The Forest and Wildlife Department of Punjab is planning a conservation breeding facility for endangered blackbuck in their natural environment at Shri Guru Jambeshwar Wildlife Sanctuary in Abohar subdivision of Fazilka district.
The first project of its kind in the state was discussed after Sukhchain village sarpanch Manoj Godara offered to donate 10 acres of his family trust free of charge to the conservation of the blackbuck, the state animal of Punjab.
Authorities said the proposed project, which will also function as a wildlife rescue and rehabilitation center, will be launched after receiving the necessary permit from the center.
Godara, who belongs to the Bishnoi community and owns land in the village of Mehrana, credits India’s senior forest official and conservator of forests (protected areas) T Ganana Parkash with promoting the program.
“Blackbuck numbers (known as hiran in local parlance) have declined to alarming levels in recent years. Blackbuck have migrated to adjacent areas of Rajasthan due to reduced food availability and increased populations of stray cattle and dogs. Blackbuck is a cultural identity of Abohar and as a member of the Bishnoi community, I do my part to protect the species,” Godara said.
He has agreed to donate the land on the condition that the Forest Service would not use the piece of land for any purpose other than wildlife protection.
Godara also wants the conservation breeding center to be named after Guru Jambeshwar, the founder of the Bishnoi fold.
Parkash said community involvement is an important part of the project and that managing strays in the wildlife sanctuary is key to conserving the sanctuary’s dwindling antelope population.
A group of 13 villages near Abohar were declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1989 at the request of the Bishnois to protect wild animals on their private land in the region.
“It is a unique wildlife sanctuary that is wholly owned by private individuals or panchayats. Based in the heartland of eco-loving Bishnois, we engage community members in wildlife conservation. We are awaiting a report from the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun on conservation breeding in Mehrana and it will be submitted to the Union Government for approval,” said Punjab Chief Game Warden Praveen Kumar.
He said the ecological degradation of the sanctuary is affecting the blackbuck population.
“Over the years, sand dunes, the natural habitat of antelope, have been converted to farmland. It was a direct loss for Blackbucks. The land we are offered is barren and ideal for conservation breeding,” said Kumar.