Trekking in Andhra forests

- Saraswati Kavula

I have just returned from a trek to the Kawal Wild life sanctuary in Adilabad

district in Andhra Pradesh. While we all had a breath of fresh air away from the

din and smog of the city life, the sights we saw were not too encouraging. On the first day our trip was very encouraging, we found many birds and also some black buck and chinkaara. We walked through the forest in search of the birds to a watering hole inside the sanctuary. It was a small canal called kadam canal which comes from kadam reservoir that joins the Godavari ahead. Only our hopes were dashed, as there was no water. After having Walked about four kilometres, we thought of going to the lake, which was another 3 kilometers away. But Amjad our driver from the forest department said, ‘there Won't be any birds now as there is no water even in that other lake'. Looking

down at the canal, it did seem like there is no such hope as to find either water or birds in that region.

The little natural ponds inside the forest, which should be carrying some water, also were dried up. There have not been good rains this time. There was some bird life around Kadam reservoir. But we did not have much time to spend as we needed to head towards the Gond village Maisampet where we stayed that night. Linganna who was a local man from a neighbouring village Dostnagar, five kilometres from Maisampet, was accompanying us. Maisampet is 6 kms deep inside the forest. He worked with the forest department as a forest watcher. He has been working since 7 years. His salary was 1500. He was used by some visiting professors to do their research on tiger ecology for which he was paid 1500 occasionally. But for the last two years he had been receiving money once in a couple of months. But he manages to earn a living from farming, and continues to work out of his own interest to safeguard the forest and also in the hope that soon the government will change its policies and will pay him in future. Since going there after

dark was risky, we started out around 5pm . The journey was about 17 kilometres

from Kadam Reservoir. Soon, we entered the jungle and managed to see some Black

Buck and Chinkaara. We did hope to find a bear but we didn't.

Towards dusk we reached Maisampet. We thought of going for a walk into the

forest that night to spend time on the Machaan. But we all needed some tea first. Linganna asked the village headman for some tea. He said they don't have any milk; they could only give some decoction. We agreed. Some of the team members who are used to city luxuries even on their “organised treks” protested. By the time the tea arrived it was past eight o'clock , since the people cook on wood fires. Then someone said it may be too late to go out now. The idea was anyway dropped and while we waited for dinner, we listened to Mr.Waheed the newly transferred DFO of Nirmal division. He heard of us coming into Maisampet and came to meet us all. “What brought you to Maisampet?' he enquired. “We wanted to start a truly eco-friendly tourism in this area, one which will also benefit the local people and using bare minimum resources,” our organiser Imran

replied. Mr. Waheed was happy to hear that. He seemed to be one of those who took his job very seriously. He was associated with the tiger conservation project for nearly twenty years now. He had many stories to tell.

“Once when I was working in the Srisailam project, a group of villagers came in

for compensation, saying that one of their men was attacked and killed by a tiger. I was worried, because if the villagers think it is a tiger, then they will kill it. I asked them if they had mistaken it for a sloth bear. They said no it is not, they were sure it was a tiger. We went to see the location. Five of us had gone there. Just as we were seeing the area where the animal had killed the man and dragged him out, we were attacked from behind. It was a sloth bear. It had attacked one of the villagers who came with us. This was the man who lost his relative already. If he doesn't live then, the villagers will not believe our words that the animal which attacked was not a tiger but the bear. So, I had to distract the animal and then it attacked me. My ligaments in the wrists were torn apart fighting it. Meanwhile, one of my rangers tried to help me out by bringing the bear's attention on to himself. By then I collapsed totally , having lost lots of blood already. The others too couldn't save him. The bear caught the ranger and dragged his body away. We never found his remains either. I survived with about 45 stitches and four operations later, what with the people having taken me immediately to the nearby town PHC and later to the city corporate hospital. It is a very tricky situation to balance the act of protecting the tiger and the interests of the people. People can get paranoid about tigers and don't let them live. Normally bears are prone to attack people; they are very unpredictable and need to be feared more than the tigers.”

( Photograph of Chinkaara in Ranthambhore- Susan Sharma)

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