A sanctuary and many challenges

Print edition : November 13, 2015

At the entrance to the forest quarters in Kodaikanal. Photo: IAN LOCKWOOD

AFTER many years of proposals as well as some resistance by affected communities, the Kodaikanal Wildlife Sanctuary was notified by the Tamil Nadu government in October 2013. Most of this new protected area is on land that was formerly reserve forest. Other than the gazette notification, and the presence of Forest Department vehicles marked with “Kodaikanal Wildlife Sanctuary”, little has been published about the functioning of the area. The extent of the park has been notified in the gazette, but there are no official maps to accompany this yet.

There are several challenges for the sanctuary. Following the main thrust of this article, a significant issue is how to manage the large areas of former montane grasslands that have now been converted to non-native timber plantations. Managing tourists in the township periphery, Berijam Lake, Dolphin’s Nose, Guna Caves and other areas is currently a major headache. Most of this tourism is vehicle-dependent and has caused significant solid waste problems as well as degradation of forest and grassland ecosystems. Tourism has, thus far, been detrimental to natural ecosystems in the Palani Hills, and the potential that it has for low-impact, sustainable, ecologically conscious development has not yet been realised or planned for.

Finally, there is a desperate need for long-term studies on populations of wildlife (especially gaur) and on changes in the ecology and land cover patterns. At this point most ecological studies in the Palani Hills have been done by small non-governmental organisations with limited support of state actors and institutions. For the sanctuary to be successful in protecting the natural heritage of the Palani Hills, it will take a cooperative, proactive coming together of state agencies with citizens and civil society.