Home Conservation Field Reports Conserving The Kharmor In M.P.

Conserving The Kharmor In M.P.

Conserving The Kharmor In M.P.

Endemic to the Indian subcontinent, the endangered Lesser Florican is dependent on undisturbed grasslands. Ajay Gadikar shares his observations on the status of the species in Madhya Pradesh, a state with two sanctuaries dedicated to the bird.

The male Lesser Florican is known for its flamboyant breeding display.
Photo: Ajay Gadikar.

Madhya Pradesh has the distinction of having two wildlife sanctuaries exclusively established for the conservation of the Lesser Florican Sypheotides indica. The Sailana Sanctuary lies in the Ratlam district, while Sardarpur Sanctuary is in Dhar district. These sanctuaries came into existence thanks to the efforts of the birdman of India, Dr. Sálim Ali in 1983. A population of Lesser Floricans has been visiting these breeding sites for decades. Beyond the two Protected Areas, the species has also been reported from the Petlavad area of the Jhabua district for the last six years.

I have visited each of these areas in recent years to learn a little about the bird’s breeding behaviour, and to understand why their numbers have remained static in Madhya Pradesh.

The Sailana Sanctuary has been able to attract Lesser Floricans every year in spite of threats to the habitat. On the other hand, not a single Lesser Florican visited the Sardarpur Sanctuary in 2013 and 2014, and only a single individual was recorded here in 2015. However, the floricans are visiting a small patch of grassland in Petlawad every year.

Safe In Sailana

The Sailana Wildlife Sanctuary is located in Sailana and Piploda blocks of the Ratlam district of MP. The total area of the sanctuary is 12.96 sq. km., and it was notified in June 1983. The sanctuary was created to protect and improve the natural habitat of the Lesser Florican and promote the population build-up of this magnificent bird. Located at a distance of 19 km. from Ratlam, Sailana is the prime habitat for kharmor, which is another name for the Lesser Florican, from July to October every year.

The sanctuary comprises three parts. These are the Sailana village that consists largely of revenue land, the Amba forest block of Puiniakhedi and the revenue land of village Sherpur. The revenue lands belong to individuals and the private holdings are cultivated lands. The Amba forest block is grassland with scattered trees of vilayti, babul, ber, khair and palash. The topography of Sailana is a vast, undulating plateau, interspersed with a few small hills, undisturbed protected waterbodies and large open areas, which are perfectly suited to many migratory bird species.

Today, this sanctuary has the best grasslands in entire western MP. Continuous efforts are put in by the Forest Department to protect and improve the natural habitat of the Lesser Florican here. It has been declared as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by the Bombay Natural History Society (Islam & Rahmani 2004), and has recently been identified as an IBA in Danger (Kasambe & Surve 2013). An area of about 200 hectares within the sanctuary, known as Naulakha beed, is well-known for the sighting of the courtship display of the male Lesser Florican, which jumps almost 500 to 600 times a day to attract a female (Sankaran 1994). Pure grasslands are found in traditionally Protected Areas such as Shikarwadi (a hunting lodge in the Naulakha grasslands). In Shikarwadi, male floricans are regularly seen displaying in their established territories. Each year, at least five or six males can be seen displaying simultaneously at different locations (within an area of 200–500 sq. m) at this site. There are watch towers to see the bird movement over a large area. The forest guards and chowkidars keep a watch on florican movement throughout the breeding season, patrolling the area on foot as one cannot reach the display sites by any other means. They constantly chase away nilgai herds from the florican breeding locations. Binoculars or spotting scopes are a must to see the display of the birds, as one cannot get close access across the extensive, waterlogged grasslands.

Sailana Wildlife Sanctuary also happens to be a good breeding ground for many species of birds. However, not much has been studied about the other avifauna present in the sanctuary. That said, I have personally recorded over 140 species of birds in Sailana over the last six years of my observations. Most of the sanctuary is covered by large grasslands with some shrub patches and the adjoining large cultivation areas. This creates a unique ecosystem, an ideal habitat for many ground nesting species. Grey Francolin, Painted Francolin, Rain Quail and Barred Buttonquail can be seen here all year round, and the larks and pipits are also seen in good numbers. During winters a large number of harriers are also seen here.

Threats And Conservation Initiatives

The main problem in this sanctuary is the intense biotic pressure involving excessive grazing, firewood collection and intensive cultivation of private lands. A large number of local livestock graze in the area creating obstacles to the conservation of this excellent habitat. The management of the sanctuary is looked after by the superintendent who works under the control of the Divisional Forest Officer, Ratlam.

