The construction of watchtowers by the Forest Department in Siruguppa, Ballari, which is home to the Great Indian Bustard (GIB), has led to a tug-of-war between the department and wildlife enthusiasts, with the latter alleging that it will lead to the destruction of the habitat.
“Forest officers invited some researchers to document the GIB and began patrolling and even took up development and construction works. Now, they are constructing a number of watchtowers/anti-poaching camps, roads and waterholes everywhere in the core GIB area. We were able to see at least five watchtowers being built right in the middle of the habitat. This is destroying the GIB habitat and will drive them away,” said Santosh Martin, a wildlife conservationist.
According to environmentalists, a large number of black bucks are also found in the habitat, besides foxes, jackals, wolves, and hyenas. The group of conservationists said it has been documenting GIBs since 2006 with the help of locals, and GIBs and their young ones have been sighted every year in the area, with 12 GIBs, including females and chicks, being spotted in 2016. Besides the construction of watchtowers, the environmentalists are worried about the grassland is being converted into farmland, with cotton, sunflower, jowar and the likes being grown in the area.
The 250-acre bustard habitat is on compensatory afforestation land given by various agencies in lieu of forest land diverted for non-forestry purposes.
“The Forest Department has not probably learnt from the mistakes of the past when it destroyed 100 sq.km of bustard habitat in Ranebennur and drove away all the birds from the notified area. The Karera bustard sanctuary in Madhya Pradesh is another example where lots of development/construction work taken up by the Forest Department and human intervention drove away all the remaining birds,” said Mr. Martin. He demanded that a management committee be formed to look into the issue. He also advocated patrolling on foot or using bicycles instead of four-wheelers.
‘To arrest hunting’
Ramesh Kumar P., Deputy Conservator of Forests, Ballari, defended the department’s move and said only two watchtowers were being constructed in order to keep a check on hunters coming in from across the Andhra Pradesh border. “Hunters come at night for black bucks, foxes and hares. The watchtowers being installed are within a kilometre of the border as these animals are roaming on private land and are being hunted from close range,” he said.
Effects of intervention
In a recent article published in the journal Biological Conservation , scientists from the Centre for Wildlife Studies, Foundation for Ecological Research, Advocacy, and Learning, and Columbia University examined the effect of types of land use, infrastructure, and human population on wildlife movement across two conservation landscapes — Western Ghats and Central India. They simulated movement and dispersal of five wide-ranging species in the Western Ghats (elephant, gaur, leopard, sambar, and sloth bear) and four in Central India (gaur, leopard, sambar, and sloth bear).
Natural areas constitute only 20% to 55% (in the Western Ghats) and 50% to 70% (in Central India) of unrestricted, increased and channelled movement areas, they pointed out, concluding that human land use and activities result in the loss of biodiversity and habitat, and also alter how animals move.