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Escalating Ecocide in the Kudremukh National Park

Singh et al. (2000) carried out an intensive study on the status of Lion-tailed Macaque in Sringeri range of Kudremukh National Park. Their study has reaffirmed the fact that Kudremukh supports the largest breeding population of Lion-tailed Macaques anywhere in Western Ghats. They also observed that since rainforests are contiguous in fairly long stretches in Kudremukh, the region serves as the best habitat for sustaining a biologically viable population of Lion-tailed Macaques in the wild. In other parts of Western Ghats where suitable habitat still exist for this primate, fragmentation of habitat and isolation of groups has been the major threat for the survival of Lion- tailed Macaques (Kumar et al 1995).
Madhusudan and Karanth (In Press) indicated the presence of at least 26 species of mammals in Kudremukh region. However, they found vast stretches of relatively intact habitat, which could support large mammals if they can be effectively protected from hunting and other anthropogenic pressures caused by habitat fragmentation. More recently, Karanth and his team carried an extensive survey to assess the status of large carnivores and their prey in Kudremukh. They invested a sampling effort of 622 Km doing surveys on foot in all the potential habitat for tigers and prey species in this region. The preliminary investigations have indicated that this area has a high potential for tiger conservation. Because of its relatively high density of large ungulate prey such as gaur and sambar, Kudremukh is probably one of the few areas in the tropical rainforests of Western Ghats where a potentially viable population of wild tigers can be recovered and established. At present it is certainly one of the few places along the ridge of the Western Ghats where adult breeding tigresses are able to raise cubs. A global level assessment of potential tiger habitats by Wildlife Conservation Society and World Wildlife Fund - US has identified the black of forests in the Western Ghats that contains Kudremukh as one of the global priority Tiger Conservation Units and designated it as TCU-55 (Wickramanayake et al. 1999).
3.4 BIRD DIVERSITY of CES report
Birds were sampled between 6.00 AM and 9.00 AM during November and December 2000. Transect method was used to quantify the species of birds, their frequency of sighting and abundance. Each transect of approximately 500m length with 50m on either side was walked at uniform pace in one hour (Daniels 1989, Pramod, 1997). All the individuals seen or heard were recorded for a transect line. Identifications are based on Book of Indian Birds (Ali, 1996). Seven transects were completed during the period for quantification. In addition to this quantitative sampling, a detailed checklist of birds was also made while perambulating the area.
The number of bird species reported authentically from Kudremukh National Park is 169 species (Davidar 1980, Gadgil et al. 2000) of which 8 species are Western Ghats endemics (Appendix 4). The present study encountered 156 species of birds (including species recorded by one of our researchers working in KMNP over the past year). Bird species richness of the Kudremukh NP area is comparable to other bird rich areas in Western Ghats (Table 3.4.1). Of the 16 species of Western Ghat endemic birds, 8 are present in KMNP. This includes montane evergreen forest specialists like Black and Orange flycatcher (Muscicapa nigrorufa) and Whitebellied Blue flycatcher (Muscicappa pallipes). Other non-endemic birds, with high conservation significance like Great Black Woodpecker (Dryocopus javensis), Great Pied Hornbill (Buceros bicornis), Ceylon Frogmouth (Batrachostomus moniliger) and Woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) are also present in the evergreen forests of this area.
The study shows the presence of three bird communities in the area with distinct species composition (Fig. 3.4.1). They correspond to three major habitat types, grasslands, forests and human habitation. Evergreen forests of Bhagavati valley had 21 bird species. While the natural grasslands of Gangdikal had only 7 bird species, these are habitat specialists such as Pipi< (Anthus sp.), Kestral (Falco tinnunculus) and Harrier (Circus sp.) of relatively high conservation value (Daniel et al. 1991).
Although a large number of bird species (c. 25 species) was recorded in the Malleswara township area, the species encountered are widespread habitat generalists such as Crows (Corvus sp.), Common Myna (Acridotherus tristis), House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), Pariah Kite (Milvus migrans). The intrusion of human habitation into natural forests and grasslands thus encourages the spread of these common birds with low conservation value, a highly undesirable phenomenon.
Although an equal effort was made to sample abandoned and active mining area, hardly any birds were encountered. While no birds were recorded in the broken mine area, only four bird species were recorded near the mining office. They are Common Myna (Acridotherus tristis), Ashy Drongo (Dicrurus leucophaeus), Bluewinged Parakeet (Psittacula columboides) and Dull Green Leaf Warbler (Phylloscopus trochiloides). None of these are habitat specialists. The presence of forest birds such as Bluewinged Parakeet is only a spillover from neighbouring forest patches.
This study focussed on sampling of herpetofaunal diversity in three distinct areas with varying levels of disturbance within the region of Kudremukh National Park. These included:
a) Undisturbed tropical evergreen forests in Kudremukh National Park. The sites included Bhagavathi, Kadambi, Nellibeedu and Kerekatte. b) Disturbed standing evergreen forests within the area leased to KIOCL. c) Abandoned mining area.
