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.   


The National Chambal Sanctuary

The National Chambal Sanctuary

-Chaitanya Krishna

The 960 km long Chambal River originates in the northern slopes of the Vindhyan escarpment and joins the Yamuna River near Bareh, after traversing through the states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. The Kali Sindh, Parbati, Banas and Kuno are its chief tributaries. About 600 kms of the Chambal River was established as the National Chambal Sanctuary (NCS), between 1978 and 1983, to form the first and only tri-state protected area in India.

The NCS is among the most important and significant habitats where several globally threatened fauna still survive. It contains the most viable breeding populations of the critically endangered gharial and Red-crowned Roofed Turtle. The sanctuary is an important stronghold for endangered species like the Deccan Mahaseer, Putitor Mahaseer, Narrow-headed Soft-shell Turtle and the Three-striped Roofed Turtle. India’s national aquatic animal, the endangered Gangetic River Dolphin also occurs in the sanctuary. Due to rich and diverse birdlife, the sanctuary has been declared as an Important Bird Area (Site Code’s IN-UP-11 and IN-RJ-11). Birds that are found here include the Indian Skimmer, Black-bellied Tern, Sarus Crane, Pallas’s Fish-Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle and the critically endangered Oriental White-backed Vulture and Long-billed Vulture. The sanctuary is also among the best over-wintering sites for migratory birds.

The NCS functions as a vital source and nursery for fish fry and fingerlings, contributing significantly to downstream fisheries in the Gangetic river system. In addition, this river sanctuary also forms a vital corridor and link for the movement and dispersal of tigers from the source population of the Ranthambore Tiger Reserve to the Protected Areas of Kuno-Palpur, Madhav National Park and Darrah-Mukundra. Despite its conservation significance, the Chambal River faces severe extractive and intrusive pressures for resources, especially from dams and water abstraction structures, sand-mining; bank-side cultivation; fishing; poaching and livestock grazing. 

Although a considerable body of literature exists on gharials and the Chambal River, this information is widely scattered and not readily available. This inaccessibility to existing information and knowledge is an impediment to effectively understand the conservation needs of the gharial and Chambal River. Several recent developments in the form of the increasing number of proposals for hydrological modifications and misleading Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports have clearly exposed poor accessibility to available information. There was no single archive for this body of knowledge, and this initiative aims to fill that void. 

The Gharial Information Database (http://www.gharial-info.com/) and the Chambal Information Database (http://www.chambal-info.com/) are open-access repositories of published literature on gharial and Chambal River respectively. Both databases are now online and provide an alphabetical and chronological bibliography pertaining to the gharial and Chambal River. Most importantly, users can access any article in the library and information on how to do so is listed on the website.

A lot of information has been compiled, but these databases are not exhaustive yet. Relevant material will be continuously sourced and the websites will be updated regularly. Users are encouraged to submit relevant literature that is not available in the databases. The database compilers believe and also hope that open access to such information will trigger participatory biodiversity monitoring initiatives, and in the process, spur public support and participation in conservation of the gharial and Chambal River.

Members Speak

New Year

The year that was…

By Arefa Tehsin, Author of "Iora and the Quest of Five

The clouds have gone, rain has past

Summers were fun, its winter at last

It seems like just a blink of an eye

A year, a whole year has gone by


All that we earned, all that we spent

Didn’t come in as cheque, go out as rent

We earned some friends and happy days

We spent some colours to paint the greys


We lost dear ones, so dear were they

Gone like dew after morning ray

One day even the sun will be burnt

Was the year’s deepest lesson learnt


Oh, how easier things would be

If grief had feet and pain could flee

If past was just a jacket torn

And mended again to be worn


But life rushes past the evens and odds

Doesn’t stop for demons or Gods

May our anger be less, regrets few

If there is reflection, be that of the new


To sprout a seed a cloud must burst

A desert is needed to conquer thirst

We may find a ditch or a brook

It all depends on where we look


Wish you a bird at window every day

A song in the eyes, breeze on the way

Plenty of laughter, smiles and hope

For each new height, a handy rope


An island when the seas are bold

On evening walks a hand to hold

A warm coffee on a winter day

Strength to cry and strength to stray


Here’s to moments calendars can’t steal

Here’s to future we welcome with zeal

Here’s to the new year sailing to our shore

Here’s to the old one leaving with a roar


How to Photograph Birds in India

How to Photograph Birds in India

Vijay Cavale

Everyone has seen a Crow, but how many know the difference between a House Crow and a Large-billed Crow? A House Crow has a pale nape, neck and breast while the Large-billed Crow is all black! Both these birds are commonly seen all over India and are therefore known as ‘Widespread Residents’. Welcome to the world of Birds!

