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Escalating Ecocide in the Kudremukh National Park

The number of specimens collected from different locations is given in Table 3.6.1 and Fig 3.6.1. The species endemic to the Western Ghats are given in Table 3.6.2. Out of the 43 species recorded at Kudremukh National Park, 22 species (about 50%) are endemic to the Western Ghat region. Streams along the western slopes are rich in fish species (range 6-16 species) especially at the lower reaches (e.g. at Ennuhole, Manjilthar & Katari). The cyprinid species such as Garra, Puntius, and Nemocheilus are common in the area. The diverse substrata and clear water could be the reason for high diversity. The Tunga and Bhadra river system upstream of the mining area also has moderate species richness with 2-14 and 5-7 species recorded, respectively.
The lowest diversity of fishes seen is in the Bhadra immediately downstream of the mining area and at Nellibeedu which is partly under mining influence (2 species each), followed by the main KIOCL mining area and Lakhya hole (4 species each).
Although the mining area (Kudremukh, Bhadra Nellibeedu) is ideal for the torrential fish species like the loaches and sucker catfish, their absence is obvious (Table 3.6.1). This could be attributed to the disturbances to the habitat. These fishes prefer substrates such as boulders, bedrocks and cobbles with fast to moderate flow rate. The food items of these fishes consists of filamentous algae adhered to the above mentioned substrates. The sediments from the mining operations plugs the crevices between .he pebbles, cobbles and boulders, suppressing the algal growth. This reduces the availability food resources for loaches and sucker catfishes. The species encountered in the Kudremukh mine area are Nashs barb (Osteochilichthys nashii), Boopis razor belly (Salmostoma boopis), Jerdons carp (Puntius jerdoni) and Pseudaambassis ranga. These species are known to tolerate turbidity and even high amount of dissolved solids in the water (Easa & Basha 1995).
From the Bhadra river (near the mining area) only two species were encountered, Giant danio (Danio aequipinnatus) and Mullya garra (Garra mullya). These two species were collected far ahead of the confluent zone of the effluent channel from the factory with the river. A high biological turbidity coupled with the slow rate of flow could be the reason for low diversity in the site. The presence of Garra here inclines is indicative of this river possibly having been inhabited by similar forms such as Ballitorine loaches, and sucker catfishes. The current disturbance in the habitat might have caused local disappearance of these pollution-sensitive species.
In Lakhya Hole, four species were recorded (Puntius fasciatus, Barilius bendelisis, Nemachilichthys ruepelli and Nemachilus anguilla). At this site, an isolated pool with clear water is inhabited by the 4 fish species but the adjacent area with turbid water and accumulated sand is absolutely without any fish species.
At Kachighole, a valley slated for another dam to retain mining wastes, it is noteworthy that the torrential habitat supports Deccan mahseer (Tor khudree), regarded as a highly endangered species (CAMP 1998).
(Page 22-30 of CES report)
In addition to standard diversity indices (Simpsons index, Shannon-Wienner index, Jaccards index), the following approaches relying on underlying biological factors were used. These indices were the Biological Monitoring Working Party Score System (BMWP) and percent EPT (% Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, Trichoptera) used for biological assessment of the sampling sites.
BMWP score: The determination of this biotic index is based on the standard table of Armitage et al., (1983). This was adopted in a modified form by Trivedi (1991) in his biomonitoring studies of Yamuna river. For calculation of BMWP score, identification to family is sufficient. A site score was obtained by summing the individual scores of all families present (Table 3.7.2). Score values for individual families reflect their pollution tolerance based on current knowledge of distribution and abundance. Pollution intolerant families have high BMWP scores, while pollution tolerant families have low scores.
% EPT: Total number of Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera and Trichoptera in a site represented as percentage of total number of individuals (Resh 1979).
Aquatic insect species richness recorded for Kudremukh NP is the highest ever known for any site in Western Ghats (Sivaramakrishnan et al., 1998 and in prep.). Our study recorded 54 aquatic insect taxa, belonging to seven orders and thirty-three families from the Kudremukh area (Appendix 8). Of these, 30 taxa could be identified up to the generic level and 14 taxa up to the species level. Highest diversity was recorded from orders Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies), Ephemeroptera (mayflies) and Trichoptera (caddiesflies).
Our reference sites, representing sampling sites upstream of the mining area, had higher species richness (mean=8.2) than the mining-impacted sites (mean=6.3)(Table 3.7.3). High species richness is clearly confined to less disturbed areas in the upper catchment of Bhadra. Families such as Leptophlebiidae, Heptagaeniidae, Ephemereliidae, Perlidae, Calopterygidae, Euphidae, Naucoridae, Helicopsychidae and Glossosomatidae dominate the natural stream community.
