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Thread: Effect of Urbanisation and Skewed Biodiversity: A Chandaka Perspective

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    Exclamation Effect of Urbanisation and Skewed Biodiversity: A Chandaka Perspective

    Chandaka Damapada Sanctuary: 193.39 sq. kms of the Chandaka forest on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar in the Khurda Uplands were designated as an Elephant Reserve in August 1982. The Sanctuary was marked out to check and restore the depleting forest cover which once covered Bhubaneswar. It is home to 30 species of mammals, 27 species of reptiles and 120 species of birds. The forest cover is mostly bamboo with presence of trees like sal in a few places. The sanctuary has 67 elephants (2007 census) in its approximately 200 sq km area.
    As per the All Orissa Elephant Census 2007 report, the Chandaka Damapada Sanctuary has:
    Total Sanctuary Area: 193.39 sq kms.
    Adult Bulls: 09 (8 Tuskers and 1 Makhna)
    Adult Cows: 22
    Sub-Adult Bulls: 05 (5 Tuskers and 0 Makhna)
    Sub-Adult Cows: 15
    Juvenile: 02
    Calves: 14
    Total: 67



    Picture: A view of the Ambilo Waterhole inside Chandaka Damapada Sanctuary. One can see the bamboo forests in the background.


    Dangers looming the sanctuary:
    Urbanisation: Bhubaneswar as a city has seen extremely rapid spatial grown in the past decade with limits coming dangerously close to the sanctuary premises. The city has extended in seven different directions during the last decade by engulfing the fringe villages and protected areas. As a result of which, the land is being taken up rapidly by private owners and various companies for setting up homes and offices. Also one finds mushrooming educational institutions in that area. The government in an attempt to quench the ever growing demand for land has stretched the plot lands to near sanctuary limits. This has led to breaks in the elephant corridor thereby leading to greater elephant human conflicts, especially in the harvesting season. I would like to highlight that the jungle lost a lot of its floral wealth during the 1999 super cyclone and has been struggling ever since. But with the concrete jungles overpowering the natural ones, there is little hope for retaining the habitat of these magnificent creatures. They foray into these human inhabited areas and this is construed by the government as an offensive by the animals. That is plain ignorance and lack of coordination between the government and the forest department.

    (Above) A female elephant crossing the road near the Institute of Mathematics and Applications with the Chandaka 6 km milestone in the background. (Below) Proximity of the Institute of Mathematics and Applications to the Forest Boundary.



    Various institutes such as ASBM and the Institute of Mathematics and Applications by Tata have come up dangerously close to the forest line. This causes great disturbance to the wildlife due to constant vehicular movement, presence of humans and razing of forests for the purpose of these institutes. Tata, a name known for its CSR and ethical practices, has not brought into consideration the effects of such a venture on the biodiversity of Chandaka. Instead they have been putting pressure on the government to stop elephants from coming into that area. As a result of this the government’s reactive measure was to raise high walls around the forest boundary. Is this even an option? Why was an institute allowed to be built there in the first place? Bharatpur another forest area which earlier used to be connected to Chandaka is now disconnected due to allocation of land for residential purposes. Plots are allocated right to the edge of the forest trenches. Bharatpur still encounters elephants because it used to be a part of their migration corridor. Do you think Mr. “Big Guy in the Government” that making houses in such an area is a good idea? The answer is rhetorical.


    Picture: A villager stealing wood from the Bharatpur forest area under the Chandaka Reserve Forest.

    Also being close to a highly populated urban conglomerate on the east and cultivated plains on the north and west, the pressure on the sanctuary for biomass needs of the surrounding population is tremendous and on the increase. This has lead to tribals and villagers of nearby villages to foray into the sanctuary premises. The total forest area of the sanctuary (including dense, open and scrub forest) was 90.27 % of the total area, which reduced drastically to 62.72% in 2005.




    Skewed Biodiversity: In 1991, 5 leopards were introduced into the sanctuary; however as of today the forest officials claim that there is one leopard. I had a small unofficial talk with a few of the forest guards inside the sanctuary who stated that the leopard has not been sighted in almost a year or so furthering greater fears of a jungle without any primary predators on top of the food chain. The predators on the top include jackals along with a few reports of hyenas. The sanctuary is now full of stray cattle. But strangely enough the deer population has not increased substantially. Could this point at extensive poaching? There is very less sighting of animals inside the sanctuary raising the question on the actual number of animals present. All surveys on this had been done a long time ago and a fresh one is the need of the hour to assess the actual scenario. The sanctuary is greatly neglected even thought the PCCF and DFO’s offices are near and in Bhubaneswar. A possible reason for not conducting fresh surveys is the fact that they know the poaching scenario in the reserve forests and do not want to bring it out in the open. Also the presence of villages near and inside the sanctuary has its impact. Not only do these villages gradually increase their cultivable lands into the sanctuary, but also act as shelters and camps to poachers. The forest department has knowledge of this fact, yet has not taken any concrete measures to curb this. I have personally seen villagers take wood chopped from the forest right in front of the foresters without them even flinching. Is this why the forest guards joined the forest department? A reason for this could be the low pay the guards get (1500 -2400 Rs/Month) so whatever the poachers/villagers bribe acts as a bonus for them.

