The Eastern Ghats (EGs) comprise a chain of ancient low hills in the state of Andhra Pradesh adjoining the east coast of India. These hill ranges are well known for a rich array of tropical forests with great conservation significance which support large human populations. A series of protected areas (PAs) have been established by the government along these ranges to conserve the regional biodiversity, but their effectiveness is often questionable. In order to assess the ecological status of the forests both within and outside the PAs and to assess the impacts of ongoing forestry practices a survey was conducted along the EGs. Plant species richness, and density of shrubs and trees, were estimated along disturbance gradients (core, buffer and fringe situations) using random plots of 10-m radius for trees, and 5-m radius (nested) plots for shrubs and saplings. Indirect evidence (spoor) of domestic and wild animals was recorded within the sample plots to compare habitat use by the animals.
Srivenkateshwara National Park in the Seshachalam Hills, Gundlabrahmeshwaram Sanctuary in Nallamalais and some parts of Srisailam-Nagarjunasagar Tiger Reserve, had the least degraded forests due to their PA status. However, collection of non-timber forest products, bamboo harvesting and livestock grazing continues in all areas irrespective of legal status. All bamboo areas have been heavily worked. It is recommended that bamboo working should be stopped in core areas of the PAs and reduced from nine to six months (October to March) in the buffer zones. Summer is a period of potential water shortage for wild animals and bamboo workers' camps near water courses may affect habitat use by these species.
The proposed Gudem Maripakhala Sanctuary, well known for its biogeographical value and diverse flora, is seriously threatened as a result of to extensive 'podu' (slash and burn) cultivation. It is suggested that an integrated approach to biodiversity conservation and better agricultural practices, should be adopted in this area. Some of the primary and old growth forests should be identified, mapped and given immediate protection, until a scientifically-based management plan is developed.