Forest Friendly Tribals
‘Coexistence with the wild’ has been a human way of life for thousands of years now, or if I may be allowed to pen it better it would be, ‘encroachment’ in the wild territory has been a human tendency. The richness of forests blended with mystery has for thousands of years down the line enticed humans and despite the potential threat of human-animal conflict and fatal losses owing to the encounters with denizens of the forests, the forests have proved to be too enticing, tempting and alluring for the humans to shrug off the idea of staying within or close to it.
On this take the ‘Jambughoda Wildlife Sanctuary’ is no different. This sanctuary derived its name from a small erstwhile princely state of Jambughoda, in Panchmahal district of Gujarat, in the vicinity of which it lies. This sanctuary is about 70 kilometers from Baroda city and 25 kilometers from the ‘UNESCO World Heritage Site’ Of Champaner Archeological Park. In the year 1990 this forested land covering an area of 130 square kilometers and located in the hilly ‘Tribal Belt’ covering the districts of Godhra, Panchmahal and Baroda of Gujarat state was declared as the ‘Jambughoda Wildlife Sanctuary’
Rich in flora and fauna, the Jambughoda Wildlife Sanctuary has for centuries boasted of tribal communities consisting of the Rathwas, Baria’s and the Nayaks as its residents. These tribal’s share the sanctuary with the likes of the Leopard (Panthera Pardus Fusca) which is the primary predator here and is at the apex of the food chain. Then, there are Sloth Bears (Ursus Ursinus), Wild Boars (Sus Scrofa), Hyenas (Hyena Hyena), Chausinga (Tetracerus Quadricornis or the four horned antelope), Neelgai (Boselaphus Tragocamelus or the Bule Bull), Jackals (Canis Aureus), Porcupines (Hystrix Indica) and the few others to name are, Hares, Pythons and a wide variety of both poisonous and non poisonous snakes.
The strikingly surprising difference though is, that to the credit of these Rathwas, Baria’s and Nayak’s, the tribals of the Jambughoda Wildlife Sanctuary, no human-animal conflict has been reported in last 30 years in the Jambughoda Wildlife Sanctuary barring some rare, scratchy and untoward incidents wherein fortunately no loss of life in case of both as in human or animal has resulted. This is definitely good news in contrast to what we regularly get to hear or read from the more popular National parks, sanctuaries and reserves in other parts of the country. Another surprising and inspiring fact is that these tribal’s of Jambughoda Wildlife Sanctuary share the concern for rapidly disappearing forests and wildlife with its habitat and this school of thought with the tribal’s here is unknown to most human dwellers of other sanctuaries in India.
The tribal communities of the Rathwas, Baria’s and Nayak’s are well-known for their ethnicity, culture, festivities, family values and food habits. Their houses are beautifully decorated with the wooden doors at the entrance, exquisitely carved with tribal motifs. The front area of the house is often painted with the well acclaimed and nationally famous ‘Pithora Paintings’ adorned in bright and attractive red, green, yellow and blue colors. All the colors used are natural colors made from fruits, flowers, vegetables and tree extracts. Their traditional folk dance ‘Timli’ has all the graceful moves and is performed by both men and women alike. It is renowned all over Gujarat and is accompanied with traditional old school music where in melody is well blended with catchy rhythmic beats. These tribal’s are very good artisans of clay and terracotta and make clay figures of horses and elephants which are well finished articles of artwork. Holi is the major festival of these tribal’s and the grand festivities last for five long days during which a fair is organized wherein young boys choose ornamented girls and opt to run away with them, signaling their intention to marry them. These tribal’s carry a reputation of being good archers and make their bows and arrows from bamboo sticks that grow aplenty in their surroundings.
Fortunately for the Jambughoda Wildlife Sanctuary, all these tribal’s residing in the forest are land holding farmers and therefore the sanctuary does not carry on its back any tribal residents who can be tagged as ‘merciless hunters’. This is a primary reason why the human-animal conflict is unheard of in this part of the world. The crops that they annually harvest around the year are maize, groundnut, cotton, rice and wheat. Fortunately, Jambughoda Wildlife Sanctuary enjoys maximum rainfall in the entire Panchmahal district and central Gujarat.The terrain here is clearly and visibly divided in two categories, the plains which are agricultural in nature where the tribal’s do most of the farming and the rocky and mountainous terrain of the Vindhya foothills, which is a perfect natural hideout for huge variety of wild animals.
The forest department had taken a tough call of inviting the tribal villagers to participate as major partners in a project of equipping the Sanctuary with eco tourism centers at various points to propagate tourism in the area in form of Wildlife lovers, birdwatchers and weekenders, and they have successfully done it with active tribal participation. Three out of these four eco tourism centers are located within the sanctuary itself and are successfully run by the tribal unions. These eco tourism centers are a huge success owing to the wide range of flora in the sanctuary that consists of about 116 varieties of trees and plants, dominated by Bamboo, Teak and Mahua trees. The dense foliage along with the thick out growth houses about 132 kinds of beautiful, photogenic and chirpy bird species.
To end, I am proud to be a part of the nature’s school at the Jambughoda Wildlife Sanctuary. It is evidently, a small but well-managed sanctuary, one which is safe for both humans and the animals and has been non controversial in its projection over the years. Above all one neither gets to see nor hear of the leopards being pelted with stones and left to die or burnt alive.