Blackbuck count at Abohar sanctuary in Punjab going down, reveals wildlife census - Hindustan Times
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Blackbuck count at Abohar sanctuary in Punjab going down, reveals wildlife census

ByVishal Joshi, Bathinda
Jun 24, 2023 01:04 AM IST

In a report submitted to the Punjab Forest and Wildlife Department recently, WII has stated that the blackbucks ‘are on the verge of extinction in Punjab’ as they were spotted at only up to 12 spots in the sanctuary in two population estimation exercises since December 2021

Punjab’s state animal blackbuck census by Wildlife Institute of India (WII) at Shri Guru Jambeshwar Wildlife Sanctuary near Abohar in Fazilka district has revealed a drastic dip in its numbers. The spotting of the animal was so low that WII experts said it was not possible to give an estimate on its population in the sanctuary spread over 18,650 hectares.

Experts of the central institute attribute the serious threat to the wildlife in this semi-arid region to the fast depletion of grassland and farming which has led to the destruction of their mating environs, livestock overgrazing and rampant predation by feral dogs. (HT File)
Experts of the central institute attribute the serious threat to the wildlife in this semi-arid region to the fast depletion of grassland and farming which has led to the destruction of their mating environs, livestock overgrazing and rampant predation by feral dogs. (HT File)

In a report submitted to the Punjab Forest and Wildlife Department recently, WII has stated that the blackbucks ‘are on the verge of extinction in Punjab’ as they were spotted at only up to 12 spots in the sanctuary in two population estimation exercises since December 2021.

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Experts of the central institute attribute the serious threat to the wildlife in this semi-arid region to the fast depletion of grassland and farming which has led to the destruction of their mating environs, livestock overgrazing and rampant predation by feral dogs.

A WII expert said that the wildlife should have been sighted at 40 places spread over 46,000 acres for fair population estimation.

“During the December 2021 survey, the WII team recorded 21 blackbucks at four different places in the sanctuary. Another survey exercise was undertaken in June 2022 to augment the number of sites but only 44 animals were spotted at 12 places. In the second project, four villages in the vicinity of the sanctuary were also included,” said the expert on the condition of anonymity.

Sources said during the twin census drives, blackbucks were not sighted in an adequate number to estimate the density of the species.

“WII follows a standard protocol to estimate wildlife population but, in this case, sighting is so low that one could not give even a rough number. It is an alarming situation for Punjab needs urgent steps to protect its state animal from vanishing in its natural habitat,” added the conservationist.

Officiating chief wildlife warden Dharminder Sharma said the central institute will be approached for a few clarifications including the methodology of the census.

Located in the heartland of the environment-loving community of Bishnois, the sanctuary is unique as it is owned entirely by private individuals or panchayats. A cluster of 13 villages in Sito Gunno tehsil was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1989 on the community’s demand to protect wild animals in their private lands.

The community reserve was home to hundreds of endangered blackbucks, blue bull (nilgai), wild boars and other species the previous censuses have shown. It is known as a unique habitat of semi-arid plains with agricultural fields, intermittent fallow-barren land, scattered sand dunes and mounds, and ridges.

There is no restriction on public movement, members of the Bishnoi community voluntarily guard animals against poaching.

According to the Wildlife Census 2011, there were about 3,500 animals and six years later, the headcount was calculated at about 3,273.

In its report sent to Punjab, WII stated the low detection in consecutive surveys could be attributed to the decline (in population) or migration of the resident blackbuck to better areas.

However, owing to the high reproductive potential of blackbucks if proper habitat conservation measures are put in place, they can thrive well in their present range, it added.

Once a dry area, the sanctuary region now has a network of seven canals that has encouraged more agricultural and horticultural activities.

“Since the land ownership inside the sanctuary is mostly private, sand dunes are being flattened to make way for agricultural fields and kinnow orchards and it has resulted in the loss of grassland habitats which are crucial for blackbucks. It requires a mosaic of different habitats to meet their needs for shelter, feeding, and breeding. The loss of these habitats has significant impacts on the blackbuck population, as they may become more susceptible to predation, disease, and inbreeding,” it stated.

A WII scientist said the Punjab authorities allowed underpasses on a national highway project crossing through the sanctuary.

“Our field surveys showed that farmers had created obstructions making wildlife vulnerable to road accidents, falling prey to feral dogs and straying away to other areas exposing them to other threats,” he added.

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