Thirst is driving the famed chinkara to death in Rajasthan with officials saying that more than 50 of them have been killed in dog attacks in April after they strayed into human habitations in search of water.
Chinkara – also known as Indian Gazelle – is one of the only two animals besides the camel that is protected under the Wildlife Protection Act in Rajasthan.
Western Rajasthan comprising areas such as Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Bikaner is home to more than 7,000 chinkaras. But the arid region is also becoming one big graveyard for the animal amid a scorching summer.
“The chinkaras come to the water sources in villages to quench their thirsts where they are attacked by dogs. At times while fleeing, the chinkaras get entangled in the nets or the fencing that the farmers have erected around their fields and become easy prey for dogs,” said Pankaj Gupta, deputy conservator of forests, Jaisalmer.
Dr Shravan Singh Rathore, the veterinary officer at a state-run animal rescue centre in Jodhpur said at least two injured chinkaras were being brought for treatment daily after being attacked by dogs.
Rathore said the chinkara death toll due to dog attacks could be higher as the official figure took into account only the deaths registered at rescue centres. Besides chinkaras, blackbucks and peacocks are also increasingly falling prey to strays, he added.
Rampal Bhawad, a conservationist, said dog attacks on chinkaras have recorded an alarming rise in recent years. He claimed that a local volunteer group has been reporting at least 10-15 cases of dog attacks on chinkaras every day. On some days, it was as high as 40, he added.
Officials in Jodhpur pointed out that the population of dogs has grown exponentially in the region with strays being picked up from urban centres and thereafter being left in rural areas.
Harsh Vardhan of the Wildllife Society of India alleged the mounting chinkara deaths reflected the forest department’s apathy towards desert animals.
“The department thinks that they are outside the sanctuaries, so it has got nothing to do with them. Whenever a chinkara or a blackbuck gets injured in a road accident or a dog attack, it’s the local villagers who take the animal for treatment,” he said.
Locals, especially members of the Bishnoi community, revere the chinkaras. The alleged killing of a chinkara by Bollywood star Salman Khan in Jodhpur in 1998 led to public outrage.
Conservationists say the chinkara population has been declining due to rampant poaching and road accidents. Wildlife census pegged the total number of chinkaras in Rajasthan in 2015 at 7,762 against 10,049 in 2013.
A study done by experts using the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List data reveals that dogs have contributed to extinction of eleven species worldwide and are a known or potential threat to at least 188 threatened species worldwide.