• Success Story
Dudhwa Salutes Its Grassland Gurus
by   Raja Chatterjee

Dudhwa has historically been the fountainhead for forest resources and fertile farmlands. Being bestowed with a matchless showcase of floral and faunal contents, Dudhwa had the doors to it’s treasure trove open, on all sides, at all times. During the British Raj, massive tracts of Sal (Shorea Robusta) forests were usurped for supplying railway sleepers while in post-independence era, large tracts of forests were earmarked for landed settlements of refugees from partition. Thus over a century, what was earlier a landscape of emerald greens, teeming with wildlife and dotted with hamlets at the heart of Terai, had dramatically been altered to alcoves of jungles amidst an all pervading procession of farmlands on all fronts with countless colonies of human settlements.

This transformation tethered the fragile eco-system and took its toll on wildlife. The population of famous Swamp Deer of Dudhwa dwindled to an alarming level, followed by Bengal Florican, Hog Deer while the Rhinos ran into local extinction. Tigers too were not far from the run of local extinction. The continuous shrinkage of habitat in conjunction with hunting, grazing, and poaching had jeopardized the denizens of Dudhwa until the refuge was wrapped under the protection of a National Park in 1977; an act that put a period to the endless onslaught on its wilderness and opened up newer avenues of conservation. The process of restoration was long and limping as loop-holes in laws for nabbing poachers, lack of political wisdom in containing socio-economic pressures on encroachments, logging concessions were overwhelming.

Dudhwa’s woes would have lingered longer had the forest administration not revamped the field with a new Director, Mr.Shailesh Prasad who made a difference in salvaging the scenario with his new found foot-soldiers. The team’s challenge was kaleidoscopic in controlling poaching, grazing, forest fires, encroachments and straying of animals outside the Protected Area (PA). Dudhwa Tiger Reserve authorities took a holistic look at the eco-system and reviewed the prevailing practice of management. Their findings revealed that by sensibly managing the grasslands within, they could resolve the tangles in conservation. An innovative initiative on grassland management had thus begun some three years back which resulted into cascading effects of good conservation. Techniques of controlled burning and harrowing transformed the grasslands into a chess board pattern of vast patches with palatable and unpalatable species. Creation of such new foraging fields enhanced population of Swamp Deer, Hog Deer and other herbivores while patches of tall old stands offered places to hide with litters. This practice simultaneously reduced straying of animals outside of the PA; thereby reducing man-animal conflict and allied compensation, occurrence of forest fires, improving vigil against poachers besides restricting the spreading of cattle borne diseases amongst ungulates. This mile-stone accomplishment is the essence of Dudhwa’s success story. The following account attempts to narrate a magical metamorphosis of a PA from the perspective of its problematic past.