With several reservoirs and rivers dried up, the back-to-back droughts in the state have not only hit agriculture and supply of potable water in parts of the state but are also threatening the salubrious wildlife population in various reserves of Karnataka.
Bandipur and Nagarhole, which boast of India’s largest tiger population, too, are hit, even as summer is just round the corner. Officials are now worried the situation could worsen as summer months of March-April approach.
Facing the looming crisis, Bandipur Tiger Reserve is bracing itself against odds to safeguard the thriving fauna across all ranges. T Heeralal, director, Bandipur Tiger Reserve, says out of the 373 tanks (Water holes), 320-plus have dried up as early as in February first week. “Across Bandipur, spread over 1,000 sq km, there has been 46 per cent deficit rainfall this year. This year it is turning out to be more severe,” Heeralal told Bangalore Mirror.
Omkar, Maddur, Hedeyala, Kundekere, GS Betta and Moleyur ranges are facing the worst scenarios. Although the forest department commissioned 10 solar powered bore wells to fill the dried lakes, it has turned out miniscule in face of huge demand. Luckily, it’s not so bad in Nagarahole. Spread across two districts of Kodagu and Mysuru, Nagarahole is a catchment for Lakshman Theerta and Taraka rivers and several rivulets/streams including stretches of Kabini and Taraka dam backwaters. “We are facing the drought’s effects in Mysuru side of the park and partially in Kodagu areas, as rain-rich Kodagu experienced deficit rainfall. In fact, across our park area we have a deficit of 30-35 per cent rains this time. While Hunsur, Veeranahosalli have been impacted severely, other ranges like DB Kuppe, Antarasanthe and Metikuppe have been partially affected,” S Manikandan, director, Rajiv Gandhi National Park aka Nagarahole Tiger Reserve, said. Spread over 640 sq km area, Nagarahole too has several tanks ranging from one hectare to eight hectares in dimension. “Of the 158 tanks within the park, 50 per cent have dried up. While 30 per cent are in good condition, another 20 per cent are with a trace of water. Luckily, anticipating a scenario like this we have been working since August to put things in place so that animals don’t feel the heat. Much to our relief, a few donors have contributed towards setting up solar water pumps through which we have been filling lakes all through the day,” Manikandan revealed.
Both tiger reserves have been drilling deep to tap into the underground water table. The ground water table, which is 300-400 feet deep, is a blessing in disguise. “Around 10 solar pumps have been commissioned so far. Omkar Range has the highest with four pumps; the other ranges are provided with one each. Summer has always been harsh in Bandipur, but it has only increased this year. This cycle repeats once in every 3-4 years,” Heeralal said.
the department has faced setbacks while digging borewells in Nagarahole too. “In about eight places, the bore wells have failed. The water in Lakshman Theerta River would dry up in March-April-May and the situation would worsen. Elephants require huge amounts of water as they love to immerse themselves. Shortage of water makes them leave the wild and ride into human settlements ,” Manikandan said.
Each solar pump costs Rs 7-10 lakh. “Including digging, providing electric connections by installing solar panels would cost at least Rs 9 lakh per system. About Rs 60
lakh has been spent on commissioning solar pumps in various ranges. Luckily, donors have come in large numbers. The department is also working by supplying water through tankers to fill some of the minor lakes,” he said. Villagers in some wildlife ranges provide water to the forest department. “In Hunsur region, farmers provide us with water. Setting up their generators and pump sets, they are pumping water into lakes inside the forests. Maralekatte Kere near Veeranashosahalli Gate has been filled four times,” he said. On the flip side, animals, especially large mammals, have begun moving towards water-rich areas of Nagarahole. “Many elephant herds and deer are moving towards Kabini and Taraka backwaters as they offer little respite,” Heeralal said.
Cyclonic showers that lashed the parks a few days ago brought reprieve to a certain extent. “In 2011-12 too animals overcame severe drought situation. They know how to adapt themselves to such hardship. But during summer, almost all animals appear weak,” Manikandan pointed out.
JUNGLE RULE: SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
The unprecedented drought prompted Karnataka Forest Department to accommodate changes in its conservation plans. Although no animal has died of thirst, incidents of animal in-fighting over sharing of boundaries and dwindling prey density, have risen. The stronger, younger ones survive. The older ones either retire with injuries or succumb to wounds.
Heeralal said, “This has been a wakeup call as we have made plans to build check-dams to store water in various places. Funds will be spent on providing eco-friendly measures like solar pump sets that supplement our water supply initiative. Focus will be on percolation of water which helps in avoiding excess run-off during rainy season.”
State Wildlife Board member and noted wildlife biologist with Nature Conservation Foundation, Sanjay Gubbi, said, “Droughts are part of the natural cycle. They help keep wildlife numbers at ecological-carrying capacities. It is also natural that drier areas have lower densities of certain wildlife species such as desert elephants or rhinos as seen in water stressed areas like Namibia. Drought is also a time when weak are taken out of the system through a natural process. This is especially true for apex predators, other large wildlife that are generally not subjected to predation.”