Wildlife & Biodiversity

Government steps up efforts to revive wild water buffalo

Years of neglect and shortage of funds have been blamed for near-extinction of the species

By Sakshi Jain
Published: Tuesday 21 July 2015

International Journal of Conservation ScienceRecent pictures of a herd of wild water buffalo in a Maharashtra forest, published by a news daily, have raised hopes about revival of the near-extinct species. The animal that was found in Kolamarka area of Gadchiroli district this month has been listed as “endangered” by the international non-profit International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, since 1996.

The buffalo is mainly found in Assam, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Meghalaya, Madhya Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh. Recent reports have suggested the presence of only one female Asiatic wild water buffalo or the wild water buffalo in Chhattisgarh, where it is known as the state animal. Years of neglect and shortage of funds have been blamed for near-extinction of the species. Domestication and unceasing interbreeding with domestic buffalo have been cited as other reasons by the experts.

“Our photographs, taken between January and May, have shown presence of three to five females,” said Prabhunath Shukla, deputy conservator of forests, as quoted by Indian Express. The herd was accidentally captured by forest staffers while monitoring another animal, the news daily reported.

Not long ago, in response to the alarming diminution in its population, the environment and forest ministry had asked Chhattisgarh government to submit a conservation plan to protect the endangered buffalo. Meanwhile, environment minister Prakash Javadekar had recently mentioned about the feat achieved in the form of artificial birth of a wild water calf in Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana. This was made possible by cloning that was carried out by the scientists of
National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI), Karnal.

The Centre has now decided to begin efforts to five endangered species— Dugong (sea cow), Gangetic Dolphin, Great Indian Bustard, Manipur Brow Antler Deer (Sangai) and Wild Water Buffalo for now. Initially, an aid of Rs 20 crore had been allocated for the purpose.


'Poaching is not the reason behind decline in population of white water buffaloes'
S K Khanduri is the Inspector General of Forests Wildlife, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India

What are the reasons for a sharp decline in the population of wild water buffaloes other than domestication and unceasing interbreeding with domestic buffalo?

This is only one of several reasons that can be attributed to decline in the population. An evidence to this is that the animal population is not under threat in Assam and nearby areas despite interbreeding being prevalent in those regions as well.

The sharp decline has been observed in the landscape of Central India (presently Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra), where the habitat characteristics are conducive to species. Marshy and moist landscapes favouring the species are not widely found in this region. Poaching and conflict have not been reported as reasons for sharp decline of the species.

What according to you should be the conservation strategy, especially in Chhattisgarh which had reported the presence of one Asiatic buffalo?

The present strategy proposed is conservation breeding, combined with interventions in habitat and close monitoring of the surviving populations in parts of Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra. The option of translocation of some individuals from Assam is being debated but concerns of desirability of genetic mixing of the populations are a matter of debate. The birth of one female calf in northern India is a positive development.

How beneficial is the process of artificially giving birth to offspring like cloning to prevent extinction of species?

As natural productivity is limited by low population and number of productive animals in wild, this may be helpful in building up population faster than natural means. Conservation breeding principles help in building up population by facilitating speedy reproduction. These techniques can further enhance the process.

Do you think the government’s new initiatives and funding would bring hope in revival of the near-extinct species?

Recovery of the species will depend on the su ccess of measures. Conserving the genome of the animal will be a slow process and one can never lose hope. India has saved tiger, rhinoceros, lion, elephant and several other species. Our scientists and managers are capable of making efforts. Nevertheless, population in the northeast does not face critical threat at present.

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