Somewhere in Tamil Nadu...

Tigers are back on the prowl in the lush forests of Sathyamangalam, once the haunt of forest brigand Veerappan. Tracks of at least 10 big cats have been reported in the area in the last year. “We have been seeing tigers in the Sathyamangalam forests for the past one year, after a gap of nearly two decades,” says Sathyamangalam district forest officer S Ramasubramaniam. World Wildlife Fund biologist Ajay A Desai and his colleagues spotted five tigers — a mother and four cubs — 10 days ago close to the Bhavanisagar range of Sathyamangalam forest division. Last month, the pug marks of a female tiger and her cub were found at Balapadugai in the Thalavadi range. Eight months ago, just two km from the Bannari Amman temple in Sathyamangalam town, Veerappan’s favourite place of worship, forest department staff found the tracks of a tiger. A year ago, the carcass of a tiger cub that had died of natural causes, was recovered near Karuvannarayan temple in the Bhavanisagar range. Forest officials are unsure about the reasons behind the sudden reappearance of tigers in the area. They say STF movements may have kept off tigers all these years, or the forest staff may not have ventured deep into the forest as they were afraid of Veerappan. Wildlife biologist A J T Johnsingh of Nature Conservation Foundation, who spotted a tiger a few months ago near Thengumarahada, said tigers from the Mudumalai-Bandipur-Nagarahole forests could be “re-establishing their home” because the fairly undisturbed forests of the scenic Moyar valley have sufficient prey —black buck and four-horned antelope. These forests through Sigur, Singara and Naduvattam ranges connect with Mukurthi National Park. In the Nilgiri landscape, the tigers at lower altitude (about 200m in the Bhavanisagar range) hunt black buck and at higher altitude (about 2,000 m), they prey on Nilgiri tahr. At present, only Mudumalai wildlife sanctuary has been declared a tiger reserve. “The Mudumalai Tiger Reserve should be expanded to cover the Sathyamangalam range,” said Johnsingh. “The Sathyamangalam range and Mukurthi should be declared ‘satellite cores’ of Mudumalai Tiger Reserve,” he said. However, the thorny Prosolis juliflora, an exotic from Mexico, has overrun the Sathyamangalam forests, posing a grave threat to black buck, which require open habitat.

At a time when dwindling animal populations are a concern in most national parks, Guindy National Park (GNP) is struggling to contain its exploding deer population. Most species of deer reproduce rapidly, leading to stress on their habitat and population explosion. There is also a lot of in-breeding at GNP and as a result, the population is not a healthy one. GNP, the only national park within city limits, has around 1,100 spotted deer and 380 black bucks. As the foliage reserve in the park is insufficient for the animals, the deer often stray outside in search of food. “The deer population inside the park has gone beyond control and something has to be done immediately. The park does not have enough foliage to meet the huge demand,” a worker at GNP said. The park authorities have so far managed to hush up the straying of spotted deer from the park as the city has a strong free-ranging deer population. However, when the forest authorities rescued a black buck from the heart of Velachery in April last year, the straying of animals came to light. Karunapriya, city wildlife warden in charge of GNP, said that some animals do stray out of the park. “The straying of deer from the park is very difficult to contain. We have open areas near Raj Bhavan and due to security reasons we cannot fence those areas. However, there is no shortage of foliage inside the park. Otherwise such a huge population of deer could not be thriving,” she said.She also admitted that the gene pool of the deer inside the park is unhealthy because of in-breeding. “We are trying to find a solution to this. We often trap some of the healthy freeranging spotted deer and let them into the park to enable cross-breeding,” Karunapriya said. She said they are also planning to create open grass areas inside the park to increase the availability of foliage. “There are many such developmental plans but they are still being conceptualised,” Karunapriya said. Experts say that such problems are bound to happen as the park is located in the heart of the city. “There should be a plan of action to tackle problems like in-breeding and population explosion. Authorities should shift a few animals to other parks in the state and bring in some from other parks to encourage cross-breeding,” a senior wildlife official said.

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