Blackbuck sanctuary

We cannot guarantee sightings at this time of the day,” said the forest officer. “Usually the chances are better early in the morning or late in the evening.” We had reached the Ranebennur Blackbuck Sanctuary at around 11.30 in the morning. And, we did not regret it at all! We were able to feast our eyes with sightings of several of the beautiful fleet-footed blackbucks grazing and lazing around, partially camouflaged amidst the vast expanse of dry scrub forest. A splendid stag grazing beside the muddy road lifted up his head in alarm hearing our car approaching, stared at us – the intruders – showed his displeasure by shaking his whirling horns in the air, and darted away in full speed into a secure scrub forest. Fortunately, not before I could capture it on my camera, five lovely does (female blackbucks) sped suddenly across the road. This forest range is a haven for the antelopes where they live, graze and breed devoid of the dangers of natural predators like tigers, leopards besides human intervention. Situated towards north-east of Pune–Bangalore National Highway, about 8 km from Ranebennur city, the sanctuary spreads in the ranges of Ranebennur, Byadgi and Haveri forest divisions in Haveri district.

This area was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1974, primarily to protect the majestic antelope, the blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra). Sprawling over an area of 119 square kilometres, it is divided into three blocks like Hulathi, Hunasikatti and Alalgeri for administrative purposes. It has a core area of 14.87 sq km and a buffer zone of 104.13 sq km where tourists are allowed. The Ranebennur forests are an ideal place for blackbucks. This sanctuary is also known for endangered species like the great Indian bustards. 

The vegetation in this forest comprises scrub forests and extensive eucalyptus plantations. Because of massive afforestation programmes, intensive wildlife management, conservation and protection, the blackbuck population has been increasing year after year, and as per a local forest officer, the numbers are about 3,000 today. Since the soil fertility is not rich, the local people whose livelihood mainly depends on agriculture in and around this sanctuary are on the brink of difficulty. They are engaged in cattle rearing and grow rain-fed crops like jowar, bajra and other millets. Most of the villagers are dependent on forests for timber and firewood.

Creating opportunities

Acknowledging the poor state of the locals in the reserve, the forest department involved them in wildlife conservation activities, and eventually, they were educated to understand the importance of wildlife. The forest department also realised that their co-operation is very much required to protect the sanctuary. Otherwise, any attempt to develop the place will be a futile exercise in the long run. The department also has a scheme of offering financial compensation to the farmers in case their crops are damaged due to foraging by the blackbucks. To avoid these, the forest department has cultivated millet crops in small plots inside the sanctuary with small waterholes to feed the crops.

To some extent, this sanctuary has been developed as a tourist spot. The sanctuary provides reasonably good accommodation to tourists at the forest guest house. The forest department regularly organises nature camps where school students participate to get an education on wildlife preservation, blackbuck conservation and habitat development, besides other flora and fauna.

Camp tent accommodation is also available for tourists. Several high platforms have been erected inside the park as viewing towers to watch the bucks without causing any fear to them. Visitors are allowed to take a safari into the forest only if accompanied by a forest guard. 

Nevertheless, people from different walks of life should not only see and experience the serenity and beauty of the natural environment in its richness inside this sanctuary but also understand the complexity and delicate ecological balance that exists within the biological world and the magnificence of its inhabitants.

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