The Jayamangali blackbuck conservation reserve is slowly losing its treasured animal to development

“The last time I was here, I was almost lost looking for it. No one understood when I asked for the blackbuck sanctuary. I even tried the local word Krishna Mriga,” said my travel companion, as we went looking for the Jayamangali or the Maidenhalli Blackbuck Conservation Reserve beyond Tumkur. We were not surprised listening to her. For most people, a wildlife sanctuary would be synonymous with tigers, leopards, elephants and other large mammals. The blackbuck would have probably been lost in oblivion, if it had not been for wildlife enthusiasts and conservationists!

It took us almost four hours to reach the sanctuary. The region was known for its heritage trails, rocky outcrops, forts and cliffs but the landscape changed as we drove further. Located close to Madhugiri in Karnataka and Hindupur in Andhra Pradesh border, the reserve cuts across two villages, one of them being Maidenhalli. However, it now takes the name of the river Jayamangali that flows in the region.

A sight to behold

I had been planning to visit the destination for more than a couple of years now and was mesmerised the moment I set foot on the reserve. A vast stretch of grasslands glowed in the evening sun, swaying in the golden light, as trees stood amidst them. We sighted a pair of Indian coursers in the grass and looked around for more birds and mammals. Hemmed in by eucalyptus groves, the blackbucks quietly made an entry, their horns visible above the grass as they grazed around.

When I spoke to TVN Murthy, honorary wildlife warden of Tumkur and founder of the NGO Wildlife Aware Nature Club, who had been instrumental in getting the government to set up this sanctuary, he said he had chanced upon this way back in 1989. “We were creating wildlife awareness programmes in village schools, when some of the students mentioned that they had sighted blackbucks in the fields. We then saw the animals grazing peacefully in the agricultural land, even as farmers cultivated. It is virtually impossible to see such coexistence today,” he said.

Decline in number

The reserve of 798 acres came up much later in 2007 even as Murthy and his team relentlessly pursued the issue with the government. The first blackbuck census done in 1997 showed that there were 408 black bucks in the area, which increased to 610 in 2002. “However the population had decreased to 454 in 2009 and in the last census done in February 2012, there were just 257 blackbucks in the area,” said Murthy adding that the destruction of habitat is the main reason for the dwindling numbers.

We watched the blackbucks arrive in herds, oblivious to our presence. Some of them stood up and stared at us. The evening sun lit the grasslands, giving it a magical feel. We sighted more birds and looked for reptiles and small mammals in the undergrowth.

While poaching may not be the main issue here, Murthy added that development had taken its toll here. “A road has been built connecting the two villages, the grasslands and fields are giving way to vineyards and eucalyptus groves, pesticides are used everywhere, the crop pattern has changed here…, so almost all the blackbucks are moving from the protected reserve to areas beyond Tumkur and Sira as well. Once they leave the reserve, there is no way we can monitor them,” Murthy said.

Even as we spoke, a rosy hue filled the sky touching the peaks of the distant mountains that circled the reserve. We looked for wolves, but saw a few dogs, which Murthy said, were a big threat to the blackbucks. As the sun set, the grasslands turned crimson and these endangered docile creatures prepared for the night. As we parted company, we hoped they don't not leave the confines of their home looking for fresher pastures.

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