TIRUNELVELI: Perched atop the Mundanthurai plateau, at 600-800 feet sea level, the scrub jungle of the Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR) merges with the tropical evergreen forest and a sprinkle of dry deciduous forests here and there. The jungles of the Reserve was the abode of flora to sustain its fauna until the humans intervened. The invasive species of plants eliminated the fodder for herbivores and the plant-eating animals became sparse.
The invasive lemongrass was introduced to the forests with the humans. The absence of native plants has resulted in fewer herbivores. "Predators of the plateau such as Leopard, Dhole and Tiger have been spotted less in the last decade. Chital deer and Sambhar which could be seen aplenty in the "deer valley" have also reduced in the past decade. The forest is now in the process of regeneration and should be left for the future generations," say wildlife experts.
Forest officials said steps to eradicate the invasive species and sowing seeds of native grass species has improved the vegetation in the plateau. They say many deer and herbivores such as Gaur could be seen in the region now. This would hopefully increase the number of predators in the plateau, they claimed.
Lakshmi (45), a resident of one of the fringe villages of the KMTR forest said, "We used to gather branches from the KMTR forest before the implementation of the Eco-Development programme. After being inducted into the programme, I have become a tailor. My aim is to conserve the forest so that the future generation can see it as well."
With nearly 55 years of wandering across the Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve forests from the late 1960s, a Zoologist has witnessed the changes that the forest has undergone for nearly half a century. Raising concern for the Reserve, Dr Albert Rajendran, Former Professor of Zoology and Former Honorary Wildlife Warden said, "Before the forest became the nation's first tiger sanctuary and later a tiger reserve, I have explored this forest during my expeditions with my father, who was also a Zoologist. Compared to the other forest areas in the country, KMTR has steep terrain and tropical wet evergreen forests of nearly 400 sq. km, unlike other forests. It serves as a huge water source for plenty of streams to form the perennial river Thamirabarani."
A project for eradicating the invasive weeds would definitely help to spot a tiger in Mundanthurai plateau, added Former Professor of Zoology and Former Honorary Wildlife Warden Dr Albert Rajendran. "I would like to emphasise that KMTR that is more than 3,000 million years old with its rich biodiversity, and should be protected and conserved."