The sampling of these sites was conducted during December 2000 and the first fortnight of January 2001. After the selection of suitable sampling sites, data were collected giving equal weighting in terms of effort, time and area surveyed. The time for sampling was early hours of the day, late in the evening and during the night. Apart from systematic sampling, opportunistic sampling was done both during early hours of the day and late night in all sites. The identification and status assessment of herpetofauna were based on sightings, tracks, road kills, calls (in case of amphibians) and other evidences. References used for identification and listing include Daniel (1963, 1975, 1983), Daniel and Sekar (1989), Murthy (1990), Pillai (1999) and Whittaker (1978).
In all, the study recorded 34 species of Amphibians and 54 species of reptiles. Most records were noticed from the undisturbed evergreen forests, a few in the disturbed forests of the mining and . only two species in the abandoned mining area.
The natural forests are excellent habitats for various endemic species and an indicative list includes Nyctibatrachus sp. and Ansonia ornata among frogs, Geoemyda silvatica (Forest Cane Turtle) and Indotestudo forestenii (Travancore Tortoise), Draco dussumieri (Western Ghats Flying Lizard), Salea sp. (Agamid Lizards), Ristella sp. (Skink), Uropeltidae sp. (Shieldtail snakes), Chrysopelea ornata ornata (Indian Ornate Flying Snake), Ophiophagus hannah (King Cobra), and Trimeresurus sp. (Pit vipers).
A taxonomic list of amphibians (Appendix 5) and reptiles (Appendix 6) recorded from the tropical evergreen forests of the Kudremukh National Park has been appended along with IUCN threat status (Molur and Walker 1998a and 1998b). A listing of the Amphibian and Reptilian species encountered during the quantitative sampling in the study sites is given in Tables 3.5.1 and 3.5.2. It is clear from these observations that the rich species diversity of the region, evident from the undisturbed Kudremukh National Park sites, is threatened within the mining areas and environs. A more substantive assessment across all seasons, especially the wet summer months when amphibians are easier to observe, would perhaps provide a more accurate description of the threat to such endemic species from mining activity.
Amphibians are most indicative of the threats to sensitive habitats, such as the Kudremukh National Park. To illustrate the degree of such threats from the ongoing mining activities and other anthropological factors, a compilation of amphibians found in the region is provided, along with their habitat, endemism and IUCN threat status is included as Appendix 5. (Read as Annexure 16)
Several habitat specialist Reptilian species are also found in the study area. Draco dussumieri, the flying lizard in the Western Ghats, a highly endangered species, is found in this area. Similarly, another species in this region is Chrysopelea ornata, Flying Snake. These are specialist species dependent on undisturbed habitat for survival. Ophiophagus hannah King Cobra, is another such species that inhabits the Kudremukh forest. It is the largest venomous snake in the world, and is at the apex of the food pyramid amongst snakes, as it feeds exclusively on other snakes
Uropeltidae sp., Shield Tails, the entire family being endemic to Western Ghats, are frequently found in the evergreen forests of Kudremukh. Very little of the biology and behaviour of this snake is known, considering that they are specialised burrowers, and play a critical role in forming forest soils. Even though only one species of this snake was found during this short investigation, the literature reports a greater variety of such species in the region. Trimeresurus spp., Pit Vipers, are again another notable group of snakes found in the Kudremukh forests. These snakes are exclusive forest dwellers and are not known to survive in other areas.
3.6 FISH DIVERSITY of CES report
Fishes were sampled using gill nets, cast nets and other conventional methods such as sieving through cloth. All the sites were sampled with uniform efforts to get an idea of the abundance of each species. Each site was sampled by operating cast net ten times and the sieving was done for two hours. The habitat characteristics of the area such as the canopy cover, width and depth of the stream, flow rate, pollution if any and substrate distribution were noted down. The microhabitat of the each species was recorded.
The systematic identification was done with the help of several manuals and the Fauna Volumes (Day 1865, 1887 & 1889; Jayaram 1988, Kottelat et al., 1994, Menon 1987 & 1992, Dattamunshi and Srivastava, 1988, Talwar and Jhingran, 1991).
A total of 43 species of fishes was collected from eighteen different locations (Appendix 7). Of these Neolissochilus wynaadensis is reported to be an endangered species and very little information is available on the range of distribution and population status. The present record is worth mentioning since it is a new record from an entirely different river system. Similarly, many other species are new records to the Thunga-Bhadra river system. Barilius canarensis, Silurus wynaadensis, Sicyopterus griseus, Mesonoemacheilus petrubanarescui, Schistura nilgiriensis are so far known only from Kerala or Cauvery river system. Puntius sahyadriensis, described originally from Yenna river, Maharashtra (Talwar and Jhingran, 1991), is a new record for Karnataka.