I met up with Indrajit Sengupta of Saving Tiger Society, founder of the local based Ngo. We took a flight up North, then took a car to Kaziranga National Park, we stayed in an area called Kohora, which is in the central region of Kaziranga. We stayed at the Aranya Tourist lodge, which is government run and the purpose of our visit, over the next four days was to talk with some local communities, forest staff, and guides, so as to be able to get an overview of the area and see how we might be able to help in the future. We arrived late evening, also meeting our guide for a short time.
Next day, our guide picked us up at 06.30, the weather was about 13 / 14 degrees and overcast. We then went to visit the national park, there was a couple of other jeeps in range area, they had an armed forest guard, we did not on this occasion, there was some cattle and goats grazing on the periphery, we were made aware of a Tiger taking a cow in this area a few days earlier, its very close to human habitat. We observed many types of wildlife, rhino, elephant, otters, buffalo, wild boar and birds, such as Indian roller, fish eagle, vulture, jungle fowl, darters, bar headed geese. We also observed some fresh Tiger pugmarks, male and female in two different locations, which was encouraging. In the afternoon, we also observed similar wildlife, including more Tiger pugmarks, though no visual sighting at this time. Next day, we visited the forest area by elephant, there was 12 other elephants being used at this time of day, with a mix of local people and international visitors.
We observed rhino, including mother with calf, wild boar, swamp deer, we moved into the long grass area, known as elephant grass, as it is around ten feet tall at this time of year. The elephant trumpeted a warning, then in front of us, a Tiger ran from our right, he was about 5 metres away, another elephant came close to our location and the Tiger roared a warning also, we then made our way back to the elephant point. After, we then had a meeting with the DFO, asking about situation in the park and surrounding areas, also making him aware that we are getting an overview, to see how we can look to help in the future.
In the afternoon, we visited a village called Burapahar, on the periphery of the national park; we met with the president of the Eco Development Committee. He showed us around, seventy percent of the buildings are leased by the villagers from the government. The village is a stone throw from the national park boundary. The villagers are doing their best, to stop wildlife crossing the national highway ( AH-1), by communicating wildlife movements with forest dept, also doing some joint patrolling. We were informed if they cross the national highway, the wildlife is as good as dead, and we also visited a beat guard post at Natun Danga and surrounding area. Next day, Indrajit took another elephant visit to the park area, observing only a rhino, the weather was misty also. In the afternoon, he visited a village, called Missing Tribe village, again on the periphery, they have little facilities, other than a lower primary school, and I did not go due to food poisoning. The anti poaching posts in the park, many are in need of repair, so as to give forest staff better living conditions.
Early next day, we made our way to Manas Tiger Reserve, an eight hour car journey, we were once again, staying at the Florican Camp, which is a base area, for an NGO, called Mews, we donated some funds last year, to their piglet project, which reduces cattle grazing and man animal conflict in the Bansbari area. One of the members mentioned, how they had been affected by the recent incursion by Maoist separatists, due to 4 of their own being killed by the army, they killed some 60 plus villagers in a forest area, close to Kokhrajhar, about an hour drive from here, the bookings they had for their eco lodges on site, had been cancelled. We took a short walk around the local area, before it became dark.
Next morning, we visited the park area, we had an armed forest guard, and we observed elephant, gaur, wild boar, sambar, birds such as Indian hornbill. We stopped at Mathanguri, which is the river boundary between Indian and Bhutan, had a cup of chai, as we drove back to the camp area, we observed forest staff patrolling on foot, by vehicle and on motor bike.
There were also a few lorries driving through the park, on the tourist road, coming from Bhutan, something we also noted last year. In the afternoon, we visited a village called Thakmapra, to see some piglets, that we had donated last February, they themselves had now, had piglets, fifty percent of these, would be redistributed by MEWS, in other villages, this project as mentioned before, is good to reduce cattle grazing and man animal conflict.
Next morning, we went into the forest by elephant, there was plenty of bird activity, though we only observed wild boar and hog deer on the mammal side. The tourism in the Bansbari range area is still low, only observed one other family, was on the elephant, the same the day before when we were in a gypsy.
