A strong odour of cattle dung hit us even before our eyes caughtsight of it littered everywhere like shopping freaks in Bangalore'sMall. And here we were in the middle of a thick scrub jungle come todo a census on the flora and fauna of the Hosur Forests
also called asMelagiris. Kenneth Anderson Nature Society together with Asian NatureConservation Foundation have taken up several surveys in this regionthat spreads over an area of almost 1200 sq kms containing a mix ofseveral vegetation but mainly abounded
by the dry scrub forest to studythese forests and restore the region back to its original state.
Theseforests face manifold threats and perhaps the one by cattle grazingtops the list. Cattle here are grazed in large numbers and pegged downin large cattle-pen called pattis. The absence of large carnivores anda blind eye by the forest department has
made the Hosur forests acattle grazing grounds for the locals. There is a suspicion that thecattle that's been grazed belongs to the wealthier families in TamilNadu living far away from Hosur employing the services of the local.While the locals are allowed
to graze cattle and sheep, grazing goatsis illegal, though one can frequently come across goats grazing in theMelagiris. This has been made illegal because while the cattle/sheepfeed mainly on grass the goat eats up tender shoots thus denying theforests to
Chital that is so abundant inthe other side of the Cauvery, on the Karnataka side, that you yawnwhen you sight herd after herd thudding away in your wake has in thisregion become a sight to feast on. So why have the herbivores beenthinning out even as the
forests remain? Answer, human interference andCattle Grazing. These herbivores have been hunted down for meat andskin. Also since they naturally avoid man increased human interferencehas made them to flee these forests. The dwindling grass cover by thecattle
even as it sprouts and the foot and mouth disease, poaching formeat has all played a major role in wiping out the larger populationof the herbivores. With such a small prey base and poaching has wipedout the tigers, not to mention cattle-kill poisoning carried
out bytheir distraught owners long ago. Although we have recorded pug marksof leopards and wild dogs, tigers and hyena have are no longer to be found although the locals claim to have seen one or two a while.
Thick lantana jungle has sprung up everywherewiping away the native plant species. Its likely that these dry bushescatch up fire at the slightest chance building up into a roaringfurnace and destroying the forest. KANS (Kenneth Anderson NatureSociety) has
drawn plans to employ locals to remove this invasive weedfrom the roots. However no amount of de-weeding can remove themforever, the seeds of lantana are spread by birds and need but a briefspell of rain to grow back to numbers. A sustained effort over timeonly
can put a cap on the lantana jungle.
Man-Elephantconflict is on steady rise. The Elephants have taken to crop-raidingdue to a variety of reasons - perhaps because the farms have replacedtheir original forests? or because they face shortage of food withinforests due to expansive cattle grazing?
Some also say the Elephantshave taken a liking to easily available farm produce while othersvehemently deny it stating elephants are shy of humans and doeverything in their power to avoid human habitation. And havingexperienced that first hand I must say
I agree with the latter belief.Human death toll is getting higher too. Unwary locals and forestguards have been trampled by bulls occasionally.
Atseveral places Villages have taken permanent residence within theforest boundaries. Re-settling these villages from the Melagiris isessential to give the forests and wildlife a chance to revive. Howeverthis is a very sensitive issue, the tribals in this
region have beenliving in the forests are called Poojaries and have since timeimmemorial developed a culture that is deeply associated with theforests. It is indeed very difficult to separate the original settlersfrom the new families that must have taken
residence in the recentpast. A fair approach must be followed and enough compensation must begiven for the families to persuade them to move out of the forests. Afew of the natives could be soaked in as the forest staff as theirknowledge of these forests
is exhaustive and indispensable towardsstudying and protecting them.
The locals have beenusing the forests to extract a variety of forest produce includingfirewood, tamarind pods, honey to list a few. KANS has drawn up plans to provide LPG gas to the families to cut down on the firewoodgathering. Farmlands are extending their
tentacles into the forestlands steadily. When the Melagiris assume Sanctuary status, withenough security, it can be said that Timber extraction, poaching andsuch illegal activities can be capped.
RecklessTourism is another contributing factor. Although Melagiris arerelatively unknown patch of forests it can be predicted that with allthe conservation activities in progress, the limelight on the floraand fauna will inevitably attract a steady stream
of picnic-goers.Already tourists are seen loitering around. At a prominent lake wherethe elephants usually gather in large numbers at dusk touristsunmindful of the danger have been seen in groups. Although there is nostraight forward solution to the Tourism
issue but it must be handledwith caution.
Although the list of threats does notend here, they are not new. Our forests throughout India are reelingunder the same tell-tale signs. We have only around 3% land underforest cover protecting a fragile eco-system. New lands are almostimpossible to secure
for the already threatened plants and animals and the majority of the forests in this 3% fall as reserved forests. Theforest staff are few, they are underpaid and not well equipped to fightthe poachers. There are many problems and many more solutions. Todaythe
cry of the hour is to guarantee the security of our remainingforests, to guarantee a life to the many beasts and wild plants thatabound our lands. The time is to act.