Bharatpur: Keoladeo National Park (bird sanctuary)
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As in 2017
An international study that used a new method to categorise risk of biological invasions in world heritage sites has found that Rajasthan’s Keoladeo National Park, formerly Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, is facing a “high threat” from invasive alien species, with as many as 14 of them thriving in the world heritage site.
Keoladeo was identified as facing ‘low threat’ in the invasive alien species threat level indicated in the 2017 IUCN World Heritage Outlook — the first global assessment of natural world heritage. But in a new study published in the journal ‘Biodiversity and Conservation’, researchers have categorised the site as facing ‘high threat’ from biological invasions.
The study noted that efforts to manage invasive plant species were taking place in Keoladeo but warned that threats are increasing and the site is likely to be incapable of facing future challenges. The researchers consulted with experts from Dehradunbased Wildlife Institute of India (WII) to identify potentially dangerous species.
The new approach has identified plants as the most common invasive species (nine) at Keoladeo. Two types of fish, common carp and African catfish, and two mammals — bovine (Bos taurus) and rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta) were also identified as invasive. So has a moth species (Parapoynx diminutalis).
“Most of these species are known to cause high threats and impacts elsewhere in India and in many regions of the world,” lead author Ross Shackleton, faculty member at the University of Lausanne (Switzerland), told TOI.
Professor K Sivakumar, head of the department of endangered species management at WII, who lent his insights to the study said there could easily be more than 50 invasive alien species on the site.
2019: Abandoned cattle overrun sanctuary
At Rajasthan’s Keoladeo National Park, the Unesco world heritage site formerly known as Bharatpur bird sanctuary, tourists arrive from across the country and abroad to see hundreds of species of birds, including migratory ones, for which the protected forest is famous. These days, however, they are treated to the sight of masses of stray cows and bulls, abandoned inside the forest by neighbouring villagers. Park authorities are now planning to raise the height of the boundary wall to 10 feet to prevent this incursion.
“It is shocking to see so many cows and bulls at a place which is touted as one of the best bird-watching sites in Asia. The government must do something to control this problem. People visit Keoladeo to watch birds in their natural habitat, not cattle,” said Anupama Bisht, a tourist who had come to the sanctuary with her friends.
Bird watchers and ecologists fear that the presence of a large number of stray cattle could drive away the migratory birds, which are a major attraction in the sanctuary.
Sanctuary home to over 375 avian species
Admitting that stray cattle have become a problem in the sanctuary, Bharatpur deputy conservator of forests (wildlife) Ajit Uchoi said, “I have submitted a project estimate of Rs 3 to 5 crore for raising the height of the park’s boundary wall. The current height of the boundary wall is 7 feet, but there are several places where it is very low because of the undulating landscape. These are the spots through which villagers bring the animals in. If the height is raised to 10 feet throughout, this problem will be solved.”
Three years before Unesco declared it a World Heritage Site in 1985, the Union government had banned grazing in the protected area. Uchoi said residents of nearby villages — Aghapur, Mala, Jatoli and Barso — usually bring cattle on trucks or tractor-trolleys late at night and let them loose inside the forest.
So far, forest officials have transported nearly 200 heads of cattle from the protected area to the ravines of Chambal, nearly 80-100 km away. “The presence of cattle in such large numbers can certainly disturb birds. In such a situation, the migratory birds will move away elsewhere. This could then affect the arrival of migratory birds in winters,” said ecologist, conservationist and Asian Waterbird Census Delhi state coordinator TK Roy.
The bird sanctuary is home to over 375 avian species, of which more than 100 are migratory — including the northern shoveler, pintail, common coot, painted stork and shag — and arrive in winter. The park also has fairly stable populations of deer, nilgai, sambhar, hyena, jungle cat, jackal, civet and wild boar.