Tengumarada – Stronghold of Black Buck
Tengumarada is in the rain shadow region and hence the vegetation is predominantly dry. This scrub jungle supports a very rich wildlife. The vital Moyar Gorge elephant corridor cuts through the region and the area is thus frequented by elephants in large numbers. The region has a very distinct wildlife with the presence of species characteristic to scrub and open jungles like the blackbuck, the jungle cat, the hyena etc. The perennial Moyar River is the lifeline of the region and is the nerve centre of activity for the animals.
Blackbuck sightings are assured here and they are more confined to the open jungles near Kulithuraipatti, Mangalapatty, Tengumarada and other sorrounding areas. The blackbucks are antelopes exclusive to India and are one of the fastest land mammals. They live here in small herds with well grown bucks leading the herd. These antelopes are very cautious in the wild. The Indian cheetah which is now extinct was the natural predator of blackbucks in the wild. However, it is reported that blackbucks at times fall prey to leopards and even tigers. In the plains of Tengumarada, the blackbucks are often found in company of chital herds while the sambar deer prefers the hill slopes. The blackbucks are reported to avoid the hills.
The feral buffaloes are found here in small herds of 8 ~ 10 individuals. The sweep of their horns resembles their wild counterpart – the Indian water buffalo, though the latter are more robust and graceful in built. Gaurs too are reported in Tengumarada region. There is a wrong notion among villagers, tribesmen and even the foresters of the region that the feral buffaloes mate with Gaurs. Actually, buffaloes and gaurs belong to different genera and cannot mate with each other. The former belongs to family Bubalis and the latter belongs to family Bos. The feral buffaloes add to the prey base of the tigers. The locals report frequent tiger sightings in the region.
The cattle grazing is still rampant despite the forest being declared as a national park and daily hundreds of thousands of domestic cattle graze the already scarce vegetation competing with the wild ungulates and elephants. The killing of cattle by tiger, leopard or hyena may increase man-animal conflict and hence the cattle should be driven away in a phased and well planned manner at the earliest.
Another major threat in the region is the prolific growth of Mexican weed Prosopis Juliflora. The plains are dotted with these plants. Senior wildlife scientist Dr.A.J.T.Johnsingh said that the Prosopis fruits are favoured by ungulates and even elephants and thus the seeds are dispersed widely. He suggested that the village communities and tribesmen should be allowed to cut these plants for firewood. This measure will check uncontrolled spread of Prosopis and the villagers too can get benefited by firewood collection. Further, the native tree species can be saved from being cut and the area can be restored for blackbucks and other animals characteristic to the open jungles.
The villages and tribal colonies were established in the banks of Moyar River & its tributaries and sunflower, gram and tobacco are being widely cultivated. Otters are often seen in Moyar River and the huge fruit bearing trees like ficus, Java plum, mango etc grown in the banks of the river attracts sloth bear, common langurs and bonnet monkeys. Moyar River is one of the strong holds of Indian marsh crocodiles.
The region is very rich in avian fauna too. Vultures are very common. Besides, the Mynas, swifts, orioles, hoopoes, bee-eaters, ground partridges, babblers, flycatchers etc are commonly seen birds.
Apart from the weed menace and cattle grazing there are other threats too – these include firewood collection from native tree species, influx of non-serious tourists, regular vehicular movement, establishment of housing colonies & settlements areas in the fringes, cultivation inside the reserve, excessive fishing, introduction of commercial non-native fish species (which deplete native fish species) in to the reservoir, apathy of forest staff etc. The staff strength is very less with less vigil and hence poaching can also be prevalent.
The unique forests of Tengumarada region need immediate protection. Fortunately, the Sathy forests have been declared as a NP (Sathyamangalam NP) last year. The Sathy NP and surrounding regions need stringent protection, proper policy decisions, land scape level conservation planning etc to conserve this fragile ecosystem which is the stronghold for elephants, blackbucks and its co-sharers of the habitat.