Over 8600 species of birds have been recorded on our planet, and about 1200+ species are found in India. Several field-guides are available to help a beginner identify these birds. The one I use is the Pocket Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent by Richard Grimmett, Carol Inskipp, and Tim Inskipp. Thus, if you begin to look for these wonderful creatures in nature you will soon notice that they are of different shapes, sizes and colors. They behave differently and their calls are distinctive. They are found in different habitats and eat different foods. Some fly very high up in the sky while some cannot fly at all. The only thing common to all birds is that they have feathers and two legs! As you begin noticing details of these lively birds and learn to identify them with the help of the field-guides and fellow birders, you will be known as a ‘Bird Watcher’. Bird watching is one of the most popular hobbies in the world and can bring you great joy.

Quite unlike bird watching, bird photography is one of the most challenging tasks any human being can undertake. If, for the first time you decide to go out in the open and try to photograph birds, the chances are you will return completely frustrated and find that the shots you actually managed to click are worthless.

So how does one photograph birds? 

Blue Throat

A. Setting a goal

Now that you have decided to photograph birds, you need to set yourself a goal. If your goal is to photograph all the birds found in India, one lifetime will certainly not be enough. As many as possible is a more reasonable option. Birds of a certain region, is another achievable goal.

A good bird portrait has these characteristics:

1.    The bird is in sharp focus from beak to tail.
2.    The bird is sitting on a natural perch.
3.    The bird is at your eye level when you shoot.
4.    The sun is at your back and on the bird.
5.    A clear background frames the bird.

Indian Roller

-To be continued

About the author:

Vijay Cavale has been a nature addict since birth. He lives in Bengaluru, the capital of Karnataka State in South India. After almost two decades of a successful career in the Indian IT Industry, he decided to quit his corporate career at the age of 40 and follow his dream. For the last seven years Vijay Cavale has been traveling to several parts of India photographing its rich wildlife with a focus on birdlife. He has photographed close to 400 species of birds found in India, and gladly shares them on his homepage below. His work in this area is entirely non-commercial and is aimed at creating awareness and sharing the joy. He hopes his work will contribute in some way towards nature conservation. Although he does not offer any of his images for commercial use, he is glad to collaborate and discourse with like-minded people from around the world.
Homepage: www.Indiabirds.com   Email: vijay@indiabirds.com
Vijay Cavale, Jan 2007.

Urban Wildlife

The Masked Bandit!

The Masked Bandit!

-Ashwin Baindur

Here is a poem celebrating one of India's little known animals, which emerges at night and is harmless to man, yet people in their ignorance kill the animal on sight. All readers are requested to instruct family members, staff of their departments, and servants not to kill this animal.

You hardly see me on the ground,

I’m slickest of all the mammals around,

Late at night when everyone’s asleep,

Then CME’s* all mine to creep!

Living in lofts of campus bungalows,

or holes in tree trunks far above,

Fruits, and insects are what I devour,

I am an accomplished omnivore.

I even eat some seeds such as coffee beans

that when excreted, cost beyond your means.

My scent glands give rise to an aroma nice,

called civet, which smells, just like basmati rice,

I’m harmless to humans, yet people fear,

me strangely;  kill me without a tear,

Pray be merciful and please let me be,

I’m just one of nature’s banditry.

Call me Palm civet or toddy cat,

Enjoy my company,

For larger mammals in CME* you can no longer see,

For I too have my role like all the others

in our ecosystem’s biodiversity.

* College of Military Engineering, Pune

Click on the image below to see an earlier article on the palm civet in our ezine

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