The Palani Hills, besides having a variety of natural landscapes, is also home to a wide range of agricultural practices. Understanding these practices is crucial to understanding the local human wildlife interactions.
The early inhabitants of the Palani Hills cultivated various types of millets and paddy, mostly for their sustenance along with cash crops like garlic and banana. These crops would be carried down the hills by horses or as head loads for trade to the plains and en route villages.
However things have changed drastically in the last 30 to 40 years. According to Shanmugam, from Vilpatti, in the olden days, crops like paddy, finger millet, little millet and foxtail millet formed the bulk of their produce. However in more recent times, in the upper Palanis, cash crops like carrots, potatoes and radish have taken over their fields. Shanmugam explains that cash crops can be harvested several times in a year, thereby providing a sustained income.
Agricultural practices in the middle and lower hills differ somewhat from those in the upper hills. Although crops like millets and paddy did form a part of their produce, these areas were also largely taken up by big plantations which grew coffee and banana.
These plantations were first established under colonial rule in the mid nineteenth century. The first coffee plantation was established in 1836 in the lower Palanis. Although cardamom was being cultivated in small quantities by people in the villages, they became a part of big plantations by the end of the century (Norstrom, 2003, 29). Influenced by the plantations, people also took to growing crops like coffee, banana cardamom and pepper. Today, traditional crops have disappeared both from the upper and lower hills and have been replaced by a variety of cash crops.
Typically, in the upper Palanis, crops like carrot, potato and peas need no canopy. Below is a picture of Kukkal village and the agricultural fields surrounded by the KWS. Gaur, sambardeer, wild boar and monkeys are frequent visitors to agriculture fields. Although wild boars and monkeys come to fields close to the village and venture much further from the forest, instances of Sambar deer eating crops is restricted to fields adjoining the KWS border. Gaur on the other hand venture further than the deer but are chased away much before the fields nearing the villages. According to Murugan in Poombarai village, Gaurs are spotted much before wild boars and are chased into the forest.
Adukkam village on the other hand is lower than Kukkal village ( about 1300m). Coffee, pepper, banana, orange and lemon are the main crops grown here. The fields in Adukkam closely resemble the forest around them in terms of tree cover and canopy. The picture below shows no distinction between agriculture land and the forest. Here, although sambar deer and barking deer are seen raiding crops adjoining the forest they rarely venture past that, Gaur and wild boar are able to easily venture into the fields, move from one field to another with less chance of being spotted, and therefore are able to enter fields very close to the villages.
In the coming months, we hope to find many more correlations to better understand the interactions between humans and wildlife in the Palani hills.
1. Dhruv Athreye in February 2018 began a survey of mammals in the Palani Hills and is publishing notes of his field work.