In the afternoon, we met the Environment / Tourism Minister for Bodoland Territorial Council ( BTC), he was in a meeting with forest staff, at a resort close to ours, he has also been very supportive for the school, we are shortly looking to build in Kachugaon forest area of Assam, there was also the Secretary for environment / Education at the meeting, with many different levels of forest staff. Indrajit, spoke to the minister, reference the school land, he said that once the DFO, was back from sick leave, he could sign the relevant paperwork, then clearing the land and building could commence.
Next morning, we visited the forest area for the last time on this visit, noting that many areas, the grasslands had been purposely burnt, to encourage new growth, some of which we could see already beginning. We observed many birds, elephant, buffalo, hog deer, though noting this time, no rhino, like last year. I did read an article a few days later in the paper mentioning, that more action was necessary to stop rhino being wiped out from Manas in the next 20 years, mainly due to state funding not getting to forest dept, therefore reducing patrolling and other resources in field, eight rhino had been poached here, since 2011. We had noted in the Bansbari range, that the fencing on the peripheries is broken down in many places, cattle encroachment, villagers taking wood from the forest area. In the afternoon, we visited the area for the proposed new school, in Chirang District, Kachugaon forest area. The area is approx ten bigga ( 3-4 acres) in size, a national highway at the back, with forest area the other side, which will be useful when needed to get building materials to the site. The land will be registered in Saving Tiger Society’s name, Tiger Awareness will fund the building, there are four villages also in close proximity , poaching of prey species and habitat destruction are the main challenges in the area, Leopard, clouded leopard are seen close by, with Tiger around 3 kms away from this location, higher up in the forest range. We took some pictures in the area for reference, then made our way back to Florican camp, just after midnight, we had a train from Barpeta Road railway station to Kolkata, the train was due to arrive 19.00 hrs next day ( 18 hour journey ). We arrived back in Kolkata on time, and then took a cycle rickshaw back to Indrajits mums residence, we did some admin, and then early next morning, we had a flight to Nagpur. The flight was two hours to Nagpur, then taking a three hour car journey to Tadoba ( Maharastra ).This was the first visit to Tadoba, it is 1100kms in size for buffer / core area, the reason was again, to get an overview and to see how we could look to support in the future. We stayed at the government tourist rest house, close to the Moharli range gate, we later took a visit to the forest area, entering at the Moharli gate, we would also visit Tadoba range area. There was around 30 plus jeeps, waiting to go into the park area, at this time of the afternoon, the morning visits, are five hours, with afternoon, being three hour. We observed chital, sambar, gaur, wild boar, at one stage of the visit, there was many jeeps parked along a road, we were told that there was a Tigress in the long grass, we hung around for about 30 minutes, then moved on, observing nothing at this time.
Next morning, we took our next visit to the park, entering at the same gate, it was still dark, there was even more vehicles waiting to enter at this time. The forest dept, were checking our passes, to ensure, only the correct named and number of people were in the vehicle. Once it became light after around 30 minutes, we did observe, more chital, sambar, a fish eagle, gaur, some people observed a Tigress, with cubs, we observed fresh pugmarks at this time, though no visual sightings.
We were initially told that there are no NGOs, working in the area, though have found out that Prowl and Tract are present, helping forest staff and working on peripheries. The weather here is around 10 degrees in the morning and 30 degrees in the afternoon. There are three villages in the core area of the park, two of these, we went through a couple of times, and two villages have been relocated outside the core area in recent times. On our way back to the rest house, outside the park in the buffer area, the driver stopped and pointed towards some cages on government land, there is a leopard rescue / life centre, and there are four leopards there that have been in conflict with humans. I asked if we could visit, though I was told that it was not possible, though we did get some pictures of them in cages.
