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02 August, 2007

Tiger in Devarayanadurga (Updated Aug. 2007)




I. Introduction to Devarayanadurga State Forest (DDSF):
Devarayanadurga state forest was the first state forest to be declared in Karnataka (in 1907). It has been enjoying some sort of legal protection by the Government since as early as 1853.

II. Vegetation/ Flora of Devarayanadurga forests:
It is about 42.27 Sq km large and is a patch of mainly Dry Deciduous forest interspread with large patches of scrub and a few degraded moist deciduous forests in its valleys. The forest is degraded towards periphery.

For a forest which is jsut about 6 km from Tumkur city, it is remarkably well preserved and wild. Both the Forest Department and the locals of Tumkur have special attachment towards this forest.

It is important to note that there are no villages inside the forest here and there are many chunks of hilly forests adjoining Devarayana Durga state forest (DDSF) roughly about 20 sq. km, which although unprotected have a fairly good tree cover like the one at Ranthambore National Park. The animals,we know, know no boundaries.

Mr.Harish Bhat (harish@ces.iisc.ernet.in), botanist from Centre for Ecological Sciences, IISc,is among the people having a good knowledge on DD's vegetation. Mr.Bhat has visited here on numerous occasions particularly in connection with a book he wrote on the medicinal plants found here, published by the Karnataka Forest Department in 2001.


III. Devarayanadurga State Forest as a habitat for the tiger's prey species:
Based on the sightings of WANCers, there has been a definite increase in the prey base here. It has a good population of wild boars and also some wild chital and Sambar. In mid-1990s only one troop of Common langurs could be seen with some luck, near the peak of Devarayanadurga hill. Evidence of Langurs can now be come across more easily. Their booming calls echo these forests at more than one place during a single visit to the forest. Also the Chitals have proliferated more. Their hoof prints can be seen very clearly through out the Namada chelume area, supporting the claims of the forest guards. The wild boars have become more bolder and their sightings have increased. School children of nature camps regularly conducted by WANC, at the Forest Information Centre here, can surely see them when they camp here.

IV. The tiger in Devarayanadurga:

1950s-1960s
Mr.Kenneth Anderson in his book `Nine Man-Eaters and One Rouge' mentions about the man-eater he killed in Devarayanadurga forests, which he named "The Hermit of Devarayandurga". This was somewhere around 1950s.

1990s
Dr.Uday Veer Singh IFS, the then DCF of Tumkur division, during one of his night patrols here, reported the sighting of a well-grown tiger. This was on 23rd August 1996. Many people did not support his sighting, as there was no documentary evidence. Villagers around DDSF had also reported the presence of tigers here for a long time.

2000
In early 2000, Guru Prasad and Sri.Harish Bhat came across the scat of a ‘big’ cat. The size of the scat suggested it to be that of a tiger, as it was too large for a leopard. Wildlife biologists from IISc verified this. In Aug. 2000, Mr.Bore Gowda, a forest guard, discovered pugmarks that were abnormally huge for any leopard, in Namada chelume. Castings of POP were taken and examined. Many experts felt it to be that of a Tiger.

2001
Mr.Bore Gowda, Mr.Chikanna and other forest guards at Namada chelume in DDSF called up WANC founder Mr.T.V.N.Murthy early on Saturday, 18th August 2001 morning on hearing the continuous roars of `Tigers' at Kumbarahalli Kere. Mr Murthy left for DDSF along with his four-year old son Kesar and another WANCer Mr.D.R.Prasanna Kumar, a post-graduate in Environmental Science. Being just about 13 km from Tumkur city, both reached the area soon.They visited the spot along with one of the forest watchers. They heard the growls of two big cats at a short distance from each other. Murthy recorded the calls on his digital Video Camera. When the party split, Murthy claims to have seen a well grown tiger for a brief period of about 5 seconds. The tiger was gone before its visual evidence could be recorded. The lower forest staff residing at Namada chelume claimed to be seeing tigers regularly after that.

