Burning Issues

Cattle of Bharatpur

Cattle of Bharatpur

Priya Phadtare  

On 1st October, 1981, the Keoladeo Narional Park in Bharatpur, Rajathan was officially included on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. Following this, the park’s status was changed from a bird sanctuary (as designated to it on 13th March 1956). Over the years the problem of cattle in national parks has angered a legion of the harshest critics. The so called “hoofed locusts” had drawn the ire of a lot of policy makers and as a result they were eventually banned. This article explores the consequences of blindly passing laws modelled on international models without much research.

Indians consider the cattle as sacred animals and often refrain from slaughtering them for food. Apart from worshiping them, the cattle are also considered as beasts of burden and are often used for tilling the land. This very well explains the problem of the exploding cattle population in India. The herder’s perception about the existence of cattle in large numbers is obviously a lot more different than that of an ecologist’s. A majority of the conservationists think that cattle population in a national park is undesirable and affect the ecology in one or the other way which could lead to devastating results.

There is still a raging debate about the problem of grazing in the Keoladeo National Park and in the past has lead to various attempts by scientists and wildlife conservation organizations to provide answers to the problem of park management. A major conflict in the opinion of the policy makers and the local scientific knowledge of the inhabitants of the area around the park led to murky clashes leading to bloodshed. Unfortunately today we still do not have concrete solutions to the cattle problem. In this article particular attention has been paid to the park’s management models adopted along with other scientific studies conducted by several researchers in the past.

The Marshland
The numbers of marshlands have been declining constantly post-independent. One could blame the extensive conversion of these biodiversity rich areas into agricultural land undertaken during the inception of the Green Revolution.  Millions of people living along the course of the Ganga River feed on rice, sugarcane and wheat cultivated on the once bludgeoning marshlands. Agriculture cannot be alone blamed for the destruction of the marshlands in the country as these sites are also the least protected natural ecosystems. The marshlands are often perceived hostile as they are known to harbor dangerous animals like tigers, rhinoceros, elephants and crocodiles among others, vectors for several diseases and an array of poisonous snakes as well. The mangrove swamps in the Sunderbans are infamous for the maximum number of deaths due to tiger-human conflicts. Hence, these two factors are largely responsible for the neglect bestowed upon the marshlands.

The huge expanse of marshland in the Keoladeo National Park is a result of the expansion of a pre-existing little swampy area and the subsequent construction of the dykes and dams overseen by the Maharaja of Bharatpur. He built the park exclusively for his passion of bird hunting which he had developed as a result of a hunting expedition undertaken in the Great Britain. This venture became a huge success as Bharatpur happened to be an ideal nesting spot for an array of birds including the migratory birds. Even today, Bharatpur tops the list of the best bird havens in northern India due to the migration of a large number of birds to it as a result of the dwindling number of other marshlands which have succumbed to the practice of agriculture.

Several waterfowl hunting expeditions were undertaken during the rule of the Maharaja and the invitees included Lord Curzon, the Prince of Wales, the king of Germany and almost all the Maharajas of India. Stone plaques giving details of the hunting expeditions and the blown up photographs of Maharaja and his friends with dead ducks at their feet are still a grim reminder of the bloody days of the past. Close to 4000 birds were hunted down every day. Even after the murderous exploits of the Maharaja the population of the birds did not dwindle because of the unfortunate displacement of the wintering birds from the rapidly vanishing marshlands of the north.

After India gained independence, the Maharaja was made to transfer all his power to the government, but he made a cunning negotiation as he managed to retain the shooting rights with him. The locals were disappointed with the decision as they had expected that the park would be converted to agricultural land which was clearly not the case. Salim Ali also took an objection to the Maharaja’s wish to continue hunting for his selfish gains as he was more concerned about the plight of the birds than the demands of the poor.

Salim Ali took the matter to his friend, the then prime minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, for a solution to the problem. The Minister of Agriculture was immediately asked to look into the matter who decided that the park could not be converted into an agricultural land as it provided essential forest produce to the people living around it. In the wake of the ongoing conflicts between the Maharaja and the local population, the park was handed over to the state.
In 1972, the Indian government passed the Wildlife (Protection) Act, which specifically required the national parks to free of human interference and livestock. The Ghana was officially declared as the Keolodeo National Park in 1981 and since then the laws of the act were officially put into effect. The locals hardly ever followed the laws and the incidence of grazing only increased unchecked along with the utilization of the forest produce (which was the point of contention in the 1950’s when the park was declared a bird sanctuary by the Ministry of Agriculture). In October, 1982, the Indian Board of Wildlife, headed by the then prime minister of the country decided to regulate human pressure with urgency. That very year the park unfortunately witnessed a bloody battle between the police and the locals attempting to enter the park resulting in the death of nine people.

-To be Continued

About the author:

Priya Phadtare has done biochemistry from Sri Venkateaswara College, Delhi.  She is an avid reader with a keen interest in wildlife.  She can be contacted at priyaa1808@gmail.com


1.    Adams, Alexander (1962), 'How it Began,' in Alexander Adams (ed), First World Conference on National Parks, Seattle, Washington, June 30-July 7, 1962, pp. xxxii. Washington D.C.: National Park Service. 
2.    Ali, Salim (1985), The Fall of a Sparrow. Delhi: Oxford University Press.     
3.    Futehally, Zafar (1967), 'Misuse of Nature: Some Ecological Facts,' The Times of India’, 11 June (1992).
4.    The Wildlife of India. New Delhi: Harper Collins.   

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