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Prep Before Cheetahs Become Free Ranging In Kuno National Park

  When another male cheetah, Obaan,joined the two rock stars – Freddie and Elton -- in yet another bigger enclosure of Kuno national park on November 18, only five female cheetahs remained in smaller bomas in the park where they were released on September 17. Like the three males, the five female spotted cats will also be released soon in larger bomas to run and chase their prey to kill. India’s  wildlife authorities accompanied by the experts from the cheetah conservation fund (CCF) from Namibia   have been taking utmost care and caution  before the  cheetahs in Kuno are ultimately made “free -ranging” meaning released in open to move around the entire length and breadth of the park. “Free ranging cheetahs and their monitoring  will be like a grand finale of the Project Cheetah to be played in Kuno for a longer  period in the coming years'", said a senior official of the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEFC&C).  Apprehensions, Concerns  on Chee

Game Hunting by Maharajas to Bushmeat Poaching: Blackbucks killed in Thousands

Blackbucks killed in Thousands

Almost a quarter century after Bollywood star Salman Khan's blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra) poaching case in 1998, shooting of  five antelopes in Madhya Pradesh has brought the animal back in media glare. Murder of three policemen by the poachers and the politics that ensued made this case even more sensational. Lest the supreme sacrifice made by the police be forgotten, it should be an inspiration to the forest department and the police force to check the blackbuck poaching, still so rampant in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh which accounts for the maximum blackbuck killing.In the past maharajas of erstwhile princely  states  in India would indulge in game hunting killing thousands of blackbucks.Its meat was served then in royal weddings  and it continues to be in demand even now  leading to bushmeat  poaching. 

Blackbuck Poaching and Murder of Cops

Five blackbucks were killed by the hunters in Guna district of Madhya Pradesh when the cops challenged the poachers, they opened fire killing the three policemen.Since then three   poachers were shot dead in police encounters and two were injured as they allegedly tried to run away from the police custody. Known as the fastest animal on four legs after cheetah , the blackbucks were killed  in a field in Guna for its meat   to be served in a wedding reception. The buck meat is very popular leading to the poaching of the shy animal in vast swathes of rural Madhya Pradesh especially in summers when the blackbucks are attracted towards the villages in search of water. Government officials say around 140 endangered blackbucks were killed in 13 states of the country between 2008 and 2018 and Madhya Pradesh accounted for the maximum number of blackbuck killings at 31, followed by 25 in Karnataka and 24 in Uttar Pradesh. The numbers could be much higher  as these were the cases which were registered and alarge number of cases go unreported. Forest department sources said that the animals are poached on a regular basis   in an over 300 km stretch from the state capital of Bhopal to Guna and Shivpuri.

Besides, poaching takes place in many other parts of the state . Known for their soft coat and characteristic twisted horns,  they are very nervous by nature and sometimes just die of cardiac arrest only in the face of a perceived danger. In India, they are found across Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and parts of Andhra Pradesh. The antelope inhabit in open grassland, dry thorn scrub, scrub land and lightly-wooded country as well as agricultural margins, where it is often seen feeding in fields. They are mainly sedentary, but in summer may move longer distances in search of water and forage.  Blackbuck was the heraldry symbol of many princely states of India before Independence. It was the state animal of the undivided Andhra Pradesh. However after bifurcation, Telangana changed its state animal to spotted deer. After considerable deliberations, the new Andhra Pradesh decided to continue with the blackbuck as its state animal.It is the state animal of Haryana and Punjab also. 

Salman Khan Facing Blackbuck Case for 24 Years

Blackbucks killed in Thousands

It started during  the shooting of his Hindi movie 'Hum Saath Saath Hain' in September 1998.After allegations   that Khan had killed two blackbucks in Rajasthan's Jodhpur district, an FIR was registered. The actor was charged under section 9/51 of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.His co-actors in the movie Sonali Bendre, Saif Ali Khan, Neelam and Tabu were also booked under Section 51 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act and under Section149 (unlawful assembly) of the Indian penal code .However,his co-actors were all acquitted after being given the benefit of doubt by the court. In 2007, the Rajasthan High Court sentenced Salman to five years of imprisonment. However, it was later suspended by the court after he spent aweek in jail.

