Barasingha, also called swamp deer, may not be the king of the forest, but, as far as its beauty and behaviour go, it is no less than the monarch of the woodlands. Sighting it is a wondrous experience. This is the reason why swamp deer is the state animal of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
Bedri species of Barasingha is found in Madhya Pradesh, whereas duvauceli species is found in Uttar Pradesh. Another species — Ranjitsinhi — is found in the Kaziranga National Park and in the Manas National Park. All these swam deer look alike. Yet, there is a difference in their physical structure, their behaviour and in their style of living.
This distinction is made with the help of their horns, hooves, heads and their breeding system. The hooves of the swamp deer, found in the marshy land of the Terai region of Uttar Pradesh, Assam and of the Sundarbans, are slightly spread. Their heads are slightly bigger than their counterparts found in other parts of the country.
Barasingha in danger
Once swamp deer were found in the valleys of Ganga, Indus and Brahmaputra. They inhabited areas from Central India to the Godavari river in the south.
Nevertheless, in the last one and a half centuries, their numbers have drastically come down. Now, they are confined to the upper region of Assam, the Gangetic plains, the Sundarbans and the Godavari river valley.
In 1950, the animal was confined to Kanha forest because of hunting and because of a lack of natural habitat. And its number declined from 3,000 to 100 in Madhya Pradesh.
The government,, worried about its falling numbers, imposed a ban on its hunting. It was the first step to preserve wildlife in Madhya Pradesh even before it had got the status of a state. The ban, however, could not prevent the hunting of swamp deer whose number declined to 66 in 1970. It seemed that this species would soon disappear.
To show tigers to the tourists, a prey was kept for them in the 1960s. The tigers used to come out of the forest for the prey. This was how the desire of the tourists to see tigers was fulfilled. When the season for tourists went off and preys were not kept for tigers, still the big cats would specially look to kill Barasinghas. As soon as the forest officers came to know of it, they stopped keeping prey for tigers.
The officers and employees of the Madhya Pradesh forest department took the initiative to save this animal and crafter a strategy. After the Wildlife Preservation Act was passed in 1972, a reserved area was created for Barasingha.
To save Barasinghas, it was necessary to preserve its declining habitat. This was the reason why human settlements in the Kanha National Park were shifted to different places. In 1969, the first village, reshuffled in India for preserving wildlife, was Sounp. It was the first step taken by the government to save Barasingha and other wild animals.
In the 1970s, the management of the Kanha National Park decided to keep Barasinghas in an enclosure to save them from carnivorous animals. This was done to keep this shy animal tension-free, to let them breed peacefully and to release them in the open after birth, so that their numbers might increase. The settlement for swamp deer in Kanha National Park has completed 50 years.
It is because of the efforts made by the forest department that the number of swamp deer shot up to 1,100 in the state. However, this beautiful yet endangered animal can be found only in national parks.
The officials of the forest department, then, decided to shift this rare wild animal to different national parks for preservation. Consequently, several Barasinghas were relocated to Van Vihar in Bhopal. After the success of this effort, nearly 30 swamp deer were shifted from the Kanha National Park to the Bori reserved forest in Satpura. It was done with the permission of the Government of India.
According to the officials of the forest department, it was necessary to shift the Barasinghas from the Kanha National Park to other places, as the swamp deer of this species are found only at Kanha. Therefore, spreading of any disease would have posed danger to all the Barasinghas in the Kanha National Park.
The officials of the forest department said they would continue to shift Barasinghas to other national parks.
Shailendra Srivastava is retired DGP, Madhya Pradesh, and chairman, Citizens for Change Foundation. Views expressed are personal.