Local grazers and farmers have ensured the ecosystem remained healthy
When a group of ecologists began their survey of the arid and rocky landscape of the 1500-acre Indian Institute of Science campus in Chitradurga, they least expected to hit upon a biodiversity treasure trove.
The new campus — where a massive high-energy electron accelerator has been proposed among other major projects — is in fact a thriving habitat for rare and endangered species, including, most excitingly for the researchers, the blackbuck.
In its checklist, the ‘rapid biodiversity survey' conducted by students and faculty of the Centre for Ecological Sciences at IISc. has: the Indian fox, “a grassland specialist”, the baya weaver known for its complicated nest, the large great horned owl and scores of reptiles that inhabit the shrubs, creepers and herbs of this ecosystem.
While the team had heard “rumours” from residents that blackbuck have been sighted here, “we ecologists, with our usual cynicism and arrogance dismissed these accounts,” they write in their report. After all, blackbuck are rare, endangered and cling to vanishing patches of grasslands. “So imagine our surprise when we saw blackbuck on our first morning out!”
The team, which crisscrossed the campus with their survey maps, cameras and GPS devices, “getting endlessly lost” in the vast flat landscape, now recommends that this startlingly rich biodiversity be preserved in development plans for the campus.
Some areas must be set aside as “protected preserves” within the campus — including the rocky outcrops of northwest part of the campus and the grasslands at the centre of the campus.
The report recommends several measures to ensure “ecologically sensitive development”. These include building a peripheral road around the campus, avoiding fences and walls around buildings to give animals such as blackbuck freedom to move. The campus, along with those allotted to other research organisations such as DRDO are islands of natural vegetation, taken over from local grazers and farmers who ensured the ecosystem remained healthy, the report points out.