Located in Kodagu district of Karnataka, with the Brahmagiri mountains forming a picturesque background, the Rajiv Gandhi National Park earlier known as the Nagarhole National Park was set up in 1955. The park forms a part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and has has been nominated for selection as a World Heritage Site. It lies between the latitudes 12o15'37.69"E and longitudes 76o17'34.4"N. Altitude in this park varies from 687-960 m. By 1988 the protected area in this park was increased to occupy 643.39 sq km. The park receives an annual rainfall of 1,440 mm and its water sources include the Lakshmmantirtha river, Sarati Hole, Nagar Hole, Balle Halla, Kabini river, four perennial streams, 47 seasonal streams, four small perennial lakes, 41 artificial tanks, several swamps, Taraka dam and the Kabini reservoir (Lal et al. 1994).
Vegetation varies from tropical, moist and mixed deciduous in the southern area to dry deciduous and hill valley swamp forests in the eastern area. Species of trees of the dry deciduous forest include Terminalia tomentosa, Tectonia grandis, Lagerstroemia lanceolata, Pterocarpus marsupium, Grewia tilaefolia, Dalbergia latifolia and Anogeissus latifolia (Pascal et al. 1982). Other tree species that are seen in the forests are Lagerstroemia microcarpa, Adina cordifolia, Bombax malabaricum, Schleichera trijuga and species of Ficus. In the understorey, species found growing include Kydia calycina, Emblica officinalis and Gmelina arborea. Shrubs like Solanum, Desmodium, Helicteres species and invasive species like Lantana camara and Eupatorium too are found in abundance. The dry deciduous forests have many tree species commonly found in the moist deciduous forests like Anoegeissus latifolia, Cassia fistula, Butea monosperma, Dendrocalamus strictus, Wrightia tinctoria and Acacia sp., while the swamp forests have a predominance of Eugenia. In addition to rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia) and teak (Tectonia grandis) the other commercially important species of trees found in the forests include sandalwood (Santalum album) and silver oak (Grevillea robusta) (Lal et al. 1994, Islam and Rahmani 2004)
Flagship species like tiger (Panthera tigris), Indian bison or gaur (Bos gaurus) and Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) are found in large numbers inside the park. Interestingly, a study carried out by Dr. Ullas Karanth of the Wildlife Conservation Society has shown that the forests of Nagarhole have three species of predators i.e. tiger, leopard (Panthera pardus) and wild dogs (Cuon alpinus) present at an equivalent density (PA Update 2000). The park also has an abundance of jackals (Canis aureus), grey mongoose (Herpestes edwardsi), sloth bears (Melursus ursinus), striped hyenas (Hyaena hyaena), spotted deer or chital (Axis axis), sambar (Cervus unicolor), barking deer (Munitacus muntjak), four-horned antelopes (Tetracerpus quadricornis) and wild pig (Sus scrofa). Other mammalian inhabitants include the common palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), brown mongoose (Herpestes brachyurus), striped-necked mongoose (Herpestes vitticollis), black-naped hare (Lepus nigricollis), Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata), red giant flying squirrel (Petaurista petaurista), Indian porcupine (Hystrix indica) and Indian giant flying squirrel (Petaurista philippensis) (Lal et al. 1994, Islam and Rahmani 2004) .
Recognised as an Important Bird Area the park has over 270 species of birds including the 'Critically endangered' Oriental white-backed vulture (Gyps bengalensis), 'Vulnerable' lesser adjutant (Leptopilos javanicus), greater spotted eagle (Aquila changa) and the Nilgiri wood-pigeon (Columba elphinstonii). 'Near threatened' species like darters (Anhniga melanogaster), oriental white ibis (Threskiornis melanocephalus), greater grey-headed fish-eagle (Icthyophaga ichthyaetus) and red-headed vulture (Sarcogyps calvus) too can be found here. Endemics include the blue-winged parakeet (Psittacula columboides), Malabar grey hornbill (Ocyceros griseus) and the white-bellied treepie (Dendrocitta leucogastra). Seven of the 15 Biome-10 (Indian Peninsula Tropical Moist Forest) and 21 of the 59 Biome-11 (Indo-Malayan Tropical Dry Zone) species have been noted from here. Some of the birds that can be sighted here include the white-cheeked barbet (Megalaima viridis), Indian scimitar babbler (Pomatorhinus horsfieldii) and Malabar whistlingthrush (Myiophonus horsfieldii). Even birds commonly seen in drier regions like painted bush quail (Pendicula erythrorhyncha), Sirkeer malkhoa (Phaenicophaeus leschenaultia), ashy prinia (Prinia socialis), Indian robin (Saxicoloides fulicata), Indian peafowl (Pava cristatus) and yellow-legged green pigeon (Treron phoenicoptera) can be found here (Lal et al. 1994, Islam and Rahmani 2004).
