Saturday, January 23, 2010

Field training at Rajaji National Park (henceforth RNP)

After a few days of briefing and ecology lectures, we moved to Rishikesh for our field training part. On 19th December, 2009, we left Dehradun for Rishikesh. The journey was short (one and half hours), and all of us, around 28 tiger project fellows, 2 volunteers , Chittu bhai, raju bhai, Dr. Karthikeyan Vasudevan (KV) and Dr. Yadavendradev Jhala (DJ) reached Garhwal Mandal Vikas Nigam’s (GMVN) hotel “Bharat Bhoomi” at Rishikesh in the afternoon. There we met some other people like Dr.Anil K Singh & Milind (WTI), Dr. Gautam Talukdar and Suniti (RF on elephants). They were there to assist and guide us during the training. After the lunch we made our first trip to RNP.
Rajaji National Park is located at the centre of 3 main cities of Dehradun, Haridwar and Rishikesh. It has about 822 sq km area spread across the plains of Ganga and Yamuna and the hills of Shiwaliks (created from debris of Himalayas formation). The terrain is undulating and the vegetation is mixed deciduous type consisting mainly of Sal, Teak, and other plantations. Rajaji falls in the Shivalik zone of northern India that lies in the sub-himalayan tract. The area is characterized by highly dissected and undulating topography popularly known as Bhabar tract. This tract is drained by numerous rivers and streams running north to south, most of which remain dry in late winter and summer. These dry beds are locally called ‘raus’. Sal forest, with an understory of unpalatable shrub species such as Ardisia solanacea, Clerodendron infortunatum, Colebrookia oppositifolia, Desmodium spp., Flemingia spp. and a sparsity of grass, does not offer much forage to wild ungulates.
The forests of RNP boasts of major carnivores like Tiger, Leopard, Hyaena, Jackal and Sloth Bear. The ungulate population is diverse with Chital, Sambar, Nilgai, Wild boar and Gorals. But the charismatic animal of RNP is Elephant and it has given it an Elephant Reserve status too. There are an estimated 300-350 elephants all over the park. There are about 315 species of birds in the park esp. like Golden Oriole, Oriental-pied Hornbill, Indian Roller, Merganser, Osprey etc. RNP shares its border with Corbett Tiger Reserve and thus serves as a sink of animal movement from Corbett.

Due to closeness to major pilgrimage centres, RNP has a host of problems. There are gujjar settlements on the periphery of the park which gives rise to severe problems like livestock grazing and wood cutting. The construction of a canal in the middle of the area has completely obstructed the natural corridors of elephants except a narrow bridge. Over the years the growing human population and its demand for more forest land for agriculture and various development projects have broken the forest continuity along the west bank of the River Ganges and along the Kathgodam–Haldwani–Lalkuan Highway. The pressures on the remaining forests by the pastoral Gujjars, people in the adjacent towns and villages, and their livestock, grow day by day, severely threatening the wildlife values of this area.

We reached Chilla range of RNP at about 1400 hrs. The whole team was divided into 5 groups by DJ. We were given an intro on GPS units by Gautam sir. Soon the first three (I was in the 1st) teams were sent with Dr. Karthikeyan Vasudevan through the main gate of RNP while the rest with DJ near Ganga Kinare. KV briefed us about pugmark identification, elephants, trees etc as we walked 3-4 km in the jungle. The first walk was all about getting the feel of the jungle.
We spent 5 more days at RNP. We did five transects in triplicates for determining ungulate density, three sign surveys for intensity of use of a beat by carnivores, map reading, transect extensions and other stuff. There were many experiences worth sharing but that should be on another blog. The training ended a day after Christmas and we packed back to Dehradun for data analysis.

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