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More about Barasingha

In all sanctuaries poaching is difficult to eliminate completely and it is also something that has a much more harmful potency when the population of a species is already much reduced by hunting or other causes.

M Krishnan |

Two of the classics of Indian faunal and shikar literature, Forsyth’s The Highlands of Central India and Dunbar Brander’s Wild Animals in Central India, have their setting mainly in what is Madhya Pradesh today. Forsyth died in London in 1871, when he was only 33, and he writes about the Central India he knew in the eighteen-sixties; Dunbar Brander’s book was published in the nineteen twenties and relates to the preceding twenty years, half a century separates the two books, and both give reliable accounts of the barasingha of Madhya Pradesh, Cervus duvauceli branderi, as it was in their differing periods.

Today this subspecies is restricted practically to the Kanha National Park. Formerly it was to be found in other areas around as well, but now even in Kanha its numbers have dwindled alarmingly Dunbar Brander says that in his day the thousands reported by Forsyth, roaming in vast herds had already declined considerably in numbers, but even thirty years ago there were several hundreds of these deer in many herds ~ incidentally, Dunbar Brander thought the chief cause of this decline was sustained hunting by men. There are only about a hundred barasingha in Kanha now, and very few outside the area.

The question that is vexing the authorities at Kanha is this: what are the causes of this decline, and how can they be eliminated and the race revived? Many experts have been consulted and some, who know the area very much longer and better than I do have come out with partial answers.

One of these answers can be summed up accurately in these words too many tigers. This redundance of tigers at Kanha is something artificially induced, in my opinion, but while it has no doubt contributed to the decline of the deer, especially in recent years when they were already much depleted in numbers, it is not the chief cause. The tigers here also feed on chital and other wild animals, and on the sacrificial buffaloes offered to them almost every other day.

In all sanctuaries poaching is difficult to eliminate completely and it is also something that has a much more harmful potency when the population of a species is already much reduced by hunting or other causes. Protection in the Kanha National Park is probably much more effective in summer when the deer are to be found in open maidans and sal groves not far from the lodges than in winter when the ground cover is much higher and the barasingha have retired to farther reaches I do not have adequate knowledge of local conditions the year round to form any opinion on the effectiveness of the protection enjoyed by the deer, but still do not think poaching is the main cause of their decline.

It has been suggested that some obstinate, debilitating infection that affects the majority of the deer might be responsible for this dad state of affairs Dr Schaller, who has had exceptional opportunities to study the deer, has commented on their breeding being infructuous, with abortions or stillbirths accounting for many young, a thing that occurs when an animal population is stricken with such an infection.

The veterinarians I asked told me enough for me to realize that only experts could decide this question. They had no experience of such diseases among deer, but ample experience of them in cattle, and I asked them all this question in an animal population afflicted with such a disease would not the introduction of fresh, virile blood from outside benefit the community, apart from control and therapy?

They were very cautious in answering me, but agreed that such a measure would by and large be beneficial. They pointed out that breed characteristics would inevitably be effected by such outcrosses, but I do not think that need be taken too much into account in dealing with the barasingha problem in Kanha. The remedies suggested so far, apart from mine, are these strict and effective protection against poachers, the rounding up of a herd in a large stockade in which it can breed, fully protected and probably treated for infections, till numbers have increased sufficiently for the animals to be liberated into suitable areas.

This is a costly and large-scale remedy, but perhaps the only realistic one in the circumstances ~ in my opinion this is much, much better than attempting to preserve the deer in captivity, and in parks, as the Pére David’s stag is preserved. Surely the possibility of the magnificent barasingha of Madhya Pradesh becoming extinct is a matter of sufficient national and international importance ~ the main obstacle in the way of implementing the remedy outlined above, finance should somehow be surmounted.

What I suggest is not easy, but has these merits it is entirely independent of the stockade method and can hamper it in no way, it is biologically and genetically sound and based on the extensive knowledge we already have of environment and heredity in fixing breed and subspecies characteristics there is no risk of the deer losing their wildness and spirit, as there might be if they are confined to a stockade for a long period and it is practicable, or at least I think so.

Text-books recognize two subspecies of this deer the swamp-dwelling Cervus duvauceli of areas outside Madhya Pradesh, and the hard-ground Cd brandri of Madhya Pradesh ~ it is in the latter that the deer attains its best development. In Assam and even in Uttar Pradesh the marshland subspecies is today, much less subspecies is today, much less of a swamp dweller than it used to be.

In the Dudwa area of UP where the marshy tracts if used to inhabit have been reclaimed by men, I found the deer on hard dry ground, and I must say that I thought that here it resembled the Madhya Pradesh species somewhat in its habits and even in appearance I think that if a small herd of hinds and female subadults from Dudwa could be brought over to Madhya Pradesh and liberated, along with 2 or 3 adult stags of the local subspecies, in some suitable forest area from which the deer are unlikely to move out, and if strict protection is accorded to the herd or herds in the area, it will only a question of a few generations before a community which has all the physical attributes of the Madhya Pradesh subspecies and which is much more virile in the bargain will be evolved from this misxed stock The history of some breeds of domestic cated animals amply proves the value of an outcross in enhancing robustness and virility.

This was published on 23 March 1969.