Assessment of livestock grazing pressure in and around the elephant corridors in Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary, south India.
Mudumalai Wildlife Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu, southern India, plays an important role in biodiversity conservation, especially of large mammals, by offering habitat contiguity of about 3300 km2 with three other protected areas in the region, namely Nagarahole and Bandipur National Parks and Wynaad Wildlife Sanctuary through forest corridors between the Western Ghats and Eastern Ghats forests. The habitat linkage is crucial for large ranging animals such as elephants [Elephas maximus], which use these forest corridors for migration. Livestock grazing, a major biotic interference in forest corridors, originates from seven settlements of the Masinagudi group of villages on the eastern and the southeastern fringes of the sanctuary. Construction of a series of hydroelectric power stations, numbering about three at Singara, Marvakandy (Masinagudi) and Moyar, around the Masinagudi villages caused a rapid growth in human population (143% between 1961 and 1991), particularly the landless labourers and livestock. Free grazing by approximately 15 000-17 000 resident as well as migratory livestock every year in and around the forest corridors, coupled with removal of cattle dung from the forest floor, have adversely affected the forest regeneration and helped proliferation of weed species such as Lantana camara, Casia tora, C. occidentalis, Opuntia dillenii and Ageratum conyzoides. The annual fodder production from the corridor forest could meet the demand of about two-thirds of the resident population, while the crop residues from the marginal agriculture could not support the remaining one-third livestock population. In view of such a situation, measures have been suggested to reduce livestock population and implement the ecodevelopment packages in order to ensure the corridor continuity for the long-term conservation of the elephant population.