Op-Ed: Saving Wildlife the Ganjam Way

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: At a time when saving wildlife has become a challenge for the authorities it is heartening to note that blackbucks ( Antilope cervicapra ) have found a safe sanctuary in the Betnai-Balipadar area of Ganjam district with their population growing at a fast clip.

During the last census in 2018 officials in Ganjam had counted 4082 blackbucks, an increase of 276 compared to their 2015 population. In 2011 the number of these ruminants, locally called krushnasar mruga, in the district was 2194. The growth rate for these animals, with their major concentration in Betnai-Balipadar area, has been around 20 percent.

One of the reasons for this phenomenal growth in the blackbuck population is that people in the Betnai-Belpadar belt, comprising around 14 villages, treat the species, also known as the Indian antelope, almost reverentially. People of the region protect the animals zealously as they are considered to be harbingers of good luck.

While forest officials and local people have joined hands to save these antelopes another important reason for the rise in their population is the absence of predators like tigers in the area. The growth in their population has been so stupendous that it is beginning to cause management problems for forest officials.

The animals, which roam around freely, often destroy standing crops which could be a provocation for people to harm them though nothing of the kind has happened so far. Blackbucks from the region have also started migrating to other areas like Polsara and Bhanjanagar in Ganjam.

The possibility of forest officials discussing issues such as crop destruction with the local community members involved in the protection of these ruminants is not being ruled out. It is being pointed out that while local people are enthusiastic about the protection of these animals they remain worried about the damage being caused to their crops. There have also been instances of land being left fallow for the fear of crops being run over by the ruminants.

In fact, one of the reasons for the migration of blackbucks from Betnai-Balipadar region to other areas is the need for agricultural crops to feed on. But the fact that their population has shown consistent increase in the district is proof that animals can co-exist peacefully with humans.

Yet another example of such happy co-existence between humans and wildlife comes from the Pakidi hill region of the same district. The hill near Aska is home to around 1000 peacocks, the largest concentration of the national bird at any one place in the state.

The brightly plumaged birds, which attract tourists to the area in hordes, enjoy the same kind of love and protection from the local people as the blackbucks. In fact, peacock protection has turned into a popular movement in the area with a Peacock Protection Committee (PCC) having been formed by the people of villages in the periphery of the hill with the support of forest department. The birds feed on ripe tomatoes and red chillies which the people of the area grow in abundance. It is a measure of their love for these birds that during the summer months they keep pots filled with water outside their houses for them to slake their thirst.

If wildlife in Odisha has to survive and thrive we need people in all parts of the state to display similar love and concern for animals.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)