Bengaluru: Providing wildlife refuges even in the form of small protected areas in the increasingly urbanised landscape can help hoofed mammals, including blackbuck, survive, Indian researchers have found.
Yarlagadda Chaitanya Krishna from the centre for ecological sciences at Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, and colleagues looked at numbers of blackbuck — a near threatened species of antelope — in and around the Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary in Nannaj, Maharashtra.
Increasing encroachment by humans has fragmented grasslands into plantations, grazing areas and agricultural lands. The landscape is densely populated by humans and cattle and is representative of most semi-arid landscapes in India.
The researchers found that blackbuck preferred to stay in the safety of the sanctuary when food was abundant to avoid the risks associated with humans and livestock.
But as food declined after the monsoon season, blackbuck began to move into riskier unprotected grasslands, thus responding dynamically to seasonally changing levels of food and risks in the different parts of the landscape.
This study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, found that the presence of small sanctuaries or “refuges” in densely populated semi-arid landscapes allows these antelopes to survive, and provides clues as to why animals might be moving outside sanctuaries.
A desperate search for food could thus be leading blackbuck to make seasonal changes in their movements and venture into more risky areas located outside the sanctuary.
The findings suggest that coexistence of conservation and development is possible, provided that wildlife are offered refuges, such as the small protected areas that constitute the Great Indian Bustard Sanctuary.
For the study that examined how blackbuck reacted to the costs and benefits of living in this habitat, the researchers measured the amount and quality of grass, the major blackbuck food source, and identified risky areas, where blackbuck were most likely to come across wolves, dogs or humans.
“The findings show that human activities can strongly influence and perhaps limit ungulate (hoofed mammals) habitat-use and behaviour, but spatial heterogeneity in risk, particularly the presence of refuges, can allow ungulates to persist in landscapes with high human and livestock densities,” the study said.