Threatened by untamed dogs and stray cattle, the blackbuck, Punjab’s State animal, is fighting for survival at the Abohar Wildlife Sanctuary in the Fazilka district.
Change in land use and cropping patterns across the region over the years has also disturbed the natural habitat and consequent fall in the population of this majestic species, officials and experts told The Hindu.
In 2019, as many as 30 blackbucks died in the sanctuary, most of them on account of injuries caused by stray dog attacks. Five injured blackbucks were saved following medical intervention from the State Forest and Wildlife Department. Blackbucks have also died in road accidents, and by taking a fall into water storage tanks and concrete drains.
According to State government data, in 2018, 25 blackbucks died and 18 injured blackbucks were saved. In 2017, 42 blackbucks died in the sanctuary area and 33 were saved with medical treatment.
Privately held land
“Around 90% of the blackbucks that died in 2019 were killed by stray dog attacks. In the past few years, the problem has become even more grave as locals, in a bid to save their crops from stray cattle, have put up barbed wires and nets around farms. Such fencing restricts the free movement of blackbucks. When dogs attack and chase them, blackbucks collide with fences, which often results in fatal injuries,” said Anita Rani, Wildlife Range Officer.
Abohar is an open wildlife sanctuary, spreading across private land in 13 villages.
The blackbuck was notified as State animal of Punjab in 1989, and its presence in the State is confined only to the Abohar Wildlife Sanctuary, with its unique habitat of semi-arid plains featuring agricultural fields, intermittent fallow-barren land, scattered sand dunes and mounds, and ridges.
In the sanctuary, where land in mainly owned by the local Bishnoi community, there were 3,273 blackbucks, according to the 2017 census conducted jointly by the Punjab Biodiversity Board (PBB) and the Forest and Wildlife Department, against 3,500 in 2011.
To resolve menace
Wildlife activists believe that if the problem of stray animal menace is resolved, it would go a long way in saving blackbucks. “Successive State governments have failed to address the problem of stray cattle and feral dogs. If the problem of stray animals is resolved, then I am sure farmers will not fence their farms with barbed wires, which would eventually allow free movement of blackbucks and help them flourish,” said R.D. Bishnoi, State president of Akhil Bhartiya Jeev Rakshak Bishnoi Samaj.
Mr. Bishnoi said that even though the State government collects “cow cess”' in the name of taking care of stray animals, the problem continues to aggravate as no concrete steps are being taken to resolve it.
Abohar’s Sub-Divisional Magistrate Poonam Singh said that the administration was taking steps to protect blackbucks. “For the past over a year, we have been successful in removing most of the ‘cobra’ wires. Also, along with the Wildlife Department, we have been persuading locals to remove barbed wires by creating awareness among them about the ill-effects of these wires,” she said, adding that the sale and use of barbed wires has been banned.
Cobra wire has a blade-edged iron mesh and is one of the reasons behind fatal injuries caused to blackbucks.