Bear with the Sloth, please!

The Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary stands as a heartening reminder of what sincere individual effort can accomplish against powerful mining and industry lobbies.


One of the most successful efforts in the field of conservation in South India is the effort for Sloth Bears at Bellary, Hospet and Hampi in Karnataka. Today, the Daroji Sloth Bear Sanctuary stands as a heartening reminder of what sincere individual effort can accomplish against powerful and moneyed forces.

The Daroji wildlife sanctuary

The Daroji wildlife sanctuary

The hilly areas surrounding the Hampi region are believed to be the mythological ‘Kishkinda’ valley where Jambavantha the Bear (obviously the Sloth Bear) lived. Following the efforts of former Minister and Congress leader M Y Ghorpade, the state declared 5,587.30 hectares of Bilikallu reserve forest as the Daroji Bear Sanctuary.

The area is also rich in iron ore and mining which became a huge, unregulated, and depredatory industry here. No ethics or guidelines were laid down or followed in the unbridled plundering of the land’s resources and the Sanctuary was under serious threat as the vested interests in the mining industry combined brute muscle power with high finances.

To secure the future of the Sloth Bear Sanctuary against such odds has been an uphill task for several individuals who live in the area. “I belong to Bellary. The street where I live has my grandfather’s name. I live in my ancestral home,” says Santosh Martin, who is the Honorary Wildlife Warden of the Daroji Bear Sanctuary.

Bear conservation against mining inroads in the area has been an uphill task

Bear conservation against mining inroads in the area has been an uphill task

Started in 1994, the few years of existence of the Sanctuary have proved their value for the critically endangered Sloth Bears. Apart from about 120 sloth bears, the place is home to leopards, hyena, jackals, wild boars, porcupine, pangolins, star tortoise, monitor lizard, mongoose, pea fowls, partridges, painted spur fowl and quail. This unique ecosystem also hosts over 200 species of birds and 50 species of butterflies.

Some of the steps taken by people like Santosh, and his friends (amongst them, passionate advocates of conservation in the area like Samad Kottur and Pompayyaswamy Malemath) included “painting” the rocks with a mixture of jaggery to attract the bears and save them from poaching and predation. Also, several bears that were rescued from other places (for instance, from bear-dance practitioners, called “madaari”) have been rehabilitated here.

Pompayyaswamy Malemath, Santosh Martin, Samad Kottur, who work tirelessly for the Daroji area.

Pompayyaswamy Malemath, Santosh Martin, Samad Kottur, who work
tirelessly for the Daroji area.

A multi-pronged approach has been followed in protecting the Sanctuary. One of the major threats to the Sanctuary is the proposal to put up a steel plant precisely in the area adjacent to the Sanctuary and the acquiring of land for this purpose. This mega steel plant is likely to come up at Gadiganur village located just 500 meters away from the Sanctuary.

For many years Bellary meant intolerable summer heat, mosquitoes, pigs and bad infrastructure. Government transfers to Bellary were considered punishment transfers. Then thanks to the sudden demand for iron ore by China, Bellary was linked with power, big money, helicopters and BMWs.

A Global Investors’ Meet (GIM) brought in lots of investors proposing to put up mega steel plants in the Bellary area. The Government of Karnataka formed the Vijayanagara Area Development Authority (VADA) to “promote industries in the backward area of North Karnataka”. Development, to our Government, means only industrial development.

At present, within this VADA area, JSW Steel Limited has set up a 10MTPA plant and is already expanding to 16MTPA. The government has further approved 6MTPA Plant to M/s Arcelor Mittal; 6MTPA plant to M/s Brahmani Steels; 6MTPA to Essar Steel and 2MTPA to NMDC.

All these plants will be about 30 to 35 km away from the Daroji Bear Sanctuary and the Hampi site.

This has come as a rude shock for many naturalists and nature lovers. “This plant would be detrimental not only for the land and wildlife in this area but also for the World Heritage Site, Hampi, where the ruins of the Vijayanagar Empire are located, and which draws visitors from around the world,” says Samad Kottur (K S Abdul Samad) who is the President, Society for Wildlife Adventure and Nature (SWAN). Samad teaches Science at a local college, and has always been very involved in conservation activities, that stem from a love of nature instilled in his childhood.

The sloth bear sanctuary, being the first of its kind in the country is a rock-strewn hillock that stretches between Daroji, in Sandur Taluk, and Ramasagar in Hospet Taluk in Bellary district. The forest, which was once nothing but barren stony hillocks and thorny trees, was made green with the untiring efforts of the staff and support of the surrounding villagers. The Sanctuary has been transformed into a lush green area boasting of a verdant forest with exuberant local species of flora and fauna.

Pompayya Malemath, who combines his political career with a passionate love for the birds of the region, and who is very knowledgeable about them, mentions that the existence of the Sanctuary allows many species of birds to exist and breed peacefully. “The arrival of a steel plant will mean, quite literally, the death of many of these birds,” he says. According to Range Forest Officer Sangamesh N. Matt, the sanctuary has innumerable wild fruit-bearing trees and bushes.

Responding to the protests by conservationists, Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa set up a committee to look into the issues of the Sanctuary, with Anil Kumble as the chairman. The committee, which toured the area in January and February of this year (2012), submitted a detailed report to the government. Now, wildlife activists and conservationists may have just won the battle against investors and government over the setting up of a steel plant near Daroji sloth bear sanctuary near Hampi. The Sub-committee headed by Anil Kumble (who is also vice-chairman of the State Wildlife Board) strongly opposed the Government’s plan to permit an investor to set up a steel plant in the Sanctuary’s buffer zone and directed the government to relocate it.

In order to highlight the treasures of the Sanctuary, that need to be protected, “Daroji – An ecological destination”, authored by Vijay Mohan Raj, Ganesh HS and Samad Kottur was launched recently at Daroji and Bellary. Let’s hope that this last bastion of the Sloth Bears remains inviolate against the need for constant “development” at the cost of the ecology.

More information about the Daroji Bear Sanctuary, and on tips on how to get there visist:http://www.karnataka.com/tourism/sanctuary/daroji-slothbear

This documentary by Vikas and Maya is also interesting:

 


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Deepa Mohan is deeply concerned about the rapid evolution of her city, Bangalore, but is also interested in theatre, quizzing, music, wildlife, photography, learning about heritage, and writing, all of which she does with enthusiasm. more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Deepa Mohan is deeply concerned about the rapid evolution of her city, Bangalore, but is also interested in theatre, quizzing, music, wildlife, photography, learning about heritage, and writing, all of which she does with enthusiasm. more

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  • Deepa Mohan

    Samad Kottur has this correction to make…”The rescued bears from poachers have not been released here. All the rescued bears and cubs are in Bannerghatta Bear Rescue Center (BBRC). And the practice of jaggery feeding was initiated at the suggestions by M.Y.Ghorpade to S.N.Matt( the then RFO) to attract bears.”