INTRODUCTION TO THE AREA
1.1 Name, location, constitution and extent
Eravikulam National Park is situated in the High Ranges (Kannan Devan Hills) of the Southern Western Ghats in the Devikolam Taluk of Idukki district, Kerala State (Figure 1) between 10º 05' - 10º 20' N Latitude and 77º 0' - 77º 10' E Longitude. Etymologically, Eravikulam denotes streams and pools.
The area which was managed as a Game Preserve by the erstwhile Kanan Devan Hills Produce Company through the High Range Game Association, was resumed by the Kerala Government under the Kannan Devan Hill Produce (Resumption of lands) Act 1971. Subsequently, as recommended in the Land Board Award (LB(A)2-5227/71 dt.29-3-1974), the Government of Kerala declared the area as Eravikulam-Rajamala Wildlife Sanctuary in 1975 for the protection of the highly endangered Nilgiri tahr and its habitat (G.O No. 8907/FM/375/AD dated 31-03-1975). It was elevated to the status of a National Park in 1978 (G.O (MS) 142/78 dated 19-05-1978).
Eravikulam National Park is 97 sq.km in extent, consisting mostly of high altitude grasslands that are interspersed with sholas. The main body of the National Park comprising of a high rolling plateau with a base elevation of about 2000 meters from mean sea level. The Park is of undulating terrain and the highest peak is Anamudi (2690 m). Three major types of plant communities are found in the Park- grasslands, shrub land and forests. The high plateau and the hills rising above it, are primarily covered by grasslands. Shrub lands are seen along the bases of the cliffs. Shola forests are located in the valleys and folds. Turner’s valley, which splits the Park roughly in half from northwest to southeast, is the deepest.
1.2 Approach and access
The Park is accessible from Kochi (Kerala) and Coimbatore (Tamil Nadu) airports, which are located at about 148 km and 175 km respectively. Munnar is the nearest town (13 km), well connected by roads from Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The nearest railway station in Kerala is Aluva (120 km away from Munnar) and in Tamil Nadu, Coimbatore (160 km).
The only motorable road inside the Park, passes through the southern extremity inside the tourism zone (Rajamala) to the Rajamallay tea estate. Another road head leads to the Lakkom Muduvakudy on the periphery and is not usable at present. All other movements inside the Park are on foot along trails and footpaths.
Public conveyance facilities like buses and taxi, telephone, fax, postal, internet and e-mail facilities are available at Munnar. Boarding and lodging facilities of various categories exist in this small township.
1.3 Statement of significance
The Park holds the largest viable population of the endangered Nilgiri tahr (Hemitragus hylocrius). Apart from tahr, the Park is the abode of other little known fauna such as Nilgiri marten, ruddy mongoose, small clawed otter,dusky striped squirrel etc.
The Park represents the largest and least disturbed stretch of unique montane shola-grassland vegetation in the Western Ghats. Similar ecosystems like Nilgiris, Anamalais and Palanis were severely manipulated to raise plantations. Even in the High Ranges, the Tertian and Karimkulam plateau were planted up. The National Park is regionally important as a catchment area for both east ( tributaries of River Cauveri) and west (tributaries of Rivers Periyar and Chalakkudy) flowing rivers. Locally, it is important for maintaining the climate and providing water for drinking to the surrounding estates and for irrigation in parts of Aanchanad Valley.
The highest peak in peninsular India, Anamudi (2690 m) is situated in this Park. The sharp escarpments and cliffs on all sides of the Park make this area an isolated table land that is responsible for the unique microclimate. The unsuitability of soil for agriculture, inaccessibility and extreme climate has helped the land remain free from human developmental onslaught.
Although the area of the Park falls latitudinally in the tropics, it exhibit extra tropical climate due to the altitudinal influence. This change in the bioclimate and geological stability enhances the endemic values of the area. High elevations of the Western Ghats are considered botanically rich areas in India. There are many temperate species like Mahonia leschnaultti, Rhododendron arboreum, Gaultheria fragrantissima, Berberis tinctoria etc., rare orchids like Brachycorythis wightii, Habenarea flabelliformis etc., medicinal plants like Drosera peltata and wild varieties of cultivated plants like Piper schmidtti and Elateria cardamomum which add to the conservation significance.
The cultural values of the Park are significant to the local and indigenous people especially the Muduvans. They inhabit the fringes of the Park and have traditionally been associated with the high country.
The Park is an example of institutionalized joint management as the long established links, with the High Range Wildlife and Environment Preservation Asociation who was earlier managing the Park as a Game Reserve, are still vibrant.
Eravikulam National Park is the prime attraction in Munnar, which has become one of the most sought after tourist destinations in the whole of India. Its aesthetic grandeur and the possibility of seeing the endangered tahr at close quarters attract about 200,000 visitors annually.
The Park, in association with the neighbouring protected areas (Chinnar and Indira Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuaries) and natural forests, form one of the largest conservation landscapes in the Western Ghats. As the only remaining viable island of shola – grassland complex, this Park provides ample academic opportunities for studying the biodiversity of montane vegetation and the ecologic riddles associated with the ecosystem.
It can also serve as a field laboratory for activities like conservation education, research and monitoring and participatory management.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION AND ATTRIBUTES
2.1.1 External Boundaries
Corporate estates, reserved forests and Protected Areas bound the Park on all sides. The boundary description is as follows:
North: The boundary commence from the point where the Kannan Devan Hills Produce Village boundary meets the interstate boundary between Kerala and Tamil Nadu at point 5540’ (1689m). From that point the boundary runs along the interstate boundary passing through peaks with altitude of 3984' (1214 m), 5011' (1527 m), 5885' (1794 m) and 7388' (2252 m) to Perattumala 7033' (2144 m). Thence turning southeast the boundary reaches Kumarikkal Mala 8275' (2522 m).
East: The boundary follows the Kannan Devan Hill Produce Village boundary along the ridge through Kattumalai 8373’ (2552m) and then to Perumalmalai 7736' (2355 m) till it reaches Tirumudi 5676' (1830 m).
South: The boundary follows the western boundary of Chattamunnar Estate (Thalayar group), northern boundaries of Vaguvurrai and Nayamakkadu Estate to meet the Kannan Devan Hill Produce Village boundary about 3 Km south west of Rajamala peak 7209' (2197 m).
