Wildlife & Biodiversity

Near-extinct hard ground swamp deer see revival in Kanha

Species’ number increased to 800 in 2020, claim park authorities

 
By Jitendra
Last Updated: Wednesday 04 March 2020
Two swamp deer lock horns in Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh. Photo: istock
Two swamp deer lock horns in Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh. Photo: istock Two swamp deer lock horns in Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh. Photo: istock

Hard ground swamp deer (Barasingha or Rucervus duvaucelii), the state animal of Madhya Pradesh, is seeing a revival in the Kanha National Park and Tiger Reserve (KNPTR) after having been perilously close to extinction for a long time.

The species now numbers 800, after five decades of persistent conservation work.

KNPTR is on the Maikal range of the Satpura hills, and is spread over an area of 940 square kilometres between Mandla and Balaghat districts of Madhya Pradesh. The swamp deer is endemic to KNPTR.

In 1967, the numbers of swamp deer decreased to 66 due to rampant hunting, habitat loss and diseases. The number was estimated at around 551 in 1953.

The deer was brought back from the verge of extinction with the help of a successful breeding programme and conservation practices at the KNPTR.

Various conservation methods were used, including habitat improvement and captive breeding that led to an increase in the population to around 450 in 2015 and 800 this year.

“One can see a herd of 10-20 deer roaming in the fields and meadows,” L Krishnamurthy, field director of KNPTR, who has worked for the deer’s conservation, said.

Swam deer are already extinct in Pakistan and Bangladesh. It is now found only in south- western Nepal and central and northeastern India.

There are three subspecies of swamp deer found in the Indian Subcontinent. The western swamp deer (Rucervus duvaucelii) found in Nepal, southern swamp deer (Rucervus duvaucelii branderi) found in central and north India and eastern swamp deer (Rucervus duvaucelii ranjitsinhi) found in the Kaziranga and Dudhwa National Parks.

The southern swamp deer has hard hooves and is adapted to hard ground. The other two subspecies are adapted to swampy areas.

Due to fears over the deer being wiped out, conservationists are trying to translocate them to other habitats. In early 2000, swamp deer were translocated to Bandhavgarh National Park, also in Madhya Pradesh, but it didn’t work out.  

“There is a persistent fear that this species of deer is unable to get into dense jungle due to the complex 12 tines of its antlers. It is also highly inbred,” Krishnamurthy said.

Later, it was introduced in the Satpura Tiger Reserve in 2016, where its numbers are increasing.

“We have introduced 46 swamp deer since 2016 in two parts of the tiger reserve and it has responded well,” Krishnamurthy said. There were 33 swamp deer translocated in 2016 and another 13 translocated in February 2020. “The numbers increased to 80 in January 2020,” Krishnamurthy who monitored the whole relocation and conservation process, claimed.

In March 2019, four deer died of stress in Satpura while being translocated from one zone to another in the reserve. 

In 2015, swamp deer were also brought to the Bhopal-based Van Vihar National park. Five swamp deer were translocated to Bhopal. Their number recently increased to seven. 

In Nepal too, the government tried its hand at translocation but it failed. In 2017, the Nepal government relocated seven swamp deer from the Shuklaphanta to the Chitwan National Park.

But the following year, in March 2018, six deer died due to stress. The translocation programme was indefinitely postponed.

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :
Related Stories

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.