Imagine a reserve not for elephants or tigers, but for endangered antelopes; not with lofty trees and thick forests, but with wide-open grasslands. Welcome to Jayamangali Blackbuck Conservation Reserve. Tucked away in the district of Tumkur, about 150 kms from Bangalore, it is one of two grasslands in Karnataka where blackbucks are found. Formerly called Maidanahalli, meaning "the village of open meadows," the only indication of entering the now-protected area is a nondescript gate.
Wildlife of Jayamangalli
Once inside, if you are observant, you will be in for a visual treat. To maximize your experience though, you may need to follow a few rules. Blackbucks (Antilope cervicapra) are generally shy creatures that run at the first sight of anything unfamiliar approaching them. So try this: instead of trying to get closer, just stand back and observe them.
The beautiful dark brown upper-bodied males have a contrasting white underbelly and long antlers. The unbranched horns of the male blackbuck are ringed with spiral turns, forming a beautiful "V." In the high dry grass these horns can give away a perfect camouflage, and a trained eye can easily spot them from miles away. The antler-less, fawn coloured females leap when they feel threatened, gain distance, and slowly gallop away from the threat. Blackbuck behaviour is a treat to watch.
In addition to the main-draw blackbucks, the grasslands are also replete with jackals, Indian Foxes, hares, and other smaller mammals. The reserve is surrounded by cultivated land, which is excellent for raptors. Look out for harriers resting on rocks and higher mounds in the early mornings and late evenings. Male and female species co-exist in the reserve and can be seen hunting in their territorial spaces. A wide variety of insect species, rats & snakes found in the grasslands attract the raptors.
It is a treat in itself to watch murmurations of Rosy Starlings forming shapes as they fly around in flocks. On a hot day bee-eaters can be seen taking a mud bath in groups. If your spotting skills are good, you might see the Indian Courser, Yellow-wattled Lapwing and sandgrouses. Bay-backed Shrikes, Indian Rollers, and Laughing Doves are a common sight.
Additionally, you can see the resident Collared & Spotted Doves, Ashy Crowned Sparrow-larks, Bush Larks, Paddy-field Pipits, Red-naped Ibis, Bush Quails, babblers, Collared Kingfishers, Jungle Mynas, Pond Herons, Egrets, Common Hoopoe, Silver Bills, Red-vented Bulbuls, Sirkeer Malkohas, prinias, Crested Larks. Migrant species of birds include Montagu Harrier, Kestrels, Snake Eagles, and Falcons. Birds like sandgrouse and Indian Courser are seen in large flocks.
Protecting the Grasslands
The open grasslands of peninsular India were once widespread across the Deccan Plateau. Post-independence, however, they have shrunk to isolated patches, largely due to encroachment by man for cultivation, habitation, and industries. In 1987, the forest department of Tumkur Division began protecting the area when the blackbuck's presence was brought to their notice. In 1992, after sustained efforts by the forest department, the jurisdiction of the area moved from the Revenue Department to the Forest Department. The Forest Department then fenced a portion of the area and raised a nursery. A concrete watchtower was erected along with two wood houses and watchmen sheds. But the ownership of the land still rested with the revenue department.
Naturalists from Tumkur worked hard to have the area notified as a Protected Area, like a wildlife sanctuary. The first ever Status Survey Report on the area was published by Tumkur-based Wildlife Aware Nature Club (WANC) in 1997. This helped the wildlife wing of Karnataka Forest Department to source data on this area and recommend it be declared a 'Conservation Reserve'. The Government of Karnataka accepted this proposal. In February 2007, vide Government Order No: FEE 342 FWL 05, 798.33 acres (3.2307 km2) of the area was finally notified as Jayamangali Blackbuck Conservation Reserve, not quite the original area proposed, which was 893 acres, but Tumkur District's first protected area was born.
Where to go | When to visit
This area is a part of the plains of Deccan plateau and borders Anantpur District of Andhra Pradesh, located 23 km to the north east of Madhugiri town (Karnataka) and about 20 km to the west of Hindupur town (Andhra Pradesh). Given this geography, the climate varies greatly according to the seasons - from a minimum of 8 degrees Celsius in winter to a maximum of 43 degrees Celsius in summer. The rainy season is from late June to mid-October. The average rainfall is approximately 300 to 350 mm.
The best time to visit the place is either early in the morning or evenings. Sunset gives the grasslands a beautiful red hue. The other advantage of arriving early or leaving late is that a lucky few might get to see jackals.
Though the reserve is under the forest department there are no planned safaris or guides available around the place, visitors will need to use their own transport to get around. There is a well-marked mud road that runs along the reserve.
The signage for the place, however, is hardly visible and one needs to keep a look out for them or there are chances you will miss it. While most locals don't know the place by its name, they know it as the "krishnamruga park or jinke park," and they will be able to give you directions.
The closest town is 20 kms away and there are no eateries around the reserve so it is advisable to carry food and water while going there. Lodging is allowed inside the reserve but permission needs to be obtained from the Forest Department office in Madhugiri.
There have been concerted efforts by forest officials like Mr. Harish, who had a vision of creating awareness about conservation of the local species among the people of Jayamangali.
However, conflict between humans and the antelopes, especially given the encroachment of cultivation into the grasslands is a challenge. The use of non biodegradable substances and pesticides have a direct bearing on the food chain. Another issue is the plying of sand-mining lorries through the habitat.
A lesser known wildlife area like Ranebennur has already seen the major population of blackbucks wiped out, and unless Jayamangali is thoroughly protected, it might suffer the same fate.