Helping animals to beat severe heat

Bishnois dig waterholes and fill them up in arid zones

Helping animals to beat severe heat

Summer months in Rajasthan is harsh as mercury hovers around 45 degree Celsius for nearly three months. Most people prefer to stay indoors during the day time in arid zones. Drinking water supply becomes scarce and people struggle to fetch it in some remote places.

The plight of animals is still worse as waterholes inside sanctuaries and forests dry up. On many occasions, they stray into human habitation. The result is human-animal conflict with the latter losing the battle in many instances.

Bishnois are known for conservation and protecting animals and have taken measures to mitigate the sufferings of animals. A large number of Indian gazelles roam in the arid landscape in Hanumangarh district, some 400 km from Jaipur. Villagers are doing everything they can to protect its blackbuck and chinkara population.

Led by 45-year-old Anil Bishnoi, a passionate  conservationist and a farmer in Pilibangan in Hanumangarh district, villagers have created temporary waterholes for a large number of deer to beat the intense heat.

 Farmers have dug up about 70 troughs, many of them in their own agricultural fields, in an areas of over 60 sq km, and filled them up with water to quench the thirst of wild animals.
Anil, who is working for conservation for 20 years, had convinced the armers in the region to dig waterholes for animals. The community raised around Rs 2 lakh for the purpose. He told DH, “With the help of about 150 people, we  identified a few places and dug small troughs and lined them with plastic sheets to prevent water seepage.

These troughs are filled with water every 10 days. Tankers with a capacity of 6,000 litres charge around Rs 2,000 per trip.” The size of the troughs vary and the longest is 18 x 18 feet. Troughs have been dug at Lakhasar, Likhmisar, Hardayalpura, Surawali, Burubanmoria and Khatravali villages of Pilibanga and Suratgarh tehsils in Hanumangarh district. Similar troughs are found at Daba Jhalar, Bhagwangarh, Sardarpura, Gawadia, Ridmalsar, Ratanpura and Dabla in Padampura and Raisingnagar tehsils of Sri Ganganagar district.

District administration officials say at least 30 blackbucks and chinkaras die every summer due to scarcity of water and in dog attacks. To quench the thirst, some animals drown in the Indira Gandhi and Bhakra canals which irrigate fields in these arid areas. “As there is no drinking water available in the region, animals get down to drink water in the canals. As the climb is steep, they find it difficult to manoeuvre and get drowned,” an official said.

A recipient of the state-level Amrita Devi Environmental Award in 2009, Anil has rescued injured blackbucks and also taken care of fawns and blackbucks if mother dies during delivery.

The Bishnoi community  has made a unique blend of ecological sense and religious sensibility which is their faith’s cornerstone. Owing allegiance to the 15th century spiritual leader Guru Jambheshwar, they believe that wildlife and trees must be protected. Jambheshwar had preached that harming wildlife and nature was as good as self-harm. 

With 60% of population in these villages being Bishnois, it has been fairly easy for Anil to get the support from  them, whose livelihood mainly depends on livestock rearing and agriculture. But when villagers knock the doors of the forest department and the district administration, they receive  unconvincing answers.

Speaking to DH, Assistant Conservator Forests Tal Chapar Suraj Singh said, “In the designated reserves for blackbucks and chinkaras we have made all arrangements for their drinking water and safety but it becomes difficult to control them once they are out of the reserve. They mostly die when stray dogs attack them. Otherwise they are shy to come into any human settlements.”

Denying that chinkaras and blackbucks drown in canals, Chief Conservator of Forests Hanumangarh, B R Bhadu said, “They are grassland creatures. They usually live in Bishnoi villages and if there are deaths they are due to some accident.”

However, noted environmentalist Harshvardhan believes that almost all Indian gazelles live outside the designated reserves and hence their safety has to be ensured everywhere. While praising the efforts of villagers, he suggested that the state government should support the movement and start a scheme for empowering Bishnoi community in Rajasthan. “It’s only the Bishnoi community which rescues gazelles by providing drinking water and treating injured animals. If the forest department cannot treat injured animals, the government should financially help the community as it is protecting and helping animals,” Harshvardhan told DH.

On an average 1,000 gazelles are injured due in dog bites and road accidents in the desert annually. Till a week ago, they were being treated only at  Jodhpur zoo. Now 17 other rescue centres have become operational. “All these 17 centres will have veterinarians. However, again it is the Bishnoi volunteers who are bringing the injured animals for treatment. It amply proves that here is a community working in an applied manner on conservation, but they are short of funds,” Harshvardhan added.

Wildlife and water experts also believe that the Rajasthan government should  include such regions under its ongoing Mukhyamantri Jal Swawlambhan Yojna (MJSA) and support communities which work for conservation and protection of environment.

“If the Rajasthan government claims MJSA is a powerful tool using which the state can tackle drought and water scarcity through construction of tanks, catchment areas, why can’t it make a separate plan for animals? The water department can earmark separate troughs for wild animals outside the reserve with the help of Forest department officials and Bishnoi community and rainwater harvesting project could be used to quench thirst of animals,” Water expert Rajendra Singh said.

Hunting of both blackbuck and chinkara is prohibited under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.

However, the Bishnoi community for whom serving nature is the religion, will continue to serve and conserve nature, with or without government support.

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