    Forest covers are vital for the health of the city and around. Not only do they have a great positive impact on the climate, but also help in maintaining the water table level. The roots of the trees help in retaining water in the soil thereby keeping the water table at a constant level. Also looking from a Chandaka perspective, it has two perennial water sources at Deras and Kumarkhunti. These two are major water sources which are vital around the city limits. Forests are a great help for rainwater catchment. They facilitate storage of water which can be actually used for various purposes by people. Forests are indispensable assets to humans and should not be taken for granted, especially in a place like Bhubaneswar, which already has a wonderful forest boundary serving its purpose for the betterment of the city climate. But that scenario is fast changing. A large part of the forests were already destroyed during the 1999 super cyclone. After that people and the government have not made any efforts to try and revitalise the forests. I was really disheartened at the standing of this sanctuary, home to a large concentration of pachyderms and other fauna, being destroyed with each minute one way or the other. Whose responsibility is it to make sure that such a valuable treasure of the state does not wither away and die? Is the growth of the city so important that we can afford to sacrifice the forests and wildlife? On one hand we talk of conservation and on the other we are the very people who buy plots of land in those areas. Ask yourself, if there are no forests, will there be a ‘you’ tomorrow? The answer as always is simple yet initiative and implementation of it is the crux of the matter.
    Regards,
    Bibhav Behera
    www.bibhavbehera.com

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    Default Here's a map of the sanctuary.

    Picture: The Guide Map of Chandaka...
    Attached Images Attached Images  
    Regards,
    Bibhav Behera
    www.bibhavbehera.com

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    Bibhav,
    Thanks for raising a pertinent issue. In our mad rush for so called development, we have turned a blind eye to the destruction of our natural heritage.

    In most of the cities, forests are disappearing due to the rapid urbanisation. Ultimately, the forests become islands in the midst of concrete jungles. These landlocked forests, lose their valuable denizens - the elephants, tigers, leopards etc. Slowly the forests become parks without any tree cover.

    Elephants are migratory in nature due to their food requirement. In most of the areas where human animal conflict is prevalent, it is man who is the aggressor. We have moved into traditional migratory paths and this has led the elephants to destroy our crops and then the elephants are now unwanted.

    When the forests lose contiguity, it becomes difficult for the bigger animals to survive. It becomes too small an area to sustain large carnivores and large herbivores. Over a period of time, the gene pool gets closed.

    So what is the solution? What do we need to do?

    As concerned citizens we need to raise our voice demanding intervention from the authorities. Please write to the Hon'ble Chief Minister of Orissa asking his kind intervention. You may raise the following points:

    1. Conduct a census immediately to know the the As-Is situation ie. the flora and fauna existing at the moment.

    2. Strengthen the forest department by looking into the issues of staff shortage if any, increase patrolling and take strict action against biotic pressures like wood felling, extracting forest produce and poaching.

    3. Re-establish a forest corridor between bharatpur and chandaka forests.

    4. Stop all constructions in close proximity to the forests.

    You may write in your own language highlighting these points and shoot an email/letter to the Hon'ble Chief Minister of Orissa, Shri Naveen Patnaik, and email at cmo@ori.nic.in

    and copy to
    Chief Secretary of Orissa: Shri Ajit Kumar Tripathy, csori@ori.nic.in

    cc: Principal Secretary, Forest & Environment Department, Govt of Orissa, email: fesec@ori.nic.in

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    Chandaka has been very close to my heart- it was here that I first began walking in a forest, when I was a 14 year old, still in school. I have been following its ups and downs since then and it has mostly been a disappointing story. Until 2002-03, Chandaka was home to about 85 elephants and a few leopards. I had seen a leopard's pugmark near Ambilo in 2002. In fact, leopards were very numerous then, and were sighted frequently. But they were systematically wiped out by the villagers because they killed cattle in the absence of sufficient prey base. No one ever had to enforce the 5 pm deadline to picnickers- they never dared to stay longer than that for the fear of stumbling across elephants on their way back. (Today, picnickers stay back at night and drive around all over the place, drinking and making a mess of the forest. The FD has had an active role in encouraging this pathetic sort of tourism). Every path had elephant dung and tracks on it.

