Punjab Biodiversity Board (PBB) and Department of Forest & Wildlife Preservation, Punjab jointl conducted the Census of State Animal of Punjab i.e Blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) at Abohar Wildlife Sanctuary on 1 st & 2 nd June, 2017 by adopting worldwide standardized scientific methodology of Line transects to assess the abundance & distribution of Blackbuck in the sanctuary.
The blackbuck was notified as State Animal of Punjab in the year 1989 and its presence in the state is confined to Abohar Wildlife Sanctuary, District Fazilka only, due to unique habitat of semi-arid plains consisting agricultural fields, intermittent fallow/barren lands, scattered sand dunes, sand mounds & ridges. The sanctuary was notified in year 2000 and having an area of 186 Sq. km spreading across on private land of 13 villages. The land is mostly owned by Bishnoi Community, which is contributing towards conservation of the Black Buck and other flora fauna of the area. The sanctuary has been also notified as Eco-Sensitive Zone under Environment Protection Act, 1986 for having environmental resources of incomparable values which require special attention for its conservation.
According to Dr. Rupali Bal
Scientist, Punjab Biodiversity Board Punjab Biodiversity Board “the census activity was taken up as a special action oriented activity to commemorate United Nations proclaimed International Day for Biological Diversity, 2017 in the state, with the support of National Biodiversity Authority, Govt. of India.In the present census activity, total 45 personnel in 13 teams consisting of the officers/officials of Ferozepur Wildlife Division & Punjab Biodiversity Board, expert from WWF-India, selected wildlife photographers/ enthusiasts from Punjab and volunteers from Bishnoi community were involved. A special orientation workshop of participants was also conducted on 31 st May, 2017 to acquaint them to finer nuances of the census activity. The whole area of sanctuary was covered through selection & earmarking of 13 transects lines of 5 kms each in diverse habitats. The teams conducted the census activity thrice on these 13 transects on 1 st & 2nd of June. The Census was carried out in the morning between 5.30 a.m to 10.30 a.m and in the evening 3.30 p.m to 7.00 p.m in the scorching temperature of more than 40 0 C. The teams were reshuffled every time to reduce the human error. The gadgets like rangefinders, GPS, Binoculars and High end cameras were used during the census activity.”
She further said the population count of blackbuck stood at 3273, indicating continued peaceful co-existence of this Schedule 1 and Near Threatened species with the humans in sanctuary area. The population of blackbucks have been found to be considerably stabilized in spite of increase in human population and habitat fragmentation due to change in land use and cropping pattern in the sanctuary over the years, highlighting the versatility of this majestic species. The male/female sex ratio recorded as 35:65 (male: female) and a herd with maximum of 219 members in one go single route was also seen (by Kulbhushan Kanwar, Wildlife Enthusiast and President of Natural Biodiversity (Regd.) and member of the Census Team from Chandigarh. The highest density of blackbucks was found in Duttarawali, Rajahwali and Khairpur villages of the sanctuary. The census teams also observed certain current and impending challenges with respect to long term suitability of the habitat of sanctuary to sustain viable populations of Blackbucks. The major ones are putting up of barbed wires including deadly “Cobra Wires with bladed edged iron wire mesh” on the periphery of agricultural fields to avoid crop damages from stray cattle & Nilgai and substantial rise in the population of stray dogs, leading to organized hunting by them in packs like feral dogs, targeting fawns/sub-adults and expecting females. The fencing of agriculture fields with the barbed wires also restrict the free movement of blackbucks, putting them under stress, besides causing severe and fatal injuries especially from cobra wires during dog chase incidents. The injured animals are very easily predated upon by dogs. The District Administration has recently issued a notification for banning the sale and use of Cobra Wires in the district under section 144 of CrPC for protecting the wild animals in the Abohar Wildlife Sanctuary. Population of stray cattle in the sanctuary areas is also rising as farmers from nearby districts prefer to abandon their unproductive cattle there due to the protective behaviour of Bishnoi community towards all animals. The growing population of stray animals also competes with Blackbucks for the already shrinking open grass lands, resulting in their migration to adjoining areas outside the sanctuary.
Kulbhushan Kanwar and his team mate of Natural Biodiversity (Regd.) consisting of Dr.Arun Bansal, Dr.Anupreet Mavi, Col.Yash (Serving) and Akshy from Chandigarh observed that Black Bucks seen very comfortable near human habitat even still living there. But the stray dogs and fencing had made their life miserable. More unfortunate is cobra wire. Though the Fazilka administration has re-notified the ban on the sale and use of ‘cobra fencing’ (bladed edged iron wire mesh) in the entire district to ensure protectopn of wild animals in the open wildlife sanctuary in Abohar, which is subdivision of Fazilka district. It was learned from the villagers that 3 persons and a dozen of animals have become prey to cobra fencing in the past one year. Farm owners and even landholders in the sanctuary area . Number of cases reported by the residents that stray dogs, cobra wire fencing and of-course the “Rakhas” employed by the land owners made the life of wild animals difficult. There is no doubt that Bishnoi community is doing their best to save the animals which have decades relationship with this community but after this area got irrigation water supply, the yield increased manifold and this lust/need of more corps is tarnishing their relationship. I propose that Government should acquire some land and these wild animals should be given their permanent habitat. This will not only save the animals but that will become a tourist place for common wild life lovers and wild life photographers and save the decade old relationship of “Bishnois” which is exploratory throughout the globe.