An unobservant traveller, driving from Rajasthan and coming into Punjab by means of the town of Abohar within the Fazilka district, may utterly miss the truth that they’re passing by means of a wildlife sanctuary. The animals know to steer clear of the open and busy roads crisscrossing the land. And there are not any forests right here, solely farmlands.
The sanctuary is basically a close-knit group of almost a dozen densely populated villages the place tons of of the uncommon blackbuck roam fearlessly within the fields amidst the bustle of agrestic life. The forest division doesn’t personal any land on this space and but there’s a thriving wildlife sanctuary, house to 1000’s of untamed animals.
The sanctuary, which begins from the Punjabi village of Bazidpur Bhoma, can also be house to over 30,000 individuals of the Bishnoi group. The Bishnois are a Hindu sect based within the late 15th century in Rajasthan and are well-known for his or her fierce love for the atmosphere and all issues residing.
The Bishnois right here in Abohar have solidified that legacy during the last century by permitting their non-public land to moonlight as a particular reserve for the safety of the Krishna (blackbuck) and Chinkara deer (Indian gazelle).
Establishing a ‘private’ sanctuary
The particular person credited for the founding of the sanctuary is Chaudhary Sant Kumar Bishnoi of Dotaranwali village, born within the 12 months 1915. Sant Kumar grew up within the custom of wildlife preservation; his father and grandfather have been persistent of their patrols to drive poachers out of the world. Sant Kumar was extra radical and began fining the poachers and handing them over to the police. He mobilised individuals within the surrounding villages to grow to be extra proactive in defending the deer, finally forming the All India Wildlife Defense Bishnoi Committee (AIWDBC).
At the request of the Bishnois, the Punjab Government issued a notification within the 12 months 1975, declaring the villages of Raipura, Dotaranwali, Rajwali, Sardarpura, Khairpura, Sukhchain, Seetoguno, Maharana, Himmatpura, Rampura, Narainpura, Bishanpura and Bazidpur Bhoma because the Abohar Wildlife Sanctuary. Sant Kumar was felicitated with the Indira Gandhi Environment Award in 1992, and he handed away six years later. In 2000, the 13 villages have been legally declared a sanctuary underneath the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
Ashok Bishnoi, the grandson of Chaudhary Sant Kumar and a retired forest vary officer, is now the National Vice President of the AIWDC. He informed 101Reporters, “Thousands of people of the Bishnoi community are involved in protecting wildlife. They guard these creatures day and night. As a result, this is the only area in Punjab where blackbucks are now found.”
Guardians of the blackbuck
The Bishnois are zealous of their mission to guard the wildlife right here and have been managing the sanctuary with the assist of the forest division. The Forest Department has deployed 11 workers within the sanctuary and, along with 10 each day wage contract employees, they oversee the huge reserve unfold over 46,513 acres.
But the actual deterrent for hunters and poachers are the Bishnois who quantity within the 1000’s. The different communities residing right here, although small in quantity, have assimilated into the Bishnoi lifestyle and are simply as dedicated to the trigger. RD Bishnoi, head of the Punjab department of the AIWDBC, mentioned that many a time unarmed Bishnois have caught gun-wielding poachers and handed them over to the police. When the wildlife is in any perceivable hazard, even girls single-handedly tackle the hunters, he mentioned.
Anita Rani, Acting Range Officer, Punjab Forest and Wildlife Protection Department, credit the Bishnoi group for the shortage of poaching within the space for a number of years now. “The people of the Bishnoi community have saved these innocent creatures. They are always ready to protect them from poachers and provide first aid if they get injured,” she informed 101Reporters.
For the final 26 years, Rajendra Bishnoi has been guarding the sanctuary. He mentioned, “The forest department and the villagers work day and night. We have no fixed work hours. As soon as there is information about a wild animal being injured, we immediately reach the spot. If it is a minor injury, the animal is treated on the spot and freed. If it is serious, it is taken to the rescue centre for treatment. Many times we have even taken injured animals to Ludhiana.”
Apart from the blackbuck, different animals comparable to nilgais, pheasants, hares, jackals, wild cats, porcupines, wild boars and black geese are additionally present in abundance. The group right here takes efforts to make preparations for meals and water for the animals at totally different locations within the fields.
From delivery to dying, the Bishnois nurture the wildlife round them like they’re half of a big household. RD Bishnoi mentioned that the group performs the final rites of animals killed in accidents. Sometimes, after the dying of a feminine deer, villagers are recognized to bottle-feed the new child fawns.
“Visitors come here in large numbers and find inspiration to protect nature,” mentioned Kuldeep, the watchman on the Shaheed Mata Amrita Devi Bishnoi Park that was inaugurated final 12 months by Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh. The state authorities spent Rs 10 crore to assemble this memorial in Maharana village to honour the sacrifice of 363 Bishnois in Jodhpur three centuries in the past, who laid down their lives to protest the felling of timber by the king for his new palace.
In the shadow of this memorial, the Bishnois proceed to cement their legacy.
A dogged state of affairs
The sanctuary additionally has its fair proportion of difficulties and a latest improvement has left the Bishnois between a rock and a tough place. Attacks by stray canines on deer are growing. Also, the barbed cobra wire that was put in across the fields to guard the crops from wandering animals has been inflicting deadly accidents to the deer throughout canine assaults. RD Bishnoi mentioned, “When we raised our concerns, the administration banned cobra wire. So far, most of the cobra wires have been removed. But the dogs are still a threat as their number is increasing exponentially. These dogs attack the deer whenever they get the chance. In the last two years, about three dozen deer have died in dog attacks. Many nilgais have also been killed by dogs.”
With the final wildlife census performed within the space ten years in the past, there are not any latest numbers to drive house the seriousness of the state of affairs and, actually, there are conflicting views. According to Rani, when the census in 2011 discovered about 4 thousand deer within the sanctuary. She believes that this quantity has not decreased because the Bishnois have constantly protected them. But RD Bishnoi mentioned that the variety of deer has been falling because of the canine assaults. Rani guarantees a brand new census quickly. “We had sent a proposal to the Wildlife Institute of India Dehradun in this regard, which they have accepted,” she mentioned.
Ashok Bishnoi considers the growing variety of stray canines a significant risk to the sanctuary. “For us, all living beings are equal. We cannot protect the deer at the cost of harming or torturing the dogs. The administration should come up with a safe and speedy resolution for the stray dog problem,” he mentioned, highlighting the helplessness of the Bishnois in dealing with the canine assaults.
Forest division officers have taken up the difficulty with the district administration who’re contemplating a sterilisation drive for the stray canines. But in the intervening time, the variety of lifeless blackbucks and nilgais are piling up, based on locals.
(The writer is a Hanumangarh-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India community of grassroots reporters.)
Tomorrow: How the lengthy custom of eco-sensitive agriculture helps Bishnois of Abohar protect groundwater.
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