is also indicative of a wide spread of prey base, including barking, spotted and mouse deer.
Further, official records suggest that in the past decade, around 11-13 leopards were captured from in and around Visakhapatnam after the animals strayed into human habitats. A few were brought to the city zoo while the remaining animals were released in forests. A study done by the Wildlife Institute of India stated that captured leopards should be released in the same territory they belong unless a man-animal conflict is reported.
However, in most instances, the leopards were released 200-250 km away from Visakhapatnam. This raises a big question on the leopard population in Kambalakonda.
“In such cases, the existing leopards in the territory of where the animal is released get into a conflict with the released leopard, as a result of which the animal is pushed away from forests to human settlements. The entire effort turns futile,” said Santosh Edupuganti, consultant for the Visakhapatnam Forest Division and a member of the Hyderabad Tiger Conservation Society.
With questions over the leopard population in the forest, conservationists feel that if measures are not taken to protect the wild dog population in the Kambalakonda forests, there would be hardly any predators left, eventually leading to an ecological imbalance.
“In a few instances, we have seen stray dogs entering the forests. These are an apparent threat to the wild dogs as they spread the deadly disease of canine distemper which has the potential to wipe out an entire generation of wild dogs,” Mr. Santosh added.