How the swamp deer managed to come back from the brink of extinction

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The number of swamp deer fell from just 66 in 1970 to 1,100 in Madhya Pradesh

Representative image. News18

Barasingha, also known as swamp deer, may not be the king of the forest, but when it comes to his beauty and demeanor, he is no less than the forest monarch. Seeing it is a wonderful experience. This is the reason why the swamp deer is the state animal of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

The Bedri species of Barasingha is found in Madhya Pradesh, while the duvauceli species is found in Uttar Pradesh. Another species – Ranjitsinhi – is found in Kaziranga National Park and Manas National Park. All these swimming deer look alike. Yet there is a difference in their physical structure, behavior and lifestyle.

This distinction is made with the help of their horns, hooves, heads and their breeding system. The hooves of the swamp deer, found in the swampy lands of the Terai region of Uttar Pradesh, Assam and the Sundarbans, are slightly apart. Their heads are slightly larger than their counterparts found in other parts of the country.

Barasingha in danger

In the past, swamp deer were found in the Ganges, Indus and Brahmaputra valleys. They inhabited areas stretching from central India to the Godavari River in the south.

However, over the past century and a half their numbers have declined considerably. Now they are confined to the upper region of Assam, the plains of the Ganges, the Sundarbans and the valley of the Godavari river.

In 1950, the animal was confined to the Kanha Forest due to hunting and the lack of natural habitat. And its number has increased from 3,000 to 100 in Madhya Pradesh.

The government, worried about the fall in its numbers, imposed a ban on its hunting. It was the first step in preserving Madhya Pradesh’s wildlife even before it was granted state status. The ban, however, was unable to prevent swamp deer hunting, which numbered 66 in 1970. It seemed that this species would soon be extinct.

To show tigers to tourists, a prey was reserved for them in the 1960s. Tigers came out of the forest for prey. This is how the desire of tourists to see tigers came true. When the tourist season ended and prey was not just for tigers, the big cats were still looking to kill the Barasinghas. As soon as the rangers heard about it, they stopped keeping prey for the tigers.

The officers and employees of the Madhya Pradesh forestry department took the initiative to save this animal and developed a strategy. After the passage of the Wildlife Preservation Act in 1972, a reserved area was created for Barasingha.

To save Barasinghas, it was necessary to preserve its declining habitat. This is the reason why human settlements in Kanha National Park have been moved to different places. In 1969, the first village, remodeled in India to preserve wildlife, was Sounp. It was the first step the government took to save Barasingha and other wildlife.

In the 1970s, the management of Kanha National Park decided to keep the Barasinghas in an enclosure to save them from carnivorous animals. This was done to keep this shy animal free from tension, to let it breed peacefully, and to release it into the open after birth, so that their numbers could increase. Settlement of swamp deer in Kanha National Park has taken 50 years.

It is thanks to the efforts of the forestry department that the number of swamp deer has soared to 1,100 in the state. However, this beautiful endangered animal can only be found in national parks.

Officials from the forestry department then decided to move this rare wild animal to different national parks to be preserved. As a result, several Barasinghas were transferred to Van Vihar in Bhopal. After the success of this effort, nearly 30 swamp deer were moved from Kanha National Park to the Bori Forest Reserve in Satpura. This was done with the permission of the Government of India.

According to forestry department officials, it was necessary to move the Barasinghas from Kanha National Park to other places, as swamp deer of this species are only found in Kanha. Therefore, the spread of any disease would have endangered all Barasinghas in Kanha National Park.

Forest department officials said they would continue to move the Barasinghas to other national parks.

Shailendra Srivastava is retired DGP, Madhya Pradesh, and President of the Citizens for Change Foundation. The opinions expressed are personal.

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