    Then in 2003, a herd of about 20+ elephants migrated out of the park- something that was unthinkable at that time, as everyone believed Chandaka was an island (which it is) and that there was no way the elephants could move out of it. But the elephants were desperate to the point of crossing the busy four lane NH-5 (yes, elephants cross the Golden Quadrilateral) near Patrapada in Bhubaneswar's outskirts and moved towards Barunei hill- something they hadn't done since decades. Perhaps some old matriarch remembered this ancient migratory route, or they were simply too desperate to get out and took this route at random. After halting at Barunei hill and raiding crops for a few days, they moved towards the Tangi-Ranpur Mal hills and then Berbera and then perhaps Ghumusar forests. They never came back to Chandaka. This brought down the population to 65/67 in the next census. After this incident, it slowly became a frequent practice of Chandaka elephants to cross the NH-5 on their crop raiding excursions and take refuge in the hills outside the sanctuary. Usually they would come back to Chandaka but many stray incidents of them migrating away, never to return occurred. Many elephants were killed while on the run like this. Some were electrocuted, some shot at and some simply died of exhaustion. Everyone was taken by surprise when in early 2006 a tusker appeared near Sakhigopal in Puri- 60 kms away. With no forest around, the tusker simply wandered there walking across paddy fields and taking refuge in coconut plantations. What caused him to do it? Desperation, of course. The tusker was named 'Shankar' and was tranquilised and released back in Kumarkhunti in Chandaka. But he strayed into cashew plantations nearby and was shot at on the foot with a locally made muzzle loader. The wounds festered and the tusker died after being tranquilised a second time. Shankar's skeleton is now at display at the Regional Museum of Natural History in Bhubaneswar. Another baffling incident was when an entire herd of elephants from Chandaka strayed into the Chilika lake in search of water from the Tang-Ranpur Mals. That was December 2007 and the elephants spent an entire day in the lake, feeding on the reeds and trying to drink the brackish water. I visited the site a few days later and was surprised to find that it took me over 2 hrs by motor boat to reach the part of the lake until which they had come. There were some Greylag geese there! Incidents of them entering Bhubaneswar city, and overturning cars, etc. are quite frequent too. In the recent past, many more elephants have migrated out of Chandaka and from recent reports and my recent visits, I believe there are no more than 20 elephants left at present in Chandaka- they're shuttling between the scrub jungle of Bharatpur Reserved forest in Bhubaneswar and the main Chandaka forest. So what went wrong with Chandaka? Many things:

    1. Its a tiny island of a forest: Chandaka is a less than 175 sq. km. island-ed sanctuary. Earlier, it used to be connected to what is now the Satkosia Tiger Reserve and also to the Athgarh and Kapilas RFs. Elephants regularly crossed the Mahanadi and moved between these patches, which allowed good exchange of genes and prevented in-breeding. After Arati Industries came up on the northern side of Chandaka and the steep Rengali canal was built, this vital link was completely cut off. Urbanisation had ensured that the forest was already isolated from its southern, western and eastern sides.

    2. Growing Bhubaneswar: Urbanisation of Bhubaneswar's outskirts has spelled the death knell for Chandaka. Huge numbers of engineering colleges with their flood lights have come up right on the borders of the sanctuary and real estate is booming. The corridor with the tiny Bharatpur patch has almost been completely eaten up. No one is taking any action against this as the very powerful land sharks and politicians are involved in this.

    3. People and cattle: The villages inside Chandaka can be called 'rogue' villages. They offer sanctuary to many criminals and are known to grow ganja. Also, they have a flourishing business selling hundreds of cycle loads of illegal firewood. Chital, barking deer and wild boar are regularly poached and the meat is sold commercially. Sambar and gaur have long been eliminated as have been the wild dog and tiger. It is a known fact that the elephants of Chandaka will go out of the sanctuary to raid crops, but will never raid the crops of the 5 villages right inside it- they know they will be shot at if they do so.

    4. Incompetent Leadership: I might get sued for defamation charges for saying this, but lack of committed administration has been Chandaka's biggest problem. Especially after Suresh Mishra left as DFO in 2006. He was a wildlifer himself and had founded the sanctuary in 1982. He was back in Chandaka for his second term after having done excellent work in Satkosia. Chandaka had its best years under him. His successor has been a media-savvy man, with zero interest in wildlife and is more committed to convert Chandaka into a VIP picnic place than anything else.

    5. Screwed Balance of Nature: The leopard, Chandaka's top predator was considered extinct for a few years until pugmarks surfaced once again. Now one or two are known to exist. This is a park with hardly any prey base, and obviously no top predator. In short, its a really really screwed-up park.

