With a focus on vulture conservation, Arulagam works for the conservation of diverse flora and fauna in Tamil Nadu, writes Anirudh Nair.
Photo Courtesy: Arulagam.
“Arulagam was founded on the occasion of World Environment Day in 2002 in memory of our beloved friend and mentor, Arul Mozhi Devan. We were clear from day one that the focus of our conservation activities would be on wild species that are less charismatic than the well-known ones,” says S. Bharathi Dasan, Secretary, Arulagam.
Of the many environmental activities that the organisation undertakes, vulture conservation in the Nilgiri Biosphere Region is a top priority. As a result of Arulagam’s sustained advocacy and campaigns by engaging local communities and government departments – a model that is being replicated across the country – resolutions to protect vulture species were passed at the gram sabha level in Coimbatore, Erode and the Nilgiris districts of Tamil Nadu. At their behest, the Tamil Nadu Animal Husbandry Department withdrew procurement of the drug Ketoprofen (similar to Diclofenac), which has been proved inimical to vultures, and circulars were issued to veterinary doctors in and around the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve to stop the use of the banned drug, following which the Drug Control Department, Government of Tamil Nadu, undertakes periodic inspections to ensure that the drug is not available for sale in the core area. Another noteworthy accomplishment is that a ‘vulture conservation agenda’ issued by Arulagam was incorporated by the Forest Department in the management plan of the Nilgiri North Division. The State Forest Department has also initiated the Society for Wildlife Interface and Forestry Training (SWIFT) with vulture conservation as one of its main objectives. Breeding individuals of Indian Vultures and sightings of Cinerous Vultures and Griffon Vultures in the region were first recorded by Arulagam members, whose work has helped to raise their conservation profile in the state and change the perception of these scavengers among stakeholders from symbols of death to recyclers, which maintain the balance of an ecosystem.
Arulagam organises street theatre programmmes around the Sathyamangalam and Mudumalai Tiger Reserves to raise awareness about tiger conservation, and sensitises communities and the media to the issue of carcass poisoning, apart from helping cattle owners to claim compensation for their losses. It was observed this year that cattle died due to severe drought, starvation and consumption of plastics. In order to mitigate the hardship faced by cattle owners, Arulagam has initiated a cattle compensation programme in selected tribal hamlets with the support of Ashirvadam Foundation. Owners are urged not to administer drugs, which are harmful to vultures, and are encouraged to leave safe carcasses for them to consume.
Arulagam and Care Earth Trust initiated the Moyar River Conservation Project, which builds capacities of local panchayats and communities along three nodes of the river that have been identified as critical conservation zones comprising an area of 180 sq. km. The establishment of a River Moyar Conservation Brigade (vulture watchers), Community Conservation Learning Centre, trainers’ programme, and a Biodiversity Monitoring Committee along with evolving eco-livelihoods, monitoring fish populations and fishing practices, eliminating selective fishing, regulating tourism, promoting ecotourism, the phased removal of invasive plants, and phasing out of floodplain cultivation have helped to maintain the health of this vital source of water in the Nilgiris.
“The loss of biodiversity to enhance and secure livelihoods through so called developmental activities and progress is disheartening. It is a loss that will affect future generations as well,” says Vasanthi Rubert, an Arulagam member.
A nursery for endemic and endangered flora established by Arulagam has been running successfully for the past 15 years. Stocking around 65 varieties of trees, the nursery provides 1.5 to two lakh saplings to tree growers each year at a nominal cost. It also provides consultancy services to establish arboretums and sacred groves. While most nurseries tend to focus on ornamental plants, the Arulagam nursery emphasises on rare, endemic, uneconomic and commercially over-exploited plants for the cause of biodiversity conservation. It supplies endemic tree saplings to Junglescapes Charitable Trust and provides necessary expertise to them in their afforestation endeavours at Bandipur, Karnataka. The NGO initiated a coastal greening programme in Tirunelveli district with the support of Wetlands International South Asia and planted 13,000 mangrove saplings and 5,000 palm nut trees in dry coastal areas.
