By Abinaya Kalyanasundaram
Located about 30 km. northwest of Bengaluru, the Hessarghatta grassland is spread across 356 acres and is surrounded by scrub forests. It is one of the last remaining grasslands in the region. It fringes an ephemeral lake that spreads across a massive 1,916 acres during the monsoon. This makes for an ecosystem that is a unique complex with diverse wildlife species – from insects (including 100 species of butterflies that have been recorded), to birds, both migratory and residential (a total of 235 species), plus several mammals, frogs and reptiles.
Several of these are endangered and protected under Schedule-I of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. This includes the slender loris, the Lesser Florican and even the leopard. A bird paradise, avians such as the Egyptian Vulture, Steppe Eagle, European Roller, and Spotted Eagle have also been observed.
Egyptian Vulture juvenile at Hessarghatta. Photo: Public Domain/Aranya Parva.
The entire region is an important catchment area and is critical to the water security of Bengaluru. “Protection of this area will also help the proposed rejuvenation of the Arkavathy river basin,” says Ramki Sreenivasan, veteran birdwatcher and wildlife photographer who heads Conservation India.
Unfortunately, this has not reduced the country’s apathy towards its grasslands. This biodiverse wild haven has been the site of ill-advised, disastrous “afforestation” schemes and continues to be encroached by urban development. Off road adventurists drive their vehicles across the lake bed, trampling the grass and damaging the microfauna. A threat to construct a mega film city first proposed in 2008, has resurfaced. If approved, it will wipe out 150 acres of the grasslands.
In 2014, several conservationists sent a proposal to the Karnataka Forest Department to declare 5,000 acres of Hessarghatta land as a Conservation Reserve. With public pressure, hopefully this will succeed. The Forest Department, and State Animal Husbandry Department own much of the land. The idea was put up to the State Board for Wildlife (SBWL), but was rejected in February 2021. Clearly, ‘development at all costs’ seems to be their motto.