Early next morning, we visited the core area again, we heard some alarm calls from chital in the distance, also tracked some Tiger pugmarks for a few hundred metres, we kept missing visual sighting by a few minutes, others had seen a male Tiger lying on the road, then going into the meadow area close by, also a Tigress, chasing a wild dog. We then went to a waterhole, sat their quietly, listening, we heard a sambar alarm call, close by, repeated a few times, some more time passed, we heard another sambar call from a short distance away, we went to have a look, then a male leopard appeared from cover, shortly followed by a female leopard, something I had not seen, so close up. A short time after, we started to make our way out of the forest area, we stopped for a toilet break in a designated area, then shortly after starting off, a sloth bear, came out of the forest cover and went across the road, 10 metres in front to our vehicle. In the afternoon, we managed to see the Tigress Maya, young bold female, she came about ten metres in front of us and around 30 jeeps, we moved off then to another vantage point, hoping she would hunt a small herd of chital, about 50 metres away, we watched for about an hour, leaving her, patiently waiting in the long grass, as we had to leave the park area, on the way back, we spoke with a team of Wildlife Institute Of India, whom had that day collared two Tigers, so as to be able to monitor them.
Next morning, our last in Tadoba, we took some different routes, observing sambar, mongoose, chital, later into our visit, we observed a Tiger crossing the road, around one hundred metres ahead of us, as we got there, we could observe him, looking at us, from under some bushes, he was very shy and wary, a new male, trying to establish a territory of his own, many other jeeps then came, which made him move deeper into the bushes. Around 20 minutes later, he backtracked on the track, crossing over the road into deeper forest, we could not access, which was better for him, as there was many jeeps and noise at this time, with no control by forest staff. Tourist routes in Tadoba, cover 25 percent of the core area ( 600sq kms core ) ( 1100 kms buffer area ). Later that day we made our way by car, back to Nagpur, then took a flight to Kolkata.On arrival in Kolkata, we purchased a couple of digital cameras from some funds that had been donated recently, to help Saving Tiger Society work in the field. We did some more admin in Kolkata, then took a car to Narforgunj, Sundarbans, it was late in the evening, the weather at first was misty, it cleared after an hour, we arrived at the learning institute project area, a further two and half hours later, in the early morning. A few hours later, we had a meeting with the teachers and paying them their monthly wage, we also met the art students, as it is Sunday and they are very talented. In the afternoon, we took a tour of Jhorkhali area, via motorcycle, we also visited the forest officer, responsible for the area, we had met him, also last year, in another beat area. He explained that forest staff, need support for their work, in equipment, such as searchlights, torches and water filters, as salty water gives many stomach problem to the staff in the field. We have said, we would look, to support at some time in the near future with these items.
Next morning, we went to meet the children having education classes at the learning institute, there are over 100 children involved, via education, nature and art throughout the week. The classes are going well, this year we have completed the concreting of the floor, repaired one part of the thatch roof and put in tables and benches for the classrooms. Late afternoon, the students and teachers, had organised a cultural programme, with local dances and poems being presented. We gave out also some prizes, mugs, we had purchased at Tadoba, for the the students, who had been chosen for 1st,2 nd and 3rd. They also presented me, with a welcome card, it had a hand drawn Tiger on the front, with some of the drawings by the students, inside.
Next morning, we visited a village called Tridibnagar, in D block, as we were to do village surveys over the next couple of days, to learn more about their way of life, Tiger and wildlife movement in the area. Tiger regularly, cross into this area, from core area, which is a 500 metres swim across the river to the village. They had been seen recently, over 3-4 consecutive days also cattle lifting, mainly happening between October and February, having been observed 4 times in 2015 already. The villagers said that want to conserve the Tiger, it is important for us to help where possible, as they have no high school in the area, no doctors visit, no medical centre and the nearest hospital is 30 kms away in Basanti. Their main source of income is fishing, if they have no pass, they can fish for 45 days, then get a 1050 Rupees fine ( £ 12 ). There is also honey collecting, from the core area, over a 3 month period, they can collect 100 kg of honey, though this is not legal and is the one of the main reason for man animal conflict. Bibek, went through snake awareness programme with the villagers for about 15 minutes, including giving out leaflets. The villagers mentioned they found the meeting valuable, we also gave out some umbrellas, to some of the needy persons. In the afternoon, we visited a village called 4 No Ses Gram, we also had the deputy ranger forest dept for all Jhorkhali present. He made us aware, that Tiger was