The four-horned antelope
Jamshedpur, June 12: The forests of Saranda in West Singhbhum district, 180km from here, may be home to the elusive chousingha or four-horned antelope, listed as vulnerable by the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
A four-member team of wildlife experts from Tamil Nadu, studying for a month now the fauna flourish in the forests once dominated by Maoists, chanced upon excreta of what they believe is of the Tetracerus quadricornis or chousingha at Hatichowk in the Baraiburu jungles of Gua range in Saranda two days ago.
The state forest department, which commissioned the survey by eco group Green Future Foundation apparently after a herd sighting earlier this year, has now asked the study group to set up camera traps for further authentication.
Divisional forest officer, Saranda, Satish Chandra Rai said one of his officials had spotted a herd of four at Hatichowk, close to the Gua iron ore mines, in April.
"The chousingha is a Schedule I animal, which means it cannot be hunted and needs committed conservation. So, we decided to engage experts to confirm the sighting. The team has now found antelope excreta, which it believes is of the chousingha. Cameras will give the final proof," he said.
The study group, Rai said, comprised Justus Joshua and Wesley Sunderraj, both principal scientists and directors of Green Future Foundation, and zoologists Rakesh Kalwa and T. Kar.
Joshua, also an expert in environment science, confirmed their finding. "We have found antelope excreta in Saranda during our month-long study, but are yet to spot the four-horned animal. Let's hope camera traps do the trick," he said.
Rai added that the experts were expected to submit their report by November after which conservation plans for the vulnerable species could be drawn up.
The chousingha is a small antelope primarily found in India and Nepal. This antelope has four hours, which distinguishes it from most other bovids (cloven-hoofed animals). It is diurnal or active mainly during the day.
Though solitary by nature, these four-horned antelopes may form loose groups of three to five, with one or more adults, sometimes accompanied by juveniles. This elusive animal feeds on grass, herbs, shrubs, foliage, flowers and fruits. It needs to drink water frequently and stays close to water sources.
The DFO maintained that installing closed-circuit television cameras in a forest belt was an expensive exercise and they had wanted some manual corroboration of the April sighting before that, which is why the team was called in. "Besides, cameras get stolen if not guarded round the clock. The study group has intensified its search and once they zero in on the chousingha home through camera traps, surveillance cameras will be installed," he said.
Rai said they never had any record of the four-horned antelope living in Saranda before. "Another reason why we need visuals on the animals. It will help us draw up conservation plans. If we can establish the chousingha population in Saranda, it can become a great destination for wildlife tourism," he added.
The 850sqkm reserve forest is the haunt of many animals like elephants, bears, the sambar, the chital, wild boars, foxes, jackals, the bison and leopards among others. The Royal Bengal Tiger never had a big headcount, but has been spotted at times.