The streams and the segment of Bhadra river flowing through the lease area of KIOCL are species poor. The dominant families of the community are Baetidae, Libellulidae, Psephinidae, Dytiscidae, Hydropsychidae and Simulidae. These families are tolerant to aquatic pollution. Absence of pollution-sensitive families of aquatic insects indicates the poor quality of the water flowing through the streams of lease area. Lowest diversity was recorded at Lakhya Hole and Kachige Hole, both of which receive discharge from mining activity. The biologically poor character of impacted streams is reflected in low diversity indices (Simpsons and Shanons) and in biomonitoring scores (BMWP and % EPT). A Cluster analysis of the data using Jaccards dissimilarity index also clearly separates Lakhya Hole from rest of the sites (Fig 3.7.1).
Butterflies were sampled during November and December 2000 between 10.00 AM and 1.00 PM, when their activity is at a maximum. Line transects of approximately 500m in length with 10m on either side were covered in one hour. Transects were covered in all the major habitat types, including natural forest, grassland, and abandoned mining area. All individuals seen from the transect line were recorded (Kunte, 1997). Identifications are based on Butterflies of Indian Region (Wynter Blyth,1957). A detailed checklist was also prepared for the area during the study period.
About 149 of 332 species of butterflies known from the Western Ghats species have been found at Kudremukh National Park (Appendix 9). Of these 13 species are endemic to Western Ghats. Species richness is high in the semi-evergreen forests of western slopes (25 species) and the evergreen forests of Kuringal (23 species). The evergreen forest specialists like Beak (Libythea lepita), Many tailed oak blue (Thaduka multicaudata), Staff Sergeant (Athyma selenophora) and Small Leopard (Phalanta alcippe) characterize the community of western slopes and Kuringal. Grasslands of Kuringal were poorer with only 11 recorded species. The species present here such as Common Grass Yellow (Eurema hecabe), Lemon Pansy (Junonia lemonias), Chocolate Pansy (Junonia iphita), Yellow Pansy (Junonia hierta) etc. are typical of open sunny areas (Table 3.8.1). Nellibeedu has a distinctive butterfly species composition when compared to other sites (Fig. 3.8.1). This distinctiveness of Nellibeedu is due to the presence of a riparian patch of semi- evergreen forest that harbours a unique set of butterflies such as Common Map (Cyrestis thyodamas), Rustic (Cupha erymanthis) and Tree Nymph (Idea malabarica), recorded only in this locality.
Mining area was very poor in butterflies. Only three species of butterflies, Yellow Pansy (Junonia hierta), Lemon Pansy (Junonia lemonias) and Common Grass Yellow (Eurema hecabe) were found in the Acacia auriculiformis plantation of reclamation zone. All three species are habitat generalists and usually found in open sunlit areas like grasslands and roads (Kunte 2000).
(Chapter 4 of CES report)
Impact of Mining on the Biodiversity and Ecology of Kudremukh
The science of landscape ecology essentially developed after the 1980s (Forman 1995). Concepts of landscape ecology, in combination with the principles of island biogeography and meta- population biology are now widely used as core principles in the design and management of nature reserves all over the world. Numerous scientific studies (Noss and Cooperider 1994; Pickett et al. 1997; Kramer et al. 1997) have conclusively established that large, undisturbed protected areas that are connected to each other through landscape level linkages are essential for effective conservation of biodiversity As a result of scientific research carried out over the last three decades, habitat fragmentation has been identified as the single largest threat to biodiversity and biological integrity.
In this context, we note that wildlife protected areas such as Kudremukh National Park cover a total of less than 4% of Indias land. Tropical rainforests worldwide, of which Kudremukh is a representation, are recognized to be under severe threat.
Habitat fragmentation depletes the biological integrity of animal and plant communities by hindering dispersal movements, normal ranging patterns, immigration and emigration of individuals in and out of populations. The adverse effects of fragmentation occur at multiple levels: At the level of gene flow within a single animal or plant species; at the level of animal and plant communities as a whole or at the level of community diversity at a regional level. Thus. fragmentation threatens biodiversity at the so-called alpha, beta and gamma levels. Recent scientific evidence (Tillman and Downing 1994; Levin 1992) also suggests that impoverishment of biodiversity may even affect the stability and functioning of entire ecosystems.
Landscape level habitat fragmentation is now also recognized as a particularly serious threat to several endangered species that inhabit the Kudremukh region. These include species that exhibit wide-ranging movements such as the Tiger, Leopard, Dhole, Sloth Bear, and Gaur. The presence of a few elephants in recent times also suggests that the Kudremukh region may have been part of a more widespread distribution of the species in the past. Fragmentation also has adverse consequences for niche specialist species such as the Lion-tailed macaque, Nilgiri Marten, Travancore Flying Squirrel, Malabar Civet and the Great Pied Hornbill, all of which find refuge in the rainforests and grasslands of Kudremukh.