Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary- A World Heritage Site
Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary is located in the Indian state of Rajasthan and has an area of about 29 km² out of which, one-third is a wetland. It was a duck shooting ground where the Maharaja of Bharatpur shot ducks and he retained the shooting rights till 1972. It became a bird sanctuary in the year 1976 and then became a Ramsar site and a National Park in the year 1981. Finally, it gained the status of a World Heritage Site in the year 1985. The other name of Bharatpur National Park is Keoladeo Ghana or Keoladeo National Park. Keoladeo(keval eek dev in Hindi) means' only one God' .i.e. Lord Shiva. This bird paradise is visited by lakhs of tourists including foreigners, every year, Also it draws eminent scientists and ornithologists from around the world over. It was most favorite bird reserve of Dr. Salim Ali, who is regarded as the father of ornithology*.
Problems Faced By Keoladeo In The Past
Keoladeo is famous for its water birds all across the globe because it got the status of a World Heritage Site. Keoladeo was fed by two main rivers- The Gambhir River and The Banganga River. The Banganga river passes through the Jamwa Ramgarh lake where the boat race during the Asian Games in 1982 was held and then it reaches the Ajan Dam from where the water is diverted in Keoladeo Ghana National Park. In the late '80s, the Banganga River started reducing its flow. Panchal dam was built on the Gambhir River in 1979 which was part of a drinking water scheme the government had initiated to attract voters without looking at the loss Keoladeo would suffer. In the late '80s, the Dam's height was increased to seven times which blocked the river completely and now it could hold 2100 mcf of water. The ideal amount of water Keoladeo requires annually is 550 mc ft(Million Cubic Feet ). Already it had 180.41 mcf in 1987 which was reduced to nil in 2002. As a result, 2004 was completely dry. The birds fled, leaving their nests and even the hatchlings in the heronry. There was a flood in 2005 which naturally got water to Keoladeo but 2006 and 2007 were again dry and the park simply died.
When the water had been an issue, the p. juliflora started multiplying in large numbers. It was introduced in the park during the seventies to provide greenery to some barren patches in the west and the north-west side of the park. This plant can easily grow in saline and inhospitable conditions. Before the seeds it scattered were washed away by the water but later, it invaded in Woodlands and the grasslands in Keoladeo, and because of it's acidic nature, it doesn't let other species of grass and trees grow. The plant doesn't have any food or nesting value for birds. In 2004, the UNESCO's World Heritage Center had started threatening to delist Keoladeo if not freed from this menace immediately.
How were these Problems Tackled
Finding a solution to these problems was in the interest of the park. These tasks required funding from the government but the government was not interested in spending a single penny. Selling the p. juliflora trees to the contractors could have been an option but this was prohibited by the Wildlife Protection Act.
The then Director of the park along with his team decided to resolve the issue with the help of the villagers around. As per the plan the trees were uprooted by the villagers who had their settlement all around Keoladeo. These locals cut the large trees which became a source of fire for them which helped them to prepare food. Not even one penny was spent and the eradication work was done.
Later, the water problem was also dealt with. This matter was taken up to the Supreme Court and the judgment passed was that till 2010, 310mcft of water will be left from the Panchal Dam and thereafter, 62.5 mcft. Later, water from the Govardhan drain was put into Keoladeo with the help of an underground pipeline. The Govardhan collects the floodwater from Dholpur, Haryana, and Bharatpur. Keoladeo was saved from extinction.
Keoladeo is surrounded by many villages
Keoladeo is home to about 400 different species of birds, some of them are the Painted Stork, Grey Heron, Cormorants, Night-heron, Purple Heron, coots, spot-billed duck, the oriental darter(snakebird), kingfisher, the purple moorhen, the Indian moorhen. The Sarus crane, the tallest flying bird in the world is the emblem of the park. It is also the state bird of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Apart from these resident birds, many birds migrate from far away places such as Europe and Central Asia, and Higher Himalayas. Some of them are the Bar-headed geese, Greylag Geese the ruddy shelduck, demoiselle crane, common crane, and the Red-crested pochard. The Siberian Crane was the star attraction of the park but it has not come back to the park after 2002. These birds migrated from Siberia to Bharatpur in Winter but as they fly over Afghanistan, they got shot down by the Pathans of the region. There are many populations of the Siberian crane, out of which one branch came to India, to Keoladeo. Now, it is said that the branch that came to India is completely extinct.
Non- Avian Fauna
Keoladeo is home to 58 species of Fish. Fish is a very important component of the ecosystem. They serve as food to so many piscivorous birds(fish-eating of birds). The availability of fish fry is responsible for the development of one of the finest heronries in the world. Fry is the first development of a fish. Fish comes mainly from the Chambal(Dholpur) and Govardhan drain that collects floodwater from Dholpur, Haryana, and Bharatpur. The African catfish came from the new water source, the Govardhan drain which ate the fish which posed a threat to the piscivorous birds as then they will have lesser food. The catfish was introduced by the French in India. It was caught and killed immediately by the management which saved the piscivorous birds.
Keoladeo is also famous for its reptiles like pythons and snakes. The Indian Rock Python in Keoladeo can reach up to a length of 11.8 feet. It can swallow animals up to the size of the chital. They can be seen in winter, outside their hole absorbing sunlight.
Apart from birds, Keoladeo also is home to many mammals like the chital, nilgai wild bore, jungle cat, fishing cat, jackal, hyena, porcupine, pangolin, Indian palm civets. The sambar deer is the largest Indian deer which can be seen feeding in the wet prairie in Keoladeo. The invasion of Prosopis juliflora in Bharatpur which technically started in the late eighties caused major destruction in the sambar habitat because of which the population remained static at about 20. Inbreeding in such a small population caused further damage. To counter this, in 1998-99, a few sambars were bought from the Jaipur zoo but unfortunately, it did not work out well. There, were 3 hog deer in Bharatpur but in the 1972 flood, they got washed away. Presently, there are only one hog deer left which came from an unknown place. It can be seen grazing at the edge of the lakes. Hog deer is a small deer and prefers a cool climate and Bharatpur is not the right place for the hog deer as the temperatures can go up to 40°C, sometimes above, in summer. The blackbuck is another mammal extinct in Keoladeo. In 1965-66, there were about 70 blackbucks in the Keoladeo grasslands but because of the flood in 1972, the blackbuck population also got severely affected and reduced to 19. Few blackbucks were bought from Tal Chappar sanctuary to restore the original population but it would not be revived. The otter was another star attraction of Keoladeo but because of the water
After the last leopard was shot in 1965, Keoladeo is not a home to any big cat but is frequently visited by tigers and leopards. In 2000, a tigress came to Keoladeo. She went into the thick impenetrable jungle of p. juliflora in the southern part of the park which shows how scared the tigress was. However, it lived there for about five years, but was neither thoroughly sighted nor photographed during this period. In 2010, another tiger visited Keoladeo from Ranthambore National Park. He was recognized as T-7. He had attacked a range officer there and he was frightened and escaped from the place after being attacked by some villagers. He could not keep himself confined to the grassland alone and marched to the center of the road on multiple occasions. By this time, p. juliflora was almost eradicated which means that there was not large cover provided for hiding the tiger. He was immediately relocated to Sariska National Park where the relocation program was being enforced at that time. Later he became the father of five cubs.
T-7, the coded name of the male Tiger that came to Keoladeo in 2010
Blackbuck in Bharatpur