POBITORA, Oct 11 – A spurt in livestock grazing inside Pobitora wildlife sanctuary that boasts of a very high concentration of the one-horned rhino has emerged as a grave threat to sustaining the sanctuary’s ecology. Any visitor to the tiny sanctuary – often called a miniature Kaziranga because of a similar ambience — can see domestic cattle in large numbers grazing inside the protected area. Along with the cattle, people too are having easy access to the sanctuary. Apart from undermining the sanctity of the protected area, the hazards that the phenomenon poses to wildlife are many.
Increasing contact with livestock exposes the wild herbivores to common diseases afflicting domestic cows and buffaloes – an eventuality that can trigger an epidemic with catastrophic consequences for wildlife. Another concern relates to food availability, as the invading cattle population invariably puts a lot of pressure on the food and space available inside the 38.8-sq km sanctuary already teeming with herbivores like rhino and buffalo. Then, there is always the risk of cross-breeding with cattle that stands to weaken the gene pool of wild herbivore.
Yet another peril stemming from the growing presence of domestic cattle is that it will cause more and more wild animals like rhino to stray out of the sanctuary in search of food and space, with the inevitable fallout of a man-animal conflict. In fact, the conflict is already palpable with straying rhinos being a familiar sight but recent developments could result in an escalation of the conflict.
Acknowledging the gravity of the situation, a forest official said that efforts were on to contain the menace but without much success so far. “A fence was erected to prevent cattle entry but people keep on removing parts of the fence for allowing their cattle to enter. We are also having interactions with the people so that they understand the problem and refrain from grazing their cattle inside the sanctuary,” he said, adding that periodical vaccination of domestic animals of the fringe areas against various diseases was also being done as a precaution.
Conservationists feel that the effects of excessive livestock grazing could be far more damaging in the case of Pobitora because of its small size, the thriving herbivore population, and its lack of contiguity with other forests.
“The very fact that Pobitora resembles a small island amidst human settlements is bound to magnify the damages caused by livestock grazing,” a conservationist said, adding that changes in the natural forest composition, food and space constraint, man-animal conflict, encroachment, etc., could jeopardize the long-term conservation prospects of Pobitora unless the authorities addressed the problem immediately.