We are in core area of Udanti part of Sitanadi-Udanti Tiger Reserve. This is my first encounter with ‘Wild Water Buffalo’. And here I am, face to face with some famous characters in wildlife conservation history – Chhotu, Mohan, Veera, Asha, Kiran…. There is long story but Kiran, the female calf is pride of Chhattisgarh. There was lot of rejoice and media flashes, when she was born about a year ago on 12 March 2015. You will soon notice that she is what her name is i.e. ‘ray of light’
Just to give you some background, Udanti Sanctuary was created in 1984 for conservation of reportedly pure breed of Wild Water Buffalo found in this region. It has several common names e.g. Wild Asian Buffalo, Indian Buffalo etc. I would like to make a special mention of its scientific name Bubalus bubalis arnee and Spanish name ‘Bufalo Arni’. Hai Ernie, take note.
The count of animals was 55 around the time Sanctuary was formed. It was a matter of concern. Unfortunately, left to itself, with indifferent management, the population dwindled to become locally critically endangered with only 7 specimens left in 2006-07. Incidentally, Wild Water Buffalo is an endangered species as per scientific IUCN assessment as well.
Wild Buffalo in most other places never realised that purity of gene is essential to have a status. The bulls did not control themselves. The result is ‘some 3,000-4,000 wild buffaloes in North-East States are said to have been “corrupted” because of crossbreeding with domesticated buffaloes!’ Similar situation is reported in East Asian countries.
The Buffalo is the State animal of Chhattisgarh and it was on the verge of disappearing! People woke up. This is nothing new in wildlife conservation in India. Efforts are made when situation has virtually gone out of hand. An ambitious rescue programme was launched in 2007 in collaboration with Wildlife Trust of India under the leadership of Dr Rajindra Mishra.
Incidentally, the gender issue has been weighting again the species – what was left was all bulls except one female when the rescue plan was launched. The female was pampered with best possible efforts, freshest grass, freshly prepared porridge, vitamins et. al. She gave the whole conservation lobby anxious moments – year after year, delivered male after male, in spite of being appropriately name, Asha i.e. hope. She delivered four bulls one after the other at the rescue centre besides one she delivered before the start of the programme. Delivery of Kiran by Asha, thus is indeed a ‘Ray of Hope’.
I watch Kiran and Asha with anxious eyes. Feel jealous with all the attention they are getting. They are not bothered. They watch me for few long minutes and then carry on with feeding. They have all the time and, action is slow motion.
I make an assessment how best to photograph these special animals – the situation is really bad with animals being in enclosure with chain link wire mesh of 2 inch diamond shape gaps. I notice that at one place in the enclosure gate, there is opening enough to insert my lens head. I bent on my knees and do the job. The late afternoon light is just right. Animals are close enough that I am shooting across with 18-55 mm wild-normal angle lens. Kiran is curious to see the camera at close quarter and almost licks the lens! I have to ensure that she does not chew away the lens. Asha too joins. She also wants to taste the lens. “No. No. Nothing doing,” I tell them. I pull the camera out of mess of wire-mesh. This has been the opportunity to photo Asha and Kiran at close quarter and get portraits.
Name can be deceptive. Chhotu (small) is a big bull in the adjacent enclosure. He is Motu (fat) and Z black. Its beautifully curved horns are more than a metre in length! Chhotu is not pleased with all the attention I have given to Asha and Kiran. When I try to draw its kind attention for a shot or two, it goes further away. With great difficulty, I manage few photos of this all muscles guy.
I notice the whole lot of Buffalos in the enclosures are all looking in one direction with all concentration and doing nothing else. It seems they know it. They can smell and see also. It is a spot 50 metre away where two trackers are cooking evening meal in a huge cauldron – maybe 20-25 kg of porridge! This food appears to be favourite of the animals at rescue centre. They all anxiously wait for food to be severed, almost waiting at the dining table. Ramu, the tracker tells me ‘It should be right temperature otherwise animals would reject it.’ He is waiting the porridge to get cold enough to be acceptable to the Buffalos.
Ramu is a middle aged, thin and short person. He is not afraid of entering the enclosure. He is one of the few persons, the animals allow close approach. He severs separate pans of porridge to each animal. But as has been observed in human beings, each animal thinks the other has a tastier food and try to steal a lick or two, here and there!
As they are busy enjoying food, we quietly leave wishing them long life to breed and breed and breed without brooding on family planning…