West: The boundary follows the Kannan Devan Hill Produce Village boundary to Rajamala 7209’ (2197 m) and then turning north-east, the boundary reaches Sambamalai 7581' (2311 m) and thence to Bhimamalai 4719' (1438 m) and from there turns in a north east direction to Kolukkumalai, 7137' (2175 m) and thence proceeds in north direction to the starting point at 5540' (1689 m) passing through Erumamalai, 7496' (2284 m) and Erumapetti malai, 6999' (2133 m).
The boundary notification is vague in some areas where the distinction between National Park, reserve forests and tea estates is not clear enough. The boundaries along the southwestern part, where two fingerlike protrusions extent to the west on either sides of the Rajamallay/Pettimudi Divisions of Neymakkad Tea Estate, still remain vague. For the rest of the Park, the boundaries are clear and demarcated. On the southeastern boundary between Lakkom Kudy and Chattamunnar, a small portion (about 5 ha) has been under occupation ever since the inception of the Park.
Since the notification follows the ridges, the ecological boundaries extend into the surrounding forest areas of Munnar Division, namely Anaimudi and Kudakkad Reserves. These areas are vital as fawning and escape cover for a species like tahr. The proposals made so far, for inclusion of these areas have not been fruitful.
2.1.2 Internal Boundaries
The boundary of the Lakkom Muduvan colony situated inside the Park on the southeastern periphery is demarcated. At present, the Park is not properly divided into Sections and Beats.
2.2 Geology, rock and soil
The underlying rocks in the area is of Archaean igneous origin, consisting of granite and gneiss. The crystalline rocks consist of minerals such as silica, feldspars, muscovite and biotitic with small amounts of accessory ferro-magnesium minerals. The soil is basically a relic of a much thicker soil cover that developed formerly under psedo-dynamic conditions prevailing from late Jurassic to early Tertiary times. It is composed of different layers, black to dark gray in colour, granular, friable, sandy loam interspersed with a little gravel. The soil is rich in organic matter. Soil is sandy-clay with sand (79.43 – 94.14 %), silt (1.43 – 11.00 %), clay (2.71 – 5.57 %) and some gravel, altogether approximately 30-100 cm in depth. Soil depth is more in valleys, bogs and shola margins when compared with that of slopes and crests. The soil moisture in the month of May ranges from 12.30 to 39.97 % in different landscape units. The chemical composition of the soil shows a high percentage of organic carbon (18 % in grass lands and 22.5 % in shola) and nitrogen (0.7 % in grass land and 1.2 % in shola), which indicates the low decomposition of organic matter due to cool climate conditions. The soil is acidic with pH ranging from 4.13 – 5.34 in different landscape units.
The area is represented by undulating terrain flanked on all sides by moderate to steep slopes. The major terrain types are slopes (low to steep), flat mountain tops and valleys (water logged and well drained). The main body of the Park is comprised of a high rolling plateau, with a base elevation of about 2000m. Most of the knolls and peaks on the plateau rise 100 to 300m above it. The main plateau area is split roughly in half from northwest to southeast by the Turner’s Valley. The southern fringe of the Park is mostly precipitous with broken cliffs descending from Anamudi, Umayamala and surrounding massifs. In contrast to the sustained and extremely steep escarpment along the eastern fringe of the Nilgiri plateau, the plateau fringe in the Eravikulam area is generally less steep with cliffs often grading into rock slabs with numerous brakes of grassland, shrubs or forests. Only along the west-facing crust between Kattumalai and Kumarikkalmalai, does the edge of the plateau resemble that of the Nilgiri plateau in this regard. In addition, cliffs are usually not abrupt, but rounded both horizontally and vertically. Where exposed, the rock usually has an irregular surface with numerous small dikes and discontinuities.
The climate of the Park is known as tropical montane. The influence of altitude over tropical latitude brings about the characteristic climate. The monsoon dominates the annual weather cycle. The year consists of four seasons: (1) Winter, from December to February; (2) summer or pre-monsoon, from March to May; (3) Southwest monsoon from June to August; and (4) northeast monsoon, from September to November. The Park is mostly covered up in mist from June to November.
The data on rainfall and temperature provided in this Plan are from the neighbouring estates as the Park does not have a system of recording such data. The climatic conditions inside the estates vary significantly from that inside the Park.
2.4.1 Rainfall pattern and distribution
The Park receives its major precipitation during the southwest monsoon (June-August). During monsoon, the rain usually does not fall continually, but in heavy showers lasting less than hour. However, lighter rains more often continues for longer periods. The data on rainfall between 1998-2000 is collected from the neighbouring estate of Neymakkad. More than 60% of the annual rainfall is contributed by the southwest monsoon. Following the southwestern monsoon, northeast monsoon commences by September and accounts for nearly 30% of the total precipitation. In many ways this period is like a wetter version of the pre-monsoon, with clouds mist and heavy rainfall. Summer rains occur in the months of February, March and April. Month wise rainfall data at Neymakkadu for 3 years ie. 1998-2000 is tabulated below. But rainfall pattern varies greately across the Park.
2.4.2 Temperature: a summary of year round pattern
The mean daily maximum temperature rises during January to May, but drops abruptly with the onset of monsoon in June. The lack of penetration of solar radiation accounts for the maximum temperatures being the lowest during the monsoon, after which they rise again slightly. The lowest minimum temperatures however are during the winter months. The winter starts by December and lasts until February. Frost is a frequent phenomenon during winter nights. The nights are clear and through radiant heat loss the surface temperature at times reaches freezing point. The day temperature during this period goes to 23 - 25º C. At Rajamala the monthly mean minimum temperature recorded was 11º C in December and the mean maximum was 24º C in May. The table shows month wise mean maximum and minimum temperature recorded at Rajamallay estate during 1998-2000.
2.4.3 Humidity: a summary of year round pattern
Humidity varies with season. During monsoon it is as high as 83–100%. The winter days are marked by very low humidity 59-62% that further declines with high wind velocity.
2.4.4 Wind speeds: a summary of year round pattern
During southwest monsoon, winds are consistently from the west and strong, at times reaching an estimated 80 km/hr. Low velocity winds occur during northeast monsoon and in the winter season. During February-March, dry winds blow from the east, growing stronger at times.
2.4.5 Drought and its periodicity
There are no fully dry months in the Park due to the occasional summer rains from February to April. But cycles of dry spells occur and are conducive to intense fires.
