For the love of nature | No passing the ‘buck’: Time to save the state animal

Forest department and Punjab Biodiversity Board join hands with Bishnoi community, nature lovers to conduct census on blackbuck in its habitat in Abohar-Fazilka area

Baaz is the state bird and blackbuck the prized animal. Both seem to be crying out to nature lovers for help and this summer sees the blackbuck in focus.


The Abohar-Fazilka reserve is Asia’s largest open sanctuary spread over 186 square km of private land. The sanctuary was originally notified in 1975 and re-notified in 2000 under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.


The uniqueness of the sanctuary is that the Bishnoi community, eco-friendly by tradition, has been playing a vital role in keeping the natural habitat of the blackbuck intact to ensure its survival.


The sanctuary is home to various species of flora and fauna indigenous to the sandy area, including acacia trees, shrubs, jungli ber, cacti and succulents. Among fauna, the sanctuary is home to the neelgai (blue bull), peafowl, partridge, hare and jungle cat.


WHY THE NEED FOR FRESH CENSUS?


It is the need of the hour as International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) has classified the blackbuck as “nearthreatened”. It is also the Schedule One animal under the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
“The staff of the forest department has been conducting census in the past and as per the 2011 census, there were 3,500 blackbucks,” says Nidhi Shrivastava, conservator of forests (parks and protected areas).
She adds, “We are very happy that the Punjab Biodiversity Board has joined hands with us.”


Jatinder Kaur Arora, member secretary, Punjab Biodiversity Board and executive director, State Council for Science and Technology, says, “The effort is to conduct the census in a scientific method to avoid errors and also connect people, especially children, to nature. We are thus doing the census as part of celebrations of the International Day for Biological Diversity and World Environment Day.”

The event starts at Abohar on May 31. The inaugural ceremony will be followed by an orientation workshop on the census which will be conducted on June 1 and 2.


Senior scientist Gurharminder Singh says, “We designed the census on the pattern of transit lines, as is popular all over the world, to make optimum use of restricted financial and human resources. Care has been taken to minimise the possibility of errors in counting the numbers and not risk duplication.”


He adds that transit lines will be marked with flak-posts, painted signs on trees and chalk powder tracks.


As many as 13 teams — each comprising a wildlife volunteer, a forest ranger and one member of the local Bishnoi community —will do the five-km track, early morning and late afternoon to avoid the raging heat.
“The effort is also to sensitise the youths of the Bishnoi community as they may not be having the passion of the elders. It is the Bishnois who have been saviours of the blackbuck and its habitat traditionally,” says scientist Rupali. She adds that the idea came when Gurharminder and she were doing a field trip of the area and it was endorsed by their seniors.
“The task is arduous but the passion of the volunteers and nature lovers has been heartening.”


Nature lovers carrying their own binoculars and cameras include Gurinder Bajwa, a hoticulture officer from Hoshiarpur, Arun Bansal, an assistant professor from Chandigarh, and Varinder Kumar, a science teacher from Faridkot.


“We had to take care that all volunteers were healthy and fit to walk some ten kilometres up and down the dusty track,” Rupali said.


So in the midst of scorching heat, this motley but driven group is getting set to track the “near-threatened” blackbuck on a difficult terrain in Punjab.


(Source: Hindustan Times 27-May-2017)