Lifeline for antelopes

Lifeline for antelopes

More often than not, we focus so much on the tragedies that the good stories slip past us, unnoticed. It’s not so very different in the world of wildlife conservation. Take the case of this quaint place called Rangayyanadurga in the dry district of Davangere. Davangere is known for its textile industry and butter dosa, but wildlife conservation is definitely not something it is known for.

However, a successful conservation story was made possible in the district through the partnership of wildlife biologists, local conservation enthusiasts, elected representatives and the Forest Department. The story started in 2008, when wildlife biologist Sanjay Gubbi, along with local conservation enthusiasts, Ravi Kumar, a doctor in a local hospital and Srinivas, a local journalist, first noted the presence of the four-horned antelope (FHA), a shy and secretive antelope, in the dry deciduous and scrub forests of Rangayyanadurga.

The publication of the discovery in scientific journals and the media alike ensured that the spotlight now fell on this once neglected forest. Following Gubbi’s discovery of the FHA and his proposal seeking declaration of Rangayyanadurga as a wildlife sanctuary to the government and local leaders including the MLA, the ball started rolling. Importantly, Gurusiddanagoudar, a senior political leader and nature lover, put his weight behind the idea and convinced several other local leaders.

Forest officers Dilip Kumar, B K Singh, Meera Saxena and M H Swaminath ensured full support for the cause. These honest, green-to-the-core officers, ensured that the notification to declare the area a wildlife sanctuary (77 sq km) came through. The combined effort led to the declaration of the first ever wildlife sanctuary in India for the protection of a lesser known species such as the FHA in January 2011. The declaration sailed through despite severe lobbying by vested interests, including some “green energy” companies who were vying to set up windmills in Rangayyanadurga. This success story sets an excellent example for a model wherein wildlife biologists, forest officials, conservation enthusiasts and, importantly, political leaders could achieve remarkable results for wildlife if they worked in tandem. It is essential for wildlife biologists to convince the other parties involved, as can be seen in the case of Rangayyanadurga, if their research results have to make a real difference to on-ground conservation.

The present situationBasavraj has been working in Rangayyanadurga State Forest (RSF) in Davangere district all his life. When we met him last year, he was still a temporary watcher, albeit with a passion for wildlife and a will to protect Rangayyanadurga. He could name almost all the trees in Kannada, patrol the vast area even when others got some shut eye or took a break. Today he is promoted to permanent staff position and happily tells us how the sanctuary declaration will help him conserve the land for the diminutive four-horned antelope, curtail illegal timber collection, poaching, mining etc, when various wildlife policies will be upheld under the wildlife sanctuary status. Post declaration, permission given to windmill installations have been cancelled.

However, the Forest Department is yet to transfer this area to the wildlife division which is very critical in halting poaching of FHA and degradation of the habitat. The territorial division, which currently manages the area, is not geared to handle poaching incidents while they focus more on developmental and forestry activities. The transfer needs to happen soon if this region’s wildlife population has to be saved.

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