2.5 Water Sources
Many streams criss-cross the landscape. Almost all the streams are perennial. They merge together to form tributaries of the rivers Periyar and Chalakudiyar on the west and the east flowing Cauveri river in Tamil Nadu.
2.6 Range of wildlife, status, distribution and habitat
The shola-grassland complex of the Park exhibits a wide range of habitats to many mammals, reptiles, birds and insects. Twenty six species of mammals, 132 species of birds, 101 species of butterflies and 19 species of amphibians have been recorded in the Park. The introduced fish, rainbow trout (Salmo gairdneir) is the dominant fish species in the streams and water bodies. The sholas are generally confined to the sheltered valleys, glens, hollows and depressions. They are evergreen forests characterized by stunted trees with dense crown, thick, more or less closed canopy and small coriacious leaves. Species like tiger, gaur and elephant frequently move across the boarder into neighbouring estates, sanctuaries and reserved forests. They generally prefer the proximity of sholas as they provide the much needed cover. But tahr always prefer the open grasslands proximate to cliffs. The Park boundary passes through the center of its vital habitat along the edge of the plateau. Elephant movements within the National Park are seasonal. Fire is an important factor that influences animal movements. The post-birth period population of Nilgiri tahr in the Park is estimated to be between 700-800.
Three major types of plant communities are found within the Park - grasslands, shrublands and forests. The terrain above 2000m is covered primarily by grasslands. However, there are numerous small patches of forests in hollows and gullies in these areas. The deeper valleys are extensively forested. Shrublands predominate along the bases of the cliffs and interspersed in rocky slab areas.
The reason for distribution of the forests and grasslands side by side, still remains a riddle. The ecological explanations fall into two categories : (1) those which describe the shola-grassland ecosystem as a polyclimax and (2) those which maintain that the shola forest is a true climax, and that the grassland is a sub-climax maintained by human disturbance, fire and grazing in particular.
22.214.171.124 The biogeographic classification
Biogeographically, the Park falls in the following categories:
Biogeographic zone: Paleo tropical, Indo-Malayan realm, Western Ghats
Biotic province: 5B Western Ghat mountain
Bioma: Mountain forest-grassland.
126.96.36.199 The forest types, cover and food for wild animals
188.8.131.52.1 Forest types
Following forest types are recognized inside the Park
a. Shola forests (Southern montane wet temperate forest)
b. Grasslands (Southern montane wet temperate grass land)
c. Transition forests (Southern sub tropical broad leaved hill forest)
d. Evergreen forests (Southern west cost evergreen forest)
f. Deciduous forests (Southern tropical moist deciduous forests)
The two distinct physiognomic units of vegetation found within the Park are the grasslands and shola forests. These forests are classified as southern montane wet temperate forests. The forests on the plateau occupy glens, hollows or valleys. Broadly, the shola vegetation also includes the subtropical broad leaved hill forests that merge into the evergreen forests at a lower altitude. Grasslands, sholas, shrublands and subtropical broad-leaved hill forests are the major land cover types. A small portion of the Park has southern west coast evergreen forests on its western side and moist deciduous forests on the east.
184.108.40.206 1. A. Shola forests
The hill forests are locally known as ‘sholas’, the Tamil term for forest. The shola forests in the upper plateau are dense and floristically rich with many endemic and rare species. The trees in the sholas form a continuous canopy usually not exceeding 10-15m. There is no marked differentiation into canopy layers. The tree bark is covered with lichens, orchids, mosses and climbers. The crowns are generally rounded and dense.
Common tree species in the shola forests are Pithecellobium subcoriaceum, Ixora notoniana, Syzygium arnottianum, Ilex denticulata, I. wightiana, Michaelia nilagirica, Elaeocarpus recurvatus, Microtropis ramiflora, Actinodaphne bourdellonii, and Symplocos pendula. The edges of the shola are marked by trees such as Rhododendron arboreum var. nilagiricum, Ternstroemia japonica, Ligustrum perrottettii, Turpinia cochinchinensis, Mahonia leshenaultii, Rhodomyrtus tomentosa, Berberis tinctoria, Vaccinium neilgherrense etc. and herbs and shrubs include Gaultheria fragrantissima, Moonia heterophylla, Jasminum bignoneacium, Smithia blanda, Valeriana hookeriana and a few species of Strobilanthes. The undergrowth in the shola is represented by Strobilanthes sp., Impatiens phoenicea, I. coelotropis, Psychotria congesta, Viola patrinii, V. serpens, Asplenium sp., and Arundinaria densifolia. Epiphytic orchids in the sholas include Aerides ringens, Coelogyne nervosa, C. mossiae, Eria dalzelli, E. pauciflora, and Schoenorchis filiformis. The common climbers are Piper schmidtii, Rubia cordifolia, and Connarus wightii. Rapanea capillata, Vaccinium leschenaultii, Impatiens tangachee, Sonerila grandiflora, Osmunda regalis and Eurya japonica are usually found along streams.
Broad-leaved forests are found on the slopes descending from the plateau. The dominant tree species found in the broad-leaved forests are Pittosporum tetraspermum, Elaeocarpus munroii, Apollonias arnotti, Symplocos spicata, Gomphandra coriacea, Garcinia gummi-gutta, Litsea coreacea, Prunus ceylanica and Photinia notoniana. Major shrubs include Begonia subpeltata, Osbeckia lineolata, Polygala arillata, Strobilanthes homotropus, Maesa perrottetiana etc.
220.127.116.11.1 B. Grass lands
About 80% of the Park is occupied by grasslands. They cover the plateau and descending slopes. Three hundred and eight species are recorded from the grasslands out of which 51 are endemic to the montane grasslands of the Western Ghats.
The major grass species in the grasslands are Andropogon lividus, Arundinella vaginata, Digitaria wallichiana and Arundinella mesophylla. Chrysopogon zeylanicus and Sehima nervosum dominate these plateau and slopes, whereas in the cattle grazed areas, unpalatable Cymbopogon flexuosus is frequent. Chrysopogon zeylanicus the dominant grass species is found at Rajamala, down slopes of Anamudi and Poovar. Sehima nervosum community is more prevalent throughout the plateau. Moist valleys are characterized by Garnotia sps. Other dominant grasses are Eulalia phaeothrix, Andropogon lividus, Arundinella purpurea, Agrostis peninsularis, Ischaemum indicum, Heteropogon contortus and Tripogon bromodies.
