Domestic Livestock at Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary
The Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary (Keoladeo Ghana National Park), a UNESCO World Heritage site boasts of hundreds of species of birds which make it as one of the best bird viewing centers in the World. It also presents to the visitor a prominently visible presence of stray cattle which play an important role in the eco system. While they are perceived as a potential threat to the avian ecology, also presenting safety concerns, they may also play a major role in weed control and often be beneficial to the eco system.
Undulating nature of the landscape makes it easy for cattle to gain access from low height areas. Increasing the height may help. Grazing in the area has been banned by the Union Government but residents from nearby villages bring in their stray cattle late in the night and let them loose inside the forest.
The ban in grazing was followed by many protests leading to loss of lives also. The presence of cattle in large numbers disturbs the birds. Cattle also break down the bunds and allow water to escape totally. Some weeds and grasses are not ordinarily eaten by other wild ungulates like Neelgai, Cheetal and swamp deer in the park. These weeds and grasses impact the avian diversity by impacting the fish populations (Eichornia infestation) and bringing about fires. Despite the ill effects, the control of these weeds and grasses brought about by cattle grazing was seen as a step which would eventually have a positive influence on bird diversity.
An observed loss of bird diversity by stopping grazing prompted the BNHS to suggest that grazing by buffalos needs to be reintroduced to control such weeds. The BNHS and the Government of India regarded Bharatpur as an avian oriented ecosystem dependent on livestock grazing and human fodder and thatch collection. Forest officials are also transporting cattle from the park to the ravines of Chambal more than 105 Kms away.
Bharatpur was never a natural ecosystem but a man made wetland. The BNHS has suggested that 2000-3000 buffalos could be sustained in the park but the surrounding areas of the park may have many more cattle. It is a management dilemma but domestic livestock has an important role to play and a controlled population may need to be maintained in the park for it to continue as one of the best bird watching centers in the world.
Also see https://youtu.be/jBg-3rtSgEI? (An Instinct Denied) , https://youtu.be/evPQBDq0CBk? (Kya Banega Phir Se Gharaunda. A Hindi Version of “An Instinct Denied”) for a fuller film produced by Srimaa Communication which discusses the breeding activity of water birds and the failure of nesting because of scarcity of water. It has studied the painted storks, the open billed storks, the darters, cormorants, cranes, egrets and the baya weaver bird in their wetland surroundings at Keoladeo Ghana National Park.
Acknowledgements-Dr. Yashpal Singh, Mrs. Neena Singh, Mr. Rajesh Bedi, Manoj Kumar Yadav