 In 2014, a legal notice was sent to Salman, challenging anearlier suspension order of the actor's conviction by the High Court  in2007. In 2016, the Rajasthan government filed an appeal in the Supreme Court after the Rajasthan High Court acquitted the actor of all charges. 
In March2022, the Rajasthan High Court granted the permission to transfer two petitionsto it from the Jodhpur district and sessions court. Hearing of these twopetitions will now take place in the high court along with the one alreadypending before it .Bishnoi community  known for  its reverence to Blackbuck had filed the caseagainst Salman.

Game Hunting: Blackbuck Butchered for Trophy and Meat

Blackbucks killed in Thousands

Though the Bishnoi community of Rajasthan is known for protecting and preserving the antelope for long, there is a bloody history of Blackbuck hunting in the desert state when the  region was known as Rajputana. Dr MK Ranjitsinh, a retired  Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer but an eminent forester  who was  the prime architect of the Wildlife (Protection ) Act  ,explained the game hunting in his book “ A life with Wildlife , From Princely India to the Present( HarperCollins 2017) .”Himself a scion of the royal family of  Wankaner in Gujarat,  Ranjitsinh writes,“  The status of wildlife and its  conservation  varied from state to state , according to the personal interests and often ,the idiosyncrasies  of the rulers. After the independence, in the deadly decade of  the 1950s, the wildlife of India was almost annihilated and the forests hugely damaged.  Describing a hunting scene he writes about the shooting of 20 blackbucks   for a royal wedding in Bhavnagar Gujarat. “When Bhavsinhji’s (Maharaja of Bhavnagar)   daughter was to marry  Maharaja Yadvendra  Singhji of Panna (Madhya Pradesh) , a huge marriage party was to arrive. Bhavsinhji asked his younger brother to get enough venison ( deer meat) for the large gathering. His brother proceeded to Bhal ,a grassland, in Bhavnagar ,drove into a large all-male group and shot 21  antelopes, all black males.” While the meat was consumed their heads would adore walls of the palaces 

He writes  " In 1957 when Ivisited  Velavadar ( Blackbuck national park) the blackbuck population was  estimated to be  around 2400. By 1969, there were less than 500".About an hours's drive from Bhavnagar, it is spread over 34-sq-km park  and  inhabits about 1800  blackbucks. Explaining the Blackbuck hunting in Rajasthan, he writes, “Rajputana,now Rajasthan, consisted almost  entirely of princely states . The centrestage here for shikar  was taken by Maharaja Ganga Singh of Bikaner . Themain animal pursued was Blackbuck which reached its maximum horn proportions in Bikaner and neighboring Punjab.”  The book explains further,” the northern parts of Bikaner, Hanumangarh and Suratgarh  held somelargest  concentration of  the antelopes in India: over 30,000 animals  according to one estimate .Today, the blackbuck is almostextinct.” Ranjitsinh said, “ From Hanumangarh- Suratgarh , Gang Singhji captured blackbucks and introduced  them into Tal Chhapar and Gajneroasis. Today they are wildlife  sanctuaries  where the antelopes arestill the main attraction.  He also gives accounts of thousands of blackbuck  and their hunting in various other parts of India. 

Ranjitsinh however clarified that ,” Jodhpur state  next to Bikaner, had large herdsof blackbuck and chinkara in the Bishnoi hamlets. “ Their religious sentimentswere respected  and the royal families  did not shoot blackbuck andgazelle in Bishnoi areas”.  Later India enacted the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 which turned out to be a blessing not only forthe  iconic species like tigers and elephants among others but also for the herbivores like blackbucks, chinkaras, and  a large number ofothers  The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red list had changed the status of the blackbuck thrice in the past three decades. FromVulnerable in 1994-96, the status of the antelope has been changed to NearThreatened (2003-08) and to Least Concerned after that till today.According to the IUCN, the population of the blackbuck increased from 22,000 in the 1970s to over 50,000 by the year 2000. 

Baner image: Poaching in MP. Other images source  Blackbuck National Park Velavadar 


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