reported seen here 13 times last year, this year, there had been 3 reports so far. The villagers, main source of income is fishing and domestic farming, they have ICDs school, no high school agin, nearest is 3 kms away., nearest hospital is 25 kms . There is no medical centre, doctor, the roads, are some tarmac, though also brick roads. The villagers mentioned they would like to set up a handicraft project, in the form of tailoring project, to help give employment to the village women. The snake awareness programme was again repeated, then again we gave out some umbrellas at the end of the meeting, these are useful for monsoon time and to give shade at peak sun times, as in Sundarbans, the sun can become very intense. In the evening, we had a meeting with a few guides at a local hotel, the forest ranger again was present for this, they mentioned about cutting of forest, lack of awareness of how to act in forest areas by people. They also mentioned they would like more support from forest dept, Ngos,, including supporting setting up Tiger patrolling teams in sensitive areas. They would also like to see, less smoke stove iniative implemented, as this would also reduce habitat destruction. The forest ranger, said, that a forest protection committee would be introduced soon, also that netting in sensitive areas, is being doubled up, with metal inside it, so it cannot be damaged or cut so easily. Next morning, we are due to do another couple of village surveys by boat, on the way to the Jhorkhali boat point, we stopped at Jhorkhali wild animal centre ( rescue centre ). They have 2 Tigers there, one male approx 10 years old, he has lost sight in one eye, the other a Tigress, 13 – 14 years old, she has back leg problems, they both have been moved here recently, a third is due in March, as it has an injured leg, that was done by a crocodile. They have good space in their enclosures, with natural grass, some concrete and water pools. There is also good spacing between enclosures and human fencing, with a water body between them. We then made our way to the first village, which is Dakhim Durgapur, in the Kultoli area. The village has no electricity, brick roads are not in good way, nearest medical centre is 15 kms away and there is no hospital. They have one government primary school for classes 1 – 4, no high school, nearest is 4 kms, no Ngos are working here. Most people earn their income, as labourers, many moving away to other states. Snakes are a big problem here, such as black krait, king cobra. Wild boar in winter, enter into the village and damage crops, one attacked a man also.Tiger reported in the village 8 times last year,2 times so far this year. On January 2nd, two Tiger were on the football pitch, they had come from the core area, approx 50 metres away. One stayed there for the day, the other for 3 days. The forest department are very supportive and the villagers want to protect Tiger, they are very poor. In the afternoon, we visited a village called Deulbari, in the same range area, 20 minutes from Dakhim Durgapur. Population is about 5000, roads again are not good, nearest primary school is 7 kms away, high school 10 kms, nearest medical centre 10 kms and doctors are irregular. In November to December 2014, Tiger crossed into the village area, 10 times, one occasion, going 7 kms into the village. On December 16th 2014, a man went fishing, he was killed by Tiger, we met his wife, the case is still outstanding and Saving Tiger Society are looking into the case with authorities, cattle lifting also happen in the area. Tiger patrolling team was in force in the area, though after one year, it stopped, due to Ngo who started the patrolling, did not continue it. Bibek gain gave snake awareness programme, we gave out leaflets, the villagers mentioned, there are around 100 – 150 snake bite case per year in the area. We also gave out some umbrellas to some of the needy villagers, the list was prepared by the local people / forest dept.. Early evening, we had a meeting on our boat with guides from Koikhali, they also mentioned the need for more training, support from forest dept, we gave them some caps and made our way back to Jhorkhali.Next morning, we took the tourist route by boat from Sajnekhali, we stopped off at Sudhanyakhali, observing a water monitor lizard, we also observed a crocodile basking on the river bank further on our route.
The last day of my 3 week visit, was spent in the Norforgunj project area, a lunch was prepared by the staff for all the students, and we then had a game of soccer, student’s v teachers. We then made our way back to Kolkata, and then next morning, I had a flight back to Delhi, then onto London.
We had visited two new areas, as in Tadoba and Kaziranga, we had met villagers, forest staff and had seen many different species of wildlife. We have taken in the information and hope to be able to help in the near future. In Assam, we will be shortly, be building a new school, to give more education / awareness on the benefits of conserving the forest and wildlife. In Sundarbans, the learning institute, the students are doing well and we have improved the building, we have some more improvements to make, also help to develop the teachers. Forest staff and villagers, we have taken on board their comments, we will look to support them both later in the coming months. We believe that collaboration is key, to conserving habitat and wildlife. We have to secure more funding, to take forward the conservation work long term..