The common herbs and shrubs in the grasslands include Anaphalis lawii, A. bourneii, A. meeboldii, Swertia corymbosa, Polygala japonica, Curculigo orchioides, Micromeria biflora, Bupleurum distichophyllum, Crotalaria fysonii, C. ovalifolia, Ranunculus reniformis, Hedyotis swertiodes, Senecio lavandulaefolius, Parnassia mysorense, Pedicularis zeylanica, Wahlenbergia gracilifolia, Impatiens pandata, I. modesta, Phlebophyllum kunthianum, Hypericum mysorense, Pteridium aquilinum, Ageratina adenophora, Gaultheria fragrantissima etc. The water logged areas are dominated by species such as Eriocaulon robustum, E. collinum, and E. geofreyii.
The summit of the Anaimudi is vegetated with patches of stunted Arundinaria densifolia and Gaultheria fragrantissima (wintergreen), Anaphalis sp., Impatiens and some species of Eniocaulon.
18.104.22.168.1 C Shrublands
The shrublands in the Park form a stable vegetative association occurring on steep slopes below cliffs and interspersed among rock slabs. The dominant shrub present on the bouldery slopes is Phlebophyllum kunthianum, Neelakurinji. This endemic species blooms once in twelve years. Other species include Ageratina adenophora,Gaultheria fragrantissima, Hypericum mysorense etc. Shrubby species predominate near tea estates and bouldery slopes.
22.214.171.124.1.D Deciduous forests
A small portion on the eastern periphery of the Park lying close to Talliar estate has deciduous forests with trees like rosewood, Pterocarpus etc. The undergrowth is predominantly Lantana.
126.96.36.199.1.E Tropical evergreen forests
On the western side of the Park where the hill forests merge into the Anaimudi Reserve, a small segment of the Park exhibits characteristics of tropical evergreen forests. The trees are tall and lofty with typical species like Mesua ferrea, Cullenia excelsa and Palaquim ellipticum.
The term cover means vegetation, cliffs, overhangs, caves, dens etc. that provide shelter for wildlife. Cover is also required for breeding, resting, roosting, refuging, loafing, ambushing, and escaping of animals. Types of cover and cover value of vegetation differ from species to species. It also permits the formulation of “travel lanes” within a habitat through which animals can travel. Topography along with thick shola forests provides both refuge as well as ambush cover for a varirty of species like sambar, gaur, tiger, leopard etc. Rocky outcrops provide good escape cover and cover for parturition for the Nilgiri tahr. Currently, the escape cover for tahr mostly falls technically outside the Park, since the boundary follows the ridges.
188.8.131.52.3 Food for wild animals
Food availability for wild animals varies from one habitat type / vegetation type to the other. Different animals use different species, different parts of the habitat, different levels, in different seasons at different altitudes with different slopes. By this ecological separation of niches, the availability of food is ensured to different animals. The same habitat type is used by many wild animals with out much competition. Food availability for herbivores depends on the available fodder plants in the habitat. Food availability for carnivores depends on the herbivores quantity available in the habitat. The fresh grass shoots after fires provide nutrition for the herbivores. They show a marked preference for burnt areas.
Many of the plant communities are important for fauna as fodder and shelter habitats. Nigiri tahr show an obvious preference for grasslands. The genera such as Chrysopogon, Heteropogon etc. provide major food source to Nilgiri tahr and other ungulates. Nilgiri tahr show particular liking for some parts of certain plants. For instance, they eat only or mainly inflorescence of a number of species including Hypericum mysorense, Pedicularis perrottetti, Crotalaria fysonii, Carex sp., Anaphalis lawii, A. bournei and Eriocaulon brownianum. They take only the tender new leaves of Gautheria fragrentissima, while avoiding the mature leaves. Two uncommon plants which seemed to be particularly well liked were Lactuca hasbata and Impatiens tomentosa.
Sambar, guar, barking deer and wild boar are the main prey base for the tiger. The chief predators of tahr are leopards and wild dogs.
184.108.40.206 Species and communities of conservation importance, key areas.
220.127.116.11.1 Floristic richness of the grasslands
A detailed ecological study on the Park, show that 20 % (62 species) of the grassland flora are endemic to high altitude vegetation. The genus Impatiens has 6 species endemic to grass lands. Members of Orchidaceae and Rubiaceae also show high habitat specificity in their distribution. Thirty one species of the grasslands are regarded as rare and threatened. Of these Poaceae has 6 and Orchidaceae has 7 species. Ten species are described in the Red data book of Indian Plants. They are Hedyotis sweartiodes, Anaphalis barnesii, Companula alphonsii, Commelina hirsuta, Habenaria barnesii, Hedyotis buxifolia, Impatiens pandata, Isachne fischeri, Pimpinella pulneyensis and Vanasushava pedata. Brachycorythis wightii of Orchidaceae is a species which show very narrow distribution in the grasslands of High Ranges. Late, intense fires are known to affect the composition of the grasslands. Sinarundinaria microphylla, a dwarf bamboo collected from the grasslands is a new record to peninsular India.
18.104.22.168.2 Floristic richness of the sholas
High endemism is exhibited by the flora of shola forest which is isolated from other vegetation types by extensive grasslands. A general feature of endemic tree species of shola forests is that they are mostly found only in the shola forests. The endemic fraction of the tree flora of the Park is 83% of the total arborescent species collected. The tree flora of the sholas, apart from their high endemism, is an abode of a much diverse assemblage of orchids, balsams, ferns, lichens and bryophytes, either as epiphytes or growing in the shaded microclimate created by the tree cover. Late fires accompanied by strong winds are known to have burnt sholas in the past. These fires are even more dangerous during years when the Strobilanthus undergrowth flowers and dies. Some of the endemic species found in the sholas are Cinnamomum perrottetii, Ilex denticulate, Litsea floribunda, Mahonia leschenaultii, Actinodaphne bourdillonii etc. Rhododendron arboreum is phytogeographically a significant plant species because all other members of the genus in India are confined to the Himalayas. Michelia nilagirica is present in cloud forests of Sri Lanka also.
Sixty eight species of soil fungi are identified from the sholas. Penicillium with 28 species is the most dominant genus. Seventy two species of brophytes have been recorded out of which 8 are new to Kerala.
