POBITORA, May 19 - Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary authorities are mulling a strategy to encourage stall feeding of high-yielding varieties of cattle in the villages surrounding the small wildlife habitat to ease the problem of cattle grazing there.
With domestic cattle from nearby villages straying into the Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary in hordes, sanctuary herbivores, especially rhinos, are being affected by space and food constraints.
It is a common sight at Pobitora to see rhinos grazing side by side with cattle. The problem is further accentuated by the small size of the sanctuary, and the even smaller grassland habitat so essential for the herbivore. The rhinos also run the risk of getting infected with domestic cattle diseases.
“The presence of cattle in large numbers inside the sanctuary has been a serious issue. First, it has put a lot of pressure on the limited space and fodder. Rhinos in particular have been the worst affected, and they are being forced to go outside their protected habitat in search of food and space. Although the cattle are vaccinated periodically, there is also the risk of occurrence of domestic cattle diseases among the rhinos,” Mukul Tamuli, Range Officer, told The Assam Tribune.
As Pobitora used to be a grazing reserve before it was declared a protected forest in 1987, the practice of grazing of cattle has continued. But with the passage of years, the cattle population has grown manifold, compounding the problem of space and food constraints for the wild herbivores.
“Now we are thinking of encouraging stall feeding in the villages by promoting hybrid cattle among the villagers. This will ensure enhanced milk yield for the villagers while reducing the number of straying cattle into the sanctuary,” Tamuli said, adding that it would a collaborative endeavour with NGO Aaranyak.
Dr Bibhab Talukdar, secretary general of Aaranyak, said that a pilot project involving two villages would first be launched. “We have had a couple of meetings with the villagers. We intend to launch the project in two villages on an experimental basis and then extend it further,” he said.
As of now, the cattle population in the villages near Pobitora would be between 8,000-10,000. “The pressure on the sanctuary is understandable, given its size of mere 38.81 square kilometres. The actual rhino habitat in the sanctuary is even smaller, with roughly 67 per cent of its area under grassland,” he said.
A recent GPS mapping showed that straying rhinos effectively cover an area of 372 sq km, laying bare the problem of space and food shortage at Pobitora.
As per the last census, Pobitora has 102 rhinos. According to conservationists, the tiny sanctuary – often called a miniature Kaziranga for its ambience similar to that of Kaziranga – is no longer in a position to support the growing rhino population.