Reptiles commonly found here are common vine snake (Ahaetulla nasutus), common wolf snake (Lycodon aulicus), rat snake (Ptyas mucosus), bamboo pit viper (Trimeresurus gramineus), Russell's viper (Daboia russellii), common krait (Bangarus caeruleus), Indian rock python (Python molurus), Indian monitor lizard (Varanus bangalensis) and the common toad (Bufo melanostictus) (Lal et al. 1994, Islam and Rahmani 2004) .
Extensive studies on the biodiversity of the insect population have been carried out by researchers from the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bangalore. The insect biodiversity of this park includes over 96 species of dung beetles and 60 species of ants. Unusual species of ants that have been identified include the jumping ants such as Harpegnathos saltator, which are known to jump up to a metre high. The ant species Tetraponera rufonigra may be useful as a marker for the health of the forests because these ants feed on termites and are abundant in places where there are lots of dead trees. Species of dung beetles identified include the common dung beetle (Onthophagus dama), India's largest beetle, Heliocopris dominus which breeds only in elephant dung and Onthophagus pactolus, a very rare species of dung beetle.¹
Threats to the national park come from large scale cutting of sandalwood and teak trees, and overgrazing of cattle. Timber smuggling, especially sandalwood smuggling, happens quite extensively here. Timber felling has been reported from plantation areas in Kollihadi, Vaddara Modu, Tattikere in Veerahosanahalli and Mettiupe in Kalahalli. Other places where timber felling has been reported include Arekatti, Badrikatte, Bidurukatte, Veerana Hosahalli and Marhigodu ranges. In July 2002 hundreds of trees were cut down in the Veeranahosalli range (PA Update 2002). Local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like Kodagu Ekikarana Ranga (KER), Budakattu Krishikara Sangha (BKS) and Budakattu Hakku Sthapana Samiti (BHSS) are working to stop tree felling.
Disease outbreaks too among the cattle have been recorded. An outbreak of rabies that resulted in four cattle deaths and affecting 25-30 cattle was reported in the first week of September 2005 at G M Halli on the border of Antharasanthe Forest Range in the park (PA Update 2005).
Poaching of birds and other mammals is another serious issue. A high number of elephant deaths have been reported from this park, with nearly 100 elephants dying between 1991-92 and 2004-05 in the Kodagu and Hunsur Forest Division (PA Update 2005). Elephants are killed for their ivory. A study carried out by Wildlife First! found that nearly 77 elephants were reported dead between 1 January 1 2000 and 31 October 31 2002. Another study carried out by the Institute for Natural Resources, Conservation, Education, Research and Training (INCERT) in 2002 revealed that as many as seven elephants had been killed earlier that year (PA Update 2005). A study carried out by Dr. Ullas Karanth and Madhusudan between 1996-97 revealed that hunting was the biggest threat to wildlife in Kudremukh and Nagarhole National Parks. The survey carried out on 49 active and 19 retired hunters revealed that 26 species of wildlife were hunted at an average intensity of 216 hunter days per month per village. As much as 48% of the hunters reported hunting for the 'thrill'. The study showed that in Nagarhole, 16 mammal species weighing over 1 kg were regularly hunted with shotguns and also by traditional methods used by tribal communities (PA Update 2003).
A report submitted by The Project Tiger Steering Committee stated that barely 25% of the park's staff were involved in vigilance work, thus putting the park at high risk of both, poaching and tree felling. Irregular payment to the forestry staff has been reported in both Bandipur and Nagarhole National Parks and there have also been reports of improper use of project funds (PA Update 2003, PA Update 2005).
