Sabyasachi Patra

Segur Road

Segur Road

Couple of years back, I was in Masinagudi for the first time. I was driving on the segur road. Dusk was fast approaching and I was looking for a cup of hot tea to beat the December cold. I saw a board on the right and it appeared to be a small restaurant. Without thinking much, I drove in.

Ofcourse, I could get my cup of tea and some munches as well. But someone else was waiting me there. I noticed the outline of a huge black animal, much larger than a buffalo. I strained my eyes, and could see a gaur (Bos gaurus) come out of the bush. I couldnt believe my eyes, but the restaurant manager calmly told me that Gaurs regularly visit this place. After some time, I was sipping another cup of tea when I heard alarm calls from about 50 meters away. Initially, I thought that it might be a false alarm call. But the alarm calls were repeated and I realized that a carnivore, probably a leopard might be on its prowl.

 

There was a small building in the compound and I thought it would be an outhouse for guarding the property. I hesitatingly asked, whether I could stay in that building. My joy knew no bounds, when the manager told me that it is part of a resort that they are building, and I was welcome there. I immediately confirmed that I am checking in. And thus began my experiences with the wildlife of Masinagudi and Segur area.

 

This resort, with basic amenities had one cottage. A small stream was passing by its side. I was told that the owner stays in Ooty, and has about 200 acres of land. They had fenced off only a couple of acres and the rest lies contiguous to the Mudumalai Tiger reserve, without any boundaries. The wildife were passing through the resort and crossing the segur road. Next day, I was sitting by the stream in the afternoon. On my left was the resort. The opposite bank of the stream slopes up to a hillock full of bamboo, lantana and other bushes. There were lot of birds chirping. A groupd of langurs were jumping from branch to branch. It was a very peaceful atmosphere, and I was soaking every minute of it, until it was broken by the sound of Elephant.

 

My friends have spotted a herd of elephants, grazing upstream, about 200 meters away. I had my Canon 1D Mark II and the Canon EF 300mm F4 L IS lens. I removed my shoes and started crawling on my hands and belly. The elephant herd were feeding in small groups. A group of 4 elephants saw me and immediately turned to the right, and disappeared into the bamboo and scrub forest. I had by now crossed the stream and was moving forward in my hands and knees. The sudden disappearance of the 4 elephants to the right, made me feel edgy. From experience, I knew that elephants can remain very silent. After waiting for about 10 minutes, I started my crawl forward, shooting intermittently. The elephant herd had a small calf. The antics of the calf was worth watching. It was at times suckling from the mother. I wanted to get closer and capture it. I had moved pretty close to the elephants and was about to shoot the small calf when some one screamed from behind and urged me to come back. I turned around to see that the restaurant boy and another well dressed person were running towards me. Needless to say, the elephants simply vanished.

On asking why they were screaming, I was told that elephants are dangerous and I should not be going close to them. The well dressed gentleman told me that he is the owners son and stays abroad. They were calmed when they came to know about my credentials. But alas, by that time, the elephants had vanished, and I suddenly noticed that the scars and bruishes that I had received while crawling had started hurting.

The next day morning, I got up and came out of the cottage. The sun was about to rise. I could see a gaur and calf outside the compound wall. The calf was suckling its mother. I had the Canon EOS 1D Mark II camera and the 28-135 mm attached with it. I rushed and clicked. Unfortunately, the shots were not sharp due to the low light.

In the evening, I was again waiting near the stream. I could see the Indian Giant Squirrel (Ratufa indica) jumping high in the branches. It was a nice sight to watch. There were some parakeets feeding on the opposite bank. A solitary small kingfisher was perched on a branch at a distance. It was an idyllic atmosphere, a far cry from the mad hustle and bustle of the city. I was relaxed and soaking it up and was lost in my thoughts. Suddenly the silence was broken by the sound of hoofs, as a herd of gaur (Bos Gaurus) appeared on the other bank further upstream. There were a number of small calves and they were sliding and jumping on the steep bank. It was evening, and light was fading fast. However, I could see a calf with a very light colouration. There were some reports of albino gaur and some photographs were published in Sanctuary Asia and other places. I moved closer and closer. It was difficult to approach through the thick lantana bush on the left side of the bank without making any noise. The stream bed was barren, with some boulders here and there. I crawled on my hands, knees and belly. I knew I would not go unnoticed, but nevertheless tried my best hiding behind the boulders. The calf was from a normal coloured mother. However, its colour was totally different from the others. The light levels were low, and the photographs were not sharp to my liking. After observing this calf for sometime, I retreated back.

Masinagudi area was originally a tribal hamlet. Construction of dams in Moyar and Singara hamlets, brought labourers who stayed back after the dam construction was over. With passage of time, more and more people migrated to this area. Today wildlife tourism has picked up in the area. The locals are earning a lot by renting Jeeps to tourists for use in Safari. The small hamlet is now converting into a town. It is estimated that today, the population of the original tribal inhabitants of the area is 600, but the overall population is about 15000.

As a consequence the pressure on the forest has increased. It is estimated that about one lakh (0.1 million) cattle enter into the forest everyday for grazing. When so many cattle, goats and sheep graze, the impact on the forest is easy to guess. The forest has been virtually devoid of grass, bushes, and small shrubs. Such biotic pressures force the herbivores to move into deeper forests. The trees are hacked by villagers looking for fuel wood. And ultimately, the forest is transformed into a barren land. This also makes it easier for species like lantana camara to occupy the forest land.

Wildlife tourism is having its impact on the forest as well. A number of resorts have sprung up in the area. Wildlife tourism is seen as the in thing these days. Accordingly, number of tourists have increased manifold. I found liquour bottles lying in the forests, as tourists are having fun all around at the expense of wildife. Polythene bags, gutka/ pan masala sachets are found all around the place. Some of those are inadvertenly swallowed by the wildlife. Their deaths would go unnoticed. I have photographed a polythene bag that had come out with the elephant dung. I could find the hand of man raping this once pristine landscape. If something is not done soon, then this area will also be lost to wildife forever.

The traffic in the Segur road has increased. Earlier only petrol driven vehicles were able to negotiate this steep ghat road. So a major portion of the traffic to Ooty used the other route. Today, with the advent of vehicles with powerful engines, Segur road is the preferred road. Even late in the night there is traffic in the road. There have been demands to restrict the hours in this road. I was told that vehicles are not allowed to ply on this road after six. This move was started not due to love of wildlife, but due to an accident that took place where a bus overturned and lot of local people including the forest ranger died. However, I could see vehicles even in the late night.

I understand that the Tamil Nadu Government is taking steps to declare this as a buffer area. Predictably, there is lot of opposition to this from vested interests. I hope that the Tamil Nadu Govt. shows will and is able to convince the people to relocate from the area and restore this landscape to its pristine state.

Sabyasachi Patra
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Sabyasachi Patra

Sabyasachi is an award winning Cinematographer and shoots for international broadcasters, feature films and corporates to make a living. He is a passionate wildlife filmmaker and photographer and has won awards and accolades for his documentary 'A Call in the Rainforest'. He has been striving to make his films and photographs full of life and emotion and write articles to educate and evangelise the need for conserving the last tracts of vanishing wilderness and wildlife in our country. He hopes that his wildlife films, photographs and writings force people to pause, look, ponder and ultimately take action.
Sabyasachi Patra
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