Reclamation in Kuthiraiyar

I visited Kuthiraiyar, a place in the foothills of the Palani hills, during the last week of 2019. It was a memorable visit as it happened before the covid pandemic. I went to the nursery of the Palni Hills Conservation Council centre and had a conversation with Mr.Krishnamurthy who looks after the place. He took me to the area where saplings had been planted the previous year, near the water catchment of the Kuthiraiyar dam. I learned about different indigenous plants such as the Golden Shower [Cassia fistula], Neem [Azadirachta indica], Camel Foot [Bauhinia variegata], Siris (Albizia lebbeck], North Indian Rosewood [Dalbergia sissoo], Indian Beech [Millettia pinnata] and many others.

This area was the natural habitat for the Small Clawed Otter [Aonyx cinereus]. A researcher, Ms Meena, had conducted a detailed study of Small-clawed Otters during 1999-2000. According to her , the river ecosystem is affected due to the discharge of pesticides and industrial effluents. As the otters prey base depends on the river ecosystem, their population is affected, leading to a decline in their numbers. However, the major reason for the population decline in otters in the Palani hills is due to poaching. Otters were poached for their skin (used for drums), for their meat and their fat used in medicine.

I always looked for otters whenever I visited Kuthiraiyar but have never saw one. The forest is better protected than in previous decades and one hopes that this will bring back this beautiful creature. An otter was sighted in 2015 at Kookal. The Kookal shola and the montane grasslands are one of the main water sources for Kuthiraiyar. Since the two areas are linked by a natural water system the protection measures can possibly rejuvenate the Small-Clawed Otter population. In addition, the movements of the Grizzled Giant Squirrels [Ratufa macroura] was a promising sign of wildlife protection in recent years. I saw the pelage of one glistening during sunrise.

I went for a bird walk in the area surrounding the dam at about 7.30 a.m. No movement or bird song was evident until about 8.30 a.m when the resident birds, such as the Southern Coucal, the Common Myna, the Green Bee Eater, the Indian Golden Oriole, the Grey Jungle Fowl, the Laughing Dove, the Rose Ringed Parakeet, the Common Iora, the Common Tailorbird, the Rufous Treepie, the Red rumped Swallow, the Red-vented Bulbul, the White-browed Bulbul, the Yellow-billed Babler, etc., made their appearance. When the forest canopy received more sunshine at around 9.00 a.m., the flycatchers appeared. The Indian Paradise Flycatcher , a male, was perched on a tree. Other flycatchers then turned up. The Tickell's Blue flycatcher, the Brown Breasted flycatcher, the Blue-throated Blue flycatcher, Asian Brown flycatcher and the Taiga flycatcher were at the same spot.

This was the first time that the Taiga Flycatcher was recorded in the Palani hills. These birds migrate from East Asia to South India during the winter. I kept moving gingerly into the jungle and started observing the Tickell's blue flycatcher which was on call. The song of the flycatcher crescendos were there. Then I started walking towards the water catchment, to the open area where the waders were. The red wattle lapwing communicated my presence to their counterparts I observed four different species of Wagtails within an hour: the White-browed Wagtail, the Yellow Wagtail, the Grey Wagtail and the Forest Wagtail. Except for the first, the others are migratory. Though the Gray Wagtail migrates from the Himalayas, the Forest Wagtail migrates from China or East Asia, as also the Taiga Flycatcher. I noticed a Common Snipe which was hiding in the grass close to the water. A pair of Spot-billed ducks landed in the middle of the dam. The Common Kingfisher and a White-throated Kingfisher were busy flying above the water surface for their turn to catch the fish. There was not much movement of birds in the area planted with Eucalyptus but surprisingly a bunch of vernal hanging parakeets were perched there on the branches. When I came back to the PHCC nursery, I noticed several more bird species such as the White-bellied Drongo and the Black-hooded Oriole. The full-grown trees and shrubs within the PHCC centre also provided a habitat for the birds.

Before I left I met and talked with the lady who works in the nursery and who belongs to a tribal community of the Palani hills. The knowledge of the tribal people can be used to study and understand various subjects in these hills, especially the mammals like the Sambar Deer, the Dhole, the Common Otter and the Small-clawed Otter. It is high time that a study of the otters habitat and population was taken up as it has not been done for the past twenty years. The water quality can be studied to understand the level of effluents in the Kuthiraiyar dam. Otter prey species can also be studied to understand the possibilities for improving the habitat for the otters.

I returned to Kuthiraiyar after a year during the first week of 2021. Due to the surplus monsoon rain the dam was full. Some areas of the forest were submerged and most of the saplings planted in the previous year were under water. Afforestation is really a challenging task due to climate change. The little efforts we put to mitigate climate change are hampered because of the existing climate change! The monsoon brings surplus or deficient rain and challenges afforestation efforts. In addition, the saplings need to be protected from cattle grazing as well. To restore natural ecosystems requires much effort, with climate and other external factors adding to the challenge. However, the reclamation process is promising in Kuthiraiyar and we hope the natural habitat can bring back more migratory birds and otters in the coming years. The primary forest should be protected to retain the native species of flora and fauna.

Article Published in Leaf Litter Magazine Dec 2021. ©Satheesh Muthu Gopal

Read my other articles also and leave your comments below.

Lunch With a Falcon

Painted Beauty

The remaining grasslands of Palani Hills

Palani Hills - Shrinking Heaven

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  1. Superb ji. Lot to learn from you and informative. Keep doing this fantastic job ever.

  2. Excellent article, Satheesh.

  3. Excellent article admin.. I can see that how import to conserve forest and it’s gem.. Thanks for sharing your experience with us 😊👍🏾

  4. Super article ❤️ Beautifully explained 👏🏻👌🏻

  5. அன்பு நண்பரே,
    எனக்கு ஆங்கிலம் தெரியாது
    என்பதால் இதனை முழுமையாக
    படித்து புரிந்து கொள்ள முடியவில்லை.
    - ஆற்காடு ராஜா முகம்மது.

    1. ஆங்கிலம் ஒரு மொழி அவ்வளவுதான். அன்பும் நன்றியும் நண்பரே

  6. What a writeup!. Really submerged with your words. Were there (in kuthiraiyar) until I finished reading it. Really they way you observe the nature is more deep and different. Instead asking for what we need to observe from you, this kind of articles gives more Idea on being with nature. Expecting more like this from you Sathish.