Bindu Shajan Perappadan

Study undertaken to identify threats, conservation strategies

NEW DELHI: With only a few hundred of them left in the wild, the wild Asian buffaloes have been pushed to the brink of extinction in this country. Listed under the endangered category according to the 1996 IUCN Red Data List, Delhi's Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) in collaboration with the Chhattisgarh Forest Department has now initiated a three-year plan for conservation and revival of its present small population in the State.

MoU signed

The study is being undertaken in Chhattisgarh following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding with the Forest Department. Under this ambitious project, wildlife sanctuaries and national parks covering a geographical area of about 4,200 sq. km will be studied to identify threats and conservation strategies.

The project, the first of its kind being brought in to push up the dwindling "wild buffalo gene bank'', apart from recording their present population in the State, will also try to address some of the problems linked to their habitats. Genetic studies to determine the extent of hybridisation with domestic breed and in addition relationships of different populations and individuals will also be established.

Bulk in Assam

IUCN, the World Conservation Union, in 2004 estimated that the total world population was certainly less than 4,000 and may well be less than 200 or possibly no purebred wild Asian buffalo remains. It is estimated that the bulk of India's wild buffalo population (about 90 per cent) is in Assam.

Estimates by the Chhattisgarh Forest Department indicated that Udanti Wildlife Sanctuary holds a maximum of 60 buffaloes, Indravati National Park (49) and Pamed Wildlife Sanctuary (8), while in Sitanadi and Baihramgarh Wildlife Sanctuaries the buffalo is considered extinct.

Reproduction rate slow

The earlier home range of the species extended from eastern Nepal to India and Vietnam. During the 1960s much of their population was substantially reduced and eliminated from the greater part of its former range. Now in India, wild buffaloes are said to be found only in two States, Chhattisgarh in Central India and Assam in the North-East. According to Rahul Kaul, Director Wild Species, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), "since it is a big bodied animal, their reproductive rates are slow. Thus annual recruitment in the population is small.''

Hunting

Disturbances due to cattle rearing, depletion of grazing lands, scarcity of food and water and hybridisation with the domestic breed have threatened their existence in the wild. "Though plenty of rivers drain these sanctuaries, most dry up during summer, adding to the shortfall of water. Hence constructions of large water tanks have been a traditional way of conserving these animals. A major problem that this species in the wild faces is the traditional hunting practised among some tribes in Chhattisgarh, mostly during the Parad festivities,'' added Mr. Kaul.

Other factors

Extensive hunting, habitat loss, diseases and parasites transmitted by domestic livestock, inter-specific competition for food and water between wild buffalos and domestic stock, and interbreeding with domestic buffalos too have adversely affected their numbers in the wild.