The increase in the population of bluebull or nilgai in this area has always been a point of concern in view of the breeding floricans. The bluebull herds that roam in this area accidently damage the eggs of the Lesser Floricans. In the last two years, the most important part of the sanctuary, Amba, has faced some issues related to illegal mining by a construction company. A large scale public movement was undertaken by concerned locals and NGOs to save the sanctuary from this disturbance, and a legal case was filed in the National Green Tribunal against the construction company. The Tribunal ruled in favour of the people, and a heavy penalty was imposed on the construction company to be used for the betterment of the sanctuary.

Last year the Forest Department provided the seeds of many indigenous crops free of cost to farmers, so that farmers in the area can transition from growing soya bean as the monsoon crop and shift to indigenous crop cultivation.

Nilgai herds unintentionally trample on Lesser Florican eggs, and are thus a threat to the species. Photo: Ajay Gadikar.

Unsuccessful In Sardarpur, Hopeful In Petlavad

The Sardarpur Wildlife Sanctuary is located close to Rajgarh on the Indore-Ahmedabad road, about 55 km. from the district headquarters at Dhar, and 125 km. from Indore. It is also an Important Bird Area (Islam & Rahmani 2004). The birds generally arrive in the first week of July to breed in the grasslands of Sardarpur, rear the young ones, and possibly migrate in October-November. The Panpura area is the best place to watch floricans here. This site has been fenced by the Forest Department and is an ideal breeding ground for the Lesser Florican, although there was no sighting of floricans here in 2013 and 2015. In 2015 only a single male florican was reported from the area.

This sanctuary is facing major habitat degradation, coupled with public resentment due to a ban on sale/transfer of their private land. The government, after the initial notification of the sanctuary in 1983, made no progress regarding the determination of rights to enable its notification, and did not satisfy all the norms, creating resentment among the locals. This has worked against the conservation of the florican. Anxiety levels have increased amongst the people, and resentment against floricans runs deep. The bird is perceived as an enemy that is taking away their land. The villagers feel that if the floricans disappear from the area, there will be no reason to have the sanctuary, and they will get their land back.

The Forest Department offers prize money to any farmer who spots a Lesser Florican in his fields and safeguards the bird. Further compensation is provided to the farmer if the bird lays eggs and successfully breeds in the farmer’s fields. However, immediate intervention is needed to restore the grassland ecosystems in Panpura and the adjoining areas of Sardarpur WLS.

The Ratamba forest patch in the Petlavad range of Jhabua forest division is prime habitat for the Lesser Florican. The florican is seen here almost every year during the monsoon, when it arrives to breed. This forest patch comprises 525 hectares of grassland, and the entire area is fenced to protect the birds from disturbance. Ratamba is six kilometres from Raipuria and 14 km. from Petlavad. Lesser Florican sightings have also been reported from Tarkhedi beat (comprising Bani, Morjheria and Samarkundia villages) of Petlavad Range. Given the regular sightings of this species in the area, Ratamba too should be designated an IBA.

An Organic Solution

Habitat degradation due to the excessive use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in agriculture to counter the depleted soils is one of the major threats to the existence of the Lesser Floricans as well as other creatures of these grassland ecosystems. These chemicals are killing a variety of insects and worms that constitute the food of the birds.

It is therefore necessary to educate, encourage and support farmers to shift to organic farming, or at the very least minimise the use of chemical insecticides in the preferred breeding grounds of the floricans. Fortunately, several villages in the area have now taken up organic farming, which is a positive sign for future conservation efforts.

I find that in all places near the breeding grounds of the floricans in Sailana and Sardarpur, soya bean is cultivated. Soya bean requires the frequent spraying of chemicals to kill the unwanted grasses that grow with the it, resulting in indirect loss to bird populations. The birds depends and feeds on larvae and insects found in these fields and grasslands. A heavily contaminated diet can affect the breeding capacity of adults as well as the longevity of the young ones. It can result in an inordinately high mortality rate in newly hatched chicks and juveniles.

The Sailana Sanctuary today still holds a very good chance to provide a safe and secure place for the visiting floricans in coming years, while the Ratamba forest patch is the next best habitat for the endangered Lesser Florican in Madhya Pradesh. As the Sardarpur Sanctuary has been devoid of Lesser Floricans for the last two years, it requires immediate and well-planned intervention. With the right management, the Lesser Florican can continue to grace Madhya Pradesh for years to come.

A resident of Indore, Ajay Gadikar is a birdwatcher who is also interested in the conservation of wetlands and introducing children to nature.

Read more: Florican Sanctuaries In Trouble

Author: Ajay Gadikar

Name of the magazine: Sanctuary Asia


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