|Blackbucks in Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary|
|Point Calimere's feral horses|
Last week, a wildlife census conducted at Tamil Nadu's Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary was likely to show that the numbers of blackbucks are on the verge of decline. Although the figures have not been officially released yet, it is believed that a large number of feral horses in the sanctuary's grasslands is responsible for the decline. According to one wildlife expert, who was also a member of the census team, the number of these horses has gone up to 150. And while the feral horse population is small compared to the blackbuck population, it still poses a threat in competition for space. The horses, being larger in size, tend to force the antelopes in search of new territories.
This was not the first observation made in the sanctuary, which is famous for having the second largest concentration of migratory birds in India. A similar one was made during a census exercise last year by S. Balachandran of the Bombay Natural History Society. In his report, Balachandran stated that the blackbuck population was at around 1300 compared to an earlier census which showed it to be closer to 1600. He further added that three feral horses first came to the area a few decades ago after being abandoned by their masters. They had been roaming wild ever since. A forest official further added in addition to horses, the blackbucks face competition for food from stray cattle. However, there have been no conclusive studies to prove it. Dr. Rauf Ali, a researcher for Feral, gave his opinion based on a study he had conducted on Point Calimere's blackbucks in 2005. He stated that an invasive plant called prosopis is the real threat to the antelopes. This plant started growing in the sanctuary as a result of human influence, and was consumed by horses who would disperse its seeds which led to further growth. This process of seed dispersal has been reducing the amount of grassland area for the blackbucks.
My opinion on this article is that it is filled with some key facts and evidence of what threats are contributing to the decline of Point Calimere's blackbuck population. One of them is the spreading of the prosopis plant. This plant was brought by humans, and has started spreading in the sanctuary's grassland area which is the only home for the antelopes. With so many plants sprouting, the antelopes are loosing space for living. I feel that the best solution would be to uproot/cut down these plants in large quantities, and clean up the dung of horses which is known to contain the seeds. This way, the seed dispersal process for this alien plant will cease. At the same time, there should also be a removal of these horses and the best option would be to put them up for adoption. This type of method helped in the regulation of America's mustang populations. These animals were once beasts of burden for some people, who later abandoned them and then they started living in the wild. But while living, they started using Point Calimere's land to their own advantage and forced one of its flagship species (blackbuck) to search for new land. Similarly, cattle that are often seen in the sanctuary should also be kept in facilities and put up for adoption. Point Calimere does not have powerful predators like tigers keep the horse population in check. There should even be a strict vigilance against any form human interference, and one of the methods would be to learn about which plants and animals are native and not native to Point Calimere. This way, the sanctuary stay safe from any threat.
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