Last week was awful. I made too many mistakes, miscalculations and serious errors of judgment. Let me correct one of them here by publishing an interview with Ranjit Daniels. Ranjit is the man hired by IIT-Madras to do a bio-diversity study of the campus. Based on his findings IIT is now trying to implement the roadmap he has set out to increase the black buck population.
His key agenda is radical – he says we need to start cutting trees. Cutting trees!? What do trees have to do with Black Buck? Everything. And when Rajnit Daniels explains it, he makes the world of the Black Buck something beautiful.
For how long have Black Buck been in this area?
Black Bucks have been here for atleast 30 years. But we’re not entirely sure how they came to be here. The IIT land once belonged to a British family. They could’ve introduced the animals for hunting or perhaps they already existed there. We’re not very sure. But about 30 years ago, there were 30 black bucks in the IIT area.
So the current population of 12 is not so alarming?
These are insulated populations and maintaining an insulated population anywhere is a great challenge. Black Buck numbers have dwindled over the years and not suddenly so there is nothing alarming about this decrease. The Black Bucks became isolated from the animals in neighbouring Guindy National park in 1978 when IIT built a wall.
So can’t the animals just be shifted to the neighbouring park now where it is perhaps safer for them?
Black buck are shy and timid and its going to be very difficult to catch them in the woods of IIT. We might end up doing more harm than good. Also, for sentimental reasons I think we should save the animal right here where it has existed.
What are the threats to the Black Bucks inside IIT at the moment?
The problem inside IIT is that there are too many trees and Black bucks actually need open grasslands. That is their natural habitat. The other problem is feral dogs. People just bring them into the campus and let them be there. Dogs in a pack are a real problem. Dogs have been domesticated for nearly 50,000 years. They may have lost their instinct to eat meat but they have certainly not lost their instinct to hunt. Thats why we find that sometimes they attack the deer and black buck but don't eat them.
So how come they came here in the first place if open grasslands is their natural habitat?
They came first and the trees came next, because we all have this British concept of greening. IITians started planting trees in their quest for a green campus and someone has introduced several exotic species. The most damaging one has been ‘Prosopis Juliflora’ from the American continent. It’s a very invasive species and needs no human intervention to start multiplying. Before we knew it, the entire campus was overrun with this species, shrinking Black buck territory. Whats worse, IIT obviously thought it should protect the woods and constructed on remaining open ground further destroying Black Buck territory. Trees are not always good. We shouldn’t plant them where there once weren’t any.
So what now?
Now we are going to start cutting trees. That’s the radical solution I have given IIT. But we have to do it slowly so that we don’t scare away the animals. We have begun by clearing up the seeds on the ground today. The challenge will be to cut the big trees without alarming the animals.
How much open space do you need to create?
There are 4 males and 8 females on campus. One male needs atleast 8 hectares of land, so we are going to clear up around 30 hectares.
Why does the male need 8 hectares?
They need it to graze and mate. Black buck procreate through a process called Lek mating. Its quite like peacocks. One male black buck can mate with several females. Males stand at either end of a field and strut their stuff. The females decide which male they would like to mate with and that’s how they procreate. So open space is vital for us to improve their numbers.
There have been lots of well-meaning folk who want to save the Black buck inside the IIT campus but they have hijacked the debate by offering ignorant, unscientific advise. They might turn up with placards when trees are cut but Ranjit Daniels is an ecologist and knows what hes talking about. That’s why IIT hired him.