Days after a blackbuck was run over by a vehicle and 16 others were hunted by stray dogs, the District Magistrate of Bhavnagar issued a notification prohibiting movement of heavy vehicles on Adhelai-Italiya road that bisects the Blackbuck National Park in Velavadar of Bhavnagar district.
An official release from the state information department said that Bhavnagar DM Harshad Patel issued a notification prohibiting the movement of heavy vehicles on the road that links Bhavnagar-Dholera highway to Bhavnagar-Barwala highway, cutting through the national park area.
“Movement of blackbucks, wolves and many other wild animals is recorded on the said road. Lesser Floricans, the bird species whose population in the world has been reduced to a very few individuals, also roost in the area for breeding. Presently, heavy vehicles ply on this road in big numbers day and night, posing danger to lives of and creating disturbance for wild animals and birds… Therefore, Harshad Patel, District Magistrate of Bhavnagar, has issued a notification to close this Adhelai-Italiya road, save needs of local residents, by prohibiting movement of heavy vehicles,” stated the release.
The notification, signed on August 13 and made public on Tuesday, comes a few days after 18 blackbucks were killed in the national park area. While 16 of them were hunted by dogs while the animals were fleeing flooding in the national park between August 10 and August 11, one was run over by a speeding vehicle near Sanesh village on Bhavnagar-Dholera highway. One more drowned in floodwaters.
Talking to The Indian Express on Wednesday, the DM said that the notification was issued in response to a letter from the Forest Department. “The road cuts across the national park. This is an old road but very narrow. Some alternative road is being built by Bhavnagar district panchayat to divert traffic… Blackbucks can cross the road at any time. That is why, to be on the safer side, we have considered the forest department proposal (positively)…,” said Patel, who is also District Collector of Bhavnagar.
The DM added that people living in two or three villages near the park will be exempted from restrictions. The Adhelai-Italiya Road starts from Adhelai crossroads on Bhavnagar-Dholera highway, passes through the southern periphery of the Blackbuck National Park and meets the Bhavnagar-Barwala highway at Ayodhyapuram via Velavadar, Moti Dharai and Italiya villages. Vehicles that used to ply on this road will now have to take the alternative road from Madhiya on Bhavnagar- Dholera highway to Vallabhipur on Bhavnagar-Barwala highway.
Forest officers welcomed the move saying it would help protection and conservation regime at the 34-square-kilometre BNP. “It is an excellent action for conservation of wildlife. It also shows commitment towards wildlife, particularly blackbucks,” said Dushyant Vasavada, chief conservator of forests, Junagadh Wildlife Circle.
Besides being the prime habitat of blackbucks, the Velavadar national park is also the prime nesting ground of endangered Lesser Florican, one of the four bustard species found in India. According to a survey by Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of Indian (WII) that concluded in July 2018, the population of Lesser Floricans in the country fell to just 264 individuals by 2018 from around 3,500 in 2000. Of the 264 individuals, more than 50 were found in BNP.
The Velavadar park also has a large population of wolves and significant population of blue bulls (nilgais).
“This was long overdue… We had been persistently pursuing the matter with the District Magistrate as well as the district Superintendent of Police for the past six months. We are thankful to the collector and the SP for granting our proposal,” said a forest officer on condition of anonymity.
Conservationists also hailed the DM’s decision. “This was a very old proposal of the forest department… After many years, the collector has granted the proposal and taken the action. Now, the disturbance to wildlife will be less, almost zero,” said Prof Indra Gadhvi, head of marine sciences department of Maharaja Krishnakumarsinhji University, Bhavnagar and honorary wildlife warden of Bhavnagar.