A legal home for the buffalo

Print edition : April 19, 2013

The Asiatic wild buffalo.

The Asiatic wild buffalo (Bubalus arnee) was recently granted a legal home at Kolamarka in Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district. A gazette notification from the State government declared 180.72 sq km as a “conservation reserve” under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, to protect wild buffaloes. Soon after, the Maharashtra State Board for Wildlife, under the chairmanship of the Chief Minister, officially cleared a proposal for the reserve.

Listed as endangered in the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List, the wild water buffalo, also known as the Asian or Asiatic buffalo, had been practically wiped out from Maharashtra, where it once used to roam free in large numbers. In central India, its population declined by about 80 per cent between 1966 and 1992. In the 1980s there were fewer than 100 in Madhya Pradesh and by 1992 this number dropped to 50. Current estimates put their number at around 200 (or lower) in Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh.

In other parts of the country, the animal is restricted to Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, where the population is relatively stable. Even then the species is not in the greatest of health, ecologically speaking. Its population globally is fewer than 4,000, about half of them mature animals.

The newly created home is part of a reserve forest in the Kamlapur range under the Sironcha forest division in Gadchiroli district. Around 18 genetically acceptable pure wild buffaloes have been reported in this region. The Asiatic wild buffalo is considered among the most economically important animals, being the progenitor of the domestic buffalo. Though the Kolamarka buffaloes have acceptable genetic purity, elsewhere many have interbred with the domestic buffalo, resulting in a dilution of the strain. This genetic pollution makes it difficult to give an exact figure of the wild buffalo population.

The greatest threat to Bubalus arnee is encroachment of its habitat. But in the Amravati region there is a slight twist in this tale. Kishor Rithe, president of the Satpuda Foundation, says he has heard of naxalites urging local people to save wildlife and the forests. If so, it is one more positive move towards reinstating this majestic animal in its original habitat.

Lyla Bavadam

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