The type of animals found in a given area is the function of its existing plant communities which in turn are governed by geo-morphology of soil, climate and rainfall conditions. Five mammals, 10 birds and 10 butterflies are Western Ghat endemics. Mammals like Nilgiri tahr, Nilgiri marten and birds like white bellied shortwing and Kerala laughing thrush have closely related species in the Himalayas.
22.214.171.124 Vertebrates, their status, distribution and habitats. Habitat quality, quantity and key areas.
The undulating terrain, climate and altitude make this area less habitable for a large population of any animal other than Nilgiri tahr. The Park does not hold a resident population of Asiatic elephant (Elephas maximus), but it serves as a migratory route for elephants from Anamalais to Cardamom hills. Tiger (Panthera tigris), leopard (Panthera pardus), wild boar (Sus scrofa), Asiatic wild dog (Cuon alpinus), jackal (Canis aureus), jungle cat (Felis chaus), Nilgiri marten (Martes gwatkinsi), stripe-necked mongoose (Herpestes viticollis), ruddy mongoose (H. smithi), common mongoose (H. edwardsii), barking deer (Muntiacus muntjak), mouse deer (Tragulus meminna), Nilgiri langur (Presbytis johnii), sambar (Cervus unicolor), gaur (Bos gaurus), Malabar giant squirrel (Ratufa indica) and dusky striped squirrel (Funambulus sublineatus) are seen in the Park. An elusive cat, slightly smaller than the common leopard, with smoky grey coat has been reported from the Park, and does not match the description of any other species reported from the area. The species, locally known as Pohayan has been sighted by many. The endemic reptilian fauna include Anamalai salea (Sallia anamallaina), Ahatullah dispar etc. and avifauna include Kerala laughing thrush, white bellied shortwing, Nilgiri flycatcher, small sunbird, Nilgiri wood pigeon, Nilgiri pipit etc.
Among the herbivores the first and foremost is the Nilgiri tahr which occupies the highlands and rocky regions of the Park. The sambar are found in sholas and guar in grasslands proximate to larger sholas. Malabar giant squirrel and Nilgiri langur are found in sholas. Though common in the tea estates along the border, barking deer are sighted only occasionally inside the Park.
Tiger, panther and wild dogs are the main predators. Omnivores like sloth bear and wild boar are rare inside the Park, but wildboar is abundant in the neighbouring estates. Sloth bear occurs on the drier eastern flank.
The National Park has a remarkable diversity of amphibians especially frogs and toads. It provides a heterogenous habitat with a large number of micro-habitats suitable and specific for each and every species.Shola streams, which are wet throughout the seasons provide a good breeding habitat for many of the anurans.Toads more or less have an uniform distribution throughout the shola-grassland ecosystem. Most of the frogs are confined to the sholas as they depend on water bodies throughout their life time, especially those species of the family Ranidae. Among the five species of Philautus four are endemic to Kerala. Though no caecilians were observed in the Park, two dead specimens were obtained from the estate area near the boundary namely Icthyophis tricolor and Ureotyphius narayani.
126.96.36.199.1.The Nilgiri Tahr
The Nilgiri tahr, (Hemitragus hylocrius Ogilby, 1838) is an endangered caprid listed in Schedule I of India Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 and categorised as ‘vulnerable’ by the IUCN. It is endemic to the hill ranges of the Western Ghats of Southern peninsular India, in pockets where a suitable mosaic of montane grass lands and rugged terrain exist. Tahr is co-generic with the Himalayan tahr (H. jemlahicus) which occurs along the southern flanks of the Himalayas and the Arabian tahr (H.jayakari) which inhibits the arid mountains of Oman.
An estimated 700-800 Nilgiri tahr, inhabit Eravikulam National Park, making it the largest wild population. The tahr generally inhabit the fringes of the grassy plateau and move on to the steep slabs and cliffs bordering it. They occasionally visit the shrublands along the base of the cliffs. Tahr avoid sholas, but sometime forage along their periphery. Nilgiri tahr in Eravikulam National Park occur in larger groups, numbering upto 150 individuals. Adult males separate from mixed groups outside the rut and often range far from the areas used by the mixed groups.
Nilgiri tahr commence feeding at the break of day and feed until late in the evening. They feed and rest intermittently; the rest intervals becoming longer as the day advances, until they become active again towards the evening. Nights are spent on the cliffs or as close to them as possible. In undisturbed areas however, they often bed down in the open, away from the cliffs.
188.8.131.52.1 A Male Nilgiri tahr
A fully grown male Nilgiri tahr stands about 100 cm at the shoulder and weighs about 100 Kg. The overall colouring is deep chocolate brown. This is particularly dark; almost black on the front of the fore and hind legs, the shoulder, the side of the abdomen, side of the face and the front of the muzzle. These contrast sharply with white facial stripe which drops from the forehead towards the corners of the mouth just anterior to the eyes, the white carpal patches on the front and outside of the forelegs, and the silvery saddle. The side of the neck where it meets the shoulder is also sometimes lightened, as is the flank posterior to the saddle, and an area around the eye. Long black hairs form a mane and mid dorsal stripe.
The horns (in both sexes) curve uniformally back, and have no twist. The tips diverge slightly due to the plane of the horn being divergent from the body axis posteriorly, and tilted slightly so as to converge dorsally. The inside surface is nearly flat end the back and outside are rounded. There is a distinct rib where the inside and front of the horns meet, and the horn surface is covered with numerous fine crenulations amidst the slightly more evident annual rings. The horns of males are heavier and longer than those of the females reaching a maximum length of about 40 cm.
184.108.40.206.1B Female Nilgiri tahr:-
Female Nilgiri tahr are shorter and slighter than their male counterparts. In contract to the striking pelage of the male, the female is almost uniformly gray. The carpal patch is black against the light background. The facial markings are present but only faintly, and the area around the eye and the cheek below it are brown. The mane and mid-dorsal stripe are also present, but much less conspicuous. The horns are slimmer and shorter, reaching a maximum length of about 26 cm.
220.127.116.11.2. Habitat use of Nilgiri tahr
The mixed groups of Nilgiri tahr show an obvious preferance for grassland. When undisturbed they usually spend nearly the entire day in the grasslands, feeding and resting. They rarely penetrate far towards the center of the plateau, nor do they spend much time along the bases of the cliffs and slabs. Males, on the other hand, penetrate further towards the center of the plateau, utilize portions of the plateau fringe which females eschew, and spend considerable time in the shrublands along the cliffs and slabs.
