Karera sanctuary set to close as 'golden bird' visits no more

Following Centre's approval recently of a state government's proposal for denotification the region, comprising nearly 32 villages in and around the area, would be set free for villagers to carry out sale and purchase of land as well as other commercial activities.

The National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) chaired by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh in a recent meeting approved the state government's proposal to denotify the sanctuary, after its officials said that the bustards were not sighted since 1995 and that most of the land inside the sanctuary sprawling over 202 sq km was private land and people were facing lot of problems.

"Notified in 1981, the sanctuary in Shivpuri does not have an inch of forest land. As much as 146.66 sq km is private land and the rest is revenue. However, since they live inside the sanctuary, the villagers can't sell their lands and are prohibited from activities like digging and transporting material," Chief Wildlife Warden, R S Negi said.

However, the approval has come with a rider with the Board asking the state government to declare Dihaliya lake and a portion of adjacent  revenue land to be declared as sanctuary and probe into the reasons for the disappearance of the birds, as recommended by Mahendra Vyas, Member of Rationalisation Committee.

Indian bustard,locally known as the 'son chidiya' or golden bird is the most endangered member of the bustard family in the world and the total population in wild may not exceed 700. Poaching and habitat deterioration are the two main causes for the drastic decline of the bird which is now limited to Desert National Park (Rajasthan) and the Lala-Parjau sanctuary in western Kutch (Gujarat).

Wildlife expert and Board member, M K Ranjisinh noted that there was no earlier precedence of total denotification of a protected area and therefore, before a particular area is denotified, the authorities should first notify equivalent area where there is a sizable population of Great Indian Bustards.

A survey has also been sought to ascertain present status and distribution of status of the endangered species, especially to determine if there were any birds inhabiting in any areas outside Protected Areas and if so, these would be established as a Protected Area including expansion of existing Protected Areas or declaration of Conservation Reserves.

One of the mandate of the survey team is to find if there are no bustards existing outside Protected Areas or none left in Madhya Pradesh, an area equal to the area to be denotified in Karera Wildlife Sanctuary will be added to the existing Protected Area network of the State.

Denotification will only be permitted if the equivalent area is added to Protected Area network of the State, the Board said. But what is concerning wildlife experts now is the fate of the ungulates like black bucks and others species in the sanctuary in Shivpuri who too, they say, face threat of extinction.

"There are quite a good number of black bucks and other ungulates. What will happen to them if the villagers are allowed to sell and purchase the land," questions the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

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