A special drive to uproot the invasive lantana bushes in the famous Sajjangarh wildlife sanctuary in Rajasthan’s Udaipur district has helped in ecological restoration of grasslands and saved biodiversity. The month-and-a-half-long campaign was accompanied by the plantation of native species on the cleared patches of land.
The small sanctuary in the southern Aravalli hills, spread over 5.19 sq. km, is home to a large number of herbivores. Lantana camara , a thicket forming shrub, has covered vast tracts of land in the sanctuary, stopping the natural light and nutrition for flora and fauna.
The toxic substance in its foliage and ripe berries affected the animals, while its expansion stopped the natural growth of grass and other shrubs. With the herbivores not getting sufficient forage, the prey base for carnivorous animals was declining, leading to ecological disturbances in the food chain.
The “mission lantana” was taken up last month at the instance of a senior woman police officer who noticed an unease among the herds of spotted deer with the gradual shrinking of their natural habitat. Inspector General of Police Binita Thakur discussed the matter with wildlife experts and initiated action to get rid of lantana bushes, which had taken over almost 50% of the sanctuary.
The drive involved collective efforts and ‘shram daan’ (voluntary physical work) by the forest officials, police personnel, wildlife lovers, representatives of voluntary groups and local villagers. The volunteers used hand gloves and an equipment, monkey jack, for removing the toxic flowery shrubs.
After 45 days, about 10 hectares of land has been cleared. The Forest Department, which has planted over 500 saplings in the cleared pockets, plans to take up sowing of grass and a variety of alternate plant seeds as the vegetation useful for herbivores.
Udaipur-based environmentalist Satish Sharma told The Hindu that the drive should be taken up in the rainy season for the next three to four years to make a permanent impact. “The correct ecological approach would be the removal from top to bottom in hilly areas and centre to periphery in the plains.”
Tourism & Wildlife Society of India’s honorary secretary Harsh Vardhan said lantana, first introduced in 1807, had spread to wildlife reserves, river banks and the Project Tiger areas where it had obliterated native grass and reduced biodiversity. In some regions, the plant has made inroads into pastures and shrunk the cattle grazing areas, affecting the livelihood of villagers. Natural grass has started growing in the Sajjangarh sanctuary and the spotted deer and other herbivores can be seen foraging on the vegetation.