Predation is an important mortality factor in Nilgiri tahr life history. Predators of tahr observed in Eravikulam National Park include tiger, leopard, Asiatic wild dog, jackal, black eagle and humans. The predator-prey relation shows that while tiger probably play an insignificant role in Nilgiri tahr life history, leopard and Asiatic wild dog have a significant role in this regard. However, both leopard and wild dog utilize the sambar prey base more heavily. Sambar, once abundant in the Park, are seen in much smaller groups. Predation by wild dogs is the most important factor influencing sambar population.
18.104.22.168 The limiting factors
If left unburnt, the grass becomes coarse during summer and herbivores tend to move away from the Park in search of nutritious grass. Unburnt grass, accumulated over a period of years give rise to uncontrollable fires resulting in severe degradation of the grasslands and destruction of the sholas.
HISTORY OF MANAGEMENT AND PRESENT PRACTICES
Till 1971, Eravikulam National Park was managed as a Game Reserve by the Kannan Devan Hill Produce Company. The responsibility for the management and protection of the area was vested with the High Range Game Preservation Association, a pioneer non-governmental organization in this area, which was formed in 1928. Due to the unique land features, climate and remoteness, this high land attracted the attention of many hunters, naturalists, and scientists. One of the early European explorers was Col. Douglas Hamilton who described the beauty and grandeur of this area in 1854.
Modern settlements began with the establishment of North Travancore Plantation and Agricultural Society in 1879. J.D. Munro, on a hunting expedition in 1877, recognized the possibilities of raising plantations in these ranges and acquired about 227 sq. miles (581.12 sq. km) of land on concession from Poonjat Raja, chief of the local kingdom. Later, the land was distributed among the members of the Society, and cultivation of various plantation crops like coffee and cinchona were tried. It was realized later, that tea was the most suitable crop for this area. The first tea in the High Ranges was planted by Sharp in 1890. Passing through the stress and strain of raising plantations, the members of the Society merged and a majority of the estates were transferred to James-Finlay, a European company. Later, extensive cultivation of tea and eucalyptus was carried out by clearing natural vegetation. Apart from cultivation, the English game hunters among the old planters had taken an interest in hunting activities and set aside some areas for recreation. The present day Eravikulam National Park was one such area. The game included Nilgiri tahr, sambar, barking deer, gaur, wild pig, leopard and tiger. The area also offered excellent opportunity for angling of rainbow trout (Salmo gairdnerii) which was introduced from Scotland. The High Range Game Preservation Association was the regulatory body, which used to manage such activities with the help of Muduvan tribals who were employed by them as game watchers. The managers of the nearby estates were appointed as Wardens for managing the various recreational and game areas.
The imperatives of land reforms led to the enactment of the Kannan Devan Hills (Resumption of Lands) Act 1971, by which all lands that were not under cultivation by the company were vested with the Government of Kerala. The Government’s intention was to distribute this land for agricultural purposes. The area under the Park was initially earmarked for cattle farming. But because of the timely intervention by an interested group consisting of planters, bureaucrats, naturalists and scientists, the Government of Kerala declared the area as Eravikulam-Rajamallay Wildlife Sanctuary in 1975 for the protection of the Nilgiri tahr and its habitat. Subsequently, in 1978 it was upgraded to a National Park. Over the years, the management of the Company changed hands and with the increase in awareness, the game association has redefined its objectives to become High Range Wildlife and Environmental Preservation Association (HRWEPA). The Association now joins hands with the Forest Department in managing the Park.
3.2 Timber operations including bamboo and firewood harvest
Timber operations and firewood harvest are not practiced in the Park.
3.3 Non wood forest produce collection
There is marginal collection of firewood and grass by the estate labour and the tribal settlements situated on the fringes of the Park. The Muduvans collect honey and herbs.
The Park is completely under the management of the Forest Department. No portion of the Park is leased to any organizations/ individuals.
3.5 Other programmes and activities
The only settlement inside the Park, Lakomkudi Muduvan settlement, is earmarked for ecodevelopment activities. At present, an informal arrangement of participation exists between the Park and the HRWEPA. The sudden boom of tourism that started in connection with the mass flowering of Kurinji in the Park during 1994, has become a serious problem and the students of a local school act as Honorary Park volunteers at Rajamallay for controlling tourists during peak visitation. An area of 200ha. has been demarcated and managed for conservation of medicinal plants under Medicinal Plants Conservation Area(MPCA) scheme. This area is given special protection from fire and other influences and regularly monitored. Annual estimation of tahr population is carried out with the help of volunteers and Muduvan tribals.
3.6 Forest protection.
3.6.1. Legal Status
Though declared a National Park in 1978, there are about 40 families of Muduvans tribals living inside the Park on the periphery. They graze their livestock around their hamlet. They have been traditionally associated with the management of the area even from colonial days. Taking all these into consideration, the Government had created 8 posts of Muduvan watchers for the Park, but unfortunately no posting has been carried out so far. Even then, 8 Muduvans are being engaged on daily wage basis and their case has been represented to the Government by the Forest Department. The Muduvans are expert trackers and are adepts in the field of fire control and management.
The problem of the existing occupation on the Park fringe at Chatamunnar continues to be left untackled. This had taken place during the early period of the formation of the Park. Some of the occupants have even converted their shacks into semi- permanent structures.
The road that passes through the Park, namely the 5th Mile-Pettimudi road, has two check posts that are constantly manned. This road is being used not only by the tourists, but also by the labourers of the Pettimudi Estate and the Muduvan tribals of Edamalakudy.At present traffic at night is very rare. But in future, as development progresses in these areas, this road might pose a problem.
The boundaries of the protruding arms of the Park on the south-west are yet to be defined and demarcated.
In old times, apart from tea plantation activities, the English game hunters among the old planters had taken an interest in hunting activities. The Park was the hunting preserve of the planters. Hunting records provide an idea about the abundance of animals such as Nilgiri tahr, sambar, barking deer, gaur, wild pig, leopard and tiger. The area also offered excellent opportunity for angling of raibow trout which was introduced.