Forest fires (PA Update 1998, PA Update 2004) and seasonal droughts coupled with water shortage have caused many wild animals to migrate to other greener spaces (PA Update 2003, PA Update 2004). Human animal conflicts due to raids by wild animals and elephants on nearby villages along with the consequent retaliation by the villagers is another important threat to the parks wildlife. In 2001, the Karnataka state government sanctioned Rs 2 crores to dig elephant proof trenches and install solar fencing around the park to prevent elephants from straying into the farmer's fields (PA Update 2001).
In 1997, tribal activist groups won a public interest litigation in the Karnataka High Court to halt the setting up of a resort called the Gateway Tusker Lodge planned to be set up by the Taj Group of Hotels (PA Update 1998). With nearly 125 villages present inside the park, NGOs actively working to protect the tribal communities include, Living Inspiration for Tribals (LIFT), Coorg Organisation of Rural Development (CORD), DEED, FEDINA-VIKASA and Nagarhole Budakattu Janara Hakkustapana Samithi. In 2000, the first relocation attempts initiated by a World Bank funded eco-development project of the local tribal population was begun with 50 tribal people. The relocated families were given land possession certificates for five acres of land and houses at Veeranahosalli, near Hunsur. The state and union government planned to relocate 1,550 tribal families at a cost of Rs. 15.5 crores (PA Update 2000).
Anon. 2004. Nagarhole National Park. In: Important Bird Areas in India: Priority sites for conservation. (Islam, M. Z and Rahmani, A. R).Indian Bird Conservation Network: Bombay Natural History Society and Birdlife International, UK. pp 578-579.
Islam, M. Z and Rahmani, A. R. 2004. Important bird areas in India: Priority sites for conservation. Indian Bird Conservation Network: Bombay Natural History Society and Birdlife International, UK. 1133 pp
Kazmierczak, K. 2000. A field guide to the birds of India, Sri Lanka, Pakistn, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and the Maldives. OM Book Service, New Delhi, India. 352 pp.
Lal, R., Kothari, A., Pande, P and Singh, S (eds). 1994. Rajiv Gandhi National Park. In : Directory of national parks and sanctuaries in Karnataka: Management status and profiles. Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi, India. pp 53-62.
Menon, V. 2003. A field guide to Indian mammals. DK (India) Pvt Ltd and Penguin Book India (P) Ltd. 201 pp.
Pascal, J.P., Shyam Sundar, S and Meher-Homji, V.M. 1982. Forest map of South India: Mercara-Mysore. French Institute, Pondicherry, India.
PA Update.1998. Taj resort inside Nagarhole National Park. October (18).
PA Update. 1998. Controversies in Nagarhole National Park. October (18).
PA Update. 1998. Forest fires in Nagarhole National Park. October (18).
PA Update. 1999. Forest fires in Nagarhole National Park. October (22).
PA Update. 2000. 3 predator species at same density level in Nagarhole. August (26).
PA Update. 2000. Tribals resettled from Nagarhole given land. December (27&28).
PA Update. 2001. Rs. 2 crores to tackle elephant menace in Nagarhole. June (30&31).
PA Update. 2002. Seven tuskers poached in Nagarhole. October (39).
PA Update. 2002. Sandalwood smuggling from Nagarhole. October (39).
PA Update. 2003. Water levels fall in Nagarhole. April (41&42).
PA Update. 2003. Bank probe into eco-development project functioning in Nagarhole. April (41&42).
PA Update. 2003. Hunting is the biggest threat to wildlife in protected areas: Study. April (41&42).
PA Update. 2003. Lokayukta raids Nagarhole forests. April (41&42).
PA Update. 2004. Water shortage forces animals to migrate out of Nagarhole. April (47&48): 9.
PA Update. 2004. Fires affect large parts of Nagarhole. April (47&48): 8.
PA Update. 2004. Six held on charges of poaching in Nagarhole NP; jaw traps seized. December (52): 10.
PA Update. 2005. Over 100 elephants dead in 13 years in and around Nagarhole NP. April (54): 10.
PA Update. 2005. NGO efforts to prevent fire in Nagarhole. June (55): 8.
PA Update. 2005. Rabies threat to Nagarhole wildlife. October (57): 8.
PA Update. 2005. Staff in Bandipur and Nagarhole NPs not paid since April. October (57): 8.
1. Nagarhole National Park. http://www.atree.org/nagarahole.html. Accessed on 8 January 2008.