Field stories: Maṅgana kāyile sanśōdhane (Research on Monkey Fever)

Shivamogga is a district of Karnataka which is known as the rice bowl of the state.  Agricultural land covers 32% of the entire area of the district. It is one of the areas affected by the Monkey Fever or Kyasanur Forest Disease (KFD). KFD is a tick-borne viral haemorrhagic disease which is caused by Kyasanur Forest Disease Virus (KFDV). This virus belongs to the family Flaviviridae.  It is transmitted by a range of tick species. Haemophysalis spinigera, is considered as one of the key tick species responsible for its spread.

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Numerous small rodents, monkeys and birds play a vital role in the viral transmission. Humans, who contract KFD virus when bitten by an infected tick or by coming in contact with an infected animal, are considered dead-end hosts. They are called dead-end hosts as they cannot infect ticks or other people with the virus further. Animals, such as monkeys, have started straying into settlements more due to habitat loss. The forest dwellers are at risk as well by getting in touch with ticks on a daily basis and livestock are also exposed to ticks during grazing. Such interactions have increased over time.

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I am a part of the Earth Observation team, headed by Dr. France Gerard and Dr. Beth Purse from Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, United Kingdom and Dr. Abi Tamim Vanak from Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Bangalore, India. We are working on the mapping of land cover and land use types of various districts affected by KFD from 1990 to the present. We aim to observe the changes that have taken place in the landscape over the years with respect to their social drivers. For our field work, I went to Shivamogga district along with Gowri Uday and Dr. Irfan Khan.  Field work was targeted to understand pattern of paddy fields and status of water bodies in the landscape and the collection of ground truth points, which are GPS locations of areas depicting their actual land cover/ land use. Apart from understanding agricultural patterns, we also came across various narratives shared by farmers and residents, highlighting the problems they face on a daily basis, ranging from unavailability of potable water to instability of income.

During one such interview, we came across Prema, a girl from Shivamogga city who lives in the middle of a forest in Thirthahalli. We also wanted to visit the farmers in the disease prone areas to understand the status of paddy fields present in the middle of forests. It took us two attempts and an hour-and-a-half long walk in the forest to find her house. She described how she ended up living in that forest after eloping with her husband from the main city at the age of 18, in the hope of happiness. She is 23 now and manages the household along with her husband and the couple is struggling to make ends meet. They live in a small hut, own a small paddy field and are dependent on rains for water supply for agriculture. In case the monsoons are delayed or scanty, they suffer a major loss in income. Her husband does odd jobs to earn daily wages to support the family. The nearest bus stand from their house is 9 km away and they have no network or any access to the outside world. They also mentioned ASHA (Accredited Social Health Activist) workers missing out on them every time they are in the area.

Being a concerned mother of a 3 year old daughter, she said,

“Nobody cares about us, we always miss out on everything. Just because we live here doesn’t mean we don’t deserve basic health care. I worry for Ibanni’s health and education. Do you have the vaccine akka? Can you give it to my family? Hospital is so far! What should we do, I am more worried for her…”

She had a shadow of regret on her face when we asked her about her life in Shivamogga town. If she had been in the main city, she could have had a job there as she is educated. With a cow named Gayatri and her family, she chose to stay contended despite all the difficulties of being stranded in the middle of nowhere. She doesn’t want the same for her daughter and regardless of the limited resources and inaccessibility to the main city, she is hopeful. Families like Prema’s are extremely prone to being affected by KFD and as a preventive measure they should be vaccinated.

In most of the areas, due to direct access to different parts of forests, people are at risk of getting bitten by infected ticks. Masthappa, another farmer we interviewed about KFD on the way to Hosanagara, said, “I don’t know about the Maṅgana kāyile (Monkey Fever), but if you are talking about monkeys causing problems, then yes! Are you here to get rid of the monkeys? They are a menace and we are having a hard time dealing with them”. Monkeys enter into private plantations and agricultural fields and destroy crops and such encounters with them are dangerous if they attack.

We also observed variations in paddy fields from taluk to taluk. In remote areas, most of the farmers depend on monsoons to sow their fields. After harvesting rice, they either leave it as fallow or grow other short term crops like pumpkin, ginger, etc.  Fields closer to cities are sown twice a year with rice due to water availability. We also observed that arecanut plantations were mostly grown along with chilly, banana, etc. Very few plantations were purely of arecanut or banana. It was evident that plantations have increased massively over the years and some of them are very close to the forests.

We witnessed so many interesting stories during our field visit, highlighting people’s awareness about KFD, the measures taken by people while visiting forests (like applying mustard oil and consuming vegetables like fenugreek leaves/seeds in their diet), impact of KFD on their health, and moving stories of those who’ve lost their family members due to this disease.

Be it the variation of landscape which helped us in understanding our work outputs or the condition of people susceptible to KFD, this field visit was very productive and informative in providing us with these insights.

You can find more information about the project work on Kyasanur Forest Disease here: https://www.monkeyfeverrisk.ceh.ac.uk/

 

About the Author:

Anusha Chaudhary is a Research Assistant at ATREE, working on Monkey Fever (KFD) risk project. She holds a Master’s degree in Biodiversity and Conservation. She is new in the field of GIS and Remote Sensing and has worked on forest cover change analysis of different forest types. She is interested in studying ecological interactions in forests, changes in water bodies and their management and effects of climate change on biodiversity using different techniques.

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