More than 50 blackbucks have been plagued by stray dogs at Abohar Wildlife Sanctuary in Punjab, located in 13 villages inhabited by the Bishnoi community, over the past three years. Like authorities fail to curb threat, Bishnese fear the open shrine will shrink in the near future, reports VIVEK GUPTA from Chandigarh
wildlife reserve is a reserved area where animals and birds live a protected life. However, the Abohar Wildlife Sanctuary in Punjab, famous for its endangered blackbucks, is unique.
Endemic to the subcontinent, Abohar antelopes roam the streets and farms and even take refuge in homes at night, thanks to the animal-loving Bishnoi community. The Bishnois presented a proposal in the 1980s to declare their private and community lands in their 13 villages near Abohar as an open wildlife reserve.
According to information on the site of the Forestry and Wildlife Preservation Department, the sanctuary covers 18,650 hectares. It was first declared a wildlife sanctuary thanks to a notification from the government of Punjab dated 01-06-1993 for five years. The status was extended for five years on 08/20-1998 before the state government issued the final notification on 09/07/2000.
the Bishnois and blackbucks coexisted in this part of the world for centuries. The community’s steadfast connection to the rapidly declining antelopes played a role critical role in the conviction of actor Salman Khan in the blackbuck hunting case in Jodhpur, Rajasthan.
New threat to blackbucks
Several years ago, a new threat to blackbucks emerged in the form of stray dogs, which began to attack wild animals for food. In addition, the habitat of blackbucks began to shrink due to the increase in cultivated land.
The number of blackbucks rose from 3,500 in 2011 to 3,273 in 2017, according to a census conducted jointly by the Punjab Biodiversity Board and the Forestry and Wildlife Department. The Punjab has contacted the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, to conduct a new blackbucks census.
Area rifle officer Anita Rani said The booklet that blackbucks are not threatened by poachers and hunters but by stray dogs. In 2018-19, the dogs killed 25 blackbucks and more than 50 were rescued inside the sanctuary, she said.
In 2019-20, dogs killed 28 blackbucks while 80 were rescued and in 2020-21, 7 were killed and 43 rescued. This year four have been killed and 14 rescued so far.
Blackbucks have also been killed outside the sanctuary as they move frequently and become easy prey for stray dogs, according to Rani. No survey has been conducted to find out the number of stray dogs in and around the sanctuary, but they are in considerable numbers.
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Rani also said the dogs have killed as many as 84 blue bulls (Nilgai) in the past two and a half years. She believes spaying stray dogs is the only way to curb the threat. “We recently discussed the issue at a meeting chaired by Deputy Commissioner Fazilka. We are in the process of hiring an agency to sterilize the stray dogs inside the sanctuary.
There was also a proposal to sterilize and move the dogs out of the sanctuary. “However, Animal (Dog) Birth Control Regulations, 2001, make compulsory the release of a sterilized dog in the place or in the locality from where it was captured ”, informed Rani.
The Bishnois face a dilemma
The Bishnoi community is faced with the unique dilemma of saving both the hunted and the hunters: on the one hand, they want to save the blackbucks and on the other, they don’t want to harm the dogs.
“It’s appalling how stray dogs form a group of 20 or even more and pounce on blackbucks,” said RD Bishnoi, chairman of Akhil Bhartiya Jeev Raksha Bishnoi Samaj. The community had approached the wildlife department and even the local administration on several occasions but to no avail.
“We are concerned that the size of the sanctuary will decrease in five to ten years if the stray dog population is not controlled,” Bishnoi said.
Read also : Bishnois: Save the blackbucks from the dogs
Although the Bishnese are not in favor of killing dogs because it is not their tradition to injure an animal, they want them to be sterilized. “We want the government to strike the right balance. If the sterilization campaign is launched today, it will take a few years to control the dog population and then gradually reduce it, ”said Bishnoi, expressing his sadness at the“ insensitivity of the government ”.
Following the merger of the wildlife and forestry departments, the main bosses, who are all from the forestry wing, don’t care much about animal safety and preservation, Bishnoi said. The staff of the wildlife wing is also insufficient with few resources at its disposal. “The authorities must understand that wild animals are our national heritage,” he added.
Changing landscape affecting animals
When the sanctuary was erected, the area of cultivated land was much smaller. Kulwant Singh, a ranger, said that the area being close to Rajasthan, it mainly included dunes and semi-arid plains.
Gradually, the area of cultivated land increased with the farmers producing wheat and fruits. Later, farmers started fencing their land to keep stray cattle away.
Two years ago, most farmers installed cobra wire (sharp-edged wire mesh) around their fields, which proved fatal for the animals. “The farmers had to remove the cobra wires after the administration intervened, but the fields are still fenced with normal wires. They are not as deadly as cobra sons, but can still hurt animals, ”Singh added.
Bishnoi, however, insists the fields were fenced off to prevent the entry of stray cattle, not blackbucks or blue bulls. “A proposal to create another cattle pound has been gathering dust for several years. If the government transfers all the stray cattle to a new pound, I am sure many farmers inside the sanctuary will remove their fences, allowing the free flow of blackbucks, ”he added.
The current pound is not large enough to accommodate all of the stray cattle, Rani said. “We are doing our best to set up a new pound so that we can move all the stray cattle there. “
Farmers don’t want to hurt wild animals, but they also need to feed their families and protect their livelihoods, Bishnoi said. According to him, the government must come up with a suitable solution because people are ready to cooperate to save the animals.
(Vivek Gupta is a freelance journalist based in Chandigarh. The opinions expressed are personal.)