When the clouds do not hinter the sun from baking the ground all day, it is said that the monsoon is set to leave. On one such day, we went to explore a nearby Protected Area, the Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary. I had not visited this place in three years, and I was waiting in anticipation for the time to come, which did come on the last weekend of the monsoon season of 2011.
Tungareshwar is a sanctuary that I’ve talked about in brief in my very first post, and also as the very last escape for many animals in Revisiting Nagla Block, that mainly focused on Nagla Block being a corridor joining Sanjay Gandhi National Park with Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary. And if SGNP is the lung of Mumbai, Nagla Block is the heart, and TWS is the last leg – one that does not lead any further, except into villages and vast fields of rice and other crops. The north of TWS is devoid of any forestlands for miles save for small pockets, until we reach a few remaining havens at the very tip of the Western Ghats – just near the shoulder of Gujarat.
This is the road – nearly a two lane highway that runs the length of the temple and beyond – to an ashram. Of all the issues Tungareshwar is currently dealing with, the biggest probably is ignorance. And only by creating awareness through education in this region, and by making the rules more stringent than before, can it be saved. It is still not too late for TWS to be sprawling again with animals and plants, but we might have missed the first SOS from nature, and that is of soil erosion – about which I’ll talk a little later.
She was a Bronze-back Tree Snake, one of the fastest snakes of the northern Western Ghats – and she was on her way to cross the river to the other side, or maybe to drink water – but she stopped in her way and looked back, then slithered back to the shades of the riverbank at my advances. The villagers also showed us a large Checkered Keelback that was swimming in the river.
|Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary|
The Tungar Hills where this sanctuary was established are still well preserved, but in recent years Tungareshwar has changed drastically. It is not just the little village on the outskirts that has seen a high influx of migration, but so has the sanctuary. And the sanctuary is no more a haven for wildlife, but a backyard to go and dump your wastes into the forests. The only river that flows through the hills, the Tungareshwar River, is now severely polluted. Activities like washing bikes and trucks; disposal of wastes and domestic garbage; and deforestation by encroachment are the building edifices for the fall of Tungareshwar as a wildlife haven.
When we reached the gate, there were songs being played out loud – to whose ears I know not – but certainly not God, nor the nature. It was more of an advertisement – perhaps of the fact that they obtain electricity only to waste it in such a way. In the front of this temple, on the left of the gate is a small Forest Department chowki. This small structure is abandoned and left to rot – a reason (and the only) for the activities going on inside the Protected Area, that are not permitted under the law.
We entered the sanctuary with much disappointment, but we did expect a large number of people here to visit the Tungareshwar Temple that is halfway up from the entrance. The people there weren’t the pilgrims however – they made only a fraction of the people who had come for their morning rituals, such as attending nature’s call. This subject is a hot debate, considering the economic situation of the place, as well as the utter ignorance of the Municipal bodies that are supposed to govern, and not to mention provide basic sanitation provisions to the people.
|Road widening in forests leads to erosion!|
And so we began with concern, but the sightings were worth cherishing, for Tungareshwar still harbours an amazing diversity. We saw a large lady Nephila trying to rebuild her destroyed orb-web with her golden silken threads shining in the sun – a reason why they are also called Golden-orb-weavers. While coming back from the walk, all we saw were two legs dangling by a line, separated by a large hole in her abode.
|Oecophylla smargdina - Queen|
|An infected caterpillar|
|Euthalia aconthea caterpillar|
|Papilio clyria form clytia|
|Cotigaonopsis providenceae - Identified by Evgeny Shcherbakov|
Seeing four different types of mantises in a day was a great relief. It is what halted me from going about my rant against the activities in Tungareshwar. Seeing predatory insects was an indicator that the prey population is abundant. But it is important to evaluate the impacts of encroachment that pose a direct threat to this diversity.
The dipterans were also all around us. A Stilt-legged fly in the family Micropezidae was dancing on a leaf:
|Stilt-legged fly, gravid female , family Micropezidae|
This dance is their own unique way of saying I’m here, watch out! and they’re well dressed to perform it – with their feet clad in white socks, and their red striped legs contrasting their silvery attire. This one was a female, and her abdomen is full of eggs which she will lay in the soil. Another fly was seen near a wide clearing with small shops.
|A lady Katydid soaking the sun|
|Giraffe Weevil, female - a leaf-rolling weevil|
|Brettus sp., male|
|Calotes versicolour, hatchling|
|Tungar Hills and the surroundings|
|Soil erosion can wipe out mountains!|
|Plastics commonly perch in Tungareshwar Wildlife Sanctuary|
And so we come to the end of Monsoon, and the beginning of the post-monsoon months. I am keen on putting all this together into one document and publish it by the end of the year so that it acts as a documentary of sightings and observations. I will be leaving now, and will return next month. Farewell!