The eastern swamp deer, a 'backbencher' of the wilderness, has beaten the superstars of Kaziranga National Park to corporate funding.
The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd (ONGC) has adopted the subcontinent's last surviving subspecies of the eastern swamp deer (Rucervus duvaucelii ranjitsinhi) for a three-year conservation package worth R85 lakh.
Environmentalists, familiar with focus on Kaziranga's more popular animals such as one-horned rhinos, royal Bengal tigers and elephants, were somewhat surprised. But the oil major justified its decision by underscoring the eastern swamp deer's highly endangered status.
Kaziranga houses the only population - 680 as per the last estimate - of this herbivore species. It has been declared extinct in Bangladesh and Pakistan, the only other countries where it was known to have roamed.
Kaziranga has the world's highest concentration of tigers (32 per 100 sq km) besides the most one-horned rhinos (55%) and the most Asiatic water buffalos (80%) on earth.
The ONGC project, in collaboration with Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), entails assessing population dynamics, threats and factors limiting the deer's growth and distribution toward implementing a conservation strategy. This includes creation of new viable populations outside Kaziranga, if necessary.
"We hope the project is successful enough to be extended to other protected areas," said S. Gopinath, GM, ONGC.
Epidemic insurance for the swamp deer is a vital component of the project. "Diseases transmitted from livestock could be disastrous for this population. Besides, a single population is prone to the effects of inbreeding depression, making it more vulnerable," said PC Bhattacharjee, executive trustee, WTI.