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Blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) is the only representative of genus antilope found in India. It is one of the most graceful animals and used to be seen in thousands at the beginning of this century all throughout the plains of India except the Western coast. Due to extensive poaching and habitat loss, blackbuck populations have been reduced drastically. Now they can be seen in a a few protected areas like the Guindy National park and IITM campus, Point Calimere and Vellanadu Sanctuaries in Tamil Nadu and Rollapadu (Andhra Pradesh), Velavadar (Gujarat) and Chilka (Orissa) other than few parts of Rajasthan and Hariyana.
In IIT Madras campus too, their numbers have declined from hundreds in the eighties to less than 20 in 2003. In January 2009, the number has gone up to 21 with many efforts like removal of fences in the academic zone, periodic removal of stary dogs from their habitat area, closing of open wells and pits etc etc. Blackbuck require open grass lands with intermittent tall grass or bushes (for delivery, fawn nursing and to seek protection against predators as well as the rain and wind). This is unlike the spotted deer, which can survive in dense forests and bush jungles. Blackbuck are also very territorial and sensitive to environmental pressures. An adult male blackbuck tries to maintain his territory by marking it and defending it in the rutting season. When the population increases they require adequate space for healthy survival.
Similarly, the female blackbuck requires tall grass or small bushe to delivers fawns (one per year mostly). The fawn will "lie down" during the first one week hidden in the grass/bush and the mother will nurse at few hours interval. The blackbuck fawns are quite weak during the first few weeks and can be easily predated by dogs. Therefore it is very essential to have undisturbed open areas with small bush/tall grass cover for the healthy survival of young blackbuck. The fawn will join the mother and other group members when it is about two weeks old.
Their capability to run at speeds of 70kmph makes them the fastest surviving species on the subcontinent and protects them against most predators alive today. Due to shrinkage and fragmentation of habitat everywhere, the pressure on existing habitats is quite high. This also tells us that it is inappropriate to think of shifting and relocating them elsewhere. In addition, the casualities asssociated with such processes are quite high (see reference, Elizabeth Mungall, Indian Blackbuck). It is important to protect them in distributed and more number of habitats, where ever possible. Today, blackbuck is included in the endangered species list in India (included in Schedule I of Indian Wildlife Act, 1972). Therefore, IITM campus has an important role in protecting the blackbuck in the campus which is their original and native habitat.
The major reasons for the decline of blackbuck population in IITM campus can be attributed to the following:
Though we have only limited area in IIT campus, by judicious planning and willing heart, we can protect this national heritage in our campus.
The decline in population of the blackbuck is an indicator to the environmental degradation that is around us. Typical grass land birds like grey patridge and Hoopoe have almost disappeared from the campus, where as they can be seen in the adjacent GNP. This itself indicates the campus is becoming more and more urbanised and loosing its basic habitat requirements for wildlife like blackbuck and many other species which require less interventions from humans. The pressure on their habitat reflects the pressure that is building up on our own habitat. If we improve their habitat, it will improve our chances of survival on earth too.
To protect an endangered species in an isolated habitat like that of IIT or GNP special care has to be taken. The isolated habitat status makes them all the more vulnerable, unless habitat is maintained according to their survival needs. Taking these into account, if we follow certain simple principles, we may succeed in improving their population to a healthy level. This require participation and support from everyone who is a part of the campus and the local people who supports it.
Endangered animals or species are those whose numbers are at a critically low level and whose habitats are so drastically reduced or damaged that they are in imminent danger of extinction.
In India, the Wildlife Protection Act 1972, provides four schedules categorising the Fauna of India based on their conservation status. Schedule I lists the rare and endangered species, which are afforded legal protection. At present, approximately 81 species of mammals, 38 species of birds, and 18 species of amphibians and reptiles are considered to be endangered in India.
Why should we conserve Endangered Species?
We would not have been able to survive by ourselves. This is because all life on earth is inter-related and interconnected. Living things are dependent upon their physical environment - the land, water and air. Plants and vegetation form the basic life support providers on earth - Oxygen- and help to recycle water into the water cycle. They also provide food and home for animals, insects and birds pollinate flowers, animals help in dispersal of seeds of plants, parasites infest plants or animals.
There are also Nature's Cleaners- The crow, the eagle, the hyena, and others who act as scavengers and bacteria aiding in decomposing the dead. They play an important role in returning the organic and inorganic components of dead animals and plants back to nature to be used and reused by subsequent living organisms.
Nature provides an extremely complex and intricate network of living things delicately balanced and adapted to inhabit the diverse climatic and geographical regions on our planet. Many of these intricate relationships are not understood and that gives all the mores reasons to protect these natural wealth.
This is our Natural Heritage - A Heritage on which we ourselves among many species of animals depend for our sustenance and survival.
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