Tourist development activities across Matanga hills is likely to impact Yellow Throated Bulbuls in Hampi. Karnataka has already lost this rare and vulnerable species in other sites, so the need to develop the “area around Matanga hills as a Conservation Reserve” becomes urgent. Since the habitat of Yellow Throated Bulbuls (YTBs) in India is very fragmented and population is restricted to local patches only, the need for its “protection” has become imperative.
In September, 2018, naturalists had stopped illumination of boulders in these hills during Hampi Utsav as the contractor had destroyed the habitat of this species by clearing shrubs and bushes on a hillock. If any developmental activity is taken up in and around Matanga hills, it will sound the death knell for YTBs, says Santosh Martin, naturalist.
Martin adds, “Since forest department has no control over this area, we have to take up the matter again with Hampi Heritage Area Management Authority as tourism department is planning to light up the entire Matanga hills. Lighting will destroy the nesting area while any other disturbances in their habitat – boulders and shrubs – it will result in the disappearance of this rare species.”
According to Birdlife International data, surveys of 18 sites found that the species had disappeared from six historical locations. “Habitat loss is occurring throughout its fragmented range, suggesting that rapid population declines are likely to be ongoing, although habitat in south India is largely intact and in some areas vegetation on hills is recovering (S. Subramanya in litt. 2016).”
With data being poor, the species is estimated to be found in 11-100 locations across a range of 359,000 sq kms. Analysis of the detailed account in Birdlife International (2001) suggests that the total population may well be below 10,000 individuals, so it has been placed in the band 2,500-9,999 individuals.
As per records and observations in Deccan Peninsula by Ashish Jha, Indian Institute of Science, and published in Journal of Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) in February 2021, threats to YTB are manifold. It is inherently found in smaller numbers compared to other bulbuls in sites wherever it was recorded. It was recorded in three sites at Hampi – Matanga hill, Durgadevi temple and Daroji Sloth Bear Wildlife Sanctuary.
Ashish Jha states in his paper, “The YTB species is restricted to rocky hill slopes with intact vegetation. And this habitat is under-represented in the Protected area network of India. Further, dispersal limitations due to habitat fragmentation and habitat loss makes the remnant population vulnerable to stochastic local extinctions. Low intensive activity like farming does not impact the species as they were recorded in a hillock in Achalubetta, Ramnagara surrounded by farms and orchards. Prime conservation focus should be on identifying and mapping at the local level. YTB can be projected as a flagship species for the protection of granite hillocks in Deccan so as to attract conservation attention to these neglected landscapes.”
Endemic to Peninsular India, the Yellow Throated Bulbul is a small, pale brown bird found in rocky, hilly regions with scrub forests. It has a distinctive yellow head with olive grey upper parts, whitish underparts and so, one can easily identify this species from the commonly seen white-browed bulbul.
MANTANGA HILL HABITAT
Following its melodious voice with a high-pitched sound, we first found a pair of them perched at a great height on a tall boulder. They were still for some time, sometimes hopping from one end to another but we could capture their images in the early hours. But it is not so easy to detect them as they are shy and hide amidst the scrub foliage. One should be experienced and track its melodious calls.
It was Pompayya Malemath, naturalist and birder from Kamlapur who made us climb half way the rocky hills of Matanga hills in Hampi, Vijaynagar district of Karnataka. With his help, we could sight these rare birds. They are usually found in pairs, says Malemath. Even as we traversed from boulder to boulder, we were lucky to see a happy pair of Yellow Throated Bulbuls feeding on berries of scrub plants.
Thanks to naturalists and birders that the Yellow Throated Bulbul has survived as they have managed to stop granite quarrying or any other commercial activity in and around Matanga hills. Otherwise, YTBs would have disappeared for ever due to the high tourist footfall and commercial activities in the World Heritage Site.
“But still more needs to be done to protect this species as any habitat disturbance will lead to its extinction in this area,” says Pompayya Malemath. In fact, many places in southern Peninsular India have seen the disappearance of this beautiful bird. Despite Hampi being a heritage site, quarrying can be seen in and around the temple town which is home to many bird species.
Presently, it is found only in rocky scrub forests of Eastern Ghats and Central Deccan Plateau. However, they have been seen in a few places in Western Ghats. Birders have sighted and recorded this species in fragmented, local patches across Telangana, Tamilnadu, Kerala and Karnataka. It is high time, this species got protection in the form of a Conservation Reserve in Hampi, stress activists.