The crucial wildlife corridors in Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary, which connect separate habitats of Giant Squirrel or Shekru, the state animal of Maharashtra, as also other wild animals, are vanishing fast due to the encroachment and rampant development activities in and around the sanctuary, say forest officials and experts.
These observations were made by forest officials during the annual waterhole census, which is carried out in Bhimashankar Wildlife Sanctuary along with other forests across the state, from Monday noon to Tuesday noon on “Buddha Pournima” – one of the brightest full moon nights in the summer before the rainy season begins.
The wildlife section of the state forest department and several volunteers conducted this waterhole census like every year and a Newsline team accompanied them at the watch towers and hiding spots set up near the waterholes this time.
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The census is widely used to estimate the population of animals when they visit waterholes during these 24 hours. It is carried out every year on the day of Buddha Pournima, because in the summer, the number of waterholes are limited and in the night on this day, the bright moon makes the sighting easier.
Tushar Dhamdhere, Range Forest Officer of one of the two ranges of Bhimashankar sanctuary, said, “This time, we had 12 waterholes under watch and teams on the watch towers and hiding spots counted the number of Sambar deer, barking deer, rabbits, wild boars, jungle cats, hyenas, etc. The census of the Shekru, which is a specialty of this jungle and which is a tree animal, is conducted separately along with the GPS (Global Positioning System) mapping of its nests.”
The data of the census will be released after it is collated from all the contributors who were spread across 131 square kilometres of the sanctuary.
“We are concerned about the fact that wildlife corridors which connect the separate habitats of the wild animals are in danger because of various reasons like encroachment and development activities around the forest areas,” Dhamdhere added.
Mandar Kulkarni, a wildlife researcher working on a project of GPS mapping of the Giant Squirrel nests, said, “The maps of the nests plotted on the Google Maps clearly show there is a disconnect between the patches of habitats due to various reasons. The disconnect is such that these animals, which essentially live on trees, will not be able to go from one habitat to another. This may lead to inbreeding, which means mating among related animals, and also decreased genetic diversity. It has also been observed that such disconnects lead to man-animal conflict.”
A senior forest department officer said on the condition of anonymity, “There is a proposed highway which passes through the sanctuary. There are proposal for widening of the road to Bhimashankar Temple, which is right in the middle of sanctuary and is visited by lakhs of people every year. A windmill farm for which hundreds of trees had to be cut is already in place. There are requests for more resorts around the sanctuary. If we want to see these animals survive, the government will have to take extreme steps in favour of wildlife.”
A ‘party’ disturbs the census
At the time when the waterhole census was going on, a party of six to seven middle-aged men was on till around 1.30 am on Tuesday at the forest department rest house, which is a hundred metres away from a crucial waterhole.
A forest guard said such parties were often organised at forest department guest houses and that they disturbed the wildlife in the area.
Forest officials said the people whose loud chatter could be heard on the watchtower near waterholes were guests and also participated in the census activity.