3.6.3 Poaching and other illegal activities
Though there were cases of poaching in the past, no case of poaching has been reported of late. There have been instances of Ganja cultivation in the past as some of the remote areas are vulnerable to cultivation that calls for constant vigil on the part of the Park management. Head loading of sandal by armed gangs has become a serious protection problem. The exploitative relationship that prevails, enable outside forces to make use of the Muduvans on the fringes for carrying out illicit activities like ganja cultivation, sandal smuggling and poaching. Examples are Parappayar in Munnar Range and Koodakkad in Marayur Range. Some of the occupants of the surrounding estates are in the habit of noosing tahr and other animals. To facilitate such activities they set fire to the fringes of the Park.
22.214.171.124 Illegal cutting of trees
Species of timber value like rosewood occur only in a small portion on the eastern fringe of the Park boardering Talliar estate above Coffee Store. A few cases of illegal cutting of trees had occurred in the past.
126.96.36.199. Illegal removal of NWP
There is marginal removal of firewood by the estate dwellers and the tribals. Under the cover of passes issued by Munnar Forest Division, removal of species like Droscera peltata, Eriacaulon, lichens etc.was rampant in the past, but now controlled.
3.6.4. Domestic livestock grazing
In Rajamala and Lakkamkudi areas that are proximate to estates and the Muduvankudy, moderate grazing occurs. It may become a source of communicable diseases like foot and mouth. Most of the fringe area is surrounded by tea plantations where cattle populations are limited, but the local people, mostly estate labourers graze their cattle on the Park fringes.
3.6.5. Wild fires
Fire is one of the most wide-spread and ancient fundamental ecological factors maintaining many grass lands of the world. The Muduvans and then the Britishers used to set fire to the grasslands as a management practice. Though not on records, the Park was subjected to frequent fires during the past 3 decades. Late fires in unburnt grasslands accompanied by strong winds could be disastrous. As a result some of the shola patches get partially or completely burnt. In extreme cases, the soil also gets burnt. No reliable records of fire occurrence exist.
3.6.6 Insect attacks and pathological problems
Insect attacks and pathlogical problems are not reported.
3.6.7 Wildlife Health
The Rajamallay group of tahr, due to constant interaction with humans are known to be affected by worms. The presence of cattle on the fringe poses the threat of outbreak of rinderpest and foot and mouth disease.
3.7 Visitor Management and Conservation Education
From less than a thousand during the late eighties, the tourist number has risen dramatically to more than 1.5 lakhs annually. The factor that spurred on this boom was the much publicized kurinji flowering in 1994. The tourists are permitted to visit Rajamallay, the tourism zone of the Park, and walk along a black topped road from where they may get an opportunity for a close look of Niligiri tahr which is very much habituated to human presence. A checkpost is operating at the entry point of the Park that regulate the entry and exit of tourists and others. On many holidays it is felt that the number of tourists and vehicle entering into the Park is much more than the infrastructure could accommodate. An Interpretation Center is provided inside the National Park at Rajamallay, where a few exhibits are displayed to educate and explain the importance of the protected area and its biodiversity. But a proper interpretation package is yet to be framed, though forest officials and watchers are posted here for giving guidance to the tourists.
3.7.2 Conservation Education
A dormitary for nature education purposes is functioning in Munnar where equipments like TV, VCR, OHP and slide Projector are available. From January 2000 to October 2001, seventy seven nature camps were conducted in which 3293 participants took part. Educational institutions constituted 49%, clubs 42% and Government employees 9%. The camps are funded by the Government and free to the participants. The duration of camps are three days, starting on the afternoon of the first day and ending in the forenoon of the third day. The activities include classes, slideshows, field visits etc.
3.8 Research, monitoring and training
Being ther last remnant of the unique shola-grassland system and the ecological riddles associated with it, the National Park provides excellent opportunities for research and monitoring. There were many studies in the past conducted by different research institutions. Some of the notable studies were Rice (1984), Karunakaran et al (1998), Madhusudan (1995), Easa (1996), Menon(1997) etc. In 1984, Union Christian College, Alwaye initiated the first systematic tahr survey which is being carried out annually ever since. Census of birds is conducted periodically. All these studies and census emphasize the need for continuous monitoring of vegetation and animal population in the area. Apart from this, it was felt that a long term monitoring on the effects of burning should be studied. Every year the Park is conducting nature education camps for school/college students and interested NGOs as part of its extension programmes. There is no institutionalized training programme as such for the Park staff.
The ‘method of bounded counts’ which was first put into practice in the Park by Dr. Rajan Varghese of U. C. College in 1984, was followed. This method necessitates the simultaneous combing and survey of the 12 blocks (based on identified tahr home ranges) repeatedly for 5 days by teams consisting of volunteers, forest officials and expert Muduvan trackers.
3.9 Wildlife conservation strategies and their evaluation
At present, there is no institutional arrangement to monitor the implementation of the Management Plan and to evaluate the impacts of management. There is no mechanism to integrate the Park management objectives and activities with the surrounding forest divisions and tea estates. A regional conservation plan does not exist.
3.10 Administrative set up
Eravikulam National Park is one of the administration units of Eravikulam National Park Wildlife Division, Munnar under the jurisdiction of Wildlife Warden. The Head Quarters of the division is at Munnar, about 13km away from the National Park. The following posts exist exclusively for the National Park.
Asst.Wildlife Warden - 1
Forester - 2
Forest guards - 7
Driver - 1
Muduvan watcher - 8
Wildlife Assistant - 1
The Muduvan watchers are being engaged on daily wage basis. For additional support in tourism management and protection, fringe area people are being engaged on daily wages.
There is one telephone at Wildlife Warden’s office, Munnar. Wireless stations are located at Munnar, Rajamallay and Bandhar. One vehicle is also provided with wireless facility. Intercom facility of Tata Tea Ltd. is provided at Rajamallay Information Center.
Internet facility is available at Wildlife Warden’s office.
Tel No.04865 - 231587
E mail - [email protected]
3.12 Summary of threats to wildlife
Ganja cultivation which involves large scale clearing of vegetation and poaching is the biggest problem. Smuggling of sandal from Marayur induces large gangs to tresspass through the Park. Unplanned late fires pose another serious threat. In recent years there is a sudden spurt in tourist flow, which has become another major problem. Invasion of Ageratina (Eupatorium) is noticed in some areas.
