By Himanshu Nitnaware
AURANGABAD: The Gautala Autrumghat wildlife sanctuary in Aurangabad district, a 250 sq km expanse of dense forest, will be first in the Marathwada region to get cameras to track the movement of animals and to keep a hawk eye on poaching activities.
The wildlife division has sent a proposal seeking 12 trap cameras for the sanctuary, which will also help in the bi-annual animal census activity. The trap cameras will have motion sensors and night vision to capture the image of any wildlife passing in front of it. The cameras are waterproof, heat resistant and have global positioning system (GPS).
Such cameras have been installed in Tadoba Andhari tiger reserve and other wildlife sanctuaries of the state, but will be used for the first time in the Marathwada region. The Gautala Autrumghat sanctuary, located on the boundary of the Aurangabad and Jalgaon districts, was notified in 1997.
Sunil Ohol, deputy conservator of forest (wildlife), said that the proposal has been sent to the forest division in Nashik and some permissions were still to be granted by the state government. The wildlife department expects to receive camera during next census scheduled for May.
An official said, "The cameras will help during the annual census exercise as they provide visual record of the animals. As the cameras capture the movement of animals within the sanctuary, it also helps protect and track the animals. Moreover, the cameras help keep a watch in possible poaching activity."
In addition to this, the forest department has also initiated a study of impact of human presence on animals, as vehicles use the national highway (NH-211) located near the forest area. It has carried out various development plans within the sanctuary to boost ecological activities and tourism.
Range forest officer R A Nagapurkar said that a four-member team of experts from Cohort For Bio-Research, Jalgaon has started a study of the impact of traffic and noise disturbances on wildlife, possible movement of animals and connection between major water and food resources. The team would submit its recommendations in the report likely to be ready in the next couple of months.
The RFO added that an information centre has been established at Hivarkheda, where the sanctuary starts. "The centre has the information of all the species found in the sanctuary. In future, guides would be appointed," he added. 10 locals have already undergone training to be guides under the eco-development scheme of the joint forest management committee (JFMC).
Fire-fighting equipment has been procured to tackle any wild fires, but no such instances have been reported in last two years. "The staff has been trained to deal with fires and adjoining villages have been alerted to notify fires. Fire extinguishers, helmets and jackets will be stored in a room," he added.
Four villages, Hivarkheda, Bildari, Haraswadi and Junona, have been identified to reduce the impact on forest area. "Smokeless stoves and solar cookers have been provided to villagers, street lights operating on solar energy have been installed. Majority of the houses have solar system capable of lighting 2-3 bulbs," Nagapurkar said.
Measures have been taken to conserve water. About 35 artificial and an equal number of natural water ponds have been built provide for animals. About 12 cement check dams have also been constructed to conserve water.
The historical sites of Gautam Rishi temple and Sita Nani have been developed to attract visitors and affordable residential arrangements have been made. Four rest houses and a dormitory can accommodate around 70 people. The rooms can be booked through the wildlife office located in Aurangabad. "The bamboo hut is entirely eco-friendly and has been set up at the edge of a mountain for a great view," he said.
Adequate safety arrangements have been put in place for the tourists with nakas and watch towers, with one guard and two forest workers stationed especially during night hours. Another chowk has been created at a central location of the sanctuary.
Sign boards are placed at significant places indicating directions to spots about 12 pagodas have been constructed for resting and sight seeing purposes.