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Star attraction disappears

Forest dept fails to spot blackbucks at Konark sanctuary

Blackbucks in Ganjam district. Telegraph picture

Bhubaneswar, Nov. 2: There is not a single blackbuck left at Konark-Balukhand Wildlife Sanctuary, which is situated 65km from here on the Puri-Konark Marine Drive. A forest department census has confirmed the disappearance of the species from their favourite habitat.

The damage to the blackbuck populace had begun when the super cyclone of 1999 struck the sanctuary and the count of the species dropped drastically in its aftermath.

However, the forest department's 2014-15 census, which was carried out in February, has confirmed the worst fears of the officials - not a single blackbuck exists in the 87sqkm sanctuary.

The forest department is now planning to adopt male and female blackbucks from the Betanoi-Balipadar-Buguda region of Ganjam district, considered a protected area for the species, so that the sanctuary once again becomes a major tourist attraction.

Puri divisional forest officer Chittaranjan Mishra said: "The sanctuary was severely affected in the 1999 super cyclone and since then, the number of blackbucks dropped alarmingly. Not a single animal survives now. We have proposed to bring here a few blackbucks from the Bhetanoi-Balipadar sanctuary. As the antelopes are not a difficult species to handle, we hope to get positive results."

Principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) S.S. Srivastava said: "Habitat disturbances caused the depletion of blackbucks. We have not yet finalised the timeline, but after a study, we are going to relocate the animals to the sanctuary."

"The idea of getting blackbucks from the Bhetanoi-Balipadar-Buguda region of Ganjam district to the Konark-Balukhand Wildlife Sanctuary is fine. But, before doing that, the authorities should run a strong public campaign to save the animal in the area," wildlife researcher L.A.K. Singh told The Telegraph.

Nature lover and travel enthusiast Mintu Tripathy said: "The forest department should relocate some blackbucks from Ganjam so that tourists can once again see these lovely animals at the Balukhand sanctuary."

Forest department sources said there were 3,806 blackbucks at the Bhetanoi-Balipadar sanctuary now. In India, there are three kinds of antelope, of which blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) is one. The other two are nilgai (Boselaphus tragocamelus) and the chowsingha (Tetracercus quadricornis).

Blackbucks are among the fastest animals in the world, next only to the cheetah.

Due to the typical distribution of the species and threats to its existence, it is included in the list of schedule-I species under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

In the Betanoi-Balipadar-Buguda region of Ganjam, the black bucks are protected not only by the forest department, but also by local committees formed by people of around 20 villages.

Interestingly, while the flagship species of the Konark-Balukhand Wildlife Sanctuary has disappeared, the spotted deer is found here in large numbers. There are now more than 5,000 of them in the sanctuary now.

"We have five exclusive grasslands and some water bodies in the sanctuary so that spotted deer can have easy access to fodder and water," Mishra said.

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