Imperiled World Heritage Status: Is Keoladeo National Park Destined for Loss of its Ecological Splendor?
The visit of the IUCN team and their evaluation has brought about a sense of unease, as the fate of the park's esteemed recognition hangs in the balance.
Bharatpur, Rajasthan— Is Keoladeo at risk of losing its World Heritage site status? With the declining number of migratory birds, water scarcity and other issues, the possibility of de-recognition is a concerning question for not only the forest department, but also for the park's inhabitants and the numerous wildlife enthusiasts who have found joy in exploring its ecological wonders at least once.
A team of two experts from the International Union for Conservation of Nature has been conducting an assessment of the park's current condition, engaging with relevant stakeholders and specialists to determine whether the park deserves to retain its prestigious 38-year-old status as a World Heritage Site.
This evaluation has brought about a sense of unease, as the fate of the park's esteemed recognition hangs in the balance. "The members are from Britain and Mongolia while the scientists from Wildlife Institute of India- Dehradun are assisting them. The team would submit their recommendation report to the IUCN in the coming days. The IUCN team prime focus had been on the water fowl heronry and water availability We are hopeful that the team would give a positive report which would sustain the coveted status" DFO Nahar Singh told The Mooknayak.
Was the world's imp bird breeding ground
Situated in easternmost Rajasthan, the Park is 2 km south-east of Bharatpur, 50 km west of Agra and 176 south of Delhi. Keoladeo National Park, popularly known as Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, is recognised as one of the world’s most important bird breeding and feeding grounds. It is a haven for bird lovers as it’s home to a wide variety of indigenous & migratory water birds. Around 370 species of birds inhabit the park, besides various mammals like deer & nilgai, and reptiles like the basking python.
Keoladeo National Park was once a royal hunting & game reserve for the Maharajas and the British. It was recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1985. It is interesting to note that Keoladeo National Park is the only one of its kind in India which is enclosed by a masonary boundary wall to fend off encroachment. It is home to 370 species of birds. A large number of aquatic birds from Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Siberia & China visit the park. In fact, it was once, the only region in India where the critically endangered Siberian Crane were spotted during the winters. Some of the birds found are cranes, pelicans, eagles, wagtails, spotted bill duck, white breasted kingfisher, moor hen, painted stork, partridge, magpie robin, honey buzzard, rose ringed parakeet & green footed yellow pigeon.
Critical water management issue
During a conversation with The Mooknayak, the distinguished ornithologist, Dr. Satya Prakash Mehra, asserted that mismanagement of water resources has emerged as a major threat to the preservation of the precious bird habitat. Mehra says, Bharatpur is a very important destination for birds as it is the strategic dispersion point of the western flyway. According to him, the sanctuary, which once used to receive abundant water from three rivers - Ruparel, Banganga, and Gambhiri - have been experiencing severe water scarcity.
The park, which extends over an area of 29 square kilometers, boasted of 11 square kilometers of wetland just two decades ago. Unfortunately, erratic rainfall patterns, encroachments, and the construction of check dams along river pathways have all contributed to a significant reduction in the availability of water. As a result, the wetland has now shrunk by 3 square kilometers, which is a disheartening situation, as noted by Mehra. The bird expert also claims that many of the bird species have stopped coming to the park while there have been a radical decrease in numbers of other species too.
The shortage of water began in the 1990s and has been aggravated by recent droughts, which has altered the habitat for many species. Attempts to control the invasive species have been ineffective to date, though drought has temporarily curbed them. Mesquite invasion has become serious and covered 40% of the site by 2008, but its control by communal effort has been successful. The absence of grazing has also caused management problems, with vegetation becoming rampant and blocking water channels and filling impoundments.
Siberian Cranes not seen after 2002
Wild life activist , writer and a local resident ShyamVeer Singh told The Mooknayak that Siberian crane, which formerly occurred throughout the entire Indo-Gangetic plains of India, has not been reported since 2002. Similarly, painted storks that once were seen in large numbers have reduced to some two thousand birds only. ShyamVeer says that the Ring tailed fishing eagle, black neck stork, common cranes too are hardly visible here.
Local resentment: The ban on the surrounding people, cattle, and buffalo from using the area is also seen as a drawback for the park . The order was passed on outside advice without consulting the people or their knowledge of local conditions. This led to a build-up of local resentment, resulting in an attempted forced entry into the park, and eight people were killed. The absence of grazing caused problems since recycled nutrients from the large quantity of dung deposited by livestock probably supported considerable numbers of insects, and water buffalo grazing kept down invasive plants. However, the Rajasthan government rejected a proposal from the Bombay Natural History Society to legalize limited grazing, since this conflicted with the law.
The Evolution of the KNP
1850+: Established as the private duck shooting preserve of the Maharaja of Bharatpur;
1901: First deliberately flooded to create a hunting reserve;
1956: Designated the Keoladeo Ghana (Bharatpur) Bird Sanctuary by the Forestry Department;
1964: Last big shoot held but the Maharajah retained shooting rights until 1972;
1967: Designated a Protected Forest: 1972: Wildlife (Protection) Act prohibited shooting;
1981: Designated a Ramsar site; 1990; entered on the Montreux Record of wetland sites under stress;
1982: Established as Keoladeo Ghana National Park
1985: Recognized as the World Heritage Site
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