    So what is the future of Chandaka? I believe, that unless the corridors with the other elephant forests of Satkosia, Kapilas and Athgarh are not recreated, we can forget Chandaka as an elephant habitat. In fact, it would be far more humane to undertake a massive operation to relocate them to other elephant habitats (synonymous with culling with Orissa Forest Department's record with tranquilisers) instead of tormenting them in this urban jail. At least they should survive and breed in other forests. Such a small population, with so few bulls and in such a small forest is already reeling under the effects of in-breeding- calf mortality is high. Chandaka's only future is like that of Borivili in Mumbai- a landlocked sanctuary, where herbivores, leopards and sloth bears can be made to have a decent future. Even for this, the forest department will need a lot of effort and a lot of committed officers. The villages and their cattle need to be immediately removed, the habitat saved from the axe and marauding weeds and in time, sambar (and gaur?) reintroduced from Orissa's many 'Deer Parks'. Chital have been successfully re-introduced from the Raj Bhawan Deer Park in past in Chandaka and there is no reason why sambar too can't be brought back. The leopard should be given highest priority now and if possible, 'problem' leopards, captured elsewhere must be released in Chandaka, in an effort to re-build its population. With the way things are going in Chandaka now, I'm afraid someday we'll wake up to the news that Chandaka has been de-notified as wildlife sanctuary and a new IT park/Residential Complex called 'Gaja Vihar' is coming up! This is the only chance left to save this green cover- the cliched 'lungs of Cuttack and Bhubaneswar', the only excuse under which the forest has manged to survive till date!

    Nothing to cheer about,
    Aditya
    Last edited by Aditya Panda; 03-02-2009 at 04:00 PM.

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    Very true Aditya. Immediate action is vital. Chandaka is an invaluable resource of Orissa. One cannot just sit and see it find a place just in books for future generations to see.
    Regards,
    Bibhav Behera
    www.bibhavbehera.com

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    @Bibhav: Are you sure 5 leopards were 'introduced' in '91? From what I know, the leopard had made a comeback in 1991-92, perhaps from Athgarh side, and throughout the 90s, leopards were all over the place.

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    yes. it had returned in 91-92 allaying fears of its extinction from the sanctuary(Reference "Centre for Env Studies Newsletter"). A few were introduced (the forest officials I talked to claimed 5). In the 2000s the Leopard has officially been there. But that only seems speculative. As you said, there has been excessive poaching within the premises of the apparently "island-like" sanctuary. Personally, I have been visiting the sanctuary for quite some, and have been in touch with a few people who also had been in touch with chandaka. I have not heard of a single sighting, let alone a pug mark in a long time.
    Regards,
    Bibhav Behera
    www.bibhavbehera.com

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    The last census under Suresh Mishra's times had brought up a figure of nil. But I'm told that the pugs of one are being found since 2006. Don't know how true it is. Also, I'm not sure about what the official told you about 5 being re-introduced, as far as I know, leopards have never been re-introduced anywhere in Orissa, except once in Debrigarh, long time back.

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    Aditya,
    I will revisit that fact again. Maybe there has been a miscommunication. The pug mark being sighted now and then has not been documented, nor is there any authenticity of source. It would be a great recovery for Chandaka if it were true. But sadly, I feel that might just be a faint possibility.
    Debrigarh near Sambalpur also has had a similar fate. I had a talk some time back with Mr. Sethi who was the DFO there in 2006. He also showed great fears of no leopards being left in the sanctuary there.
    Regards,
    Bibhav Behera
    www.bibhavbehera.com

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    Debrigarh is the easiest place to watch leopards in Orissa. Its known for that. Very sad if things are turning out the Chandaka way there.

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    A very nice article. I think very few people might be aware about the situation in Chandaka. Its a very sad state in which the animals are forced to stay there.

    We need more and more people to know about this.Thanks for posting and making us aware.
    Regards,
    Mrudul Godbole

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    Can anyone please tell me that are the FRH facilities(Dhudrokusum & Chowrasimal /dechuan) still available for tourists? or eco RH are only options?
    also what is the position of this wls now?
    thnx in advance,
    Avijit
    avijitwildlife@gmail.com

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    Hi Avijit,
    Debrigarh would be open now. There are cottages there that you can book. I think it's around Rs. 1000/night. You have to arrange vehicles though to move inside the sanctuary. Charurasimal is arnd 15km from the entrance of the park. It's supposed to be a great place to sight leopards in Orissa and recently a pack of dholes with cubs has also been sighted there. The DFO there is Mr. Manoj Nair, a brilliant ornithologist (by passion). You can find his number in my mail to you. You can give him my reference.

    They FRH at Chaurasimal is not open to public. You can drive there early in the mornings from the cottages. The cottages are nice and overlook the Hirakud backwaters and you will see a variety of waders and shore birds. You will also have guests in the form of wild boar at night near your cottages.
    Regards,
    Bibhav Behera
    www.bibhavbehera.com

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