Boot Camp for volunteers at Bhadra

After months of planning, the most awaited Boot Camp at Bhadra was on from 16th September  to 17th September 2017 in the vicinity of Bhadra Tiger Reserve, the very place excites the conservationists and wild life enthusiasts alike.  20 volunteers from Vanodaya, among them 9 from Sathanur participated. As the camp was to take off at 6.30 am on 16th September, we all arrived on Friday night itself at Bhadra.

Next day, the early morning rains gave us a wakeup call. We were all  ready on time. Mr.Girish was prompt on time, after exchanging morning greetings; he led us into the fields for birding without wasting any time. 

Once on the field, we could immediately comprehend the depth of his knowledge, as Girish started explaining the smaller details of the biosphere. The special interaction results of life, the accumulation of free energy in living matter, its leftover mass, coal and oil, an unusual distribution of atoms and molecules are the reasons why it is called a biosphere.
The fields were a beehive of activity, Girish explained how the animals get their salt through licking mineral salt. The variety of trees viz.,(Bage, Honalu, Tadakalu,Nandi, Beet, Shanthi mara etc. The dead wood while slowly decomposing release nutrients and improve the ability of the soil to retain water. Mushroom flourish on and around logs, breaking down the organic matter to slowly release the important nutrients back into the ecosystem.
The PH value of the soil probably what make leeches unique in this ecosystem. Because of the rains, not many birds could be sighted. Kingfisher, Babbler, rocket tailed drongo we could sight. The number and varieties of frog is an indication of the health of the habitat, Girish added.
Then he explained the difference in grazers (feeding on grass or other low vegetation), browsers (feed on leaves, soft shoots or fruits of high growing) and rooters (feed on plant roots). Bamboo is a variety of semitropical grass.  We might have walked about a KM and the learning during that time was valuable. We came to camp for breakfast.

After breakfast, Mr.Shreedev  engaged us till lunch.

He spoke at length about the Wildcat-C volunteer’s efforts, the hurdles they had to face, the politics behind the scenes, the people and the media did not spare them either. In spite of this, relocation of 13 villages from Bhadra was success story both for the ecosystem and the villagers in the end. The awareness programmes they had at schools and elsewhere developed relations and contact. He also stressed that one needs to be aware of the legal aspects as conservationists, obtain information through RTIs. And finally time commitment to conservation in terms of hours in a week/month, patrolling at  regular intervals and more particularly on the eve of festivals. 

After lunch, a bit of rest and then went for the Safari. The forest was most alluring and the rains had made the trees, grass fresh and green. It was so serene and peaceful. We spotted two Malabar giant squirrels, as we waited for our vehicles to go inside the forest. Herds of chital welcomed us; younger ones still wet behind the ears moved helter skelter nervously on seeing us. Woodpecker, peacocks led our way, a big Gaur came out into the open from the bushes. As we stopped the vehicle for few moments clicking cameras, it seemed to be in tizzy and stared at us intensely.  Losing interest,  after some time it moved back into the bushes slowly. Lucky few  were rightly excited to see the flying squirrel display its wing and fly a few sorties. When we emerged out, it was dark. The proposed interaction with Girish scheduled for the evening was deferred to next day morning. In the night we saw a movie on the tigers, had dinner and retired.

Final day, Mr.Girish came early. The interaction session began with Mahesh presenting the PPT of Vanodaya activities in CWLS. Mahesh did very well, the confidence and the maturity was very evident. Mr.Girish appreciated our efforts and he also said we have not made ourselves   heard properly.

Mr.Girish first spoke about their efforts at Bhadra. He stressed for a conservationist it is very important to know the area, map the habitat  and  should know how to use the compass. One must roam forest as much as possible. He was very candid, when he said conservation is negative in nature, most of the times we will be talking in negative terms only, hence not many will appreciate it. You cannot expect any award or celebrity status. It is purely a self-satisfying vocation.
India has only 3% cover in Sanctuaries. We are pleading that at least this should be protected. It unfortunately is the tragedy of the times, not many are worried at the eventual damage to our own existence. 

He suggested whenever we take up any fight for conservation, fight till the closure. Further he egged on us to fight every battle. Because whatever the  hurdles, the political interference, media malign or the misguided people’s anger, the truth will prevail in the end. Integrity is one of the essential characters of a conservationist. Poaching cannot be completely stopped, however it can be controlled effectively. In the final interaction session the questions relevant to CWLS raised by the volunteers, Mr. Girish gave useful tips.

After this fruitful session, we had breakfast and it was decided to visit M.C.Hally, where families of 13 villages  were relocated from Bhadra Sanctuary.

The roads via Kemmannugundi was treacherous. But for the roads, it was an exhilarating journey through the forest. In intermittent rains and at times through the clouds, under the green canopy, at some vantage high points, the beauty of Western Ghats was enchanting and breathtaking. It really was a heaven. Sad instead of savoring the serene sylvan surroundings, people have gone on destruction mode. 

At M.C.Hally, which is between Tarikere and Bhadravathi, adjacent to the highway, 950 acres of land was allotted for the relocation purpose. 100 odd acres was used for building houses and other utility services. Depending of their earlier land holdings, each was given lands with a maximum of 5 acres and compensation amount distributed. It was heartening to see the families had progressed well, with some taking higher education and well placed posting. It is well planned and properly implemented project. All this was achieved within a given time span of 18 months, against many hurdles. We interacted with few farmers.

One could see the grin of satisfaction on Girish’s face, as he narrated this success story, which was a win win for both the villagers and the Sanctuary. This is the most successful rehabilitation programme in India. Other Sanctuaries are trying to emulate drawing from their experience.

Obviously, a tough and time bound programme, without the unselfish hard work of Girish and Co., this would not have been possible. 

After this thoroughly fruitful and enjoyable experience, with valuable lessons for the improvement of CWLS we headed towards our homes determinedly to do better.


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