Dudhwa National Park, which houses over half of the world’s deer, is now facing a crisis on this very count. With rapid depletion of its natural habitat, deer here are critically endangered.
This national park is the only place in the world inhabited by five species of deer (‘barasingha’ or swamp deer, ‘cheetal’ or spotted deer, ‘pada’ or hog deer, ‘kakad’ or barking deer and ‘sambhar’).
It is also the last refuge for the critically endangered sub-species of the swamp deer (cervus duvauceli), Uttar Pradesh’s state animal.
The Park, spread over 680 sq km, lies in the sub-Himalayan region referred to as the Terai belt. It is, in fact, the last remnant of Terai region, one of the most endangered ecosystems on the planet.
Wildlife experts find it ironical that the Park, established in 1977 for the conservation of deer, is today known for its sizable tiger population.
While an elaborate tiger census is carried out every two years, no precise figures are available for deer. But this obsession with the tiger could backfire, experts say.
“If we continue to lose the deer, tiger survival would become unsustainable,” says VP Singh, member of UP State Wildlife Advisory Council. “Survival of both the predator and the prey are interlinked,” he said.
Besides farming and rivers in spate eating into its natural habitat, rampant poaching has also taken its toll on deer population, Singh said adding while herds of 100 deer were a common sight, today sighting of a herd of 50 is a big thing.
“The main threat to swamp deer is destruction and degradation of habitat while poachers have done their bit to maximize the damage,” says UP’s former chief wildlife warden Ram Lakhan Singh.