Cattle pose threats to big cats in Palamu reserve

Being rich in protein, Azolla has also been found to improve milk production in the cattle by up to 40%,” said Jena.
Cattle pose threats to big cats in Palamu reserve

RANCHI: Usually, it’s the cattle in villages around forests and wildlife reserves that face a threat from the wild animals. But, in Palamu Tiger Reserve (PTR), it’s the reverse. Spread over 1,130 sq km, the reserve has emerged as an easily accessible grazing ground for the cattle from Jharkhand, Bihar and Chhattisgarh.

In fact, the cattle of the 398 villages in and around PTR — 191 inside the reserves and 207 on its peripheries — has virtually taken over the reserve. This has meant diminishing food for the reserve’s animals, which is affecting their health and population as well.

According to PTR officials, about four lakh cattle stray into the reserve in search of fodder affecting the habitat and ecosystem of tigers. Preventing them from straying into the forest comes as a big challenge for the authorities.

Considering the threat posed by cattle to the wildlife in PTR, Azolla cultivation will be promoted among the villagers because the cattle encroachment has been increasing in the reserve’s core area, too.

PTR Deputy Director Prajesh Kant Jena said that Azolla can be produced round- the-year as heat does not have much effect on it. Therefore, the authorities are planning to use Azolla cultivation to stop cattle entering into the forest area.

“Since, the climate here is quite suitable for the cultivation of Azolla, which also has a very high protein value, it will be promoted among the villages near PTR so that their cattle do not have to stray into the jungles for grazing. Being rich in protein, Azolla has also been found to improve milk production in the cattle by up to 40%,” said Jena.

Initially, the project will be launched in 10-12 villages falling near Betla National Forest, and will be expanded all over the PTR later looking at its success, he added. According to Jena, Azolla is a fast growing aquatic floating fern which grows within two days for serving the cattle. Besides providing a high protein fodder for the cattle, high value vermin-compost could also be prepared with their dung, he said.

Jena, however, admitted that it will be a great challenge for the forest officials to convince villagers to adopt the cultivation of Azolla. Latehar district administration, however, is planning to provide Azolla seeds to the villagers through DMFT funds. Villagers will be given proper training for the cultivation of Azolla so that it becomes easier for them to adopt it.

Meanwhile, decks have finally been cleared for shifting of 360 herbivorous animals from Ranchi Zoo to the four Soft Release Centers set up in the PTR. According to the authorities, approval for the same has been granted by National Zoo Authority and shifting of animals will be done very soon.

Notably, PTR authorities have set up four soft release centers to ensure enough food for tigers, which will help in increasing their numbers in the reserve.

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