Saturday, April 17, 2010

Swamp Deer at Kanha

The park management at Kanha National Park swells with pride whence the swamp deer comes into the picture. The swamp deer or Hard Ground Barasingha is a race found only at Kanha in MP, India. The taxonomic classification is Cervus duavcelli branderi. Named after Dunbar Brander who first discovered the fact.

The difference lies in the hoof which has modified into adapting the hard ground. The hoof is not spread out or splayed unlike other species of the deer. The swampy grounds in Kanha are not extensive hence the modification. This red deer species is one of the most charismatic animal along with the tiger.

The deer is primarily dependent upon certain species of grass and rarely goes for coarse feed. The habitat are the grasslands of Kanha, mainly Saunf meadow where they breed, Bisanpura and Saunder. They are slowly occupying other grasslands a well. In summers large number of swamp deer can be seen around Kanha meadow. On instances I have seen the deer entering the thick canopy.

The fully grown stag weighs approximately 180 kgs and is smaller in dimension than the sambar deer. The females are smaller and light brown in color. Like all deer species they are devoid of horns. The twelve tines have accorded it the name Barasingha (Bara=12, singha=horns). But the horns do not contain twelve tines always and the number can be less or up to 14 on the average. The reddish brown fur and shapely antlers make this a charismatic mammal.

The male swamp deer live in schools whence young but take over a female herd whence fully grown and out to mate. The mating takes place in winter months of November and December whence grown up male adorn their antlers with long stripe of grass and mud. The mating calls reverberate through out the valley. The stags indulge in power play with each other to mate with doe in estrous. The territorial fights are rarely injurious, as much before the strength is decided. This is natures way of ensuring the best gene transfer with minimal damage.

The gestation period is around six months and usually a single fawn is born. The females care for the young. The fawn mortality is due to carnivores like the tiger, leopard, jackal, wild dog, python and at times due to disease. In order to conserve the species a large mesh wire enclosure has been created in park. This prevents predation from the carnivores and reptiles. The reptiles were physically removed. The enclosure reduces the chances of infectious disease.

This is the saga of success, whence from sixty plus animals the number has grown to over 300 heads. Thanks to George Schaller and other researchers these fact came to light and the enclosure was created. The number has stabilized to over three hundred and efforts are being made to increase the population.

The pride of Kanha National Park in MP is the main tourist attraction during the tiger safaris. With greater conservation efforts and advance research the population of this once gregarious deer should increase.

The increase in population of the hard ground Barasingha is essential if the animal has to be saved from extinction. The gregarious deer once thrived in large numbers in suitable habits around Kanha park. Now confined to the core this animal is highly susceptible from foot and mouth disease and rinderpest. The carriers are the live stock which occupy the buffer zone in very large numbers. Timely inoculation of the live stock is mandatory to prevent disease influx amongst the wild species.

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