3.13 Review of past Management Plan
The first Management Plan was written by R. Ramesan for the period 1992- 2001. The plan had not taken into consideration the perspectives of stakeholders, NGOs and forest dependents. The availability of scientific studies was also limited. Serious issues like habitat contiguity, critical areas outside and dependency of fringe area people were not examined. The latitude provided by the 1988 Forest Policy could not be incorporated into the Plan.
3.14 Veterinary care
There is no systematic innoculation programmes in the fringes of the Park. The health condition of the animals are also not monitored systematically.
THE PROTECTED AREA AND THE INTERFACE LANDUSE SITUATION
4.1 The existing situation in the zone of influence
Almost all the areas touching the Park on the southern side are corporate tea plantations. The population in the 4 estates boarding the Park, namely Talliar, Vagavurrai,Neymakkad and Kadalar, is about 12000. There is one small private holding on the eastern extremity. Inside the Park, on its eastern fringe close to the tea estates, there are 2 habitations- the Muduvan hamlet of Lakkomkudi and an old occupation of about 5 ha at Chattamunar below the Muduvakudy. On the western and eastern fringes of the Park there are a number of Muduvan settlements.
The Muduvans are hill cultivators who originally belonged to Madurai, Tamil Nadu, and migrated to the High Ranges in the 14th century. Their hamlets are called Kudis, and each kudi has a dormitory for boys (Chavadi), girls and widows (Palapura). The men above the age of 16 normally wear a white turban. The hamlet, Lakkomkudi, supports about 40 families with a population of about 200 individuals. Legend says that when Kannagi, a divine woman and principal character of the Tamil epic Silapathikaram, destroyed Madurai by her curse, a group of people migrated with her to the hills, carrying her on their back (Muthuku). Thus the name muthuvan originated from this legend meaning “those who carried something on their back”. Even today, they carry their children and belongings on their back.
The Muthuvans practised slash and burn agriculture and cultivated rice (Oryza sativa), ragi (Eluesine coracona), chamai (Panicum milliare), and many varieties of vegetables including yams, roots and tubers. But now, under the influence of market economy traditional farming practices have changed. Commercial crops like lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) and cardamom (Eletaria cardamomum) are favoured items now. Slash and burn agriculture is no more practiced due to non- avalabilty of land and Muduvans are not proficient in settled agriculture. This leads to degradation of the available agricultural land and reduced income.
A few men were employed by High Range Game Preservation Association as game watchers, and when the area was notified as National Park, the practice continued. Eight Muthuvans are employed as temporary protection watchers. Every year during the fire season, 15-20 Muduvans are hired as fire watchers for a short period. The Muduvans are experts in fire management.
Agriculture is the main occupation and they keep cattle to suppliment their income. Firewood is collected from the Park fringes. Other products collected are honey, cane, thatching grass and reeds.
Crop depradation by elephant, wild boar and sambar is common. One of the reasons why food crops are not grown, is due to wildlife damage. Occasional cases of cattle lifting by leopards and tigers also occur.
There are many Muduvan hamlets in the Anaimudi Reserve Forest on the west in Munnar Range and in the Koodakkad Reserve Forest on the east in Marayur Range. The main source of income for the Muduvans in the Anaimudi Reserve Forest is cultivation of cardamom. But in recent years large scale pest attack has considerably diminished their income. Lemon grass oil is the main source of income for the Muduvans in Marayur Range. In both the cases, a considerable portion of their income is siphoned off by traders and middlemen. The penetration of market economy together with decreased yields from cultivation is slowly transforming these tribal communities to adopt hostile stand towards conservation. Employment opportunities are scarce. Criminal gangs involved in ganja cultivation and sandal smuggling use them for these illicit activities. Many of them have guns which are occasionally used for hunting animals like Nilgiri tahr and Nilgiri langur. These Muduvans also make use of the Park for moving from one kudi to other.
There are 16 families in the occupation area at Chattamunnar. Most of them are casual labourers of the neighbouring estate and do marginal farming. Most of the houses have become semi-permanent in nature.
The labourers in the adjoining estates do not have much dependency on the Park. Though firewood collection and grazing occurs, its impact is low. A few of them are still in the habit of setting traps for capturing tahr and sambar. Grasslands on the fringes are deliberately set on fire to lure the animals.
4.2 The development programmes and conservation issues
The Lakomkudy Muduvans , now confined to a small area within the Park are the subjects of severe negative impact of the Park because of large scale crop depradation by wildlife from the Park and their inability to access new areas within the Park. Though the Park generates some employment, their overall situation is pathetic. To reduce the negative impacts due to the Park and to create a positive interaction, the Park authorities have initiated preliminary steps for building up an eco-development programme. The Chattamunnar occupants are in no way associated with the activities of the Park and hence exert only negative impact on the Park. The labourers of the estates surrounding the Park get their drinking water from the streams originating from the Park. Being part of a corporate group, they provide ample scope for effective awareness campaigns. Efforts are also under way to forge good relationship with the Muduvans in the forests surrounding the Park in Munnar and Marayur Ranges.
There is no coordination between the Forest Department and other development agencies like the Panchayat, Tribal Department and Girijan Societies etc. The possibility of rise in unemployment due to the crisis in the plantation sector might lead to increased pressure on the Park.
Many Non-Government Organisations (NGO) and institutions are associated with the management of the Park. The tahr census method was tried and perfected by UC College, Alwaye. The School of Social Sciences, MG University, Kottayam is involved in issues related to human ecology and participatory resource management. The Kerala Forest Research Institute, Peechi has carried out a number of ecological studies. There are two NGOs that are closely associated with the protection and management of the Park- the High Range Wildlife and Environment Preservation Association, Munnar and the Tahr Foundation. The former was instrumental in the formation of the Park itself and involved in the management of the Park by enabling Government. orders (Para 11 of Land Board Award LB(A)2-5227/71 dt.29-3-74 and GO Rt.No.1301/74/AD dt.29-5-74.). The Tahr foundation helps the Park in research and awareness fronts.
Conservation education at present is limited to Nature Camps that are offered to schools and other organizations. No organized awareness programmes are carried out among the populations. There are 61 schools in the estates with a student population of about 4000 and can be an effective catchment for awareness programmes and for building local support.
The growth of tourism has brought in considerable economic activities and opportunities to the surrounding areas. But the concept of long term sustainability is yet to be imbibed by the industry.