Taking cognisance of the adverse and alarming impact of pilgrimage tourism within Protected Areas, the Commissioner of Hindu Religious Charitable Endowment Board, Tamil Nadu, accepted guidelines prepared by Arulagam to maintain greenery and cleanliness in temples and has issued a circular to all temples in Tamil Nadu to follow the same. It has taken up a project at the Bannariamman Temple in Sathyamangalam as a pilot to showcase a workable model, which can be replicated at other pilgrim centres across Tamil Nadu.
Arulagam also promotes the use of renewable sources of energy by constructing bio-gas plants and smokeless chulahs in various places in Tamil Nadu.
Research conducted by the organisation that helped palm artisans to improve the shelf life of neera (palm juice) was acknowledged and adopted by the Tamil Nadu government. In recognition of this exemplary work, Arulagam received the ‘Edel Give Social Innovation Honours 2011’ for innovative and sustainable work to protect economic security and livelihoods (runner-up) for improving the shelf-life of palm juice for the benefit of palmyra workers. Bharathi Dasan was chosen for a Biodiversity Award in 2015 by the Auroville Foundation, Puducherry, for his contribution towards vulture conservation, ecorestoration with indigenous tree species and environmental activism and was also selected as ‘Biodiversity Hot Spot Hero’ by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), U.S.A., in 2016. In yet another feather in Arulagam’s cap, the Oriental Bird Club (OBC), U.K. and the March Conservation Fund of Tides Foundation, U.S.A. selected Arulagam’s project on vulture conservation as the best project for 2017.
“Our nation is rich in natural resources. From snow-capped mountains, perennial rivers, seas, islands, swampy marshes to deserts, tropical rainforests, grasslands, dry deciduous forest, mangrove forests and freshwater ecosystems, India has it all. Our country is also a signatory to various treaties and conventions on habitat and biodiversity conservation, protection of endangered species, and climate change mitigation. It is also a forerunner in the planning and execution of various programmes related to conservation and preservation of biodiversity. The extinction of even a single organism is a cause for shame to the collective consciousness of 1.2 billion people. There must be no compromise while framing policies and enacting legislations that concern the preservation of environment and wildlife,” says Bharathidasan.
An associate partner in Saving Asia’s Vulture from Extinctions (SAVE) and a partner organisation in the Indian Bird Conservation Network (IBCN), Arulagam hopes to set up an accredited ‘Wildlife-friendly Milk Society’, which is a tangible offshoot of the elimination of harmful drugs from the vulture food chain. It augurs well for the long-term well-being of vultures and promotes their conservation among the farming community. Carrying its deep-rooted conservation legacy forward, establishment of bio-fences on farm lands to protect insects, reptiles and small mammals, campaigning for organic farming on forest boundaries, and against illegal mining and wildlife
trade form the next rung of priorities for Arulagam.
Its vision is to emerge as an important stakeholder representing the NGO community to influence policy decisions by the government for conservation of biodiversity.
How you can help:
1. Assist in getting information about the usage of the banned drug diclofenac and help in getting rid of other drugs such as ketoprofen, flunixin, acelclofenac and nemesulide from the vulture food chain.
2. Help to establish a ‘Wildlife-friendly Milk Society’ in the ‘vulture safe zone’ of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve by providing technical and financial support (voluntary contribution towards cattle compensation and cattle insurance scheme).
3. Inform them about the presence of vultures in your locality, especially in south India,
4. Help them to own land with water facilities to run its nursery, which is presently located on rented premises.
5. Help them to establish community learning centres with office space, library, computers, etc.
6. Sponsor its nursery, afforestation work and household smokeless chulha programme.
7. Sponsor its Clean Temple initiatives by providing garbage bins and clean water.
8. Give technical support to recycle plastic and other hazardous waste that gets accumulated near wildlife habitats.
Address: Arulagam, Thongum Thottam, Masakaundanputhur, Ellappalayam P.O, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu – 641697, India.
Tel.: +91 98432 11772
Author: Anirudh Nair, First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVII No. 6, June 2017.