Drought in the Eastern Ghats: How one man struggles to help Nallamalla's monkeys survive the summer

Editor's note: This is the eighth piece in a multi-part series on the nature of human excesses that have imperilled the fragile ecosystem of South India's ghats, home to at least 325 globally threatened species of flora and fauna, by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's reckoning. This article, and the one that follows, marks a slight deviation: They will address issues specific to the Eastern Ghats. We will return to the westerly range in the tenth and concluding section of the series.

Clad in a white cotton shirt and trousers, Sunnkari Pullaya Goud, 69, sets out every morning with tankers and trucks. The retired Mandal Revenue Officer has taken it upon himself to provide food and water for the wild monkeys that live on the edges of the Nallamalla forests of the Eastern Ghats.

"I saw a monkey lying unconscious while I was travelling to Nandyal. I took pity on the monkey and gave it some water. It soon got up and left the place. I then saw many other monkeys in the same situation," Goud recalled.

The summer has been especially cruel on the wildlife in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. With temperatures soaring over 40 degrees, and heat waves clamping down on Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, water sources and food too have dried up inside the dense forests. Wildlife, especially the more mobile monkeys, are coming out in packs from the forest in search of water.

 Drought in the Eastern Ghats: How one man struggles to help Nallamallas monkeys survive the summer

Water runs in short supply in the Nallamalla Hills. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

"Summer is a tough time for forest animals in Nallamalla, as there won't be food and water for nearly four months. So I decided to supply food and water to these forest animals first. Apart from Nandyal, I also started supplying food and water to forest animals in Srisailam," says Goud.

Experts say that the Eastern Ghats face more critical issues due to the fact that they are not a continuous range, unlike their Western counterparts. Long gaps in the ranges mean that the searing sun dries up water sources within the forests, driving wildlife into human habitations.

"There are long gaps between the ranges," said Professor K Purushotham Reddy, an environmentalist and a PhD holder in environmental policy. "In that, the biggest is at Nallamalla forest, which is a semi-arid and deciduous forest. In summer, there is a lot of leaf fall and more sunlight enters the forest, leading to the evaporation of water increasing the dryness there."

Reddy said that the change in rainfall patterns over the last two decades has made things worse for the wildlife. "The number of rainy days has come down due to several reasons like deforestation, building of dams in Nallamalla and Srisailam and setting up of power transmission lines. There is a lot of deforestation because of the power projects. In addition to this, temple tourism is also destroying the forests. A number of roads have been laid for tourism and for building the Srisailam dam, resulting in deforestation and affecting the natural ecosystem of the forest," he said.

Reddy blamed the government for not ensuring coordination between the various departments. He also says the law is routinely flouted by miners. "We have tiger reservoirs, a wildlife department, a tribal welfare department and several others. Apart from this a lot of mining activity is taking place in the Nallamalla forest. The forest which I knew 50 years ago — we have lost that paradise. The forest department has failed to protect the wildlife here. They should come forward and speak to people first and enlighten them about how to protect the wildlife, which they don't do," he said.

Reddy added that the rainfall in southern Telangana was meagre this year as compared to previous years and that carbon dioxide content in the air is up to 418 ppm (parts per million), which is very high compared to the levels of the last 500 years. "Our politicians are not worried about protecting the wildlife. Not one political party in Telangana has adopted sustainable goals for saving forests and wildlife," he lamented.

Whether the government does its job or not, Goud wakes up every day to pack fruits and vegetables for the monkeys and does so with a ready smile; he requests truck and bus drivers to drop off food along the Nandyal highway which runs along the forests, so that these monkeys can eat the food.

"In one month, I spend Rs 60,000 on feeding these animals. On seeing this, even my friends and neighbours started funding me, either by giving some money or food for animals. I constructed small concrete tanks and kept them in many places in the forest," he said.

Apart from this, he takes his own truck full of water canisters and ensures that the concrete tanks through the forest route are filled up for the monkeys. He also recently organised water supply for the wildlife in Srisailam, 90 kilometres from where he lives, for a fee of Rs 1,600 per day.

Goud, himself a farmer by profession, has three sons and two daughters, who also chip in to help their father's pet project. Having retired from government service in 2008, he gets a pension of Rs 35,000. "Apart from this, I farm; I use that money to spend for these animals," he smiles.

The biggest constraint though is money, says Goud with a shrug. "I would like to help more animals, not only here but in other places too," he says.

With a few more Good Samaritans like Goud, some monkeys at least have hope of getting through this harsh summer.

Part 1:Urbanisation demands see hills sacrificed to whims of mining, industry lobbies
Part 2:How deforestation saved ecologically-sensitive hills in Kerala
Part 3: Ambulance service supplies water to 700 families in Kerala's Kottayam
Part 4: In Kerala's Wayanad, acute water scarcity leading to man-animal conflict
Part 5: Cauvery suffers a slow death as tourism and urbanisation flourish
Part 6:Tamil Nadu's over-dependence on ground water has left it parched
Part 7: Encroachments in elephant corridor lead to human-animal conflicts

Updated Date: May 17, 2017 14:31:17 IST