• Fields of the Awards
DUDHWA NATIONAL PARK
by   Late Billy Arjan Sing

Dudhwa National Park, which emerged from a struggle against a welter of vested interests, is even now threatened by a surge of ever-increasing demographic pressure. A viable pattern of co-existence between humans and other forms of life is urgently required if the latter are not to be overwhelmed. The North Kheri Forest Division, as the area in which the park is located was previously called, has the finest quality sal (Shorea robusta) in India; the Forest Department, in its eagerness to exploit this commercially, opposed the establishment of the park, oblivious of their simultaneous responsibility of protecting India’s wildlife. “Sportsmen” too were reluctant to surrender the right to kill the so-called game animals that lived there in substantial numbers. The surrounding population protested that they would be denied building materials for their homes and grazing areas for their cattle.
Thanks to the avid and virtually single-handed lobbying by the present writer and the firm conviction of a conservation-minted prime minister, the late Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the division was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1965 and a National Park in 1977, despite opposition and objections.

Barasingha Country :
Dudhwa National Park, covering 190 sq. miles (490 sq. km) of grassland and woodland consists, as men-grassland and woodland, consists, as mentioned earlier, mainly of sal forest. The Neora river and the bed of the Soheli which is dry before the confluence run along the southern edge, between which and the sal forest to the north lie the grasslands that are the barasingha’s or swamp deer’s preferred habitat, about 40 sq. miles (100 sq km) of which have been preserved in the park. The rest have been taken over by cultivation.
By far the largest numbers of barasingha, for which the park is best known, occur in the Sathiana and Kakraha blocks, in the southwest and southeast sectors respectively, which together comprise some 17-18 sq miles (4500 hectares). Sathiana is the wetter area, much of it being inundated for at least short periods during the monsoon season. Grasses are generally tall and coarse, sometimes forming dense thickets that are difficult to penetrate even by elephant. Several swampy depressions, which contain water for all or most of the year, cross the land from north to south, and numerous jamun trees (Syzygium cuminii) attest to the wetness of the habitat; the high water mark on trees close to the Neora river may be up to six feet (two meters) and in some years more. The western end of Sathiana is better drained than the east; the grasses appear to be shorter, and there are large stands of Imperata cylindrical, but the various aged plantings of sisam trees (Dalbergia sissoo) obscure the animals. Other timbers of specialized utility are semal (Bombax ceiba), khair (Acacia catechu), sirsa (Albizzin procera), haldu (Adira cordifolia) and tun (Toora cedrela).

Tigers and Leopards :
The tiger, originally the glamorous objective of every sport killer’s rifle sight, and now the cynosure of every wildlife tourist’s questing eye, exists in fair number in the park. Unfortunately, there is hardly any buffer zone, and the forested area is surrounded by agricultural crops, mainly sugarcane, which has replaced the tall grasses which tiger used to inhabit in earlier years. With the decimation of their prey species by firearms, the tigers have come into conflict with the adjoining human population.

Dudhwa is celebrated for the successful hand-rearing by the writer of a tiger cub, Tara, from virtual domestication to free self-sustained life in the wild. After 20 months of hand-rearing, Tara was launched into the jungle. May 5, 1986 was her 10th birthday. Leopards are few in Dudhwa, as is usually the case in habitats suited to tigers, where competition from the senior predator depress their population, in spite of the fact that the prey overlap between the two species is limited.

Since Dudhwa provides the optimum habitat for barasingha or swamp deer (Cervus duvauceli duvauceli) the remnants of the once profile deer species is crowded into the wetlands of the park, which has the distinction of having the largest population of this threatened species in the subcontinent. Mirchia Jheel once infamous for its battles of the barasingha, where it was common for as many as 30-40 stags to be gunned down in a morning’s “sport,” is now under cultivation as are other previous habitat areas. Herds of 200 and over may, however, still be seen in the southern grasslands, their presence rendered more spectacular by the propensity for segregation of the antlered males.