India Nature: Forest Restoration in the Anamalai

Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Sridar Raman and Divya Mudappa, a husband and wife team working for the Nature Conservation Foundation, hosted me for a night in the Anamalai Hills, Tamil for Elephant Hills. The landscape of the Anamalai Hills was one of coffee and tea plantations scattered with cardamom and forest fragments.

In the Anamalai Hills, less than ten percent of forests remained, highly fragmented yet surrounded by protected parklands and forests in the heart of the highest mountains in the Western Ghats. Two issues were prominent in this landscape: wildlife-people conflicts and forest fragmentation. Both were related to one another.

One of the main conflicts is between elephants and humans. Elephants migrating between forest areas enter plantations. During this migration they can damage provision buildings and kill or injure people. Humans, in turn, harass elephants, forcing them from one plantation to the next with fireworks or chasing, thus irritating the elephants and causing further conflicts, and leading at its worst to elephant stress-related deaths.

Almost all suitable land in the Anamalai Hills has been converted to plantations, with forest fragments remaining in steep or wet areas unsuitable for tea or coffee production. Parks and reserves, though seemingly abundant, are located in the steeper mountains and are dotted with hydroelectric projects, eucalyptus and other plantations, and grazing pasture.

Sridar drove me around to Nature Conservation Foundation project sites. Working with tea and coffee plantations, they were attempting to protect the movement routes of elephants, protect remaining forest fragments, and restore habitats through elephant movement areas. In addition, they were asking the plantations to avoid harassment and obstruction of elephants.

On the way, we saw a small troope of rare Lion-tailed Macaque in a 100 hectare forest fragment, Nilgiri Langurs in a three hectare fragment, and several endemic bird species in other fragments. Wildlife was surviving in fragments, but for how long?

During the day, Sridar and I talked about forest issues as he showed me their nursery sites and several restoration areas using native trees (click photograph for more information). Sridar was not very optimistic about the project, given the obstacles the were facing. In essence, the Nature Conservation Foundation had very little bargaining power in the midst of powerful plantations and a legal system not developed to help them with land issues. Nevertheless, plantations owned by TATA, a large conglomerate, for example, were acting progressively, so there is perhaps hope.

Truly what Sridar and Divya were doing was important work, as most forests in India are under extreme pressures. Every tree counts in restoration ecology.
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