In Sep 2001, the local forest staff claimed that a tiger killed a fully grown cow and sat over it for about half a night, partially consuming it. Some of the neighbouring villagers who 'saw' this scene, did not use that road through out that evening, out of fear.

2006
Mr.Ganganna, RFO of Sira Taluk, sighted 'a full grown tiger' crossing the Oordigere - Belagumba road (near 8th km stone) while returning back to Tumkur after attending a forest officers' meeting in July 2006 at Namadachelume.

2007
Fresh pug marks were found inside Panditanahalli Plantation of this forest in July 2007. The pugmarks were seen by the local forest officials and WANC has taken their castings.

WANC believeS the forest has sufficient prey to support a couple of tigers. We concede though that, no scientific study has been done here to date.

V. Where did the tigers come into Devarayanadurga?
Our guess is as good as that of any other conservationist.

The nearest population of wild tigers is towards south-east at Bannerghatta National Park (70 km bird flight). Then comes Cauvery wildlife sanctuary (apx. 100 km of bird flight). Next comes the eastern slopes of Baba budain Giri hills,a part of Western Ghats near Bhadra tiger reserve. The approximate distance here is about 120 km of bird flight. The forest corridor of Cauvery Sanctuary until recently extended up to the Ramadevara betta state forest near Kunigal town, about 30 km as a crow flies from the southern part of here. Also patches of forest are present in between. According to local nature lovers, Tigers (and `Seelu naayi` or `Kenn naayi` for wild dogs in Kannada) have been sighted as recently as late 1980s in Huliyurdurga forests (about 50 km as a bird flies from DDSF), which got its name from 'Huli' meaning tiger in Kannada.

Some conservationists believe they might have been part of touring circuses or zoos that abandoned them here as the Environment Ministry and forest officials tightened their noose around them in mid 1990s. But if this is the case then how can captivated tigers survive in the wild for over a decade now, without them having a direct conflict with humans considering the movement of villagers inside DD forests? How can they learn to hunt chital, sambar or wild boar overnight?

Now coming to the question "When there is no forested corridor that presently connect Devarayanadurga to a tiger habitat having a viable tiger population, then how did they appear here after a gap of almost 50 years?"
The answer is tricky, but we have many recent instances of wild elephants crossing highways and villages and suddenly appear tens of kilometers away from their habitat without being detected for days. If elephants can sneak into their former habitat, can't the tigers do it as well? There needs to be research undertaken to find the answer, which might turn out to be very interesting.

VI. WANC and DDSF:
DDSF is the second home of many of the members of our Wildlife Aware Nature Club. Being so close, hardly any week passes without us visiting this forest. These visits of ours have resulted in some good studies of the flora and fauna found there.

WANCer Ameen Ahmed presented a poster on the rich avifauna (about 248 Species of birds) of this forest at the Pan-Asian Ornithological Congress in Nov. 1996 at Coimbatore. Another WANCer Guru Prasad presented a paper on the raptors of this forest at the Asian Raptor Conference in Indonesia in Aug 2000. Guru along with Harish Bhat(researcher from Centre for Ecological Sciences,IISc, Bangalore) and the Karnataka Forest Department have come out with an excellent glossy Field guide (with colour plates) on the Medicinal plants of this forest- probably the first of its kind in Karnataka.

VII. Future of DDSF
 Elders visiting this forest claim that it is definitely better than what it was, when wood used to be extracted on a large scale during the pre-independence days. We as a club and the nature lovers of Tumkur city are happy that the tiger is thriving in this forest. This at a time when some of the best wildlife habitats across most of India have been destroyed for ever. Although DDSF as its own threats like the building of roads and increased tourism, it does not have threats like mining or mega projects affecting it on a large scale like Western Ghats. This fact is going to keep us happy for quite some time to come.

Further information:
There is a video of the kill remains with WANC founder TVN Murthy and also interviews of the local villagers who have seen their cows being mauled in front of them. If you are interested, you may visit him at Tumkur.

Thanks,

Ameen
For WANC

A discussion of tigers in DD is at:
http://www.indianaturewatch.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=303