Op-Ed: The Challenge of Managing the Black Buck Population In Ganjam

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Two black bucks (Antilope cervicapra) were recently found dead in Ganjam’s Polasara forest range. Both males their carcasses were recovered from different places in the same range. However, the carcasses did not bear any injury marks that led to speculation about consumption of pesticides being the possible cause of death.

What makes the incident significant is that Ganjam is the only district of the state where black buck population has been rising. The ruminants are supposed to have found a safe sanctuary in the district’s Betnai-Balipadar area. During the last census in 2018 forest officials in Ganjam had counted 4082 blackbucks, an increase of 276 compared to their 2015 population.

The fast growth in the population of these antelopes, locally called krushnasar mruga, is evident from the fact that in 2011 their number in the district was only 2194. Roughly speaking their population has been rising at the rate of around 20 percent which is saying a lot.

One of the reasons for this phenomenal rise in the blackbuck population is that people in the Betnai-Belpadar belt treat the species, also known as the Indian antelope, with great care and respect. The animals are supposed to be harbingers of good luck.

Yet another reason of black buck population growth is the absence of predators like tigers in the area. However, even forest officials admit privately that the spurt in their population has begun to cause management problems. The animals, which roam around freely, often destroy standing crops which could become a provocation for people to harm them though such incidents have rarely been reported. The recent death of two black bucks might force authorities to have a deeper look into this aspect of the problem.

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

Significantly the animals have also begun migrating from Betnai-Balipadar region to other areas as they need fresh agricultural crops to feed on. As herbivores this will be a constant need for them but it is important for the authorities to ensure that the equilibrium of their peaceful co-existence with humans is not disturbed.

One of the most animal-friendly districts of the state Ganjam has also set other examples on this front. The Pakidi hill near Aska in the district is home to around 1000 peacocks, the largest concentration of the national bird at any one place in the state.

A huge tourist attraction these brightly plumaged birds 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. One only wishes Ganjam continues to maintain its unique record in this field.

(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.)