Spike in blackbuck deaths in Chennai's Raj Bhavan, 20 in 5 months

The blackbuck, an endangered antelope, is listed under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, enjoying the highest protection. 

Published: 20th April 2022 10:02 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th April 2022 12:59 PM   |  A+A-

Native grass being removed from star garden in Raj Bhavan in Chennai. (Photo | Express)

Native grass being removed from star garden in Raj Bhavan in Chennai. (Photo | Express)

Express News Service

CHENNAI:  There has been a sudden spurt in deaths of blackbucks inside Raj Bhavan. In the last five months, 20 blackbucks have perished, many of them reportedly due to starvation. In comparison, forest department data show only 10 blackbucks have died in Raj Bhavan between 2017-2020.

TNIE is reliably informed that five months ago Raj Bhavan replaced native grass with an alien variety of Mexican grass — in the star garden, one of the two open grasslands and blackbuck habitats on the campus, that was carved out of reserved forests.

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TNIE is in possession of photos and videos that show the native grass being cleared with heavy machinery at the star garden area. Experts said the alien variety is non-palatable to blackbucks and spotted deer and the link between the developments is hard to miss.

“Blackbucks, unlike spotted deer, feed on select varieties of fresh grass, herbs and shrubs. Cosmetic changes like replacing native grass with alien varieties and poor maintenance of open grasslands can threaten the survival of blackbucks,” said Dr RJ Ranjit Daniels, Trustee, Care Earth.

“Raj Bhavan should be mindful that it is located inside a reserve forest and wildlife welfare should be the top priority. The grasslands need to be urgently revived and a wildlife management plan should be prepared,” he added.

The blackbuck, an endangered antelope, is listed under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, enjoying the highest protection. As per the recent population census, there are only 77 blackbucks left in the Guindy National Park (GNP) and Raj Bhavan forest complex.

Last habitat for blackbucks in complex now uninhabitable

T Sengottaiyan, Deputy Secretary to the Governor and Comptroller of Governor’s Household, did not respond to multiple messages and calls from TNIE. An email sent to the Governor’s office also went unanswered.

In response to specific RTI queries on what grass was used in the star garden and polo ground and whether any changes had been made in the last five years, S Venkateshwaran, Under Secretary to Governor and public information officer on February 15, 2022 replied: “Information not available from the office records.” Sources said that of the 20 blackbucks that died in recent months, three were fawns abandoned by their mother last December. They were rescued by officials from the forest department, but succumbed.

Thick and tall vegetation has taken over the polo ground, which is a traditional open grassland and prime habitat for blackbuck in Guindy National Park and Raj Bhavan complex. (Photo | R Satish Babu, EPS)

“The fawns were too weak and the post-mortem report showed they had nothing in their stomachs,” a source said. The 30-acre polo ground, the last remaining blackbuck habitat in the complex, has become uninhabitable for blackbucks due to an overgrowth of thick and tall vegetation.

Forest department officials claim Raj Bhavan, which claims the area is in its possession, has not allowed the department to maintain the ground since 2016 for “security” reasons. In the past, Raj Bhavan had planned to create a helipad near the polo ground but dropped the proposal due to objections raised by the forest department.

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