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Hunting in Bharatpur: Excerpt from Birds in Paradise

“For ages, the floodplains of the Bharatpur district were being used by waterbirds, especially several species of ducks, during winter for migration from Central Asian regions. In fact, Bharatpur falls in their migration route. Many of these birds use it as a ‘staging ground’. They congregate here to disperse further to the south, towards the central and eastern regions in the Indian subcontinent. On return migration, they again congregate here before flying back to their homeland. These managerial interventions worked as a magnet to attract the water birds from all around to the lakes, which soon became a haven for migratory birds.   Bird shoot had always been a preferred sport of the British. In 1902, the first formal duck shoot was organized here for the Viceroy, Lord Curzon. He appointed a qualified English forest officer to prepare a management plan for this duck shooting site. Several additional dykes and bunds were created here. The huge Ajan Dam was thoroughly repaired; the Chiksana Canal was built to the southeast of Ghana to irrigate the adjacent agricultural fields with dam water. This canal, which passes through the Koladahar area, served as a drain to carry the excess water of the dam and the adjacent agricultural fields during the monsoon. Harbhanji also developed a system to utilise this waste water to fill the huge grassland tract of the Koladahar area. Consequently, a lot of water birds who were feeding in the shallow waters developed a special preference for the low-lying patches of the grassland. This motivated the Maharaja to construct a small masonry camping outfit during duck shoots, called Kadam Kunj, for himself and his close friends. Remnants of this small building are visible even today. It is surrounded by a moat for providing safety against wild animals and sudden attack by enemies. In 1910, a wildlife wing was set up by the state under its bagar (forest) department and an impressive gate was built at the entrance of this duck shoot reserves. It can still be seen on the main Agra-Jaipur highway. In 1030-35, Acacia nilotica (babool) trees were planted on these dykes and earthen mounds inside the lakes to provide camouflaged shelter to the shooters and perching places to birds. This later gave birth to the famous heronries. A Lord Shiva temple, named Keoladeo, is situated in the heart of the park. Keoladeo means the only lord, that is, Shiva. The park got its name from this ancient temple. Had it not been for the British overlords, the Jat rulers would never have allowed anyone to shoot birds so close to this place of worship. The birds’ shooting record has been engraved on stone slabs close to this temple. Time is the greatest game-changer. With the advent of Independence and the disappearance of the British from Indian soil, things started changing. A new phase of these marshes emerged. The Ghana marshes, earlier known as duck shoot reserves, became famous internationally for not only their huge congregations of migratory waterfowl but also for the spectacular heronries of piscivorous birds.   Obviously, all this was not achieved in a day. There were dedicated people and it was their incessant persuasion that converted this bird slaughtering sports stadium into a sanctum sanctorum for innumerable winged creatures, mammals, reptiles and insects. Their crusade started right after 1947. Officers such as the late Kailash Sankhala, who was in charge of the Ghana reserve, tried hard to seek protection for this invaluable nature heritage through an appropriate legal instrument. He was supported by Dharam Kumar Singh, a well-known conservationist and Dr Salim Ali, in getting Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India, to declare the Ghana reserve as the Ghana-Keoladeo Bird Sanctuary in 1956. As a result, a ban an any kind of hunting, trapping of birds and animals became effective here. The Maharaja of Bharatpur, however, continued to enjoy the special privilege of duck shoots along with his royal guests, which got extinguished in 1971 when the privy purses of Indian kings were withdrawn by the Government of India. To regulate grazing and to protect the sanctuary from encroachments, a masonry wall was constructed all around it in 1977-80. In 1981, the persistent efforts of Sankhala and Dr Ali led to the sanctuary being named the Keoladeo National Park. A year later, buffalo grazing was closed in the park. In 1985, Keoladeo was declared as the prestigious ‘Ramsar Site’ and, in the same year itself, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) unanimously declared it a ‘World Heritage Site’”.
niyogibooks | 12-Apr-2021